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Transmission line projects entangled in compensation issues

   December 13, 2019        242        Pralhad Rijal

Kathmandu- The Nepal Electricity Authority is hitting roadblocks with its transmission line projects due to issues related to forest clearance, land compensation and right of way and obstruction from locals.

Releasing a quarterly progress report on Thursday, the state-owned power utility said it was able to add only 193 kilometres of transmission and distribution lines in the first quarter following a series of setbacks. Capital expenditure on such projects reached 44.74 percent and physical progress was recorded at 53 percent.

“Almost all transmission line projects are bogged down in procedural hassles related to clearing forests, land acquisition, and obstructions in transmission and distribution projects,” said Kulman Ghising, managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority. “Because of such complications, we have to ask the Cabinet for permission even to appoint a primary officer to acquire land and right of way.”

Hydro experts and independent power producers have repeatedly underscored the need to build high-capacity transmission lines to minimise energy loss as most hydropower schemes are located far from load centres.

The power utility has also named projects that have been delayed over compensation, forest clearance and right-of-way issues in its quarterly report.

The 220 kV Bharatpur-Bardaghat transmission line, being built under the multimillion-dollar Nepal India Electricity Trade and Transmission Project, is struggling to achieve 80 percent progress 11 years after construction began.

The under-construction 132 kV Thankot-Chapagaun-Bhaktapur transmission line, intended to strengthen the Kathmandu Valley’s power supply system by eliminating voltage fluctuations and ensuring proper load management, has been a work in progress since 2004 with locals of Lalitpur unwilling to give up land and right of way at the proposed rates.

Residents are demanding 100 percent of the land value in compensation for easement rights while the compensation policy says they will get 10 percent.

A major complaint of locals is that banks do not accept land over which easement rights have been acquired as collateral for loans. The power utility has recently urged the government to amend the Land Acquisition Act to force banks to accept such land as collateral.

Power infrastructure projects have also been bogged down in paperwork. The Tamakoshi-Kathmandu 220/400 kV transmission line project reported 19 percent physical progress in two years as the power utility is yet to receive forest clearance permits for a 104-kilometre section.

The power utility had sought permission at the forest department in March with updated Initial Environmental Evaluation report and the department forwarded the file to forest ministry only in July, while the contractor awaits a go-ahead to build the power line.

Owing to delays in upgrading the existing high capacity transmission lines and constructing new ones, Nepal’s power system has only been charged to relay 220 kV voltage level while the power utility has long planned to upgrade the capacity to 400 kV level to synchronise Nepal’s grid with India’s for smooth energy exchange between the two countries.

While the Energy Ministry is deliberating ways to resolve the problem, the possibility of allocating shares in the transmission projects to locals through the government’s People’s Hydroelectricity Programme has been discussed.

In 2017, the ministry formed a task force to pinpoint suitable ways to acquire right of way from private landowners. Two years on, the team has not been able to come up with a modality under which landowners would agree to relinquish their property.

Faced with this setback, the power utility is preparing to take the problems holding back transmission line projects to the National Action Development Committee which is headed by the prime minister.

The Kathmandu Post