Monday, August 11, 2014

Let’s take stock in the wake of Modi-phoria

After a week of Indian PM Modi’s visit, it is high time for us to take stock to determine where we the people of Nepal stand after a euphoric, overnight visit of Indian PM Narendra Modi, 17 years after another Indian PM’s visit. Trust my write up would not be deemed throwing cold water over the euphoria and it is also time to think coolly as to what actually did he mean by whatever he said and what could be in his mind when he said those things that were deemed mesmerizing. According to “Simplify 360o,” a social media analytics site, there were more than 80% positive comments and only 5% were negative. I trust one additional “negative” comment from me will not change the result drastically.

He addressed Nepal’s parliament and the way almost each sentence of his was followed by applause, it is certain that what he apparently said “extempore” was highly appreciated (outside the CA too he has “earned” many admirers). His affirmation that Nepal is a sovereign country and also that Buddha was born in Nepal has been the talk of the town as if there were doubts with respect to these even in the minds of people and parliamentarians of Nepal.

It is definitely true that he possesses great oratorical skill and he turned out to be such a smooth talker that “he could sell ice to Eskimos”, to use an old saying, with due respect to him. It is certain that he is fiercely patriotic and dedicated to his motherland. Actually most Indians are like that. They wouldn’t, like a good shopkeeper, mind to gloss over a few facts or doctor/tweak the numbers/calculations a little bit here and there to “sell” an idea or merchandise. A good example: Indians going about telling that Nepal benefits more than India from Pancheshwar project. In reality Nepal gets to irrigate only 93,000 ha while 1.6 million ha is planned to be irrigated in India to cite one example of India benefiting more than Nepal in contrast to the principle of equal water sharing enshrined in Mahakali treaty. I also know of some Indians who disagree with such shenanigan on Indian part and are in favor of fair deal without any sleigh of hand.

In Nepal too we have many fiercely patriotic people, only few of them are vocal and a large majority tends to remain mute witness to shenanigans. Then there is another segment of intelligentsia who not only knows and understands that India is trying to Sikkimize/Bhutanize Nepal’s water resources but accepts it as inevitable and behaves as if saying that “if rape (begging pardon for the use of rather strong word) is inevitable, one may as well lie back and enjoy it.” Similarly, there are some sincere people who believe whatever they are told by Indians or Nepali people working for Indian interest. One such example is Dr Shankar Sharma, a close friend of mine since early 1970s, who came back from Washington recently after completing his tenure as Nepal’s ambassador to US and prior to that he was VC of NPC. He has admitted with me in electronic correspondence held through NNSD publicly in December 2008 that “I was in Patna Mr TN Thakur of PTC India said in the public meeting that Nepal would earn Rs 250 billion by exporting 10,000 MW.” He even repeated that Nepal would earn Rs 250 billion a year in royalties even in formal program with PM Prachanda in attendance as chief guest in 2008. I had to point out to him publicly that he was wrong by a magnitude: Nepal will earn a total royalty of Rs 4.9 billion/year only if hydropower projects are able to achieve plant factor of 50% and sold at US 6 ¢ – a rate at which India would be loath to buy.

On the other hand some people of Nepal are “more Indian than Indians”: Nepal citizens that feel patriotic towards India. This is what makes the life of patriotic people of Nepal a constant struggle and they even have to face uphill battle to ensure that Nepal’s interest isn’t traded away for some personal gain.

My writing these lines could be deemed a sacrilege and it is also certain that many a feathers will get ruffled. However, I am not going to be deterred by such niceties and express what I strongly feel in the interest of our motherland, and without mincing words.

When Indian PM Modi sort of jokingly said, “youth (जवानी) and water do not stay in the hills” there was roaring laughter (and some giggles, too) as if in approval. The former actually amounts to a challenge on virility of Nepali men and procreating ability of women (it even amounts to insult). Instead of being outraged or taking umbrage, there were knowing smiles all around (I hope this doesn’t amount to admission that Nepali people lose their youthfulness prematurely). I for one am very upset and also sure that there are many more who share my feelings. If what he said had even an iota of truth Nepal would have been impelled to import people instead of exporting them to Arabian and East Asian countries (another tragedy) – a recent phenomenon; including to Gurkha regiments in a number of countries since a few centuries.

As regards water, due to the very nature of water, which constantly flows downhill and “finds its own level due to force of gravity”, the second half of his statement is also untrue from the perspective of science. Because the water even doesn’t “stay” in Indian plains, either. It is the nature of water to flow and it keeps on flowing constantly – has been doing so since ages/eons: from hills to plains to seas to eventually oceans from where it transforms into cloud due to evaporation and it eventually comes back to including hills due to hydrologic cycle.

An important point that needs to be remembered is that it is because water flows downhill that electricity gets generated (as “head” gets created), which isn’t possible in the plains. While he was just out to “seduce” Nepali people, as a good/effective salesman, to let India use high quality electricity from Nepal at dirt-cheap tariff.

Similarly, it is in the hills where rainy season water could be stored in reservoirs thereby resulting in flood control in the lower riparian areas during wet season and also enabling temporal transfer of water – producing lean season augmented flow which India needs very badly. Hence, the importance of reservoir projects like Pancheshwar and Koshi High Dam for India.

In sum, he is off the mark when he made this particular comment – which when contemplated coolly was both ridiculous and ludicrous. But he apparently has succeeded in his mission temporarily to an extent to persuade gullible few in Nepal to allow India to use lean season augmented flow without having to recompense Nepal for negative externalities that she will suffer from, if reservoir projects are built.
He also succeeded to have MPs of Nepal beaming when he said that Nepal could spread light in India, which is impossibility. It is incontrovertible truth that Buddha has indeed succeeded to spread the light of wisdom in India and many other countries in the world. But with India needing 800,000 MW, it isn’t possible for Nepal to “spread” light in India (it will be just a drop in the “starving” ocean). This is the rhetoric which even Nepal’s hydrocrats are found repeating often.

He also attempted to link mitigation of Nepal’s trade deficit with hydropower export in the lines of hydrocrats of both of these countries, which essentially is not correct and my article on the topic was published by Annapurna Post daily last Friday (
On the other hand he failed to acknowledge the importance of water for India for it’s multidimensional uses (also including in Bangladesh) if reservoir projects were to be built – for the purposes ranging from water for drinking and sanitation to irrigation, navigation, etc. Although his strategic target was water while making people in Nepal believe that he was targeting power; very smart for an Indian PM with eyes on high quality cheap power with lean season augmented flow as bonus. Wish politicos of Nepal are as smart/astute and are able to ensure benefit for Nepal in this manner.

His pronouncement related to formation of Pancheshwar Development Authority was also greeted with applause. But those applauding seem to have forgotten that there is provision for formation of Mahakali River Commission in the Treaty under which project specific institutions were to be set up. With his assistance a son/daughter (PDA) will take birth even before the father/mother (MRC) is conceived.

From these it is clear that he is committed to implement Pancheshwar project. But it can only be built when India agrees to recompense Nepal for India using Nepal’s share of 251.17 m3/s in excess of India’s entitlement (half of the augmented flow pursuant to Mahakali Treaty) which comes to Rs 22 billion/year if the recompense amount is computed on the basis of formula used under agreement between Lesotho and South Africa (this scribe has written an article on the topic which can be accessed by following this link:

1 comment:

Santosh Thapa said...

Dear Sir, I have been following your articles and I must say that I have learned from you a lot regarding Nepal’s hydro. By reading your articles, I am aware about the barriers but still have not got a clue regarding the solutions. Everyone is talking about the PTA at the moment. But I want to know more about Nepal’s position. My questions are mainly related with the model/mechanism regarding PTA.

1) Most of the state board electricity in India is not financially healthy. On top of that, Indian electricity is heavily subsidized. In such case, are we targeting the private companies like TATA, Reliance power and so on or State board electricity itself? And what will be the proposal regarding tariff from Nepali side? What about peak and off-peak rate? Or are we going for a flat rate?

2) What about the transmission line loss and wheeling charges? Who will be responsible for this?
3) Hydro experts like you have been demanding the downstream release benefits. I understand Nepal should be rewarded since we will be flooding our productive land by constructing reservoirs in order to ensure constant flow of water in the lowlands. It is a valid point. But I have not seen any articles or proposals about the model for demanding the benefits whatsoever. There must be some sort of scientific calculations regarding the downstream release benefit. Could you please highlight how we gonna approach Indian counterparts?

Has Nepal done homework regarding the above issues? Are there regulatory bodies in Nepal that look after above issues or are we still at the nascent stage?