Sikta canal collapsed during the test. File photo
June 6, Kathmandu. A special court on Sunday acquitted 21 people, including former minister Bikram Pandey, in a high-profile corruption case involving the Sikta Irrigation Project. After the special court cleared the case saying that corruption could not be confirmed, the government expenditure on repairing the dam of the project, which was demolished without completion, has become regular.
A bench of special court chairperson Shrikant Poudel, members Ramesh Kumar Pokhrel and Yamuna Bhattarai cleared all the accused. The special court has not yet prepared the full text of the verdict. However, in Raikitav, the accused have been acquitted saying that the allegation of corruption cannot be established on the issue of civil liability.
Citing the conduct of the Raikitav, the special court source said, “The authorities had alleged that the corrupt activities took place as it would be in accordance with the law in terms of civil liability. The authority had filed a corruption case on December 7, 2075, alleging corruption of Rs 2.13 billion in Sikta Irrigation Project, one of the projects of national pride.
According to the Public Procurement Act, the contracting party must complete the construction on time. If there is no quality work in that period or if there is damage before the specified period, the manufacturer should repair it. The contract agreement and the process accordingly are of civil nature. If that is not followed, the dispute is resolved through an arbitrator.
On the other hand, allegations of corruption are made if any work is done to the detriment of the state treasury. It was alleged that corruption had taken place as the irrigation canal was destroyed due to misuse of state funds and quality work. The special court acquitted the accused on the ground that it was not a criminal but a civil liability. Until the full text is made public, it is not clear on what basis the special court cleared Koko.
Accusation of authority: Dam cannot be broken without corruptionAuthorities had filed a corruption case against 21 people, including Rastriya Prajatantra Party member Bikram Pandey, demanding Rs 2.13 billion.
Pandey was then involved in irrigation projects as the head of CTCE / Kalika Construction. Authorities had filed a corruption case against former project chiefs Sarvadev Prasad, Saroj Chandra Pandit, Dilip Bahadur Karki and Ramesh Basnet among others. Eleven Deputy Secretary level engineers were made defendants.
The canal was designed to flow at a rate of 50 cubic meters per second. However, the canal collapsed after being tested with less water than its capacity.
Authorities claim that corruption caused more financial losses than the cost of building the canal. It was alleged that the authority had released the contractor after completing the maintenance period after the demolition.
Department report: ‘All is well’
The special court, while hearing the case of Sikta, has twice ordered the Department of Water Resources and Irrigation to submit a report on the status of Sikta Irrigation Project on December 26, 2077 BS. Generally, in a corruption case, the chargesheet and the accompanying evidence are evaluated and judged. But in the case of Sikta, the special court demanded an explanation of the current situation.
A bench comprising members Abdul Aziz Musalman and Nityananda Pandey, including Chairman Prem Raj Karki, directed to prepare the report with the involvement of at least joint secretary level staff. The Department of Irrigation initially sent a brief report. Unsatisfied, the special court ordered a detailed report. The on-site team submitted a report concluding that the canal breach was not a corruption but a ‘tragic coincidence’.
“It is a sad coincidence that problems were seen after the completion of construction and the presence of soluble soil in the canal after repeated inspections, reports and investigations was a tragic coincidence,” the report said.
At that time, a group including Kalika Construction had contracted a section of 17 to 35 kilometers of the canal and there was a problem in that part. The department claimed that it was successfully operating the project by solving those problems.
The investment of the project, which was started at an estimated cost of Rs. 12.80 billion, had more than doubled. Although the project started in the Fiscal Year 2061/62 was targeted to be completed by mid-July last year, the project has not been completed yet. The government had decided to make Sikta in a phased manner on 14 February 2061 at its own expense.
A 317-meter-long barrage was constructed on the Rapti River near Agaiya on the East-West Highway and a 45-kilometer-long and 250-meter-long canal was constructed in sections up to the western Mulnahar. It has six branches. The project aims to provide irrigation facilities to 42,766 hectares of land in Banke.
The canal was in a state of disrepair when the authorities filed a corruption case on December 7, 2075. After the lawsuit was filed, the contractor repaired part of the canal. Then, the government did the rest of the repairs at its own expense.
It was mentioned in the report of the department that regular, periodic and emergency maintenance works are being carried out after the decision of the Council of Ministers on 10 April 2076 BS. The department had stated that Rs.