A month and half of work and momentum at Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project

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    KATHMANDU, Sept 25: Until August, about two dozen officials of Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, working under the Department of Electricity Development in Baneshwar in Kathmandu, were twiddling their thumbs.

    Recent developments, like the approval of a Terms of Reference (ToR) for the development of the project during India Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s visit in the first week of August, and the first meeting of the governing body co-chaired by the water resources secretaries of India and Nepal held in Kathmandu earlier this week, have added some momentum to the development of the mega project which has made the officials´ schedules pretty hectic over the last month and half.

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    Nepal and India signed the Mahakali Treaty in 1996 but there was very little action taking place over the nearly two decades.

    The project is of about 6000 MW — the final capacity will be determined after a Detailed Project Report (DPR) that will be prepared within a year as per Monday´s decision by the governing body co-chaired by both the countries´ secretaries — is to be built in the Mahakali River, which borders Nepal and India.

    The governing body is a perpetual and autonomous body formed to take decisions regarding the project and direct the executive committee of Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA), a joint entity brought together for the development of the project. Chiranjivi Chataut, the project chief from Nepal, attributes the recent change in political leadership in India for the new pace of the project.

    “We had no work prior to Modi´s visit as there was nothing to do. But these days are so hectic and the days ahead are likely to be even busier still,” Chataut said after the conclusion of the two-day long first meeting of the PDA governing body.

    Nepal´s energy secretary Rajendra Kishore Kshatri and India´s Water Resources secretary Alok Rawat co-chair the body from the first meeting and also made the project functional.

    A statement issued by the Embassy of India to Nepal after the meeting also attributed Modi´s visit for leading into the first meeting of the governing body and paving the way for expediting the project.

    Speaking at the joint press conference on Monday, India´s Water Resources secretary Alok Rawat said the project will set an example of mutual cooperation between Nepal and India.

    During Modi´s visit, both countries had agreed on the ToR, giving impetus to the development of the project.

    The ToR was previously finalized by a meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Committee on Water Resources (JCWR) held in Pokhara in 2009 but had remained unresolved for five years by the Indian government.

    Sunday and Monday´s meeting of the governing body approved the statute of the authority and also has decided that Nepal will nominate the Chief Executive Officer for the first three years and India will nominate an additional CEO. It also decided that the leadership of the PDA will change in rotations every three years.

    The second meeting of the body, to be held in Delhi after a month, will appoint the CEO and additional CEO, paving the way for setting up of an office for the PDA in Kathmandu for the time being and later in Kanchanpur.

    Likewise, the body also has made important decisions like the appointing of Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS), an Indian government consultant, to update the feasibility study and detailed report carried out separately by India and Nepal, and synthesize for the final Detailed Project Report (DPR).

    Speaking to the media after the meeting of governing body on Monday, Ministry of Energy spokesperson Keshav Dhwaj Adhikari said, “WAPCOS will synthesize separate DPRs and will make suggestions about what studies are needed. It [the DPR] will be completed within a year, by the hiring of other agencies if necessary.”

    Energy expert and former energy secretary Surya Nath Upadhyay says he feels hopeful that the recent developments will more forward the implementation of the Pancheshwar Project and said that it is moving in the right direction now.

    Upadhyay, the author of ´International Water Course Law and a Perspective on Nepal-India Cooperation´, was in the negotiating team representing Nepal during the Mahakali Treaty signing in 1996.

    However, he expressed doubt about how the process of selection of a CEO will be kept free from political intervention and horse-trading as on such appointments are wont to be in Nepal. He says he prefers that the final choice be someone from a government agency as the CEO should have the know-how of the government´s working system which an independent professional from outside may not have.

    Experts and officials have expressed varying views on why there was so much delay in implementing the treaty.

    Upadhyay says that the project was not a priority for India until recently and that India´s attitude was also about only making promises and keeping implementation on the back seats.

    However, incumbent energy secretary Kshatri, who was also one of the official involved in the drafting of the statute for the Pancheshwar Development Authority back in 1989, said there was no progress as political leaders during the period time had not dared to take risks. He says that there used to be a time when officials would hesitate about taking part in bilateral dialogue related to the Pancheshwar project.

    Asked about the downstream benefit Nepal gets from the project, Upadhyay said that India will benefit more than Nepal by the regulated water and therefore according to the Treaty, India has to invest more.

    He also said that the DPR will give a clearer picture about the capacity of the project, its benefits and the project cost, among others. There was also a Joint Group of Experts (JGE) formed in the late 1980s which as many as 20 meetings until 2004.

    Likewise, a Joint Project Office was also set up in the project site in 1999 for the study of hydrology, meteorology and drilling investigations, but the project office was shut down in 2002 without after some work was done at the site.

    Officials at DoED also blamed the peaking of the Maoist insurgency in 2002 for the closure of the office.

    Both the countries will receive equally electricity, water for irrigation and any other benefit that comes from the project, according to the Mahakali Treaty.

    Source : Republica