Work still stuck at tendering stage

Nima Wangdi | Trashiyangtse

The undergrowth that was once cleared at the dam site at Buyang has regenerated even as the 600MW Kholongchu Hydropower Project Limited (KHEL) in Trashiyangtse awaits clearing differences preventing the start of work on the dam and powerhouse constructions.

There is no progress in tendering for two of the three main civil works of the project: construction of the dam and the powerhouse. Construction of the Head Race Tunnel has started.

Out of the Nu 20.276 billion for all three projects, the dam is worth Nu 9.72 billion and the powerhouse, Nu 6.21 billion.

Project officials said the board meeting held on December 31 wanted to decide on the tendering of the two main projects but they could not come to a decision. “It could not be resolved owing to differences between shareholders, DGPC, and the Indian company, SJVN. We are working on resolving it at the earliest possible,” said a KHEL official.

“We want to resolve the issue and start the work  by the first quarter of this year at the latest,” he said. If everything goes well, civil work could start by March. 

According to officials, they have already constructed a 35km road network that accesses various structures of the project. “Construction of the power infrastructure (transmission line) from Kanglung to Korlung is complete. It’s worth Nu 603 million.”

Currently, construction of a workers’ colony worth Nu 504 million is underway in Doksum. The construction of the colony will depend on the progress of the Doksum integrated township. The more housing units Doksum town can create, the fewer the project will need to build.

According to officials, businessmen at Doksum town wanted to create a residential space of 200 units during the project construction period, and 120 units for the operation and maintenance phase. He said, for now, they have only been able to complete 18 units.

Meanwhile, another hurdle is contractors not being able to mobilise labour forces. The Covid-19 pandemic has impeded labour recruitment. “The moratorium on labour importation was just lifted when the current Covid-19 surge began. The moratorium is being enforced again,” said a project official.

“Although local labourers are available, they had issues with work quality,” the official said that along with the HRT, other infrastructure projects are being carried out with a limited number of labourers.

The official said that out of the total cost of Nu 55 billion, Nu 4.2 billion has been spent as of now. “This makes eight percent of the total project cost.”

He said the project currently has 50 regular/contract workers. This includes essential service providers and a few temporary workers. “Around 500 will be required at the peak of the project.”

“The recruitment of labourers will depend on the amount of work.” He said the project should be completed by 2027.

The 600 MW Kholongchu project commenced in 2015 and was supposed to be completed in 2020. Recently, the National Council had also raised concerns over the delayed progress of the project.

Upon completion, it’s expected to generate 2,568M units of electricity annually.

KHEL is the first-ever joint venture hydropower project in Bhutan and it is formed between Druk Green Power Corporation and India’s SJVN. An expert said, given the current experience, this might be the last JV project for Bhutan.