Locals affected by Budhi Gandaki hydro project warn to boycott polls

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    Oct 29, 2017-Those living in the vicinity of Arughat in Gorkha, who will be affected by construction of the mega Budhigandaki Hydropower Project, have warned to boycott upcoming provincial and federal elections if the government fails to provide compensation to ease their resettlement process.

    “We do not even know how much we’ll get for the land we are willing to sacrifice for the hydro project, whereas people of other areas have already been compensated,” said Dinesh Dhakal, coordinator of a local interest group. “This is sheer negligence on the part of the government.”

    The 1,200MW national pride project is expected to affect over 8,000 households in Dhading and Gorkha districts. The reservoir of the storage project will submerge 3,560 houses and partially affect 4,557 households. The government has decided to provide compensation ranging from Rs524,000 to Rs835,000 for each ropani of land that locals relinquish for the project.

    So far, the government has provided compensation to locals of three villages each in the two affected districts. Since then, compensation distribution process has come to a halt.

    “We have not initiated the process of rebuilding houses damaged by 2015 earthquake in hope of getting the compensation and relocating somewhere else,” said Sushila Khanal, a local.

    But the delay made by the government has forced people like Khanal to live in makeshift shelters. “The government neither allows us to rebuild our damaged houses, nor provides money for the land it is planning to acquire from us,” she said.

    Locals like Khanal have supported the government’s decision to build the mega hydropower project, which is expected to not only help Nepal to become self sufficient in electricity production but establish the country as a net exporter of power in the South Asian region.

    “But negligence, like delay in compensation distribution, is hitting our livelihoods,” said Kamal Narayan Shrestha, another local, adding, “The government has stopped transaction of land parcels in the area, preventing us from using the asset as collateral to get loans from banking institutions.”

    Purna Prasad Shrestha, another local, said, he wanted to get a bank loan on the back of land he owned for medical treatment of his son, but he has not been able to do so because of ban in transaction of land allotted for the hydro project.

    “So, election is not a priority for us,” he said.

    The government’s decision to prevent land transaction, according to Rahamdin Miya, another local, is sheer violation of civilians’ right to property. “We have raised this issue during meetings with political leaders, ministers and the government. But no has listened to us,” he said. “Unless our concerns are addressed, we will not vote in the upcoming elections.”

    Chief District Officer of Gorkha Jitendra Basnet said compensation distribution process had come to a halt as discussions were being held to build the project through a company rather than a committee as in the present.

    “We will soon resume the compensation distribution process and urge locals to remain patient for a while and take part in the elections,” he said.

    The land to be acquired by the project has been classified into five categories by the government: paddy field, small farmland, land in market area, land adjoining a road and land near human settlements.

    Paddy fields and small farmlands have been further classified into four grades, with the first grade commanding the highest compensation amount. On top of the compensation fixed by the committee, it is offering 15 percent extra to those who own less than 5 ropanis of land, and 10 percent extra to those who own less than 10 ropanis of land.

    The government in May handed over the mega hydro project to China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) to start construction under the engineering, procurement, construction and finance (EPCF) model.

    However, a parliamentary committee later directed the government to scrap its decision to hand over the project to CGGC. The committee had said the government had breached the Public Procurement Act, as the contractor was selected without initiating a competitive bidding process.

    Recently, the Chinese government had identified the 1,200MW project as a component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-led plan that envisages greater trade and connectivity and supports a range of infrastructure projects.

    Source: The Kathmandu Post