KATHMANDU, Sept 24: On August 25, four people died when a boat carrying 27 people capsized after hitting the pillar of a half-done bridge over the Lalbakaiya River in Rautahat. The contractor of the bridge had left the bridge construction work incomplete for years and the locals were forced to use boats to cross the river, so the public blamed the contractor, Pappu Construction, for the deaths.
Locals including a former lawmaker filed a complaint with the local administration and also forwarded the complaint to the Ministry of Home Affairs against Pappu Construction and its promoter Hari Narayan Prasad Rauniyar, who is also a member of the House of Representatives.
News reports poured in from across the country about several projects left incomplete by Rauniyar's company. The list of incomplete projects was long and most of them were bridges. The contractor is currently sitting on development projects worth over Rs 7 billion in total and Rauniyar himself boasts of having the largest number of bridge projects across the country. But, the authorities have taken no action against him yet.
Amid public pressure, Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth formed a probe panel led by Joint Secretary Dinesh Shrestha to investigate into the matter three weeks ago and the panel submitted its report to the government last week. But its content is still not public.
On Thursday, Rauniyar was seen sharing the dais with Prime Minister KP Oli during the 20th annual general meeting of the Federation of Contractors' Association Nepal. Addressing the meeting, Prime Minister Oli said that there were a few construction companies which have repeatedly defaulted on the project deadlines and the government would not extend their deadlines anymore. But the prime minister stopped short of naming the defaulter contractors.
Meanwhile, the National Reconstruction Authority on Friday decided to award the contract for the construction of a six-story building of Nepal Rastra Bank at Baluwatar to the same company, Pappu Construction. Although the project's estimated cost was Rs 3 billion, Pappu has promised to complete it for Rs 2.6 billion.
If a manager of any of the several incomplete projects had scrapped contract with Pappu and recommended blacklisting the contractor to the Public Procurement Monitoring Office (PPMO), the office would be bound to blacklist the contractor between one to three years. This would disqualify Pappu from participating in bidding for public tenders for the period. But nothing such has happened and Pappu is still landing big contracts one after another. PPMO officials informed they have not received any complaint against the contractor.
Som Raj Baral, an assistant to Minister Mahaseth, informed that the minister was on a China visit and joined office Sunday. “The minister will decide the matter,” added Baral.
Interestingly, Rauniyar, who was elected to parliament from the Federal Socialist Forum, is also a member of parliament's Development and Technology Committee, which has not yet started any formal discussions on the projects which are sick due to nonperformance by the contractors. He is not only immune to any action but also receives political protection, according to sources.
After Lalbakaiya boat capsize, Chief Minister of Province 2 Lal Babu Raut, who is also from the same party as Rauniyar, said that the contractor alone should not be blamed as the government's failure to allocate budget on time was also responsible for the delay in the project.
It has been over a year since the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) started a probe into the collapse of the Pappu-built Jabdighat Bridge in Bardiya district. But the CIAA investigation is still ongoing. The constitutional anti-graft body had started the investigation after the bridge over the Babai River collapsed in August last year.
There had been an attempt to blacklist Pappu Construction some eight years ago. The then head of the Hetauda Division Road office Dayananda Jha had recommended action against Pappu Construction to the PPMO after finding that Pappu had submitting fake documents to win contracts. But no action was taken against Pappu and Jha had to pay a hefty price for his action.
Although Jha's seniors had supported his move, the then prime minister Madhav Nepal and then minister for physical planning Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar refused to defend Jha's action.
Instead, Rauniyar lodged a complaint at the CIAA against Jha. CIAA grilled Jha. Rauniyar, using its political connections managed to transfer Jha to the Department of Roads where he was shunted to the reserve pool for months. The PPMO never blacklisted Rauniyar's company.