Saturday, August 16, 2014

Undiplomatic comment by Indian PM Modi re Hills and Hilly People

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s overnight visit turned out to be an euphoric one. His speech in the parliament was deemed mesmerizing by many and almost each sentence of his was followed by applause and seems to have been highly appreciated outside the parliament too. 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. But some Indians disagree with such shenanigan on the part of India 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 high official of nepal went about repeating that Nepal would earn Rs 250 billion a year in royalties by selling electricity from 10,000 MW which isn’t true. 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.

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).

If what he said about youthfullness 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; to Gurkha regiments to a number of countries including india 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 incorrect.

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 of water 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.

(Abridged version of my writing that I posted on August 10, 2014 was published by People's Review in Vol XXIV, No 5)

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