BHIMDUTTA (MAHENDRANAGAR) MUNICIPALITY Road Ruin

From the tender process to the construction phase, the recently completed Majh Gaun-Airighat Urban Road of Bhimdutta Municipality passed several stages before its execution. Yet the road project landed in controversy following obfuscation at various

Sept. 24, 2010, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.4, No.-08 September 24-October 7, 2010

It took more than one and a half years to complete the 1.3 kilometers Majh Gaun-Airighat Urban Road Project of Bhimdutta Municipality. The municipality has completed several similar projects in the past. This one also fell under the category of improving the gravel and fair-weather roads to blacktopped coating.

The project completed in July 2010. When it was to be handed over to the municipality, the blacktopping cracked in several places. The road turned into a bumpy earthen road within a month. This did not surprise the users’ group. In fact, the users were expecting this to happen long before the project completed. They had lodged complaints with municipal officials about the low quality materials used by the contractor. They fell on deaf ears.

The users’ group complained about the quality of work with the contractors as well as the municipal technicians. “We lodged the complaints to the municipality when the primary work started,” said Keshab Bista, chairman of the users’ group. “The construction company continued its work and municipality did not respond to us.”

The Rs. 4.9 million road project was awarded to the lowest bidder in accordance with the Public Procurement Act 2007, Public Procurement Regulations 2008, Local Self-Governance Act 1999, and Municipal Regulation. During the process of bidding, out of 16 bidders, Sani Devi Construction Company was awarded the tender since it proposed its bid at less than 42 percent of the total budget of 4.9 million rupees. It agreed to undertake the work for Rs. 2.9 million. The whole process is transparent but it did not make it a good project.

When the tender was announced, consumers were happily hoping that they had saved a huge amount of money. Their happiness was short lived. Soon after the road construction began, disputes erupted between the Sani Devi Construction Company and the users’ group over the issue of quality of materials.

“We suspected how a company can construct the road with 42 percent less than the estimated cost. We even suggested second tender as per the act but politicians opposed it saying the benefit went to the municipality. That may be so in paper, but it is the local consumers who have been made to pay the price,” said a municipal engineer.  “Our technical opinions are rarely considered by the nominated board members.”

Municipal officials claimed that they could not change the bidding process as the Public Procurement Act said the lowest bidder should be awarded the tender.

Bhimdutta Municipality and Sani Devi Construction Company signed the agreement on August 2009. According to their agreement, the construction company would have to complete the work by April 2010.

However, the contractor sought all payment from the beginning. According to an engineer, after getting the first installment of the payment, it made several efforts to get the second and third installments. Thanks to the absence of the then executive secretary, the payment was delayed. It was learnt that some local political leaders pressed the executive secretary of the municipality to issue the payment.

His absence was a blessing disguise, they say. “Had Pudashaini released the money, the construction company would have the upper hand,” said an official. “We have to go to find the company. Now the company is roaming in our office.”

Whatever the pressure he had to bear, Pudashaini did not release the money as demanded by the construction company. He is said to have resisted all pressures. Mostly, these kinds of contracts involve corruption.

Regular Irregularity

In fact, the municipality followed the laws and regulations, but did not give a second thought as to how the construction company would ensure quality at a cost which was 42 percent less than the estimated budget. There is a provision in the act that allows the concerned authorities to recall the tender if they feel that the lower bid could compromise the quality.

This is not only a single road project ruined in no time. As cost compromised quality, most of the municipal roads shared similar fates. Since most of the petty contractors were either backed by political leaders, their henchmen or supporters, or they didn’t mind bidding the tender even at one third of what was needed, the crux of the matter to them was the municipal money.

Bhimdutta Municipality was not an isolated case.

Situated in the far western part of Nepal, bordering Indian State of Uttarakhanda, Bhimdutta Municipality, 700 km west of capital Kathmandu, has upgraded a number of earthen and graveled roads to black topping. However, most of them are inferior in quality and ruined.

With the population of more than 100,000 in recent estimates, Bhimdutta Municipality’s urban growth is as high as other cities. As the city’s population increases, the demands grow for better infrastructure, including blacktopped roads. With the pressure of local community, the municipality, as all other projects, endorsed the Majh Gaun-Airighat Road Project, which covers wards 12, 16 and 17.

Although there are several cases of misuses and malpractices in the construction of urban roads, the 1.3 kilometer Majh Gaun-Airighat Urban Road came to the forefront of public debate because of the resistance by users’ group and the delay in payment due to frequent absence of executive officer of the municipality.

Road Standards
The National Road Network comprises national highways, feeder roads, urban roads, district roads and village roads. The national highways together with the feeder roads constitute the Strategic Road Network (SRN) of the country. There is a certain standard set for them in the process of construction, including layer of roads, gravels and use of bitumen.

The lack of standards for urban roads is related to lack of standards and manuals for urban drainages. There are 2260 kilometers urban roads or 13 percent of total roads, with all urban roads sharing similar problems.

Local people complained that from the beginning there was a problematic policy. The municipality did not listen to them when they went to complain about the problems—they said the contractor did not use any bitumen or gravel as part of the agreement.

Interestingly, the municipality’s engineers were absent in this whole process.

“We had rarely seen any engineer or official,” said a member of a local users’ group. “If we don’t have any role to play, what is the use of forming the users’ group and seeking our participation?” asked group member Mohan Bahadur Mahata. “How can the roads last long as the contractor has used just 19 drums of bitumen to complete the blacktopping of 1 kilometer of the road. “The contractor just leveled the earth and put a few inches of gavel and then a thin layer of concrete and bitumen.”
As well-trained manpower is needed to design, construct and supervise the roads, Bhimdutta Municipality has neither strong technical division to design the road, nor has it technical experts to supervise the construction process.

“We raised the issue of low bidding and the capability of the contractor. The municipality board passed the decision to award the project,” said an engineer of the municipality on condition of anonymity. “Just completing the legal procedures do not make the tender perfect, one can play a game under the disguise of law.”

Although they do not have the technical capacity and the manpower, most of the municipalities in Nepal are given an excessive authority to manage urban constructions, including the city roads, by the Local Self-Governance Act 1999. In the absence of elected representatives and technical manpower, this act is often misused to fulfill the petty personal interests by local political leaders. The local community has to bear the cost.

The roads are often designed under pressure from local groups and political parties. “After the demand of local community and pressure of political leaders, we designed the road with the cost of 4.98 million rupees,” said engineer Himalaya Sing Aire.

In such processes, the quality and design is nobody’s concern. Only interest among various groups is to spend the annual budgets.

Question of Quality
From thickness of the road to materials and even the length and width of the road, the construction company has manipulated everything that can be manipulated. As per the agreement, the blacktopping should be not less than four meters in width. However, the construction company has blacktopped only 3.5 meters width of the road. The consumers’ group complained that the contractors did not wash the gravel before mixing it into bitumen and the layer of gravel is much thinner than expected.

Nepal Road Standard 2027, revised 2045, stresses the need for consistency in road designing and construction requires certain road standards. It said that at any stage in the life of a road, it must be capable for providing passage to the traffic wishing to use it at the lowest overhead cost per kilometer. Acceptable gradients are related to truck operating characteristic and the design. The standard said that the road shall be designed with a capacity sufficient to cater for the estimated traffic volume 10 years after the date of completion.

Considering the busy service road, roads are proposed with the capacity of 10 tons for black topped layer surface and more for finished asphalt concrete layer.

Asian Development Bank’s Technical Assistance Consultants’ Report 2008 pointed out that in municipalities there is an absence of separate section that directly takes the municipal roads. The responsibility of construction and maintenance of road comes under planning and construction section. There are civil engineers in this section but none specializing on road. The persons available are preoccupied with several works.

Even the Ministry of Local Development accepts that municipal technical sections need up gradation with adequate manpower. “There is a deficiency of skill in the engineering section,” said spokesperson of ministry.

 

“As per the agreement, there is the need to complete four layers of work before putting bitumen and concrete.  “The contractor completely ignored us and put very thin layers of gravels at base and he didn’t even use bitumen and concrete at the top as part of the standard requirement,” said Keshab Bista.

Political Nexus
The users’ group smelled a nexus between the municipality officials and the construction company. “We wonder who prevented local municipal technicians from visiting the site when we opposed the work from the day one. We lodged the protests but all our protests went to vain.

The users’ group also accused municipal technicians, who hid all their complaints and did not visit the construction site, of being at fault. After several complaints, the municipality wrote a letter to the company referring to the objections of local people over the issue of quality of materials. The construction company continued its work as the municipality just watched as a spectator.

Contractor Debidutta Bhatta rejected the charges made by the users’ group and claimed that his work fulfilled the standard set by the contract.

“What I have done is more than satisfactory. The city road is not a highway and it is for local use,” said Bhatta. “It is the member of consumers’ group who tried to obstruct construction all the time because I denied fulfilling their extra demands.” What I have done is more than satisfactory. The city road is not a highway and it is for local use,” said Bhatta. “It is the member of consumers’ group who tried to obstruct construction all the time because I denied fulfilling their extra demands.”

Although the users’ group blamed contractors and local municipal officials for all this devastation, the contractor and municipal officials have their own complaints. With the pressure from local political leaders, the municipality decided to upgrade this portion of the road. “We cannot justify this road in terms of economic benefit. Whatever the users’ group said about us, they too are not far from the local nexus of political parties,” said a municipal official on condition of anonymity.

Contactors’ Revelation
Contractors too have their own grumbles. “I paid money to the workers of political parties from day one. Whether there is the lowest or the highest bid, we have to pay donations to the leaders of local political parties,” said a local contractor.

The officials said they cannot defy the order of any political parties as it is risky to their lives. “Who will come to protect us in case of physical assaults to us by workers of political parties? Along with physical threat, we will be transferred anywhere at the cost of defiance,” said a municipal official on condition of anonymity. “We opposed the process of finalization of bidding that this contract should not be awarded in such a low value. We were unable to exert pressure and the tender was awarded to it.”

Contractors accept the fact that they pay money to local political leaders to get the tender. They also accuse the municipal officials for creating hurdles in every payment over the issue of commission.

“We have to pay donations to the political parties and their sister organizations. We have to pay certain percentages to the municipal technical staff to sanction our payment. Along with this, a contractor has to pay 5 percent commission of the tender to Construction Association.  If you add all of this, you will actually get less than 75 percent of the stipulated amount. “Only fools can think that we use quality materials and quality roads?” said a contractor on condition of anonymity.

Under CIAA Investigation
In a row over the road, the users’ group filed a case with the Commission of investigation of the Abuse of Authority against the contractor and the municipality.  Users’ group chairman Keshar Bahadur Bista and Amar Bahadur Bista jointly registered complaints with the CIAA. After that, the CIAA ordered the municipality not to release the remaining amount of money to the contractor and launched investigation.

The CIAA asked the municipality to send the report about the quality of materials used in the road by testing it at the lab of Road Department.  “The municipality has already made necessary arrangements to test the quality of roads by asking the support from the Road Department,” said engineer Air.

According to the municipality, the contractor has just completed 900 meters of blacktopping out of 1143 meters.

The contractor agreed that there are patches in the road.

“I am ready to face any investigation. Yes, there are some patches in the road it is because heavy vehicles were rolled on the road which is built for light vehicles only,” said Bhatta. “The estimate of this road is for less than 10-tons heavy vehicles but how can it take loads of 20 tons vehicles?”

Since 2002, all local bodies are running without elected political representatives. Instead, municipalities, VDCs and DDCs are under the guidance of central government officials. However, some mechanisms such as Seven-Party-Committees have been established for smooth functioning of local bodies.

According to the study of Urban Development through Local Efforts UDLE, in order to provide basic municipal services (e.g. road, drainage and water supply) Nepalese municipalities have invested nearly Rs. 1,128.288 million as "Capital Investment" in FY 2005/06.

On average, Nepalese Municipalities expend Rs. 344,380 for "Capital Investment" in every sq. km improvement.

Bhimdutta (171.24 sq. km with 511.36 population density) invested a huge amount of money in construction particularly on road in the year 2007.  However, the state of road is not different than Majh Gaun-Airighan urban road where a long nexus of various vested interests works. How long can local bodies drain resources in constructing such roads to nowhere? This remains to be answered.

This is the second of nine investigative story on politics of local bodies supported by The Asia Foundation. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of The Foundation or Founder.


 

“As per the agreement, there is the need to complete four layers of work before putting bitumen and concrete.  “The contractor completely ignored us and put very thin layers of gravels at base and he didn’t even use bitumen and concrete at the top as part of the standard requirement,” said Keshab Bista.

Political Nexus
The users’ group smelled a nexus between the municipality officials and the construction company. “We wonder who prevented local municipal technicians from visiting the site when we opposed the work from the day one. We lodged the protests but all our protests went to vain.

The users’ group also accused municipal technicians, who hid all their complaints and did not visit the construction site, of being at fault. After several complaints, the municipality wrote a letter to the company referring to the objections of local people over the issue of quality of materials. The construction company continued its work as the municipality just watched as a spectator.

Contractor Debidutta Bhatta rejected the charges made by the users’ group and claimed that his work fulfilled the standard set by the contract.

“What I have done is more than satisfactory. The city road is not a highway and it is for local use,” said Bhatta. “It is the member of consumers’ group who tried to obstruct construction all the time because I denied fulfilling their extra demands.” What I have done is more than satisfactory. The city road is not a highway and it is for local use,” said Bhatta. “It is the member of consumers’ group who tried to obstruct construction all the time because I denied fulfilling their extra demands.”

Although the users’ group blamed contractors and local municipal officials for all this devastation, the contractor and municipal officials have their own complaints. With the pressure from local political leaders, the municipality decided to upgrade this portion of the road. “We cannot justify this road in terms of economic benefit. Whatever the users’ group said about us, they too are not far from the local nexus of political parties,” said a municipal official on condition of anonymity.

Contactors’ Revelation
Contractors too have their own grumbles. “I paid money to the workers of political parties from day one. Whether there is the lowest or the highest bid, we have to pay donations to the leaders of local political parties,” said a local contractor.

The officials said they cannot defy the order of any political parties as it is risky to their lives. “Who will come to protect us in case of physical assaults to us by workers of political parties? Along with physical threat, we will be transferred anywhere at the cost of defiance,” said a municipal official on condition of anonymity. “We opposed the process of finalization of bidding that this contract should not be awarded in such a low value. We were unable to exert pressure and the tender was awarded to it.”

Contractors accept the fact that they pay money to local political leaders to get the tender. They also accuse the municipal officials for creating hurdles in every payment over the issue of commission.

“We have to pay donations to the political parties and their sister organizations. We have to pay certain percentages to the municipal technical staff to sanction our payment. Along with this, a contractor has to pay 5 percent commission of the tender to Construction Association.  If you add all of this, you will actually get less than 75 percent of the stipulated amount. “Only fools can think that we use quality materials and quality roads?” said a contractor on condition of anonymity.

Under CIAA Investigation
In a row over the road, the users’ group filed a case with the Commission of investigation of the Abuse of Authority against the contractor and the municipality.  Users’ group chairman Keshar Bahadur Bista and Amar Bahadur Bista jointly registered complaints with the CIAA. After that, the CIAA ordered the municipality not to release the remaining amount of money to the contractor and launched investigation.

The CIAA asked the municipality to send the report about the quality of materials used in the road by testing it at the lab of Road Department.  “The municipality has already made necessary arrangements to test the quality of roads by asking the support from the Road Department,” said engineer Air.

According to the municipality, the contractor has just completed 900 meters of blacktopping out of 1143 meters.

The contractor agreed that there are patches in the road.

“I am ready to face any investigation. Yes, there are some patches in the road it is because heavy vehicles were rolled on the road which is built for light vehicles only,” said Bhatta. “The estimate of this road is for less than 10-tons heavy vehicles but how can it take loads of 20 tons vehicles?”

Since 2002, all local bodies are running without elected political representatives. Instead, municipalities, VDCs and DDCs are under the guidance of central government officials. However, some mechanisms such as Seven-Party-Committees have been established for smooth functioning of local bodies.

According to the study of Urban Development through Local Efforts UDLE, in order to provide basic municipal services (e.g. road, drainage and water supply) Nepalese municipalities have invested nearly Rs. 1,128.288 million as "Capital Investment" in FY 2005/06.

On average, Nepalese Municipalities expend Rs. 344,380 for "Capital Investment" in every sq. km improvement.

Bhimdutta (171.24 sq. km with 511.36 population density) invested a huge amount of money in construction particularly on road in the year 2007.  However, the state of road is not different than Majh Gaun-Airighan urban road where a long nexus of various vested interests works. How long can local bodies drain resources in constructing such roads to nowhere? This remains to be answered.

This is the second of nine investigative story on politics of local bodies supported by The Asia Foundation. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of The Foundation or Founder.


 

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