Hydropower politics: Should India be cautious for the future?

The decision of the United CPN-Maoist's to shut Upper Karnali, West Seti and Arun III hydroelectricity projects has hardly surprised many. Its leaders have started giving signals indicating their gradual reverting back to their original stand showing anti-Indian, and nationalistic postures, after Prachanda resigned and failed to regain power despite their prolonged


The UCPN-Maoist appears to be showing its real political overtones of the then CPN-Maoist's anti- Indian slogans, which were a part of its demands when it took up arms in 1996. Of course, it changed its anti-India stand before it signed the 12-point Understanding with the Seven-Party Alliance in November 2005, in India. Perhaps, after feeling the heat of the then Royal Nepal Army and the then king not reaching out to them, its leaders were compelled to take refuge in India where they were forced to tone down their anti-India rhetoric to take help from the Indian establishment.

The decision has mixed reactions. Those who want Nepal to come out from the present depressing economic condition as early as possible are agonized, and those who are not satisfied with the present epoch making transformation of Nepal into a Federal Democratic Republic, and those who are out of corridors of power and those who do not like to see good Nepal- India relation seem to be happy. Common people who are really bearing the brunt of the present malaise are sorry as power shortage may go on increasing by more than twelve hours a day

In Nepal, hydropower is not only related to electric power but also to money and political power. It is very much needed for the power hungry Nepal where people's standard of living had gone down with the 10-year insurgency and still is sliding downhill. It has had an immense negative efffect on the people. During the Panchayat era, only a few hydropower projects were signed and completed. Ironically, in lieu of going for perennial river projects, a project like Kulekhani was preferred, which was dependent on rainwater. It was the period when hydropower had money power. It was said that the decision makers were benefitted for approving such projects ,and then after several years, the total cost of projects were revised to grease the palms of the higher-ups. The survey permission for the feasibility study of every big river project had already been allotted long back to the well-connected people. It is estimated that Nepal can produce tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity. Regretfully, it has not yet succeeded in producing even one thousand megawatt of hydropower.

Gradually, hydropower has turned into the political power in Nepal. These days we hardly need power for industrial or economic development, but for political power/gain that is generated from hydropower. Similarly, it is needed to gain power and also to continue in power. When any government tries to move forward for hydropower generation, it is easily charged with selling national interest for its own benefits, since India stands as a sole buyer. It appears to be a common perception that India plays a crucial role in making and unmaking of government. Falling in line with this common belief and with their experience, the Maoists hold India responsible for foiling its strategic move to oust the then CoAS Katuwal who was blocking its move to integrate its combatatants into Nepal Army. As such, it is annoyed with India for not toeing along its line. Since India is the beneficiary of these hydropower projects, the Maoists create trouble in finalizing and completing these projects to pressurize it.

India, which borders Nepal on three sides, has achieved 6 to 9% growth rate since 1990s even without getting sufficient electricity from Nepal. To meet its requirement of power for its development, it has been vying for utilizing hydropower from Nepal. Although India might have experienced difficulties in finalizing the hydropower projects in Nepal during the last four/ five decades, yet it continues to hope against hope with empty assurances from the Nepalese government one after another.

Since India will be requiring more power in the years to come, it will have to evaluate its future dependency on electricity to be produced in Nepal which may diminish after forty-five years as per the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Himalayan glaciers will hardly last for that period of time that is by 2055. If these glaciers melt because of the effects of global warming in 45/50 years, India will have to think accordingly It will be no wonder if India thanks Nepal for not allowing it to invest millions of rupees in hydropower projects for which not only India but Nepal too have been craving for their economic growth. Our esteemed leaders may be judged by the people for their wisdom and nationalism, who have preferred to keep the nation in darkness rather than allowing water resources to be exploited for the benefit of both the countries, notwithstanding, Nepal is importing 60/120-megawatt electricity from India to limit the load shedding hour up to twelve hours a day.

Prof. Mishra is currently associated with Civil Campaign for Democracy