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Kathmandu-Terai/Madhesh Fast Track Road Project, Nepal


Kathmandu-Terai/Madhes Fast Track (Expressway) Project is a mega highway project considered as an “infrastructure of national pride” being constructed in Nepal [1]. The 72.5 km long Fast Track runs along the Bagmati River corridor and is expected to cut the travel distance from the capital Kathmandu to the south of the country by 159 km as per existing roads. The Fast Track originates at Sano Khokana of Lalitpur Metropolitan City (south of Kathmandu) and stretches to Nijghad in Bara district in Nepal’s southern plains (known as Terai/Madhes). There it will meet with the East-West (Mahendra) Highway of the country. 

The Fast-Track project is expected to reduce the travel distance between Raxaul (Indian border town and largest trading point with Nepal) and Kerung (China's main trading point with Nepal) by 150 kms as part of developing various north-south corridors for increasing connectivity between India and China. So, that way, the Fast-Track contributes to Nepal's prospects to gain from the BRI.

The Fast Track is significantly contentious among indigenous Newar communities of Khokana and adjoining Bungamati towns in Lalitpur where some 6km of the Fast Track will slice through farms and religious trust (Guthi) lands as well as ritual routes and sites of locals [2]. They have been concerned about impacts on their lands, livelihoods and cultures, among others, due to the Fast Track that they have repeatedly raised with the relevant authorities. However, their concerns have not been addressed even in the recently revised alignment of the Fast Track endorsed by the Government of Nepal in September 2019 [3]. 

Besides cutting the travel time by an hour, the Fast Track is also expected to serve Nepal’s proposed second international airport – Nijgadh International Airport – in the south of the country. The two infrastructure projects are closely dependent on each other for economic viability [4]. While the fate of the airport is still uncertain, the plans for the airport have been widely criticized for its socio-environmental costs with the need to fell 2.4 million trees and relocation of around 1,500 landless households [5]. In December 2019, Nepal’s Supreme Court issued directive order to the Government of Nepal to halt all ongoing work, including felling of trees, at the construction site of the airport [6]. 

In 2006, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had provided technical assistance to investigate feasibility of an investment program of the Fast Track in 2006 as North-South connectivity option for Nepal to enhance trade between India and China, which laid a basis for taking the Expressway forward [7]. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Fast Track was conducted based on the information from the Government and ADB and their regulations or policies and submitted to the Government by March 2015. Even when the Fast Track was being studied, “there was significant objection” to taking productive agricultural land for the Fast Track Highway in Khokana as noted by the consultants in the EIA report [8]. As per the report, the alignment on the west bank of the Bagmati River has significant advantages that avoid valuable agricultural lands in Khokana. The official copy of the EIA report is yet to be received from the Government authorities despite repeated requests by the affected families’ representatives (by December 2019). Many locals of Khokana and Bungamati demand that the Fast Track be constructed along the west bank of the River to avoid any impact on their agricultural lands and closely-knit communities. 

Besides the Fast Track, Kathmandu Outer Ring Road [9], Bagmati River Basin Improvement Project [10] and Thankot-Bhaktapur Transmission Line Project [11] (which has been on hold since 2004 due to community opposition) under Rural Electrification, Distribution and Transmission Project [12] are other infrastructure projects, which concern the communities. The latter two are also ADB-financed projects. The communities' representatives claim that those projects together will displace the Newar community of the area entirely, whose have been affected due to land acquisitions for various public purposes at different times in the past.[13] After years of delay due to uncertainty on the Project’s modality and financing, the Government of Nepal finally decided to give the responsibility of construction management of the Fast Track to the Nepali Army in April 2017 [14]. Subsequently, the construction of the Expressway was started in other sections of the Fast Track but the Khokana are although the Detailed Project Report (DPR) was only approved in 2019 [15]. Ten Army camps have been set up along the Fast Track alignment, including one in the north of Khokana just off the Sikali hill, which is of cultural and historical significance for the locals as well as Newar and other communities in Kathmandu valley. 

The involvement of the Army in the project has led to insecurity and fear among Khokana locals opposing the project. It has also raised questions about the role of the Army in construction works vis-à-vis its influence in other sectors not related to security as well as corruption in the project with involvement of some high-level officials of the Army, which is above the anti-corruption laws of the country [16]. 

Loss of lands and livelihoods 

Land acquisition notice for the Project was published in March 2016. Khokana and Bungamati representatives, including local political leaders, had immediately submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Home Affairs citing disagreements over the absence of consultation among affected communities about the project design as well as impacts. In September of that year, the local representatives also submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nepal demanding respect and protection of their rights [17]. Subsequently, various meetings and interactions of the community representatives with the local government representatives, concerned parliamentarians (including a parliamentary inquiry) and relevant Ministry and Nepali Army officials over the years. 

At the same time, affected families and community representatives of Khokana and Bungamati together with activists have also organized protests rallies and demonstrations against the project. In 2018, locals and activists protested outside the newly set up Army camp in Khokana.[18] They have also joined affected communities of other infrastructure construction (particularly road expansion) across Kathmandu valley against the government’s push for the Fast Track project affecting their settlements that have cultural and historical importance and calling for removal of the Army from Khokana.[19] However, despite all those efforts, their concerns and demands are yet to be effectively addressed. Though the Government has recently changed the alignment of the Fast Track to be closer to the east bank of the River from its earlier plans, that will still impact the lands of hundreds of families, including Guthi (religious trust or communal) lands in Khokana and Bungamati. While the great majority of the locals had not accepted compensation to give up their land under the earlier notice, the Government has published acquisition notice of additional 400 pieces of land mostly in Khokana and Bungamati (some in nearby Dukuchhap area) in December 2019 [20]. After the alignment change, it will reportedly require compensation for further 338 ropanis (1 ropani = 508.72 sp.m.) of land in Khokana area [21]. 

Khokana, where the zero point of the Fast Track is proposed and the project faces the greatest opposition, is a small historical indigenous Newar town. The majority of the locals are farmers and they utilize their spare time weaving, knitting, and hand sewing while it is also widely known for its traditional mustard-oil seed industry.[22] Dependent on agriculture, the land is the most essential part of life and livelihood for Khokana locals. But Khokana stand to lose almost 60% of its fertile farmland and much of its heritage to the new infrastructure projects [23]. They will result in extreme difficulty for the people to survive as they will not be able to sustain their livelihood. In Sano Khokana where the expressway is supposed to start, Asha Maharjan will lose all his property. The fertile soil here is an important part of his family’s history and he remembers ploughing it with his parents when he was young. His eight-member family still relies on harvests for their food and income. “Maybe they can re-route it through non-arable land,” Maharjan says hopefully. “It will save us from being homeless.” [24]. Similarly, Nati kaji Maharjan, 75, had to give up his land for the prison that was never built. Now, it will be the Fast Track that will rob him of the remaining land.” We are farmers. We depend on the land, without it how are we to eat?” asks Maharjan.” How can they take our land and sell it to someone else?”[25] 


of cultural and historical sites

The Fast Track will begin at Sikalichaur (open field off a temple) where the annual Sikali Jatra festival is celebrated. That is unique to Khokana as the local do not celebrate Dashain (a major Hindu festival marked across Nepal) but mark Sikali Jatra – a five-day festival with masked dances for Goddess Rudrayani and other deities. The Fast Track will then go through Pingah, the funeral area, Ku Dey, Jugunti, Machaga Bagar, Chankhutirtha – all important parts of Khokana’s cultural circuit on the route to the next town of Bungamati. Ku Dey is where the people of Khokana believe their ancestors first established the settlement—before moving up the ridge to its present location, says Ashoj Maharjan of Lumbini Buddhist University: “It is an important archaeological site, 3,000 years old, which predates Khokana.”[26] 

Similarly, at Jugunti, the Jugi community of Newars will lose the cemetery where they have been burying their ancestors for generations. At Chankhu Tirtha, the expressway will go through the land where the final rites of the priests of Rato Machindranath – the deity of rain that has the longest chariot festival in Nepal – are performed. 

Conservationists say the new infrastructure can easily be realigned to the west bank of the Bagmati without much extra cost, which would preserve heritage sites. Says Ashoj: “We are not against development, but they are forcing projects on us that threaten our way of life.” “Without the land we won’t be able to continue with any of the rituals,” says Gyan Bhagat, “and the road will cause us to lose all our land. Our culture, our traditions will die.” The community will also lose the temple of its ancestral deity, Pingha, and the expressway will take away the funeral area from where music is played during cremations. People in Khokana have spiritual, social, cultural and economic connection with the land. 

At the same time, Khokana can be considered as one of the living museums of Nepal that recalls medieval times when the country was ruled by Malla kings [27]. Even small stone and pebbles carry a distinct history of that place. It was once nominated as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1996 [28]. The whole settlement is filled with tangible and intangible heritage – many of which are historical and unique to the town. One example is a ritual conducted by Pujari Macha Guthi whereby eight young boys conduct a grand puja (ritual) of Goddess Sikali with puja material collected from all over the village which is known as “puja thawanegu” by the locals. During the ritual, nobody is allowed in or around the Sikali temple. Although the Nepali Army claims that they have changed the Fast Track alignment to preserve Sikali temple and other historical places[29], loss of Guthi and other lands will still significantly impact the cultures. Also, at Ku Dey one of the archaeologically significant areas of Khokana as locals believe, there are sites where local perform various rituals – one of which requires the participants to wear a white long dress (jama and gamchhi). That is similar to ancient Kirat culture (one of the earliest eras of Nepal) suggesting a long-held connection of the place with historical Kirat, Lichhavi, Malla dynasties. 

However, contrary to the claim of locals, Nepal’s Department of Archaeology concluded that there was nothing of archaeological importance in Ku Dey. In October 2018, the Department stated that if anything of archaeological value is excavated during the construction of the Fast Track, it will be the responsibility of the constructor to preserve it.[30] 

Thus, the locals themselves carried out preliminary excavation of the area in November and found many materials and remains with potential archaeological significance, including paved paths below the current ground level, clay water pipes alongside the road, a well, and other items, such as oil lamp, vessel, etc.[31] However, the Department of Archeology did not pay any attention to the repeated calls of local activists for the preservation of the sites. 


and police repression

Locals of Khokana and Bungamati as mentioned above have been organizing various gatherings, protests and demonstrations against the Fast Track project over the years. Khokana locals in particularly have opposed the project in the public hearings for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project itself in 2009. After the first land acquisition notice in 2016, public actions against the project have increased – often with other communities facing similar challenges such as urban road expansion affected families across Kathmandu [32]. 

In one such action, in March 2018, Nepal Police brutally repressed the peaceful protest and demonstration of Khokana and Bungamati locals against the Fast Track Project together with the road expansion affected families from across Kathmandu valley. At least six protestors were injured when police fired seven rounds of tear gas and used water cannon at the peaceful rally in capital Kathmandu [33]. 

International human rights organizations have voiced concerns against the violations of the rights of Khokana and Bungamati locals, including against the violent response in the peaceful protests [34]. Nepal Police has also intervened in protests in Bungamati near the project site with heavy force and with presence of Nepali Army officials [35] while the protests outside the army camp in Khokana have also run high with tension with locals fearful of armed military officials [36]. However, the Government has been adamant that the alignment of the Fast Track will not be changed despite protests of Khokana and Bungamati locals [37].


[2]; track-brings-fear-of-displacement-to-khokana/ [3] [4] [5]; [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]; track-brings-fear-of-displacement-to-khokana/ [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]; [34]; [35]; [36] [37]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Kathmandu-Terai/Madhesh Fast Track Road Project, Nepal
State or province:Lalitpur district, Province No. 3
Location of conflict:Khokana and Bungamati
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Military installations
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Government of Nepal has adopted off-the-cuff approach since the beginning of the project when it first invited the Expression of Interest (EOI) for implementing the Kathmandu Terai Fast Track Road in 1996. Back then, it intended to acquire land only and trust the rest of the responsibilities to a concessionaire under a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model without a governing act. In 2008, the Government offered only toll-based concession for the project, which was changed in 2012 when it agreed to provide grant up to 15% of the capital costs in subsidies. In 2014, the Government accepted unsolicited proposal for the project from the Indian company named Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Service (IL&FS) that requested minimum vehicle guarantee scheme on the Expressway. But, subsequently, it re-advertised for bids for the project.

In February 2015, the IL&FS won the bid for the Fast Track and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government while infrastructure and development experts began criticizing the deal as a financial risk. At the same time, following the 2015 magnitude earthquake, protests against Nepal’s new constitution in the southern plains blocked border points, which escalated into undeclared blockade by India. In October 2015, Nepal’s Supreme Court also ordered the deal to halt, citing concerns over national interest. A new Government cancelled all agreements with the IL&FS for construction of the Fast Track in 2016 and announced that it will construct the project by itself. In 2017, the Government of decided to give the responsibility of construction management of the Fast Track to the Nepali Army that had earlier opened the track of the highway. The same year, then Prime Minister Prachanda foundation stone for the Fast Track was laid in Nijgadh.

The IL&FS had already prepared the Detailed Project Report for the Fast Track, but when the Army offered less than a third of their asked price of NPR 608 million (USD 5.8 million), it led to a fallout where IL&FS’s DPR was ultimately rejected. As a result, the IL&FS has claimed NPR 2.37 billion in compensation for the preparation of the DPR from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport since the agreement was that the company would not charge any amount for the DPR if it was awarded the contract to build the Fast Track.

On the other hand, the Nepali Army commissioned a South Korean company Soosung Engineering & Consulting Company to prepare a new DPR at the cost of NPR 70.45 million, which was approved in 2019. However, the Army had begun construction of the Fast Track work even before preparation of the DPR, which reduced the total length of the highway to 72.5 km from 76.2 km earlier. The four lane highway with 50 meters right of way will be 25 meters in hill and 27 meters in the Terai. It will have 87 bridges (for which the Army has already called international bids and shortlisted six international companies – five from China and one from Turkey). Similarly, three tunnels will be constructed at Mahadev Danda (3.355 km), Dhedre (1.630 km) and Lendanda (1.430 km) of Makwanpur district, for which international bidding is yet to begin. At the same time, the project estimated to cost NPR 175 billion, which is NPR 63.19 billion more than the earlier estimated of NPR 112 billion.

Earlier, in 2006, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had provided technical assistance to investigate feasibility of an investment program for North-South Fast Track project to improve the road links from Kathmandu to the East-West Highway of Nepal, which laid a basis for taking the Expressway forward. Under the project, final report on feasibility study and preliminary designs for the Fast Track was prepared by the Oriental Consultants in 2008. Based on that, the Kathmandu-Terai/Madhesh Fast Track Road Project office of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport as per and the Government regulations or ADB policies conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Fast Track and submitted to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment by March 2015 (unofficial copy obtained).

Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,751,900,000.00
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:10,000 - 12,000
Start of the conflict:18/02/2009
Company names or state enterprises:Soosung Engineering and Consulting from Republic of Korea - prepared the Detailed Project Report of the Fast Track highway
Relevant government actors:Officer of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers
Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport
Ministry of Defence
Nepali Army
Kathmandu-Terai/Madhesh Fast Track Road Project
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Janasarokar Samuha (Public Concerns Group), Khokana
Nepal Sanskritik Punarjagaran Samiti (Nepal Cultural Revitalization Committee), Khokana
Save Nepa Valley movement
Local and national EJOs

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Threats to use arms
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsThe EIA report of the Fast Track cautions for potential increase in health problems around Khokana area due to construction of interchange/toll booths, which will become a commercial and busy parking facility
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Repression
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Cultural impacts of the Fast Track project in Khokana, Nepali Times, 2016

NEPAL: Kathmandu-Terai expressway alignment should be changed to preserve arable land and local heritage, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), 23 March 2018

Nepal: Stop the Use of Violence to the Indigenous Newar Community and Uphold their Rights to Peaceful Assembly, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), 2 April 2018

“Our land is us, we are our land”, Nepali Times, 4 May 2018

Fast Track brings fear of displacement to Khokana, Supriya Manandhar, The Record, 19 March 2018

Army to complete Kathmandu-Terai expressway in three and half years, The Rising Nepal, 28 August 2019

Khokana Newars file complaint to NHRC over human rights violations in land acquisition for Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Highway, CEMSOJ, 26 September 2016

Locals obstruct transmission line tower work in Khokana, The Himalayan Times, 2 May 2019

Life in the fast lane, Ayushma Bashnyat, The Kathmandu Post, 21 January 2019

Eurasia Review - Seizing ‘The Belt And Road’ Opportunity: Challenges For Nepal

June 24, 2017

Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)’s Solidarity Statement to the Activists and Indigenous Newar Community in Kathmandu, AIPP, 2 April 2018

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Nepal Sanskritik Punarjagran Aviyan - नेपाल सांस्कृतिक पुनर्जागरण अभियान

Save Nepa Valley

Save Nepa Valley movement

Meta information

Contributor:Prabindra Shakya, Community Empowerment and Social Justice (CEMSOJ) Network, [email protected]
Last update18/12/2019
Conflict ID:4864




Map showing Fast Track and other infrastructure projects in Khokana area (Source: Nepali Times)


Map showing Fast Track and other infrastructure projects in Khokana area (Source: Nepali Times)