Water as lifeline: Residents around Kulekhani power plants hope for better economic prospects

While interacting with the delegation of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Liberation International, elected representatives of the local municipality shared the benefits as well as the problems faced by people in Kulekhani.

From left, Dr Carsten Klein Head of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia, Uma Kumari Lama, Deputy Chairperson of Indra Sarovar Rural Municipality and Dev Krishna Pudasaini, the chairperson

NL Today

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INDRA SAROVAR, Makawanpur: “This is the man-made lake created in 1977 with the purpose of generating hydro power for the country.  We call it Indra Sarobar Tal (Indra Sarovar Lake),” he told the audience as they listened to him with curiosity. “The name has a history.  The project was initiated at the time when King Birendra ruled the country.  And the lake has been named after the name of his mother,” he said.

Indra Rajya Laxmi Devi was the name of late King Birendra.

This was Dev Krishna Pudasaini, the chairperson of Indra Sarovar Rural Municipality in Makwanpur district, 20 kilometers and some two and half hours drive from the country’s capital.

Pudaisaini and his deputy chair Uma Kumari Lama were briefing about the hydro project to a group of foreign delegates from Germany and countries of South Asia—Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Kulekhani hydro dam is one of its kind in Nepal and the first of its kind as well.  While all other hydro projects are based on run-of-the river type, Kulekhani is a reservoir based project that, together with Kulekhani I, Kulekhani II and Kulekhani III, accounts for over 100 Mw of power—illuminating and powering major  parts of the country. Kulekhani has remained a lifeline of Nepal’s clean energy sector.

Kulekhani reservoir

In Kulekhani, water is diverted to power plants through an 8 kilometers long tunnel, and the lake is spread in eight kilometers areas. The elected representatives of the place know how crucial it is for the national economy. “It has contributed to the national economy as well as the local economy. It has enhanced tourism prospects here and benefited the people,” said Pudasaini. “Farmers raise fish here with which they generate income but we have not been able to make most out of it,” he said, adding that since the village does not have any  other source of income, the municipality is preparing a five-year plan for better income generation activities including for tourism promotion. “There are waterfalls around the area, the landscape is beautiful.  If we can tap into these resources we can make Indra Sarovar Rural Municipality a place of prosperity.”

Uma Kumari Lama, the vice-chairperson of the municipality, briefed the delegates about the situation facing the residents of the place.

“People are dependent on agriculture, fisheries and livestock in this area,” she said while informing the delegates that there are four only women-led cooperatives which account for annual transactions from 10 to 170 million rupees. According to her, these cooperatives have launched various programs for women empowerment. “The municipality is running training programs on various livelihood programs such as beauty parlor, pickle making, making nettle powder, and driving.” “And we have been trying to utilize the Prime Minister’s Employment Scheme in the best way possible to address the employment needs of the people.”

While the lake has been the lifeline for the people here, like it has been for the people across the country, Lama is worried about its possible risks. “If this lake bursts the people living down the lake will suffer. We always need to keep this in mind,” said Lama.

Pudasaini briefed the delegates about how the affected people were resettled in the late 1970s.

“Some two to three hundred people are said to have been displaced from this place when the government started to make this lake in the late 70s,” said Pudasaini. “They were paid compensation by the government and resettled elsewhere.”

The government provides revenue from the lake from 20 to 30 million rupees per annum to the municipality, he informed.

Pudasini hopes that with a fair and good amount of cooperation and coordination with provincial and federal government, his municipality will be able to accomplish the infrastructure development of roads. “The road to Kulekhani from Kathmandu is bumpy and we hope to blacktop it soon,” said Pudasaini.

The members of the delegation thanked them and made a tour around Kulekhani reservoir and dams. The members included Dr Carsten Klein, Head of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia, Dr Juergen Martens, President of the DGLI and other experts and scholars from Germany, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The members of the delegation had made a field trip to Kulekhani after participating in the Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia organized in the capital on Wednesday.  

[Related: ‘Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia’ discusses challenges facing the region’s rivers]