March 17, Kathmandu. How difficult is it to build a transmission line project? The answer is Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inruva 400 kV transmission line. Donor body World Bank has pulled out of this high-capacity transmission line project in Nepal after a decade of non-removal of obstructions at various locations.
The World Bank has abandoned the project after the future of the transmission line was pushed into uncertainty despite spending more than Rs 14 billion. Project head Shyam Kumar Yadav said that the Nepal government has started investing in the rest of the project.
The project itself fell ill after a dispute over the supply of electricity within the country and this high-capacity line, which is essential for power trade with India, was not resolved for long.
The World Bank has decided not to invest in the project after spending around ₹115 million. The World Bank agreed to invest ₹138 million in the project.
Project chief Yadav says, “Now the government has to spend about seven billion rupees from its own resources.
The project has been scaled up four times. The project is getting more expensive due to the problem of lengthening the project and increasing the value of the dollar. Now the target has been set to complete this project in 2023.
After the completion of the Hetauda-Dhalkewar-Inruva 400 kV transmission line in December 2023, it was agreed to further increase the power capacity imported and exported from the transmission line.
Each tower equals one project
According to the Nepal Electricity Authority, the transmission line from Upper Tamakoshi could not be diverted east and west from Dhalkebar for internal consumption. According to NEA executive director Kulman Ghising, the 132 kV transmission line east and west of Dhalkebar is not working.
The Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inruva transmission line should start from Hetauda Sub-Metropolis-11, Thanabaryang substation of Makawanpur and connect with Bhokraha Narasimha Village Palika-4 of Sunsari. However, due to disputes with local people regarding the construction site and route, procedural complexities of forest land use and tree cutting clearances, contractor’s weakness etc., the completion date is being pushed back.
Efforts by the Electricity Authority to remove local bottlenecks have been unsuccessful. The NEA is trying to resolve the compensation dispute through discussion instead of taking it forward.
The World Bank had also appointed a facilitator to remove the impediments to the project. After not stopping this effort, the World Bank withdrew from the project.
More than two-thirds of the 288-km-long transmission line has not been completed due to blockages in a limited area.
The project was to cut trees in 518 hectares of forest area and acquire 30 hectares of private land. The project was expected to affect 475 hectares of private land and 171 houses and other structures.
It is the rule of the Electricity Authority that compensation up to 20 percent of the land below the wire will be acquired from the land where the tower will be located.
However, locals say that building physical infrastructure is not allowed on such land and the surrounding area would be unattractive. The project itself has become problematic due to such controversies at various places.
Where are the obstacles?
In Jiajor area of Sarlahi, local people have not allowed work on eight towers. There is a blockage in a tower at Birendra Bazar in Saptari and the local people have stopped the construction of a tower at Rajabas in Sunsari.
The construction of seven towers of this line in the Lahan-Padaria area of Sirha has been stalled for three and a half years. Locals, led by former minister Sarita Giri, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to block the transmission line from their land. The construction has been stopped due to an interim order issued by the Supreme Court in January, 2075.
The work of 25 towers on this line in Makwanpur alone has not been completed. Locals have blocked 11 towers from Thanabrayang in Hetauda to Betkholsi via Kukhreni river. Similarly, the obstruction in the construction of 14 towers in Hatia area of Hetauda has not been removed.
NEA has repeatedly discussed with the Chief Minister of Bagmati State, political parties, public representatives, civil society and project affected people to remove the bottleneck in Hetauda but the problem has not been resolved.
The local people demanding the diversion of the transmission line have not allowed the construction of towers in the community forest. They are also seeking to shift some of the towers that have been built. The demand of the local people is that the transmission line should be taken from the government forest and not from the settlement.
The project has been saying that the route cannot be changed as the design has been prepared after completing all the procedures.
a lot of work left
According to the NEA, out of 792 towers of the project, the foundation stone of 675 has been laid and work on 32 will be started after removing the obstructions. Similarly 12 towers are being constructed and after completion of 39 towers, the process of plantation is being entered.
There is procedural complexity in the approval of land use and plantation in the forest area of the transmission line passing through 10 districts. The project is also getting affected due to the weakness of the contractor in some sections.
Ghisingh, executive director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), said the government has to bear huge financial responsibility due to lack of transmission line when the project work is stopped.
“There are procedural hurdles in the construction site, local people hindrance, use of forest area and clearance of tree cutting,” he said.
Ghising said that the work in the project case has been stopped after the court order but as the matter is getting longer, the situation is getting worse. “If the court had completed the judicial process at the earliest, the country would have benefited,” he said.
Ghisingh, executive director of the NEA, said the construction of the transmission infrastructure was very successful. Ghising says that the electricity produced by all parties can be taken to the overseas market by maximizing consumption within the country.
“Lack of transmission infrastructure has resulted in power failure in the country,” he said.
The transmission line was being constructed under the Nepal-India Electricity Transmission and Trade Project with the investment of the Government of Nepal and the Electricity Authority and a concessional loan from the World Bank. Although this will strengthen the country’s transmission system and facilitate Nepal-India electricity trade, the construction period has been extended.