Melamchi project crawls as Italian firm dithers on job

- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Jun 7, 2018-

Melamchi project work continues to crawl as the contractor has failed to honour his commitment to work efficiently as per schedule and supply water to Sundarijal by August this year.

After completing the digging work for the tunnel on April 12, the Italian contractor for the project Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) had vowed to complete all pending work by August.

Government officials are on tenterhooks by the slow pace of work because national pride is at stake. They fear project may again miss the deadline as not much work has been done in the period post the tunnel breakthrough.

Water Supply Ministry Secretary Krishna Raj B.C. said the contractor has drifted away from their commitment made to Nepal government.

Recalling CMC (China) Regional Manager Salvatore Caciero’s commitment made at the breakthrough event in April, Secretary Krishna Raj. Said, “Their commitment to deliver does not reflect at the site. This would compromise the government’s image as another delay will break our goodwill with the public.”

Soon after the tunnel breakthrough, a meeting was held on April 26 between Melamchi Development Board (MDB), Asian Development Bank, the Consultant Engineers (Eptisa) and the contractor CMC. During the meeting, an action plan mentioned works that would be completed from May 1 to August 30. They also agreed to expedite the work. The CMC had agreed to divert Melamchi water to Sundarijal on August 15.  After the action plan, a series of meetings followed with stakeholders. Officials had told the contractor to follow the schedule and accelerate work with monsoon round the corner, said Secretary Krishna Raj.

During the two meetings held on May 10 and May 17, the contractor promised to follow the timetable and put aside their demand of additional Rs1.65 billion from the government. They also invited a high-level ministry team to inspect the site.

“Although the delay issue is under consideration with the Dispute Board (DB), they promised to continue the work. This was not done as per the plan,” said the secretary. The ministry visiting noted the work was behind schedule and no one from CMC was present at the site.

The team observed that only 52m of invert lining was done, far less than the planned 210m per day. As per the action plan, they should have completed 6km of inverting and tunnel finishing per month to stay abreast of the schedule.

The consultant engineer then issued ‘Notice to Correct’ to the contractor, urging them to work as per the schedule.

In a shocking development, the consultant Eptisa, through a letter dated June 6 addressed to the MDB, informed its Resident Project Manager Thomas Berberich was no more with the project.

“The EPTISA needs the Board’s consent and approval to replace consultant. They did not get the approval. They informed after removing the team leader of the contractor,” said a high-level ministry source. He said they did not give reasons why they terminated the Project Manager’s contract just before the DB Hearing Process on June 8.

The hearing will discuss the contractor’s demand for additional money for the additional work required for open cutting and slope stabilising in the Headwork area after the earthquake.

The contractor had to carry out nearly 60,000 cubic meters of open cut at the Headwork site. They demand additional Rs 1.65 billion for this work. The government paid them Rs 280 million for the additional work. Slowing down their work right before the deadline and working haphazardly as per their wish raises questions about their intentions to complete the work in the stipulated time, said the source.  

“Termination of Berberich, who strongly refuted the contractor’s claim, and sluggish work progress at the 11th hour, shows they want to influence the project completion,” added the source.

Published: 07-06-2018 06:57

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