Grim reality

The way power outage has been lengthening, now reaching ten hours daily, provides a gloomy outlook for the country. This became all the more ironic for a people who had been expecting some relief on power supply at a time when the first of the two units of the country’s second largest hydropower project, Mid-Marsyangdi (70MW), had just been connected to the national power grid. The total Mid-Marsyangdi output comes to around 10 per cent of the national power demand. The longer outage hours have come as a jolt to the general people, and, whatever the truth, it may not be unnatural for them to suspect something fishy. No doubt, the Nepalis have never been without power cuts or erratic nature of supply. This, despite more than five decades of planned development efforts, when more than ten periodic development plans were put into operation. The people had been sold on dreams of their upcoming prosperity through exploitation of water resources by successive generation of leaders, and every Nepali student during the past decades has grown up by reading in school textbooks that Nepal is the second richest nation in water resources in the world, after Brazil.

If the present state of demand-supply mismatch continues, the already sick economy may well turn into a basket case — apart from the daily inconvenience to the people, the snowballing effects on the economy and virtually on every aspect of life are huge. The economy would further slide. The government’s plans and programmes aimed at making a difference to the people’s lives would come apart, even though the present power outages are the result of decades of non-performance. However, probably for the first time, this government has recognised the immensity of the problem, declaring a national power emergency situation. At the same time, it has decided to see that diesel plants capable of producing a total of 200MW electricity will be installed as an emergency measure, which means the government intends to execute this decision as soon as possible.

However, public opinion seems to be divided over thermal plants because of their high operating costs. The country’s current total demand for power is put at nearly 750 MW whereas the current supply, including that from across the border, works out to a little over half of that. That leaves the country with no choice but to cope with the problem as an emergency. The decision on whether to opt for thermal plants may be informed by this consideration. The search for a better alternative, including better ways of managing existing power, should continue at the same time. But the emergency measures will have to be short-term; they cannot provide any long-term solution to Nepal’s power needs. The past mistakes include talking big on high-ticket projects like Karnali, Pancheswor, Arun III (which was scuttled at the last minute by vested interests) without paying enough attention to small projects that could be taken up even locally with the objective of meeting the domestic demand. Now, this mistake must not be repeated. It is also necessary that the general people should be given reasons to feel that the government is handling the power problem in a transparent manner. Full facts must be put before them.