Relief yet to come

For those people having to bear the patience testing 45 hour power outages a week, the inauguration of the 70 MW Mid Marshyangdi Hydropower Project (MMHP) might seem like some relief. But the fact remains that the country’s power needs are not static but increasing with every passing year and the additional 35 MW in the national grid in the first phase will not be making much difference as far as the overall demand of 750 MW is concerned. At present, as statistics reveal, there is an availability of about 400 MW while some power to be imported from India has been stalled because of the Koshi flood-damaged transmission lines. These are the bare facts when the first electric bulb was lighted up almost a century back. The progress that should have taken place in the power production sector, with the much glorified hydropower potential that the country possesses, is nowhere to be seen. This is all

because of the power play that is evident right at the beginning of every project envisaged. For a power-hungry nation, even the much touted MMHP took almost eight years to come to fruition, four years later than the target date with the cost doubling during the period.

On a quick review, it can be observed that the power sector remains a playground for many players that include the political parties and the government that is in power at that time. To unearth evidence may require time, energy and access, but the pointers are that the massive investment that hydel projects call for also see the commission mongers working overtime. This has been the reason for many a proposed project not taking off. Arun II may be taken as an example of how one set of investors were dislodged just for the sake of another’s interest. This might not sound the right way of conducting business when it concerns the welfare of the people and the country, that is, prosperity through the sustainable green energy acquired from hydropower projects. However, it is unfortunate that respective governments all through the decades have from time to time put other interests ahead of national, which is the reason why hardly any major power project has been commissioned in the past decade or so.

When this is the case, there can be nothing more that the loss-making Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) can do other than apply substantial load-shedding that not only inconveniences the people but also business houses, industries, tourism and other sectors. To add salt to the injury, NEA seems to be in a hurry to hike the electricity tariff, as it has not been revised for several years. This is more than a paradox when the electricity body has a monopoly in the sector and could have taken measures to check huge leakages, wastage and thefts. What about the load-shedding problem? No answer comes except for the Maoist-led government’s target of 10,000 MW in 10 years. It is ambitious but hits the right chord. Rhetoric must not lead the way. Concrete works that include the identification of feasible projects without vested interests creeping in and the go-ahead signal to the right contractors must receive top priority.