Rauniyar rubbished the report. “The IoE is not an independent body. And we do not accept its report,” he told the Post. “If the court proves that we are guilty of failing to meet the quality standards, then we will rebuild the bridge.”
Rauniyar said the bridge collapsed because of its faulty design. “We had long warned the DoR about the faulty design, but they didn't listen to us. They are using me as a scapegoat,” he told the Post.
But the debacle with Babai Bridge is not an isolated incident--the state of the company’s numerous other projects is telling. They highlight the potential compromises in quality that Pappu Construction has made. Earlier this year, the DoR had to intervene in the bridge project over the Bagmati river at Tinkune, after the contractor was found not to have cemented the piles right after digging the foundation holes.
“Instant cementing of the piles is necessary to ensure that more clay does not fall into the hole, which will affect the quality of the bridge’s foundation,” said Arjun Jung Thapa, chief of DoR’s bridge division.
What allows Rauniyar to operate with impunity is his political backing. The son of a Pradhan Pancha (village chief) during the Panchayat days, Rauniyar got into the construction business in the ’80s owing to his strong political background. While he made his way to the top of the construction business, he also actively pursued a career in politics as a member of the Nepali Congress. It was his association with the NC that elevated him to an 'A' class contractor from a petty contractor in Birgunj.
Over the years, Rauniyar increased his political clout. In the parliamentary elections last year, he was elected an MP from Parsa-3. Nepali Congress leaders from Parsa district say Rauniyar exploited his political connection to expand his business. Surendra Chaudhary, one of the local Congress leaders, called Rauniyar's success a byproduct of a corrupt political system.
“He exploited the political-bureaucratic nexus to rise to become an A-Class contractor,” said Chaudhary, who lost to Rauniyar in the 2017 election.
Today, Rauniyar and his company remain untouchable from any government action. DoR officials admit that the company has not faced any significant action from the authorities despite its poor track record.
As per contract agreements, executing agencies can fine contractors for late work, terminate contracts and even blacklist contractors based on the Public Procurement Act. However, Rauniyar’s company managed to avert any form of government action by either going to the court or influencing government officials. When the DoR fined Pappu Rs58.47 million a year and a half ago for failing to complete a section of the Nepalgunj-Kohalpur road and delivering poor quality, Pappu Construction went to arbitration and won the legal battle with a three-member team deciding in its favour.
“The arbitration some five months ago declared that Pappu did not need to pay any compensation amount; instead, the department owes the contractor around Rs20 million,” a DoR official told the Post.
The case of the collapsed Babai bridge at Jabbighat has also reached a court. “But when we tried to blacklist Pappu Construction, it directly went to the Supreme Court and got a stay order,” said DoR spokesperson Gautam.
Once blacklisted, contractors cannot receive government contracts for one to three years. But DoR officials told the Post that it is not easy to blacklist companies like Pappu Construction. “Whenever we take steps to punish them, the influential ones stop the process through a court order,” Gautam added.
Pappu has been blacklisted once so far for producing fake documents to bag a contact about 13 years ago. Even then, Pappu was able to halt the blacklisting process for a year.
Rauniyar has been doing a media tour in recent weeks, following a series of reports over his company’s mishandling of public contracts. The public outreach, according to him, was advised by his party President and Deputy Prime Minister Upendra Yadav. “I have been speaking to the media as per his instructions, though I have already handed over ownership of the company to my son, Sumit,” he told the Post.
Amid controversies over the firm’s poor performance, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport last week formed a committee, headed by Deepak Shrestha, a superintending engineer at the department, to investigate projects handled by the company. Officials said the team has ten days to deliver a report.
However, Tulasi Prasad Sitaula, a former secretary at the ministry, doubts the committee will successfully address the real issues underlying Pappu Construction. “We have a history of forming such committees,” he said, “that never get any results.”