West Seti Project: Parliamentary Committee Order

<br><EM>Dr. AB Thapa </EM>

March 20, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No. -17 Mar. 16-2012 (Chaitra 03, 2068)<BR>

It had been  recently reported in local newspapers that our government is going to grant license  to a Chinese company to build the West Seti high dam project completely ignoring the  vast benefits to accrue from the export of the water stored in the reservoir after the completion of the  project , Banke district submergence problems associated with that  project, and  matters related to safety of the cfrd type dam  proposed in the feasibility report of the  project.  This type of dam, that can be built at relatively low cost,   has  been  considered   vulnerable in very high seismic areas like our Himalayan region even by the chairman and the vice-chairman  of  the seismic aspect committee of the international Commission  of the Large Dams (ICOLD). 

The natural resources committee of our parliament has now taken highly commendable decision  by ordering  the concerned ministry not to take any further action  until the completion of full investigation covering all aspects of this extremely vital project.  It is hoped that the Parliamentary Committee will consult on this matter with competent local  as well as leading foreign experts.

Great Risk

West Seti project  impounds a  vast reservoir  about   1,600 million  cubic meters in volume.  It is a very big storage volume.  This storage volume  is more than 10 times the storage volume of the reservoir impounded by our country’s  Kulekhani  high dam, which was on the verge of collapse due to oversight  of the geological study some years back. It is frightening even to think of the horrors of the West Seti dam failure. Needless to say that the collapse of the West Seti dam would be accompanied with widespread damages. A complete safety of the West Seti dam must be guaranteed at all costs.

Martin Wieland, Chairman ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects and Chen Houqun, Vice-Chairman, ICOLD Committee on Seismic Aspects, Academician, China Academy of Engineering,   have jointly published in the journal International Water Power and Dam Construction in September, 2009 the final conclusion of the joint ICOLD-CHINCOLD mission in  the  aftermath of the China’s Wenchaun earthquake of May 12, 2008 that the concrete face  rockfill  dams ( CFRD ) are vulnerable to strong   ground shaking mainly due to large in-plane forces.

Submergence of Banke District

Submergence of Banke district is quite appalling  another serious  problem.  The   eastern  Banke district  has started to  come in the grip  of prolonged widespread  submergence  in  monsoon seasons  after the construction of the Laxmanpur barrage and embankments which are going to be the direct extension of the West Seti storage dam project. The submergence problems would get worse once the West Seti storage reservoir comes into operation. Quite a few Nepalese are  already  saying that the Laxmanpur barrage must be demolished. Their voices raised  against the West  Seti dam would   certainly be   louder  once the project actually comes under construction.

The Laxmanpur barrage and  embankment related submergence problems  should be  fully resolved before taking the final decision to implement the West Seti project.

Water Export

Anybody can find out going through the feasibility reports prepared by SOGREAH of France and the Himalayan Power Consultants  under the assistances of  the World Bank  that the total  irrigation benefit accruing to India from the use of regulated West Seti water would be  exceeding the total  power benefit of the West Seti project.  The downstream benefit sharing agreement between Nepal and India must precede the decision  to construct  the West Seti project  if  a fair share in downstream  irrigation benefit to accrue to our country is not to be ignored.

Recently  even the Africa’s  most backward landlocked country Lesotho was able to recover 56% share in benefit accruing to the South Africa from the use of regulated water flowing into the territory of the latter after power generation in Lesotho.  Recently  India too has recognized our country’s right to recover a certain percentage of  downstream benefits.  It had  already expressed  its  willingness to pay it  in royalty.

India Willing to Buy

In   India the  demand  for  agricultural  water  dominates  the  total  demand  for  water.   India  has  the  second  largest  population  in  the  world.   There  are plentiful  rains over  most  of  the country  but  they  are  concentrated  in  a  few  months.  As  a  result,  India  is  already  experiencing  water  scarcity. 

India is showing a great deal of  interest in development of  Nepal’s storage dam projects  that would help to increase virtually  by four times the sustainable flow of our major rivers.  The information  provided   in  the  Indian  news  media  clearly  indicates  that  few years back  the  Government  of  India  was engaged  in  developing  a   policy  to  obtain  the  consent  of  Nepal  through   revenue  sharing  agreements  in respect of the regulated waters discharged from the storage reservoirs to be built inside our country.    A special high level commission had  been  constituted by the last Bajpee Government of India.  The commission  had even started to function.

Price of Exported Water

Experience of other countries tells us  that a formal  agreement must  be signed between  the water exporting and  purchasing countries even before the start of the construction of  the storage dam project  to ensure in perpetuity the unhindered recovery of water export benefits.  Since  the last forty years Canada is receiving from the USA  according to the treaty signed between them 50% share in net benefit accruing to the latter from the use of the regulated water.  Canada is entitled to receive in perpetuity  such benefit from the USA for the water exported to the latter after  hydroelectricity  generation in its own territory. 

As said before  even  the  landlocked   Lesotho  has started  very  recently   to receive 56% share in net benefit  accruing to the South Africa  from the use of regulated water exported to the latter after power generation in its own territory.  Lesotho will be receiving such  benefit in perpetuity.

The Future

There is a great need for caution, prudence and also sincerity in handling our water resources  or else it would be a curse instead of a boon to the people of our country.

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