Strange developments have been disturbing the people of Kuengarabten in Trongsa for about a month now. Without adequate knowledge of what indeed is playing beneath the surface of the earth that is giving rise to yawning cracks on the homes and roads, the people are now panicking.
The people are blaming the Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) because the project’s tunnel runs right under the village. They, the people of Kuengarabten, have heard and felt the tremors of heavy blasting almost every night. There have been meetings and consultations galore but unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge, the people had to acquiesce to what they were told—that the tunnel building would have no impact on the village.
There have been investigations both from the dzongkhag administration and the MHPA but nothing has come of it yet. Monitoring the cracks and waiting for more reports from the people do not help. The question is who should take the responsibility? The people are demanding that they be told what is being done.
Some residents of the village have already started looking for a safer place to move in to. And that is not easy in such a small community. In the meanwhile, the cracks on the walls of their homes are widening. The whole village could sink down to Mangdechhu if nothing is done pronto. Responsible agencies, not least the project, should be held accountable and urged to expedite investigation so that we can save a village that is facing a total wipeout. The nation also stands to lose one of the most tangible bits of Bhutanese history with the sinking of this village.
We have had problems with DPRs (detailed project report), especially in the hydropower sector. Punatsangchhu projects stand testimony to how DPRs can strangle the country’s economy. The implications are serious. Honest auditing of deal-making process is increasingly becoming necessary. And we are talking about the 2, 560MW Sunkosh project, downsized from 4,060MW.
Developments, not just in the hydropower sector, come with risks; what is happening today is the picture of how our planning is going wrong. This urges us to do some deep soul-searching. In the meanwhile, the people involved should be questioned and brought to the book. Bhutan’s diplomacy and economic opportunities do not rest on hydropower alone; we have other urgent needs as we straddle the two defining development ages and look forward.
There are such development agenda and co-operation that can make us poorer and all the more vulnerable to the politics of the region. Not doing enough to get away from such traps just because we do not have the expertise to decide on the long-term national gains is counsel of despair. The story of Kuengarabten may be just the tip of the iceberg. And, precisely so, we need to slow down a bit and chart our future with a deep sense of responsibility. If that means looking beyond our backyard, so be it.
Meanwhile, take to task the agencies and officials who are responsible to investigate what is now happening in Kuengarabten. Anything less than this is unacceptable. We may be already running out of time.