Yangyel Lhaden

The fate of the trouble stricken Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I (PHPA I) will be decided this year, the project’s chairperson and economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said.

Earlier in March the minister said that a clear path for the largest project in the country would be ready within March after a holistic report on the issues related to the dam and sliding had been finalised and was being independently vetted.

“This year what will happen to Punatsangchhu will be decided, it was supposed to be done by June,” said Lyonpo.

However, it was learnt that there are differences in opinion on the issues related to dam and the sliding by PHPA I’s consultant, Centre Water Commission (CWC), and The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), the third party who reviewed the report. The two, it was learnt, couldn’t come to  common terms of resolution.

If a dam could be built or not will be given another shot through an independent study involving international experts.

Lyonpo said that there was a need of a third intervention since the two parties could not consolidate a decision and due to lack of capacity in the country, it was difficult to draw a conclusion by relying on the two parties.

One of the disagreements between the two parties was on the safety factor.  CWC in its report, stated that the factor of safety was  1.2 to 1.4. The third party consultant NHPC vetted the report and disagreed since the factor of safety was below 1. According to international standards, for a dam to be built the safety factor should be at least one.

NHPC said that considering the geological challenges, making a dam would compromise the safety. NHPC suggested a barrage, canal to bring water, instead of a dam, according to the minister.

Lyonpo said that the holistic report submitted by CWC was not  convincing. “What we want is the report to be very clear and be able to guarantee a long term solution,” he said.

Lyonpo said that after that (third party independent study) no studies or waiting would be required. “So far we have been waiting and just seeing slides happen. In the last 6-7 years we have been only studying and delaying it. Time is money. It is also difficult for Government of India to keep on pumping money. So, we need clear result for a decision to be taken.”

The construction of PHPA I commenced in 2008 and it was supposed to be completed by 2016. Works got delayed after the sliding of the entire slope on the right bank of the dam site. The first and biggest slide happened in 2013, local slide in December, 2016 and most recent one last year. PHPA I is expected to complete by  March 2025.