Friday, December 7, 2018

Ex-minister Pandey accused of embezzling billions

The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) today filed a corruption case at the Special Court against 21 persons – including former minister and chairman of the Kalika Construction Bikram Pandey – accusing them of embezzling Rs 8.32 billion in the course of the construction of main canal of Sikta irrigation project, a national pride project.
They have been charged with using faulty design, substandard construction and repeated collapses of the main canal of the national pride project Sikta.
CIAA spokesperson Rameshwor Dangal confirming that the anti-graft body has filed corruption cases against former minister and chairman of the Kalika Construction, Bikram Pandey after a quality test found problems in the works. "The CIAA has charged with corruption on 20 others – along with Pandey – including government officials and consultants involved in the Sikta Irrigation Project," he said, adding that the anti graft body has lately focussed on irregularities in development project implementation. "Those indicted by CIAA 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 Rs 2.13 billion as embezzled amount from Pandey, whose Kalika Construction won the contract of building the main canal of the multi-billion-rupee Sikta Irrigation Project that aims at irrigating 80 per cent of arable land in Banke district. However, the quality of works at the project has been questioned after repeated collapses of the main canal. 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.
The CIAA came 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 report prepared by the panel – led by joint-secretary at the Energy Ministry Sushi Chandra Tiwari – had stated that consultants, while designing the project, failed to carry out a special soil test, which led to a fragile canal. The panel reported 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.
According to the CIAA chargesheet, most structures of the project’s canal section crumbled and the huge investment made in the project proved to be a waste of money, provisions to ensure quality work were not incorporated in the contract as it was signed in haste with the intent of committing corruption, authorities okayed wrong design and incorporated incomplete, ambiguous provisions in the contract without going through the reports prepared in the past on the project, those responsible for construction of the project did not conduct even the quality tests stated in the contract, provisions that could ensure quality work in construction of the embankment of the main canal were overlooked, and the joint in concrete lining was substandard, apart from the main canal that was supposed to withstand the current of 50 cubic metres per second could not withstand lower volume of water.
The Office of the Auditor General – in its 55th annual report – has also 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 Rs 12.8 billion.
Officials now say the project may not be completed before 2019-20. By the time it is fully operational, the project cost is expected to shoot to Rs 25.02 billion.
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.

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