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Price of instability
Publication Date : 28-12-2012
The many hours of load shedding that occur every winter can be taken to be a general allegory regarding the relationship between the nation’s inhabitants and the state. Nepali society has been going through frenetic changes over the past few decades. There continues to be major migration, not just abroad, but from villages to the cities. Small towns across the country are teeming with small businesses, started by those desperate to get ahead. These changes have led to increased demand for public goods that only the state can provide, electricity being one of them. But as the demand for electricity continues to increase in leaps and bounds, its production has not increased much in recent years. Many sections of the population don’t expect much from the government and try to get ahead on their own. But there are limits to how much they can accomplish. Only the government can provide electricity, after all, and its lack vastly reduces productivity.
Every government that comes to power says that it will do its best to resolve the electricity crisis, but each year things remain the same. To be fair, it is not entirely the government’s fault. All governments that have been in power since 2006 have been extremely weak and have lasted in office for very short periods of time. If the opposition senses that the government is about to launch a major policy drive that is likely to lead to increased support among the population, it seeks to block it at all costs. The establishment of large hydroelectric plants, though deemed necessary by all governments, is politically highly complicated. Such plants require foreign investment, and this inevitable leads to suspicions among sections of the political class in opposition that investor countries are trying to expand influence in Nepal through them. The tremendous difficulties involved in establishing power projects in a multi-party system has existed since the early 1990s, since the days of Tanakpur and Mahakali.
Because of such difficulties, the parties in power in recent years have instead tried to find short-term and ad hoc solutions to the crisis. Every government has tried to import electricity from India at high rates. There is talk that the government will revive some old diesel plants which are known to be highly inefficient. In a situation where loadshedding is an immediate problem and large-scale solutions will take a long time to even get off the ground, these projects may be necessary. But such projects are costly to the state exchequer; what they provide in return is small; perhaps even negligible in the larger scheme of things. In any case, it is clear that the debilitating hours of load shedding will continue for years into the future. There will probably be no solution to the crisis until the current system of weak and unstable governments continues to exist.