Satluj begins hydropower project survey in Nepal amid dissent

November 14th, 2008 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Nov 14 (IANS) Indian public sector hydropower undertaking Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam has kicked off survey on a coveted 402MW project in north Nepal amidst local rumblings.Satluj, a joint venture of the central government and Himachal Pradesh, Thursday started the survey on the Arun III hydropower project in Nepal’s Sankhuwasabha district, almost four months after being awarded the survey licence by the Nepal government after a global bidding that was dominated by Indian companies.

The survey is expected to be completed in 24 months, after which the Indian company will once again have to apply to the government of Nepal for a power generation licence.

Power-starved Nepal is hoping that the plant would be ready for generation by 2015. During the BIMSTEC Summit in New Delhi Thursday, Nepal’s Water Resources Minister Bishnu Poudel reportedly urged the Indian Minister of State for Power and Commerce Jairam Ramesh to ask Satluj to speed up the work.

Currently Nepal, relying mainly on hydropower, is facing an acute power crunch due to the water level of its electricity-producing rivers dipping alarmingly because of the advent of winter.

The state-run Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has warned that power outages would go up to around 14 hours daily, which has alarmed industries.

The crisis has also been aggravated by a flood in south Nepal in August that destroyed roads and power transmission lines used to import energy from India during acute shortages.

Though NEA signed an agreement with India’s Power Trading Corp in September to buy 60MW to tide over the shortfall, the deal is yet to be implemented due to the damaged transmission lines.

New power projects in Nepal have been hampered by protests by local groups and law suits.

The awarding of Arun III was challenged in court by another Indian bidder, Jindal Steel and Power, which had offered Nepal more free power than Satluj.

Now Satluj would have to grapple with local residents who want jobs as well as land and free shares.

Residents of Sankhuwasabha and neighbouring Bhojpur districts have formed the Arun III Stakeholders Group, which is demanding development projects, jobs and land.

They have submitted an eight-point charter of demands to the Indian company as well as Nepal’s political parties.

The start of work, initially slated for September, was delayed due to such hindrances.

Last month, locals attacked the offices of a multinational project, the 750 MW West Seti, and set two information centres on fire.

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