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No High Dam in the Himalyan Region

   April 16, 2019        631   
Rabindra Bahadur Shrestha

On my Hydropower Engineering Graduation Thesis,1965 I had written on the benefits of building High Dams. But its irony that now, I have to write on the negative environmental impact of building High Dams.

Misconceptions on Water Resources of Nepal

Some spurious experts without any meticulous study have distorted the facts and have propagated that Nepal has a hydropower potential of 2 lakh MW. This has created confusion among the policymakers, politicians and multilateral agencies. As a result, hydropower 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 scholar in water resources of Nepal, has estimated economic 42,000 MW of power potential from three major river basins of Nepal in his doctorate thesis published in 1966.

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 and small reservoir projects gets apparent priority.

Considering run-of-river project as 50 %, the estimated economic hydropower potential of Nepal comes down to about 21,000 MW. The available potential will be just enough to fulfill the power demand for another 35 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 areas of western India. A series of dams have to be built in Nepal for the purpose of storage and canals would be built to transfer surplus water from the eastern tributaries of the Ganga to the west.

Since then the population in the Ganga basin region has increased 3 folds 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 in 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, each year about 13,000 farmers commit suicide 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.

India’s hydroelectric power potential is estimated at 148,700 MW. But after Bhakara Nangal, no High Dam is built in India. As Indians are very conscious about the environment, even run of river projects have difficulties getting approval.

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 will warrent the rreapprisal 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 hydropower projects in Nepal – Arun 3

As the high dam reservoir projects are not feasible In this densely populated area, India is trying to build Run-of-river projects in the remote parts of Nepal, without proper analysis.

Before the first visit (2014) of PM Modi, I had an interview (4 hours) with the assistance professors of National Institute of Advance Studies, Banglore, 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. So, India must strive for nuclear plants.

In most of the Integrated National Power System, the electricity is supplied from Thermal, Nuclear and Hydropower plants. As Thermal and Nuclear plants take long time (hours and days) to operate, they are used in base load. But in Hydropower plants thousands power/MW can be turned on or off within few minutes/hours. So Hydropower plants are used for peaking power, load balancing and emergency.

Arun river basin has very good hydrology, so there are plenty of hydropower project sites along this river. The type and size of civil structure and available head, determines the size and type of the Turbine.

But in 1980s, a big Francis Turbine manufacturer suggested (67 × 6) 402 MW high head FrancisTurbine, only they can manufacture and civil structures were designed as per their requirement.

At that time the installed capacity of electricity in Nepal was only 180 MW, so World Bank asked concerned authority to justify the large capacity of this project.

As India didn’t agree to buy electricity from Nepal, without changing the civil structure, the number of Turbine was reduced to (67 × 3) 201 MW. As such the project cost increased to 5000 US$/kw, fearing further cost escalation the World Bank abandon Arun 3 . This is the outcome of corrupt officials allowing ‘The Tail Wagging The Dog’ and Nepal wasted 10 years, without building any hydropower project.

But it is sad that, the corrupt official/ manufacturer, the abandoned Arun 3 was entrusted to Indian company. Without detail studies, the Indian company, designed the projects at very low percentage of exceedance (Q25) i.e. the (225 × 4) 900 MW is available only for 3 months in a year. But the ground reality is as follows:

1) Arun 3 is designed for Q25 i.e. it can generate 900 MW only less than 3 months in a year. For the 9 months the capacity will reduced up to 200 MW. So this project can’t balance the electricity system for 9 months supplying large capacity power.

2) Being Run of river project, it supplies energy (kWh) as other base load plant. But its plant factor is half of Thermal Plant, thus the energy cost will be very high.

3) Hydroelectricity plant plays an important role in an Integrated National Power System. So no country can imagine installing such an important/sensitive installation in a foreign country. India will be doing the biggest mistake to build hydropower projects in Nepal. The assistance professors were convinced and promised to convey the message to concerned person.


1) Nepal’s Hydropower potential is only about 21,000 MW. The available potential will be just enough to fulfill the power demand for another 40 years only, so no power export.

2) The biggest issue 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’s biggest mistake will to build hydropower plants in Nepal. No country can imagine installing such an important/ sensitive installation in a foreign country.

4) India needs 50,000 MW within 5 years’ time, if it wants to achieve double digit growth. So, India must strive for nuclear plants. Wrangling over few MW of hydro projects is not in the interest of both the country.

5) Hydropower plants are used for peaking power, load balancing and emergency. ?

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 Bihari working in Nepal); 40 thousand Nepalese soldiers are deployed in India Pakistan border; 80 % trade/industries are under Indian control; Indian gets maximum benefits from the open border. Even then India indulged in inhuman Blockade to Nepal?

7) If Nepal wants to promote a hydropower 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.