PM flexing muscles to revive dead project

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    The power game in the corridors of the Ministry of Energy of late has left officials shocked and startled.

    Multiple sources at the ministry told this daily that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has been putting pressure on Energy Secretary Hari Ram Koirala to revive the 216-MW Upper Trishuli-I project. He has even asked to make preparations to re-award the licence to Nepal Water Energy Development Company, which was labelled disqualified on July 5, for it had failed to complete important tasks — connection agreement, including Power Purchase Agreement, Environment Impact Assessment approval, Financial Closure — in the five years given to it.

    As per Article 5 of the Electricity Act 1992, the energy secretary can scrap the licence of a company on the recommendation of the Department of Electricity Development.

    The prime minister’s move to resurrect the project, however, is against his own policy.

    After repeated requests from the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Prime Minister Bhattarai had brought a policy last year calling for scrapping of licences of those companies which were doing nothing but holding the licences.

    Sources said the prime minister was now putting pressure on the energy secretary to award the licence to NWEDC by invoking Article 35 of the Energy Act, as he himself is under pressure from the World Bank.

    “Article 35 is a hot topic in the ministry these days,” a senior official at the ministry told THT. Article 35 provisions the government or the Cabinet to take a decision to contract a person or a company for power generation. In addition, Prime Minister Bhattarai himself is holding the energy portfolio.

    Another official expressed his worry saying if the licence is (re)awarded to NWEDC through a Cabinet decision, the Ministry of Energy and the Department of Electricity will lose ground for scrapping licences of several other companies which also have done nothing to generate power but are holding licences and that such a move will only encourage trading of licences.

    Sources said the World Bank is lobbying for NWEDC and has even warned of withdrawing their support to the energy sector. But since Arun III fiasco some 17 years ago, the World Bank has not invested in the hyrdo sector.

    When asked, NWEDC General Manager Baburam Bharadwaj admitted that his company was yet to complete the feasibility study, including geological investigation, which is a must for a licence holder as per the law.

    NWEDC, owned by Brindawan Pradhananga, has already sold partial shares of the project to a Korean company. Records show that the company in the past too had sold licencees to foreign companies. An official said NWECD should not have taken the pressure-building route. “If it wants to fight legally, it should move the appeal court,” he said.

    Energy Secretary Koirala could not be contacted.

    Source: The Himalayan Times