Utility refuses to join resolution process proposed by Complaints MechanismA rights group has filed a complaint that the proposed power line passes over houses against local regulations.
The Nepal Electricity Authority, the implementing agency for the European Investment Bank financed Marshyangdi Corridor 220 kV transmission line project, refused to take part in a resolution process proposed by the Complaints Mechanism of the European donor to resolve the issue of indigenous people’s rights affecting the 95-million euro national priority project.
A year ago, the power utility was accused of initiating the project and building high voltage power lines without proper Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) by indigenous rights group which say the power utility ignored the objections of the project-affected indigenous people while building power lines which pass over their homes, lands, forests and community spaces.
In the wake of complaints filed by the FPIC & Rights Forum advocating for the rights of Lamjung communities, the Complaints Mechanism of the donor carried out an initial assessment and proposed a collaborative resolution process in July.
Apart from issues of consent, the rights group has sought resolution of issues pertaining to poor land compensation, devaluation of property and difficulty in securing mortgages for patches of land over which the power lines will be strung.
Officials of the state-owned power utility confirmed their refusal to participate in the collaborative resolution proposed to be mediated by the Complaints Mechanism, and said the project was being implemented under legal bounds set by the state.
“There is a government mechanism to address the issues, and we have carried out ample consultations and public hearings to conduct impact assessments, and the work has been carried out well under the legal boundaries respecting the rights of the people,” said Manoj Silwal, chief of the Project Management Directorate of the Nepal Electricity Authority. “Also, the project-affected people are not anti-development, and have filed applications seeking compensation for their land.”
According to Silwal, the power utility has also rerouted portions of the power line and discussions have been ongoing at the local level to provide 20 percent of the compensation amount for easement rights for patches over which the power line will be strung.
“As of now, there is no need to undertake a collaborative resolution; and if there is a need, we will coordinate with the donor,” said Silwal.
At present, the FPIC and Rights Forum has been requesting mediation with the project funder, implementer and government authorities on issues of indigenous people’s consent, valuation of land and other subjects.
According to the rights group which filed a complaint at the European Investment Bank’s Complaints Mechanism, the current alignment of the 220 kV Marshyangdi corridor transmission line passes over houses against local regulations, and the affected people have not been provided adequate and accurate information in an accessible manner.
As per the prevailing laws, the power utility cannot pay more than 10 percent compensation for 9 metres of land on either side of the transmission line, also called right-of-way.
The law states that 100 percent compensation will be paid for the land where the tower is built, and 10 percent compensation for right of way on land over which the transmission line passes.
In its initial assessment report, the Complaints Mechanism has taken note that the European Investment Bank Services wrote to the rights group Accountability Counsel and Lawyers' Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples advocating for indigenous people stating that the power utility clarified that the landowners affected by the tower pads had been notified of possible acquisition, and that they were consulted.
“Further, the letter mentions that all the available people with land and properties under the proposed transmission line as well as people with land affected by the transmission towers were invited to public consultation meetings,” states the report. “According to the letter, the electricity authority provided evidence that discerns between indigenous people, Dalits, and men and women. It is also mentioned in the letter that a household survey was carried out.”
However, the rights group which carried out a separate community survey stated that, out of the 123 survey respondents who reported being affected by the project, only 30 percent said they learned about the project from official authorities.
“The Nepal Electricity Authority agrees that with transmission lines, consent from indigenous peoples is an issue, because no one will agree to have a transmission line above their property. Individual consent being impossible, the Nepal Electricity Authority explained to the Complaints Mechanism that it had sought consent from local leaders,” states the report.
In March, the Complaints Mechanism had met with communities affected by the project as well as the promoter (electricity authority) and officials of government bodies.
According to the European Investment Bank, in the absence of an agreement to initiate a collaborative resolution process, the Complaints Mechanism will decide whether to continue with a compliance review of the allegations in complaints at issue.
The state-owned power utility has also been accused of ‘salami slicing’ the environmental impact assessments to its favour.
The Marshyangdi Corridor transmission lines are part of the strategic Nepal Power System Expansion Project under the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Power System Expansion Project, which has two major components.
The state-owned power utility is constructing a 220 kV power line from Manang to Chitwan, and substations of differing capacities at four locations along the route. The 112-km power line starts in Manang district and passes through the Annapurna Conservation Area to Khudi and Udipur in Lamjung district.
According to the Project Management Directorate of the electricity authority, high voltage transmission lines in the corridor will evacuate around 1,600 megawatts produced by various hydropower projects located on the Marshyangdi River and its tributaries.
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