September 18, 2018 11:10 AM NPT
By: RUDRA KHADKA
KATHMANDU, Sept 18: The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has begun interrogating project chiefs, engineers and employees who worked for the Sikta Irrigation Project, a project of national pride, since its inception.
The CIAA move came after it became evident that there had been gross irregularities and corruption in the construction of the project.
Although the construction of the headwork and main canal was completed recently after 12 years, farmers are yet to receive water from the canal. The main canal was damaged at several locations during a test-run recently as the contractors in collusion with the project employees allegedly carried out substandard construction work.
On July 23, the main canal of the project collapsed in Changai area of Dhakeri in Banke district. This has not only dashed the farmers’ hopes to get water for irrigation as the project completion date is fast approaching but also cost several billions of rupees from the state coffers for nothing.
A total of Rs 14.7 billion has already been spent for the construction of various works including the headwork. There is a preparation to spend over Rs 1 billion for the construction of a 45 kilometer secondary branch canal on the western side, while the construction of the main canal in the eastern sector worth Rs 3 billion is currently underway.
The project has been testing the canal after the 45-km stretch of the canal in the western section was completed two years ago.
Although the canal is built for the capacity of 50 cumecs water, it collapses even as 5 cumecs of water is released. It is said that the corruption within the project increased as there was ‘a tendency to get appointment as project chief’ by appeasing the irrigation minister and earn money through foul means in collusion with the contractors.
The anti-graft body began interrogating the officials concerned for further investigation after making a field study of the Sikta Project. The CIAA move has resurrected expectations that the guilty will be brought to justice and the billions of rupees that is set to go to waste will be recovered by making the contractors accountable for the loss.
Sources said the CIAA has so far interrogated former project chiefs Krishna Raj Timilsina, Sarba Dev Jaisawal and Dilip Karki. On Monday, the CIAA summoned former divisional engineer duo Pradip Thapa and Sushil Chandra Devkota for interrogation.
The anti-graft body has also summoned Ramesh Basnet, who headed the project when the main canal collapsed at various locations during the test-run. Basnet has been accused of not making contractors responsible for maintenance and improvement till one year after the completion of the construction work.
Kalika Construction, which built a 42-kilometer stretch of the total 45-kilometer long main canal of the western sector of the project, has been insisting that it was not its responsibility to repair and improve the main canal which collapsed during the test-run. Basnet now has been transferred to the Bagmati Irrigation Project.
It has been found that most of the works of Sikta Project was carried out when Saroj Pandit served as the director general of the Department of Irrigation. The CIAA has also summoned Maheshwar Narasingh KC, who served as the head of Sikta Project for seven months starting September 2017 for interrogation on Thursday. KC, however, had already submitted a report to the line ministry stating that it was not possible to operate the canal due to faulty work.
Sources said the CIAA is planning to interrogate at least 30 senior officials, who served in the project since its beginning.
Meanwhile, a panel formed by the Ministry of Irrigation earlier to investigate the irregularities seen in the project has focused on the technical aspect, while undermining the huge financial irregularities.
“The CIAA has been investigating the financial irregularities. Our focus has been on contract management, project design and the improvement that needs to be made in the coming days,” the panel’s head Joint Secretary Sushil Chandra Tiwari said.