As Modi and Oli patch up after last year’s elections in which Oli capitalised on the perception that he had stood up to India during the Blockade, there are also concerns about how Nepal will safeguard its national interest on water resources from now on.
Back in 1996, it was Oli himself who persuaded his UML party to support the controversial Mahakali Treaty which was said to have cheated Nepal of water rights.
And in 1993 the UML government at the time vehemently opposed the Arun project which was pushed by the World Bank before it pulled out.
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Given what a political hot potato talking about building high dams on the Kosi or Karnali can be at a time when there is so much mistrust in Kathmandu, Modi and Oli are cleverly using the term ‘waterway’ as a code word for ‘dam’.
Reservoirs in Nepal would be useful for monsoon flood control and lean season augmented flow of Indian rivers for irrigation and inland waterways.
This could be why Oli is suddenly obsessed about making rivers navigable, and Modi talks about connecting Sagar (Mt Everest) to Saagar (Ocean) through inland waterways.
The argument is that inland waterways would bring the Bay of Bengal right to the Nepal border and allow Nepal access to the sea. Oli appears to be transfixed with the idea of flying the Nepali flag on its own merchant marine.
“Nepal will not benefit from making Indian rivers navigable,” Shrestha explains. “Modi is trying to persuade Nepal by saying it will have access to the sea and will no longer be landlocked so that Nepal will not drive a hard bargain for compensation for inundation.”
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