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CPN-Maoist threatens to obstruct hydropower development

A hardline Maoist faction has written a letter on March 16 to the multilateral donors including World Bank asking them not to move ahead with mega power projects.

The breakaway faction of UCPM-Maoist – Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist led by Mohan Baidhya aka Kiran – wrote a letter addressing World Bank country director Ellen Goldstein.

Goldstein has, however, already left and the current country director of the World Bank at Kathmandu is Johannes Zutt.

The anti-development move of the communist party is going to hit not only hydropower projects but also hurt the economic growth of the country.

The letter signed secretary of the Energy Department of CPN-Maoist by Lok Bahadur Rawal has stated that ‘most importantly, Nepal now is in serious transition to democracy, development and peace. This process as outlined by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Interim Constitution in particular is most crucial and critical to be complemented through the writing of a new constitution and the restructuring of the State.’

It further wrote, “however, this process has been in a deadlock by the systematic exclusion of the CPN-Maoist, which is the one of the main contracting parties of the CPA. So the constitution-making process has become not only deligitimised but also defunct virtually. But the new constitution whenever it is adopted is certain to restructure the current centralised state through local autonomy in managing, developing and utilising our natural resources in the best manner.”

“It means any mega projects to be undertaken at the period of this transition of wide, long-term and serious nature would not be implemented successfully if planned centrally and funded internationally,” the hardliners wrote, urging the World Bank to consider this aspect of Nepal’s future planning and implementation of water resources and hydropower projects differently than what it seems to be heading for. “We feel any extra burden of foreign debt at the cost of the poor people of Nepal and undermining of the internal transition period and the process would not be logical and justifiable in any manner.”

It is our understanding that building mega hydropower projects for export and/or at a very high cost by sidelining Nepal’s own role and responsibility shall benefit neither Nepal nor its donors and investors in the long-run,” the letter stated, adding,” We are strongly convinced that the ‘water sector’ has a capacity to change the fate of Nepal and Nepalis. It is therefore, any attempts to building hydropower projects avoiding or minimising Nepal’s own benefit may call huge ‘conflict’ at political, social and economic level. Therefore, the CPN-M would like to make the following objective recommendations to consider before taking any final decisions regarding some proposed hydropower project such as Upper Karnali, Arun III and Upper Marshyangdi.”

Voicing its opposition to foreign investment in hydropower sector, the CPN-M has proposed for the adoption of the Public-Community-Cooperative-Private Partnership (PCCPP) as a development framework instead of the critically failed Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and the Build-Own-Operate and-Transfer (BOOT) framework – the case of Upper Karnali and Arun III for this matter.

Reminding the development partners that some locals of Karnali have moved the Supreme Court against the Upper Karnali and Arun III, the party has also asked the development community to help CPN-Maoist protect sovereignty of Nepal and not fund the mega power projects.

However, finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat termed such activity as anti-development. “The regressive forces donot want the country to prosper,” he said, adding that the people will not excuse them for making their lives more difficult. “Such anti-progress propaganda will expose the political parties themselves.”

The move will hit half a dozen projects as CPN-Maoist said the agitation would be against the Upper Karnali, Koshi High Dam Project, Upper Marsyangadi and Arun III projects. All these four projects have Indian investment and are at various stages of development.

GMR India is developing 900-MW Upper Karnali and 600-MW Upper Marsyangadi while the Koshi High Dam, which is multipurpose in nature, is directly handled by the Indian government. Likewise, Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVNL) is developing 900-MW Arun III.

Two Indian firms – Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam and GMR India – are preparing to sign Power Development Agreement (PDA) with the government to construct Upper Karnali and Arun III.

Some two decades ago, anti-development lobbiests have blocked construction of Arun III, and that has yet not been constructed. The World Bank took off its hand after the lobbying of some groups against mega hydropower projects.

But the country is reeling under 12 hours of scheduled power outage due to lack of supply of power and ever increasing demand.

After getting the letter, however, the development partners have been in confusion. A source at the World Bank said that they have prepared a draft of the answer telling the CPN-Maoist that they respect their sentiment.

The letter has also been cced to the Council of Ministers, Ministry of Energy, Nepal Investment Board, Department of Electricity Development, and Nepal Electricity Authority.