The exorbitant payment for land purchases indicates that a huge sum of money was looted from the government coffers and the landowners did not get fair prices
The monitoring or controlling authorities seem to have been delaying or hesitating to take action against the people guilty of purchasing land for the Nepal Oil Corporation at highly inflated prices. Much has come to light about this scandal, and there have been strong calls for action. Incriminating evidence has piled up against certain people in positions of power to decide on the deal. But the Parliamentary Commerce, Industry and Consumer Welfare Relations Committee has, strangely, failed to recommend action against the offenders despite the fact that an investigation panel under the same committee on Monday submitted its report, showing involvement of high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Supplies, the then chairman of the NOC board, chief of NOC management, bidder for land acquisition, middlemen, the then secretaries of village development committees where NOC acquired the land, and officials of land registration offices. The parliamentary committee merely decided to direct the Ministry of Supplies to investigate the issue further based on the findings of the study report.
This lack of interest in taking action is clear from various signs, including the induction of a former minister implicated in the land scam into the Sher Bahadur Deuba Cabinet, as if the largest Council of Ministers in the country’s history were not enough. The way top NOC officials are conducting themselves in public, sometimes even in a threatening and over-confident manner makes the general people wonder from where they may have drawn their strength and their defiant attitude. According to the parliamentary probe panel report, NOC paid up to four times the value of the land determined by the government that it acquired in Jhapa, Sarlahi, Chitwan and Rupandehi. The land plots purchased to develop fuel storage facilities do not meet required standards. In the recent heavy rains, the plots were seen to be submerged in water; some of the plots are just a few metres away from rivers while others fall within the project area of the Mechi-Mahakali Railway Project.
The land to be acquired for the government and state undertakings has to be purchased as per the Land Acquisition Act, 2034 B.S in which there is no role of middlemen and the deal is only between government and land owners. Here, first the Act was ignored and the deal was made as in the case of private land where brokers often play a role. The exorbitant payment for the purchases indicates, first, that a huge sum of money was looted from the government coffers; second, the owners of the land did not get the inflated prices; third, the difference between the real and inflated prices was pocketed by officials, politicians and middlemen. Therefore, there is a compelling case for acting against the offenders. Several lawmakers had urged the probe panel to disclose the names of those involved in the scam and the parliamentary committee to recommend strong action. But both pleas were unheeded. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been investigating the case for about a month and it is yet to submit its final report.
Advanced bookings of bus tickets have resumed from Tuesday. This year the bookings have been delayed. Previously the bookings took place three weeks ahead of the Dashain festival. The delay in providing the bookings was because of the dispute between the transporters and the government. The government has agreed to meet the demands of the transporters which include allowing the vehicles to put top carriages and also adjusting the bus fare. The concerned government department says that all would be provided with the bus tickets. A dozen inspection teams would be watching to see that the activities at the bus tickets counters to ensure that there are no malpractices.
The transporters also say they would add more buses to the routes where there is high demand for bus tickets. If needed even school and college buses would be deployed so that the valley dwellers who wish to go home can do so without facing hassles which usually take place during the festival seasons. Now that the dispute between the transporters and the government has been settled we look forward to all those who want to go home will be provided with the promised bus tickets.
A version of this article appears in print on September 13, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.