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Interview with Hon'be Energy Minister Janardan Sharma 'Prabhakar'

Interview with Hon'be Energy Minister Janardan Sharma 'Prabhakar'

Janardan Sharma ‘Prabhakar’ is Minister for Energy and has taken a host of initiatives for energy sector reforms, including ending load shedding in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. He talked with IBN Dispatch about the opportunities and challenges in the development of the hydropower sector in Nepal.

You are involved in a campaign to reform the energy sector What is the agenda that is occupying you now?

We are confronting a host of problems in the energy sector: Lack of integrated planning and conducive policies, the long-standing demands of project developers, and the growing expectations and demands of people are some of the issues we are working to resolve. It is very challenging to address such problems for the rapid development of the energy sector in Nepal. We need renewed programmes and policies. We have been able to address some of the pressing problems in this sector though policy reforms, but others are yet to be resolved. We are thinking about how to complete long-delayed projects and we have started listening to the people and collecting their expectations, in order to formulate policies and programmes in line with their needs. Another, most important agenda we are focused on, is making load shedding history. 

When will our whole country be load shedding free? 

We have been able to end load shedding in the capital and some other places in the country are enjoying minimal hours of load shedding. Our ‘Brighter Nepal’ campaign will help us to end load shedding soon. However, we need to dispel some misunderstanding about the hydropower sector. First, we have to change the mindset that we can achieve prosperity by exporting our electricity. Instead, we should build our capacity to consume locally-produced electricity domestically. Similarly, we have to shake off the notion that we don’t have sufficient capital. We have sufficient capital and we can arrange additional capital for large development projects. First, we need to prioritise domestic investment in hydropower projects. If this is not enough, we can then take loans from international agencies and attract foreign direct investment. To effectively implement energy sector reforms, we have established power generation, developed the grid, facilitated electricity trading and hydroelectricity investment, and established development and engineering companies.

You have initiated the slogan ‘Nepal’s water, people’s investment’ under the ‘Brighter Nepal’ campaign. But the existing capacity of Nepal in terms of human resources, capital and technology demands more foreign direct investment in large-scale hydropower projects. How can we sync these two components? 

‘Nepal’s water, people’s investment’ is a campaign designed to effectively harness our water resources by maximising the use of our own people’s money and local human resources, paving the way for people’s ownership of hydropower projects, thereby maximising the returns to the people. If we succeed in developing hydropower projects in this modality, our people will reap the benefits, which will ultimately contribute to national prosperity. If we speed up the development of hydropower and encourage consumption domestically in industries, we will be able to bring down the trade deficit and generate more employment. Nationality cannot be strengthened by blaming others, only by making our people prosperous. Without prosperity, our nationality cannot be safeguarded. We are capable of developing small projects in terms of capital, technology and human resources. For large-scale projects, we can call on international lending agencies or international investors.

The ‘Ujyalo Nepal Abhiyan’ (Brighter Nepal Campaign) is this government’s signature campaign. How can you be assured that this campaign will continue if the government changes?

It is true that any government cannot last forever, but some crucial programmes initiated by the present government should not be dismissed by successive governments. I am hopeful that future governments will also give due priority to such programmes.  

We are talking about the domestic funding of hydropower projects, but many projects developed through domestic resources are not completing on time. What is your take on this?  

We are worried that development projects (both domestically-fund and those funded by FDI) are not performing as expected. Even IBN-facilitated foreign investment projects are experiencing delays. We need to overcome some hurdles to ensure better performance in project implementation.  

We are talking about the implementation of large-scale projects in a rapid way, but procedural hurdles, such as delays in the EIA process and the acquisition of government and private land, are key problems facing such projects. How can we overcome such hurdles? 

Delays in the development of associated infrastructure, such as transmission lines for hydropower projects, slow bureaucratic processes for approving environmental impact assessments (EIAs), the tedious process of acquiring land, and the selection of inappropriate and incapable developers are major factors that have been hampering the timely execution of projects. I am putting full effort into creating an environment that paves the way for the speedy implementation of hydropower projects. We must put in place an integrated approach in full coordination with the concerned ministries to speed up the implementation of large-scale projects, including by minimising the time needed to complete the feasibility study, detailed project report, and EIA. I am presenting a proposal to the cabinet in this regards so that the government can come up with a policy to address such hurdles. If we work in line this approach, I am sure that we can complete small project in three years, medium-sized projects in five years and large-scale projects in seven years. 

You and other high-ranking officials under your ministry have been travelling to different districts and interacting with people regarding ‘Nepal’s water, people’s investment’.  What response have you received?

In the past people were hopeless. Now people are feeling relieved and are optimistic about the host of initiatives being undertaken by our ministry for reform in the power sector, including minimising load shedding. The warm response we have received from people has emboldened us. We are hopeful that people will enthusiastically participate in ‘Nepal’s water, people’s investment’ campaign. ♦