Rafting vs Hydropower

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    Arun Kr Shrivastav

    How do you deal with a situation in where economic concerns get in conflict with environmental concerns in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas?

    On November 30 and December 1, Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT) and Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA) are organizing a Raft Rally in the Middle Bhote Koshi river, starting from nearly the same point where Madhya Bhotekoshi Jalavidhyut Company Limited (MBJCL), a subsidiary of Chilime Hydropower, is developing a 102-MW project in the Sindhupalchowk district. The rally is expected to attract about 500 national and international environmentalists and rafting enthusiasts. The coming together of these people in the peak tourist season is to press the authorities and sensitize the people at large to what is going to happen to this river, which looks robust and majestic and is ranked one among 10 best white water rafting rapids in the world, says Mausam Khanal, Executive Director of Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT), the organizer of the protest rally.
    Their main concern is that in the process of setting up the hydropower plant, a section of the Bhote Koshi river will be diverted through the tunnel, causing the water volume in the river to drop drastically. That spells a doom for the river and its status as a world class rafting rapid. Environmentalists like Khanal vow to save the river through people’s movement. “We are not against the development (power plant) but we need sustainable development of tourism, power and environment for the communities,” he explains.
    The main protagonist in the fight to save the Middle Bhote Koshi river Megh Ale is a leading name in the rafting world and quite an activist thanks to his involvement in the Save Bagmati Movement. He also runs a resort near the MBJCL project site called Borderlands where rafting enthusiasts from around the world have been coming ever since he became the first man to take a descent in the river with his raft in the early 1980s.

    Ever since, rafting in the river along with his international guests has been his passion. He is saddened by the idea of diverting a sizeable amount of water from the river and making the same stretch of the river without water, which is considered one of the top ten rafting rapids in the world. He argues if the project site can be taken five kilometer upstream, the rafting rapid can be saved. He says he has been meeting top political leaders arguing to save the river but nothing has happened so far. The matter is in the Supreme Court, which has not given a stay order on the construction work. The construction of the tunnel is still on and so far over 150 meter long tunnel has been created.
    As Nepal’s energy needs are far from being met by the resources available, there is an unprecedented pressure on the new government to harness the water resources for electricity. “But by the time, MBJCL project starts feeding electricity to the national grid, which is at last six years away, Nepal would be an energy-surplus nation with all the hydro projects going on stream. So, why kill this world class river,” Ale argues.
    MBJCL, on the other hand, is as much keen to tell its version of the story. National Geographic website maintains that the Sun Koshi river, which begins much downstream from where we are setting up our project, is one of the top ten rafting rapids in the world – and not Middle Bhote Koshi. Then, check out what locals, entrepreneurs, the Supreme Court and the government have to say on the matter – they all want hydropower and development in the country. We can’t sit idle with so much of resources going waste,” argued a top MBJCL official.
    Further, MBJCL site maintains a status list, where it says PPA (power purchase agreement) has been signed with NEA in November 2011, financial closure has been completed, the project is scheduled to start construction by January 2013 and targeted to complete the project by the end of December 2016.

    Source:The corporate weekly; 12-18 Nov, 2012