Troubled Politics of Himalayan Waters
lndo-Nepal water negotiations are muddied by Nepalis who come without doing their homework, Indians who tend to have an overbearing attitude, and donor agencies which have yet to be made accountable.
Since the advent of modernisation in 1951, Nepalis have been fascinated by the possibility of generating hydro-electricity from their country’s 6,000-odd streams and rivers. The international oil crisis in the early 1970s elevated this fascination to an obsession. Nepalis were mesmerised by the vision of becoming sheiks of Araby lolling in hydro-dollars from the sale of power to India.
Even following the recent political changes in Nepal, this vision of water-power continues and finds place in the manifestos and pronouncements of political parties. At a mass meeting in Kathmandu in October 1990, Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai held forth that “the problems of trade deficit with India will be overcome with the Arun III hydro-electric project and Nepal will be developed like Singapore if the Karnali and Pancheshwar projects could be implemented.”
At a workshop on rural development, Ganesh Man Singh, the Nepali Congress’ “Supreme Leader” promised that after Arun III comes on line, every Nepali villager would be able to cook his daily daal-bhaat with electricity. As for the Nepali Left, their spiritual sustenance comes from Lenin’s famous equation: “Kommunizm est sovetskaya vlast plyus electrifikatsia vsei rossii” (“Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of all Russia.”) It would hardly be fair to expect them, in the first flush of open pony, to stop and wonder about the complexity of the political economy of energy.
This “hydro-dollar naiveté” assumes that the buyer (India) will not bargain, that the seller (Nepal) will be welcomed on a red carpet to occupy a share of the market. Such simplistic approaches to development, in vogue in Nepal, ignore one fact: that water development in general and energy marketing in particular are political questions involving resource control and bargaining strength rather than straight-forward economics and technology.
Nepalis, pampered by donors in the decades past with easy money, have grown complacent and are not even today fully awakened to the harsh realities of hydro-politics. Perhaps the envisaged load-shedding this coming winter, and the realisation that there is no interim power project between now and the completion of Arun III in the next century, will jolt them out of their cozy dream-state.
ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY
Although electricity first came to Nepal in 1911 with the Pharping power plant, used exclusively to light up Rana palaces, the country’s encounter with regional hydro-politics was only in 1927. At that time, the British in India were constructing the Sarda barrage across the border river of Mahakali in the west_ The Rana prime minister of the day chose to swap water rights on the Mahakali for a tract of forest on the opposite bank and a sweetener of 50,000 rupees.
Two and a half decades later, the Rana dynasty came to an end in Nepal, and the British quit India. However, the British-established Indian water bureaucracy continued with its mission of harnessing water for power and irrigation; and one of their first crusades in modern India was to tame the Kosi, called Bihar’s river of sorrow. It was at their insistence that the Kosi Barrage was built, on Nepali territory. A reservoir behind the dam inundated valuable Nepali agricultural land. Subsequently the Gandak river, too, was similarly dammed.
The belief in Kathmandu that Nepal received a raw deal in these two projects has been the subject of much acrimony and skews the pitch in negotiations for new water relationships. King Birendra himself, in an interview shortly upon ascending the throne, stated that Nepal had been “cheated” in the Kosi and Gandak agreements.
In the 1950s, Indian water negotiators tended to look at Nepal patronisingly. This was perhaps due to the non-existent Nepali technical expertise in the field and the knowledge of how easily, back in 1927, the Rana durbar had swapped valuable water rights for a patch of sal. New Delhi’s attitude was that as long as India made all the investments, it had a right to use Nepali sites for flood control and irrigation projects which would benefit India. In the last three decades, however, Nepalis have begun to realise the value of their flowing water for their country’s own development. The West Rapti river serves as a case in point.
India has long been advocating a dam on the West Rapti close to the Indian border at Jalkundi in Nepal — which would flood much of the valuable agriculture land in Nepals’ Deokhuri valley while benefiting Baharaich District south of the border. The Nepalis, on the other hand, would prefer a dam higher up at Naumuri, which would transform agriculture in Deokhuri and the west Kapilvastu plains, as well as generate electricity. The Naumuri project, however, would soak up the river, leaving very little dry season flow for India. For this reason, India has not spared any effort to prevent international agencies from participating in any development effort involving the West Rapti or the adjacent Babai river. A notable instance is the “killing” of the Sikta irrigation project north of Nepalganj, which was to have been funded by the World Bank.
While it is possible for these matters to be settled amicably to mutual benefit, Nepali water bureaucrats constantly harp on Indian “intransigence”. Although international practice now accepts the concept of “international water course systems” in which projects should try to optimise benefits for the whole basin, says a Nepali scholar who has followed bilateral talks, “the Indian position has remained frozen in the paradigm of the 1950s.” There has been no evidence of breadth of vision, and the Indian water bureaucrats have done little to build confidence, say Nepali officials. As proof, they cite the ongoing imbroglio over the Tanakpur barrage on the Mahakali (see page 10).
Another matter raising doubts about the wisdom of “water resources development for export” is the Indian insistence on control of management. Such a provision is understandable for large projects like the proposed 10,800 MW Karnali high clam, which would export so much electricity that any disruption would throw the northern Indian grid into disarray. However, India is said to be insisting on management control over even relatively small projects, such as the 402 MW Arun III, as long as export to India is involved.
New Delhi’s tough bargaining stance has also subdued what futuristic euphoria existed in the corridors of Nepal’s Jalasrot Mantralaya (the wafer ministry) or its ……….. wing, the Jalashakti Aayog. India has stuck to a “cost plus” position: before negotiating the terms of electricity purchase, it insists on knowing the cost of a project through detailed feasibility studies. This procedure would leave Nepal little room for maneuver, while allowing India to bring the purchasing price as close to the cost price as possible. Nepal would prefer an initial agreement on “benefits in principle” before proceeding to spend on investigations, expensive expatriate fees and infrastructure improvements. The most recent Nepal-India negotiations and discussions on the Karnali project, it is learnt, showed no change in the Indian or Nepali position.
At a press conference during his official visit to Nepal in March, Indian Prime Minister ChandraShekhar, otherwise renowned for his extempore remarks, when asked about water resources agreements, meekly read out a prepared text handed to him in front of the TV cameras by the Indian foreign secretary. When asked “what benefit Nepal is to get” from the large water resource projects, the Prime Minister said engineers would work that one out, forgetting that that is not an engineer’s task.
The most concrete political fallout from this shared history of distrust, as reflected in the national Nepali psyche, is the provision in the new Nepali constitution that any treaty on natural resources must be ratified by a two-third majority in the national legislature. Indian officialdom has complained that this would make it impossible to initiate any project with Nepal if the ruling party does not have a two-thirds majority.
New Delhi officials, however, forget that the ratification feature was put into the constitution precisely because of the shared Nepali perception of having been “cheated” in the past. On the positive side, this provision will ensure a large enough societal consensus within Nepal for any project that is finally approved. And the final test of a “good” Indian proposition will be when Nepalis are seen falling over one another to muster a two-thirds majority. Indeed, this constitutional provision may usher in the practice of holding “public hearings” on major development project so that social, economic and environmental issues are brought out in the open.
LIVING IN A GLASS HOUSE
Delhi officials have their own list of complaints about Nepal and Nepali negotiators. Whatever their Nepali counterparts may say or feel, the Indian water bureaucrats cannot be faulted for not knowing what they want The Panchayat-fostered Nepali bureaucrats who took part in water negotiations with India, on the other hand, have a decades-long record of not doing their homework, not having a transparent policy, and not distinguishing the personal benefits of highly placed individuals or cliques from the national interest.
Indians, who have followed a policy of self-reliance since independence and have developed their own planning, design and organisational base for water resources, are uncomfortable with Nepalis who, rather than do their own work, hire outrageously expensive western consultants to do even simple things that their own idle engineering talent is fully capable of. A case in point is the Trisuli project, which India handed to Nepal in 1967 on a turn-key basis. Today, this project is being “rehabilitated” with World Bank aid and Canadian consultants even though Nepali technicians say they could have done the job cheaper and better.
A conversation this writer had with the Indian Ambassador Arvind Ramchandra Deo a few weeks before his departure from Nepal in Jan 1990 highlights the difficulty Indian mandarins have in dealing with Nepalis. India’s central government, said Deo, would always be the loser in a bilateral electricity agreement. Nepal would persistently harp on the poor deal it received, while the consumer states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar would never stop complaining that the price negotiated by Delhi was too high. Why would Delhi want to get involved in such a no-win situation, he asked.
Deo said he asked a Nepali electricity baron, perhaps as a diplomatic feeler, why Nepal wanted to sell power to India at all? Why not, instead, invite Indian industrialists to come in and establish heavy industries such as aluminum or fertiliser plants and take advantage of Nepali power? The incredible answer he got, a day later, was that Nepal was not interested in industries but only in the export of power!
Such thoughtless “policy” have not enhanced Kathmandu’s prestige and have instead convinced both “friend” and “foe” that the caretakers of Nepal’s public affairs are not serious about the country’s long-term interests. It is known that Nepali bureaucrats, at the behest of their Panchayati masters, similarly rejected a fertiliser plant that was offered for free to make the Sapta Gandaki hydro-electric project more attractive than Arun III.
The Panchayati dispensation shackled Nepal with very expensive power plants. While projects were being built in the Indian Himalaya and in similar terrain elsewhere at a cost of about U$ 1,000 per kW, Nepal went ahead and built the 60 MW Kulelchani at U$ 2,000 per kW and the 69 MW Marsyangdi at a whopping U$ 3,500 per kW. Poor infrastructure could hardly have been the reason for high costs: Marsyangdi, for one, is located on a good highway with easy and direct access to the plains through Narayanghat,
DONOR, EXPLAIN THYSELF
A26 MW petroleum-based power plant installed and about to be tested north of Biratnagar in the east proves the mockery that is power planning and management in Nepal. A disingenious gift of a Scandinavian donor agency, the plant will operate at a net loss of about one million rupees per day, the yearly loss to equal half the gross revenue of the Nepal Electricity Authority. Donor agencies involved in Nepal’s power sector will have a hard time explaining to future scholars of development how and why they promoted some of the world’s most expensive power projects in one of the world’s poorest countries with one of the richest hydro-power potentials on Earth.
The excuse proffered by many expatriate experts is that they don’t make the rules in Nepal; they only follow them. This may sound logical, but donors, banks and agencies have played a significant role in weakening the institutional base of power sector management. The economic logic behind foreign aid and the procedures for selecting projects for development have both been distorted, among other things, by an “iron triangle” nexus between highly-places Nepali bureaucrats, “development merchants” with monopoly access to those in power, and donor employees dangling titillating carrots in all guises and forms. There is also a revolving door between western consultancies and western-backed donor agencies which turns constantly with experts and consultants going in one direction or the other — a fact substantially feeding Indian paranoia. This iron triangle encases an air-conditioned, insulated world in which many of the grave decisions regarding Nepal’s power future are decided without accountability and, sometimes, for personal gain.
Many irresponsible acts of the Government in the power sector have been backed by donor agencies. Take for example, the disappearance of private power companies. In the late 1960s, there were three such companies in the Nepal Taiai: Morang Hydro in the east, Butwal Hydro at the center, and Bageshwari Electrics in Nepalganj in the west. Nationalisation destroyed these companies and left consumers worse off because state-supplied electricity was more expensive. Such irresponsible acts of nationalisation discouraged “feudal accumulation” from finding a productive avenue in nascent capitalism. Only Butwal Hydro is being re-incarnated today, with backing from Norwegian missionaries of the United Mission to Nepal.
The nationalisation of the power companies was an act of warped socialism which was, ironically, promoted by Western-backed donor agencies to make space for pet projects such as Kulekhani. Such large projects were justified on the grounds of “economy of scale,” without the donors or the pliant Nepali bureaucrats realising that power generation and consumption is more than simply a mathematical model. In their macroeconomic myopia, the planners and financiers failed to appreciate socio-cultural, legal and institutional problems related to the “inefficiency of size” that would undercut the benefits gained from the “economy of scale”.
Donors displayed raw clout in remoulding Nepali institutions. Loans were offered for the Marsyangdi Project on condition that the Government amalgamate Nepal’s Department of Electricity and the Nepal Electricity Corporation into one Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). The donors’ dictates were followed.
Today, the NEA employs over 9,000 persons, about 500 of whom are qualified engineers trained in some of the best universities in the world. The vast majority of the employees have no job description and little is expected of them other than carrying out routine maintenance on the national-grid and collecting salaries at the end of the month. The second worst over-staffed power utility in Asia is Bangladesh’s with 93 MWh of electricity sales per employee: Nepal’s utility trails far behind with the same index of productivity at 43 MWh.
Indians are no doubt watching all these shenanigans and drawing their own conclusion, which in turn influences their attitude towards Nepal, as well as their bargaining stance. An Indian delegate to a bilateral water session, a designer of dams for more than 30 years, was told over dinner that Kulekhani I cost U$ 2,000 per kW. He dropped his knife and fork, incredulous. When finally convinced, he muttered: “In India, we would not even dare present such a project to the Planning Commission. Doesn’t your Planning Commission ,o ok at such things?”
Much of the problems that linger in Nepal’s water bureaucracy can be explained by the feudocratic functioning of the late Panchayat system. But political changes have recently taken place in Nepal and the question is, what does it mean for mountain water?
Democracy, of course, means the right to ask uncomfortable questions and to expect honest answers. If in the “new Nepal” there can be enlightened public debate on matters of vital national interests, democracy will have already opened the door to a more wholesome and less expensive power development scenario. However, if democracy is seen merely as the right of political parties to be elected and to form governments, then a healthy dose of skepticism is in order regarding the future use of Nepal’s precious water resource.
Actually, the hydro-dollar hangover persist among leaders of almost all the political parties, old and new. No party has a cell examining policies in areas of water resources, or for that matter, studying any other productive sector such as agriculture or industry. They don’t seem to have had time to ask where they want to go, and how. Serious questions of alternative water and power development scenarios and policies go unasked. Ideally, “think tanks” should be busy studying, for example, water-sharing difficulties of Paraguay or Canada vis-à-vis their bigger neighbours.
The record of the one-year old Interim Government in Kathmandu shows that political parties have been unable to challenge, or direct, the Panchayat bureaucracy which is still in place. This is evident in the energy sector as well. At the very least, a review of large public projects should have been initiated but this has not been done because it is “business as usual.”
One such mega-project that begs- examination is the 10,800 MW Karnali Chisapani project, for which no macro-economic impact analysis has been done despite all the feasibility studies that have gone into it. We stilt do not know the risk a small country would face when mega-projects dominate its economy. Chisapani, for example, would cost U$ 5 billion to build, and that is about three times the country’s GNP.
The other large project in need of review is the 402 MW Arun III, which has been propagandised as cheap but whose estimated cost is reaching the one billion dollar mark. The dam is to be put at the end of a 200 km road in the high Himal, construction of which is nowhere in sight. The assumptions that have gone into NEA’s “Least Cost Generation Expansion Plan,” which justified Arun III, were shamelessly concocted. For example, it arbitrarily increased the cost of alternative projects by 25 to 30 per cent and also held that no hydro-electric project could be built in Nepal before Arun III. This was patently false, because there were attractive ready-to-go projects waiting to be picked: Seri West, Kali Gandaki A, Sapta Gandaki, Karnali Bend, and soon. But those were the days of the Panchayat, and if anyone spoke up in the national interest, he was not loud enough to be heard.
POWER AND DEMOCRACY
The history of Nepal-India water hamstrings every political party’s ability to take fresh initiatives based on merit, and a healthy dose of scepticism would be in order regarding the ability of a newly elected Nepali government to set new definitions. Fear of oft-used slogan “Desh Bechua!” and of being branded anti-national and pro-Indian will shackle the parties even in a democratic Nepal. Only courageous and far-sighted statesmen or women can lead the parties out of their timidity and address genuine, long-term national interest.
The official meetings held in Kathmandu recently between old political pals K.P. Bhattarai, prime Minister of Nepal, and Chandra Shekhar, prime Minister of India, prove that even when Indo-Nepal friendship is at a pitch, the political equations so far as water is concerned tend to stay the same. Chandra Shekhar will read a prepared text handed him by a bureaucrat. And no matter how friendly a Kathmandu government is to India, when it comes to water, it will be staunchly nationalist
Even the Tarai-based Sadbhabana Party, which many like to malign as “pro-Indian”, and which supports the “common rivers” concept, can be uncompromisingly nationalistic on issues of water-sharing. In an interview, party stalwart Gauri Shanker Mohpal, while accepting that his party would pursue a policy of friendship with India, stated categorically that water should be released for India’s irrigation only after all Nepali requirements are met Mohpal, who comes from the western Tarai town of Nepalganj, would be the first to know that every drop of Babai or West Rapti water released to India would mean so much less for the irrigation of Nepal’s western Tarai.
The complexities of future party positions on Himalayan water should not come as a surprise to India, given the long and convoluted history of its own inter-state water conflicts. As for Nepal, the only thing its political parties are sure of is that the nation has wasted 40 yer.rs shouting, till hoarse, how rich it is in water resources without doing anything about it.
The Nepali Congress’s position on water resources, as carried in its election manifesto and party pronouncements, expresses mostly wishful thinking. It emphasises the export of electricity, which is not necessarily beneficial in a “monopsony”, where there is only one buyer (India). The party’s thinkers also seem to believe hydro-electricity will be cheap, contrary to Nepali experience to date. The emphasis on small hydro for rural upliftment and the use of electricity for transportation are, however, positive elements of the Nepali Congress’ manifesto.
But both the manifesto as well as other Nepali Congress publications are marked by a defensive tone, which might have something to do with the “common rivers” concept floated earlier by the party. This concept has been criticised by the Nepali Congress’ opponents as a sell-out to India. In defence, the party maintains that it is merely trying to exploit the physical commonality of the Ganga river basin. This is a justifiable interpretation insofar as neither India nor Nepal can hope to do anything with the major Himalayan tributaries of the Ganga without realising that the hydro-ecological regime inextricably links the countries of the basin together.
The ex-Panch as arrayed behind the last Panchayat Prime Minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, have tried to make the most of the controversy. They object to the “concept of common rivers because it muddies the perception of enlightened national interest and mutual benefit.” Fishing in troubled waters, they hope to be back in power by riding a wave of narrowly defined nationalism based on anti-Indianism. Barring navigation, which they promote, neither their criticism regarding common rivers nor the rest of their manifesto enlightens the voters as to the concrete steps they would take to exploit Nepal’s water resources. This is disappointing because several party stalwarts have served as Minister of Water Resources in the past.
The leftist parties, too, are riding the bandwagon of knee-jerk nationalism. Their campaign banners blame the Nepali Congress for selling out to India by uttering “common rivers”. This is curious because Leftists formed part of Bhattarai’s cabinet and participated in his talks with V.P. Singh in New Delhi when the term first emerged in a joint communique.
Unlike their banners, however, the manifestos of the left parties are more responsible and better informed. The dominant left faction of the United Marxist Leninists (UML) clearly perceives a link between Nepal’s industrialisation, her water resources, and her transportation needs and possibilities offered by electric railways and ropeways. They forward navigation as a clear Nepali desire, possibly because that may be a subject of bargaining with India and Bangladesh in the future. In an interview, the party’s Politburo member Madhav Nepal and left-leaning journalist Raghu Pant sounded positive about the role of local self-government in power development as well as private initiative to generate power at the sub-national and village levels. Even the Maoist-leaning party of Rohit of Bhaktapur is quite perestroika-bitten in its support of the traditionally non-Marxist notion of private sector involvement in developing the power sector.
Whatever their wish list Nepal’s political parties are constrained by the nature of the water resource and by external factors beyond their control. India has taken the position of not holding joint talks with Nepal and Bangladesh. This is because it has been pushing contradictory principles to suit its purpose: the doctrine of “natural flow” when dealing with upstream riparian Nepal, and that of “absolute sovereignty” with downstream riparian Bangladesh. Bangladesh, meanwhile, is keen to export floods to Nepal in exchange for benefits of navigation to the sea, if India can be made to go along. It would like to see storage dams built in the deep Nepali valleys to hold back the monsoon deluge.
In negotiations with Nepal, the Indians have been reluctant to share data on water resources, including actual irrigation requirements and potential. Indians negotiators want Nepalis to accept their word, which leads the latter to suspect that Indians want more water and more control than justified. “Confidence-building measures,” thus it seems, are as necessary for regional talks on water-sharing as for global disarmament In one bilateral session, an Indian bureaucrat reportedly looked askance at a Nepali counterpart, “Bhaisaab, between Nepal and India, what need is there for confidence-building?!” The truth of the matter is, there is.
There is impending food and energy crises in the Ganga basin, which means that Himalayan waters will not be left in peace. It is difficult to imagine how the rapacious economic demands of South Asia will allow these rivers to remain scenic and wild. With this in mind, it is necessary to ask questions that may seem impractical or idealistic at this stage.
How can a more optimal basin approach be taken to develop the Ganga and her tributaries? India could have shown innovative leadership in this sphere but hasn’t. Neither have the smaller basin countries come up with anything imaginative. Meanwhile, Bangladeshis seem to have lost all hope in Nepal since the only joint Nepal-India-Bangladesh water talks were held in 1986. At that session, Bangladeshis made some proposals and were disappointed by the pusillanimous position taken by the Nepali delegation, which was unable to say either yes or no. They seem to have decided that their interests lie in ignoring Nepal altogether and hoping for the best with India.
Under the Panchayat system, Nepal could not take a self-confident, scientific stance vis-à-vis India because of skeletons in its closet— such as the heretofore secret 1965 treaty on defence which shackled its ability to tackle Indian negotiators. Hopefully, democratic Nepal will make some bold proposals that will be acceptable to all countries of the region. Such proposals could address inter-linkages and complementarities on all aspects of Himalayan water, from navigation to flood control, electricity to groundwater lifting.
Turning to possible Nepal-India initiatives, large water resource projects need large capital investments — money that neither Nepal nor India UM even the World Bank has. What will be the role of the governments of financing capitalist countries? Will they demand a pound of flesh or will they be liberal? What would have to be done, by both Nepal and India, to make the terms generous?
As for Nepalis, they will gain or lose based on what policies they follow at home. A policy of self-sufficiency, promotion of the efforts of its own people, and internal economic growth will enhance its bargaining position. Aid addiction and day-dreaming will only weaken the national resolve. For the moment, Nepal does not seem to know where it is going. Neighbouring Bhutan, in contrast, seems quick to grab opportunities on its path (see next page).
In India, the age of Gandhian idealism ended with Lal Bahadur Shastri and the age of pragmatism began with his successor, Indira Gandhi. The Nepal-India trade and transit impasse of 1989 showed that New Delhi is now capable of ruthless reapolitik bargaining, quite willing to push its own interests. As new leaders take the helm in India, its neighbours will have to rely not on benign Indian good-will, but on their own domestic strength.
If Nepal feels that her hands are weak and lacks the confidence to play the power game, it should concentrate on domestic development and let its neighbours know its position. In sum, what is required for smoother sailing on Himalayan waters is for Nepal to put its house in order and for India to refrain from bulldozing. If India’s neighbours are not to forever suspect its motives on a subject as vital as water, New Delhi must adopt policies and practices that are magnanimous and which help build confidence.
1000 watts make 1 kilowatt (kW) 1000 kW make 1 megawatt (MW) When 1kW of electricity is used for 1 hour, I electrical unit is consumed (1 kWh). The average urban household’s electricity requirement is as follows (in watts):
100 w bulbs 500
Room heater 2000
Others (TV, Videos, etc.) 500
The average rural household’s use of electricity is as follows:
60 w bulb 240
Hydro-electric power is generated by a river water’s energy. Water from a river section is diverted by canal or tunnel until there is head difference between the river below and the canal or tunnel above. Water is then led to the power house from the penstock. The falling water spins the turbine, which is connected by a shaft to a generator. The generator produces electricity which is then stepped up to higher voltage. It is then transmitted by high voltage power lines to consumer location, where it is stepped down and distributed.
Hydro-electric power plants are generally classified into two types as storage and run-of-river systems. A storage system involves a dam which holds back water to form a reservoir having sufficient capacity. This allows to carry over storage from wet season to dry season to develop a flow greater than minimum natural flow of the river.
A run-of-river plant is built on a river which has a sustained dry season flow that can be diverted for electricity generation. The plant has very limited storage capacity and uses water as it comes. Sometimes, a run-of-river plant is provided with storage, “pondage” which allows storing of water during off peak hours for use during peak hours of the same day. The sustained flow of Himalayan-rivers provides opportunity for many run-of-river schemes.
The flow of 1 cubic meter of water per 1 second falling from 1 m can theoretically generate 9,810 watts of electric power. The first estimate of Nepal’s hydro-power potential was calculated in 1960 by Hari Man Shrestha while studying power engineering in the Soviet Union. Shrestha’s study divided the country’s rivers into different energy divisions and excluded rivers whose catchment was less than 300 sq km in area. Average flow of the rivers was considered.
The study put the value of 83,000 MW as Nepal’s power potential, which comes to about 1.5 per cent of the world’s total potential. Subsequent basin-wide assessments have estimated that the economically feasible potential which could be harnessed is 42,000 MW. The theoretical value of 83,000 MW is considered the yardstick and remains to be updated.
– A. Dixit
Gyawali is an engineer/economist and author of Water in Nepal (East West Center, Hawaii). He took part in most India-Nepal water resources negotiations between 1979 and 1987 and was present at the only trilateral Nepal-India-Bangladesh talks held in 1986.