Category Archives: Deeplog

Power to the people? Load-shedding in Nepal

loadshedding in nepalAs winter power shortages shroud Nepal in familiar darkness, Deepak Adhikari unravels the country’s hydro debate.

“To think big or small is at the heart of the hydro debate in Nepal, a country rich in biodiversity but also endowed with fast flowing rivers that surge through the Himalayas.”

By Deepak Adhikari

With winter in full swing, the spectre of planned power cuts, euphemistically called “load shedding”, ishaunting Nepal’s electricity consumers. The country’s citizens dread this time of year, which not only brings the Himalayan chill but also the inevitable power shortages, beginning in October to November and continuing until the monsoon arrives in June or July.By February the cuts are expected to intensify to 16 hours a day.

It’s a pattern that is fuelling the country’s debate over hydroelectricity – as well as frustration with the failure to move forward with dam projects. With a government eager to build large-scale schemes pitted against an active civil society keener on small-scale hydropower, progress has stalled. And a middle way is needed fast.

Nepal was not supposed to be like this. Or so its people were led to believe. Almost all educated Nepalis know the official magnitude of hydroelectricity that the country’s 6,000 rivers (many of them snow-fed) are capable of generating: 83,000 megawatts. But in a nation that produces a meagre698 megawatts of hydropower – far below demand – such extreme estimates are increasingly questioned.

In a recent article on Nepal’s energy sector, two researchers sought to dispel the “83,000 megawatts” hydro-myth: “A Russian Masters level student, who, unfortunately, was not able to travel to Nepal for his research, came up with this number,” they wrote, referring to Dr Hari Man Shrestha, who carried out his research at the Moscow Power Institute. Citing two other contradictory figures (40,000 megawatts and 200,000 megawatts) that feature in discussion of the sector, the authors opined that a thorough study to establish the country’s true hydro potential was badly needed.

loadshedding in nepalAt a recent seminar on strengthening the Nepal Electricity Authority – a government body that buys, monitors and supplies electricity in Nepal – the energy minister, Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat, sounded cautious but optimistic. Reminding the audience of the ministry’s goal to produce 10,000 megawatts in 10 years, he said: “We’ll have to wait for four to five years, then we don’t have to face load shedding.” When a participant questioned the usefulness of a seminar conducted in a luxury hotel, he replied, “We should think big.”

To think big or small is at the heart of the hydro debate in Nepal, a country rich in biodiversity but also endowed with fast flowing rivers that surge through the Himalayas. The coalition government, like its predecessor, the Maoistgovernment, has promised to cash in on the nation’s “liquid gold”. Though most of Nepal’s hydroelectric power can be generated using run-of-the-riversystems, large dams, some argue, are inevitable for a nation only just emerging from the shadow of a decade-long civil war and desperate for development and growth. Government policy therefore remains large-scale and export-oriented. But Nepal’s “big thinking hydrology” has seen strong opposition from a vibrant civil society, especially since the restoration of democracy in 1990. Indeed, Nepal’s quest to exploit hydropower potential mirrors the political upheaval of the past two decades.

The early 1990s marked the World Bank’s infamous withdrawal from the 404-megawatt Arun III project located on the eponymous river in north-eastern Nepal. On the basis of a petition filed by members of the local community and activists, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that the World Bank and Nepalese government must provide information on the project to the public. There were several criticisms of the scheme, including the fear of a rise in the electricity tariff (the project’s estimated cost was US$5,400 [36,800 yuan] per kilowatt), the ecological impact of the plant on the rich biodiversity of the Arun Valley and the claim the project was too big for Nepal (the cost was equal to the country’s entire annual budget).

These concerns eventually forced the World Bank to back out, a phenomenon often equated with the shattering of the dream of prosperous Nepal. Writing a decade later in his book In Defence of Democracy: Dynamics and Faultlines of Nepal’s Political Economy, former finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat rues the project’s demise: “Arun III was lost, and with it the attractive financial package whose benefits included the huge social profit potential to boost the national revenue also vanished.”

Then came the Mahakali Treaty between Nepal and India in the mid-1990s, which envisioned the 315-metre high, multipurpose Pancheshwar dam, with water-storage capacity of 12.3 billion cubic metres and a 6,480 megawatt power house. Nepal’s Supreme Court determined that the treaty required ratification by a two third majority of the parliament. After intense debate, the agreement was finally ratified on November 27, 1996, but deep disagreement split the main opposition party (the United Marxist Leninists). The treaty stipulated that the detailed project report (DPR) would be completed in six months, but more than 10 years after signing it, India and Nepal have failed to make significant progress.

What could be the reason behind the initial euphoria and the now dormant status of the treaty? Some hydro-watchers say that India is not interested in exploiting and developing Nepal’s hydro potential and is, rather, thirsty for water. The critics says that the Indian side is eager to build the 269-metre high dam at  Barahkshetra on the Kosi River, a major contributor to the Ganges in India, as a solution to the annual floods in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, its two most populous states.

Prashant Aryal, a Nepali journalist who has written extensively on Nepal’s hydropower sector, says that India is drawn by water and irrigation, not electricity. “India imports power from Bhutan, its friendly neighbour; it has signed nuclear deal with the US; and has its own hydro capacity in north-east and other parts,” he says. “So, it would be incorrect to say that it is eyeing Nepal’s hydroelectricity.” Electrical engineer Bimal Gurung disagrees: “India, which is increasingly drawn into the climate-change debate, can’t use thermal plant,” he argues. “It would be cheaper to import from its geographically close neighbour Nepal than from remote Bhutan.”

But the Bhutanese model, in which India builds the project and then imports the power, has drawn criticism from experts in Nepal. In an article published inHimal Southasian magazine in August, leading water-resource expert Dipak Gyawali termed the model, a “neo-colonial path to power”. In the much discussed article (Bhutan business news editor Tenzin Lamzang has respondedin the Bhutan Times), he writes: “A rent-seeking, royalty-earning model might enrich governments, politicians and senior bureaucrats for some time, much like the Arab sheikhdoms, but it does nothing to develop national capacity – which is what development is, in the true sense.”

The sentiment is echoed by Ratan Bhandari, a coordinator of the Water and Energy Users’ Federation Nepal (WAFED), an organisation that questions the utility of big dams and says that it fights for the benefit of the local people. “We are not anti-dam or anti-development per se,” he clarifies at the outset, before elaborating on the disadvantages of big dams: “They displace many thousands of people, destroy local environment and benefit only the rich.” In fact, Bhandari’s own involvement in the protest movement parallels the development of a hydro project in his home village in western Nepal.

The 750-megawatt West Seti project has been through many ups and downs, culminating in the sudden withdrawal of its Chinese investor early last year. Initially conceived as a 77-megawatt run-of-the-river project, it was later optimised to a 195-metre, concrete face rockfill dam capable of producing 750 megawatts of electricity. But, if it goes ahead, it is feared the dam will displace the people of four districts. The reservoir will cover 25 square kilometres and have a volume of around 1.5 billion cubic metres. “No project can be successful without the inclusion of the local communities,” Bhandari argues. “We should make sure that the projects are for our benefit not for some foreign investment company.” He says that the very concept of exporting electricity to India is flawed because it is only raw material, not a product to be exported.

Can Nepal itself develop the hydro projects that require huge investment? Bhandari and Gurung, who stand on opposite sides of the hydro debate, agree that there is money in Nepal but lack of security is hindering investment. Gurung argues that, since most of Nepal’s hydro plants would be run-of-the-river, and if care is taken to construct earthquake resistant facilities, even big dams are realistic. “The structure should be designed properly,” he says. “For rapid growth, big projects are what we need at the moment.”

According to US-based NGO International Rivers, 400,000 square kilometres of land has been submerged due to the construction of 40,000 big dams in the past 50 years. Critics of such dams say that there is no compensation for the social, economic and environmental cost of these projects.

How can these opposing development narratives for Nepal be reconciled? Perhaps there is a middle way after all. As Bhandari says, “Not all big dams are bad and not all small dams are good.” The solution may be promoting micro hydropower as well as investing in environmentally friendly and sustainable medium-sized and large-scale projects.

Deepak Adhikari is a Nepali journalist based in Kathmandu.

This article was originally published on Chinadialogue

How to Write about Nepal?

A take on how the western media generally projects/covers Nepal

By Deepak Adhikari

This blog entry is inspired by two Granta pieces: How to Write about Africa and How to Write about Pakistan:

Start your piece with “Nepal is a Himalayan country sandwiched between two Asian giants…” Also add that Nepal is ‘tiny’, even though there are several smaller European countries (which never seem tiny is Western eyes) than Nepal. Nepal, with the population of 28 million, is world’s 30th largest country (if you take population to describe a country’s size). Mention the population but don’t explain what it means, don’t bring perspectives—your readers just want facts about the poor countries (Don’t forget to say it’s one of the ten poorest countries in the world).

Also, don’t forget to sprinkle your report with the poverty porn: “Nepalese earn less than two dollar a day.” Forget that we don’t measure our income in dollars and there are filthy rich Nepalis in Kathmandu, outside Nepal and even in rural areas. But, the third world poverty is what sells in the West. Finley Peter Dunne rightly said newspaper (or journalism) “comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable.” So, those living out there in western metropolis in their cozy and comfy rooms need to be educated about the poor living in far flung areas. This will add to their sense of how lucky they are!

While writing about Nepal, apart from the glistening mountains and its beauty, you must also write about the Sherpas, the unsung mountaineering heroes, the Gurkhas, the brave soldiers. Write that Nepal is a mountainous country, blissfully eschewing the fact that half of the population lives in Tarai plains. Use the word Shangri-La, that beloved invention of yours (we never had that). This word can also be used for Sikkim, Tibet, Laddakh, Bhutan, among others. Write that this was a paradise!

Forget how this country came into being but don’t forget to mention the June 1 2001 massacre and compare that with some Shakespearean tragedy. Don’t forget to mention this in your report, this will make your story straight out of a horror movie!

Taboo subjects: the vibrant Nepali middle class, the recent development in sectors such as education, healthcare, media, among others. It’s literary tradition, the folk lore. Treat Kathmandu as if it is still a medieval city. While in here don’t spare the ‘living goddess’. Your readers will be amazed at this tradition of maintaining a living goddess while her counterparts in western countries enjoy their childhood. Exoticize this as well as other topics as much as you can and avoid exploring why the Kumari tradition continues after all these years. Your report should not have to be nuanced. It should resonate with your readers’ stereotypes.

Insert a sentence saying the Buddha was born in India (the way Fareed Zakaria did in his book Post-American World). Confuse Nepal with Tibet. While writing the head line, make sure you use Everest, mountain, Himalayas, roof of the world, top of the world, high (as in recent WashPost headline: Mao in the Mountains).

Even though the monarchy was abolished in 2008, write the country is the world’s only Hindu kingdom. When you write about the Maoists (the fave topic of yours), write that Prachanda means “the fierce one” or even better “the awesome”! And, compare the Maoists with their Chinese counterpart and its cultural revolution (but also be ready to discover how different they are: China’s turnaround from its own past while Maoists still stick to Mao’s dictums).

Best of luck—you can make an outstanding career as a writer or foreign correspondent in Nepal!

Editor’s note: Please add your own favorite expression at the Western press about Nepal.

UWB blogger Deepak Adhikari is a journalist with Kantipur, Nepal’s largest newspaper. He maintains a personal online diary here.

Covering Bhutanese Refugees in America

Saturday blog: A reporter’s notebook


Bhutanese siblings Dilli Prasad Odari, 20, Man Maya Odari, 25, Yani Maya Odari, 22, stand in the doorway of their Pittsburgh apartment. Pic by Andy Starnes/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Deepak Adhikari

On the chilly winter mornings in Kathmandu, I would nurture a dream. It was not an American Dream per se. But it was in many ways related to America and somehow connected with American Dream. I was gearing up for my maiden tour to America to participate on Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships. And, an interesting development was taking place with a beat I was attached to in Nepal. I had covered the Bhutanese refugee issue for my magazine, writing cover story, visiting the camps and talking to the refugees, watching closely Bhutan’s elections. Continue reading

Nepali Press Will Fight Against Maoists

BIRTHDAY BLOG: Today happens to be the third birthday of United We Blog!, Nepal’s pioneering web site. But, as in a person’s life, UWB has also gone through many ups and downs. They say, history repeats. It has been repeated, albeit in the form of tyranny raising its ugly head. We celebrated the first birthday anniversary of the site while the country was fighting king Gyanendra’s autocracy (that he imposed in Feb 1, 2005 coup). Today the Maoists are trying to intimidate the free press by attacking Kantipur Publications, the largest independent media house in Nepal, where many of the UWB bloggers work. We will fight the Maoist’s intervention in the media as well.

[Kantipur Publications regrets Maoist threat to close down newspapers, TV -read here
Govt won’t compromise press freedom: PM -read here]

YCL in Kantipur protest

Maoist Young Communist League workers, seen in the photo above, dominated a corner meeting held by Maoist trade union in front of Kantipur Publications. Speakers in the program included Shalikram Jammarkattel, chairman of Maoist trade union, who spoke against the Kantipur and the Kathmandu Post newspapers and journalists working there. Journalists in the papers described act as an example of Maoist effort to intimidate the press. Branding this act as brazen Maoist intervention in the internal matter of the newspaper, reporters said they were not afraid of any such effort. Pic by Suraj Kunwar Read here about other updates on this topic.

By Deepak Adhikari

When an America lady recently asked me which the most unforgettable day in career was, I hastened to say that it was February 1, 2005.

On that ill-fated day, when I entered my office complex, army personnel greeted me instead of our security guards. In the evening, as deadline neared, army officers who did not have an iota of knowledge of journalism censored our news. That was definitely the nadir of my career. Continue reading

Unifying Nepal via Marriage: Pahade Wives and Madhesi Hubbies

At a time when some people are trying to create rift between the Madhesi and Pahadi (lowland-hills) communities in Nepal, we look at some exemplary personal stories and marital bond between folks from Madhes and Pahad.


Sanjib Mishra and singer Nalina Chitrakar

By Deepak Adhikari

Sanjib Mishra, executive director of Urban Pixel had not set foot in Balari in Sarlahi district for three years. Three months ago, he went to the district headquarters Malangawa to attend a relative’s wedding. While driving to his hometown, a strike called by the Chure Bhawar Ekata Samaj forced him to postpone his journey. He had to leave his four-wheel drive behind at Hetauda and get to Sarlahi via Raxaul, India. When Sanjib married Nalina Chitrakar, a Newari girl and one of Nepal’s top pop stars, in 2003, he received many congratulations. Their son, Sakchham, is now a twenty-one month old toddler and times have changed.

Almost as soon as the decade long bloody Maoist conflict ended, the country was plunged into another crisis. The news of violence and counter violence coming from the southern plains hurts both Sanjib and Nalina. Nalina, who dislikes the way the Madhesis are treated in Kathmandu and is writing a song about the harmony among the people of Madhesh (plains) and Pahad (hills). Continue reading

Summit Talks in Snail’s Pace in Nepal

Baluwatar area, the official residence of Prime Minister of Nepal, was virtually captured by Maoists. In the bizarre twists of events, it seems that Maoists not the SPA is in the helm of Kathmandu.

By Deepak Adhikari

Photo by Sailendra Kharel
Talks can’t break! No Monarchy! reads the placard on the girl’s chest.

Seeing is believing, they say. This turned out to be reminder for me when I visited the crowded summit talk venue of Baluwatar. As photojournalist Shailendra and I drove towards PM residence, an aggressive Maoist cadre blocked our way. We told him that we were journalists. Another one came and said that journalists should understand that the milieu is crowded and should not venture past. We nevertheless moved ahead. Continue reading

Summit Talks in Snail’s Pace in Nepal

Baluwatar area, the official residence of Prime Minister of Nepal, was virtually captured by Maoists. In the bizarre twists of events, it seems that Maoists not the SPA is in the helm of Kathmandu.

By Deepak Adhikari

Photo by Sailendra Kharel
Talks can’t break! No Monarchy! reads the placard on the girl’s chest.

Seeing is believing, they say. This turned out to be reminder for me when I visited the crowded summit talk venue of Baluwatar. As photojournalist Shailendra and I drove towards PM residence, an aggressive Maoist cadre blocked our way. We told him that we were journalists. Another one came and said that journalists should understand that the milieu is crowded and should not venture past. We nevertheless moved ahead. Continue reading

No Farewell to Arms?

By Deepak Adhikari

Wednesday saw contradictory statements (aired by BBC Nepali Service) by top-notch negotiating leaders of ongoing dialogue (or is it over?). Though, the committees headed by Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Home Minister Krishna Sitaula looks irrelevant after summit level talks between Prachanda and the Prime Minister, they made two different statements that are likely to jeopardize the peace process.

guerilla_pointing_gun.JPG
When Will This End? Maoist guerillas with their guns in Kailali. Pic by Dinesh Wagle

Krishna Sitaula remarked that Maoists can not participate in interim government unless they allow UN body to monitor their arms. Krishna Bahadur Mahara said that they could not do so before the election of Constituent Assembly. This seems to be the crux of the problem.

Observers believed that April Uprising would sow the seeds of political reconciliation and would result in a peaceful dawn. But as the ongoing dialogues and close-door agreement appear hazy, the peace process has become stagnant. The issue of management of Maoist’s arms has become the intriguing aspect of dialogue now. Given that their power lies in the barrel of the guns, Maoists unwillingness to withdraw arms until the CA election may result in yet another stalemate.

April’s mass protest was hailed as exemplary and extra-ordinary from around the world. But, ironically, a rebel force joining the government is likely to turn out as another uniqueness Nepal is giving to the world. Nowhere in the world does a rebel force agree to participate in the government while their guerillas still carry guns. This way, Maoists have been both the part of problem-solving and the problem itself.

Is a government with parallel armed force possible? Furthermore, Maoists were wary about House of Representative declaring one after another groundbreaking changes. This was unbearable for a force that clams to be ultra radical.

Prachanda, dressed in grey trouser and shirt in June 16, invoked Lord Buddha in his first public rendezvous with media persons. But, he failed to realize that his cadres have not ceased gun-wielding, killings and exhortations. Prachanda and his cohorts are responsible for bizarre rule in remote villages. Coincidently, Prachanda’s neatly combed and gelled hair is targeted to appeal to urban middle class Nepali who have been distancing themselves from Maoists.

‘Govt can feed Maoists during UN monitoring’

BY KULCHANDRA NEUPANE & DINESH REGMI

POKHARA, June 21 – Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said here Wednesday that the government can bear the expenses of the Maoist army during arms monitoring by the United Nations.
“We are preparing to send a request to the UN for arms monitoring,” said Sitaula, adding, “After that, government can consider feeding the Maoists in barracks.”

Sitaula also said that Nepali Congress is yet to decide on the future of monarchy and that monarchy is ceremonial at the moment.

Pointing out that political parties are yet to make public their agendas for constituent assembly elections, he said Nepali Congress would make public its agenda after dates for elections are announced.

When NC workers of Kaski expressed dissatisfaction over Prime Minister Koirala’s recent remarks on monarchy, Sitaula said Koirala was only mentioning the current status of the King, and that ceremonial monarchy is not NC’s agenda for constituent assembly elections.

“We are yet to discuss monarchy, restructuring of state, inclusive democracy as well as economic and social progress,” he said. “All these agendas will be clear by the time dates of constituent assembly elections are announced.”

On why Nepali Army personnel are still stationed at check posts, Sitaula said that the understanding is not to allow army to appear armed in public places. He added the matter would be sorted out through UN monitoring. When reminded that the sides to negotiation have agreed not to demonstrate arms in public, he said that is in the process of being implemented.

He also said that government would not spare Nepali Army personnel and officials found guilty by the High Level Commission, of suppressing the people’s movement.

When prodded whether action would be initiated against the King, Sitaula said, “We will take action against everyone based on the commission’s report.”

After the June 16 agreement, Prachanda disclosed that interim government with Maoist involvement will be formed within a month. UN has shown eagerness to monitor the weapons. But, the government’s delay to send letter to UN, UN’s lengthy process of decision making is not taken into account by both sides. Both SPA government and Maoists are working without adequate homework. A mere appearance in PM’s quarter doesn’t guarantee peace that the Nepalis are desperately longing for.

Forgotten Fighters of April Revolution

Meeting half a dozen Janaandolan (People’s Movement) victims who are trying to cope with post-treatment life, our blogger probes beneath their dreams, desires, anxieties and sorrows and concludes that they have become forgotten heroes.

By Deepak Adhikari

When one enters into the building of people movement victims’ residence managed by Janaandolan Martyrs and Victims Welfare Forum in Gongabu, one doesn’t fail to notice the helpless and hapless victims of erstwhile Royal regime and now the SPA government. A former boarding school has been transformed into a shelter for the victims in Gongabu where during the April Uprising massive baton charging and firing resulted in huge numbers of injured ones.

Victims-Gongabu.jpg
Ugly Aftermath: Victims of Janaandolan 2 discuss on their protest programs at Gongabu Shelter in July 25. All pics by Shaligram Tiwari Continue reading

The Days of Maoist Comrades Have Come VI

UWB Photo Blog

By Shruti Shrestha

no-more-hunger-strike03.jpg
Prachanda’s Call:Maoist detainees in Nakkhu jail after they ended the hunger strike upon the request from their supreme leader Prachanda Continue reading