NOC fumbles trying to defend its land dealNepal Oil Corporation (NOC), which is facing charges of allegedly embezzling millions of rupees while purchasing land to build fuel storage facilities, hurriedly called a press meet on Thursday to defend its controversial move.
Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), which is facing charges of allegedly embezzling millions of rupees while purchasing land to build fuel storage facilities, hurriedly called a press meet on Thursday to defend its controversial move.
The decision to hold the media briefing appears to have backfired as the state-owned petroleum monopoly could not furnish substantial evidence to prove its innocence. This has further lend credence to the suspicion that NOC was playing foul while purchasing land plots which it claims are “technically feasible to build petroleum storage facilities”.
NOC Acting Deputy Managing Director Sushil Bhattarai said the land was bought at “reasonable prices”. “The prices paid by NOC were similar to the ongoing market prices at the local level,” said Bhattarai, who also headed a technical committee formed to conduct an assessment of land prices before the deals were closed.
But his comment contradicts evidence gathered from locals and officials who witnessed the land purchase deals.
NOC has been alleged for misappropriating funds amounting to Rs800 million while buying land worth Rs1.61 billion in four places: Bhairahawa, Chitwan, Sarlahi and Jhapa. NOC had started the process of purchasing land to build oil storage facilities in all seven provinces following the government’s instruction to maintain fuel stock for at least 90 days.
The state oil monopoly has been accused of inflating the price of land plots while purchasing them. It has been charged with misappropriation of funds totalling Rs568 million on purchase of land in Chitwan and Jhapa districts alone. Similarly, it has been charged with misappropriating Rs150 million and Rs80 million respectively on purchase of land in Bhairahawa and Sarlahi districts.
Apart from purchasing land at inflated price, the enterprise’s move to purchase land mainly at the bank of river has also been widely criticised. The viability of the storage plants has been questioned at the location mainly due to the threat of the possible flood. Bhattarai said land was purchased by the riverside, as close proximity to the river would allow the storage facility to fetch water in case of fire.
“We will also build retaining wall to protect the storage facilities from natural disasters like floods,” said Bhattarai.
NOC’s Managing Director Gopal Bahadur Khadka said they purchased the land plots only after assessing their technical viability. “Once we get clearance from the parliamentary committees and the CIAA, we will initiate land purchasing in other locations as well,” Khadka said.
As per NOC, they need land area of 350 bigaha to stock 530,000 kl of petrol sufficient for 90 days. Similarly, the planned storage of cooking gas requires 80 bigaha of land. The enterprise claimed that it purchased land as per the government’s standard of safety measures. Khadka added, “Although the land plots cost was higher, they are suitable from the view point of safety and with access to water, electricity, communication facility and road transportation.”
Lawmaker and member of Public Accounts Committee Dimple Kumari Jha remarked that the NOC’s argument was a self-defending act. “On preliminary investigation by the committee, the enterprise was seen embezzling large amount of state’s money by paying exorbitant price,” said Jha adding that the parliamentary committee will be conducting a thorough investigation on the issue.