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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

Hydropower Development in Nepal: Local Responses to Technology and Formal Institutions

Kavita Rai

University of Bonn, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), Department of Political and Cultural Change, Germany


Currently in Nepal, there is a big push for large hydro projects as the dominant national strategy not only for sectoral gains but also as an engine for country's overall economic development. Policy makers emphasise that the exploitation of rural natural resources (particularly, land and water) for a larger public gain will ultimately lead to a win-win situation for all. Within this context, formal institutions (laws, acts, policies, and guidelines) provide the framework for direct technological intervention strategies. In terms of outcomes of such intervention for the people affected, formal institutions concentrate on compensatory packages, financial as well as non-financial. There is limited research on how these institutions actually translate at the local rural level in regard to distributional outcomes particularly based on notions of equity or inequity. There is even less research on how the newly implanted technology impacts on people's access, dependence and exploitation of resources, both financial and natural (land and water), whether they are displaced or not by the hydro projects.

This presentation will focus on results on the above, part of an ongoing PhD research. It will be based on a qualitative case study on localised responses to Nepal's largest hydropower project, the 144 MW Kali Gandaki ‘A', in mid-western Nepal, about 180 km west of Kathmandu. It studies the processes through which local actors and groups access knowledge and information of the technological intervention and its associated formal institutions in both the compensatory and post-compensatory stages. It also tries to assess levels of influence and power within specified social structures (caste, class, ethnic group and patron-client relationships) on such access to knowledge and information and how it is further used to affect resource redistribution, both financial and non financial. This will be fed back into policy processes of large hydro, particularly dam intervention, as Nepal (along with India) readies itself for grander projects. It will also help set lessons for debating further on whether large dams are the answer to a poor country's development under the current institutional context.

Keywords: Dam, hydropower, institution, natural resource management, policy, social structure

Contact Address: Kavita Rai, University of Bonn, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), Department of Political and Cultural Change, Walter-Flex-Straße 3, 53113 Bonn, Germany, e-mail: krai@uni-bonn.de

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