Right to energy: Nepal shows the way
New CSE researches in the strife-torn country point to unique experiments in community-led power distribution and management
Hold many lessons for countries like India, which are keen on building decentralised systems and reinventing energy futures
Most important lesson: right to energy must be universal and guaranteed
New Delhi, May 5, 2010: Across the world, while rights to food and water have been almost universally negotiated and accepted, the right to energy has remained completely ignored. In the South Asian region, where vast areas remain energy deprived and underdeveloped, there is an urgent need to establish this right.
And according to a latest report that Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) South Asian Programme has come out with, Nepal is showing the way how.
CSE’s researches in the mountainous country have shown that villagers in Nepal are exercising their right to energy, granted through a notification of the government. Communities get access to energy by paying certain charges for grid connectivity and by managing (including billing) the system themselves.
According to Sunita Narain, director, CSE, “In this carbon-constrained world where energy and greenhouse gas emissions are so intrinsically linked, the right to energy is a critical issue. And these unique programmes hold a lesson for India and other countries in the South Asian region in the way it is reshaping electricity distribution and management across rural Nepal — all the way from a mother’s group in North Pokhra to a forest users’ group in Bangesal to a Thame Bijli Company that has trained 11 Sherpas as linesmen and meter readers.”
The Nepalese experiment
As is the case in most developing countries, Nepal too does not have enough power for all. Says Aditya Batra, head of CSE’s South Asian Programme and the person behind this new research: “The question, therefore, is if there is some power, who should get it -- should power belong only to urban and connected Nepal or to the entire country?”
A few years ago, Nepal was a donor’s dream as far as micro-electricity projects were concerned. But people wanted reliable power and an equal right to state-generated electricity. This led to building of a grid.
However, there was no power, as the large centralised power projects, planned for supply into the grid, had not been built yet. Ironically, the coming of the grid also threatened to displace the micro-projects.
Says Batra, “The key thing now was to use the centralised and connected grid to both bring and take power from villages. Our research found that there are several nascent experiments in the country to do this.”
In fact, about 420 electricity user groups, cooperatives and committees are working across Nepal to extend the grid into villages. Together, they have electrified 176,000 rural houses – not a small number in a country where 70 per cent of the rural population is not connected to the grid.
Narain points out that Nepal obviously has to do much more to ensure access to power for its citizens. “But there are many lessons here for other countries, including India,” she says. “And the most important is that the right to basic energy must be universal and guaranteed.”