by SANJEEV GIRI, KATHMANDU
Once the busiest trade gateway between Nepal and China, the border town of Tatopani in Sindhupalchok district has fallen into a torpor after the devastating earthquake of 2015.
Much of the town’s infrastructure took a heavy hit from the 7.9 magnitude earthquake and the waves of aftershocks that followed the main tremor.
More than three years later, Tatopani is still reeling from the disaster. The passage to China remains inaccessible by vehicles; collapsed buildings and debris left by earthquake-triggered landslides still occupy the motor passage.
Resuming transportation service along the road is crucial to reviving Nepal-China trade via Tatopani border point.
Though the government has announced a plan to resume operation from Tatopani Customs Office by September 2019, officials at the Department of Roads say no progress has been made to this end due to shortage of funds.
“Motorable road is a prerequisite for resuming cross-border trade. But we are currently unable to fix the road on our side as the department lacks necessary funds,” Shiva Prasad Nepal, deputy director general of the department, said.
After inspecting the bordering region on the first week of September, a joint team from Nepal and China had come to a conclusion that the border could be reopened once the construction of dry port and essential infrastructures, like road and bridge, are completed.
While the dry port, which is being developed under financial and technical assistance of China, is due to be completed by May 2019, authorities in Nepal have not even initiated work to clear debris from the road. The department has sought Rs 600 million from government to reopen the road by clearing the debris and repairing the road sections that have witnessed heavy destruction, which includes the 4km segment from Bahrabishe.
An official at the Physical Infrastructure Ministry told the Post that since the government has urged China to help in the construction of the road on Nepal’s side, the Finance Ministry may be witholding the funds on purpose.
Nepal, the department’s deputy director general, says there should be a serious discussion before initiating works to completely rebuild the highway of high strategic significance.
“Only then can we access the actual fund and begin works to reconstruct the highway in a time-bound manner,” he said. The project, according to him, could cost anywhere between Rs 3-4 billion. Following the closure of the Tatopani border point, bilateral trade between Nepal and China has been redirected through Kerung in China and Kolkata in India.
Though the closure of the Tatopani border has not had visible impact in monetary terms, it has contributed to the time and cost overrun at traders’ end, according to Toyam Raya, director general of the Department of Customs.