Court hearing deferral allows controversial KUKL chair to retain his post

- RUPAK D SHARMA, Kathmandu

Dec 14, 2016-

How can a drinking water supplying company, which appears to be gripped by partisan interests, provide effective services once 170 million litres of water starts flowing into the water-starved Kathmandu Valley per day from next year?

The answer one generally gets from government ministers, high-ranking officials and the private sector is: by removing of the company’s chairman, who’s charged of displaying high-handed conduct and not holding meetings on time.

Yet the chair of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), the sole drinking water supplier in the Valley, appears to be so powerful the body which appointed him has not been able to recall him, while others have not been able to convince him to step down.

Suresh Kumar Basnet, now KUKL’s chairman, entered the drinking water supplying company in February 2008, as a board member. At that time KUKL had just started operation as the public private partnership entity and Basnet was representing the Nepal Chamber of Commerce, a private sector umbrella body, which has 9 percent stake in KUKL.

Basnet, the former NCC president, then went on to become the company’s chair in June 2014. “I’ve been told about problems at KUKL. We’ll have to find an amicable solution because this is not good for a company which will have to manage distribution of water being delivered by the much-awaited Melamchi Drinking Water Project,” said Bhim Prasad Upadhyaya, who was recently appointed as the secretary of the Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation. The ministry, the parent body of KUKL, owns 30 percent stake in the drinking water supplying company.

Kathmanduites, who have long seen their taps emit air rather than water, have waited for Melamchi’s water since 2001. This wait is likely to end in September 2017 when the project is expected to channel 170 million litres of water per day to the Valley.

Although KUKL has started making arrangements to deliver Melamchi’s water by laying pipelines inside the Ring Road-where supplies would be made in the first phase-internal problems at KUKL is likely to affect delivery of effective service.

“We have long been asking the board of directors to resume the process of hiring 216 people who were selected over two years ago, but nothing has happened till date,” KUKL General Manager Mahesh Prasad Bhattarai said, adding, “The chairman should have taken the initiative but he doesn’t call board meetings on time.”

KUKL needs more human resources because its customer base is expected to expand tremendously once Melamchi’s water starts flowing into the Valley.

KUKL currently serves only around 204,000 customers in the Valley, which is home to around 3.5 million people. The company has not been able to expand its clientele base because it does not have adequate stock of water to cater to all the customers. 

Because of this many clients do not even bother to pay the bills on time. This, in turn, is deepening financial woes of the company with networth standing at a negative of Rs561.6 million, shows the preliminary audit report of fiscal year 2014-15. 

This means the company must inject fresh capital to revive its financial health. “But the chair didn’t show interest to initiate this process in the past for which annual general meeting must be held,” Bhattarai said. The company, which is yet to hold annual general meetings of fiscal years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16, recently decided to hold annual meetings of fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15 within January 21.

Despite deep dissatisfaction with the chairman’s behaviour, KUKL is not in a position to remove him immediately because the Supreme Court, issuing a stay order, has barred the company from doing so. The hearing on his case has been postponed for around 18 times since it was first filed around one-and-a-half years ago. 

“The issue wouldn’t have become so complicated had the court issued a final verdict,” Water Supply Secretary Upadhyaya said.

KUKL Chairman Basnet did not want to comment on the issue. Rajesh Kazi Shrestha, president of the Nepal Chamber of Commerce, which sent Basnet to KUKL, also did not comment on the issue.

Published: 14-12-2016 08:53

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