PM makes merry while Nepal suffers 18-hour blackout

January 11th, 2009 - 2:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 11 (IANS) Before Ram Kumari Phuyal came to live in Kathmandu five years ago, she remembers getting up in her village home in western Gorkha district at 3 a.m. to store water since the limited water supply would peter out in an hour.Now under the new Maoist government, she has to undergo even greater hardship in the capital city itself.

“I am the caretaker at a business cum residential building,” the 42-year-old says. “Today, I woke up at 2 a.m. so that I could run the pump and ensure adequate water supply for the residents.”

From Sunday, in an unprecedented turn in Nepal’s history, the state-run Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has imposed what it calls a 16-hour power outage daily in a bid to cope with the power crisis.

However, Phuyal points out that the government announcement is deceptive.

“If the lights come on only at 2 a.m., that’s no use to offices, factories, students and housewives,” she says.

“We look at how much power we are getting during waking and working hours and right now, it’s just six hours a day.”

The crisis was triggered by Nepal’s power-producing rivers drying up faster this winter following a lean monsoon.

The deficit has been mounting for decades due to corruption, mismanagement and political turmoil that prevented a succession of governments from commissioning new power projects.

More than 50 years after the first pro-democracy movement, electricity however is yet to penetrate Nepal’s villages with less than 40 percent of the 29 million population enjoying the luxury.

This is the third time in less than a month that the government has increased the blackout hours. Till Saturday, it was 12 hours a day.

The crisis, aggravated by a squabbling government’s inability to come up with any contingency plan, has caused the popularity of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to plummet.

Though his former guerrilla party swept the elections last year, the power crisis caused his motorcade to be attacked by students recently.

On Sunday, students called further protests in the capital.

Prachanda, who hit the headlines after nearly 20 years underground for his fondness for costly suits, watches and good food, is also under fire for frittering away time attending trivial incidents while Nepal reels under one crisis after another.

Though his secretariat last month said the Maoist government would stop attending inaugurations and get down to work, Prachanda has inaugurated several fairs during the crisis and even a sports event in Lalitpur city last week where he attempted to paraglide.

The Kantipur daily reported Sunday that in the nearly five months it has been in power, the Maoist government has already used up the allocations made in the budget for ministerial visits abroad for one year.

Less than a week after taking oath of office, Prachanda ignored a devastating flood in the south to go off on a pleasure trip to Beijing and attend the concluding ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Now, while hundreds of industries have been closed due to the power crisis, the agrarian graduate plans to visit three Scandinavian countries, ostensibly to study the harnessing of wind energy.

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