India's union water resources minister Saif Uddin Soz has been frank and honest in admitting, with Navin Singh Khadka, BBC Nepali Service, on 12 September 2008, that “Our main interest is flood control and irrigation. Those are our first and second priority. If we get hydroelectricity as by product, that will be a bonus for us.” A transcript of the same has been published in Nepali Times weekly, 19-25 Sept 2008#418.
But Nepali hydrocracy (bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicos related to hydropower) still firmly believes that what India wants is the hydropower. You will remember me opining as follow in this respect. I urge you to review it in the new light.
It’s Fresh Water, Not Energy
One thing is common in all these treaties and agreements – ensuring fresh water for India. Without spelling it out explicitly, Nepal’s right to water in these rivers have been ceded. The issue in terms of downstream benefit in the case of reservoir projects is relatively easy to understand (some politicos refuse to understand the value of stored water while going about lamenting that water flowing in rivers, for which no one will be willing to pay a price without adding spatial or temporal value to it, is going awaste). West Seti project, for example, augments the dry season flow in the downstream areas in India by 90 m3/s, equivalent to 7.77 billion liters per day. In order to understand the value of such water one needs to know that Nepal is planning to invest in the order of Rs 30 billion to bring 170 million liters per day into Kathmandu. Had West Seti project been conceptualized as a multipurpose project, there would not have been an issue of downstream benefit to India. However, as there are no plans for Nepal to benefit from the augmented flow, India will receive such stored water free of cost, besides benefiting from flood control benefits. The issue here is why Nepal should inundate over 4,000 hectares of its land (to build the reservoir and due to inundation in Banke district as a result of Laxmanpur barrage and augmented flow) and displace over 30,000 people just to provide additional water to India during dry season, free of cost. Politicos and bureaucrats sermonize that Nepal is free to use such water while it flows within Nepal. But without a multipurpose project being conceptualized for Nepal to use such water, India, after using the augmented flow during one season, will start asserting the principle of “existing prior consumptive use” and Nepal will lose the right over such bodies of water permanently. This principle has already been used in structuring Mahakali Treaty to the disadvantage of Nepal. This is one way of gifting precious fresh water produced by storing it in Nepal to India.
One will need to study Columbia Treaty under which Canada is compensated for losing alternative use of the land inundated and also for augmented flow in the dry season from USA, besides the power benefit shared between the two countries for constructing the reservoir project. Nepal should have insisted on using this treaty as a precedent in getting recompense for land mass lost due to submergence (including forest resources, wild life, existing infrastructure, etc.) in the case of West Seti project. But …
Another way Nepal is ceding its right to water becomes apparent with some difficulty. Run of the river projects like Upper Karnali and Arun III do not generate augmented flow and, hence, apparently, no water related issues are involved. But an in depth study will make it clear that water issue is involved even in these projects. Section 20 of Electricity Regulation, 1993 guarantees “Right on Water Resources” which says that “The licensee, who has obtained license for production of electricity, shall have the right to use the water resources for the works as mentioned in the license to the extent of such place and quantity as specified in the license.” As stipulated by this section someone possessing a license to a specific site is guaranteed that no consumptive use of water will be undertaken in the upstream areas of the project, which might entail reduction of flow to the project site. By getting various “investors” to secure licenses to sites in Nepal, India has succeeded in ensuring that Nepal is forced to refrain from using the water for consumptive uses in these areas. In this manner too downstream flow to the Ganges is successfully secured with the issuance of each license and Nepal misses an opportunity to use such water, for example, to irrigate its arable land. In order to put things in proper perspective, one needs to remember that the Ganges receives 41% of its flow from Nepal in the wet season and 75% in the dry season.
On the other hand, although quite a few of Nepal’s hydrocracy (bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicos related to hydropower) believe that India badly needs electricity from Nepal, time has already proven that it’s not so. Take the example of West Seti. If India was badly in need of electricity from this project, Indians would have made sure that this project was built more than a decade ago. In other words, they would not have allowed this project to hibernate for one and a half decade. Same conclusion could be drawn from Mahakali Treaty as well. The detailed project report (DPR) for Pancheswar project was supposed to be ready within six months of execution of this treaty. It’s been over a decade now but the DPR is nowhere near sight. From this it could be easily seen that India is not that desperate for electricity from the rivers in Nepal, as is being perceived (and also propagated) by Nepal’s hydrocracy. If indeed India was starving for electricity she could have easily ensured that Pancheswar project (6,480 MW from storage project and 240 MW from reregulating dam) is built and, probably, commissioned by now. By getting Nepal to sign on the dotted lines in the treaty document, India succeeded in legitimizing the use of water in excess of what she is entitled to (50% of the water in Mahakali – deemed to be a border River), which she had been illegitimately using prior to execution of the treaty. And it’s also not that difficult to see that she is in no hurry to get this project commissioned