JHAPA, August 24: Members of a parliamentary committee have concluded that at least Rs 400 million has been siphoned off while buying land for state-owned Nepal Oil Nepal Corporation (NOC) in Jhapa district alone.
NOC recently concluded similar land deals in Sarlahi, Chitwan and Rupandehi districts, for the purpose of setting up fuel storage facilities.
After finding it impossible to cover up the high-level scam, NOC officials had earlier resorted to threatening those who sold the lands and media persons also. However, stronger facts have emerged as the land sellers and various other stakeholders started to speak up, notwithstanding the threats, to expose NOC doings.
Members of parliament’s Industry, Commerce and Supply Committee drew its conclusions following field observations, talks with the land sellers and others concerned. “After the field visits, we came to know that a huge amount of money has been amassed through the fabrication of figures in documents, keeping the land sellers in the dark, and the creation of a big network,” said lawmaker Deepak Karki, who is leading the parliamentary team in the field visit. “We now have no confusion at all that there has been huge irregularity in this deal.”
. Market rate around Rs 200,000 per kattha
. Landowners received over Rs 450,000 per kattha
.NOC paid over 1.35 million per kattha
The committee members, who have been rigorously following the high-level scam orchestrated by NOC Executive Director Gopal Khadka, seemed bewildered on learning about the modus operandi used. Karki said they are determined not to let the scam go unpuhished. His team remained in the district Tuesday and Wednesday for the field visit and monitoring.
“Even if we calculate at the maximum price, all that land could have easily been purchased for Rs 100 million. But the documents show that over Rs 620 million has been paid,” added Karki, a member of parliament from Jhapa.
According to him, the whole land deal in Jhapa was completed with Rs 50 million to 70 million at the most changing hands. “However, NOC doctored the documents to show the cost to be an additional Rs 400 million.
Serious investigations must be carried out to find out where all the money went. Otherwise such scams will recur and millions in taxpayer money will be wasted.”
NOC officials have prepared documents stating that a total of 23. 313 bigha (463 kattha) of land was bought at the rate of Rs 1.351 million per kattha. At this rate, the total land costs Rs 626.18 million, according to the documents. However, the land owners have in fact received not more than Rs 550 thousand per kattha. When they later found that others profitted millions from their own lands, they started raising their voice.
It is now clear that a nexus of officials and brokers planned to buy land at Charaali area ahead of NOC’s public notice for the purpose, which was issued on December 20, 2016.
Land brokers reached the land owners a few months ahead of the notice publication. “Brokers had been trying to pursuade us to sell our land, saying we would get huge amounts that we might not get from anybody else for years to come,” said Anil Kumar Karki, one of the land owners who sold to NOC. He, however, didn’t disclose the names of those who had offered him the money. “To my surprise they included even my close relatives.”
Karki sold one bigha of his own land and two bigha belonging to his elder brother to NOC. He was offered Rs 440 thousand per kattha. “I was ready to sell because it hardly costs Rs 200 thousand per kattha,” he told Republica. He received Rs 8.8 million for one bigha. But documents at the Land Revenue Office show that the land was priced at Rs 207 million.
Shriram Marasini of Charaali sold three bigha registered in his own name, his mother’s and his elder brother’s, at Rs 550 thousand per kattha. But he later found out from the land revenue office that the land was transacted at the rate of 1.35 million per kattha. “When Niraj Thapaliya and Laya Bhandari came and offered him a hefty amount, I immediately agreed to sell,” he said. “But later I found out that the land sale was documented at the rate of 1.35 million,” he said.
Rambir Manandhar, another lawmaker in the field inspection, said they were greatly surprised by the nature of the scam. “There is huge disparity between the real price, the price paid to the land owners and the price shown in the documents. We will set out the real picture in our report to parliament,” he said.
According to lawmaker Karki, many landowners refused to talk as they had been made to sign documents containing false particulars including the price of the land. “We need to investigate this aspect as well,” he said.