Every year, the onset of winter calls for an increased demand in electricity supply as people resort to various heating devices so as to keep warm. Officials at the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) have always been very well aware of this phenomenon.

However, power supply has been fluctuating this winter and on Monday alone, power supply to the Kathmandu Valley was disrupted for half an hour from 6:00 pm.

Though NEA officials have repeatedly attributed abrupt disruptions in power supply to “technical problems”, the public have been quick to suspect irregularities at NEA ever since former managing director Kul Man Ghishing bid farewell after completing his four-year tenure.

According to NEA Acting Executive Director Hitendra Dev Shakya, ‘forced load shedding’ caused the power disruption on Monday. He said that the demand for electricity stood at 1,457 MW (comparatively higher) on Monday evening and a unit of the Mid-Marsyangdi Hydropower Project was shut down due to technical reasons, which reduced the power supply to the system by 30 MW.

On the same day last year, the peak demand for electricity stood at 1,407 MW.

Shakya added, “The Khamti-Lamosanghu transmission line, transmitting power from India to Nepal, tripped and soon after the Dhalkebar-Janakpur line also faltered. All this caused disruption in power supply and so electricity was cut off in most parts of the Valley at once.”

During Ghising’s tenure, NEA used to cite temporary ‘technical issues’ as cause for power disruption and insist that Nepal produced enough electricity to meet its winter demand.

However, now the Authority has started claiming that ‘force load shedding’ was carried out in some areas in the past as well.

Citing an increased demand for electricity this year as compared to last year, Shakya hinted that such ‘forced load shedding’ will continue to occur this year from time to time.

As per Shakya, the current demand in the Kathmandu Valley is around 400 MW. However, the data at the Power Transmission Center says otherwise. According to the Center, the demand for electricity in Kathmandu was 424 MW at this time last year, but now the peak demand stands at around 374 MW.

An official at the Center informed that the demand for electricity in the Valley was lower this year as compared to last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down many large hotels and night businesses.

According to the Center, the peak demand for electricity across the country was 1,326 MW on December 28 last year while it increased to 1,434 MW on the same day this year. Most of the electricity is consumed in the Kathmandu Valley.

NEA officials have pointed at managerial weakness for frequent disruptions in power supply in the recent days at a time when the demand for power is declining in Kathmandu. They added that power leakage had also increased in recent days leading to increased daily power cuts.

When Ghising was appointed MD at NEA, the state-run power authority was saddled with a loss of Rs 34.61 billion while the country was forced to face six to seven hours of power cuts even during the monsoon season.

With the help of scientific management and changes in the management of electricity supply, Ghising not only ended the crippling 12-18 hour daily power cuts but also earned NEA a net profit of Rs 1.47 billion in 2016, the year he was appointed managing director.

Ghising is an electrical engineer who removed the 24-hour dedicated feeds to industries, through which his predecessors had been providing businesses low tariff electricity in return for kickbacks.

In the winter of 2016, Nepalis were getting only six hours of electricity a day because NEA officials in cahoots with industrialists were allowing half the 750MW electricity generated to be diverted to businesses.

After Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dismissed then Energy Minister Barsha Man Pun’s proposal to reappoint Ghising as NEA’s MD on September 15, Hitendra Dev Shakya was appointed as the acting executive director November 9.

A day after seven ministers tendered their resignation en-masse, Oli reshuffled his Cabinet and added new faces, one of whom was Top Bahadur Rayamajhi appointed as the Energy, Water Resources, Irrigation Minister on December 25.

Rayamajhi is a well-known face in the energy sector as he was the Energy Minister also in 2015, appointed by Oli. During his tenure as the Energy Minister, Nepalis faces over 10 hours of daily power cuts.

Rayamajhi was not only a witness but also a participant in Nepal’s darkest days when NEA faced a loss of Rs 34 billion. During his previous tenure, Rayamajhi had announced an ambitious target of generating 10,000 MW of electricity in 10 years through the ‘National Energy Crisis Mitigation and Power Development Decade Concept Paper and Action Plan’.

The plan claimed that eliminating load shedding would depend on electricity imported from India.

However, the then Energy Minister Jandarshan Sharma and then NEA MD Ghising succeded in eliminating the 18-hour daily load shedding with the import of only 40 MW additional electricity from India.

When Ghising was MD, he said that NEA was not worried about the increasing demand for electricity, but was worried about ways to increase consumption of surplus power generated in the country.