COLOMBO: The Ranil Wickremesinghe government in Sri Lanka has put in the dock the Indian public sector railway construction company Ircon International (IRCON), over several issues relating to the restoration of the railway system in the Northern Province between 2010 and 2015.
On the advice of a four-man committee, the Lankan cabinet has decided to review the execution of the US$ 800 million dollar Indian-funded project, and take appropriate action with the help of experts, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told the media here on Thursday.
The investigating committee had found “enormous cost over-runs in the construction carried out by an Indian company; issues related to estimates; damages to sleepers; and defects in the buildings constructed.”
The cabinet note had refrained from naming the company though.
The committee also observed that competitive bidding had not been adopted and accordingly, government had suffered a loss.
The cabinet took a policy decision to give railway construction work to the Lankan Department of Railways from now on, and use local material and expertise to the extent possible.
Asked who is to be blamed for this, Senaratne told Express that only an inquiry will reveal it.
Political observers wondered if the issue is being raked up by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to fix former Minister of Transport, Kumara Welgama, who is now in the forefront of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance’s campaign to bring back former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to power as Prime Minister through the August 17 parliamentary elections.
Welgama was a prime mover of the railway project and fully supported IRCON to finish the work ahead of schedule. But now he is in the opposite camp supporting Rajapaksa.
However, even when Welgama was minister, the railway unions had opposed the grant of the project to IRCON on the grounds that the Lankan Railways could do the same work at less cost. But IRCON General Manager S.L.Gupta contended that given the difficulties encountered in the execution of the project and the modern technology imparted, the project could not be any cheaper. The tracks laid by IRCON could take speeds up to 120 km per hour and the rolling stock supplied was of the latest technology.
The Omanthai-Palai line (90.5 km) was started in 2010 and completed in 2013 at a cost of US$ 185.35 million. The Madu-Talaimannar stretch (63 km) was completed in three years in 2013 at a cost of US$ 149.74 km. The Medawachichiya-Madu track (43 km) was started in 2010 and completed in 2012 at a cost of US$ 81.30 million. The Palai-Kankesanthurai line (56 km) was started in 2011 and completed in 2014 at a cost of US$ 149.34 million. Signaling equipment cost US$ 86.50 million. And other expenditure, including personnel, amounted to US$ 146 million. The project was funded by a US$ 800 million Government of India Line of Credit.