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When villages plug in: Rural Electrification in Nepal

Centre for Science and Environment - Down to earth

05 / 2010

In Nepal, lost in the chaos of political upheavals, a silent revolution is afoot. In remote villages of this mountainous and energy-starved country people are demanding their right to electricity. They say electricity is a national good; everyone must have a right to it.

This is not to say Nepal has enough electricity for all. It is crippled by hours of power cuts. But the question is: if there is some, who should get it? Only the urban Nepal connected to the grid or the entire country? A notification offered an answer.

It provided the way to distribute energy on demand from communities, who would share the burden of its management. The new arrangement is bringing gains to the country, where transmission losses are high. This consumer movement is fast reshaping the ways in which electricity is distributed and managed across rural Nepal.

From a mother’s group in north Pokhara to a forest users’ group in Bangesal to a Thame Bijli Company that has trained 11 villagers as linesmen and meter readers, people are leading from the front to manage power. But the challenge has only just begun. Nepal’s hunger for electricity remains. The big projects it planned are on paper. The country’s electricity generation plans are coming full circle. A few years ago Nepal was the donor’s dream as far as micro-electricity projects—hydel to solar—were concerned. They were, and are, being tried out with varying success. But people wanted reliable power and also the equal right to state-generated electricity.

The electricity rights movement brought the grid to villages. It can displace the micro-generation projects, while bringing more power cuts than power. Can Nepal integrate decentralized and centralized generation through the grid? This grand experiment will bear lessons on new energy futures.

ADITYA BATRA travels to villages in Nepal and meets the people behind the idea and the movement.

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