Dhan Bahadur Balami, 70, a resident of Kulekhani Village Development Committee, never imagined that the Markhu river basin of his village would one day turn into a big pond, where his family members could harvest fish and make money.
Although the Kulekhani, which gets water from the nearby stream, is popular for its fish, the production of the fish was not large enough to support his family members then, as it is for him now.
With its panoramic and beautiful landscape, Kulekhani is now a popular destination for fishing, hiking, trekking and boating. In just 30 kilometers south west of the capital, fish farming in Indra Sarovar, also known as Kulekhani lake, in Markhu, Makwanpur, has already changed the livelihood of the entire village.
Constructed with support from Japan in 1978, Indra Sarovar is the largest manmade lake constructed at a deep gorge between Markhu and Kulekhani VDCs by Japan for the Kulekhani Hydropower Project.
The days for the residents of Chitlang, Kulekhani and surrounding areas when they didn’t have enough food to feed their families are gone. In those days, they used to face a number of landslides as well.
“This was a like a barren land behind capital Kathmandu. Our production was not enough to feed our families for five to six months. We had to go either to Kathmandu or Hetauda for labor,” said Kancha Tamang, 62, of the village. "Initially, we received support from Japanese volunteers to net the fish. Now we are annually selling the fish worth of Rs.300,000.00,” said Tamang.
With the completion of the manmade lake, over ten thousand people like Tamang, and Balami of Markhu, Kulekhani and Chitlang villages, for that matter, have directly benefited from the Indra Sarovar.
When the construction of the first storage Kulekhani project was proposed, there were debates about how to use the energy generated by the project. There were also debates about the submerged land.
“Since the project proposed by Japan was so big during that period, the government had accepted it reluctantly,” said Harsh Man Shrestha, former Managing Director of Nepal Electricity Authority. “There were also issues of displacement of small population. However, we managed the issue.”
When the construction of Kulekhani Project began, Nepal’s energy demand was around 40 MW. Following the construction of the project, the government even urged the public to use heaters.
There was also this issue of displaced population. The displaced people, who were resettled after they took the government compensation, are happy now. "We gave our lands and houses, now the middle of the pond, but we don’t have any regret. The pond has now brought us prosperity as well,” said Shanta Bahadur Shrestha, 45, who now runs a restaurant. "Some of our relatives also moved to Hetauda but large numbers of people stayed here."
This is the one and only hydro project based on the reservoir system in Nepal. Several rivers are blocked to make the 7-km long lake, which is famous for fishery and for fresh water fish like trouts.
“My family annually produces fish worth of over 200,000 rupees. With the introduction of home stay, many tourists from Kathmandu are coming to live in our homes,” said Balami, whose village was regarded as a remote area from Kathmandu before the construction of the project. “Along with electricity to our village, Japanese volunteers also taught us how to grow fish in the net.”
As Nepal and Japan are celebrating sixty years of establishment of their diplomatic relations, Indra Sarovar and Kulekhani Hydropower project stand as a testimony of strong friendly ties that have existed between the two countries.
With the fisheries at Indra Sarovar, hundreds of farmers like Balami have been getting economic benefits and witnessing improved livelihood. Kulekhani I and II hydropower projects now form the back bone of Nepal’s economy.
Although it is purely a hydropower project contributing to the national economy, the Japanese have also taken care of the interests of the local people and their livelihood issues.
Unlike other run off the river plants, Kulekhani I and II hold an important position, maintaining stable electric power supply in Nepal. As the majority of hydroelectric power plants in Nepal are flow-through types and their output declines in the dry season, this plant is the only reservoir-type hydroelectric plant in the country.
As the project is linked to livelihood of the local community and is the mainstay of national grid, Japan has supported many other programs to save the pond from natural disasters.
Knowing that the topographic feature of the region is fragile, Japan supported the project for disaster prevention in Kulekhani, which was subject to damage from natural disasters.
After a flood disaster occurred at both Kulekhani plants due to heavy rains in 1984 and 1986, the Japanese government granted a loan for the Disaster Prevention Project. During the implementation of the project, another large flood occurred due to heavy rains, with precipitation of 80 mm/hour causing massive damage to steel penstock and head works and halting power generation.
To prevent further damage, JICA supported engineering service for the full-scale restoration and implemented disaster countermeasures for the power plant and the dam. The current counter measures will prevent further disaster to the project like that of 1993.
The objectives were to ensure safe and efficient operation of Kulekhani Hydroelectric Power Plants by implementing full-scale disaster prevention works, and through this, to contribute to the stable supply of electric power in Nepal.
“With multiple benefits, Kulekhani is the first of its kind project, which is the most important and crucial part of Nepal’s energy system,” said Dr. Govinda Bhatta, a hydropower expert. “I was involved in the construction of the project as a government engineer,” said Dr. Bhatta, who retired a decade ago as secretary.
Japan In Energy Sector
Japan’s contribution to the energy sector in Nepal dates back to 1975. If the last decades of experience are any indication, Japan has come to rescue Nepal’s energy sector, whenever it was facing energy crisis. When the 92-MW Kulekhani Hydel plant was under construction in the 1980s, Nepal’s power demand was growing with the rise of urban population.
Although the project produced surplus energy for a few years, later on the demand rose so high that Nepal started to think about 407-MW Arun III. With the collapse of Arun III, after nearly a decade of preparation, another energy crisis loomed. Japan again came to support the construction of Kali Gandaki A with the Asian Development Bank.
Japan has given assistance to the electricity sector in Nepal in various ways. This includes construction of power generating plants through ODA loan assistance; formulation of a power sources development plan through development study; construction of distribution plants through Grant Aid; and soft component through dispatches of experts and providing training.
After Kulekhani and Kaligandaki A projects, JICA conducted a feasibility study for the proposed Tanahu Hydropower Project (renamed from the Upper Seti Hydropower Project in 2011) for 2005–2007.
As Nepal is again facing severe energy crisis with a massive shortfall of electricity, Japan has agreed to support the construction of 132-MW Tanahu Hydro power project, a storage project.
As Nepal and Japan are celebrating their sixty years of bilateral relations, Kulekhani I and II, which have been minting money, producing energy at peak hours like white gold, show how deep and strong bond of friendship the two countries have had.
“Japan’s contribution in Nepal’s hydropower sector is immense. They have been supporting us in every aspect. After the completion of Tanahu Hydro, Nepal will have another storage project close to load center,” said Sunil Kumar Dhungel, project chief of Tanahu Hydropower Project. Japan has also providing JICA experts in NEA to overview Nepal’s energy sector.” JICA provides 184 million dollar for financial support to Tanhu to purchase electro-mechanical components construct powerhouse and tunnel.”
Constructed with the development assistance from JBIC, Kulekhani Hydroelectric Power Plant is the largest power plant in Nepal with storage despite the fact that several other projects have been constructed in the country. Although Kali Gandaki A is a run-off the river project, it is also semi-peaking model. These two power projects have alone produced over 20 percent of the energy in summer and over 30 percent in winter. This shows the contribution of Japan in Nepal’s power sector.
JICA has also provided a technical assistance grant to help the government prepare a national master plan for small or medium-sized storage hydropower projects similar to the project. Japan has also supported in preparation of the Nationwide Master Plan Study on Storage Type Hydroelectric Power Development.
For the last forty years, Japan has been providing support to Nepal in hydropower sector. The plus point is their projects also promote the livelihood of the communities, such as in Kulekhani where the local people have benefited from taking to fisheries.