Choki Wangmo

Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I (PHPA I), which should have been long commissioned, continues to drain the national resources.

At the National Council (NC) yesterday, the members suggested that the government should form an independent party to study whether PHPA I should be scrapped altogether.

The project, which began in 2008 with an allocated budget of Nu 35 billion (B), is expected to be completed by March 2025. The project now is expected to cost Nu 93B.

Eminent Member Tashi Wangyel said that delay and consequent financial burden was worrying and would have detrimental consequences on the country’s economy.

“We should form a third-party vetting before deciding on closing it altogether. And I feel we should do it immediately,” he said.

He said that the House recommended the previous government to institute a third party vetting but the contractors did not support the idea.

The chairperson of NC’s finance and economic committee, Ugyen Tshering, said that the team visited the site last year and third party intervention was deemed necessary due to uncertain ground realities and varying views of the parties involved. “In the long run, the economic impact on the future generations might be grave.”

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 and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.

One of the disagreements between the two parties is the safety factor.

The independent expert study should be carried out by foreigners and should not involve Indian and Bhutanese experts, said the House member Nima. “This situation needs a clear-cut decision.”

The budget report for the year 2020-21, however, states: “The construction of dam is made contingent on completion of right bank stabilisation measures, which is still under discussion with Government of India. Alternatively, the Government of India is also exploring a barrage option if the stabilisation measures are found impractical.”

As of March this year, Nu 7.9 billion was disbursed and only 86.65 percent of the work has been completed at the site.

The project is financed through an inter-governmental arrangement with grant assistance of 40 percent and 60 percent loan from the Government of India.

The Bhutan Power System Master Plan 2040 identified 33,000MW as techno-economically feasible out of the estimated hydro-power potential of 37,000MW.

With the addition of the 720MW Mangdechhu Power Plant, the total installed capacity of the country stands at 2,334MW, which is 6.29 percent of the total estimated hydro-power potential of the country.

While deliberating on the national budget report, the House with the show of hands unanimously endorsed the Annual Financial Statements for FY 2018-19.

The deliberation will continue today.