Chimi Dema 

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa pledged to generate an additional 5,200 Mega Watts (MW) of hydropower through Sunkosh, Kuri-Gongri, and other projects during the elections.

The party said that it would implement the inter-governmental projects of 2,585MW Sunkosh and of 2,640MW Kuri-Gongri hydropower projects.

But as there is nothing certain about the projects, the Opposition Party’s member from Kengkhar-Weringla Rinzin Jamtsho asked the Prime Minister when the projects would be initiated at the question hour session of National Assembly yesterday.

MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that the commission of projects in the country has proven to boost the economy and to create employment opportunities. “For instance, the revenue generated from electricity produced in Mangdechhu hydropower plant helped the government in bringing about recent salary revision for civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that while many are aware of the benefits of hydropower projects, the potential threat from the construction of plants to the nation’s economy, sovereignty and security is hardly discussed.

The cost of Nu 35 billion (B) Punatsangchhu I has increased to nearly Nu 100B. “Currently, the interest rate of 10 percent is paid,” Lyonchhen said.

He said that the two projects together would produce only 2,500MW, the unit of electricity which can be produced by Sunkosh Hydroelectric Reservoir Project (SHRP).

“If similar delay that happened to Punatsangchhu projects happens to Sunkosh, what would be the potential consequences is hardly talked about,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen said that another reason why the project has been held was due to the project’s modality between Bhutan and India. “While Bhutan proposes for an inter-governmental (IG) model, India wanted it as a joint venture with a public sector unit,” he added.

Meanwhile, should the 2,585MW SHRP come through, it would be the largest hydroelectric project in the country and is expected to boost the economy with an estimated yearly revenue of about Nu 30B.

During the question hour session, the members of Parliament also asked the Prime Minister what the government is doing to address issues of Bhutanese women in  Iraq who are living in difficult circumstances.

“Going by the sources from the media, about 400 Bhutanese women and girls have left for Iraq to work through unregistered agents and a few private individuals with the promise of better job opportunities and high remuneration,” Sombaykha’s MP Dorjee Wangmo said.

“But what is now evident is that Bhutanese women are tortured and abused, according to reports where some of them go without food for days,” MP said.   “The government has also been informed on the issue.”

Meanwhile, Jomotshangkha-Martshala MP Norbu Wangzom said that women who went to Iraq are suffering and being tortured more than what was covered in the media.

“There are a few women whom I know and I have heard how they are being tortured and abused by the agents involved even when some of them were ill,” the MP said. “Many, who pleaded the agent to let them return home, were asked to pay USD 4,500.”

MP Norbu Wangzom said that women are now completely relying on the government’s support to come home. “If there is no way that they could return home, some said taking their lives would be the only solution.”

Lyonchhen said that women must be helped. “We are planning and working on all possible measures to bring them home.”

As the women have left through unauthorised operators and are in the country that doesn’t have a bilateral relationship with Bhutan, Lyonchhen said that it is impossible to interfere immediately.

Lyonchhen also said that with media coverage on the issues, the conditions of the women have become difficult. “I am in constant touch with 30 of them,” Lyonchhen said.