Tensions ran high on Saturday in Sindhuli district in central Nepal when locals obstructed resumption of physical works of Khimti-Dhalkebar 220 kV Electricity Transmission Line under Nepal Power Development Project funded by World Bank.
As per received information, residents of Thulitaar of Kamalamai municipality in the district were shocked when around ten project officials and construction workers backed by scores of armed police personnel came to resume construction works for the Transmission Line. Local indigenous and non-indigenous people united under a Struggle Committee obstructed the project officials and workers and engaged in a standoff with police. They say that resumption of works require prior consultation with them among other tasks in accordance with action plan agreed between Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the local implementing agency and the World Bank.
Amid high tensions, the workers and police personnel returned that day without performing any work. However, movement of armed police in the district has increased following the incident and plans are afoot to set up armed police base in the area to push through the construction works, as reported by the Struggle Committee. On Friday, out of the blue, a project consultant had called on Thulitaar residents to collect compensation for their land and informed them of planned resumption of construction works the following day. The Committee, in a press release, denounced the repeated calls from the project officials for collection of compensation while other tasks planned under the action remain unimplemented.
The NEA and World Bank action plan puts forward procedures for dissemination of information and consultations, updating and implementing Vulnerable Communities’ Development Plan and Abbreviated Resettlement Action Plan and strengthening Project Grievance Redress Mechanism so as to complete physical works of the project between March and April 2014. The plan was annexed to the response submitted by the Project Management to World Bank Inspection Panel that has recommended investigation into the violations laid out in a complaint concerning human rights violations associated with construction of the Transmission Line.
Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) and Accountability Counsel had filed the complaint on July 10, 2013, on behalf of communities in the district, demanding that the Bank’s Panel immediately investigate the Bank’s role in this project. Communities demand that the Bank halt construction of the transmission line and Nepalese Government violence against local people who have spoken out against the project.
The Inspection Panel’s report indicates that the investigation will focus on violations of World Bank policies during the planning and implementation of the high voltage transmission line, as well as requirements for studying alternative project design. The investigation will begin after April 30, 2014, in order to provide World Bank staff to extend their participation in the project, which was scheduled to close on December 30, 2013, and implement the action plan to address community concerns.
The transmission line route will cover residential and urban areas, as well as four schools. Indigenous villages located directly under the planned route have not been given information about the project, were not consulted, and have not been resettled, in violation of World Bank policy.
The Khimti-Dhalkebar 220 kV Transmission Line is a planned 220 kV high-tension transmission line, the highest capacity in Nepal currently, that will cover five districts of central Nepal and will impact more than 114,000 people. The World Bank approved funding for the Project in 2003 as part of the Nepal Power Development Project. Due in part to community resistance, completion has been delayed. In December 2012, the World Bank restructured the NPDP loan with the goal of completing the Project by the end of 2013.
Affected communities, many of whom are indigenous peoples, have various concerns about the Project, including lack of information and consultation about the project design, potential health and environmental impacts from the lines. Through LAHURNIP, affected communities have approached the Supreme Court of Nepal in an attempt to suspend the Project until all social and environmental impacts have been addressed. After attempts to appeal to national political and judicial processes, they are now seeking to voice their concerns to the World Bank.
On February 18, 2013, LAHURNIP and Accountability Counsel supported the affected communities to send a letter of concern about the Project to the World Bank President. This was followed by a meeting between World Bank management and community leaders on March 13, in which community leaders were able to express their complaints about the Project planning and design, including violations of the World Bank social and environmental safeguard policies, to Bank management. They are still awaiting action on the part of the World Bank to address issues with the Project.
In early April 2013, the Government of Nepal deployed armed police forces to Sindhuli District to ensure opposition to the Project did not obstruct surveying and construction activities. LAHURNIP is closely monitoring the human rights situation in the district and lobbying to hold the World Bank accountable for their role in this Project.
More pictures from the scene are attached herewith.