Watchdog files graft case against former minister

- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA, Kathmandu

Dec 8, 2018-

The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority on Friday filed a corruption case at the Special Court against former minister Bikram Pandey, chairman of the Kalika Construction, for substandard construction and repeated collapses of the main canal of the Sikta Irrigation Project.

Along with Pandey, 20 others including government officials and consultants involved in the multi-billion-rupee irrigation project have been charged with corruption.

Those indicted by the anti-graft body are project chiefs Sarva Dev Prasad, Saroj Chandra Pandit, Dilip Bahadur Karki, and Ramesh Basnet; nine senior divisional engineers; engineers with the Irrigation Department Uddhav Raj Chaulagain, and managing director of the project consultant ERMC-ITECO Nepal JV.

The CIAA has sought to recover Rs2.13 billion as embezzled amount from Pandey whose Kalika Construction won the contract of building the main canal of the irrigation project. Quality of works at the project that aims to irrigate 80 percent of arable land in Banke district has been questioned after repeated collapses of the main canal.

This is the second instance in the last two months of a leading construction firm being charged by the anti-graft body with corruption. The CIAA on October 6 had filed a corruption case against Pappu Construction owner Hari Narayan Rauniyar and his son Sumit Rauniyar for building a substandard bridge over the Babai river in Jabbighat, Bardiya.

The main canal was heavily damaged at different sections of a 5-km segment in June 2016 and July 2018. When the newly built channel was first tested in June 2016, it collapsed at multiple sections. Despite repair, it broke in July again during another test.

CIAA Spokesperson Rameshwor Dangal said the anti-graft body filed corruption cases against them after a quality test found problems in the works. “The CIAA has focussed lately on irregularities in development project implementation and filing of the case on Sikta project is the result of this initiative,” said Dangal.

The CIAA swung into action after a government probe panel formed on August 10 submitted the report stating that repeated collapses of the main canal were due to the failure to spot dissoluble soil in the designing phase.

The panel led by Sushi Chandra Tiwari, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, had stated that consultants, while designing the project, failed to carry out a special test of the soil, which led to a fragile canal being built.

The Tiwari-led panel said in its report that the detailed project report prepared by the consultant said nothing about the presence of the dissoluble soil in the area where the canal collapsed.

The panel’s report blamed the dispersive soil for the repeated collapse of the main canal. The canal was built on such soil because the feasibility studies did not mention anything about that, according to the report.

In its 55th annual report, the Office of the Auditor General stated that despite clear presence of dissoluble soil on the surface, its identification, analysis and treatment were not conducted before constructing the canal.

Due to the glitches, construction of the project has been delayed and overall cost shot up. When the project was initiated in 2005-06, it was supposed to be completed by 2014-15 at an estimated cost of Rs12.8 billion.

Officials now say the project may not be completed before 2019-20. By the time it is fully operational, the project is expected to cost Rs25.02 billion.

Published: 08-12-2018 06:58

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