Lapsephedi Protests Underscore Difficulties in Nepal’s Infrastructure Development

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At least three police personnel were injured as locals hurled stones and over a dozen people allegedly behind the attack were held, Kathmandu district administration says.

The long-standing dispute between the Nepal Electricity Authority and the residents of Lapsephedi in Shankharapur Municipality-3 of Kathmandu over the planned construction of a substation in the locality resulted in clashes between the police and locals on Friday.

At least three police personnel, including Armed Police Force DSP Debraj Rai, were injured when the locals hurled stones at them. The police team had reached the area to set up a unified outpost to provide security during the construction of a 400kV transmission substation, according to Jitendra Basnet, chief district officer of Kathmandu.

Subsequently, over a dozen local people allegedly involved in throwing stones at the police were arrested, according to the Kathmandu district administration. They will be screened and those involved in the incident will be punished as per the law and the innocent ones released, said Basnet.

In early January this year, Lapsephedi locals had obstructed preparatory works to build the substation for the 400kV Naya Khimti-Barhabise-Lapsephedi Transmission Line.

They are demanding relocation of the planned substation while the NEA maintains that the location cannot be changed as it has already provided compensation to almost all the owners whose land will be used for the project and the project contract has already been awarded.

As efforts over the past 10 months to settle the dispute through negotiation failed, the government took security measures to enable the contractor to get to work. The move led to the clash.

NEA officials said that obstruction of the substation-building at Lapsephedi was an example of how the electricity utility has been facing problems in building transmission lines across the country.

“We have been facing problems while installing transmission cables in many parts of the country while there have also been obstructions in building substations in a few areas,” said Tara Prasad Pradhan, deputy managing director of the NEA. “Some locals of Lapsephedi, whose lands were not acquired, are obstructing the substation construction even though almost all residents who gave their land have received compensation.”

He blamed some non-government organisations of goading the locals to protest, citing the substation’s possible impact on the local Tamang settlement.

Ramesh Napit, mayor of Shankharapur Municipality, admitted that most locals whose lands were acquired have received the compensation pay. “But the concerns over the planned substation cannot be ignored as there are large settlements,” he told the Post. Considering the protests, the municipality in its budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 had promised efforts to relocate the substation.

“As the substation and the Tamakoshi transmission line will affect the indigenous settlements, a request will be made to relocate the substation,” the local unit’s budget document states.

According to the public utility, the Naya Khimti-Barhabise-Lapsephedi Transmission Line is vital to evacuate power from the plants built on the Tamakoshi and Sunkoshi rivers and their tributaries to Kathmandu Valley, which is the country’s major load centre.

Due to the delay in completing the high-capacity line, the NEA is unable to bring the power generated from the 456MW Upper Tamakoshi Project, the country’s largest, directly to Kathmandu Valley.

After the Upper Tamakoshi started commercial operation in August 2021, its power has been taken to Dhalkebar from where the electricity is being transmitted to the eastern region as well as Kathmandu. This leads to more power leakage because of the long distance the transmission line has to cover.

“It is vital to build this substation as we have almost completed other transmission line components,” said Pradhan. “Currently, we can bring only 100MW power through the 133kV line on the Khimti corridor while the rest is brought through Hetauda.”

According to the NEA, most of the Valley’s power demand is being met by transmission lines on the Marsyangdi corridor.

Since locals’ obstruction in January, efforts have been made to minimise differences between the two sides. A coordination committee headed by ward-7 chairperson Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was formed in January but the protesting locals decided to skip its meeting.

Later, the government formed a high-level committee headed by Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Sandeep Kumar Dev with representatives from the protesting locals. The protestors pulled out of the committee, arguing that it didn’t even want to hear about the option of relocating the substation.

In July, the committee suggested constructing the substation at the predetermined location while also recommending that the NEA offer benefits related to socio-economic development such as water supply, electricity, a school, a temple and vocational training for the residents.

Amid the standoff, the government decided to set up a unified security outpost comprising personnel from both the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police at Lapsephedi to provide security for the substation works.

CDO Basnet told the Post that the unified security post had been set up on Friday as per the decision of the District Security Committee a few days ago. The chief district officer chairs the District Security Committee, which is tasked with maintaining law and order in the district.

With the District Security Committee setting up the outpost, the NEA could now mobilise the contractor to build the substation under the security cover, Basnet said.

However, Mayor Napit blamed the central government for instigating the clashes as it wanted to forcefully implement the project. The local government was kept in the dark about the security post plan, he said.

The villagers have been obstructing the substation project for three years, according to the power utility. There had been no demonstrations when the contract was first awarded to a Chinese joint venture company in December 2017. The project is facing obstruction, apparently after the new Indian contractor—Larsen & Toubro Limited— was hired in November 2020—after the first contract was terminated owing to the lack of progress.

“The contractor has the equipment ready but it has been unable to work at the project site,” said Pradhan of the NEA. “We have repeatedly extended its contract. It is also asking for more money for construction citing inflation.”

 

Source: Kathmandu Post