European donor to audit power utility’s compliance with rulesThe Nepal Electricity Authority has been accused of trampling on the concerns of indigenous communities.
The European Investment Bank has decided to investigate claims of trampling on the concerns of indigenous communities of Lamjung by the Nepal Electricity Authority while building power lines under the Euro Marsyangdi Corridor Project.
The European Investment Bank is the financier of the multimillion-euro scheme which involves constructing a 110-km long double circuit transmission line from Manang to Chitwan and associated substations.
The situation unfolded after the state-owned power utility said no to a collaborative resolution process proposed by the multilateral lending agency in a bid to resolve the conflict over consent, land acquisition and compensation, among others, between the project affected indigenous people and the Nepal Electricity Authority.
"Not all parties have expressed their willingness to engage in a collaborative resolution process. In accordance with section 6.5 of the report, the European Investment Bank-Complaints Mechanism will consequently proceed to a compliance review of the allegations raised in the complaint at issue," said a letter obtained by the Post.
A compliance review audits an organisation’s adherence to regulatory frameworks and guidelines.
Nearly a year ago, the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and Rights Forum representing the indigenous community of Lamjung had filed a complaint at the European bank based in Luxembourg seeking mediation or an investigation of the issues facing the 95 million-euro Marsyangdi Corridor high voltage transmission line project.
In the complaint, the power utility has been accused of initiating the project and building high voltage power lines without a proper Free, Prior and Informed Consent by indigenous rights groups who say the power utility ignored the objections of the project-affected indigenous people while building the power lines which pass over their homes, lands, forests and community spaces.
According to the rights group, the current alignment of the 220 kV Marsyangdi 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.
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.
Acting on the complaints, a team from the Complaints Mechanism arrived in Nepal in March and carried out an initial assessment on the issue and proposed a collaborative resolution process in July which the power utility refused to join.
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, citing that the project was being implemented as per domestic laws, refused to participate in the resolution process which was to be mediated by the Complaints Mechanism.
“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 some portions of the power line by considering community concerns, and has carried out discussions at the local level for increasing the rate of compensation to 20 percent of the land value from the current rate of 10 percent for easement rights for patches over which the power line will be strung.
But officials assisting the communities say talks on increasing the amount of compensation are not happening for the first time.
“The managing director of the power utility met with the project affected people earlier, and gave only verbal assurances to increase the compensation; but it has not happened yet,” said Siddhartha Akali, a lawyer associated with the Accountability Counsel, a rights group advocating for indigenous people.
The assessment by the Complaints Mechanism also points out that the Nepal Electricity Authority argues that most of the project-affected persons have accepted the compensation and agrees that the concern over the value of land is legitimate.
"The Nepal Electricity Authority also agrees that the compensation payment modalities should be revised; but the electricity authority only being an implementing agency, such policy issues need to be raised with the government," states the report.
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 and ends at Bharatpur, Chitwan.
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 Marsyangdi River and its tributaries.