The Rautahat District Police Office issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday against Sumit Rauniyar, the chairman of Pappu Construction and the son of lawmaker and company owner Hari Narayan Rauniyar, holding the company responsible for a boat tragedy last month.
Five people were killed in Rautahat’s Tikuliyaghat village on August 25 when a boat carrying 29 people across the Lalbakaiya River capsized after hitting the pillar of a bridge under construction.
Pappu Construction had been awarded the contract four years ago with a completion deadline of July 2017, but it has barely finished putting up the full structure for the bridge.
The warrant came on the same day lawmakers on the parliamentary Development Committee strongly objected to the inclusion of Rauniyar, whose company is under the scanner for irregularities and delayed works, in the committee.
The Lower House regulation bars lawmakers from a place on the House committee if they have a conflict of interest.
Rauniyar’s appointment goes against the federal parliament regulations and raises a serious issue of conflicting interests.
In recent months, Pappu Construction has been under the government’s scrutiny for failing to complete a large number of infrastructure projects on time. According to a Post investigation, of the 41 bridge projects assigned to Pappu and its joint venture partners, the company has missed the deadline on 25 contracts, while progress in all the remaining projects is dismal.
The arrest warrant for Sumit Rauniyar was issued after the families of victims in the boat accident lodged a complaint, arguing that Pappu Construction didn’t complete the contract on time. Locals of Tikuliyaghat and Gaur had handed over a memorandum to the District Administration Office to take action against the construction firm.
According to Rautahat District Police chief SP Kedar Dhakal, police appealed to the district court to issue the arrest warrant against Rauniyar after he ignored repeated requests to appear at the police office for an inquiry into the tragic incident.
“We urged him to show up at the police office but he didn’t care,” Dhakal said. “That’s why we deployed a team after getting the court order.”
Hari Narayan said the company handled by his son was being targeted with a political motive by his rivals after he was elected to Parliament. He claimed that the company had been cooperating in the boat accident probe.
“Representatives of Pappu Construction have attended the meetings called by the District Administration Office in Rautahat three times,” said Rauniyar. “It is not necessary that my son should be detained for interrogation.”
Lawmakers on the Finance Committee questioned why Pappu Construction continues to win government bids while holding a large number of government contracts that are either incomplete or poorly executed. “There are many instances of the company failing to complete construction of bridges on time, but it is still getting government contracts,” said Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Ram Kumari Jhankri.
Amid growing criticisms of its irregularities, Pappu is set to bag another major government contract–reconstruction of the Nepal Rastra Bank building at Baluwatar. “How does a company with such a poor track record receive the contract to reconstruct the Nepal Rastra Bank building?” Jhakri told Parliament.
Lawmakers have agreed that there should be a discussion on how–and why–Pappu is getting multiple project contracts. Lawmakers also stressed the need to amend the Public Procurement Act, which favours the lowest bidder. “It is wrong to award the contract to the same contractor in the name of lowest bid amount,” said lawmaker Shyam Kumar Shrestha.
The Development Committee currently has three lawmakers running construction businesses: Hari Narayan Rauniyar (Pappu Construction), Jip Chhiring Lama (Lama Construction), and Bahadur Singh Lama (Himdung and Thokar Company). While Rauniyar belongs to the ruling Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal, Jip Chiring and Bahadur Singh are from the opposition Nepali Congress.