18-24 April 2014 #703

High tension in Sindhuli

Local obstruction of major transmission line is a microcosm of Nepal’s lack of progress
Ramesh Kumar in SINDHULI

WIRELESS: Although pylons have been erected, obstruction in Sindhuli has delayed the Khimti-Dhalkebar transmission line by two years.
A major transmission line that will feed electricity from several new hydropower projects in the Tama Kosi Valley to the national grid has been stuck for over two years now because of extortion by locals in Sindhuli.

Work on the 220kV transmission line that stretches 75km across the mountains from Sahare of Dolakha to Dhalkebar on the East-West Highway (see map) was started a decade ago. The Rs 1 billion project has already installed 181 pylons, but work has ground to a halt due to opposition in two VDCs that has prevented 13 pylons from being erected.

According to the Electricity Act of 1993, people have to yield 15m of property on either side of the wires and are paid 10 per cent of the prevailing rate, and compensation for land used for pylon pads. The arrangement has worked everywhere except in Kamalamai and Bhimeswor VDC of Sindhuli.

Now, villagers led by a few vocal oppositionists have also asked for compensation for property owners up to 2,500m on either side of the high voltage lines citing dangers from radiation that they say will cause malformed fetuses, cancer and blindness. An Energy Ministry proposal to build a road below the transmission lines was also rejected by locals who are camping out on pylon points.

The World Bank’s country director for Nepal, Johannes Zutt, travelled to Sindhuli last month to find out for himself what was holding things up. At a hearing in the DDC Hall with local political leaders and stakeholders, the agitated leader of the ‘Transmission Line Resistance Committee’ Surendraswor Moktan surrounded Zutt, manhandled him and demanded $1 million compensation.

“The incident left me feeling threatened,” Zutt said later. Local villagers admit opposition to the transmission line is not fair, but say they are afraid to speak out. They say the agitation is led by those outside the 15m strip who got no compensation. Locals have got the Lawyers for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples to complain in writing to the United Nations, the World Bank headquarters and filed a writ in the Supreme Court. The CPN-M’s C P Gajurel has also opposed the transmission line because he says it would be used to export power to India.

Local agitators have camped out at the pylon points demanding $1million in compensation from the World Bank.
The World Bank is required to send another inspection team to the site because locals have cited that their indigenous rights are being trampled upon against provisions in ILO 169.  The Bank has admitted that there may not have been enough consultation with locals before the work began.

The delay in the transmission line is expected to have long-term repercussions on Nepal’s energy security. The transmission line would take power from Bhote Kosi, Khimti and Tama Kosi directly to load centres in eastern Nepal, reducing system loss. It would also free up the Hetauda line to feed Kali Gandaki power to Kathmandu.

The delays in Sindhuli has also dampened the overall investment climate in Nepal for projects backed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Construction of some 15 other transmission lines are also delayed.

The Nepal Electricity Authority says new hydropower projects are expected to generate 2,000MW in the next three years, but if the transmission lines are not rigged up, some Rs 32 billion worth of electricity would be wasted annually, and power rationing would have to continue.

Read also:

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