Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma shares the outcome of his four-day visit to New Delhi (July 18 to 21) to Kuensel Reporter Dechen Dolkar
What issues were discussed during the meeting?
The main agenda was to attend the 16th Authority meeting of Puna-II HEP. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, face-to-face authority meetings couldn’t be held for more than two and half years. As such, there were several pending project-related issues to be discussed and decisions to be made, so as to enable the project management to push the project forward. Further project authority meetings are to happen twice a year at alternate venues between Thimphu and Delhi.
Since the chairman of the authority is the Minister for Economic Affairs, the minister requested bilateral meetings with ministers in India through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both as an issue-based as well as courtesy. Indian parliament was going on and all ministers were busy, still then the call on was accepted and meetings were arranged.
What were the outcomes of the meeting?
With regard to the Puna-II HEP Authority meeting, among other several agenda items, the Authority members could deliberate on the cost to completion and commissioning dates of different units of the project.
As the delegation continued in Delhi, the Government of India (GoI) considered the export of sugar to Bhutanese industries and even wheat export will be out sooner.
Similarly, the restrictions on coal import from India and areca nut export to India were other issues favourably taken up. In most of the trade, import/export issues two governments shared issues and understanding reached to smoothen ground issues.
What did the meeting decide on the PHPA-I
barrage and Kholongchhu Hydropower projects?
The GoI has entrusted an independent committee to review the barrage detailed project report (DPR) for PHPA-I, and has requested the government of Bhutan to provide time till the independent committee submits their finding. The GoI impressed that their decision will be based on the outcome of the independent committee. It is also agreed that the pending decision on PHPA-1 is costly and overrun to both sides, thus, efforts will be made to conclude including the Authority meeting for PHPA-1 by a month’s time.
The Bhutanese delegation impressed on the need to firm up the decision on the barrage option since the current dam site is not feasible. To this effect, the GoI side informed that the DPR is still with the Center Water Commission (CWC) and an Independent Committee is being instituted to review the DPR. The GoI side maintained that only after completion of review and receipt of the report from the committee, would then be possible for the two Governments to sit together and discuss a way ahead.
Regarding KHEL, both the parties agreed to work towards closing the Joint Venture (JV) company and to initiate a discussion on the way forward for the project. It is decided to close the current JV model as quickly as possible which the government will convey to DGPC and GoI will convey to SJVNL.
Any other comments?
Hydropower cooperation, changing energy situations, market factors, and the modalities of the cooperation were mostly discussed during this visit. The centre point was hydropower cooperation, its future and the engagement of the two countries.
The power secretary of the GoI is expected to visit Bhutan to take these discussions further at the secretary level.
The visit was successful as we could meet with four counterpart ministers, and discuss our mutual cooperation and understanding. They were as always very supportive and understanding.