Early finalisation of the detailed project report of the Pancheshwar high dam will bring benefits for both Nepal and India

It has been 23 years since the much-hyped Integrated Development of the Mahakali Barrage including Sarada Barrage, Tanakpur Barrage and Pancheshwar Project, known as the Mahakali Treaty, was signed between Nepal and India in February 1996. It came into force after Nepal’s then Parliament ratified the treaty with a two-thirds majority with four strictures to redefine the treaty in September 1996. One of the major components of the treaty was to develop the multi-billion dollar 6,480MW Pancheswar High Dam on the Mahakali River that functions as a border river between the two countries at major stretches. Both the sides had agreed to develop the project with a view to generating energy, controlling floods and sharing the water augmented on the dam on equal basis for irrigation purposes in Nepal and India. However, no progress has been made in the past 23 years except for the formation of the joint Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA) in August 2014. The PDA was formed when an Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was on a visit to Nepal after a gap of 17 years. In a joint statement issued during his visit, both the sides had agreed that the “two governments would set up the Authority within six months and finalise the DPR of the PDA and begin implementation of the project within one year”.

It has also been five years since the PDA was formed. But the PDA is still working on the DPR. Now the Nepal government has proposed to the Indian side that a high-level meeting of concerned experts be held within this month or early March. Chiranjivi Chataut, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, who is also additional chief executive officer of the PDA, has said he has written a letter to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWRRDGR), India for the meeting. The upcoming meeting is expected to discuss the Pancheshwar DPR, geological investigations and downstream benefits. The DPR was supposed to have been finalised by December last year, but It is uncertain when this will happen. The DPR is being prepared by the Indian government-owned Water and Power Consultancy Services Ltd. The project has now been revised to 4,800MW.

The upcoming meeting, as per Chataut, will discuss the policy documents, finalise the by-laws, administration and human resources policies. The DPR also has to finalise the sharing of water that will augment on the high dam between the two countries and power purchase agreement. The water from the dam will irrigate around 0.13 million hectares of land in Nepal and 0.24 million hectares of land in India. Apart from generating energy, both the sides will also have flood control benefits following the construction of the project. When the treaty was signed, leaders from both the aisles had claimed that the sun would begin to “rise from the west”.  They had also hoped to sell surplus energy to India at a mutually agreed price. Much water has flown in the Mahakali River since Nepal and India signed the treaty. So there should be no further delay on it. It is time to expedite it as both the countries have also reached separate agreements on power trading, energy banking and transmission lines across the border.

Work for inmates

It is good to learn that the Department of Prison Management is working on a draft of the procedure to engage prisoners in public works if they so desire. A lot of countries engage prisoners in public services, and it is a win-win situation, where both prisoners and the public service provider benefit. According to the draft proposal, for every three days of work, one day shall be reduced from the total jail sentence. This makes financial sense also. It means offenders can be released earlier from prison - which costs money for their room and board – while getting public works done at a lower or no cost at all.

The Department is also working to engage offenders serving short terms in community service at not-for-profit hospitals, old age homes, orphanages, public or community schools, and environmental and sports organisations. This allows the offender to repent for the crime committed and make a contribution to society by working unpaid. Engaging prisoners and offenders in productive work can help them learn a skill and be gainfully employed when they leave prison and be resettled in society. It has shown that employment helps reduce reoffending.