Inept consultantsAction should be taken against highly paid experts if they goof up
The Sikta Irrigation Project is one of our ‘national pride projects’. A multi-billion project, the scheme being built in Banke district in Province 5 was first conceptualised in 1975, envisioning it would irrigate almost all the lowlands of the district. Upon completion, it is expected to irrigate as much as 43,000 hectares of land in Banke district. The construction work started in 2005 and finished in 2016. The irrigation canal crumbled during a trial run. Now, two years later, a probe committee report has found that it was due to the failure to spot dissoluble soil during the project design. A government team maintained that the consultants, while designing the project, failed to carry out a special soil test, which led to the construction of a fragile canal. This shows incompetence on the part of the consultants who charge hefty fees but fail to do their work sincerely.
The main canal was heavily damaged at different points of a 5-km segment in its 45-km length in June 2016 and July 2018. When the newly built canal was first tested in June 2016, it collapsed at multiple sections. Despite the repair work carried out by the contractor Kalika Construction, it broke again in July during another test. The first feasibility test of the project was conducted by Lahmeyer International GmbH of Germany in 1980. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology then conducted a further study in 1983. In 2004, the Irrigation Development Programme under the European Union (EU) submitted a detailed feasibility study, stating that the project was technically, economically and socially feasible. Under the EU project, individual consultants were employed to conduct studies. However, in its 55th annual report, the Office of the Auditor General stated that despite clear presence of dissoluble soil on the surface, its identification, analysis and treatment were not conducted before constructing the canal.
It seems that the damage was caused not because of the negligence of the contractor, but due to inadequate findings by the consultants. Had the soil been tested properly, the teams said, the contractor could have taken measures to prevent the damage. Experts were of the view that the failure could have been avoided had there been proper information about the surface of the land. The consultants who are hired for big projects are usually thought to be experts in their field. Citing their expertise, they charge heavy amounts for their services. When they are paid exorbitantly, the work expected from them will rightly be of the kind that can be totally relied on. In this case, despite clear presence of dissoluble soil on the surface, the consultants failed to identify it and went on with designing the structure, so they should be held accountable. Action should be taken against anyone who fails to live up to the task, regardless of who they are or how much they earn.