Hydropower is not the only means to boost economic activities in Zhemgang, economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said during the 2nd meet the press on January 25.

The minister was responding to question on what other economic activities were planned for Zhemgang if not for Chamkharchu project and a college.

“When we talk about other economic activities, it is not only about hydropower, but also about economic diversity,” lyonpo said. “This relates to decentralising because most of the economic activities come from ground level like community-based tourism or cottage or small scale industry (CSI).”

Lyonpo said it was not possible to have big industries everywhere, which was why one way to broaden the economic base was to have CSI and Zhemgang had lot of opportunities like arts and crafts, indigenous products, and agricultural products.

“These activities would definitely come up and we would provide opportunities to do business if they came forward. Chamkharchu project is not the only economic life line to Zhemgang,” Lyonpo said.

Bardo-Trong’s Member of Parliament (MP), Gyembo Tshering, and Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi stressed the importance of the project for regional development during the recent National Assembly and enquired when the government would begin the Chamkharchu hydroproject.

The minister informed that the government would not be able to start the project.

At the meet the press, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that when it came to developmental activities, the government’s focus was Bhutan and not “village to village, gewog to gewog, or dzongkhag to dzongkhag” in the 12th Plan.

“However, we’ve prioritised Samtse under the footprint of National Day,” Lyonchhen said. “Other than Samtse, we’ll see wherever required, national force would come behind, pick dzongkhags according to the need, but we haven’t decided any dedicated economic activities for Zhemgang.”

Lyonchhen added that Chamkharchu project did not look viable as of today but it was not scrapped. The government would evaluate and assess the project carefully.

“By now we must realise that rushing with hydropower to have 10,000 MW by 2020 is not feasible and is going to be a disaster for the country. The project that was supposed to have completed in five years is taking beyond 15 years, and the project that is supposed to have completed with Nu 30 billion is now touching Nu 100 billion,” Lyonchhen said. “The joint-venture project that was supposed to be better for the country is no more better for the country.”

Lyonchhen said that hydropower policies needed a serious relook.

“We really have to be careful if hydropower is considered as income opportunities for local people,” Lyonchhen said.  “The biggest equalizer for the economic disparity is by giving block grant– the poorer the gewog, the more the money. This equation would help poorer gewogs or dzongkhags to get substantial block grant.”

Lyonchhen said economic to local is not only through the hydropower.

When in the Parliament session that concluded recently MP Dorji Wangdi questioned the government on the plans about establishing a college in Zhemgang, education minister said that the plan to start a new college in Zhemgang was still being assessed.

Lyonchhen said that experts had reported that the up-gradation of Zhemgang School into college was not feasible at all. “We’ll evaluate the need but we cannot commit that college would be in Zhemgang.”

Yangchen C Rinzin