KATHMANDU, Aug 4: Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has directed the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) to conduct detailed investigations and take action against those involved in the controversial land procurement deal by Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC).
A meeting of the PAC held on Friday directed the anti-graft body to weigh in after concluding that there were serious irregularities in the procurement of plots of land meant for the construction of oil storage depots.
The parliamentary panel had started probing the matter after Republica and its sister publications ran a story exposing irregularities amounting to Rs 670 million in the procurement of pieces of land in Rupandehi, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa districts for Rs 1.61 billion.
PAC Chairman Dor Prasad Upadhyay said inquiries showed that there have been serious financial irregularities in the procurement deal. “It is found that NOC is involved in serious financial irregularities in the land procurement,” Upadhyay said. “We have decided to write to the CIAA to take action against all those responsible for the procurement.”
On Tuesday, PAC had invited NOC Managing Director Gopal Khadka and Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Supply Prem Kumar Rai for discussions on the procurement. The parliamentary panel started studying all documents related to the procurement after it found the clarifications given by Khadka and Rai unconvincing.
The parliamentary panel found that NOC was involved in irregularities with regard to method and procedure and the prices paid for the land. “State-owned NOC is found to have been involved in financial irregularities, flouting the existing laws,” said PAC member Usha Gurung. “Since we do not have the basis for determining the exact amount of the irregularity, we have given this responsibility to the CIAA.”
The parliamentary panel said the lands were purchased not from the real owners but from middlemen through a tender process. NOC paid as much as four times the market price for the land.
NOC had allocated Rs 6 billion for procuring the land in all seven provinces. Pieces of land have already been purchased in Rupandehi, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa districts for Rs 1.61 billion. NOC has paid Rs 670 million more than the going market rates.
In Bhairahawa, NOC purchased land near the banks of the Rohani River in wards 4 and 5 of Omsatiya Rural Municipality. As per the current market price, one kattha of the acquired land is worth between Rs 250,000 to Rs 600,000. However, the corporation paid up to Rs 1.3 million, claimed locals with knowledge of the transaction. According to them, NOC paid about Rs 150 million in excess for the land in Bhairahawa alone.
PAC member Ram Hari Khatiwada said the land was procured ignoring the Land Acquisition Act 2034 BS. “It is the responsibility of a government agency to remain within the parameters of existing acts and laws while purchasing land. NOC officials are seriously in breach of these parameters,” Khatiwada said.
Lawmakers said the NOC officials, with an eye on commissions, purchased private land without making any effort to find public land.