Construction site for the dam of the 900-megawatt Upper Karnali Hydropower Project in Achham. (Ram Bahadur Kunwar/Republica)
ACHHAM, Aug 22: Achham is among the 10 districts with worst Human Develop Index. However, this can change pretty soon if the government does not further delay in exploiting its rich hydro power including the much discussed 900-megawatt Upper Karnali Hydropower Project (UKHP), stakeholders claim.
“Achham is one of the least developed districts. But development here can shoot up in no time if its hydropower potential could be tapped,” said Chandra Prasad Dhungana, president of FNCCI, Achham. “Instead of focusing on mini hydropower projects, bigger hydropower projects should be focused. This can completely change the face of this district.”
Life is quite difficult in Achham. Only a few of its residents have access to education, health, drinking water, proper transportation and employment opportunities. The prospect of a positive change in their life that the bigger hydropower projects like the UKHP making rounds, locals express optimism of seeing overall development of the district in the days ahead. Along with the UKHP, the 20-megawatt Budhi Ganga Hydropower Project (BGHP) is another hydropower project that has raised added to the locals optimism. Though initiatives are being underway to materializing the implementation of the BGHP, it remains limited to paper so far.
“Implementing bigger hydropower projects like the UKHP alone is sufficient for developing this district and bringing positive change to the lives of the people here,” Dhungana said adding further that the “We are not concerned which company implements the project. It's the responsibility of the government to ensure maximum benefits for the nation. What we want is tangible result and that too sooner than late.”
UKHP has been limbo and lack of initiatives to implement the project has been a great dismay for the district residents. Though Investment Board has signed project development agreement (PDA) with an Indian company GMR, implementation of the project has not yet started. “We don't know if the same company (GMR) or any other company is going to implement the project. What we are concerned here is the delay done in implementing the project,” Dhungana said.
He opined that implementing the project would create thousands of jobs in the district and added that the opportunities would help in reducing the flow of unemployed youths to gulf nations for employment.
Dhungana is not alone to have such expectations from the project. There are others too. “We do not know when the government will take serious interest in implementing the project. But we are sure its implementation would end our poverty-ridden days. We are losing out our youths' energy to gulf nations for little reward. We are not happy to work in foreign countries that are full of hassles,” said Shiva BC, a local of Bhairavsthan - 1.
Implementation of the project is expected to open up various business avenues in the district along with direct jobs in implementing the project, BC said. “We dreamed of better days when the government had first touted about the UKHP. And we continue believe in that dream. It can simply change the face of the district.”
Though the UKHP has not yet materialized and the wait, which BC puts as an 'endless wait', has not shown any signs of coming to an end, mini hydropower projects in the district has made tangible impact on the lives of the district's residents. Some micro hydropower projects in the district have been able to supply hydropower to some villages of the district. Along with the power, these projects have provided irrigation facilities and with the power generated some have been able to run cottage industries.
“If small micro hydropower projects can help so much, imagine how much the district's development would leap if big hydro project are implemented?,” argued BC.
Apart from the project-triggered development opportunities, Local Development Officer of the district, Shiva Prasad Humagain informed that the residents would directly benefit from the shares they are entitled to. Along with the Achham residents of other districts that will be affected by the project are also entitled for the shares, he informed.
“It is not just about getting shares of the project, it is about owing the project and being part of the development process. So the people of Achham are very eager to see this project implemented at the earliest,” he said. “Apart from the direct benefits that the people of Achham will get, the project would also benefit the whole nation. The nation is facing acute power shortage. If a 900-megawatt hydropower project starts generating power that will definitely assist in easing the power shortage,” Humagain asserted.
Hotel entrepreneur Dhan Bahadur Shah added that the signs of development are already visible near the project area. With the prospect of the project's implementation in the near future, investors are already pouring in investment in the district. “Sanphebagar is already vibrant with new hotels and lodges. There are many standard hotels now. This has been possible due to ongoing and upcoming hydropower projects,” he said.
Technicians state that households of six Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Dailekh, three each of Surkhet and Achham are going to be affected by the project.
“Compensation to their land is one of the major issues. They are going to get due compensation,” said Rabi Bhattarai, joint secretary at the Investment Board. “Process for land acquisition for the project has already started,” he informed.The Rs 139 billion project is scheduled to completed by 2021.