Local stakeholders of the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project are sharply divided over the project’s development by India’s GMR-ITD consortium.

    Some former administrators, hydropower experts and fringe communist parties have started protests demanding termination of agreement signed with the Indian developer, while another group supporting the company has also become active.

    Moreover, political leaders involved in vandalising field offices of the project in 2011 have turned its supporters after receiving employment and construction contracts.

    “We have no belief in the protests,” said Jiwan Thapa of Ramagad, Dailekh. “The support and protests only intend to fulfil vested interests. The locals have put their blind faith in the protestors without understanding the ground reality.”

    There are a dozen institutions connected with the project and they are either in favour of project development by Indian company or against it. Both the sides have launched campaigns.

    The project gained momentum after the government and GMR signed Project Development Agreement (PDA) with Investment Board Nepal in September 2014. After the PDA was signed, some locals of project area started a “Save Upper Karnali” protest campaign demanding termination of the agreement.

    Bharat Bahadur Shahi, chairman of the protest campaign, accused the reservoir project, whose actual capacity is 4,180MW, is being downsized to 900MW. “Nepal’s future depends upon the Upper Karnali. The project potential is being killed by offering the project works to the Indian company for peanuts,” Shahi said. “We have started the campaign demanding termination of the ‘anti-national’ agreement.”

    Former administrators, water resource experts and professors along with cadres of Rastriya Janamorcha and CPN-Maoist ran a campaign against the agreement in project-affected areas two weeks ago.

    “Giving Upper Karnali to foreigners is like offering them ‘diamonds of a crown’,” said Former Water Resource Secretary Dwarika Nath Dhungel. “This is the least costly project among those studied, so the government should build it on its own.”

    Dhungel demanded a parliamentary-level discussion over Upper Karnali. “Revisions should be made to develop the project at its optimum potential,” said Dhungel. “If not so, then the agreement should be scrapped and project should be developed with domestic investment.”

    But CPN (UML) Lawmaker Nirmal Subedi said the locals are in favour of the development of the project by GMR despite objection by a few parties. “People to be affected by the project have demanded its early completion as well as infrastructure development in the area,” he said.

    Kamal Pangeni, a member of the Parliamentary Water Resource Committee who recently visited the Upper Karnali site, said he found the locals wanting this project to be developed at the earliest. “Although the development of the project by the government is possible,

    it has been awarded to an Indian company through a global tender, and it is difficult to revoke the decision,” he said.

    As per the agreement between IBN and GMR, Nepal will hold a 27 percent free stake and get 12 percent electricity supply from the project being built to export electricity to India. It has been claimed the government would accumulate benefits worth Rs300 billion through taxes, charges, electricity and shares apart from employment to more than 2000 skilled and unskilled workers.

    The PDA states GMR should start construction from June 30, 2016, and finish it by June, 2021. The estimated cost of the project stands at Rs140billion.

    Source : The Kathmandu Post