All hydro power deals with India faulty: Prof. Subedi

Prof. Hem Raj Subedi is a noted expert on conflict mediation and resolution. Professor Subedi is currently a PhD Programme Coordinator and Head of the Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuvan University. He did his doctoral research on 'Water Disputes in the Sub-continent: Nepalese Perspectives' from B.H.U, Banaras. He has taken non-violence courses from the University of Rhodes Island, USA and been working as a negotiator at national and international levels. A visiting professor to various varsities in Asia, Africa and Europe, Subedi is also a trainer of conflict transformation and resolution.

He talked to The Rising Nepal on various dynamics of the post-conflict phase of Nepali society and prospect of abundant water resources. Excerpts:

As a conflict expert, how do you assess Nepal's current socio-political evolution in the post-conflict phase? Would you shed light on its nature and repercussions for the country?

In fact, I would like to call myself a learner, or practitioner, of conflict resolution rather than an expert. The socio-political evolution of Nepal's post-conflict phase is not happening according to the wishes of the people and as promised by the political leaders.  The political leaders are unable to deliver on their promises. They are quarrelling over power, which has further complicated the situation. The rule of law is missing, and impunity is increasing day by day. There is only a change of the guard and a mere change in the system without any substantial outcomes for the people and country. As a matter of fact, people now talk about the emergence of many monarchs in the new republic. In my personal view, the post-conflict phase witnessed some changes, but they carry many gloomy pictures, too.  Categorically speaking, several factors have come to create the gloom. They are the petty interest of the political parties, rampant corruption, bad governance, hunger for power and self and vested interests that have triggered intra-party conflict. Likewise, the prolonged transition, geopolitical situation, underdevelopment and a fractured economy (which has somehow survived on remittance), unemployment, external influence (micro management), an unpractical education system, hasty decisions and unprincipled compromise or agreements are other factors generating the depressing situation.

Even after the safe landing of the Maoist insurgency, the nation is roiled by ethno-centric politics. How did it emerge? Was it so designed or a spontaneous resurgence that rose to overcome the structural deficits of the Nepali society? How can it be addressed?

There are more than 125 ethnic groups living in Nepal, which are the real treasures and assets of Nepal. Nepal's ethnic beauty can be compared with a beautiful garden. However, ethno-centric politics has become a burning issue these days. I think this has emerged firstly from our own structural deficits. Moreover, the selfish nature of the political parties to centre on political power has fuelled it. We could have brought to the forefront the excluded sections of the society through various internal exercises. However, our political system and politicians have failed to do so. As a result, the nation is currently pestered by ethno-centric politics. This can be solved by the inclusion of the excluded in socio-political, economic, religious and cultural structures.

As the nation has got engulfed in the conflict, 'the conflict industry' also flourished here, with foreign funding further fuelling it. Do you agree that the mushrooming number of INGOs/NGOs working for a conflict resolution have complicated the situation?

I do not totally agree with this. But there are some drawbacks that have contributed to stoking the conflict here.  Primarily, our internal politics is in disarray. In such a situation, different foreign actors tried to fish in the troubled waters.  To some extent, the INGOs and NGOs have certainly complicated the conflict resolution process. They seem to be more involved in the issues that give more importance to their own mandates. This has affected the existing social harmony, as a result of which people seem to be confused. There is duplication of work done by different INGOs; their vested interest is keeping the illiterate people in illusion. They have been fuelling the conflict directly or indirectly to increase their involvement. 

Political conflict continues to sap the nation's strength. This is not going to go away anytime soon despite the promulgation of the new inclusive and democratic statute. How can Nepal achieve lasting peace and stability by ending the prolonged transition?

There were many hiccups in the process, and it took almost nine years to promulgate the constitution through the Constituent Assembly. There are many countries that had failed to forge total consensus on their constitutions. We can take the example of our friendly neighbouring country, India, where the constitution was promulgated by 65 per cent of the total CA members and the US constitution by around 52 per cent of the CA members. But our constitution was promulgated by almost 90 per cent of the CA members.

A democratic constitution is always flexible. Therefore, a constitution can be amended according to the needs, aspirations and demands of time. The friends from Madhes /Terai, even the Janajatis who have their own grievances and real issues against the constitution should take some patience, thinking that their real issues will be incorporated in the constitution in due course of time through an amendment. It is high time we focused on economic development that will finally end the long transition. If we fail to do so, it will be impossible to gain the trust of the people.

Why did Nepal fail to tap into vast water resources it possesses? Why is there always dispute over the hydro projects at the political and local levels? Will this water boon be turned into a 'resource curse' as has happened in many African nations?

The main reason behind the failure to tap the water resources is lack of determination and will power of the political leaders. We lack capital, technology and technical manpower necessary for harnessing the enormous resources prevailing in the rivers and rivulets of Nepal. Most of the bilateral agreements inked with India are faulty. They have failed to address the interests of Nepal. This can be seen in the agreements on the Sharada, Koshi, Gandak and Tanakpur, among others.  When our neighbours are happily quenching their thirst and growing all-season crops, Nepal has been left high and dry without a single drop of water from the sluice gates of the barrages. That's why there is a dispute over hydro projects at the political and local levels.  It is high time we turned white water into gold. Otherwise, we might be snared into a resource curse trap as experienced by other African countries. 

It has been widely perceived that the southern neighbor wants to grab Nepal’s rivers to meet its energy deficit. Is there truth in it?

Our southern neighbour is more interested in getting Nepali waters free and controlling the floods on its land than getting electricity from here.  The present scenario of energy demand in India is very huge. The demand is increasing every year. India plans to manage its energy demands not only from the river water (good negotiations with Bhutan from different water project) but also alternative sources of energy like the wind, solar, coal and nuclear. When we look back at the Nepal-India treaties on the Sharada, Koshi, Gandak and Integrated Mahakali Treaty, India has always had an upper hand in terms of water and energy whereas Nepal seems to have received water and energy only as a token. When integrated the Mahakali Treaty was signed in February 1996, there was a big hype that Nepal would see lots of development through this treaty. Some claimed that the sun would even rise from the west, and previous faulty agreements would be improved and overall Nepal would benefit. It was mentioned that the DPR would be completed within 9 months after the signing of the treaty. Currently, almost 20 years have passed since the signing of the treaty, but there has been no DPR yet. So it clearly shows that India is not interested in power but to have free water and control the floods.

Water issues often come in the way of Nepal-India relations as an irritant. How can this be sorted out?

Nepal has always wanted to have a cordial relationship with India. We have a time-tested and historically proven intimate relationship with India. But, to the contrary, India has never tried to have a reciprocal relationship with Nepal. No doubt, from 1950 to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006, and in the subsequent political changes in Nepal, India has helped Nepal. But, going through the different agreements between Nepal and India, India always wanted to extract a political price from Nepal. This is a common conclusion not only of the Nepalese but also of individuals from around the globe that have studied Nepal-India relations. Nepal is eager to have cooperation in water resources with India. However, Indian bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians are all the time misleading and misusing the realities of Nepal.  India has always shown high handedness, and most of the time shown a “big brotherly” attitude to irritate Nepal.  India is not complying with the water agreements, Helsinki Rules of 1966 and the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational uses of International Water Course of 1997. Moreover, India has always promoted her own dogma of lower riparian benefit while establishing water agreements with Nepal. However, when dealing with Bangladesh, she turns the other way around, claiming upper riparian rights. So there is definitely a problem in the mindset and non-compliance from India. I don’t think there will be any issue in tapping the water resources of Nepal if India complies with the water agreements and international water laws.  

You have also been working as a negotiator and facilitator at national and international levels. Could you share your experiences you have gathered from both fronts?

At both the national and international fronts, the role of a negotiator is to make both the parties start the process of communication. A negotiator needs to show neutrality in conduct, be a good listener and influential. The negotiator needs to be calm and poised, and in any sense he/she should not show a single instance of biasness towards any party.  When both parties come together on the table, the negotiator should try to create a conducive environment for them to exchange their views even in fierce situations. For this, the negotiator needs to also look after the logistical needs. There is hardly any chance for them to come to a resolution through a single meeting, but a facilitator or negotiator should try to be very supportive to enhance communication between the disputing parties. The negotiator should figure out the root cause of the problem and give a logical end in due course of negotiations.  

Could you elucidate about the status professional negotiators and their role in bringing the hostile domestic actors closer?

As I have already mentioned above, the role of the professional negotiator should be impartial and unbiased towards both the parties in disagreement. This applies to bringing the domestic actors closer as well. While doing so, it is very essential for the negotiators not to be politically inclined towards any kind of ideology.  They should also discourage the negative role through the engagement of civil society and media to minimise the prevailing gaps.  The Madhesi and Janajati issues of Nepal can also be brought to a logical conclusion though this very practice.

Would you like to add anything?

'If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion'. My earnest request to every political party, civil society members, media persons, academicians, civil servants, technocrats, security persons and everyone in Nepal is that we have to co-exist in harmony and peace forever. Therefore, we need to live together by wiping out the notion of 'I' and 'thou' from our mindset to make Nepal developed and stronger.

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