Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Sharing water resources


Nepal's forests are no longer a natural resource to be tapped for development, water is.

Only 12 per cent of Nepal's 4 million hectares of arable land is irrigated, that too mostly during the rainy season. Most of the rivers are snow-fed, so if we construct reservoirs and channels networks, we can irrigate land in the hills and the Tarai all year round. Farms can have three, even four harvests, a year. There is no need for Nepal to have food-deficit.

Water resource has multi-dimensional utilisation (irrigation, drinking, transportation, tourism, industrial) and therefore it shouldn't just be understood as a source of energy. We can earn more from rafting-based tourism than generating hydroelectricity from the Bhote Kosi, for instance.

Kosi, Gandaki, Karnali including Bagmati can be used as waterways, the cheapest means of transport.

Nepali leaders often talk about the country's hydropower potential, and dream of exporting it to India. Even if hydro-electricity is generated, its most productive use would be domestic, to power industries and generate employment locally. By exporting raw power to India, we can earn some cash in the form of royalties of under three per cent, which will not help domestic economic growth.

In a federal system, there is a bigger chance that federal units will independently negotiate to export power to India. Electricity rich provinces can sell power to those who pay the most. Majority of Nepal's hydro-energy sites are in the mid-west, which generates over 300MW but only half of it is consumed in the region.

At present, the central development region generates over 250MW, of which almost all power is consumed here. The eastern region generates only 14MW but this is the region which consumes the highest amount of power. The mid-west will export to the eastern region only if it is ready to pay the amount it demands or else it will export to India for a better price.

Melamchi is in future Tamsaling province. If the Newa province wants to bring Melamchi water, it should be ready to pay the price Tamsling demands. Kathmanduites who are paying Rs 50 per month for water will have to pay a lot more as the price of water. If Newa fails to pay the price, Tamsaling is free to sell it to whichever province pays the price.

Nepal Mandala has no potential for hydro electricity. If it is declared a separate province, either people will have to live in the dark or import the power at a high price.

For energy and regulated water, we need to build reservoirs on our rivers, which will inundate the fertile valley floors. The upper riparian province will therefore be deprived of using the water, and the lower riparian will benefit. A federal Nepal will face the same issues we now currently face vis-?-vis India about river basin development. How will it be possible to irrigate Jhapa without submerging valleys in the Limbuwan province?

When two provinces compete, a third province can benefit, and these disputes can weaken the nation. Decisions on water resources should therefore not be devolved to the provincial units but be the prerogative of the centre, like foreign policy and defence.

But the proposed ethnic-based provinces will not accept this idea. Nepal has already signed the ILO Convention 169, which allows indigenous communities control over the natural resources. In other words, this convention goes against the argument that there should be central jurisdiction over water resources.

The bottom line is that a federal system will not be conducive to Nepal's national interest with regard to sharing benefits from water resources, and it will affect our development process.

Ratna Sansar Shrestha is a water resource analyst. This opinion piece is a translated adaptation of the original printed in Nagarik on 9 August.

"Total totalitarians"

Kuntikumari Shahi, RPP-Nepal CA member

How did you spend the last year in the CA?

First, we established the rules and agenda. Then we wrote preliminary drafts on the basis of suggestions we collected from ordinary people. Some committees have already finished their drafts, but we're still behind schedule. We've betrayed people's expectations, partly because the big parties have been power hungry.

Will the constitution be written on time?
We must write it on time otherwise there will be a crisis. Since we set the deadline hastily, we keep making revisions. The big parties bring their disputes to the committees, which has delayed things further.

What form of rule should we have?
My party and I think that the Westminster system with a constitutional monarchy is best for Nepal, although it's now illegal. But only general referendum can make that decision.

But the Maoists have said they aren't even willing to reopen that debate.
The Maoists are hardliners and deny anyone the right to voice opinions they think is 'status quoist', but this is undemocratic.

Why do you think they want a 'people's assembly'?
They want a total totalitarian communist regime. But only a bicameral legislature will be fair to Nepali minorities who can be appointed into the upper house.

"A people's assembly"

Keshab Rai, Maoist CA member, Okhaldunga

How did you spend the last year in the CA?

We've done a lot. The people gave our party an emphatic vote of confidence, but the regressive forces in parliament are pulling us back against the people's wishes. This has caused restlessness.

Will the constitution be written on time?
We must write it on time.

What form of rule should the country have?
We want an executive president. Some are saying there should also be a prime minister under him. There have to be provisions to control and recall a powerful president.

What kind of legislative assembly do you support?
We've tried a House of Representatives and that hasn't worked, so we need a 'people's assembly.' We can make the legislature more inclusive if we have two assemblies.

On what basis should we make the provinces?
To be more inclusive of all groups we should form provinces on the basis of language and ethnicity. I'm from Okhaldunga, which should be divided between the Sherpas and Kiratis.

Why is the State Restructuring Committee's meeting postponed indefinitely?
The chief minister of the state should be nominated unanimously. Elections will be expensive. But NC and UML don't agree. They argue that if nobody gets required majority, re-elections should be held. That's why the meeting has been postponed.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)