EDITORIAL: Shoddy deal

Traditional fuels are used for transportation and cooking which can be replaced with renewable energy. The nation should focus on clean and renewable energy

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has initiated investigation into the alleged irregularities of the state-owned fuel monopoly – Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) – over its latest land purchase deal. NOC board of directors purchased 76 bighas and 14 katthas of land in four districts in Tarai, paying almost four times the market prices of the plots from land brokers. The NOC bought 23 bighas and three katthas of land in Jhapa for Rs. 13.51 lakh per kattha, 15 bighas and 12 katthas of land in Sarlahi for Rs. 9.16 lakh per kattha, 23 bighas and 12 katthas of land in Chitwan for Rs. 15.85 lakh per kattha and 14 bighas and seven katthas of land in Rupandehi for Rs. 10.93 lakh. All of these lands appear to have been purchased through land brokers who are said to be close to the NOC officials. All the land brokers somehow purchased the lands from the land owners or got power of attorney from the land owners through district courts and directly sold the plots to the NOC which purchased these lands to build facilities for fossil fuel storage. All of these lands are located close to river banks and remain inundated during the rainy season and require additional cost for their fortification.

Although the NOC officials claim to have followed due process of law, lawmakers of the parliamentary Finance Committee who are looking into the deal said that a piece of land to be permanently used by a government agency cannot be purchased through a tender call. The NOC did not follow the Land Acquisition Act, 2034. The Public Procurement Act should be followed when goods are purchased or any construction is carried out. When a piece of land is purchased for a government agency a committee is formed chaired by the Chief District Officer; a technical committee analyses the suitability of  land and then writes to the government to avail of the land. It is the government which acquires the required land with due process of the law and provides it to the concerned agency for permanent use. The shoddy deal made by the NOC not only cheated the individual land owners but also caused huge losses to the government-owned fuel monopoly.

The CIAA will decide whether a charge-sheet will be filed against the concerned NOC officials on charges of irregularities only after it looks into the deal. But what can be said right now is that the NOC did not follow the proper law – Land Acquisition Act, 2034 – when purchasing the said lands, not directly from the individual land owners. One can also raise a question from another angle: Whether so much land was needed to build fuel storage facilities? Billions of rupees spent to build fuel storage facilities could have been better utilized to harness clean, alternative and renewable sources of energy which is going to become quite common in the decades to come as other countries, including India, China and Brazil, are shifting their gears towards this goal. Traditional fuels are used for transportation and cooking which can be replaced with renewable energy. The nation should focus on clean and renewable energy by reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Free treatment

The government’s Poor Citizens’ Medical Treatment Programme has provided funds to the needy who cannot afford treatment. Treatment for many ailments can be very expensive and out of reach of the impoverished people. A total of 17,218 new and old patients with ailments like cancer, kidney failure and complications with the spinal cord were provided treatment from around 52 health institutions in various parts of the country. The programme has benefited many particularly those suffering from cancer and heart diseases, among others.

The government is providing monetary assistance to the needy. A sum of Rs. 1.18 billion has been set aside for the programme for this fiscal year and so far it has spent about Rs. 1.5 billion for the treatment. More money should be allocated for the programme so that the maximum number of patients can receive treatment some of which are very expensive like dialysis. Treatment is also being provided free of cost for certain diseases. Under the programme a maximum of Rs. 820,000 is being provided to those who need dialysis, transplants and also medicines. More and more poor people should have access to health services.