Workers of Chainpur-Taklakot road project deprived of wagesThey say they have not been paid their daily wages for more than five years.
Chatte Bohara, a local of Rupatola in ward 3 of Talkot Rural Municipality, has been working as a construction worker at the 40-kilometre Rupatola-Dhuli road section under the 117-kilometre Chainpur-Taklakot road for five years.
He says he has not received his daily wages for the last four years. More than 150 other workers have not received their wages for over a year while some have not gotten paid since the project began in the fiscal year 2016-17.
Bohara said that the contractors for the road project have not returned to the site for more than eight months, due to which work has been halted. “All the equipment, machines, and vehicles, including the bulldozers, have been left stranded at the construction site, collecting rust,” he said. “The contractors never used to pay the workers in full except for a small amount. We didn’t ask for full payment fearing they would not release our dues.”
The 117-km Chainpur-Taklakot road is a pride project of Sudurpaschim Province and will directly connect Chainpur, the headquarters of Bajhang district, to the Taklakot checkpoint in China.
According to Tularam Sharma, head of the project office, the 40-kilometre Rupatola-Dhuli section is the first contract under the 117-kilometre Chainpur-Taklakot road, and the work of other road sections can only start after the construction of this particular road section due to the difficult topography.
According to the Provincial and Local Roads Construction and Improvement Programme (PLRCIP), Sudurpaschim, the contract for the construction of the 40-km road section was given to Swachchhanda Nagarjuna JV Company in the fiscal year 2016-17 at a total cost of Rs850 million. The construction of the road was supposed to be completed in four years and two months.
Sharma said that the company has already received a payment of Rs620 million and has extended the project deadline several times, but so far in seven years, the company has only completed 22 km of road out of 40 km.
According to Lal Bahadur Bohara, associate professor of Jaya Prithvi Multiple Campus, Chainpur, and a local of Rupatola, Taklakot is an old trade port in Tibet, and due to a lack of road connectivity, the established checkpoint has not come into operation.
If the Chainpur-Taklakot road comes into operation, it will become an international trade and tourist hub with China, which will also boost the economy of Sudurpaschim, Lal Bahadur said. “Similarly, it will also become a comfortable route to Kailash Mansarovar, the famed religious site,” he said.
Lal Bahadur added, “Due to the negligence of the construction company and the failure of related agencies such as PLRCIP and Chainpur-Taklakot Road Project Office to take strict action against the company, the 40-kilometre Rupatola-Dhuli road stretch has not been completed in seven years, and they have even stopped working for more than eight months. Lack of surveillance and monitoring by the agencies has also left the workers of the road unpaid.”
Sharma said that due to the negligence of the Swachchhanda Nagarjuna JV Company in the 40-kilometre road stretch, the whole Chainpur-Taklakot road project has been delayed.
“We heard that the project has been on hold for eight months, so we sent a notice to the officials of the company to start the work. If they fail to do so, their licence would be scrapped and they would be blacklisted from construction work,” Sharma said. “After receiving several complaints from workers regarding unpaid wages, which are estimated to be more than Rs2.5 million, we have instructed the company to pay the dues as soon as possible.”
Diwakar Bhatta, the representative of Swachchhanda Nagarjuna JV Company, said construction was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of the main shareholder of the company in the second wave of the pandemic.
“The death of the shareholder and pandemic created major disputes inside the company that took time to resolve and due to which the construction work was interrupted time and again. Discussions are going on with the other partners of the company, and work will start within a couple of days,” said Bhatta. “The workers whose payments are not paid will be hired again and will be paid gradually. We have communicated to the project office that the construction work on the remaining 18 km stretch of Rupatola-Dhuli will be completed in the current fiscal year.”