Renewed interest in the on-again, off-again Kathmandu-Kerung railway plan has been sparked by an announcement by energy officials that they are working to fix the alignment of the Galchhi-Kerung transmission line, the first thing that needs to be built if trains are to run between Nepal and China across the Himalaya.
A recent report being evaluated by the Nepal Electricity Authority has spread confusion among project officials who are poised to hold talks with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation on letting the power line pass through Langtang National Park before crossing the northern border.
“The study shows that at least 5 km of the 70 km line must pass through the national park; and if the project is to be made economically viable, 22.5 km of power lines and pylons must run through the conservation area,” said project chief Komal Nath Atreya. “If we are allowed to build the line as per the current alignment, the project will be financially viable.”
National park department officials say that the possibility of allowing the project to move ahead based only on deliberations is minimal as they have to study an environmental impact assessment report which is yet to be prepared.
“Our officials have not yet received any formal notification about carrying out discussions on the proposed alignment,” said Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, information officer at the department. “The route can only be finalised after a proper assessment of its impact on the habitat of endangered species such as the snow leopard and the red panda.”
But without a fixed route for evaluation, the authorities cannot carry out an environmental impact assessment of the route. “We are working to finish the environmental impact assessment within one and a half years, but without the approval of all the respective officials, it cannot be done within the stipulated time,” said Atreya.
If department officials do not okay the proposed route linking the northern neighbour, the cost of the national priority project is expected to swell massively because of easement rights over privately owned lands outside the national park and difficult terrain.
In line with the priority accorded by the government to the cross-border project, the Department of Electricity Development issued a survey licence to the state-owned power utility in June to survey the 400 kV Ratamate-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung transmission line with a capacity to transmit 5,000 MW.
Under the licence terms, the electricity authority has been allowed to study the possibility of establishing a high capacity switchyard at the Rasuwagadhi border point and a power line with the endpoint at Ratamate in Nuwakot.
Kulman Ghising, managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority, said that the study works on the project are moving at a slow pace because of confusion over prioritization of the project.
“The routes cannot be finalised without proper EIA in place. And as of now, there are some confusion as the Chinese authorities have not accorded much priority to the project,” said Ghising.
In 2018, officials of the Nepal Electricity Authority and State Grid Corporation of China signed an agreement for cooperation on a feasibility study for the Nepal-China Cross-Border Power Grid Interconnection Project enabling the formation of a joint technical team to undertake the task.
“Our counterparts in the technical team have asked for power generation projections of the electricity authority, and they are also working to analyse the prospects of building power lines from Shigatse to Kerung,” said Atreya who is also a member of the technical team formed after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s visit to China last year.
The trans-Himalayan transmission line project has been highlighted by the government in its Transmission System Master Plan for the period 2015-35.
Under the plan, two interconnection points have been proposed in Zone 4 classified on the basis of power generation and prospects of power trade between India and China.
“Zone 4 includes the Trishuli-Chilime, Khimti, and Tamakoshi corridors and consists of major plants such as Sunkoshi-2 (1,110 MW), Tamakoshi-3 (650 MW), Sunkoshi-3 (536 MW) and others,” states the master plan. “This zone is proposed to have interconnection points at New Dhalkebar for power exchange with Muzaffarpur in India and the Chilime 400 kV substation for power exchange with Kerung in China.”
Meanwhile, the Nepal Electricity Authority and the Central Electricity Authority of India have decided to take the implementation and financing modality of the New Butwal-Gorakhpur cross-border transmission project to the seventh Nepal-India secretary-level meeting after failing to agree on its terms
The Kathmandu Post