Why India Should Prioritize Transmission Corridor For Nepal-Bangladesh Power Trade – OpEd
Bangladesh and Nepal, both have reached an edge of a long-standing wait for India’s consent to start power export from Nepal to Bangladesh using India’s corridor. For the exchange of electricity between Bangladesh and Nepal, the Indian land between the two countries has to be crossed. Consequently, India’s consent is required as transmission lines have to be passed through Indian Territory.
In this regard, on May 15-16, to advance the power export plan further, the fifth joint-secretary-level joint working group and secretary-level joint steering committee meetings between Nepal and Bangladesh have been held. The top agenda of the meetings was to find ways to get consent from India for importing power from two Nepalese projects. The first one is the 52.4-MW Likhu-4 project and the second one is the 683-MW Sunkoshi-3 hydropower project. The framework and priorities of the tripartite agreement with India are expected to finalize in this meeting.
In the first week of this month, in the 21st meeting of the Bangladesh-India Joint Steering Committee held in Khulna India agreed on hydropower trade from Nepal to Bangladesh via India. The two countries also agreed to sign a tripartite power purchase agreement (PPA) to import 500 MW of hydropower to Bangladesh through India from GMR in Nepal. However, in exchange of this Bangladesh have to offer a corridor through its territory for the transmission of electricity from one state of India to another state.
In 2021, Bangladesh showed interest in offering the power corridor and expected to get 20 to 25 percent of the hydropower to be transmitted through the high-voltage gridline passing through its territory. The transmission line with a capacity of 6,000MW in Bangladesh land would be approximately 100-200 km in length.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Nepal in 2019 to purchase 500 MW of power from the Upper Karnali Hydropower Station in Nepal which is developed by India’s GMR Group. However, initially, Nepal is ready to export 52.4 MW of electricity from the Likhu-4 project under the GMR, according to the agreement. The project stands on the border of Okhaldhunga and Ramechhap districts in Nepal and started commercial production in 2022. Nepal agreed to export 40-50 MW power to Bangladesh in the fourth working group meeting of Bangladesh and Nepal, held in Kathmandu in August last year. This will use the high-voltage Baharampur-Bheramara cross-border power transmission link to import power. Another project, the 683-MW Sunkoshi-3 project would take a long time as it is in the feasibility study stage.
During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in September last year, Bangladesh requested that it be allowed to import power from Nepal and Bhutan via India. The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) sought approval from the Indian authorities to export 40-50 MW of electricity to Bangladesh through India’s existing transmission infrastructure. In August 2022, Bangladesh and Nepal decided to request India to allow trade of 40-50 MW of electricity between Nepal and Bangladesh in the initial phase by utilizing the high-voltage Baharampur-Bheramara cross-border power transmission link. As per the understanding reached during the secretary-level Joint Steering Committee (JSC) formed for Nepal-Bangladesh energy cooperation, the NEA and the Bangladesh Power Development Board requested India for a trilateral energy sales and purchase agreement utilizing the power line. Both countries have long been waiting for India’s consent to establish the circulation corridor, but no deal has been finalized yet.
In April 2022, a joint vision statement on power sector cooperation between Nepal and India stated that the two countries intended to widen collaboration in the power sector and to include partner nations under the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) framework.
In the last meeting between Bangladesh and Nepal, along with the use of India’s existing power transmission lines, the issue of constructing a separate or dedicated transmission line in the future for transferring more power from Nepal through the Indian Territory have been discussed. Currently, Bangladesh imports 900-940 MW of electricity via India’s Baharampur to Bheramara transmission line. Considering the unutilized 2,040 MW transmission capacity of Baharampur to Bheramara grid line, the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) proposed finalizing the existing grid to supply imported electricity from the GMR project in Nepal in 2022. In this regard, Indian NVVN stated that Bangladesh and Nepal must involve India differently in cross-border electricity trade using Indian land. In response to India’s demand, Bangladesh will allow India to construct a 116 km transmission line across the territory of Bangladesh for power transmission in the North Eastern states of India.
Due to its geographical situatedness in the northeastern part of India, Bangladesh is strategically important to India from a geopolitical aspect. India needs Bangladesh to establish communication, transportation, and electricity transmission with this almost isolated area. Bangladesh has already offered transit and transshipment to India through its land to ease the transportation of goods in the region. Correspondingly, Bangladesh has the potential to offer multiple electricity corridors for transmission. As India wants to substantially increase their share of renewable energy in the upcoming years, the Indian government has set an ambitious plan to generate 500GW from non-fossil energy-based sources by 2030, meeting 50 percent of energy requirements from renewables.
According to Indian North Eastern Electric Power Cooperation, the Indian North Eastern Region has the potential of about 58,971 MW of power, almost 40 percent of India’s total hydropower potential. Arunachal Pradesh alone has a 50,000 MW of hydroelectricity potential. India plans to explore all hydropower potentials in Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states. But Its costlier to transport this potential hydroelectricity from the North-East region to other parts of India using its own territory. For tapping this potential by reducing this constraint, India needs to build a transmission line through Bangladesh.
Nepal is a country of hydropower potential. As a promoter of regional power trade through common grid, India should open this regional power trade route to achieve regional sufficiency in sustainable green energy through enhancing South Asian regional cooperation. India can achieve its untapped potentials of hydropower from the northeastern region by establishing transmission lines over Bangladesh. On the other hand, Bangladesh should make an agreement with India keeping in mind its geographical and strategic potential. It should be taken into consideration in the agreement that the interests of both countries would be protected based on reciprocity, and Bangladesh would benefit in the long term.
Abdullah Sadi is a researcher on South Asia’s political economy and international politics