Blackout blues, Always on your toes

On Friday (Jan 29) morning, I typed a new vacation responder in my Gmail account: I live in a country with potential to supposedly generate over 83,000 megawatts of hydropower, But I presently face over 11 hours of power cuts or planned blackouts every day. I will respond to emails when I have power for my modem. Generally, emails will be promptly answered only after it begins to rain again. Rain in this part of the world is supposed to start in late May. Let us hope climate change does not affect that natural cycle.

Expecting power supply for 24 hours everyday is perhaps asking for too much in Nepal where there are much larger issues that keep our politicians busy: nagarik sarwochatta (supremacy of citizens), constitution making, reintegration, delineation of federal sates, law and order, and so on.

My tryst with basic public services has little to be proud of. I have not iseen water in the mains since I got a connection, and electricity is what has prompted this article. The experience of citizens or their ability to live decently after 2006 has been newer than ever before for one simple reason: Nothing works.

What the new Nepal

in the making has in store

is yet to come but if morning shows the day, the

early signs are not very


At the present rate of progress in hydro expansion, Nepal may not have enough electricity for all at least for another 15 years (I am trying to be optimistic here). Even that may be distantly possible only if the country functions, which at present, it does not. Recently published statistics (THT, Jan 31) on strikes suggests that we had 298 bandhs or strikes in 2009. Add to that another 52 Saturdays, so where is the time to work?

We supposedly have a government of, frankly, I cannot tell off-my- head how many ministers and deputies we have but do remember those who have been in the news for slapping or kicking government officials but the country has practically stalled.

Last week, the Maoists

ordered a company building a hydropower plant

to stop construction. The government’s response, that of minister Prakash Sharan Mahat in this case, was able to duly inform the press what had happened. Construction at the site stopped on January 30th. The so-called government just watched.

The forced closure was understood to be the Maoist’s response to “Indian intervention” in Nepali

political affairs. (Forget the 12-point agreement and history for now). Imagine where China would have been today if the Chinese had disrupted work at every venture with American investment every time the United States sold missiles to Taiwan.

There is little, or simply, no light at the end of the tunnel. We do not have enough power to distribute. We also do not even manage the power we have efficiently. Any staff member at the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) can tell you how much power is lost to theft and which areas are notorious for this.

The proliferation of sellers of generators in recent weeks (look out for the ads in the paper to know more of what I am talking about) has a message which no one but only the entrepreneurs are reading. Demand has peaked. An enterprising person in Lokanthali is even said to be using a generator to light up his house and to supply power to his neighborhood. And the neighbors are willing to pay. Old Nepal came nothing close to this.

Solar panels across the rooftops in almost all parts of the country today tell another story. Many people have light because they paid for it. They have light, perhaps, also because there was very little government involvement in providing the service.

Back to electricity and NEA. Its website has photos of two proud men, the minister and the secretary, who smile at you and tell us how honored they are to own up to their ineffectiveness. It also tells you how many more hours of load-shedding there will be. My only concern is that at the rate they are adding hours to the schedule, it may not take long for them to become redundant since there will be no more hours to add after 24. In February last year the blackouts had peaked at 16 hours daily.

A coincidence, perhaps, the load-shedding notice occupies the top left-hand corner, the spot where

our eyes automatically reach. Also there is a

notice on tender and prequalification, as if it can guarantee an environment conducive to construction and development.

I fail to understand what is it that gives a minister

(Mr. Mahat in the case of electricity) the moral strength to stay on in an

office where he is so helpless, if not useless. (By

extension, this logic also

extends to the prime minister, supposedly leading

us Nepalis towards a new Nepal that could be darker.)

The only consolation was the hope in the actions

of residents of Dolakha

who have found a unique way to demand public

service from people paid

to do just that. This past week they loaded a tractor with garbage from the streets and dumped it at the municipal office. They threatened to do more of that if the municipal officials did not do their jobs.