Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interaction program last Friday

April 7, 2010

Mr Lila Mani Pokhrel
Chief, Water Resource and Energy Dept.

Dear Lila Manijee

I am sending this email to congratulate as well as thank you and your party for organizing the program last Friday on the topic “Hydropower Development in Nepal: Opportunity and Challenges” at Nepal Academy. Your party deserves to be congratulated for organizing this program as other parties, wallowing in the arrogance that they have infinite knowledge of the subject, have not organized any such program. You have started a consultation process with the people who have spent substantial amount of their lifetime in the sector and this is highly appreciable. I thank you and your party not only for organizing the program but also for inviting me.

I also take this opportunity to drive home certain points with regard to the comments made during the program about which I was unable to rejoin issues due to time constraint during the program itself. The comments made by Som Nath Poudyal and Ajit N Thapa are important to be left ignored.

What I find distressing is the fact that people, even senior ones, make very superficial comment without full knowledge of the ground reality (or rather ignoring it!). This becomes unfortunate as even possession of full knowledge does not make a person wise. It becomes well neigh impossible for a person to formulate opinion rooted to the ground reality and make prudent comment without necessary wisdom. In this backdrop, it becomes criminal when people talk very lightly about matters of national importance without being able to feel hurt (देशको लागि चित्त दुखाउनु) when things are done to the detriment of the nation. This is not to question people’s patriotism but to decry their apathy as to whether actually the motherland gains or loses, which impels people to infer on these lines.

I am discussing few of the important issues raised during the program, which got left unaddressed during the program, in following lines.

“Criticism Galore”: Som Nath Poudyal
It’s impossible to disagree with Som Nathjee that once a decision has been made, there should not be unnecessary discussion/debate. Like in Japan, the example he gave, we in Nepal should too move forward to implement the decision, agreement, etc. without raising further controversy, once an instrument as such has been executed. However, this mindset presupposes that we are able to learn from past mistakes and are committed to not to repeat the past. Unfortunately, in Nepal, we not only keep on repeating the past mistakes, but we have been successfully committing errors worse in comparison to the past.

Take the cases of Koshi and Gandak treaties. There is no doubt whatsoever that Koshi treaty was a serious mistake. But instead of learning from this treaty, Gandak treaty was signed wherein Nepal ends up losing more. Article 4(i) of Koshi treaty guarantees that “HMG shall have every right to withdraw for irrigation and for any other purpose in Nepal water from the Kosi river and from the Sun-Kosi river or within the Kosi basin from any other tributaries of the Kosi river as may be required from time to time. The Union shall have the right to regulate all the balance of supplies in the Kosi river at the barrage site.” Meaning Nepal is entitled to use Koshi water as much as she needs and in whatsoever manner, for whatever consumptive uses. However, right to unencumbered use of Gandak water is constrained due to the restriction imposed by the proviso clause of Article 9 of this treaty wherein restriction has been placed in the trans-Valley uses of Gandak waters in the months of February to April (there is no such restriction on inter-basin transfer of Koshi water). This is a clear case of inability to replicate stronger points of previous treaty; no sense in expecting improvement based on lesson learnt from the mistake committed in signing Koshi treaty. In the same vein, Mahakali treaty is the worst one of the three – due to its failure to ensure Nepal’s national interest.

In this backdrop, people of Nepal are unable to depend on powers-to-be of any time to not to compromise in the matters of national interest. Compromise with national interest happens at a number of levels. First, treaties, agreements, etc. have been signed time and again against national interest. Then these will be interpreted against Nepal’s interest at the time of its implementation. There are plenty of examples of this genre. Last but not the least, compromises will again be made at the time of implementation of such treaties. An example that stands out like a sore thumb is the canal network under Gandak treaty which is built for lesser quantum of water than what Nepal is entitled to under the treaty.

In this backdrop and looking at the history of last 60 years after the overthrow of Ranacracy in 1950s people in Nepal aren’t in a position to trust and believe powers-to-be of any time and from any political denomination.

“Current load shedding is due to cancellation of Arun III”: Ajit Narayan S Thapa
Ajit Narayan jee opined that Nepal would not have been facing this severe load shedding, had Arun III, 201 MW, not been cancelled in 1995. I have conducted an in-depth analysis of this and my conclusions, different from his inferences, has been published in the Hydro Nepal: Journal of Water, Energy and Environment which I have uploaded in my website and can be accessed by following the link below:

One does not need to invest too much time to refute this claim of his. Installed capacity currently is 695 MW and we have severe electricity crisis. In order for Ajit jee to be right, it will have to be possible to “have the cake and eat it too.” Meaning be able to implement Arun III and also have other projects built which isn’t possible on two grounds. One, the World Bank covenant put restriction on implementation of any project bigger than 10 MW until the commissioning of Arun III. Due to this very covenant, both Khimti and Bhote Koshi wouldn’t have been implemented if Nepal had opted to implement Arun III, simply because the World Bank would not have liked to flout its own covenant. Besides, Kali Gandaki A wouldn’t have been built if Nepal had gone for Arun III, as the former got implemented by using ADB fund earmarked for the latter. Similarly, Middle Marshyangdi was built with KfW money that couldn’t be used due to non-implementation of Arun III. Simply put, had Nepal gone the Arun III route Khimti (60 MW), Bhote Koshi (36 MW), Kali Gandaki A (144 MW) and Middle Marshyangdi (70 MW), totaling 310 MW wouldn’t have been built. With the implementation of Arun III total installed capacity would have reached 586 MW level only whereas due to cancellation of Arun III Nepal succeeded in adding 310 MW to a system of about 385 MW.

From the above it is not only crystal clear that his inference is completely far from ground reality but it also comes out glaringly that the magnitude of load shedding today would have been substantially higher if Nepal had implemented Arun III.

However, this type of surmise isn’t surprising when former minister of state for water resources, Laxaman Ghimire has gone on record saying that had Arun III been built, Nepal would not have had any load shedding for next 20 years. It is unfathomable as to how does he jump to such a conclusion when the demand in 2025, 20 years after the expected commissioning of this project is 3,176 MW!

Anti development people are part of “petroleum lobby”
It has become fashionable to brand critics, including yours truly, of present visionless, irresponsible policy, strategy and plan for so called hydropower development, as anti development. They further portray those critiquing mindless development of hydropower as a part of the petroleum lobby in Nepal. This scribe is highly critical of dedicating good projects able to generate high quality power at very low rates like Arun III, West Seti, Upper Karnali as export oriented project. If these projects are to be built in the national interest, Nepal’s dependence on imported petroleum products would have gone down significantly. In this backdrop, it is very clear that those in support of the named projects are not only acting against national interest but at the same time are condemning Nepal to dependence syndrome for times to come. Till the time people catch up with their two timing strategy, these people will continue to be worshiped as pro-development and in the meantime they will continue to serve petroleum lobby by forcing us to import petroleum product in ever increasing quantities.

Why rake up issues like national interest and national independence against hydropower project?
Some people make it sound as if it is criminal to be talking/worrying about national interest and national independence while, the people involved in signing away national interest or signing documents that compromise Nepal’s independence, go about strutting around as if they not only have won a battle or two but the war itself. In the context of water resource sector and hydropower sub sector references to national interest and national independence is not merely rhetorical, nor abstract. The detriment to national interest and impairment of national independence is quantifiable and the value could even be monetized.

National interest issue becomes relevant in the context of, for example, Mahakali treaty, in which Nepal’s entitlement to rainy season water is limited to 3.5% while surrendering 46.5% of water, that rightfully belongs to Nepal, to India while going about crowing that this treaty ensures half water for Nepal. The compromise in national interest becomes serious by a magnitude in the context of Pancheshwar project under which Nepal is get to irrigate less than 5.5% land (93,000 ha) from the regulated/augmented water stored in the reservoir, to be built, while surrendering 44.5% of water belonging to Nepal stored in the reservoir to India (India to irrigate 1.6 million ha), in the name of, again, equal sharing of the water. When national interest gets compromised as such, it becomes criminal on the part of Nepali citizenry if no voice is raised against such transgression of Nepal’s national interest. The division of augmented/regulated flow from Pancheshwar project, in the name of equal sharing of water, is so lopsided that it’s not even commensurate to inundation of Nepal’s land; 8,650 ha of (43%) Nepal’s land is to be submerged for the entitlement to irrigate 5.5% land!

With the increase in dependency national independence gets impaired. Nepal is suffering from severe electricity crisis which is likely to continue for decades, if current visionless plan and strategy is to continue. Nepal is surrendering projects able to generate good quality power at low cost for export while we are importing power from India at exorbitant rates. It is obvious that as long as Nepal is dependent on imported power, she cannot be self reliant and, hence, her national independence will stand compromised.

Moreover, due to the depedency syndrome, Nepal is getting mired in balance of trade as well as balance of payment deficits which is fueling liquidity crunch, flight of capital etc.

In this backdrop, it should not be difficult to understand whose interest the people castigating people concerned of national interest and national independence are serving.

With best regards,


Ratna Sansar

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