Decade-old rural electrification project making slow progressFrustrated by the delays, locals have formed a struggle committee to press authorities to work faster.
Almost a decade since work began to bring electricity to Baijapur-3 and 4 in Rapti-Sonari Rural Municipality and Narainapur Rural Municipality-4 in Banke district, many villages are yet to be connected to the national grid due to politicisation, legal hurdles and slowpoke contractors.
In April 2009, a joint venture of Ushma and Gauri Parvati signed the electrification agreement, but work stalled. A lengthy legal hurdle emerged and prevented the rural electrification project from moving forward. Locals are frustrated as the electrification project stopped for a long time due to various internal conflicts.
State-owned power utility Nepal Electricity Authority terminated the 33 kV Kohalpur-Dhampur transmission line project a year ago after the contractor failed to finish it within the deadline.
Frustrated by the delays, locals have formed a struggle committee under the coordination of former Constituent Assembly member Pattu Tharu. The committee handed over a memorandum to the district administration office on Tuesday.
"As the contractor did not complete the work, people are disappointed. The contractor who was behind schedule even filed a case at the court stating that the Nepal Electricity Authority had unjustly breached the contract," Tharu said. "The contractor is misusing power as it is using political forces."
Nine wards, formerly a village development committee, of Raptipari were allocated a Rs315.33 million budget for the electrification project in July 2009. The Ushma and Gauri Parvati joint venture was awarded the first contract which has remained inactive.
For the second contract, Rs18.9 million was allocated in the last fiscal year and Rs20 million this fiscal year. According to Rapti-Sonari Rural Municipality, the electrification project has made 80 percent progress in Ward No 3, but work has not started in Ward No 4.
The Nepal Electricity Authority implemented the electrification project in Rapti-Sonari-5 through a separate contract and it is in the final phase of completion.
Lahuram Tharu, chairman of Rapti-Sonari Rural Municipality, said it was unjust that a contractor starts a legal battle and stops all work affecting the entire community. The sub-station constructed at Rapti-Sonari Rural Municipality-4, Dhampur for electrification across Raptipari has not come into use yet.
The authority is providing electricity service to some wards of Narainapur and Rapti Sonari-5 by connecting them to the Nepalgunj distribution centre.
In 2006, Ushma and Gauri Parvati had bid to expand 33 kV line for Rs460 million. No work was done for 14 years after the agreement was signed. Electricity has reached some villages of Rapti-Sonari-5 after they were connected to the line extending from Nepalgunj to Fatehpur.
Maheshwor Gahatraj, a Member of Parliament who has taken the initiative to implement the electrification project, said that the contractor's attitude was the major reason behind the slow progress. Contractor Mishra said problems arose when the Nepal Electricity Authority and political parties did not create a working environment for them.
According to him, the tender was cancelled even though they had fulfilled all the contract obligations. He said that after waiting for nine years, he incurred huge financial losses and even had to auction their land. "I had to knock on the court door finally," he said. "It was difficult to work. The political parties made me a scapegoat."
In Rupandehi, locals of a village adjoining Butwal sub-metropolis, which is the economic hub of the western region, are forced to pay more than Rs50 per unit for electricity. Locals of Tinau Rural Municipality-1 Jhigamara of Palpa, which is connected to Butwal sub-metropolis of Rupandehi and Sainamina Municipality, have to pay Rs100 for electricity every month.
Most of the houses in the village do not consume more than 1-2 units of electricity per month, but some of them have to pay a minimum fee of Rs100. Bishal Rana, a local, said that more than 200 households in Tinau Rural Municipality-1, Jhigamara and Thuliudang pay a minimum of Rs90 per month and Rs10 for maintenance expenses.
"We use power for lighting only and the meter does not show more than 2 units, but we have to pay Rs100," he said. Rana said that the problem was not only paying extra charges, but being deprived of electricity for almost half a month due to bad power transmission lines.
Another local, Yama Bahadur Gharti, said that it would be easier to get electricity under the Nepal Electricity Authority as the minimum charge levied by Kachal Community Electricity is high even if the power is used for only lighting.
Krishna Khadka, secretary of the community power distribution organisation, said that they have to pay Rs100 for up to 10 units of community electricity. "We have to pay Rs100 whether we use 1 unit or 10 units." If the meter shows more than 10 units, one has to pay Rs9 per unit.
He said that the committee was also looking into the management side as it is not possible to provide a salary of Rs15,000 for staff. Khadka said there was a problem in hiring employees as only Rs8,000-10,000 could be raised monthly from local households.
He said that they had been without a staff for the past one year, and now they had decided to hand over the responsibility to the authority.