Bheri-Babai tunnel completed before deadline, within allocated budget

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KATHMANDU, April 7: At a time when almost all major development projects are plagued by persistent delays, the story of Bheri-Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project is going to be somewhat different.

The construction of 12.2-kilometer long tunnel, a major component of the national pride project, is almost complete, a year before the deadline and within the allocated budget.

The project had set a deadline of two and a half years for the construction of the tunnel by allocating a budget of Rs 10.56 billion. According to project officials, it took only 17 months for the construction of the tunnel.

Krishna Prasad Upadhyay, information officer of the project, said that construction of only two meters of the tunnel is left now.

As Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is scheduled to inaugurate the tunnel in the first week of Baisakh (mid-April), digging of approximately two meters of tunnel has been left before the event, said Upadhyay.

Experts say that the construction of other development projects of the country can gain momentum if they follow the determination shown in the tunnel work of the Bheri-Babai project. They also say that the headwork and other construction works should also move on at the same pace.

Under this project, a dam will be constructed at Chiple of Surkhet to divert the water of Bheri River and generate hydro electricity by building a powerhouse at Hattikhola. Nearly 51,000 hectares of land in Bardiya and Banke districts is estimated to get irrigation facility from this multipurpose project that will also generate 48 megawatt of electricity. Tunnel boring machine was used for the first time in Nepal to construct the tunnel in this mega project.

Project staffers attribute the use of technology to the early completion of work. The tunnel boring machine could be used for other development projects as well after the completion of the Bheri Babai tunnel, according to them.

The Chinese contractor, China Overseas Engineering Group (COVEC), was the contractor for the construction of the tunnel. The project has already paid nearly Rs 7 billion to the contractor, according to Upadhyay. “The payment for the construction of some sections of the tunnel is still due. Still, the spending on the construction of the tunnel will not go beyond the limit of the allocated budget,” he added.

PREPARATION TO UTILIZE TUNNEL 
The project is mulling to release water through the tunnel during the winter season to utilize the tunnel and provide irrigation facility even before the entire project is completed. As it will take few more years for completion, the project management is studying the possibility of releasing water through the tunnel to provide irrigation facility in Bardiya district, according to Upadhyay.

The remaining works include headworks, hydro-mechanical works, electro mechanical works, and construction of powerhouse. The project is projected to be complete by Fiscal Year 2022/23. According to Upadhyay, the project is planning to release water at the rate of 8 to 10 cubic meters per second (cusecs) through the tunnel during the winter season. The tunnel has a capacity of 40 cusecs. The project’s estimated cost is Rs 33.19 billion.