Power to prosperity

The two-day Power Summit that drew together potential investors from a number of countries concluded on Wednesday at a time when Nepal is facing an acute power shortage and when the new coalition government led by the CPN-Maoist has set the goal of generating 10,000MW electricity in ten years. This may appear over-ambitious to many in light of the fact that, so far, Nepal has been able to produce hardly 600MW. But some experts have expressed the confidence that given determination and sound policy, the goal will be within reach. The power summit discussed harnessing Nepal’s water resources and exporting electricity, particularly to India, which could provide the nearest, the easiest, as well as a vast, market for the generated electricity. It is necessary for Nepal to set her sights higher, because it can no longer afford the snail’s pace of the past.

However, it was something of a sobering thought when India agreed to sell up to 60MW to Nepal

for the short term, as testified by the MoU signed

at the conclusion of the summit. The existing

power supply from India will, however, remain intact. The fresh import will help ease the problem of

load shedding in a number of areas, including

the Kathmandu Valley. This power crisis underscores the urgency of speeding up hydropower

development. Indeed, the present government’s determination has raised hopes that the power situation may improve reasonably soon. But first of all, unless even domestic needs can be met through internal production, any high-voltage talk of making the country prosperous through power export will not impress the general public.

At this power summit, as in the past, foreigners, including Indian investors, demonstrated a keen interest in exploiting Nepal’s water resources. This is a good sign for Nepal. As Nepal cannot develop

all her water resources on her own, huge foreign investment is required. Foreign investment will not flow in unless there is an attractive rate of return

on investment. On her part, Nepal should be looking after her legitimate interests, too. So, there is

a need to strike a balance between the two interests, to create a win-win situation. As water resources partnerships with foreigners involve the utilisation and distribution of natural resources, it requires two-thirds ratification in Parliament before any such deal can go through. The failure to fulfil this requirement has brought several cases to the Supreme Court. Such big lapses should not be allowed to happen

again. Sadly, it must be admitted that even five decades of planned development could not make the country self-sufficient in electricity, let alone export it. Even such a big project as Arun III, Nepal’s own project, was derailed in the 1990s in its final stages. Now it is being revived, but in a completely different way. And Nepalis have lost time. Now, looking to the future, the present government appears determined, more than any in the past, to tap Nepal’s hydropower potential. This, coupled with foreign investors’ willingness to invest, does not make the goal highly unrealistic. Even if half of it could be realised, it would make a huge difference.