This case story highlights an example of community leadership shown by Community Forest User Group (CFUG) members and leaders of the two Community Forest (CFs) in Saipu, Ward-2 of Likhu Tama Koshi Rural Municipality in resolving the dispute for compensation and receiving of project benefits from Lower Likhu Hydropower Project (28.1MW), which is being developed on the banks of Likhu River lying between Ramechhap and Okhaldungha district in Bagmati Province, Nepal.
The Sipupakha CF (2.13ha) and Rolfu CF (107.25 ha) consisting mostly of Sal and Chilaune forests were the sites for tunnel construction of about 300m and 500m respectively. The under-construction hydropower project which commenced its site work in 2016, had received consent from the local communities managing CFs based on a 13-point agreement that assured compensation with technical and financial support and a fair share of project benefits for locals for the loss of forests and trees and other environmental impacts made during the construction of the tunnel in the community forest area.
The demands of the local community included conducting public hearings, providing employment opportunities, up-gradation of roads and support for education, health, and drinking water in the area, and plantation of trees in exchange for trees that were to be felled for the construction works.
The present Constitution of Nepal has provisions in Article 27, which is regarding rights relating to access to information, and Article 30 regarding the right to be compensated for environmental damage which can be directly justified by the demands of the locals. There are other provisions as per the existing laws in Nepal like the project developers have to carry out environmental and social impact studies prior, to mitigating and reducing negative socio-economic, cultural, and environmental impacts like planting 25 trees in areas with inadequate forest cover for a single tree that has been felled while building their project or hand-over the required money for the same purpose.
Both international and national laws also have the provision of social and economic regulations for the interests of local communities affected by the hydropower projects by setting standards of benefit sharing, access to information through public hearings, and compensating affected people for all harms and damages. Likewise, the project developer itself has a corporate social responsibility as a part of business operations norms.
But, in the case of the study area, the agreement asserted, consisting of very basic justified demands and perspective of the affected communities with claims and payment of compensation and project benefits was never fulfilled by the hydro project, long after the project started its construction work also. So, the local CF leaders and community people of Rolfu CF and Sipu pakha CF warned the project officials about their agreement. When the hearing and fulfillment of the demands were not made aftermath also, they decided to protest and halt the project construction works and took a stand to only let construction works in reciprocation of fulfilling their prior agreement.
The protest disrupted all of the construction works of the hydro project. During the protest period, those CF leaders and locals who stood against the construction of the project were threatened with the use of police. The CF chairperson of Sipu pakha CF Karna Bahadur Poudel recalls ” Police were after us, they could have taken us, we were on strike from outside our area “.
The locals also pointed out that “No other local government officials and other organizations’ officials helped us in claiming our demands, it was only us who fought for our rights; the company had obtained support from local political leaders too and were not listening to our demands”.
Tika Karki, Chairperson of Rolfu CF added “The project authorities had not provided much information to affected communities about the hydropower project, norms for construction projects, its benefits, and impacts and we too were not fully aware of our rights. So, we had expected further help on this matter from concerned authorities so that we could put our demands more firmly for the welfare of the local communities but we did put our demands with strong assertion”.
Due to the constant protest of the local CF leaders and CFUG members, finally, after 13 days, with local government as a mediator, a new agreement paper was made between the Community people and the officials from the hydropower project. The compensation of 5 lakhs each was provided readily for two CFs. Likewise, for the possible drying up of spring water on the ground above the construction site, a new drinking water project was also started for the community people. Few were provided with employment opportunities based on qualification.
But, during the case study, it was also found that there were other CFs in the area that has not been able to receive such compensation from the hydropower project for the use of their land for tunnel construction and consequent environmental impacts. Even so, we can ascertain that by firm community leadership and strongly putting demands by the local CF leaders and CFUG members, the demands were fulfilled to some extent and the dispute was minimized.