Kathmandu Ujyalo Karyakram – A luxury we can’t afford


Driving by Durbar Marg recently has been a treat for my sore eyes. Amidst the ever present cloud of dust and array of battered railings and lampposts, the new towering handsome silver lights are a real breath of fresh air. When conversations ensued about the lighting and beautification of the street, I for one did not hesitate to praise Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s efforts, which are in-fact truly brilliant.  However, when I read about the Asian Development Bank’s Rs.380 million contribution to this project in a national daily, the million dollar question (literally!) that came to my mind was: Is it worth it?

Firstly, the cost of this project is too high for simply lighting Kathmandu streets relative to the cost of other major infrastructure projects that are in a desperate need for funding. Durbar Marg, already one of the poshest areas in the country, has a plethora of high-end shops and restaurants that attract mostly wealthy youngsters and mid-aged people. Undoubtedly the additional 30 solar lights, pavements and benches will make a pleasant visiting experience of the street. However, spending Rs.11.7 million in installation alone and an additional Rs. 7.3 million in maintenance each year seems simply too extravagant for a country that faces 84 hours of power cuts per week. To make matters worse, KMC plans to install additional 600 lights in major city areas like New Baneshwor, Swayambhu, Basantapur, Singha Durbar, Tripureshwore and Thapathali using the ADB funds.

Secondly, the way this entire project was completed seems extremely dubious and points a big finger towards the financial gain of few special interest groups. At the onset of this project, the original plan was to share the costs between KMC and public and consumer committees. However, that plan failed when the public and consumer committees showed no particular interest in investing in this project. The project commenced anyways. The fact that this project was planned, funded and completed despite little to no interest from key stakeholders raises a major red flag regarding the true intention behind this project. One argument we keep hearing at attempts to justify this project is that, this project will contribute substantial financial benefits to the Durbarmarg area. In a statement by the Durbar Marg Development Board president, he claimed that the Durbar Marg area will be witnessing additional business transactions of over Rs. 100 million per year due to two hours of extended business hours by 150 businesses. These additional operational hours will in turn help the government collect an extra Rs. 20 million VAT. They also plan on raising money by advertising on electric boards operated by these lights. While these facts and figures do look alluring, their accuracy is seriously questionable. Only time will tell.

In conclusion, infrastructure development using sustainable energy sources is a brilliant idea and undoubtedly an indispensable variable in the modern economic growth equation. However, I question the marginal benefit of providing solar powered street lights to a segment of Nepali population that is already well off relative to the rest of the country. At a moment when Nepal lacks the most basic infrastructures and when majority of its population are living in abject poverty, providing solar fueled street lights to people looking to buy TAG Heuer watches after their KFC dinner is plain silly. There are still villages where students are forced to cross rivers using life-threatening ropeways (tuin) just to go to school, and then there are villages where there are no schools. We ourselves face excruciating hours of load shedding every single day, and people have to wake at the crack of dawn just to get a bucket of water. Efficient resource allocation is the key for development, and I believe that the ADB funds would be a lot more valuable in building bridges, schools or hydroelectric plants than installing pretty lights. We have to set our priorities straight. With massive opportunity costs and alternative solutions as cheap as maintaining the existing electric poles and bulbs, the Kathmandu Ujyalo Karyakram is a luxury we can’t afford. Besides, I’m sure everyone would rather have a group of kids get to school safely than make their own strolls in the roads a tad bit easier on the eyes!

P.S. I would like to thank Mr. Sajal Man Shrestha for his invaluable insights and support, as well as for helping me edit this article.

Sneha Pradhan

Sneha Pradhan is a Researcher at Samriddhi Foundation with an interest in good governance. She is a graduate student at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pursuing a Master of Science degree in Public Policy and Management. She also has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and Statistics with a minor in Complex Organizations from Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

19 thoughts on “Kathmandu Ujyalo Karyakram – A luxury we can’t afford

  • March 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Sneha ,your article is excellent.Hope the authorities of KMC and World Bank go through this article.Think how can their attention be drawn .You did very good job.Keep it up and congratulation my little baby.Maiju (Sadhana)

  • March 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Dear Sneha, where did you get this information from?? Did you verify
    with any of the concerned ?? Did you talk to Durbarmarg Development
    Board?? Did you talk to Project Members/ Coordinator/ Chief?? So you
    “thought” ADB and Government Invested our tax money to light up the
    “posh” street????

    After 8 years Durbarmarg is getting street lights, we are working on to set an example that we can light up our streets without any funds and you happily credited ADB.

    Please do a proper research before you write an article. [Sincerely: Project Member, Durbarmarg Development Board.]

    P.S. I like your title, RESEARCH Intern at THE PROSPERITY FOUNDATION.

    • March 27, 2014 at 12:07 am

      I appreciate your effort for the street lamps. it looks very nice and tidy. hope to see other places as same.

    • March 27, 2014 at 11:50 am

      Dear Project Manager of Durbar Marg Development Board,
      As I mentioned in my article, the sources came from national dailies like the Republica and The Kathmandu Post.
      Here are the links for your convenience:




      While you say that the streets are being lighted without “any” funds from ADB, the sources say otherwise. I would also like to clarify that I am not at all criticizing the efforts of KMC or the Durbar Marg Development Board. In-fact if it were true that the lighting was being conducted entirely by funds from the private sector, I would say kudos to that. I expressed my views on what everybody else read in the papers, and if the information there is not true, then I guess people need to work on providing better facts to the papers instead on anonymously commenting on blog posts.
      Having said that, if you have sources proving that this was in-fact an independent project, with no financial assistance from KMC or ADB, please do send it to me. I would be more than happy to make any alterations or post a clarification to my article if required.

      • March 27, 2014 at 11:57 am

        Exactly Dear Sneha, reading papers aren’t enough. it will invite arguments only. survey yourself whether the written things are 100% true or not. i think this is the safest way. and carry on with your writing skill. i would like read more .. thanks

        • April 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

          I agree. Sneha, next article….

  • March 27, 2014 at 12:04 am

    This article is biased and the writer is amateur. Once you wrote, its written and recorded. Don’t practice this way. it is a very responsible task.

    • March 27, 2014 at 11:14 am

      Whoever is this guy writing under the pseudonym “Journalist” needs to shut the hell up. “Once you wrote..” haha. Before you start criticizing an entire article as being “amateur”, first learn how to write a sentence correctly.

      • March 27, 2014 at 11:43 am

        First, you, yourself should learn some English..”once you wrote” what is wrong with it ? another thing- the issue is not about grammar. If the author can share the full proof data base on this issue, then only the things can be sorted out. we need the true survey report, interview some related guys then come up with this debate. so shut your butt hole off supremo. on this note, the article is 100% biased. journalists are in deep shit just because of these kind of amateurishness.

        • March 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

          What biasness are are you talking about ?? If you have evidence lets see it, lets hear it. Just because you feel this article is biased does not make this article biased, it just makes it your opinion, a dumb opinion. For example, just because I feel juju is a dumb dipshit of an asshole, it doesn’t make you a dumb dipshit of an asshole; it’s just my opinion. Also, check the comments section below to see all the sources and references that the author of the article has provided.

          P.S: another English correction. It’s not butt hole. It’s asshole, you asshole. Go back to surfing shaadi.com while listening to Himesh songs. This website is not for you.

        • March 28, 2014 at 11:12 am

          What biasness are you talking about ?? If you have evidence lets see it, lets hear it. Just because you feel this article is biased does not make this article biased, it just makes it your opinion, a dumb opinion. For example, just because I feel juju is a dumb dipshit of an asshole, it doesn’t make you a dumb dipshit of an asshole; it’s just my opinion. Also, check the comments section below to see all the sources and references that the author of the article has provided.

          P.S: another English correction. It’s not butt hole. It’s asshole, you asshole. Go back to surfing shaadi.com while listening to Himesh songs. This website is not for you.

          • March 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

            oh boy ! here is some one who is putting a back-link and promoting shaadi dot com ha ha. i hope the author is reading all these comments..

            PS: comments are now longer related to the topic. I suggest supremo should now write an article on grammar English instead..BRAVO !!!

  • March 27, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I think it is pretty extraordinary that somebody who calls
    himself a reputed project member of Durbarmarg Dev would come out and
    PERSONALLY attack a journalist/researcher because he does not agree with her
    view point. All that the journalist did in this article was step forward when
    she learned of a wrongdoing and exposed it, things that we want people to do in
    a free democracy. It is because of investigative articles like this, we can
    have an open and democratic debate about this matter. The question really is do
    we want to criticize and publicly humiliate
    a researcher/journalist, who all she did was tell us, citizens, what our
    political officials are doing in the dark. Rather than criticize, we need
    to support such journalism and
    activism. Because once we start putting restriction on what a journalist can
    and cannot say ,then it’s a slippery slope from there. If the Durbarmarg Development
    board wants to put solar powered street lights, we as citizens have the right
    to have an open debate about it and not have it done in secret.

  • April 3, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Dear Sneha,

    I appreciate your thoughts on the article. However, please
    be known that developments as such are always critical and people always remain
    cynical on them. If you were to say that the funds used for building street
    lights should have gone to other priority areas then there should not be any
    development activities that should be carried out in Kathmandu. The funds for recent road expansion project should have diverted to Karnali and other remote areas. Therewill always be people tainting about such developments. Mere pouring in money in remote areas is not useful from economic stand point. There should be proper absorptive capacity built in for effectively implementing the project. However,
    in our case, we don’t have that. Meanwhile, the aftermath of this recent
    project looks encouraging and interesting. There is a close link between people’s
    perception of the place and their willingness to spend. It’s good that business
    houses in Durbar Marg are extrapolating better days ahead. As for general
    people, Durbar Marg will still stand as the poshest and one of the must go
    places of Kathmandu. It’s even better to know the government’s increased willingness to adopt renewable energy. 🙂

    Manish Bikram Shah

    • April 3, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Dear Manish,

      I absolutely agree that proper absorptive capacity is crucial for implementing any project and merely “pouring in money” as you word it, is not enough. We definitely need to work on that.
      While I see how my bridge example might have led you to believe that I am against any infrastructure development projects within the city, that is not the case . I think that there is a huge difference between the road expansion project and the Kathmandu Ujyalo Karyakram. The former has actually made life easier for the people of Kathmandu by catering to reducing the growing traffic problems in Kathmandu. Thanks to the broader roads,people can now spend more time working, then getting stuck in traffic. (Still happens, but the situation is better than before!) I don’t see the latter making such an impact on people’s daily lives. Purely looking at marginal utility, I definitely think that building broader streets is much more rewarding than installing solar lights; especially since the alternative solution of repairing current street lamps is so much cheaper and almost as effective! In my opinion the funds would be able to create more value and utility elsewhere. Investing in say, improving water supply in Kathmandu would be more useful to people than installing the solar lights. It’s a question of allocating funds in the areas that need it the most. I truly do think that KMC’s and DDB’s efforts are great. However, right now with other areas even in the city itself that are in dire need of funding and attention, the re-lighting of the streets with solar lamps is just not a luxury we can afford.

  • April 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Dear Sneha,

    Comments gracefully
    taken. However, my remarks on your article in no way should be taken you as
    against infrastructure developments in Kathmandu. My apologies if you took it
    that way. First off, installation of solar lights is not just to add beauty to
    Durbar Marg area. It has been done with security purpose and to lessen the road
    accidents. So your take on judging by marginal utility, it definitely does have
    high value. I am still wondering how critical issue like ‘security’ be termed
    and interpreted as ‘luxury’. Now you might again argue that there are other
    roads that need street lights, well for that please be known that the project
    has just started off and it will take a while for it to reach other roads.

    Second off, if projects be judged only in terms of need and
    reach, then all the funds from donor should be channalised into hydropower
    since all the Nepalese reel under loadshedding. But sadly that’s not how donors
    operate. Your thoughts on investing in improving water supply doesn’t hold
    water. Let me give you an example. You might be aware about Melamchi and ADB’s
    commitment towards implementing it. However, in matters as critical as such,
    political interference and multiple interest groups always pave way in making
    it delayed. They have realized that such projects are vulnerable to political
    expediency and are often ill suited. In projects as such, it requires a very predictable
    and sustainable source of funding. So donors have changed their way in
    selecting projects where they should be involved. They now select projects
    which have less political interference (not all though).

  • May 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I really like it how you have brought in the whole marginal benefit thing in context to the society, as many times people who fund the project overlook this fact. I am an Economics student myself, and your analysis was pretty impressive.Correct me if I am wrong, there isn’t any sort of conspiracy behind the street lamp project is there?

  • May 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Great article, hit the nail imo

  • July 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Miss Pradhan , writing article you need to verify few things, your two blunders as i observed, firstly are they the same street lights that the national dailies are saying? it may be side street lamps on the both end of the street not the middle one? and in the national dailies, they urged that they will be installing, not installed? so first verify with the facts whether it is the same one or not? and I agree with the facts of Durbar Dev that while you writing the article there is always two side, you got one news which has not been verified and it seems like there is contradiction in the fact that one you are talking has high chance of not being the same one. As a journalism student I am suggesting you that while writing article have objectivity, as i read it , it only seems like you are pouring your thinking and emotions you discussed with your colleagues in a thin base of facts. Journalism has greater impacts on the people and article like these may ruin Durbar Dev image, you should keep in the mind for so, Keep writing 🙂