Alok Rawat is the Water Resources Secretary of India. Leading an Indian delegation, he was recently in Kathmandu to attend a two-day meeting of the governing board of the Pancheswar Multipurpose Project. After the conclusion of the meeting, Rawat answered the questions of Nepali journalists on the various aspects of the ambitious project. Excerpts:
Will you say something on DPR of Pancheswar?
Over a period of time, there is a need for rechecking the data that are available in Nepal and India. So, instruments need to be checked. And, unless the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is prepared as per the latest available data, it would hardly be appropriate to have such a large multipurpose project of 5600 MW capacity. DPR has to be conducted in a proper manner so that this project becomes an example of mutual cooperation leading to the adoption of the best practices and setting up of the project that meets the state-of-the-art technology.
A lot of Nepali land will be submerged after the construction of the Pancheswar dam. A number of people will have to be displaced. What will happen to them?
Taking care of the people whose land will be submerged, whose crops will be lost and whose poverty is going to be deepened is an ongoing process. So, all these concerns have to be mentioned in the documentation. If there were 100 people in 2000, there could be more in 2013. And, if there were 30 houses there could be 50 houses now or decreased to 10 houses. Such data has to be consolidated.
When will the office of Pancheswar be established and when can we see its leadership appointed?
In the second meeting in Delhi, we had agreed to appoint Co-Chairman within a month. We hope to be in a position to make a decision on further courses of action based on the adequacy of the available data and also identify the data that needs to be further screened. An agency will look into the data available in India and Nepal. It will begin work without waiting for a formal order. We both are in a democratic system where such decisions are taken by another vicious stage of red tapes. We have decided that we will ask an agency called WAPCOS working in Nepal to undertake this exercise. And, I am told that some of their people will start compilation and collation of information soon.
The statute of the Pancheswhor Development Authority defines what the Authority is supposed to do and how it will function. It is the internal rules of the authority based on the principles established by the Mahakali Treaty signed between Nepal and India. This also establishes the terms of references that has been approved in the Treaty. Both the parties have reached an accord and signed the agreement. It is being implemented starting today.
Has India quantified the downstream benefits?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal resulted in activities which have been lying dormant for almost 19 years. So, why not take things as they come in the spirit of mutual benefit and cooperation? India and Nepal are neighbours and they have historical ties of blood, culture, often governments. So many of the distinguished and decorated soldiers in the Indian army are from Nepal. The issues of water and power have other issues as well. It could hardly be appropriate on my part to reply to a question related to a particular sector or a particular project. If my country and your country are committed on going forward leaving the past baggage behind, would there be a need for a post-mortem?
India has a river-linking project. What are the expectations on regulated water from Nepal?
The interlinking of rivers started more than one hundred years back during the British rule. To the best of what I can relate to it, there were eight interlinking projects that were already working. One of them was possibly in 1868 or 1883. So, interlinking is not a new concept. Interlinking by itself would tend to be in nature of a dynamic process. Some 20 years earlier, our rivers may be perennial and having surplus water enough for its own basic requirement. But 20 years down the line, the water flow in the rainy season is not adequate for the existing requirements. Then 20 years later, the drinking water requirement and agriculture requirement would definitely be different from now. So, the interlinking of rivers has a number of components. There are rivers in India like Yamuna which are small but which were carrying surplus water during the rainy season. About 30 years back, this surplus water was utilized by the state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for the betterment of everyone. There is a lot of talk about linking Ken-Betwa between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in India. The excess water of Ken-Betwa would be supplied to 1.6 million people of Bundelkhand as drinking water.
Where will the office of Pancheswar be established and what is the mechanism for appointing its CEO and other officials?
Pancheswar’s headquarter will be established in Mahendranagar. But, until the office is established, the operation will take place from Kathmandu. The officials of the Pancheswar Development Authority will have six executive directors. For appointing them, three directorial divisions will be formed that will consist of a CEO and an additional CEO. The CEO will be appointed from Nepal for the initial three years and the additional CEO will be appointed from India. The statute mentions the appointment of other officials. If the need persists, other officials will also be appointed either through deputation, new appointment or through other methods.
New Delhi would be hosting the next secretary level meeting on Pancheswar. What would be the agenda of this meeting?
In bilateral relations, when the negotiation takes place between two countries, it is the host country that prepares the agenda and submits to the visiting delegations. We’ve had our talk yesterday and today. And the next meeting will be after one month. So, there is lot of time for the preparation of the agenda. As India is the host country, it would be preparing the agenda.
When would the benefits of Pancheswar be visible and felt by people and in what form?
The time frame of the actual benefits of the project would be known in precise terms when the DPR is ready. However, as the work of DPR preparation starts, activities on the ground which also implies provision of employment for some, for example may be to drive the vehicle and so forth, will be visible. So, I don’t think at this juncture we can precisely quantify by when we expect it to be ready.
Unlike a thermal project, a hydro electric project is not a zero-sum game. There are lots of uncertainties inherent in that. For instance, you are digging up an underground. What is the guarantee that the place where you are doing the hypothetical study will hit a solid rock? How would you be able to find out whether the solid rock is 10 meters below or 50 meters below or whether the rock is strong enough or static enough to reach the fissure when the weight of the water body comes into that? That will again define how much the construction time would be required or how much efforts would be required. Therefore, it may not be possible to precisely quantify the numbers.
We can exactly find out the cost and benefit only after the detailed report is prepared and submitted to the respective governments. Then it needs to be agreed upon jointly. If the governments feel that there must be some modification or some components need to be further studied and reframed, then it will be done. Unless and until the DPR is agreed upon by both the governments, you cannot go further. Once the agreement is reached, the project will be initiated and then further variations will be done.
What is the idea of the need for creating awareness at each stage of project development especially in respect to RNR (Risk Need Responsibility) issues?
RNR is a relatively new and challenging issue. In fact, it is very complex because it relates to the proprietary rights of the people. It is linked with people’s mind and heart. There are also certain serious confrontations that people raise during the land acquisition. It happens generally. A very reasonable and balanced programme needs to be developed so that the people will be satisfied and feel like they own the project. The project will only proceed if people feel the sense of ownership. Therefore, flexible and balanced programme needs to be developed in order to get their properties with good compensation, required supplement and rehabilitation.