NEA seeks minister’s intervention to settle Lapsephedi disputeThe utility suspended work of the substation in early January after protests by locals.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
The state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) plans to wait for the appointment of a new energy minister before resuming construction of a transmission substation at Lapsephedi at Shankharapur Municipality on the northeastern rim of Kathmandu Valley.
The NEA and a group of local people are at loggerheads over the power utility’s plan to construct the substation for the 400kV Naya Khimti-Barhabise-Lapsephedi transmission line, which it says is vital for meeting the growing power demand in the Valley. The dispute has made the project uncertain.
The NEA’s recent efforts to bring the local agitating people on board for constructing substations suffered a blow after the representatives of the agitating locals didn’t turn up for a meeting organised by a committee representing both sides.
“We are waiting for the new energy minister to be appointed and expect them to take initiatives to resolve the dispute,” said Tara Prasad Pradhan, deputy managing director of the NEA. “We have halted all construction work at the site waiting for ministerial intervention to end the dispute.”
The NEA has suspended drilling and survey work being undertaken at the proposed location. Before the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) pulled out of the government on February 25, its chairperson and the then Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Rajendra Lingden had promised to resolve the issue.
“He had promised to form another committee [there was one previously] and hold a meeting with the locals to resolve the issue,” said Pradhan. “But a few days later, the RPP pulled out of the government.”
After the former coalition partners—the CPN-UML and the RPP pulled out of the government, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal forged an alliance with the Nepali Congress and other parties, although the cabinet is yet to be expanded. Prime Minister Dahal is currently in-charge of 16 portfolios, including the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation.
Dahal has promised to give his cabinet a full shape after he secures a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives on Monday.
Shankharapur Mayor Ramesh Napit also confirmed that there had been discussions on the energy ministry forming a task force consisting of representatives from the ministry, the NEA, the local government as well as the ‘struggle committee’ formed by the locals.
“There had been talks about allowing the taskforce to study all the available options and recommend measures,” he said, adding that following the withdrawal of the UML and the RPP from the Dahal-led government, the plan remains stalled.
Earlier, on January 14, the NEA had claimed that it had reached a three-point agreement with the agitating locals under which the locals agreed to halt the ongoing obstruction while the local administration would withdraw the police deployed there. Likewise, the NEA had said that a coordination committee was formed, headed by ward-7 chair Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, to discuss with the locals the positive and negative impacts of the transmission line, and the demands of the locals.
The committee included Krishna Chandra Poudel, undersecretary at the Area Administration Office, Sankhu; Surya Bahadur Tamang, ward 3 chairperson; Ranjit Tamang, president of Tamang Sarokar Samaj; and locals Phurba Lama and Pawan Waiba as members. The committee was supposed to submit its report within five days after interacting with the locals, according to the NEA.
However, Pradhan, the deputy managing director of NEA, said that the committee mandated to formulate its work procedure, failed to even draft the procedure, let alone solve the problem with members of the struggle committee not participating in the meeting invited by its coordinator.
“Representatives from the government and the NEA attended the meeting, but the representatives from the locals skipped,” he said. “Ward-3 chair attended the meeting, but did not even sign the attendance register.”
Ward-3 chair Tamang earlier told the Post that the Local Struggle Committee considered the purported agreement as a conspiracy and decided to skip the meeting. “When major stakeholders were not present at the talks, how can they call that a meeting or sign an agreement?” he said.
A group of local residents has been demanding relocation of the proposed substation and local politicians too are positive about the idea.
That’s why Shankharapur Municipality itself in its budget for the current fiscal year (2022-2023) has vowed to make efforts to relocate the substation.
“As the substation and the Tamakoshi transmission line will affect the settlement of indigenous nationalities, a request will be made to go ahead with relocating the substation,” the local unit’s budget for 2022-2023 states.
However, the state-run power distributor insists that the current location was picked after a study and is best suited for building the substation. The NEA has also alleged ‘unnecessary politicisation’ of the issue and said the land for the substation was acquired long ago and all beneficiaries except one have received the compensation.
But the agitating locals say the substation is being built at a human settlement so they are opposed to the project.
Earlier, various non-governmental organisations also had expressed their solidarity with the locals. The Struggle Against Marginalisation of Nationalities and Nepal Tamang Ghedung protested against the substation plan, reminding the authorities that evicting indigenous people from their ancestral land would go against international conventions that Nepal is party to.
However, Pradhan said that the settlements cannot be fully avoided while constructing a straight transmission line.
Due to locals’ obstructions, the future of the 400kV Naya Khimti-Barhabise-Lapsephedi transmission line has become uncertain.
According to the NEA, the project is in its final phase of completion with just one substation at Bojhini and four transmission pylons being the only remaining tasks to be completed before the transmission of electricity starts through the power line.
In November 2020, the Indian contractor—Larsen & Toubro Limited- was hired to construct the substation. But the contractor has been unable to expedite the construction owing to obstructions by local residents.
The NEA has recently extended the contract of the Indian company until December.
The same company is also involved in constructing a separate transmission package of the Khimti-Barhabise-Lapsephedi transmission line. “We have to extend its deadline too by at least six months as the current deadline is expiring in March-end,” said Pradhan.