kathmandu – Though a feasibility study was conducted by spending over a billion rupees for the construction of Karnali Multipurpose Project—which was imagined 60 years ago, the fate of the project still hangs in balance. The project of new generation is the biggest multipurpose project of Nepal.
It is a storage-type project proposed to be built at Karnali River in Chisapani, envisaging a 270 m high dam, with a reservoir. According to former Chief Secretary Karna Dhoj Adhikari, this project was identified in 1959.
Former secretary of Nepal Government Somnath Paudel said that the government had deployed then secretary and engineer Bhubanesh Kumari Pradhan to study the water of Karnali River in 1959. The feasibility studies of this project were carried out several times from 1959 to 1989.
Former Chief Secretary Adhikarri said that the government had decided to construct the Karnali Multipurpose Project after the agreement of Koshi and Gandak. “Karnali was the only river which was left among three biggest rivers of Nepal. We carried out broader study of Karnali Basin in a bid to construct the Karnali Multipurpose Project,” Adhikari recalled, adding, “After the study of entire Karnali basin the government realized a high potentiality for the project and put Karnali on its top priority and started the work.”
Adhikari said that then King Mahendra, during his US visit 1960, had urged then American President David Rice Atchison to help for the Karnali Multipurpose Project. The US took King Mahendra’s request affirmatively and helped United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to carry out the feasibility study.
Then Nippon Koei Corporation Ltd of Japan had carried out feasibility study from December 1962 to February 1966 with the help of America. The Japanese company had concluded that the project can produce 1800 megawatt electricity.
Later, the study carried out by World Bank in 1989 found that the Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose Dam can produce 1800 megawatt electricity and can provide irrigation facility to around 3.2-million-hectare land.
Similarly, the report prepared by Snowy Mountain Hydro Electric Authority, the Australian company had showed that the project can produce 3600 megawatt electricity. Likewise, Nar consulate of Norway and Electrowatt of Switzerland had said that the project can produce 4500 megawatt electricity.
Nepal and India formed a committee in 1978 to hold a bilateral discussion regarding the construction of Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose High Dam and to evaluate the reports prepared by various companies. During the meeting, the two countries had discussed the price of electricity and investment. Adhikari said that India had back tracked from its decision to help the Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose High Dam from 1985. “We were talking about Karnali Dam, but India was talking about Pancheshwar,” Adhikari said. “We were the seller and India was buyer in Karnali Project. The Project was halted after India showed it reluctance to buy the electricity,” he added.
Reason behind project failure
The Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose Project could not be taken ahead as India backtracked from its earlier agreement. The main objective of the project was to sell electricity and water to India as Nepal does not need 1800 megawatt electricity and 16 billion cubic meter water.
“The project was started after Nepal and India agreed to work as seller and buyer respectively,” Adhikari said, adding,” Though India was positive in the beginning, later it backtracked from its agreement.”
Former Chief Secretary Karna Dhoj Adhikari said that India backtracked from its decision under various pretexts while the project was in the implementation phase. After 1984, India started showing interests in Mahakali-Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project instead of Karnali, Adhikari said. Indians had been saying that they do not want water from Nepal. Former Water Resource Minister Deepak Gyawali said that India did not show interests after it came to know that the project will not be constructed as per its wish. “India’s policy is to take control. It wants water. India wants to use water for free during the dry season by collecting water in the rainy season,” Gyawali said.
The former minister gives credit to then King Birendra and Panchayat for turning down the unjustifiable demand of India.
Former Water Resource Secretary Dwarika Dungel said that India rolled back its decision after Himal Power Consultant made public its report in 1990 with the help of World Bank, stating that the project can produce 1800 megawatt electricity and support irrigation facility to around 3.2-million-hectare land.
“After the report was made public, India started saying that it will not reap benefit from the project and the project was stuck in a limbo,” he said. “India does not have concern with the electricity, the only thing India wants was water,” he added.
Water resource expert Ratna Sansar Shrestha also said that Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose Project plunged into uncertainty after India did not get water for free, get electricity in low price and could not take the dam under control.
According to former Chief Secretary Karna Dhoj Adhikari, India showed interest in Pancheshwar Project rather than Karnali as India thought that the former project would help fulfill its vested interests. India wanted to pursue the Pancheshwar Project as it can have complete control over the project because two-thirds area of Mahakali River lies in India. Former Water Resource Secretary Dwarika Dhungel said that India wanted to operate the main reservoir project of Nepal by taking under its control. But the project couldn’t move forward owing to various circumstances.
Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose Project is regarded as an important project of South Asia. P.D. Teral, who worked as the advisor of Nepal while carrying out study of the Karnali Chisapani Multipurpose Project, said that the Karnali River sweeps away 260 million ton sand every year. The dam to be constructed in Chisapani will help control the floods and minimize the damage. Teral in his journal published in 1991 had said that Nepal could earn USD 10 billion along with irrigation. The study conducted in 1984 had showed that the electricity can be sold at Rs 3 per watt. Similarly, India can give up on 10 million tons of coal that it has been burning to generate energy that can make a huge contribute in keeping the environment clean.