Pancheshwar project implementation in limbo
Kathmandu, July 12
If current indications are anything to go by, the government will most likely miss the October deadline for endorsement of the detailed report of 4,800-megawatt Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project being developed jointly by Nepal and India.
Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA), the developer of Pancheshwar project, had hired WAPCOS Ltd, an Indian state-owned company, to prepare the detailed report of Pancheshwar project. The Indian company submitted the final draft of the detailed project report (DPR) in March.
Since then, the PDA has handed over copies of the draft DPR to governments of Nepal and India, seeking feedback.
Although the DPR can only be finalised if both the governments submit their views on findings of WAPCOS, the Ministry of Energy (MoE) of Nepal, which has taken the responsibility of conducting review of the final draft of the document, has not shown urgency to provide its feedback.
If MoE continues to drag its feet, it may not be able to meet deadline of October-end to endorse the DPR. This will hit implementation of the project being built at a cost of Rs 480 billion on Mahakali River in far-western Nepal.
“Since receiving the DPR, we have directed Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) to review the document,” a senior MoE official told The Himalayan Times on condition of anonymity.
The MoE had to reach out to the WECS for support because Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project not only deals with energy but irrigation as well. Also, issues related to river and flood control have to be taken into consideration while building this project.
To take stock of all these matters, the WECS has formed a committee of experts under its Secretary Dhana Bahadur Tamang. The committee mostly comprises former bureaucrats cum energy experts, such as Surya Nath Upadhyay, Sriranjan Lacoul, Subarnalal Shrestha, Arjun Prasad Shrestha, Lekhnath Singh Bhandari and Som Nath Poudel, among others.
“But some of the members like Arjun Prasad Shrestha and Lekhnath Singh Bhandari are not in the country at the moment,” the official said. “Also, other members of the committee have not met more than once.”
Due to inability to hold the second meeting, plans to form two crucial sub-committees, which have to look into technical details mentioned in the draft DPR, are hanging in the balance.
The DPR review committee and sub-committees have three major tasks to do.
First is related to hydrology, which includes study of the movement, distribution and presence of water in the river.
WAPCOS, in the final draft of the DPR, has revised the installed capacity of the project downward to 4,800 MW from 6,480 MW estimated in 1995 citing fall in level of precipitation, or rainfall, during five consecutive years from 1995 to 2000. “The DPR review committee and sub-committees have to cross-check the hydrology data presented by WAPCOS and comment on them,” the MoE official said.
Also, the DPR review committee and sub-committees will have to determine benefits that Nepal will reap from the project. This is essential because Mahakali Treaty says project cost will have to be borne by both countries in proportion to benefits they obtain.
So, unless the government figures out the benefits Nepal is likely to reap, it cannot ascertain the financial contribution it will have to make to build the project.
What is currently known is that both the countries will equally benefit from electricity generated by the project, because agreement has been reached to distribute power equally. The trickier issue is benefits both the countries will reap from irrigation and flood control components of the project.
In terms of irrigation, India is expected to benefit the most. This is because Pancheshwar project is expected to help India irrigate 1.6 million hectares of land, whereas Nepal cannot irrigate more than 100,000 hectares of land even if water is supplied to all agricultural land from Kanchanpur to Kailali.
“But these issues have to be verified and documented,” the MoE official said.
Another area where the committee and sub-committees must look into is engineering design proposed by WAPCOS. This is because Nepal falls in earthquake-prone zone and damage caused to dam or other infrastructure may cause havoc in both Nepal and India.
Pancheshwar, a reservoir-type project, is expected to release huge quantity of water during certain hours every day to generate electricity. For this a reservoir, stretching around 65 km upstream from the Pancheshwar dam site, is being built. This reservoir can store six billion cubic metres of water.
Also, the main dam as tall as 315 metres — which will be the world’s tallest — is being built, while a re-regulating dam, to regulate flow of water released by Pancheshwar project for irrigation purpose, is being built in Rupaligad.
“If these structures are not built properly, people living in settlements located on river banks will suffer,” the official said.
All this means a lot of work the review committee and sub-committees have to perform are technical in nature and will affect long-term national interest as well.
“So, to complete all these tasks in a proper way within October-end, the committee and sub-committees must start functioning as soon as possible,” the official added.