Haste makes waste at Sikta Irrigation project

Published On: May 19, 2019 06:05 AM NPT By: Arjun Oli

Vested interest of former director blamed

NEPALGUNJ, May 19: Breaching all the rules,  then director of the Sikta Irrigation Project Ramesh Basnet hastily awarded the contract for the construction of the eastern canal . On July 24, 2017, the construction company Kumar Kalika JV signed the contract for building the 53 kilometer  canal with a budget of Rs. 3.6 billion.

But despite the haste in awarding the contract, the project has not picked up pace even after two years. Basnet’s colleagues still recall all the hectic work he put in to expedite the contract award. “It is in the self-interest of most project chiefs to award contracts at  high rates and do so as soon as possible,” said a former official of the Sikta project, adding, “ We all remember to what lengths  Basnet went to award the project, and he succeeded.”

As per the contract agreement, the project should be completed within 28 months,  i.e.   November 11, 2019. But as the first survey design for the canal did not work out, a second design was prepared. Before handing over the contract, the project had entrusted a consultant company with  responsibility for the survey, design and cost estimations. According to the source,  a project that manages to pull off a contract gets 1 to 2 percent  commission.

Basnet has been accused of doing things in a hurry in order to pocket the commission. But after having awarded the contract, he himself seemed disappointed with the snail pace of the work. He once admitted that he handed over the contract at a great risk. The national pride project kicked off a decade ago and aims to irrigate a total of 42,000 hectares in Banke district through its eastern and western canals.

Controversy overtook the project after the western canal  kept collapsing due to shoddy work. The 45-kilometer  canal collapsed twice, at two different places, during a trial run. The Commission for  Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has filed a complaint against  current and former staff at the project, contractor CTCE-Kalika JV and the consultant over the embezzlement of Rs. 8 billion. The case is ongoing at the special court.

Then director Basnet is  caught up in the case  along with others for irregularities and for allowing substandard work. Basnet, who was an under-secretary at  the project, was able to persuade then minister for irrigation Deepak Giri and the incumbent Barshaman Pun to make him director twice.

According to co-workers, Basnet during his tenure carried out various activities in breach of the law. “He was very domineering and if anyone raised any questions, he would direct them to finish the work first and worry about the law later,” said another co-worker.

Engineers at the project say the rush to hand over the project has caused losses of millions to the government. “It was his personal interest that made the then director   rush the project,” he said, adding, “This haste has left  us  bearing  the consequences now.”

The sluggish work on the eastern canal has left the locals hugely disappointed. 

With only six months remaining before  the deadline, the contractor company has completed only 25 percent  of the work.   According to Krishna Prasad Nepal, the contractor has already received Rs. 6 million in payments. “The contractor is  at work but continuous rainfall is obstructing things,”he  said.

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