At a time when most members of parliament are sitting around twiddling their thumbs, Hari Bairagi Dahal, the former UML representative from Sankhuasabha is busy showing everyone that the future of Nepal is in hydropower.
No, he is not talking about grandiose plans for high dams to export power to India, or expensive foreign-funded and foreign-built plants that generate electricity that no one can afford. Four years ago, Dahal and a few of his friends got together to build the three MW Piluwa Khola hydroplant near Chainpur in eastern Nepal. This is a model for small, decentralised, locally-built systems that sell power to the grid.
The privately-built and bank-financed Piluwa plant was delayed because of the conflict, but now that it is up and running, Dahal has another plan up his sleeve: make hydropower pay directly for local development.
"I always wondered whether hydropower is only a business or if it could be used to improve people's lives in a more immediate way," Dahal explained during a visit to Kathmandu. "So, I thought of building small hydropower plants, selling the electricity to NEA and using the money to finance schools and hospitals."
And that is exactly what Dahal is doing by trying to rehabilitate the Khandbari small hydropower project that was commissioned in 1989 but was sabotaged by Maoists two years ago. Dahal and his friends are trying to raise money to rebuild the plant and use the money from the power to pay for several cooperative colleges in his district, including the Sankhuwasabha Campus in Chainpur, Barun Campus in Khandbari and the Madi Campus.
The 2.5 KW plant can be rehabilitated at a cost of Rs 10 million and put into operation in two years. Selling the power at Rs 3.50 per unit, the powerplant can earn up to Rs 1.5 million a year. The idea is to plough that money into the campuses, pay for teachers and the infrastructure, and provide hundreds of scholarships to ethnic, underprivileged students. A voluntary board consisting of campus chiefs, the DDC engineers, NEA and local educationists has already been set up in Khandbari.
"This is a great sustainable model to turn hydropower into development because it fosters self-reliance, reduces dependency and give the people a sense of ownership," says Dahal. "When the government comes in and implements a large project, the local people have no stake in it, they hardly ever benefit, so they don't feel ownership."
Dahal says he is not the kind of person who just sits in Kathmandu lamenting about the state of the nation, the politics and the conflict, says one senior government official who has worked with him. "He is a doer, and he has some very practical ideas, and this one is about communitising education."
Can this idea also be used in food deficit areas of far western Nepal? "Why not," says Dahal and immediately does some back-of-the-envelope calculations. "It costs about Rs 100 million to build a one MW plant. Selling that power will bring you Rs 30 million a year, which can buy you 100,000kg of wheat annually. Karnali will never have a food shortage with this plan."