The Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, a mega hydroelectric-cum-irrigation project prioritised by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, is not likely to move ahead anytime soon as talks between Nepal and India to finalise a detailed project report (DPR) ended inconclusively on Wednesday.
The setback coincided with the departure of Prime Minister Deuba to India on a five-day official visit.
One of the major items on the agenda of the visit is expediting the construction of the 5,600 MW Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project located on the Mahakali River in the Farwest.
Deuba said that construction of the mega project, which is to be built jointly by Nepal and India, was on his priority list right after assuming office.
According to an Energy Ministry official, Deuba had wanted contentious issues regarding the DPR resolved before his visit to India so that it could be finalised while he was in New Delhi. To this end, secretary-level meetings between Nepal and India were held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
However, the meeting of the Joint Expert Group led by Madhusudhan Adhikari, secretary of the Water and Energy Commission of Nepal, and Narendra Kumar, secretary of the Central Water Commission of India, ended inconclusively.
“We have now decided to hold several rounds of meetings and finalise the DPR by November,” said an Energy Ministry official who is also a member of the Joint Expert Group.
WAPCOS, an Indian state-owned consultant hired by the Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA), has prepared the DPR of the project which needs to be approved by both countries before construction can start.
Key sticking points are use of water resources, location of the dam, installed capacity of the project, cost sharing, funding arrangements and construction modalities of the project.
The Joint Expert Group, which is led by secretaries of the two countries, was formed in a bid to resolve the outstanding issues.
Officials and experts say that the differences can be sorted out only at the political level, and Nepali members of the group have urged Deuba to hold talks with his counterpart Narendra Modi.
“As Prime Minister Deuba is the signatory to the agreement on the multipurpose project from Nepal’s side, he should urgently talk with his Indian counterpart to push the project ahead,” said a source.
Deuba has put Pancheshwar at the top of his to do list. Immediately after assuming the post of prime minister for the fourth time, he said that the project would be pushed forward.
However, the fate of the project hangs in the balance as there is strong opposition against it in the Indian state of Uttarakhand which lies across the Mahakali River from Nepal.
The Uttarakhand state government has been urging the Indian federal government to address outstanding issues before going ahead with the project.
According to the state government, the planned Pancheshwar dam will submerge 60 villages and dislocate 31,000 families in Uttarakhand.