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Hydropower Project: Politicians continue to sell West Seti dream to locals in Farwest

- MOHAN SHAHI, LAMIKHAL (DOTI)

Feb 16, 2017-Last Saturday, Energy Minister Janardan Sharma arrived in the far western village of Dhungad in a chopper to meet locals who are likely to be affected by proposed West Seti Hydroelectric Project, which is expected to generate at least 600 megawatts of electricity.

Pointing to Seti River, the minister said: “Once we build a reservoir there for the hydroelectric project, ferries will start moving on 25-km stretch of the river.” 

He then cast his eyes on the hills on the river bank. “A modern city will be built there,” the minister said. “You’ll have fine houses and your lifestyle will change completely.”

People in Dhungad, Lamikhal, still lead a traditional life compared to those residing in district headquarters of Baitadi, Dadeldhura and Doti. “But once the project takes off people from those districts will visit you to learn about development model adopted by Dhungad,” Sharma said.

As the minister was telling this to hundreds of locals who had gathered, 57-year-old Karna Bahadur Chand was sceptical about development of the project. 

Around 16 years ago, a fierce flood had hit Dhungad. The flood swept away the entire village of Dhungad, including Chand’s house. 

Two years later, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, who hails from the farwest, was installed as the prime minister. At that time, Karna along with his fellow villagers had visited the premier and asked him to build an embankment to control the river flow.

Former PM Chand, at that time, had said exactly the same thing as Energy Minister Sharma.

“Why are you talking about building an embankment? Your village will soon become a grand city like Mumbai,” Karna recalled former PM Chand as telling him, referring to the plan to build the West Seti Hydroelectric Project, which will spread across four districts of Doti, Dadeldhura, Baitadi and Bajhang. 

Since then the project has not moved an inch, but successive prime ministers and ministers have not stopped selling West Seti dreams to locals of Dhungad.

Tek Bahadur Singh of Talara, Lamikhal, first heard about the project when he was in Grade 3. He has become a principal of a local secondary school and his son and daughter are attending higher secondary school, but the status of the project remains unchanged.

“We are still told that the project will take off soon. But we haven’t seen anything concrete to believe what we’ve been told,” Singh said.

Talks about construction of the West Seti Hydroelectric Project have been doing rounds since 1984. But the first tangible result was seen in July 1994 when the government signed an agreement with Australia-based Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation (SMEC) to develop the project. Based on this agreement, the company was extended a survey licence in September 1994. Then in April 1997, SMEC West Seti Hydroelectric Corporation was registered.

But the company did nothing to implement the project at this while, prompting the Cabinet to scrap all agreements with SMEC in July 2011.

The government then handed over the project to a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation in 2012. But that has failed to bring about much change. 

The recent signing of a joint venture agreement between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and China Three Gorges Corporation has raised hopes for construction of one of the largest reservoir type hydro projects in Nepal.

At the time of signing the agreement, both the sides had agreed to finalise and formalise the pact at the earliest. But so far nothing has happened on that front.

“It appears everything is in place now. Yet we keep on wondering what is delaying implementation of the project,” Hari Nepali, a local of Doti, Lamikhal, said.

Published: 16-02-2017 09:43

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