Mother Nature bestows certain natural resources to every country, harnessing of which not only sustains the country’s economy, but also leads to prosperity. As a part of natural justice all natural resources aren’t bestowed to every country. Forest used to be touted as Nepal’s wealth. However, forest has dwindled and country is yet to prosper (except for smugglers and their powerful benefactors). Similarly, Nepal is being publicized as rich in water resources. However, only one-fourth of the populace has access to piped water from which water rarely flows and three-fourth has yet to see pipes/taps. Therefore, easy and affordable access to potable water has become a distant dream; diverting resources for medical treatment with heavy toll on productivity of human resources – even premature death linked to unclean water (recent sickness and death from Hepatitis and Jaundice in Biratnagar is a case in point).
Colonization of natural resources
Exploitation of natural resources of host country for the development of another country is colonization of natural resources; practiced by imperialists till 20th century. India’s natural resource was exploited by British Empire in their interest till Indian independence, as was practiced by other imperialists. No colony has prospered under that format. However, the imperialists exploiting natural resources of the colonies have flourished.
Resource colonization of Nepal, a country never formally colonized, started with the construction of “Sarada” barrage by British India in 1920 to meet requirement of north India, followed by projects built under Koshi and Gandak treaties in 1950s. These barrages resulted in inundation of land in Nepal, involuntary displacement of the inhabitants and also restriction on consumptive use of water in the upstream reaches ranging from irrigation to futuristic hydrogen economy – the negative externalities. While India reaped the benefits from flood control and irrigation of their parched land (positive externalities). This is the best example of colonization of Nepal’s water resource.
Same is being attempted in the name of projects like Pancheshwar, Koshi High Dam, etc. (reservoir projects) which will result in Nepal internalizing negative externalities and India reaping positive externalities. An important distinction is that the barrages built in last century were meant for spatial transfer of water (from plenty to paucity) and, therefore, the magnitude of negative externalities was relatively low compared to the same that will be caused by the construction of Pancheshwar, Koshi High Dam, etc. to be built for temporal transfer of water (from wet season to dry season).
Mindset amongst the hydrocrats of India is understandable, while that of Nepal is startling. Although Mahakali treaty stresses equal right to water, India plans to irrigate 1.6 million hectares while only 93,000 hectares will get irrigated in Nepal after completion of Pancheshwar project. It is natural for hydrocrats of India to endeavor to optimize benefits to India and cannot be faulted for being patriotic towards their motherland. However, when hydrocrats of Nepal surrender Nepal’s interest in this manner, one has to pause and ponder. Why are Nepali hydrocrats happy to surrender Nepal’s national interest!
Colonization of hydropower
Although, Nepal is said to have huge hydropower potential, but she is suffering from load shedding since last few decades, which is limited to well-to-do urbanites, mostly, as only 40% of the population has access to electricity from NEA. Moreover, Nepal’s youth are emigrating abroad for employment for want of jobs in Nepal for lack of industrialization, which isn’t possible without power. Import of petroleum product this year is anticipated to exceed Rs 120 billion, which could have been avoided by electrification of transportation. Something simple like displacement of firewood for cooking in rural areas (83% of the country) by electricity could not only have curbed deforestation but could even have positively impacted rural people’s (especially that of homemakers’) lives by saving them from indoor pollution which is making them sick (entailing huge expense in medical treatment), less productive and even death. An interesting facet of this phenomenon is that Nepal could have generated 430 million working days in a year if rural folks didn’t need to spend time collecting firewood. There are many other meaningful uses of electricity, which have been completely ignored by the hydrocrats who want people in Nepal to chase the mirage of becoming citizens of a rich country by exporting power, comparable to Saudi Arabia.
If one is to calculate ballpark number for electricity requirement of Nepal, with 1,094 MW used by 40% of population last fiscal year, Nepal would have needed 2,700 MW for 100% electrification in that period. Additionally, in order to generate employment for 3 million youth that have emigrated (without accounting for those who have emigrated for employment to India) she would need another 1,000 MW for industrialization and similarly 500 MW for electrification of transportation which would mitigate balance of trade and payment deficit. Further, just to displace LPG from urban, semi-urban and peri-urban kitchens another 1,000 MW would be required. In sum even without planning to displace firewood from rural kitchens (which would have been highly over-ambitious), Nepal could have used 5,200 MW (a ballpark number) last year itself. Therefore, it is criminal on the part of hydrocrats to plan to export power depriving Nepal’s economy and Nepali people from much needed electricity, as Nepal will require about 10,000 MW in 5 years’ time.
Because of such wrong focus, these very hydrocrats now have to pacify people suffering from power crisis that it will be mitigated by importing power from India (northern India which is suffering from huge power deficit!). In the meantime they are preparing to allow foreign investors to build hydropower projects for export (namely Arun III, Tamakoshi III, Upper Marshyangdi-2 and Upper Karnali) that would generate high quality power, totaling 3,050 MW, at cheap rates by signing Power Development Agreement. Again, it is smart on the part of Indian patriots to get clean power from Nepal at dirt cheap rate. But same cannot be said about Nepali hydrocrats who are hell-bent on exporting high quality power cheaply while arranging to import expensive power in the name of mitigating power crisis in Nepal. This is a clear and concrete disconnect, or colonized intellectuality.
Intellectuals afflicted by Reverse Imperialism
Nepal was never colonized, excepting Indian wish to exercise colonial power over Nepal using special relation supposedly “enshrined” in 1950 treaty. Indians don’t overtly reveal their intention to colonize Nepal’s rivers, though. But politicians of Nepal are magnanimous towards India, as was exemplified by a former Premier Krishna Prasad Bhattarai acceding that Nepal’s rivers are “common” when he visited New Delhi in 1990; going against Harmon Doctrine and the concept of “absolute territorial sovereignty” accepted by India in both Koshi and Gandak treaties and disproving people’s belief that he was a patriotic leader. With him appeasing Indian interest in Nepal’s water resources, the embargo also did get lifted as a result of his efforts which was imposed to force the late king Birendra to accept another unequal treaty in 1989 containing references to “commonly shared rivers” besides requiring Nepal to come under Indian “security umbrella”. But people of Nepal are lucky, as Bhattarai couldn’t formalize/legalize the commonality concept by executing another disgraceful treaty to Nepal’s detriment as he lost in the general election. Very few people know that India had imposed the embargo as late King Birendra had refused to sign the treaty proposed by India, with assurance of full support to the then regime against the political parties that were agitating for “democracy”. Common people had started to support the agitation as their lives were becoming unlivable due to the embargo. But late king Birendra preferred to become constitutional monarch rather than surrender Nepal’s sovereignty to India over and above natural resources.
Makes one wonder why such mentality on the part of hydrocrats of Nepal – their eagerness to allow India to colonize Nepal’s water resources! Indians colonizing can be termed imperialistic. But Nepali hydrocrats seeking colonization of Nepal’s rivers by India means they are afflicted by “Reverse Imperialism.” In sum, reverse imperialism on the part of Nepal’s hydrocrats is abetting colonization of Nepal’s Water Resources.
Published in Spotlight News Magazine of Sunday May 10, 2014.