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.