Locals tired of waiting for elusive West Seti project

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    Mar 23, 2017- Shiva Bhandari, 72, of Rayal Village Council first heard about the planned construction of the West Seti Hydropower Project when he was 35 years old.

    In 1980, a French company named Sogreah had prepared a scheme to build the hydroelectric station which it said would inundate his village. The company had told the villagers that they would be relocated.

    Bhandari did not build a new house even though his family had expanded because of the fear that they would have to leave when the hydro project got built. It has been 37 years, but the project never got built, and they have been living in the same cramped house.

    “As the number of family members increased, we had a hard time adjusting. Half my life passed without being able to sleep in peace,” Bhandari said, adding that he now feels that the hullabaloo over the construction of the project was just a hoax. “I have waited for 37 years. I have got tired of waiting.”

    The Bhandari family has already started constructing a four-storey house at Deura in Rayal Village Council at a cost of Rs10 million. More than 30 similar homes have been built in the locality in the past two years, and 50 more are under construction.

    Laxman Bhandari, a local, has estimated the combined value of the completed houses and those under construction at Rs1 billion.

    “In 1980, there were four members in our family. We could manage in a small home. The number has risen to 16 today,” said Padma Devi Singh, explaining why she had built a new house.

    “The government should have relocated us long ago if our village was going to be inundated by the hydropower project. The government never thought about this and there is no sign of the project being constructed.”

    According to her, the population in the region has almost doubled in the past three decades, forcing the residents to build new homes.

    A local Lokesh Bhandari said people in Rayal and other municipalities preferred to buy land and build homes in Deura. “People do not believe that the West Seti project will actually be built,” Bhandari said.

    However, assistant executive director of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) Gopal Babu Bhattarai says that locals should not make further investments in the place as it has been declared a reservoir area and will be flooded with water.

    “Project costs will soar if this tendency continues. Furthermore, there are high chances that the residents might not get adequate compensation,” Bhattarai said.

    After the French company, an Australian company Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation (SMEC) had shown interest in developing the project. An agreement was signed between the government and the Australian company, but the licence was revoked as it did not start work on time.

    In the latest development, the NEA and China Three Gorges Corporation have signed a joint venture (JV) agreement to build the project, which will be the largest reservoir-type hydropower scheme in the country.

    While the NEA board has endorsed the JV agreement, China Three Gorges has been holding back, leaving the future of the project as uncertain as before.

    Source: The Kathmandu Post