KATHMANDU, Sept 27: The Election Commission (EC) has sought clarifications within 24 hours from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MOCTCA) over its decision to transfer Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Sanjiv Gautam back to the ministry.
According to a press statement issued by the EC on Tuesday, the election body has termed the MOCTCA's decision a violation of the election code of conduct. The EC, according to the statement, has asked why it should not take action against those involved in transferring DG Gautam to the ministry without its prior consent. The ministry has been asked to furnish clarifications over the decision within 24 hours of receiving the EC's letter.
Earlier, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation Jitendra Narayan Dev had transferred DG Gautam back to the ministry effective from Tuesday.
Minister Dev had sent his transfer letter to the CAAN in the first hours of Tuesday, while the chief of the country's sole civil aviation regulatory body stayed on leave, handing over responsibility to a senior CAAN official. Earlier, Gautam had submitted his response of Dev's 24-hour clarifications letter.
Dev had first sought clarification from Gautam on September 12. He sought clarification again, arguing that the previous clarification was not satisfactory.
"On Monday, Minister Dev formed a meaningless taskforce and gave Gautam responsibility over that body. The minister seems to have an intention of putting Gautam in a difficult situation in order to oust him," said a source at the ministry.
A former secretary at MoCTCA said it is illegal for the minister to transfer Gautam back to the ministry. "This is the first instance of a DG being recalled to a ministry through the forming of a meaningless taskforce. This is an arbitrary move," the former secretary said.
The former official also objected to the role of MOCTCA Secretary Maheshwar Neupane in seconding every controversial decision taken by Dev. "The country is certain to incur a huge loss due to the conspicuous silence maintained by the secretary," the former secretary further said.
Sources said power brokers, as well as the top political leadership, are involved in the bid to remove Gautam. Acting Prime Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, his son Subhash Gachchhadar, senior officials of TIA and a few airlines entrepreneurs are behind the game to oust Gautam from CAAN.
Gachchhadar junior and airline entrepreneur Aang Chhiring Sherpa, according to sources, have been pressuring Gautam through political channels to run two projects worth Rs 500 million each--Aviation Radar and TLS System, something Gautam has so far refused.
Debananda to replace Gautam?
Meanwhile, it is learnt that Minister Dev is seeking to bring General Manager of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) Devananda Upadhyaya into the post of CAAN DG, apparently under pressure from some power brokers.
Within CAAN, Rajan Pokharel is senior to Upadhyaya. Sources said Upadhyaya, who is backed by the power brokers, has assured Dev he would raise Rs 10 million each from 35 shops being run at TIA to meet Dev's election expenses. Gautam has stood opposed to any such move.
Sources said Upadhyaya has also been siding with the controversial Spanish firm Constructora San Jose. In all meetings held at CAAN to take action against San Jose, Upadhyaya used to maintain that it was CAAN that was at fault although the controversial company has failed to deliver on its contract.
The latest move by Dev in collusion Upadhyaya has put the government at risk of losing its legal battle with San Jose over the latter's contract default. The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) had earlier concluded that Upadhyaya was involved in irregularities while working as chief of Gautam Buddha International Airport.