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SOURCE: The Kathmandu Post

Issues related to Pancheshwar multipurpose and Saptakoshi high dam projects will be on the agenda during the upcoming Nepal-India secretary-level Joint Commission on Water Resources (JCWR). According to Nepali officials, a bilateral meeting is scheduled for September 21-23 in Kathmandu. This will be the ninth such JCWR meeting. The eighth meeting took place in New Delhi in January 2019.

The issue of water-sharing has emerged as a major bottleneck in the implementation of the Pancheshwar multipurpose project proposed to be built in Mahakali (Sharda in India) river.

According to hydrological studies, the Mahakali has an average annual availability of 18 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water. Of this, 13 bcm is currently being used—12 bcm by India and one bcm by Nepal.

India draws seven of the 12 bcm from the upper Sarada barrage built on the India-Nepal border for irrigation purposes in Uttar Pradesh. The remaining five bcm comes from the lower Sarada barrage, which is 150 km downstream on the Indian side.

“Our contention is that this five bcm should be part of India’s existing usage. But Nepal wants this to be treated as part of India’s future usage [once the dam is built],” an Indian government official told the Print, an Indian news site. “If the five bcm becomes part of future usage, India will effectively not get anything when the dam comes up.”

The Pancheshwar multipurpose project—first envisaged 26 years ago as part of the Mahakali treaty that the two countries signed in 1996—includes setting up of two hydroelectric plants with a total installed capacity of 5,040 megawatts and a 315-metre high dam to meet the power and irrigation requirements of the two countries.

“There is a lack of understanding on how to move ahead in this project,” said Madhu Bhetuwal, spokesperson for the Energy Ministry. “We have to bridge the gap in understanding between the two sides through discussions.”

When it comes to the Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose Project, there has been little progress due to continued protests by local residents against the plan.

During the eighth meeting, the Nepali side had stated that it would coordinate with the provincial and local governments to take the project forward.

“The JCWR underscored the importance of creating a conducive environment in the project area for smooth functioning of the Joint Project Office of the Saptakoshi Sunkoshi Investigation, including adequate security measures to carry out field investigations, trust building measures, formulating a suitable Resettlement and Rehabilitation plan,” according to the minutes released after the meeting.

Pradip Sah, chief of the project, told the Post that they could carry out no field work since the last meeting three years ago as locals don’t allow staff of the joint project office to work.

“We were supposed to carry out the works like drilling, hydrological study and environment impact assessment as per the mandate given by the JCWR but we could accomplish nothing,” Sah said.

“Under the proposed modality of project implementation whereby a 269-metre tall dam will be built, potentially inundating a large part of the Nepali land. In that case, there is little chance we will be allowed to carry out our fieldwork,” he added.

In the last JCWR meeting, Nepal had proposed shutting down the joint project office considering the difficulty of carrying out the fieldwork while India had insisted on continuing with its presence. “The next JCWR meeting is expected to decide whether to continue with the joint project office,” Sah said.

The issue of providing compensation to the people affected by the Koshi Barrage will also be on the agenda, according to Bhetuwal.

Local residents have long been demanding that they be compensated for the loss of private land due to barrage in line with the Koshi Treaty signed between Nepal and India.

Nepal’s stance has been that two types of the compensation issues should be resolved by the JCWR. First is the compensation for the private land within the embankment while the second is that for the land Koshi river continues to erode downstream of the barrage.

In the last meeting of JCWR, the Nepali side said that due to non-payment of compensation for the eroded land, there is general dissatisfaction among the affected people. The Nepali side requested the Indian side to address the issue of compensation seriously.

Nepal has been demanding a compensation of Rs500 million for the families displaced by the constructions as per the Koshi Agreement.

The Indian side responded that the issue of compensation of private land had already been settled. It argued that there was no provision for compensation for the land eroded by the river in the Koshi Agreement. “The Indian side has been reluctant to further discuss the issue of compensation,” said Sah.

Nepal is also concerned about the inundation caused by the Gandak Barrage. In the last meeting of the JCWR, the Nepali side had said that due to the severe problems of congestion of cross-drainage structures of the western main canal, a large tract of land was getting inundated and crops and properties were being damaged.

Nepal reiterated its stand on compensation owing to the loss of crops and properties. But the Indian side has been reluctant to discuss the matter saying that there is no provision for compensation for crop damage in the Gandak agreement.

“Due to the lack of proper maintenance of Gandak canal, Nepal has been facing inundation problems in the rainy season and drought in the winter,” said Bhetuwal, the Energy Ministry spokesperson.

According to him, the two sides will also discuss the matter of inundation in the bordering regions of Nepal due to embankments erected by the southern neighbour to stop the natural flow of water from Nepal to India.

Every year, Nepal faces a huge flooding problem due to five dozen embankments and dams built by India, which obstruct the natural flow of rivers and rivulets. In the last meeting of the JCWR, India had also agreed to pay Rs260 million to Nepal that it owed for building the embankments of Lalbakaiya, Kamala and Bagmati Rivers.