It is almost 8am. Pratap Singh, 28, gets to his workstation at Punatsangchu Hydropower Project Authority (PHPA) II above Wangdue-Tsirang highway road.

Wearing a knee-high rubber boots, a safety helmet and a shirt with the project- logo, Pratap is all set to enter a tunnel to start his 12-hour shift.

As he comes out of the tunnel, he rubs his eyes with his mud-strained hands and takes a long breath. There is a bus waiting for him.

Electricians fitting lights in a tunnel

Pratap is from Himachal Pradesh in India. He came to Bhutan in 2012 after he was recruited by a sub-contractor under the GAMMON Company.  He works as a driller inside the Adit-I-phase-II of the headrace tunnel at PHPA II.

Pratap has worked with hydroelectric projects in Jammu and Kashmir. He was 19 when he first started after completing class X. His starting salary was Rs 6,000 a month. Today he earns Nu 12,000 a month.

Pratap keeps Nu 2,000 sends rest of his salary to his family in India. “I work hard to support my family.”

After coming to Bhutan in 2012, Pratap went twice to India on holiday. “I took a month long leave from work.” Workers like Pratap are not paid salary when on leave.

Pratap lives in labour camp and eats from the mess. He contributes a minimum fee to the mess every month. Contractor gives worker safety boots and helmets.

Pratap said he enjoys working inside the tunnel. But there is always a risk “We often get hit by falling boulders and lose soil,” he said. “Electric shock and minor accidents occur inside the tunnel.”

Working inside tunnel is always a challenge. It is muddy and dark and there is no place to sit and rest. Water keeps falling from above.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue


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