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Villages under Meluri sub-division demand good roads

By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Nov 15, 2022 10:44 pm

Contractor, PWD officials accused of ‘siphoning’ crores without work


Our Correspondent
Kohima, Nov. 15 (EMN): About four villages under the Meluri sub-division of Phek district are demanding good roads amid accusations against the contractor and PWD officials of “fraudulently” withdrawing money for ‘unexecuted’ works and for violating the terms and conditions of the work orders.

In a little over a decade-old road project that passes through Lephori, Matikhru, Kanjang, and Akhen, two work orders for road construction were issued by the chief engineer, PWD (R&B), Kohima, and were allotted to M/S Rhino Construction Agency in 2011.

The projects were ‘Lephory to Molhe camp’ (26 km) and ‘Akhen to Star Lake’ (15 km).

After three years, the EE, PWD (R&B), Phek division issued a ‘completion certificate’, on January 21, 2014, stating “the contractor has successfully completed the said work on stipulated time as mentioned in the aforesaid agreement”, referring to the second project, Lephori to Molhe Post.

In 2020, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Gauhati High Court, Kohima Bench with regard to the road projects. The PIL was filed by Kezuwete Wezah and three others (Ors) vs State of Nagaland and nine Ors; and the case is ongoing.

In the petition submitted to the court, the petitioners claimed that “except on paper no actual construction of road has ever taken place and the roads in question are in pitiable condition causing enormous hardships to the public on a daily basis. Such action/inaction draws the irresistible interference that the contractor and the state respondents are working hand in glove with each other prior concert of minds to siphon/misappropriate crores of public money in the name of unexecuted public works. It can also be a source of corruption”, it stated.

In this regard, the Rising People’s Party (RPP) also filed a complaint in the Meluri police station on April 11, 2022, against the “firm/contractor/EE (R&B), Phek Division/ chief engineer (PWD, R&B)/ for siphoning off/fraudulently withdrawing INR 65,67,27,000 sanctioned against two work orders (road projects) in complete violation of the terms and conditions laid down in the work orders, namely Akhen to Star Lake (15 Km) and Lephori to Molhe Post (26 km).” 

Referring to the road project from ‘Lephori to Molhe camp’, RPP had alleged that “there was no work whatsoever done by M/S Rhino Construction Agency but the sanctioned amount of INR 30 crore was withdrawn fraudulently by way of issuance of completion certificate, and two additional funds of INR 1500 lakh each was sanctioned.”

It further alleged that the “road composition of WBM Grade-I and Grade-II was not done”.

‘All we want is good roads’

 When a team of journalists visited the site and interacted with the locals of Lephori, Kanjang and Akhen villages, on November 10 and 11, they shared their numerous challenges due to the ‘deplorable’ condition in the area.     

 Village Council Chairman Lephori, Zarpa Katiry, said the main challenge was accessing hospitals during health emergencies. The nearest hospital for the Kamaleah range, inclusive of the five villages, is Meluri which is at least 36 km away from Lephori.

Sometimes, he has to rush for emergency meetings and for which he needs to hire a vehicle, which is expensive.

The cost of hiring a vehicle from the village to Meluri costs around INR 5000, he shared.

At Lephori village, there is a primary health centre with two nurses and a doctor. However, for major health issues, one has to go out of the village, and to Meluri, he said.

He also informed that there are about 374 households at EAC headquartered in Lephori.

 Katiry, who was elected to the post of VCC in 2021, said there are high chances of meeting accidents due to the deplorable road condition along the stretch. He also narrated that he nearly died in an accident while travelling along the stretch in a “shaktiman” vehicle (truck).

 “All we want is a good road and nothing more’, he said.

 Lephori village is set to celebrate the 75th year of Christianity on Dec. 14 and 15 this year. He requested the contractor to complete the blacktopping at least till the village before the celebration.

 Veneichong (40), from Akhen village, also said that three of her six children are studying outside the village. Her husband, who is working as a village guard, earns about INR 3000 and spends INR 1000 mostly on vehicles for emergencies that may arise.

 VCC Kanjang Jonjang Singson also echoed similar challenges faced due to the road condition. Accessing healthcare facilities and essential commodities are the main challenges for the villagers.

It costs thousands of rupees for vehicle hire for any emergencies and there is no community health officer in the village, he said.

He also shared that Kanjang is the first Christian village in Kamaleah area and the only Baptist church in the village that would be celebrating its centenary a few years from now.

 The VCC added that they were not aware of the work orders that were issued in 2011. They came to know of the ‘sanctioned road projects under PWD only last year (2021) from the Rising People’s Party and other visionary leaders’.

 He further informed that Molhe camp/post (130 pillar) is the international trade centre as it lies on the border of India and Myanmar.

‘From the Myanmar side, the road connectivity to Molhe is completed but from India’s side, the road connectivity to Molhe, which is supposed to be developed, is not there’, he said.

The VCCs also added there was “no land compensation” for the road.

Lephori to Molhe Post (26 km)

The work order for construction of road from ‘Lephory to Molhe Post’ was issued on November 28, 2011 to M/S Rhino Construction & Agency, according to the documents made available during the visit.

The project’s initial estimate was INR 30 crore. An additional fund of INR 15 crore for the project was allotted to the contractor in March 2017 and another INR 15 crore ‘additional fund’ was allotted in October 2018.

In the allotment work order issued by the Chief Engineer, PWD (R&B) Kohima, on November 20, 2011, it stated, “construction of road from Lephory to Molhe Post (26 km)” should be completed within 24 months wef November 2011” and “the date commencement shall be reckoned from the 7th day of issue of this work order or the actual date of commencement of work, whichever is earlier.”

The “work description” as per the work order issued included site clearance (cutting of trees and trunk, girth from 300mm to 600mm, girth from 600mm to 900mm, clearing and grubbing of road land in thorny jungle); earthwork (excavation in hilly area in soil by mechanical means, excavation in hilly areas in ordinary rock by mechanical means, excavation in hilly area in hard rock by mechanical means (requiring blasting); side drain (ordinary soil, ordinary rock);  construction of subgrade and earthen shoulder; road compositions (WBM Grade-I, WBM Grade-II); cross drainage work (RCC slab culverts 1.5 m span., RCC slab culverts 2.5 m span., hume pipe culvert-1000mm dia); and protection works (1.5m height retaining wall, 2.0 m height retaining wall, 3.0 m height retaining wall, 1.5 m height breast wall, 2.5 m height breast wall).

After three years, a ‘completion certificate’ was issued by the EE, PWD (R&B), Phek division on January 21, 2014. The contractor was given “good” remark in the quality of work, financial soundness of the contractor, technical proficiency, resourcefulness and “very good” in general behavior.

 “Further, certified that the work has been completed as per specification and works executed as per items specified in BOQ and cost”, the EE stated.

Akhen to Star Lake (15 km)

The road construction from Akhen to Star Lake (15 km) was awarded to M/S Rhino Construction and Agency, a government-registered Class-1 contractor and supplier on April 11, 2011.

The project amounted to INR 569.27 lakh.

The terms and conditions of the allocation work order, on April 11, 2011, stated that the work should be completed within 24 months wef April 20, 2011.

The ‘item of works’ included earthwork in excavation of soil, earthwork in excavation of ordinary rock, earthwork in excavation of hard rock, construction of unlined surface drain, and construction of hume pipe 1000 mm DIA (NP4) culvert.

T01/Akash Bridge to Kanjang

Another road project is the construction of a road from TO1/Akash Bridge to Kanjang (38 Km), amounting to INR 2672.77 lakh. The work was allotted to M/S Nagaland Steel Engineering Works.

Chief Engineer, PWD (R&B) in a letter titled “issue of notice to proceed with the work” issued to the contractor on November 21, 2017, stated that time of completion will be 18 months from the date of issue of this work order.

The advocate for petitioners, Sentiyanger Imchen, had submitted in the court that the work order for ‘T01 to Kanjang was issued on November 21, 2017 and the required funds were released on March 6, 2017 and October 4, 2018’.

Taking into consideration the three road projects, Imchen stated that “there has been overlapping of 11 km between the work covered by the first work order and the second work order and 15 km between work covered by the first work order and the third work order”, the HC stated in the order, dated November 1, 2022.

He also alleged that “though the funds have been withdrawn on the basis of the completion report issued by the respondent No.11, actually, not much work has been done. In view of the allegation, the respondent No.11 was directed to file an affidavit to make his stand clear. Accordingly, the respondent No.11 filed an affidavit on July 29, 2022 admitting that he had issued the completion certificate but as directed by the Chief Engineer, PWD (R&B), Kohima”, the HC stated.  

On visiting the roads on November 10 and 11, through T.01/Akash Bridge till Akhen village (via Lephori and Kanjang village), all three different sanctioned projects fell under one stretch. The road was found ply-able yet bumpy.   

From Akhash Bridge to Lephori village, blacktopping was half done and remaining kilometers were soling as on Nov. 11. To this, the villagers claimed it was “supposed to be blacktopped”.

The work items clearly mentioned RCC slabs, culverts and retaining walls from Lephori to Molhe Camp/post. But, the workmanship spoke otherwise as on November 11, 2022. The road stretch between Lephori to Kanjang, about an hour’s drive distance, was exclusively soling.

From Kanjang to Akhen village (about 45 minutes drive), the road was blacktopped (but old) which the villagers claimed was “done by a contractor other than M/S Rhino Construction & Agency ”. The blacktopped road leads to Reguri village, according to the locals.

The leaders of Lephori and Kanjang village (Lephori in particular) and petitioners of PIL, also claimed that “the earth/fresh cutting of the (PWD) road stretch T.01/Akash Bridge to Reguri (via Lephori, Kanjang and Akhen village) was done since 2003 by manpower”. As stated earlier, the work order for road construction from Lephori to Molhe Post also included site clearance and earthwork.

HC-constituted members inspected road 

The Court recently constituted a four-member committee (all advocates) to visit the spot to see the ground reality. The members included advocates Joshua Sheqi, Moa Jamir, L Likhase, and Arenlong.

The members were to see “as to whether there has been overlapping of the works given in the work orders and also to see as to whether there has been progress in the execution of the works and if so, to what extend”.

“The learned advocates shall go to the spot and meet the village councils of the villages settled along the roads or whoever they feel would be able to give the correct information and also see the stretch of the roads and thereafter submit a report on or before the next date of hearing”, the HC stated in its order on November 1, 2022.

Accordingly, the committee inspected the road on November 10 (Thursday) and 11 (Friday), 2022.

‘Our job as has been assigned by the High Court is to see whether the work has been done as per the specification shown in the Detailed Project Report. Basically, our job is paperwork and to see whether the ground reality is having any relationship with what is written in the paper’, said a member of the committee while speaking to journalists on November 11.

The advocate clearly stated several times that they had “no emotional link” to any party.

“Everything is according to the paper and we have no emotional relationship with the contractor or with the villagers. But the work must be done and people must get the road according to the paper (DPR)”, the advocate stated.

The committee is expected to submit its on-site visitation report to the court before the next hearing, which has been listed for today, November 16.

By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Nov 15, 2022 10:44:04 pm