Before you clamour about building Dams for prosperity, one must be very clear about the High Dam Building.
Misconceptions on Water Resources of Nepal
The perennial rivers of Nepal possess sufficient hydro power potential to enhance the country’s socio-economic development. The hydro power sector was performing reasonably well during 1970s, 80s and 90s.
However, some spurious experts and vested interest groups without any meticulous study have distorted the facts and have propagated that Nepal has a hydro power potential of 200,000 MW.
This has created confusion among the policymakers, politicians and multilateral agencies. As a result, hydro power development in Nepal is heading in the wrong direction and the power sector, the vital impetus for socio-economic development, is now in dire straits.
The Facts: Dr Hari Man Shrestha, a prominent and pioneering scholar in water resources of Nepal, has estimated a theoretical 83,000 MW and economic 42,000 MW of power potential from three major river basins of Nepal in his doctorate thesis published in 1965.
In the last 50 years, deforestation, land erosion and climate change has brought significant changes in the topography and hydrology of the rivers. Population growth, resettlement and environmental concerns have made many mega projects unfeasible.
Electricity generation from rivers can generally be divided in two categories, i.e. high dam reservoir type and run-of-river type. A high dam project has huge costs and environmental consequences; thus the development of run-of-river project gets apparent priority.
Considering run-of-river project as 50 %, the estimated economic hydro power potential of Nepal comes down to about 21,000 MW. The available potential will be just enough to fulfill the power demand for another 30 to 40 years only.
Ecology and High Dam
In the 1970s, Dr. K.L. Rao, former irrigation minister suggested that the surplus water of Ganga basin be diverted to deficit ares of western India. A series of dams have to built in Nepal for the purpose of storage and canals would be built to transfer surplus water from the estern tributries of the Ganga to the west.
Since then the population in the Ganga basin region has increased 3 lold and due to climate change, metrological/ hydrological regime has changed significantly.
For thousands of year, civilization flourished in the Indo-Gangatic plane. It accommodates about 45 % of the total Indian population ie, 1/10 of world population.
One of the reasons for increase of population is fertile land created by the rich soil transported by Himalayan river flood. But excessive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide, the fertility of agricultural land has been greatly reduced.
Due to unaffordability of expensive fertilizer 13 thousand farmers are suicide each year in India. The farmer suicide rates are lower in the Ganga basin region due to the fertility of land is better than in the western region. But this figure will double if high dams are built in Himalayan region.
The biggest issue/problem is, high dams changes the chemical, physical and biological processes of river ecosystems. Building a high dam with regulating reservoir in Nepal will trap the mineral rich sediments and nutrients. The clear water flow will erode the downstream river bed which will further lower the ground water level.
Now, it is very clear, why even the Detail Project Report (DPR) of Pancheswar Multipurpose Project (PMP) is not ready even after signing of the treaty for more than 20 years.
Indian experts are very much aware of the ecosystem disruption created by building high dams. But India’s admission of these bitter facts wills warrants the reappraisal of Mahakali Treaty.
As per the treaty Nepal is supposed get equal benefits from Pancheswar project, whereas in Tanakpur and Sharada projects, Nepal virtually gets no benefit at all. Politicians in Bihar accord false promise of building Koshi high dams in Nepal during election time. If facts are disclosed they are sure to loose in the election. Thus building high dams has become a political gimmick both in India and Nepal.
India making big mistake building RoR projects in Nepal
As the reservoir projects are not feasible In this densely populated area, India is trying to build Run-of-river hydro power projects in the remote parts of Nepal, without proper analysis.
In most of the Integrated National Power System, the electricity is supplied from Thermal, Nuclear and Hydro power plants. As Thermal and Nuclear plants take long time (hours and days) to operate, they are used in base load.
But in hydro power plants thousands power/MW can be turned on or off within few minutes/hours. So, hydro power plants are used for peaking power load balancing and emergency.
It has a vital impetus In country’s power system. So no country can imagine of putting such important installation in other country. Furthermore, Indian has wrongly designed the RoR projects at very low percentage of expedience (Q25) ie the design discharge (900 MW) can be available only for 2 to 3 months only.
So, before the first visit (2014) of PM Modi, I had an interview (4 hours) with the assistance professors of National Institute of Advance Studies, Bangalore, India. We had very friendly chat, I told them India needs 50,000 MW within 5 years’ time, if it wants to achieve double digit growth like China. There is shortage of Power (kW) as well as Energy (kWh) in India. So, India must strive for nuclear plants.
Few MW’s in remote parts of Nepal will not solve its problem; it will be a headache for both the country. Furthermore, building power plants including hydro power scheme has serious negative environmental consequences, so Nepal don’t want to take unnecessary risk. The assistance professors were convinced and promised to convey the message to concerned person.
1) Nepal’s hydro power potential is only about 21,000 MW. The available potential will be just enough to fulfill the power demand for another 30 to 40 years only, so no power export.
2) The biggest issue/problem is, high dams changes the chemical, physical and biological processes of river ecosystems. Building a high dam with regulating reservoir in Nepal will trap the mineral rich sediments and nutrients. Over utilization of natural resources brings ecological disaster- recent dam busting in Laos.
3) India will be doing biggest mistake to put its vital installation (hydro power plant) in the remote area of other country ie remote parts of Nepal.
4) PM Modi’s slogan of building ‘Factory to be run by Water’* (पानीबाट चल्ने कारखाना) In Nepal is just a political gimmick to capture votes from Bihar people.
5) India needs 50,000 MW within 5 years’ time, if it wants to achieve double digit growth like China. There is shortage of Power (kW) as well as Energy (kWh) in India. So, India must strive for nuclear plants. Wrangling over few MW of hydro projects is not in the interest of both the country.
6) Nepal has helped to build; Koshi, Gandaki, Sarada, Tanakpur projects, without any benefit to itself; Nepal sends US$ 3.22 billion to India each year (1 million Bihar working in Nepal); 40 thousand Nepalese soldiers are deployed in India Pakistan border, 80 % trade/industries are under Indian control. Even then India indulges in inhuman Blockade to Nepal.
7) If Nepal wants to promote a hydro power project for its benefit, India will immediately react its Anti-Indian act. India is treating Nepal like a client state. India should change its colonial mindset.
8) We talk about free trade, privatization, liberal economy etc., but India is the only ‘Democratic’ country in the world still (post-cold war) using its intelligence agency (RAW) for the micromanagement of friendly country Nepal. This should be completely stopped.
9) India is still on Undeclared War with Pakistan, 1962 India china war, army intervention in internal conflict of Sri Lanka, creation of Bangladesh. In all above war/conflict, India has used Nepalese/Gurkha soldiers illegally. In 21st century Bhutan is still India’s Procter Country?
In domestic front, there is a never ending war/conflict in Kashmir, 40 million North-Eastern people are considered to be the descendants of China, because of their chinky eyes, the south Indians initially didn’t accept the Indian constitution. In such a Scenario, how come India dominated organization like SAARC or BIMSTEC perform/trusted?