Govt blocks purchase of 300 electric buses by Sajha over specifications row

Published On: October 22, 2019 07:16 AM NPT By: Sagar Ghimire  | @sagarghi

KATHMANDU, Oct 22: Accusing Sajha Yatayat of changing the specifications document provided by the government for the procurement of electric buses, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT) has blocked the purchase of a fleet of the clean-mode vehicles.

A directive from the ministry to put the procurement process on hold has rendered the procurement uncertain.

Back in July, the government had provided Rs 3 billion to Sajha Yatayat for the purchase and operation of 300 electric buses in Kathmandu Valley.

But, the ministry has suddenly intervened, stating that Sajha had altered the specifications provided by the government for the procurement .

“The government had provided specifications approved by a cabinet meeting . However, after three months of the release of the funds, they altered the specifications,” said Rajeshwor Gyawali, a joint secretary at MoPIT.

“Since Sajha Yatayat has changed the specifications approved by the cabinet for the purchase , the changes first need to be approved by the government. So, the ministry has asked Sajha to temporarily halt the process,” he added.

However, senior officials at Sajha Yatayat deny having really altered the specifications.

“The government has provided a one-page document containing specifications for the electric buses, and we were told that this was just a framework. If it is a framework, we have to make some adjustments to the specifications as per our requirements,” Bhusan Tuladhar, executive director of Sajha Yatayat, told Republica.

“It cannot be the same as the government's specifications A to Z as these constituted just an outline of what type of electric buses the government wanted. We have taken nearly 90 percent from the specifications document. Changes were made to the remaining 10 percent on the basis of past experience, the suggestions of experts, the experience of other countries including India, and a literature review,” he added.

According to Tuladhar, a high-level committee formed by Sajha and comprising representatives from the ministry, the Department of Transportation Management and other agencies has prepared the bid document and the evaluation criteria for suppliers, along with specifications for the buses.

“Some changes in the specification document are related to the capacity of the buses, the size of seats and legroom. Also, the framework document might not have mentioned whether we needed AC buses or non-AC . The changes were not a big deviation from the framework provided by the government,” he added.

However, Joint Secretary Gyawali said Sajha Yatayat cannot change anything on its own. “It's government funds. There are oversight agencies that will later question the changes made to the specifications. It's our responsibility to stop such changes,” he added.

Rajeshwor Gyawali, Joint Secretary-MoPIT

Sajha Yatayat cannot change the specifications approved by the cabinet. If there is any revision, the government must approve it. Instead of purchasing electric buses as soon as possible, they parked the Rs 3 billion in a bank account for three months without even reporting progress to the government. They went on a foreign visit and saw buses that were different than the specifications. Who will be responsible if an audit or any oversight agency later faults the changes to the specifications? We will decide later what to do after studying the changes in the specifications.

Bhusan Tuladhar, Executive Director at Sajha Yatayat

The ministry has provided a framework for the specifications. 90 percent of the specifications were taken just as they were in the government's directive. A high-level committee including representatives from the government made changes to 10 percent. These were minor changes made on the basis of experience, a literature review and the suggestions of experts . There were statements from government officials that the electric buses should be purchased before Dashain. However, we had already made it clear to the government that the procurement of quality electric buses could take at least 7/8 months.

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