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Kantipur FM Commentary: Kali Gandaki “A” Hydroelectric Power Plant

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Kali Gandaki “A” hydroelectric power plant. Click here to go to the source of the image.

Water — in the forms of rivers — has always been recognized as the most abundant resource of our country and construction of hydroelectric power plants the best way to harness it.

At the time of construction, according to Unleashing Nepal (pp. 73-74), Kali Gandaki “A” was one of two foreign-donor funded plants being constructed for Nepal Electricity Authority, the state-owned utility company. The democratic government of the country had, in 1992, instituted a Hydropower Policy in a bid to encourage private as well as foreign investment in hydropower. “By 1997, Nepal had launched two of what were to be the only ten successful privately financed hydropower enterprises in that decade — Bhote Koshi and Khimti. Both had secured foreign investment.”

But in 1998, the then Deputy Prime Minister and minister in charge of hydropower, Shailja Acharya stated that the government did not want the private sector to develop hydropower of more than 10MW capacity. That’s how Kali Gandaki A had ended up being financed by a foreign donor.

The following, about issues with the Kali Gandaki A hydroelectric power plant project, is the reproduction of the April 2, 1998, episode of the Kantipur FM program, The Music Jam, which I hosted that Spring. The construction of the power plant was begun in 1997 and completed in 2002.

 

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Hey hey hey hey ….

It’s the return of the headless chicken; the head-less chicken from yesterday’s hour of The Music Jam. If you were tuned in yesterday, you know what I am talking about. And yes, what is coming your way on the aiwaves of the one and only Kantipur FM is The Music Jam!

And this is Dorje.

This hour things are going to run a little smoother. No more jumping in all sorts of directions—just a couple of direction…maybe!

I have some great music coming your way and a commentary on a hydroelectric project — Kali Gandaki “A.” So don’t go away!

But before that a song, Michael Learns to Rock with Something You Should Know.

All right if you are surprised that I am talking after only song it’s because you are listening to The Music Jam, a new program with a new format.

And the topic this hour is Kali Gandaki “A,” the hydroelectric project.

Like all third world countries Nepal seems to be obsessed with big projects. Hydroelectric projects naturally are the darlings, the favorites of Nepal. And with big projects come big problems, problems of their own.

I have recently been following the progress of the strike the workers of the Kali Gandaki “A” project have been on. It began last Thursday and ended this past Monday.

And that hadn’t been the first time the workers had been on strike and more importantly a group, an independent group, way back in January had found the workers and the locals very much dissatisfied and in their report had predicted all of that.

Okay, more of that after the next song.

And that was Madonna with Swim followed by Elton John with If the River Can Bend. And don’t be misled by that commercial, the Marlboro Music commercial, the Marlboro Music Network commercial I mean. You are listening to The Music Jam.

Going back to the Kali Gandaki “A” project…. In early January, a group from the INHURED International and National Concerns Society went on a fact finding mission to the location — in Shyangja. On the basis of their observations and interactions with the locals and workers, they filed a report and part of that report is what I am going to share with you. [I had access to the report because I volunteered at INHURED.]

The first point deals with employment and the terms of employment.

The report states that laws and regulations regarding employment have been broken. Only an insignificant number of locals directly affected by the project have been employed. Of the approximately — and hear this — of the approximately 20 families directly affected by the project, families that lost either their fields or house or both or the land they were living off of, only two families were found to have received employment, while the others all have been left to fend for themselves.

Okay, more on that after the next song.

That was Jon Bon Jovi with Every Word Was a Piece of My Heart.

What’s sad about the quandary these families are in is that prior agreements between the locals and the government had been for (1) their relocation and (2) compensation for their land or whatever they lost.

The affected families were instead given another reassurance. And this time it was that they would be given the right to raise a fish farm there.

Incidentally, at Kulekhani, where there is a Hydroelectric plant as you and I know, the affected families there had been assured of just that — the right to fish-farming — but recently that right was revoked. A notice to that effect appeared in a local paper in Kathmandu a few months ago!!

Okay. It’s time for a music break.

Nirvana with All Apologies and The Doors with Hello I Love were the songs.

You are listening to The Music Jam, and this is Dorje.

Going back to the workers at Kali Gandaki A…. Those employed had also effectively been prevented from membership in the Labor Union.

Workers were also found to have been fired without any reason for some time, and without prior notice at that. Plus, Nepali experts were paid considerably less than foreign experts.

Now the next…the next point is about the environment.

The locals were found to be unaware of the 300 million-rupee budget set aside as per agreement with Asia Development Bank, the donor, for programs related to the protection of the environment and the social development of the area. The contractor had been found to be uninterested in ensuring the preservation of the environment or developing the area or in providing employment to the locals but, in their own word, and I quote “interested in making a profit” and the contractor by the way is Italian!

It’s time for break. Stay where you are. I’ll be right back.

And that was Foreigner with Can’t Wait.

And the third point has to do with the Budget.

Due to widespread corruption and commission seeking tendencies, expenses and time, the report speculates, will increase significantly. I am not going to go into the details of the corruption and commissions. The cost however is another thing. The cost according to one of the high ranking employee there, would come out to be 10 to 15% more than the budgeted 460 million US dollars.

Time for another music break!

And that was ABBA with Take a Chance on Me. And coming up is Pink Floyd with Take…all right let’s see…. Aah, no, I was going to say Pink Floyd but it’s going to take some time. Maybe I’ll continue with the spiel on Kali Gandaki A.

All right, let’s see, I had finished talking about the budget…. Now, okay the last one…aum. Actually, let’s see Gopal here tells me that the CD is ready. Let’s continue with the song: Pink Floyd Take It Back.

Okay that little glitch was due to the fact that this is a new program and we are all trying to adjust, we are all trying to readjust to the new format. It’s like sleeping on a new bed you know. You toss and turn until you find the right spot.

Any way…. Continuing with the Kali Gandaki “A” spiel…. Okay the fourth point, the most important point:

If, the report says, within the next few months steps are not taken to respect the dignity of the locals, to provide employment and training, to take necessary steps to minimize the environmental impact etc. as per the promises and assurances given by the various government officials such as the Prime Minister, Water and Resource Minister, Minister of Finance, Experts, Asian Development Bank and Japanese government officials and many other political figures, all of whom visited the site before implementation of the project, then the situation is such that, the report notes, the local population could organize themselves and assert themselves.

And I guess that’s what happened from last Thursday until Monday. Time for another music break.

And that was the Scorpions with I Can’t Explain.

Hydroelectric plants, hydroelectricity, is part of development work. Construction of a power plant is development project just as the politicians never tire of telling us. I have no doubt about that. But now I have a question for you.

And the question is this: Development project for whom? Whose development are they talking about? Who does it develop?

And I leave you with that for you to ponder over.

Coming up is Steve with Coca Cola Party Night. Join me again Sunday for another hour of The Music Jam. The song coming to you is In The Air Tonight, Phil Collins.

This is Dorje, signing off. Good night.

 

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As of 2008, “more than 250 licenses (for plants with a capacity of above 10 MW), amounting to more than 50,000MW of electricity, were pending approval at the Department of Electricity” (Shakya, 2013, p. 213). If however the Wall Street Journal article In the Himalayas, a New Power Rises: Water,” published just last May is to be believed, we are once again back to harnessing the resource…once again!

Will the potential it holds (ever) be realized? Furthermore, whether we do or not, however many large power plants we do manage to build, what will be the social, environmental, and human costs? Will costs have been worth the benefits?

What do you think?

 

References and Relevant Materials

Shakya, S. Unleashing Nepal.

Asian Development Bank (March 1996). Summary Environmental Impact Assessment for the Kali Gandhali “A” Hydroelectric Project in Nepal.

Asian Development Bank (June 1996). Report and Recommendation for the President to the Board of Directors on a Proposed Loan and Two technical Assistance Grants to the Kingdom of Nepal for the Kali Gandaki “A” Hydroelectric Project.

Asian Development Bank (April 2004). Project Completion Report on the Kali Gandaki “A” Hydroelectric Project in Nepal.

 

 

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