Community voices: interview with a Nepalese indigenous community affected by a transmission line project

By Lorena Cotza Oct 28, 2020

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Community meeting in the Lamjung district, Nepal.

In the Lamjung district, in Nepal, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are funding a 220 kV transmission line. The Marsyangdi Corridor will transport electricity towards Kathmandu and India as part of the EIB’s Nepal Power System Expansion Project. But this project is violating the rights of the local indigenous communities, that have not received fair compensation and were denied their right to free, prior and informed consent because there were no opportunities for meaningful consultation and participation.

Concerns voiced by affected indigenous populations have been met by intimidation and threats of imprisonment by the Chief District Officer (CDO), and by refusal to mediate by the implementing authority, the Nepalese Electricity Agency (NEA). 

According to a new report by CounterBalance and Banwatch, no free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) was obtained, and documents were not provided in local indigenous languages or in Nepalese. Furthermore, these land rights concerns echo a history of violence against communities protesting development in Nepal, which hinders public participation.

Below, an interview with a representative of a local indigenous community affected by the transmission line:

How will the project affect the life of the local people and their environment?

This 220 kV transmission line project, funded by the European Investment Bank and executed by the Nepal Electricity Authority, a state owned corporation, is being implemented in our territories in the Lamjung district, Gandaki Province, Nepal. The project has violated our rights to free, prior and informed consent, meaningful consultation, and participation. We are not provided just and fair compensation. The project failed to comply with national and international laws, including operational policies of EIB.

Our rights to FPIC must be respected since the project is being operated in our territories affecting our lands and environment. We are concerned about our safety, health, issues due to outside labor and gender impact. Our lands have been devaluated, it’s difficult to get mortgages, we got inadequate compensation, and no individual or collective benefit sharing. We are concerned about our environment, such as the impact on birds and animals, lower crop yield, deforestation, and sound impact.

Local people should be the ones deciding what’s happening in their territory, but in this case there was not adequate consultation and participation. Can you tell us more about this and how EIB and the company violated your right to be properly consulted?

The NEA and EIB have violated our right to FPIC since the project’s began operating in our territories. There was no disclosure. We were not consulted and no-one ensured our participation in the decision making process. The project is going to impact our sacred sites and lands, as well as our natural resources and livelihoods.

Can you tell us more about your struggle against the project? How did you mobilize? Have you received threats or were you harassed when you started opposing the projects?

When we found out that the project people had started measuring and marking our lands for the installation of the tower of the transmission line, we started seeking out information. We asked the Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP) – an organization of Indigenous Lawyers-  more about legal matters to be compiled by the project developer. Then, we formed a loose forum that we called the “FPIC and Rights Forum” to make our voice heard collectively, so that our human rights and legal rights can be respected. We formed a total of 14 village level struggle committees to make our voice stronger.

We have made a series of complaints to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Office of the Chief District Officer (CDO) in Lampung district, the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). We have a series of dialogue with NEA and project authorities, but our demands are not getting heard yet.

We submitted the complaint on 8 October 2018 with the EIB’s Complaints Mechanism, requesting mediation to help resolve their issues with project financiers, promoters and government authorities. The Bank CM conducted an assessment in March 2019 and issued a report in July 2019. The report made the recommendation for mediation to resolve communities’ issues, and offered to facilitate a dialogue between the community and the Nepal Electricity Authority, but the NEA rejected sitting at the mediation table with us. We have been informed that the CM is going through investigation to find out if Bank’s Environmental and Social rules have been complied with.

The land compensation has been determined for some sections of the project without our participation and consultation, with a very low price set by the Chief District Office who is mandated to acquire the land legally. We are constantly raising our demands. We are being insisted to accept the compensation again and again by the project and Chief District Office, however we are denying the compensation until and unless our demands are met.

NEA authorities are intimidating land owners, saying that the government can take the lands of the people at any time for the public purpose. In some places, the NEA has started installing transmission tower pads and mobilizing security forces, without settling the compensation issue.

Those who oppose these projects are often accused of being “anti-development”, even though they are simply struggling to defend their rights and to decide their own priorities for the future. What are the needs for you/your community? What is your own idea/model of “development”?

We have constantly been protesting against the project for the past 4 years. We have been directly and indirectly threatened by the CDO office and project authorities to be jailed via the charge of “public offence”. We, the leaders of affected communities, are threatened by the CDO to be jailed in the charge of misleading the communities against the development….

We want rights-based and self-determined development. We want the development project to respect our rights, since Nepal is party to ILO 169 and a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We want our participation in the decision making process and we want collective and individual benefits. We want a grievance handling mechanism. We want justifiable compensation. We want our right to FPIC to be respected. 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND USEFUL LINKS

The LAHURNIP (Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples) overview of the project:

https://www.lahurnip.org/european-investment-bank-eib-funded-220-kv-power-transmission-line-project-lamjung

Accountability Counsel’s overview and analysis of the case: 

https://www.accountabilitycounsel.org/client-case/nepal-220-kv-marsyangdi-corridor-transmission-line/

https://www.accountabilitycounsel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-07-30-complaint-sg-e-2018-39-nepal-power-system-expansion-project-initial-assessment-report.pdf

The EIB project summary:

https://www01.eib.org/en/projects/pipelines/all/20130599

A Nepalese human rights defender’s article on a similar project for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development’s site:

https://rightsindevelopment.org/our-work/hrd/in-nepal-fighting-for-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples/

The full complaint and request for mediation regarding the Nepal Power System Expansion Project can be found here: 

https://www.accountabilitycounsel.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/10-8-18-final-complaint-eng.pdf

On the NEA refusing to join a resolution process:

https://kathmandupost.com/money/2019/08/10/utility-refuses-to-join-resolution-process-proposed-by-complaints-mechanism

Tags:
  • Finance in Common
  • infrastrcture
  • Nepal
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Lorena Cotza
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