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India’s power woes worry Nepal

August 04, 2012

LONDON: North Indian states can carry on pointing fingers at each other for what left more than 60 million of their residents power-less earlier this week. Engineers can continue with their explanations that the transmission system tripped because of overdrawing of electricity by states.

And going by the sayings of the newly-appointed power minister Veerappa Moiley, no one might be held responsible for arguably the biggest power crisis the world has ever seen in peace times.

None of these however will be able to mask the obvious: demand for power is fast outstripping supply in India that has one of the world’s fastest growing middle-class consumers.

One after another riots and protests in Indian cities against power cuts were already sending out that message.

And now the two days of complete collapse of the power system will surely be some kind of a wake-up call for policy and decision makers in New Delhi.

But will it be for their counterparts in Nepal?

So much reassured as they are for getting to import power from India while they mess up with their own water resources? If the electrical shock cannot shake them up, nothing will.

It should be a stark reminder of the risks involved in relying on a foreign grid.

On the flip side, it could also be something politicians could seize to once again sell their empty promises: Nepal will now earn green bucks by selling power to energy-starved Indian states.

A fairy tale they might well try to re-plug indeed.

But even before they could think about doing it, the Indian business community has already made its move.

They have started pressing the government to utilise all available deposits of coal and gas in the country.

“Reforms that would help make coal and gas available as per the nation’s requirements must no longer be held back,” President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, RV Kanoria was quoted as saying by the Indo Asian News Service.

“If Coal India Limited is unable to meet the coal requirements of industry and the power sector, then the government must think of breaking it down in smaller segments that would be more manageable.”

And coal is still so abundant in India that it could sustain the country’s energy need for quite some time.

The International Energy Agency last year predicted, “By more than doubling its coal use to 880 million tonnes of coal equivalent (MTCE) by 2035, India displaces the United States as the world’s second largest coal consumer by 2025.”

India’s coal industry has already been widely criticised mainly on environmental grounds as has been the country’s environment impact assessment procedure.

The green tribunal set up to make corrections has run into trouble after some of its judges resigned while others were allegedly not even given proper residence facilities.

Under such circumstances, if the government yields to the pressure by the business community, the coal industry will most likely incur a huge environmental cost even if that may mean rescuing the power sector and the economy.

The dependency on coal could also lead to a rise in production of the dirty fuel elsewhere. “India is poised to become the world’s biggest importer of hard coal soon after 2020 as rapid demand growth outstrips the rise in indigenous production and India’s inland transport capacity,” IEA said in its 2011 outlook.

Developments like that could also make the Indian government think of clean energy alternatives to some extent—particularly if it wishes to be seen engaged with international climate negotiations.

“The hydropower potentials in India and the South Asia region is a huge benefit in the fight against climate change and for the carbon credit,” says former secretary of India’s power ministry, RV Shahi.

“It’s a tragedy that we have been after the fossil fuels that increase carbon emissions while our clean energy resources like hydropower remain untapped.”

In the long run, if at all there is a deal on carbon cuts among major polluters like China, the US and India, only then might New Delhi begin to be serious about Nepal’s hydropower.

At the moment, experts say, it is just the water that India values in the wake of its booming population and shrinking groundwater resources — unless it becomes determined to match competition by China in Nepali hydroelectric development.

But even if it tries to do so, it will be stirring the same old hornet’s nest—the issue of downstream benefit—which some believe Nepal should demand with New Delhi while others say it’s not worth it as it will keep everything hostage. Interestingly, efforts are reportedly on to find out ways to “get around this barrier.”

How could that possibly be done?

By arrangement with The Kathmandu Post/ANN