Phurpa Lhamo  | Wangdue

Around 350 Indian workers of the Punatsangchhu II Hydroelectric Project (PII) are awaiting approval from relevant governments to go home.

As of yesterday, 108 of them are at Phuentsholing. The workers are provided free food and accommodation by the contractor.

Kuensel learned that the remaining workers have stopped working for about a week and are waiting for the management to process their request.

On June 8, over 350 workers came together to insist the PII management to let them leave for home. According to a Jaypee worker at PII, most of the workers who wanted to leave for home were from West Bengal and Jharkhand States.

The workers said that because there had been issues of irrigation water at home, many wanted to leave. “Everyone has personal problems but it’s mainly for irrigation. We are all heads of family and it’s better to be with our family,” said one.

Most workers wanting to go home have been with the project for around six to eight months. PII workers leave for home once every year and another batch of workers come to replace them. However, because the workers in Bhutan are two months overdue of their planned leave, many are stressed.

About a week ago, around 12 workers left for Phuentsholing hiring private vehicles but they had to return soon, said another worker.

“The management is asking for so many forms, and even after doing so, they keep us here. They gave us so many dates. For how long will they keep lying to us?”

The management is today in discussion with relevant agencies to process the leave.

PII Managing Director Amresh Kumar said that while the lockdown in India was easing up, there was still restriction in the movement from the international borders. He added that the process required necessary coordination with different Indian States as well as the Indian government for strict adherence to standard operating procedure (SOP) formulated for movement of workers.

“The project is pursuing the Embassy of India in Thimphu to allow these workers to leave for home and the matter is being actively considered.”

The management, to retain the workers, also provided incentives of Nu 4,000 per month besides sensitisation and awareness sessions. This is apart from subsidised food and accommodation space provided by the management.

The Punatsangchhu I Hydroelectric Project (PI) also saw around 200 workers who wanted to leave for home immediately. According to PI MD NC Bansal the PI management would follow the procedures followed by PII.

“We are asking the workers to stay.  They cannot go without the permission from both the governments. After the procedure, some protocol has to be maintained within and outside Bhutan.”

Today, both PI and PII are resorting to Bhutanese nationals to fill the vacancies.

At PII, with over 350 workers wanting to leave, the project expects to lose around 10 percent of its 3,529 total workers.

To keep the project work on track, the management is today relocating manpower from non-critical work to critical works.

Since the imposition of travel restriction in March, the management has mobilised 91 workers from Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) and other sites within Bhutan at PII. The project is also employing Bhutanese nationals and has advertised for more vacancies.

“Approval for induction of 67 new skilled and unskilled manpower had been sought from the government and is under advanced stage for according necessary approval,” said PII MD.

Because of Covid-19, the project was challenged with disruption in supply chain and retention of existing manpower.

“With the interventions from the Covid-19 Task Force of Bhutanese government and the Indian embassy, the project has been able to overcome and regularise the supply chain. The project is confident to overcome the manpower issues too in collaboration with all stakeholders,” said MD Amresh Kumar.