TOPICS: Self-reliant policy for energy sector

The recent hike in petroleum products is a great blow to the general people. It is going to increase the prices of all commodities. The hoarders and black marketeers will have a field day. No wonder the students are agitating, as they will feel the pinch most. But then, with the increase in the global price of crude oil from about $25 a few months ago spiralling up to $60 recently, and projected to touch $100 mark sooner or later, is it a surprise that there has been a price rise here? Unstable political situation in oil- producing nations and the forecast of drying up of some of the oil wells is sure to increase the prices further. Nepal is totally dependent on foreign countries for petroleum products and billions of rupees in hard currency are being spent each year to meet the domestic energy needs. Yet, not a single day passes by without reading advertisements of new brands of car with tempting offers. The push-sale is competitive with liberal terms of loan by the banks. The narrow roads of Kathmandu are clogged with vehicles new and old, belching dark smoke due to adulterated fuel, which is polluting the environment.

Lead in petrol, used as an anti-knock additive accounts for 80 to 90 per cent of all environmental contamination. Lead levels in the air are becoming so high with the increasing use of automobiles that we can reasonably expect lead poisoning in children to reach truly epidemic proportions in Nepal soon. It can affect virtually every human system, especially the brain, kidney and reproductive system. A direct correlation exists between low-level lead exposure of foetus and negative mental development with mental retardation, learning disabilities, impaired growth, reduced hearing, aggressiveness and physical disorders. These effects persist from adolescence to adulthood. The long-term effects will cost the nation dearly, hitherto unrecognised in this country.

Yet, it is surprising to note that Nepal, endowed with solar, wind and hydropower as indigenous resources, has not seen fit to give priority to developing its clean, pollution-free, self-reliant potential but is instead encouraging the use of petroleum products with over-dependence on others. Our time-tested national ropeway system remains unused due to lack of maintenance, and trolley buses are neglected. There is an utter lack of determination to develop and expand electric transport system. Negligible subsidy is provided for the use of our own indigenous product — electricity, but high subsidy is provided to fully imported energy. Our leaders take pride in construction of motor roads and drive autos at the expense of developing ropeway and railway systems widely. This lack of responsibility on the part of our leaders has baffled the public. Or is it for the monetary benefit of a handful that we have had to compromise our national interests? In this context, all the concerned government and non-government agencies should work towards converting this serious challenge into an opportunity.