A constructive dialogue

A collaborative initiative for the communities affected by a hydropower project

In the rural villages of Gorkha district of Nepal, the news of building a new hydropower project is not taken lightly. This is one of the country’s most fragile areas and people have only begun to recover from the deadly 2015 Earthquake with Gorkha as the epicentre. The physical scars of the earthquake and multiple aftershocks still remain visible in many of the district’s areas.

The villagers have a genuine concern about their displacement as a result of the 1200 Megawatts Budhi Gandaki hydropower project, with its storage facility being extended to two districts including Gorkha and Dhading. It is estimated that 3,000 families would be displaced. Among them are 50 ‘Social Families,’ which are cohesive and inclusive groups of the most marginalized and poorest communities mostly comprising Dalits and indigenous nationalities. The Social Families were created by the Governance Facility’s partner Samagra.

The families have been sharing their grievances about the uncertainty of the compensation and resettlement plans of the hydropower facility. Lack of timely and correct information has been generating a lot of assumptions and confusions especially due to inconclusive discussions between the local community and political leaders and the hydropower project.

In late 2016, the Governance Facility suggested Samagra to collaborate with the policy institute, The Niti Foundation to initiate a constructive dialogue among stakeholders in Budhi Gandaki. A key outcome of this initiative would make an effort to resolve key issues and share accurate information. This would also contribute towards higher level policy reform to address the issues of other communities in similar situations.

The GF played a key role in facilitating an interaction between its two key partner organisations, both of which have their specific expertise in different fields. Niti has expertise on policy reforms related to hydropower and has good networks at the policy formulation level. Samagra has good knowledge on local contexts and good relationships with local communities in five VDCs of Gorkha.

The dialogues have yet to take place at a bigger scale in Gorkha among the stakeholders but the series of interactions between Samagra and Niti has resulted in several ideas, and one of them is to start financial literacy training for the communities. The project (Read Financial Literacy training to Gorkha communities for details) has already been launched with GF’s support to give training to the Social Families in Darbung of Gorkha. Samagra has partnered with Nepal;s Rastriya Banijya Bank, Nepal’s largest bank, run by the Government of Nepal.

Financial literacy training is important for the social families. All the transaction for the compensation amount for the Budhi Gandaki takes place through the banks and these communities do not even have bank accounts. In addition, experiences show that people have often finished their compensation amount over nothing due to ignorance and clear guidance. Samagra also wants to help these communities understand the need for wise use/investments of the amount for a secure future.

The effort has been well appreciated by local communities who have started receiving compensation from the Budhi Gandaki Hydropower project. The positive impact of the training project is evident in the way that communities from neighbouring VDCs have requested a similar training program.

This is one of the impacts of the collaboration between Samagra and Niti, and other initiatives catering to the needs of the hydropower project-affected communities will be initiated.

Relationships between people and infrastructure project have always been challenging, yet important. Evidence from Nepal and elsewhere show that projects such as hydro power are increasingly scrutinized by the public over the resulting social and environmental impacts. This is more severe in the case of hydro-projects of storage designs where the creation of reservoirs leads to displacement of local communities among others.

Information asymmetry at the local level also leads to further tension between affected communities and the project. This often results in delays in project completion, ultimately impacting both communities and hydro power projects. With the government of Nepal committing to develop more hydro power projects to support its vision of economic growth, the relationship between communities and each project is crucial. This will require more civic space for dialogue and community consensus.

(Photo courtesy: SAMAGRA)