by Surya Nath Bastola
Irrigation covers about 50 percent of arable land in Nepal although irrigation systems are far from efficient. The planned development of water resources in Nepal has a history of about 50 years. It was in 1911 when the first hydropower station at Pharping (500 kw) to supply electricity to Kathmandu Valley started. This was supplemented in 1935 with Sundarijal hydropower station (1500 kw). Multiple projects appeared afterwards.
Now the peaking power available in the grid system of Nepal is about 500 mw whereas the maximum demand is that of 700 mw. This is a deficit of about 200 mw in the system. That is why there is perpetual cycle of so-called load-shedding from 10 to 18 hrs a day in different seasons depending upon the rainfall and snowmelt in the Himalayas. Agreement with India for borrowing power to combat load-shedding has resulted in exchange points in the border between the two countries. India supplies 200 mw of electricity for Nepal to be purchased at agreed tariffs. Incompletion of transmission line to carry this power is delaying the supply to Nepal.
Hydropower development in Nepal has two distinct aspects. One is the power generation for internal consumption. This is lagging far beyond the normal requirement. But for the last 10 to 15 years Nepal Government has passed hydropower generation rules, which are supportive for private sector investment in Nepal for hydropower generation. Within this period, about 200 mw of hydropower generation has either been completed or is on the way to completion through private investments.
Even for our own consumption, we have to invite foreign capital and mobilize private sector, to invest heavily for power generation so that we can meet the growing need of power for the country. Industries are heavily suffering due to power shortage. There should be a government and private sector partnership to bring capital to rapidly develop hydropower to meet the growing demand.
Even if India is developing at the speed of annual 6-7 percent growth, load-shedding problems in the northern grid persist. Hydropower development in Nepal and the generation of cheap hydropower from big projects to sell it to India with appropriate royalty charges will help Nepal accumulate some capital to cover the trade deficit and make available fund for development purposes.
Foreign aid comprises about 5-6 percent of Nepal’s current Gross Domestic Product (GDP). How can you develop the country when you don’t raise GDP by selling cheap hydropower, develop modern farming, or agriculture, tourism, manpower or human resources that can be rapidly developed by proper planning and execution of right projects? Development plans have been made in the country for about 50 years now. We have achieved a certain growth rate in every field and sectors of economy. But we are much behind other countries in many human development indicators. 40 percent of the population is ill-nourished, 40 percent is uneducated. Unless you have highly trained cadres you cannot develop your country solely by foreign aids and advices. You have to create your own cadres, create appropriate technology, and develop your own capital markets, your own people to bring about changes in the society.
There have been a lot of political ups and downs, lot of changes in government and systems. Different models of constitution were experimented. We have brought about revolutionary changes in the country and the society but the standard of living is progressing very slowly. We are lagging behind in developing our water resources, tourism, agriculture, and human resources which are the cornerstones of our country’s development.
If Nepal wants to develop big hydro-projects it should have all levels of contacts and negotiations with stakeholders to hammer out agreements. There exist some ad hoc arrangements for these types of negotiations but it will require different forums and levels. The actual agreements for development will take a long time and we need not wait for having preliminary contacts and establishment of channels for some negotiations. Nepal itself has to develop independent power commission under laws created to formulate plans for development. We have studied all our river systems and there are medium and big size projects already identified and studied for negotiations with India.
The author is a water resources expert
Source : Republica