… it is three months behind the initial deadline 

Dechen Dolkar  

The committee of experts from Bhutan and India, which was supposed to review and present its recommendations on the proposal to build a barrage at the 1,200MW Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (PI) by January-end was only formed around that time.

During the Indian Power Secretary’s visit to Bhutan in October last year, the two secretaries decided to institute a committee. It has four experts from either side.

The committee was supposed to explore solutions and present their recommendation to the governments by the end of January this year.

Kuensel learnt that the committee of experts was formed recently and started to review the feasibility to construct a dam or barrage.  Currently, the committee is going through the documents.

However, the committee members from India have not yet arrived in the country.

According to sources, the review will start as soon as the committee members from India arrive.

Kuensel learnt that it got delayed since both governments delayed in framing terms of reference. The first consultation was held in Delhi at the end of January. It is expected to take another three months to complete the review.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government is supposed to get the report by January end, but still didn’t get the report.

Initially, the project cost was estimated at Nu 36B and it has escalated to Nu 92B now.

“Government cannot start new hydropower projects unless the old deadlocks are cleared,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that both the inter-government model and joint venture models have failed in the country.

“We know that we have to start a new project, but the past that we have come through was not favourable for us,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that the energy requirement in the country is increasing, but the country is not able to generate to meet its needs.

During winter, Bhutan usually imports electricity from India at Nu 4.12 per unit, and during summer Bhutan exports electricity to India on average at Nu 3.1 per unit. Domestic consumers pay Nu 2.66 per unit to the government.

So far the maximum export  tariff rate for export is from Mangdechhu Hydropower Project at Nu 4.12 per unit.

Bhutanese officials presented the construction of a barrage as a feasible option instead of a dam. The detailed project report (DPR) prepared by a company from Switzerland, Stucky, at a cost of Nu 150M, found the barrage to be feasible at a location 2.6km upstream from the current PI dam site.

However, the government of India officials felt that the barrage was not suitable for safety reasons and expressed their reservations about the proposal.

The decision to construct the barrage came after the right bank of the dam experienced multiple landslides. The project witnessed its first slide in July 2013, followed by a slide in August 2016, and another in January 2019.

The cost of construction of the barrage is estimated between Nu 16 and Nu 18 billion.