Looming Energy Crisis: Search For Alternatives : Uttam Maharjan
Being a landlocked country, Nepal is heavily dependent on India to bring into the country various commodities, including petroleum products. There is a business-to-business agreement between the country and India. As per the agreement, India is required to make uninterrupted supplies of petroleum products to the country. But India tends to frequently harass the country on one pretext or the other by disrupting the supply of petroleum products.
The recent disruption of the supply of petroleum products to the country by India is a glaring example of bullying. The Madhes-centric parties have been staging protest programmes along the Nepal-India border for over two months, apparently on the coattails of India. Although it is obvious that India is imposing an unofficial trade blockade on Nepal, the Madhes-centric parties are saying, rather pigeon-heartedly, that they have been disrupting the supply of petroleum products to their own country. In fact, they have the courage to say so with backing from India. What a treacherous attitude of imposing an embargo on their own country just to get their demands, whether justified or unjustified, fulfilled at any cost!
It has been a month since the supply of petroleum products to the country was disrupted. The Sushil Koirala government miserably failed to smoothen the supply of petroleum products. The new government under the leadership of KP Sharma Oli has not yet succeeded on this front, either. However, rays of hope have emerged that the problem will be resolved soon with imports of petroleum products from China. The other day the government sent Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa to India on a kind of mission to break the imbroglio seen in the supply sector. But India blamed the ongoing Terai agitation for the disruption of the supplies, and Thapa could not take a solid stand. In other words, he acquiesced in what India said. So there is no sign of India lifting the embargo any time soon.
Why has this kind of situation prevailed for so long, although the people are suffering a lot? Industries have closed down one after another; hotels and restaurants have closed down; households have been badly affected due to a dearth of cooking gas; the tourism sector has been badly bruised; banks and financial institutions have been affected; and the economy as a whole has been on the doldrums. At a time when the country should be proceeding on the path to development with an end to the long-festering transition period, the situation of the country is now going from bad to worse, to say the least.
The government knows well that India frequently troubles the country on one pretext or the other. Even now, India has twice deceived the country by calling up NOC officials to dispatch their tankers for a filling-up and then refusing to give the fuel, citing prohibitory orders from the Delhi government. NOC has also called for a global tender for the supply of petroleum products. But due to non-cooperation from the government, the tender process is rotting away. NOC says that it cannot sign a business-to-business agreement with any country until there is a government-to-government agreement in place.
What is noteworthy about the tender is that the IOC, which has been disrupting the supply of petroleum products for a month, has submitted its tender, thus scoffing at the tender itself. The situation has now worsened beyond our tolerance. Realising that India will not ease the fuel supply any time soon, the government has taken the initiative, which should have been taken weeks ago, in importing petroleum products from China. For this, a delegation has already reached China. If the initiative had been taken soon after the blockade was imposed on the country by India, petroleum products would already have come from China, and the supply situation would have been normal.
With the initiative, the supply situation will come back to normal sooner or later. But the government should learn a lesson from this adversity. Petroleum products are not churned out in the country; they have to be imported from abroad. But arrangements can be made to lessen the use of petroleum products. There may be alternatives galore.
In this regard, hydropower may come in handy. The country has no dearth of potential for hydropower. The only thing is the will of the government and cooperation from the locals, leaders and other stakeholders. If hydropower can be utilised, the problem of loadshedding will come to an end. This will save a lot of petroleum products used to run generators. Incentives to use electric appliances for cooking purposes will further cut down on the consumption of petroleum products. What is more, incentives to use electric transport means such as e-scooters, electrical cars and trolley buses will further slash the use of petroleum products. Even electric trams and trains could be developed.
There are other forms of energy that can be resorted to. Wind power, solar power and thermal power are some of the forms of energy that can be utilised to meet the growing energy requirements of the country.
It is reported that the country has petroleum mines and gas reserves. Exploring such fields may be costly and would require highly-skilled manpower. But it would not be out of the question to explore such fields. The government needs to make long-term planning for the exploration of petroleum products and gas reserves. Depending on other countries will, for sure, give trouble to the country in the future from time to time. It is the need of the hour for the government to make plans for alternative arrangements for the uninterrupted supply of petroleum products. After all, the government must act responsibly towards mitigating the sufferings of its people.