Crusher ‘lords’ don’t get crushed
A story of Nawalparasi crusher dons who transferred two LDOs in seven months
-Kalpana Bhattarai, Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal
Back in 2073 Shrawan, then federal affairs and local development minister, Hit Raj Pandey was in a dilemma as who should he appoint as the local development officer (LDO) of Nawalparasi. In fact, he had precisely been recommended names from various sources, including his relatives, and party leaders and cadres. “While some tried to tempt monetarily, some tried to influence politically,” Pandey said while revealing the inside story. “The beguiling river resources of Nawalparasi district has been the genuine reason to get transferred to the district,” he reveals.
Upon stepping down after serving as a local development minister for six months, Pandey elucidated how people tried to influence him in their favour. “It’s absolutely about commission game. Therefore, employees, who were acquainted about the benefits of being transferred to Nawalparasi as a LDO, made all efforts to be there by influencing me,” he said, adding, “The practice continues because of nexus between district development committee employees, LDO and contractors makes all things happen.”
Upon knowing this, Pandey ‘acted’ with an intention to stop illegal excavation of river resources. He appointed Jivalal Bhusal, LDO of Banke, as the LDO of Nawalparasi. LDO Bhusal, who was the highest scorer on the Minimum Conditions and Performance Measure (MCPM) from across the country, could work only for about a month. Pandey says, “I put all efforts to send LDO Yuvaraj Kattel to Nawalparasi. Unfortunately, he too could hardly work for six months.”
In fact, thirteen resources-rich rivers of Nawalparasi have been the stimulating and enticing factor for the LDOs. “The rivers of this district are rich in resources, including sand, pebbles, gravels and stones. One can excavate 15 to 20 lakhs cubic meters of these materials annually,” geologist Prem Nath Poudel of President’s Madesh Terai Chure Conservation Committee, said. He informed that the current market rate of the resources can be equivalent to up to Rs. 1.5 billions. “The government can collect annual revenue of around 150 million rupees if these resources are excavated systematically,” he said adding that more than one million cubic meters of resources can be derived from the rivers of Nawalparasi. Kerunge river is one among these besides other 12 rivers, including smaller and bigger ones.
Any regulatory body employee trying to control illegal quarries from these rivers will be transferred instantaneously. The pressure is so immense that even ministerial posts are threatened, forget about government employees. Nawalparasi’s is just a representative tale to narrate. The influence of crusher dons is so intense that they have straight links with Singha Durbar. The question arises: Who are these dons who can instantly coerce big-guns of Singha Durbar? How is the business done? A revelation of how dons terrorize and influence big shots in Singha Durbar:
“Slipped out in a month”
A week after being appointed as LDO in Nawalparasi, Jiva Lal Bhusal along with chief district officer (CDO), Uday Bahadur Rana and Superintendent of Police Rajendra Chaudhary supervised Kerunge river on 28th Mangsir 2073 BS where they could see 13 tractors and a JVC loaded with gravels, sand, and pebbles. Gravels, sand, and stones were being loaded in around 16 trippers from Khayarbari, some 200 meters from the river. Upon inquiring, a company named Smriti Nirman Sewa (Smriti Construction Service) was involved in excavating river resources even as the agreement with the district development committee (DDC) had expired six months ago, in Jestha. Discovering around 3.7 million cubic meters of materials being stockpiled, the monitoring team immediately seized the stuff and vehicles, including 27 tippers and three JCVs belonging to Smriti Nirman Sewa Company.
In fact, behind the scene was Bishnu Karki (backed by some Nepali Congress influential central leaders),investor of the company who was also Nepali Congress mahasamiti member, started putting pressure on LDO Bhusal, DDC chief, and CDO. Paying no heed to the pressure, LDO Bhusal slapped a fine of Rs. 6.5 millions for illegally excavating the resources. 16 out of the 27 tippers were released after paying a fine of Rs 35 lakhs 86 thousand. Others denied paying the fine. The district development committee then initiated a process of auction of 11 vehicles and the pebbles, gravels, and sand that were seized. This decision was challenged at the Tulsipur/Butwal high court, which gave ‘cynical’ orders to not to auction “keep them as they are”. Not convinced with the court’s verdict, contractor Karki and his group were determined on transferring LDO’s from Nawalparasi at any cost. The then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, local development minister Hitraj Pandey and former chief secretary Som Lal Subedi came under immense pressure to transfer LDO Bhusal.
Former State Home Minister and NC leader, Devendra Raj Kandel played a key role in this effort, who initially pressurized the LDO to stop the process of auction. Later, he started putting pressure on senior party leaders to transfer LDO Bhusal. Local development minister Pandey stood rigidly to his stance admiring LDO Bhusal of being a “good performer.” However, minister Pandey, too, could not retain his stance. A year later, Minister Pandey reminisced the entire episode saying, “Unable to tolerate the pressure coming from the ruling party, I was forced to transfer LDO Bhusal to Dhading district development committee.”
LDO Bhusal, who could work only for a month and seven days in Nawalparasi, states he was transferred simply because the illegal operators could not continue with their illegal excavation on political protection. “The Chure region of Nawalparasi is gradually being obliterated on the basis of political bonding. Then minister tried to end this practice, but I could not work,” he complained.
‘Singha Durbar, too, in favour of dons’
What happened after Bhusal’s transfer to Dhading? The story turns interesting. Authorities inside Singha Durbar initiated efforts to send Ramu Raj Kadariya, who had already served as LDO in Nawalparasi. A highly placed source at the local development ministry said, “Dons involved in this business were constantly pressurizing via central leaders of all major parties to send Kadariya to Nawalparasi.” However, following cabinet’s decision, then minister Pandey sent Yubraj Kattel, director at the registration department of the ministry, to Nawalparasi as LDO. Upon being appointed as LDO of Nawalparasi on 28th Poush, 2073 BS, Kattel tried to give continuity to Bhusal’s efforts to stop illegal excavation of the resources and started keeping an eye on it.
His monitoring team of officials found 3.499603 million cubic feet of sand, gravel, and stones stored illegally near Pudari area of Binayi Jyamire khola and Arun Khola Karsal area by Sagun Construction Company.
The district development committee decided to seize the materials and auction it. No sooner had the DDC published a notice about the auction, the construction company challenged the decision at the high court, which later gave orders to stop the auction process. Kattel wrote a letter to the crusher operating companies giving a 15-day ultimatum to show the source of such huge amount of resources. He decided to shut down the industry if they failed to furnish the source and produce tax clearance evidence. However, crusher dons got united against Kattel and initiated efforts to transfer him from the district. The pressure even was put on Singha Durbar. Minister Pandey reveals, “We got pressure to transfer Kattel and send some other LDOs to Nawalparasi. However, I was prepared to step down rather than transferring Kattel.”
However, the government led by CPN-Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal stepped down paving way for the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government. The Deuba-led government immediately transferred Kattel from Nawalparasi and sent Prakash Poudel as LDO to the district on Asoj 2074 BS. The transfer behind Kattel is in fact interesting. The government has to give excavation contract in 12 rivers of Nawalparasi district in 2074/75 BS and had already sent a letter to the President’s Chure Bhawar Conservation Program. The government then transferred Kattel since the government knew that he would not dance to the tunes of the crusher dons. “Enduring the pressure was, in fact, awful since Singha Durbar was constantly in favor of crusher operators.”
Every single resident of Nawalparasi district is aware of the transfers of two LDOs. Says local RJP Chairman, Puran Chaudhary, “It’s like an open secret about the transfers.” A source at the Local Development Ministry, Kattel’s transfer to forest department was made on the direct orders of Prime Minister Deuba. Secretary of General Administration Ministry, Mohan Krishna Sapkota candidly said, “In fact, LDO Kattel was a righteous person. However, the pressure was so immense that he got transferred.”
During his six months of stay in the district, Kattel slapped a fine of Rs. 8.6 millions from tractors and trippers engaged in illegally transporting sand and gravels. However, with his transfer, the contractors stopped paying revenue that he had decided previously. LDO Kattel had asked Nepali Congress cadre Karki’s industry to pay Rs. 10.92 millions within 15 days. However, till to-date, Karki’s Manakamana Miller Product Pvt Ltd. has paid Rs. 4.4 millions only after Kattel’s transfer. Rs. 20.52 millions have been raised from 10 crushers. Locals even padlocked the district development committee office for three days protesting the transfer of both the LDOs, however, to no avail.
Contract contradicting regulation
Contract and excavation in Nawalparasi before Bhusal and Kattel’s appointment always remained controversial. Contractors dug sand, gravel, and stone from rivers, which did not fall under the contract. A four-member committee under the then joint-secretary at the ministry, Gopi Ram Khanal was formed to probe into the matter mandating to prepare and submit a report about the contracts of river resources from 2071/72 BS to 2072/73 BS.
The committee pointed out a lot of suspicious issues saying, “Failure to open new contracts to excavate resources from the rivers in two years indicate that officials at the district development office seem to assist the same contractors.” The report states that the ‘contract and bidding process failed to follow the norms, which makes it clear that DDC’s revenue department Rijwan Ansari; accounts officer Shanker Basyal; energy and environment officer Robin Sharma, and then LDO Lal Krishna Sharma had failed to abide by their respective responsibilities.’ The report further states that no action were taken against the wrongdoers, including the contractors. Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, then secretary at the ministry says, “I was transferred when I initiated the action process against them.” Secretary Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya said, he was ‘unaware’ of the issue.
This is not all. There are scores of examples of monopoly in the rivers of Nawalparasi. The DDC gave the contract to Smriti Construction Service Company to excavate and trade 13.243 million feet of the resources from the Kerunge River until the end of Jestha 2071/72 BS from the northern side of the highway. The local autonomous governance act 2054 BS and regulation 2055 BS states that the bidder should deposit 1.5 percent of the income tax, value-added tax, and 50% of the first installment within the first one week of the tender approval. The agreement will be signed only after the involved party tenders the bank guarantee. However, the DDC had called the contractors to sign without the above said formalities and gave the “go ahead” nod after the contractor deposited Rs. 7 millions as the first installment. The contract was to end on Jestha 2072 BS. After the expiration of the contract date, there is a provision for certifying the stock from the monitoring committee. However, energy and environment officer Robin Sharma went against the guidelines by certifying the stock on 8th Sharwan 2072 BS after the expiry of the contract. By giving the permission to excavate 80 thousand cubic meters and 109,900 cubic meters of resources on 28th Asar and 10th Shrawan respectively indicates that DDC had some nexus with the contractors.
The contract of Binayi river in Jyamire with Sagun Construction Company was made in the same way by breaching legal procedures. The company was given the permission to sell the gravels and sand by certifying the previous year’s stock, which is against the regulation 167 of the local financial administration regulation 2064 BS, which clearly mentions that contracts can be given for one year only after the local body-related council decided about the tax rate, service tax, and other internal incomes. According to the sub-provision, 3 of the regulation, all tasks related to the contract has to be finalized before the beginning of a fiscal year and that the information of the distribution of the stock has to be made public every 15 days. However, contractors of Nawalparasi have been flouting the rules. Ironically, a meeting of the district monitoring and coordination committee on 21st Shrawan decided to endorse the demands of the contractors rather than bringing to book the contractors flouting the rules. This shows that the crusher dons of Nawalparasi have ‘binded the hands and shut the mouths’ of the employees.
Geologist Prem Nath Poudel says the deposit of the stuff has to be removed on a yearly basis to lessen the danger of floods and inundation. “Excavation has been done randomly,” he said adding that such process will invite disaster.
Out of the 15 crusher industries registered in Nawalparasi, three are not in operation. 12 of them are constantly engaged in destroying Chure. The district development committee is helpless and cannot monitor or control since the crusher dons boldly says they are ‘influential and politically backed’. Congress supporter Karki, and former education secretary Bishwo Prakash Pandit own crushers. The record at the office of Cottage and Small Industries shows that Mahabir Aggregate Industries Pvt Ltd is run and managed by Pandit’s relative Bhojraj Regmi and two others. However, currently, former DSP Kamal Bhandari, who is also the father-in-law of Pandit is the sole owner of the industry, according to the manager of the industry, Naresh Acharya.
Former education secretary Pandit is the main brian behind the industry even as the name of proprietor is former DSP Bhandari has been seen in the forefront as an investor. A source at the industry ministry says, “The industry has been registered in the name of his relative since he is being a government employee.” The Mahabir Aggregate of Nawalparasi registered in the name of his father-in-law and Dulegauda Haarati Aggregate registered in the name of Binak Pandit has been owned by Pandit himself. They are so influential and powerful that the Home Ministry had put pressure on Nawalparasi chief district officer not to interfere in the crusher business, which the then LDO had decided to shut down for not paying taxes. Ironically, its not Home Ministry’s duty to monitor after crusher industry.
In fact, the crushers owned by politically powerful and influential people are doing a crime. They excavate resources from the rivers without bidding contract and evade taxes. Eight rivers, including Kerunge of Kawasoti, Jyamire Binayi of Dumkibaas, Arun, Giruwa have not been placed on bidding contracts. However, crushers of influential people have been seen 24 hours in these rivers. Consider what then LDO Kattel has to say, “No bidding and contracts have been done in the rivers of the district since the last two years. However, more than 8 hundred thousand and 759 cubic meters of gravel, sand, and stones have been pile-stocked. When I tried to interfere by questioning on the matter, they were fumed and later I was transferred.”
Nepali Congress former parliamentarian, Tirtha Lama, former forest minister Shanker Bhandari and former land reforms minister Bikram Pandey have investments in crusher industry. Bhandari and Pandey have included about this in their property details. Likewise, Congress leader Tirtha Lama owns the Nangsal Gravel Stone Quarry at Kharpa Chowk in Kavre near the BP Highway. A team led by Chief District Officer, Sudarshan Dhakal on Asar 2072 BS banned seven crusher industries, including Nangsal Gravel Stone Quarry citing lack of criteria. However, the decision could not be implemented.
The government has set criteria to operate stone quarries and crushers, which says that the rivers should be at least 500 meters away from the highways, and two kilometers from the forests, reserves and human settlements. If these criteria are to be followed, most of the crushers throughout the country will undergo closure. Most of the crusher industries came into function again due to then finance minister Ram Saran Mahat’s “soft” approach to the renewal of the license. Even now, the condition has not changed. Government’s criteria have been a headache for the ‘crusher lords’. LDO Katwal says, “These (lords) have a surprisingly strong influence in Singha Durbar. Even now any LDO who interferes in crusher industry will get a quick transfer.”