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Nepal and India have a lot to gain from meaningful hydropower cooperation

Publication Date : 21-07-2014


Every single government in Nepal’s modern era has realised that cooperation with India is necessary and that the investment and know-how India offers can speed up our development.

However, the history of Nepal-India cooperation in developing Nepal’s vast hydropower resources for mutual benefit is a story of lost opportunities.

Both Nepali parties and the Indian government bear some responsibility in the repeated failures to reach workable agreements in the hydropower sector.

Given the deeply entrenched perception that India has derived disproportionate benefits from Koshi and Gandak water projects, the Nepali public is naturally sensitive about proposed power agreements.

Yet the parties in power have a penchant for secrecy which only feeds this perception.

The current moment is highly propitious to overcome previous suspicions.

The governments in both Nepal and India are the most stable ones that have existed in the past decade.

Peoples of both countries are anxious to see poverty eradication and high economic growth.

There is substantially lower anti-India sentiment among the population than during the 1990s.

In India, the newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi seems keen to expand economic cooperation with India’s neighbours.

These factors have in fact enthused government officials, the civil society and the media in Nepal.

There has been much discussion on how precisely Nepal can take forward agreements on power generation and sharing with India during the forthcoming visits of Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and prime minister Modi.  

As of now, the main topic of discussion in Nepal’s hydropower circles is the ‘Cooperation in Power Sector Agreement’ which was drafted by India and is being discussed among government officials.

However, Nepal government—most notably energy minister Radha Gywali—has handled the pre-agreement stage very shabbily by keeping just about everyone in the dark about the content of the contentious agreement.

This is despite weeks of speculations and dire warnings of a possible political fall-out due to the hush-hush approach.

By Sunday, when she finally decided to hold a press conference and the Indian Embassy decided to come out with a press statement of its own, a lot of damage had already been done.

History was yet again ignored altogether by both Kathmandu and New Delhi.

In being overtly secretive about the document, the energy minister brought to mind prime minister GP Koirala’s mishandling of the Tanakpur agreement in the early 1990s.

It should be remembered that secrecy over Tanakpur was a major reason behind the public backlash against the project.

The Indian statement insists that the agreement does not restrain Nepal’s sovereign right to develop its power sector and that, unlike what is rumoured, it can not be finalised without bilateral negotiations.

We are well aware that the recent developments are a serious setback in the run-up to Sushma Swaraj’s visit when a lot is expected.

Yet the fact remains,Nepal and India have a lot to gain from a meaningful hydropower cooperation—Nepal has a lot to offer and India has a vast market.

Nepali stakeholders should realise that this perhaps is our last window of opportunity to redefine Nepal-India water ties; Delhi should be mindful of deep Nepali sensitivities in sharing benefits with India.


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