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Powerless in powerful Nepal

world Updated: Feb 22, 2010 09:34 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times
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Winters in Nepal are tough. Daily power cuts stretching to 16 hours a day are common from December to March. Unusual for a country that boasts of a hydropower potential of 83,000 MW — almost 100-times the peak winter demand of around 810 MW.

But despite a century-old history of power generation, which started with the Pharping hydroelectric plant in 1911, the country has to resort to power cuts or look to India for help.

Last winter the situation was so bad that the government had to declare a national electricity crisis and incidents of public venting their ire on the Nepal Electricity Authority’s offices occurred. But nothing much has improved and the situation is almost similar this winter too.

At present Nepal can produce around 600 MW on its own and hydropower accounts for almost 90 per cent of this figure. For a country which has nearly 6,000 small and big rivers capable of generating electricity, it seems to be a case of what could have been.

The present crisis is not a sudden development. A long civil war, lack of government far-sightedness, political instability and long dry winters have contributed to the present situation. Surprisingly, there’s negligible media outcry or public anger noticeable.

People in Nepal have learnt to adjust. Those who can afford have bought inverters and generators while others suffer stoically. Industrial output continues to suffer and shops downing shutters as soon as the sun goes down.

Lack of adequate financial muscle to build power projects is one big reason why Nepal has not been able to generate enough power. Though foreign firms have started work on developing some big projects, political threats to shut them down have not helped Nepal’s cause.

So while the country’s power minister appeals to foreign companies to invest in power projects, opposition party UCPN (Maoist) and its sister organisations are threatening those constructing projects to stop work on the charge of them being against Nepal’s interests.

In recent months Maoists threatened to or stopped work on the four projects (all having stakes by Indian firms) with a capacity to generate 1,700 MW.

No wonder ordinary Nepalis continue to suffer.