By Nirendra Basnet
Every Pani Satsang has contributed something to the current challenges of development in this country. The original idea of a Satsang involved the process of listening and reading from the scriptures, reflecting on them, even meditating on the messages and discussing ways to integrate them in our daily lives. The ideas of Satsang have changed over the millennia but the concept has been practised during every Pani Satsang, thus holding true to the creation of Satsang, and making it relevant with the discourse of water issues in the country.
The 33rd Pani Satsang discussed, “The Transmission Lines” and highlighted their effects on the energy infrastructure, and economy of the country. There were representatives from diverse professional backgrounds, such as private investors represented by Super 6, government's current and ex-officials, journalists, and consultants. They provided a wide range of opinions on the issues, challenges and solutions, with their respective expertise in the energy sector, namely the transmission lines.
The challenges identified were to be resolved by the government and private developers for further improvement in the hydro power sector. The hurdles noted were distribution of license to developers, the planned government project and the private developer’s incentives. Basing it on expected challenges, it was suggested to provide the transmission lines license to qualified specialist constructors and not only to the Hydro power developers. This would mean specialist constructors for transmission lines only, resulting in uncluttered license mechanism and developers. The government challenges that could be resolved with parliamentary debates include acquisition of land from agriculture, forestry, and government lands to construct transmission lines. The international border was also an issue as sometimes parts of the land belong to the international border territory. Conflicting lands and bureaucratic processes have added to more delays to the commitments made by the developers and the government officials to the projects.
From the government ex-officials, one of the issues identified was the number of projects in hand. It was suggested that they must complete the current projects before distributing licenses to future projects. Since the government has been making future commitments based on the projected KV demands, the current projects are overdue for completion. Also it was cited by the government officials that the laws for land acquisition are very ambiguous in nature and the process very strenuous. No new laws have been created to clearly address this as the country still follows the Land Acquisition Act 2034 BS. There is no specific law respecting and promoting the acquisition of land by the private developers. The environment and forest guidelines and Acts are the hurdles for transmission lines construction. The guidelines mention clearly that for every tree cut the project must plant 25 trees and for clearing a hectare of land the project must compensate for the forest department with 16 hectares. If the country has to invest in hydro and base it as the economy, the laws have to be a match of environment – investor friendly in order to conserve the environment as well as attract foreign investments. Also the budget constraints seem to be one of the factors for delay in construction of transmission lines, adding to the hurdles for PPA investment opportunities. According to a NEA source, it costs Rs 11.5 million to construct one kilometer of transmission line with 133 kV capacity. But the budget allocation for the development of this sector is much less than what is required.
From the private developers' perspectives, there were different sets of challenges identified which were based on intensive research by the developers on the current projects. Besides the constant bandhs and strikes by the unions and labors, there were also government commitment issues. There has not been enough commitment in terms of compensation on behalf of the government to the private investors. As was agreed by the government in the case of the projects delay the developers are to be “suitably compensated”. From the governments, half this amounts to 45 percent of the total revenue of the project. However, as the developers have also to pay the amounts to their respective lenders it is considered to be a bare minimum. Furthermore the tariff rates for the private investors such as the Super 6 meet the bare minimum to pay off the debtors. As the projects above the 25 MW require significant amount of oversees funding to construct the projects, the tariff rate must be more attractive, in order to bring in more investors.
The common citizens too have their own set of challenges to confront, besides the challenges of government and private developers, having to deal with the issue everyday. With the current load shedding hours increased to 14 hours daily, the solution seems to be nowhere near. A person has to adjust their work to the load shedding hours, thus reducing the productivity at office. As a result many organizations have installed diesel generators in their offices. They also have installed it in the Hydro stations to keep the turbines running. The country instead of matching the environment – investor friendly guidelines, it seems to be creating a 'Nuevo' hybrid system. This system uses fossil fuels, to keep the hydro industry – which is directly linked with the environment – running, therefore creating fossil – hydro match. Which in turn has created a pressure on the GDP of the nation to increase fossil fuel imports, and being labeled as an addiction of fossil fuels.
Since most of the capital inflow to the nation goes to pay to import fossil fuels, therefore, minimum remains to invest in domestic production of environment friendly goods and services. Many analysts and foreign researchers believe that, if we as a nation have to move forward, based on domestic economic growth, it cannot be from fossil fuels. If this is the case then, sooner we will be moved to a rehab facility, with new challenges, namely how to escape from it?