The Girija Prasad Koirala Foundation for Democracy, Peace and Development, Kathmandu successfully organized a one day interaction program on “The important role of water resources in Nepal’s economic transformation: The Case of West Seti” in co-operation with “West Seti Support Group”. This interaction program provided a platform to discuss on the proposed but lingering dream hydropower project of “West Seti (750 MW) in the far-western region of Nepal. The guests, water resource experts, and over two hundred participants tried to find out the obstacles regarding the implementation of the West Seti hydro project. This interaction program was conducted into two sessions; floor discussion and response by the participants. Mr. Himal Neupane moderated the interaction.
The inaugural session of the program started with Executive Director and Program Co-coordinator Rakesh Hamal’s hosting after the registration session. Former Ambassador Dr. Shambhu Ram Shimkhda, Member of the secretariat of the special committee for SIR of the MACs and board Member of the GPK Foundation heartily welcomed the guests and participants. In his welcome speech, he recalled Girija Prasad Koirala’s contribution to Nepal’s peace process, economic development and national unity. Koirala had an intense desire and strong commitment towards building mutual and bilateral relationships between our two giant neighbors India and China. Dr. Shimkhada briefly elaborated on the importance of water resources in Nepal for Hydropower development and economic transformation. We must ensure the optimum use of such a gift to support the National Planning Commission’s strategy for upgrading least developed country Nepal to a developing country through the Three Year Interim Plan.
The interaction Session moderated by Mr Himal Neupane was discussing upon various issues of West Seti such as its importance, necessity, implementation obstacles and possible problem resolution.
Dr. Govinda Raj Bhatta, former secretary, renowned water resource expert and President of “Sudur Pashimanchal Sarokar Mancha” and Mr Sher Singh Bhat, Director of the Power Trade Department, Nepal Electricity Authority, jointly presented a paper. In their paper, they elucidated why the West Seti Hydro project is necessary for the economic development of the far-western region of Nepal. They also elaborated on the necessity of its implementation and expected benefits along with identified obstacles to the project.
Mr Sher Singh Bhat illustrated the benefits of water resources focusing on irrigation, hydro-power, drinking water and tourism development. Hydro electricity is a clean energy which helps to eradicate poverty. It also generates employment at the local level helping establish industry in the far-western region. He also gave the example of American prosperity from water. He suggested to search for alternatives to run-of-the-river systems and adopt large storage-based systems for more benefits.
The floor discussion session started with the question of participant Tek Bahadur Bom from Doti. He questioned to the presenter why the West Seti Project is being obstructed, suggesting to discuss on this core issue. He tried to make it clear that it is not obstructed by local people. How the water resource experts will utilize their expertise and political leaders how they will help to implement such a dream project, he asked.
The next participant, Gandhi Pandit, Professional Hydropower Lawyer for the CWE China Hydro Company, raised three problems. According to him, the first are legal problems for large financing of the project. There is a lack of specific and scientific laws for hydropower development. The second problem he pointed out is local people’s fears and the last one is a lack of domestic consensus.
Yam Bahadur Bom from Tikapur Kailali, representative of the far-western area and local tourism entrepreneur questioned the government officials regarding the storage based project. He argued why the West Seti is taken as feasible project at this time only when it should have been done much earlier. He suggested the concerning authorities to review the current policy of investment to implement the project as soon as possible resolving the issues raised by affected local people.
Journalist of Nepal Samachar Patra, Laxman Negi, interpreted the West Seti’s investment process as confusing. According to him, the current investment policy and the role of the state is not clear yet and that is why the project is in limbo.
Hydro engineer Raj Gajurel also commented that no one seems committed to implement this long term project in Nepal. He focused on the issue of security and political instability. He said that even if there is sufficient investment and interest the visionless political leaders are the main obstacles.
The next representatives, participants of the Karnali zone, suggested to implement West Seti by allocating at least two years of time for preparation and five years for implementation. We must conduct environmental impact studies already now because it is a possible re-occurring earthquake center. He viewed that the government should provide training to develop skilled man power before the implementation of the project.
Ram Rokaya, co-coordinator of the West Seti Support Group, reminded of the underdeveloped condition of the far-western region. He said that without any development infrastructure it is difficult to implement such dream projects like West Seti in this region. He presented his demand with the Government to take up initiation to implement the project. He also clarified that local people of West Seti have a positive and helpful mentality and are ready to assure all investors not to create problems. He expects that the project may be a corner stone to change the face of far-western region. He requested to allocate a sufficient budget and to complete it within the deadline expressing commitment to co-operate with investors.
The last participant of the floor discussion session, Pradeep Bujhel from Doti, in the same way commented that West Seti Hydro project is not only for the far-western region but also significant for the entire Nepal. He also urged to consider the water resource conservation issue seriously.
The CEO of Nepal Investment Board Mr. Radhesh Panta clarified about the investment procedure of the West Seti project. He suggested the government of Nepal for law facilitation and to create a good environment. Investors are concerned about land acquisition and settlement procedures, therefore the government should facilitate this process as soon as possible, he argued. Panta suggested changing the Neapalese business strategy and mind-set in a positive way.
Former Minister and the leader of Nepal Communist Party (UML) Mr. Pradeep Gyawali strongly committed to supporting the West Seti project from his party. He expressed that there is consensus and an unanimous view among all political parties of Nepal regarding the implementation of the West Seti project. He urged all concerning people and stakeholders to pay the cost for development; otherwise it would not be possible to achieve this dream within the deadline. Gyawali also suggested resolving any problems, confusions and misunderstandings that exist. He also suggested the Investment board and especially the government should facilitate the project implementation. There is no option but of negotiation when dealing with a neighboring country for the mutual benefit from water resources, he argued.
Mr. D.B. Singh, Director General of Bidhut Bikas Board expressed his view on the problem of West Seti project implementation. He negatively criticized and blamed the so called experts of water resources. To him a storage project rather than run-of-the-river is comparatively more beneficial. He viewed that electricity generated by the West Seti project can be used in domestic consumption which helps to enhance the life standard of the people by means of industrialization. Visionless politicians and supporters of blind nationalism are creating barrier to attract foreign investment in hydropower, Singh argued. Finally, he suggested ensuring the optimal utilization of the resources available.
Dr. Ramsharan Mahat, Former Minister and Central Committee Member of the Nepali Congress Party expressed thanks to the people of Seti Karnali for their awareness and raising concerns regarding the use of local water resources. Mahat also bitterly criticized the politicization of the project. He viewed it as intellectual bankruptcy and madness of those who are advocating extreme nationalism. He is strongly committed to support the West Seti Project from his party. Proper policy and its timely implementation will undoubtedly motivate the generation of wealth without any difficulty, he added. He also suggested resolving the problem of local people’s opposition and developing required transmission lines and grid development. He recommended declaring the hydro project sector as a peace zone to avoid any type of strikes and bandas and therefore release this sector out of politicization.
Secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Bishow Prakash Pandit, commented on the changing relationship between Politicians and Administrators. For him, we can only attract Foreign Direct Investment in Nepal by developing a sacred relationship between the politicians and administrators which ultimately plays a role to better the overall environment. Political instability, lack of rule of law, inconsistent government are the primary causes behind the delay of the West Seti project.
Dharmendra Bastola, representative of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist) said that he has no hope of implementing the West Seti project because the visionless current government supported by the four major political parties and corrupted bureaucrats are themselves obstacles who see the local people as evil. So they are not addressing the national interest. The UCPN Maoist leaders who betrayed the nation indulging in corruption, bribery and playing the role of commission agents are the main cause behind the delay of the West Seti project implementation. He assured that the local people of the far-western region won’t create any obstruction if their issues are addressed.
Representative and Chairman of IPPN, Dr Subarna Raj Shrestha identified the necessity of a comprehensive political consensus at the local and central levels for the implementation of the project. Like other participants he also suggested to resolve legal obstructions and settle land acquisition and settlement problems. To him, it is necessary to start transmission line construction right now. He recommended completing power purchase agreements and sign a Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA) with China as soon as possible.
Mr. Lekharaj Bhatta, representative of the United Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) commented that current Energy policy should be reviewed and corrected to make it more scientific. He also bitterly criticized the supporters of blind nationalism. Those who are using petro-dollars of NGO’s and INGO’s have been creating problems. So he suggested distinguishing between blind nationalism and patriotism. He viewed that we Nepalese people are not capable of negotiating at the diplomatic level strongly. Only raising the slogan of nationalism would not help to mitigate problems, he stressed.
His Excellency, Mr. Wu Chuntai, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, in his speech, appreciated the concern of the local people discussing about the West Seti project. At first, His Excellency highlighted the long-run friendship between Nepal and China. China has always sincerely supported Nepalese economic development. Discussing on the latest progress on West Seti Hydropower project implementation he discussed the importance of such a project as a symbol of mutual relationship and co-operation between the two countries. He requested to co-operate at the policy level and people’s level. All of us have some expectations so we can’t wait for long time, he added. He suggested maintaining a scientific and reasonable attitude. The West Seti Project is a new landmark of Chinese-Nepalese friendship.
Chief guests of the program, Uma Kanta Jha, Minister for Energy, Science, Technology and Environment, Government of Nepal, briefed of previous efforts of the government for hydropower development. In his speech, Jha urged to review the weakness of hydropower development project implementation. According to him the government of Nepal is trying to negotiate with the Indian government regarding the use of water resources in the border area. The government of Nepal has given priority to construct transmission line between Nepal and India, he added. To him, the new concept of public-private and people-partnership would be the best option for this project. He said that he is very much impressed by the local people’s concern with the delay of the project. He requested all political parties to come to consensus and not politicize hydro projects like West Seti. The major weakness is the difficulty of developing infrastructure at the site. Finally, he cordially invited the investors and is committed to support the Chinese Construction Company in any way to implement the project in the given deadline.
The interaction program formally concluded with the thank you note by Chairperson Hon’ Sujata Koirala. Koirala heartily thanked the participant and especially the West Seti Support group for their cooperation. She urged to develop political commitment regarding the success of West Seti. She expressed that a wrong type of nationalism will hinder the relationship between neighboring countries which is not a good symptom for the development process. She requested Chinese non-governmental organizations to provide technical skill development programs in the far-western region. To her, development of hydro projects in the far-western region is the prerequisite for the development of entire Nepal. She also expressed strong commitment from her party Nepali Congress to implement this important project.