NEA, IPPAN Submit Amendment Proposals to Forest Act amendment bill on Forest Clearance for Transmission Lines and infrastructure project

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Developers complain of prolonged procedure to get approval for environmental and forest clearance for infrastructure projects. It is not only the NEA, the private sector developers also complain about a prolonged procedure to get approval for environmental and forest clearance for constructing power projects.

The Nepal Electricity Authority said last week that construction of the New Butwal-Bardaghat Transmission Line Project Office would move ahead after a prolonged delay with the forest authorities’ clearance to cut down trees.

According to officials, the delay was caused by one of the forest officers not being ready to sign a document authorising the cutting of trees in the stretches that come under the transmission towers even though higher authorities had already approved the plan.

“We waited for two weeks to get the signature of a forest officer,” said Vishwa Ranjan, chief of the New Butwal-Bardaghat Transmission Line Project.

“The problem is now partially solved because it is the clearance only for cutting trees for foundation of transmission towers,” said Ranjan. “We have to take separate approval for cutting the trees along the right of the way of the transmission line.”

The NEA said that it aims to complete this section of transmission line within the next six months. “This transmission line is important to evacuate power from the Kaligandaki corridor where a number of new projects are being developed,” said Ranjan.

It is not only the NEA, the private sector developers also complain about a prolonged procedure to get approval for environmental and forest clearance for constructing power projects.

As prolonged delay in forest clearance has been major concerns for the hydropower sector, stakeholders said the new bill to amend the electricity Act registered in Parliament will make life more difficult for the development and hydropower and construction of transmission lines.

The provision to amend the Forest Act-2019 in the bill registered to amend ‘Some Nepal Acts’ proposes that the infrastructure developers need to deposit money to the Forest Fund for the purpose of buying equivalent lands for planting trees and additional amount for looking after them for five years.

In the Forest Act-2019, the developers can provide land for land and money for buying land if they cannot provide the land for growing trees preferably close to the project site.

The amendment proposes compensation that the government entity or the one having majority government stakes should pay for using the forest land for transmission towers and lines.

As the NEA is the only entity involved in transmission line construction in the country, it is required to pay 10 percent of the cost that it takes for growing new trees for cutting trees for transmission towers in the national forest, according to the bill. Additional compensation should also be paid as determined (in the regulation) for cutting the trees for the transmission’s right of way.

As per the current Forest Regulation-2022, a project needs to pay as much as Rs3 million per hectare in the Tarai to Rs6 million per hectare in Kathmandu Valley for clearance of shrub areas. When it comes to tree cutting, the compensation to be paid for these two areas stands at Rs3.5 million and Rs8 million per hectare, respectively.

The NEA is particularly concerned over the provisions of the registered bill.

“We have registered our opposition to the provisions of the bill to the energy ministry making it clear that they will create more problems in building transmission lines,” said Dirghayu Kumar Shrestha, chief of the transmission directorate at the NEA. “As we are focussed on improving the transmission infrastructure to enhance reliability of power supply, bottlenecks in transmission line construction should be removed as early as possible.”

He, however, didn’t point out particularly how the proposed bill would affect the transmission line projects. The existing Act is silent on the money to be deposited to the Forest Fund for the purpose of compensating for the forest lost through reforestation.

Private sector power developers have also expressed reservations over the provisions of the bill. The Independent Power Producers Association, Nepal (IPPAN) has submitted an amendment proposal to the energy and law ministries as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

IPPAN has called for provisions that the project developers should be allowed to choose whether to provide land or money for reforestation.

It also calls for compensating the forest authorities fully only for permanent use of the forest land. “For the use of forest land temporarily, the developer should be able to provide a specified lease amount as long as the land is used,” the proposal states.

The bill does not discriminate between permanent and temporary use of forest land. There should be separate provisions for temporary and permanent users, said Ganesh Karki, president of IPPAN.

Source: The Kathmandu Post