Press release from the Lawyer’s Association for the Human Rights of Nepal’s Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP):
Kathmandu, 15 March 2013
In a meeting with World Bank officials today, representatives of indigenous and local communities of Sindhuli district in central Nepal have urged the Bank to take actions for alternatives to the construction of Khimti-Dhalkebar 220 KV Transmission Line in the district under Nepal Power Development Project co-financed by the Bank.
The representatives informed Bank officials that the project has been implemented without accurate and adequate information and consultation with indigenous and local communities. “We have been given false information since the inception phase of the Project, including initial surveys for the project,” said Surendra Moktan, chairperson of the project victims’ struggle committee.
“We learnt about the project only two years back and that too not from the project officials as public hearings for the project was not conducted in the district.”
“The power grids, in its current plan, will pass through densely populated areas of indigenous communities including Tamang, Magar, Newar, Thami, Bhugel and others, and directly above our homes and/or lands, schools, historical, religious and cultural sites,” added the representatives.
“We are concerned that will have significant socio-cultural and economic impacts on our lives that the project has not discussed with us and we have already begun to experience.”
They further informed the officials of their lobbying and protests against the project, including through submission of memoranda to local authorities and Prime Minister’s office and declaration of local construction sites as prohibited areas for the project. “While an expert committee was formed to seek alternatives to the project plan through directives of then PM Baburam Bhattarai, we have not learnt of the report of the committee yet,” told Surya Pakhrin from the district council of Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN).
“Instead, excessive police force was used to quell the protests with even shooting orders issued and survey undertaken during a curfew. Scores, including ten local indigenous women, were injured in clashes with the police and are undergoing treatment,””
He further added, “We thus request the Bank to suspend financing for the project that, in name of development, not only violates the rights of indigenous peoples to guaranteed in international instruments, including UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labor Organization Convention 169 but has also threatened personal lives of the locals.”
The representatives sought information about alternatives to the current plan of the transmission lines and alerted the officials of their readiness to struggle till death against the plan.
In response to queries from the Bank officials, the representatives notified of not receiving any information about environmental and social assessments undertaken for the project, including grievance mechanisms and other mitigation or benefit plans therein.
“It is thus clear that the implementing agency of the project, Nepal Electricity Authority under the Ministry of Water Resources has not complied with the Bank’s Safeguard policies,” Shankar Limbu, Secretary of Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples said. “Even relevant national laws have been ignored.”
“We thus request the Bank to provide complete information on the project and facilitate between government and affected indigenous and local communities to resolve the issue.”
Besides communicating with World Bank officials, including its President, LAHURNIP had facilitated filing of a written petition at Nepal’s Supreme Court in January requesting interim order to halt the project works in the district. The Court had denied such order at the phase of the project where the land acquisition for the project had been completed as per information provided by NEA.
The representatives argued that acquisition of land for the project is only now being undertaken through Department of Roads under a separate project for widening local roads.
The Bank officials informed the representatives of having little knowledge on the issues regarding the project in the district due to which they had recommended deferring construction works until the issues resolved. They responded positively to providing possible information on the project as per relevant policy of the Bank while committed to hold further discussions after also hearing from the project-implementing agency.
They apprised the representatives that the Bank regularly monitors compliance to its Safeguard Policies relating to environment, social impact and Indigenous peoples in any phase of the Project, thus they are sensitive in this regard.
The project aimed at developing Nepal’s hydropower potential in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner so as to help meet electricity demand, improving access of rural areas to electricity services and promoting private participation in the power sector as a way to improve sector efficiency and to mobilize financing for the sector’s investment requirements. It was approved in May 2003 to be completed in December 2013.
More information on the project can be requested from LAHURNIP.