… from electrification to road construction, new helicopters and summertime shelters for horses 

Chencho Dema | Punakha

Lunana villages will be supplied with solar panels as the government attempts to provide a sustainable and reliable electrification alternative, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

He said that the mini-hydro plant in the area with a capacity of 500kW was costing around Nu 600 million (M). Though hydropower is preferred over solar, constructing a hydro plant needs the budget at once whereas solar can be installed phase-wise for the 11 villages. He said that when he met around 200 highlanders of Laya and Lunana this week in Punakha.

The total solar capacity works out to 650kW at an estimated cost of Nu 500M and the government to date has secured Nu 9M for Lhedi village from Bhutan for Life. There is also a possibility of providing funds for one more village by March 2023.

The electrification, construction of roads, and the use of helicopters and summertime sheds for horses were among some of the issues that the highlanders raised at the meeting.

A Lunana resident, Ugyen Dorji asked if the government has plans to buy a new helicopter.

Lyonchhen said that the government plans to purchase new helicopters, and it remains a top priority even though it might take some time. He said that the economic circumstances were not favourable currently after the Covid-19 pandemic cost the government more than Nu 12B (billion), which is equivalent to the price of more than 30 helicopters.

For now, he said that the helicopter in Bumthang was able to cater to the needs of Gelephu and Mongar.

The construction of 15.6km road from Lubzur in Sephu to Gyentsha in Lunana is expected to reduce the journey time of Lunaps by at least a day. Another plan is underway to pave an 8km road from Ramina village from Punakha. This will decrease the travel time by another day. The project was expected to begin in 2021. Dorji Dolay from Lunana asked when it could be completed.

Lyonchhen said that although it would take some time, the road will eventually reach Lunana.

“As the road to Lunana is built, the beauty, sanctity, and distinctiveness of the area may be compromised as we get closer to Thimphu. Despite this, road will reach Lunana in the future.”

PM further said that the Lunana gup can submit a plan to the government which can be further discussed on how to proceed, but the government will unquestionably support building the road.

The road from Ramina to Jazeyphu would benefit around 35 percent of Lunana’s population which has 185 households with over 800 residents. The Sephu-Lunana road was inaugurated on November 6, 2020.

The horses and the people of Lunana make at least four trips to transport food stocks ahead of the hard and long winter which takes at least six days.

Another resident from Lunana requested the prime minister if their horses could be kept at Phobjikha and Khotakha in Wangduephodrang when they return to their villages.

Lyonchhen said that the government is aware of their issue and how crucial the horses are to the Lunaps. “We need to find a solution to the problem and a proper place for the horses to remain.”

He said that he would soon meet with the dzongdags of Gasa, Punakha, and Wangdue to discuss the issue and try to find a solution.

Tashi Namgay from Lunana said that it was difficult for them to return home with the horses.

“In 2022 we became stranded owing to heavy snowfall. We would appreciate it if the government looked for a solution to this problem,” he said. “Lunana is less developed than Laya and is located in a secluded area without electricity and road access.”

Former Lunana Tshogpa Gyem Tenzin claimed that the PM had promised a heavy-duty helicopter with a carrying capacity of roughly 12 people more than the two helicopters that are now in use.

The two helicopters, which can each carry 320kg at a time, can only be used to travel to Lunana from Punakha at a cost of Nu 81,000 a person.

Lyonchhen also shared updates on the transformation initiatives, the country’s economic status and other government activities.