Water resources development – Lack of political will

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    Humans had started water resources development from the time they established water supply systems for irrigation and drinking purposes. In Nepal, irrigation covers around 50 per cent of the irrigable land of Nepal.

    The planned development of water resources in Nepal has a history of about 50 years, It was in 1911 that the first hydropower station at Pharping (500 kw) started to supply electricity to the Kathmandu valley. This was supplemented in 1935 with Sundarijal hydropower station (1500 kw).

    The domestic generation of electricity in Nepal is only about 500 MW, whereas the maximum demand is nearly 700 MW during the summer season which soars to more than 1200 MW during the winter season when the power generation falls as most of the hydroelectric projects are run-of-the-river types. The consequence is a deficit leading to a perpetual cycle of load-shedding from 10 to 18 hours a day as per the season. One of the chief problems acting as hindrance is the very slow progress on the construction of transmission lines in many places which if completed could go a long way in evacuating electricity from the power projects as well as for the supply of electricity purchased from India, that is 200MW at present. It is a bitter truth that even for our own consumption, we have to invite foreign capital and also mobilize the private sector to invest heavily in hydropower projects. Industries are suffering heavily due to power shortage. We have the potential but tapping the water resources has hit snags of different kinds including interference of the political parties and the lack of political stability.

    There has been a lot of political ups and downs and lots of changes in the government and systems. Different models of constitution were experimented with. We have brought about revolutionary changes in the country and the society, but the living standard of the people has not seen an upward change. A stable government and a new all inclusive democratic constitution could help the country get over this backward state.

    For the country to overcome its ills, development of water resources, tourism, agriculture, human resources, etc has to be speeded up on a priority basis. There are intricacies and complexities in politics which have the country’s progress in a fix.Modernization is not an easy process. It takes time, energy and effort but political will is of utmost importance over and above.

    If Nepal wants to develop big hydroelectric projects, it should be proactive with investor-friendly environment especially when the construction phase is ongoing. Nepal itself has to develop a high powered independent power commission under laws created to formulate plans for development. We have studied all our river systems and there are medium and big sized projects already identified and studied for negotiations with India.

    We can start preparation for strengthening our own existing power development, distribution and transmission agencies. We have to create specialized agencies for electricity generation, transmission, and distribution so that they can develop their planned programs independently. Proper coordination among them is essential.

    Basically, Nepal and India should agree to take further steps in power generation besides the ones which have been agreed upon recently. Of course, it is a long-term perspective but it will bring results. If that can be done with more hydroelectric ventures coming up, in the future Nepal will be witness to electric trains running from east to west or north-south with all hills and valleys lighted up with electric lamps. In this context, it is a matter of pleasure that some big projects are making a headway like the Arun III (900 MW) and Upper Karnali. They are just the tip and more development will be followed through commitment and effort.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has openly talked about hydroelectricity development in Nepal which in fact goes to augment the power supply in India which wants to spearhead its development at a faster pace than before. Power is its immediate need, and with Nepal having the potential, India by fostering better relations than during the past ten years would stand to benefit by the power sector development in Nepal. It will be mutually beneficial. Nepal should grasp this tremendous opportunity for the country’s overall development by the next decade. Of course, Nepal will have to sell the electricity generated through foreign investment. Nevertheless, it will also earn though to only a certain extent in the initial phase. One thing that must be borne in mind today is that the Indian Prime Minister has mitigated Nepal’s grievances to a significant extent but there should be no turnaround within a short period of time.

    The power development agreement with India is but one facet only. Nepal has to be able to attract more foreign direct investment from other countries including that from China for water resources development. This has to be done because Nepal on its own cannot undertake big hydropower projects for which heavy investments are required. What it only requires is a proactive line of thought and tackling the political adventurism against the foreign investment in the power sector in the country.

    Surya Nath Bastola is a water resource expert

    Source : The Himalayan Times