The locals of Lamjung District obstructed the construction works of the 50MW Upper Marsyangdi Hydropower Project recently, claiming that the project was initiated without consulting with and providing any information to them.
The Sino Hydro Power Company of China and Sagarmatha Power Company of Nepal are jointly constructing the project with an investment of Rs 12 billion.
A public hearing among locals and an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) are conducted prior to obtaining an approval from the government for the construction of hydropower projects. The EIA lists the potential impacts and plans to minimize and address the assessed impacts, but the locals say the project neither conducted a public hearing nor obtained consent from the communities.
According to the locals, the project will negatively impact people living in Khundi, Simpani, Bhulbhule, Ngadi, and Besishahar, where 95 percent of the population is Gurung, Tamang and other indigenous communities.
Local communities staging a protest against the Khimti-Dhalkebar Tranmission Line Project in Sindhuli. PHOTO COURTESY: MILAN LIMBU
“We don’t know when the company decided to establish their work base here. A tunnel was constructed at Maranghat of Khundi VDC and all of a sudden people were being asked to shift,” says Khemjung Gurung, Coordinator of the Struggle Committee and Chairman of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) of Lamjung District Chapter.
“We’re simply demanding that the company gives us all the information included in the EIA and maintains Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with the locals.”
However, Deputy Manager of the Sino Sagarmatha Hydro Power Company, Karna Adhikari, says that company had conducted a public hearing and also had reached an agreement to compensate the affected parties.
However, he says that if the survey team has missed out on including all possible impacts while conducting the EIA, they will address the issues when officials from their partner company in China come to Nepal.
For the past month, local communities, many of whom are indigenous people of Sindhuli District, have been obstructing the works of the Khimti-Dhalkebar 220KV electricity transmission line project. It is the highest-capacity line in Nepal that is funded by the World Bank and is working in collaboration with Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA).
The project is aimed at developing Nepal’s hydropower potential in an environmentally and socially sustainable way and bringing electricity to rural areas. With a total cost US$84.11 million, the project was first approved in 2003, restructured thrice – in 2008, 2009 and 2012 – and was to finish by the end of 2013. The high-voltage transmission line was to cover five districts – from Kirnetar village in Dolakha to Ramechhap, Sindhuli, and Mahottari, and finally connect with the 132 KV Dhalkebar substation in Dhanusha.
Indigenous and local communities in the district have long been protesting, often resulting in clashes with the police, against the construction of the transmission lines for possible impacts on approximately 150,000 people across the five districts.
The agitating communities have been claiming that the project was started without consultation and assessing the potential health, environment, social, religious, and cultural impacts on the communities. The construction of the transmission tower at the site had earlier been suspended under pressure from the indigenous and local communities.
“We learnt about the project only two years ago when they started erecting the poles,” says Surendra Moktan, Chairperson of the Project Victims’ Struggle Committee. According to him, public hearings were not conducted in the district. They came to know that alternate routes of the transmission lines not passing through human settlements were explored in the initial survey. But as per the existing plan, the power grids run through densely populated areas of indigenous communities, including Tamang, Magar, Newar, Thami, Bhujel, among others, and directly above homes, cultivated lands, schools, historical, religious, and cultural sites of the district.
NEA officials, however, claim to have consulted with the communities, carried out a detailed EIA and also given compensation to the affected people.
An External Affairs specialist at the World Bank office in Nepal, Rajib Upadhya, says, “Nepal Government had informed the World Bank that they consulted with the communities and provided compensation under the Vulnerable Community Development Plan. But if the government has not done so, it must do so immediately. A team from World Bank Nepal office as well as World Bank’s inspection panel will visit the site soon, and if we find that the government has not met the guideline, we are even ready to suspend the loan.”
As for the locals, they have filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court with support from a group of lawyers advocating the rights of indigenous peoples from the Lawyers Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous People (LAHURNIP) and US-Based organization, Accountability Counsel. They have also filed a complaint at World Bank’s inspection panel.
Based in Washington DC, the inspection panel is an independent body established in 1993 to help ensure that the Bank’s operations adhere to its policies and procedures, which allows people who think they may have been adversely affected by the Bank’s supported projects to ask for an investigation.
In response to the writ petition, the Supreme Court issued a show cause order to NEA and Nepal Government, while the World Bank’s inspection panel has issued an order to NEA and World Bank management to consult with the locals and address the problems of the affected communities. In response to the panel, both the NEA and World Bank expressed commitments that they would visit the locals, consult with them and solve the problems of affected communities within three months. The tension in the district was further aggravated when official resumed the works without addressing the issues and the locals’ peaceful protest was intervened by the armed police force.
Along with the Khimti-Dhalkebar 220KV electricity transmission line project, funded by international financial institutions such as World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) etc, there are many other projects that have been continuously obstructed by indigenous peoples in Nepal.
For the last five years or so, local people in Sindhupalchowk and Kavre districts have been disrupting the much-hyped Melamchi Water Supply Project being constructed by a private company and funded by Asian Development Bank. The project aims at constructing a diversion tunnel approximately 26.3km long to divert 170MLD water from Melamchi River.
The locals put forth a number of demands which included compensation, implementing the provisions of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) as specified by International Labor Organization Convention 169 during the construction of the project, as well as ensuring equal participation and involvement of the indigenous people in the area.
“We indigenous people are not opposed to development. We disrupted the project because we have not been consulted before its initiation,” says Tashi Hyolmo, Coordinator at Hyolmo Drinking Water Struggle Committee (HDWSC), adding that the locals want officials to consult with them, listen to their concerns, and address all possible negative impacts.
After a long struggle, on August 2, 2009, a nine-point agreement was reached between the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works and the indigenous people agitating under the banner of HDWSC. Following the pact, the construction of the 26.5km long canal continued. The Ministry then had agreed to conduct a detailed study within four months and address their issues. But the locals say that the agreement was not kept.
Similar is the story with Likhu-4 Hydropower Project in Ramechhap and Okhaldhunga districts. Indigenous communities in the two districts have been obstructing the project that was initiated in 2006 to generate 120MW by Green Venture Pvt. Ltd, a national private company, indirectly operated by an Indian multinational company.
As the project was set off without consulting the locals, the Koits-Sunuwar in the area formed a taskforce to make their collective voice heard.
Koitsbu Kaatich (Uttam), member of Sunuwar Welfare Society Likhu taskforce, says that Koits-Sunuwar communities have been obstructing the project as it was started without addressing its impacts on the community.
Hydropower generation projects, land concessions, construction of large dams led by private companies, or the government partnering with international financial institutions such as World Bank and the ADB have ended up facing obstructions from the local communities, many of whom are indigenous peoples.
Both ADB and World Bank have their own policies that aim to protect the rights of affected indigenous people, the provisions on the respect for the collective rights of indigenous peoples – especially to their lands, territories, and resources – are weak, and their implementation problematic.
Furthermore, they claim to have contributed significantly to poverty alleviation and national development. But respective indigenous peoples have largely become victims subjected to displacement, massive violation of human rights, and loss of traditional livelihoods instead of being beneficiaries of the development interventions initiated in their areas.
Such adversely affected indigenous peoples say that such impositions and outright non-recognition of their rights are causing widespread and escalating conflicts, forced displacements, and massive environmental degradation. And hence they are persistently demanding greater accountability under a human rights-based approach to development.
“Although there is a provision that EIA must first be carried out prior to initiating project works, large numbers of development works relating to water, land and natural resources in the territories of indigenous peoples in Nepal have been initiated without even consulting the locals or giving any prior information. Conflicts are obvious in such cases,” says Shankar Limbu, advocate and Secretary at LAHURNIP.
Maintain the principle of FPIC to ensure IP’s rights
Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is an emerging standard in the dialogue on indigenous people’s rights. Indigenous peoples believe that FPIC is one of the most important principles that can protect their right to participation.
FPIC is protected under the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal People of the International Labor Organization (ILO C. No. 169). Nepal is one of the 22 countries – and the only one in Asia – to have ratified this legally binding international treaty relating to IPs in 2007.
FPIC is also protected in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) that Nepal also voted in favor of at the UN General Assembly. According to the provision stated in the Declaration, consultation with indigenous people must be carried out through institutions that are representative of indigenous communities, and specifies that indigenous people should control the process by which representatives are determined.
The element of ‘Free’ implies no coercion, intimidation or manipulation; ‘Prior’ implies that consent is obtained in advance to the activity associated with the decision being made, and includes the time necessary to allow indigenous peoples to undertake their own decision-making processes; ‘Informed’ implies that indigenous people have been provided all information relating to the activity, and that the information being provided is objective, accurate and presented in a manner and form understandable to indigenous people; ‘Consent’ implies that indigenous people have agreed to the activity that is the subject of the relevant decision, which may also be subject to terms and conditions.
For and against development
Indigenous people across Nepal are obstructing the development works taking place in their territories. It is not that they are against development; they are simply saying that such development works or projects in their areas must be carried out by abiding with national and international legal and policy frameworks, says Shankar Limbu at LAHURNIP.
He further says that numerous ventures are taking place in the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples, and conflicts have often resulted in abuses in multiple forms that include displacement and torture.
Citing such projects to be National Pride (Rashtriya Gaurabka Ayojana), the government time and again has even deployed security forces, including military, to carry out a number of hydro projects which directly or indirectly target indigenous people.
The principle of eminent domain (the right of a government to seize private property for public use in exchange for payment of fair market value), public interest, and the concept of projects of national pride prevent indigenous people from getting due justice.
According to the Land Acquisition Act 1977, offering compensation for the losses incurred, the government can acquire land for them if their work is related to public interest. The indigenous peoples understand that. They just want a transparent dealing that is beneficial to both parties involved.
Coordinator of Hyolmo Struggle Committee in case of Melamchi water supply, Tashi Hyolmo makes a strong case when he says, “We’re not against the project. We just want our rights to be respected.”
Sunuwar is a freelance feature writer.
Published on 2014-03-21 14:49:13