Phurpa Lhamo  | Wangdue

More than 460 workers of Punatsangchhu hydroelectric projects (I&II) have returned home within a fortnight. The latest batch of workers left on July 9.

On June 22 morning, about 200 labourers working under Jaiprakash Associates Ltd company gathered near their main office at Zawakha and asked for their work permits and Covid-19 clearance cards.

Workers were told that their leave had to be processed through the Indian Embassy and can only go after completing the formalities.

Kuensel learnt that the labourers threatened the management that they would break into the office if the cards were not provided before 4pm that day. They stopped the company officials from getting out of the office for lunch break.

A meeting between Wangdue dzongdag, project officials, and the Police Chief decided that Jaiprakash Associates Ltd Company would send home 50 labourers in the first batch after completing formalities and the rest in batches.

The workers of both PI and PII had asked to leave for home as they had completed their tenure. The workers came to Bhutan to work for around six months. Although the management had tried to retain the workers, the employees pointed out issues at home in India.

In another incident on June 30, 29 labourers gathered near a PII contractor’s office and demanded sending them home. They said they already booked their transport home from Jaigaon paying an advance of Nu 48,000. 

A few hours later, about 100 more labourers joined them making the same demands. The management explained about the process and the free government transport to their homes from Jaigaon and pacified the agitated workers.

According to PII Managing Director (MD) Amresh Kumar, with the Indian government declaring unlock 2.0 from July, which permits intra-state movement, the Indian Embassy facilitated 344 employees of PII to exit Bhutan. The employees left between June 25 and July 8.

Contractors of PI had sent home 117 employees between July 3 and 9.

Kuensel learnt that there are nine companies working with the two projects that employ about 4,341 foreign workers. Jai Prakash Company has 3,192 Indian labourers, Larsen & Toubro Ltd has 442, Hindustan Construction Company 390, and Gammon has 218, and the rest five companies together employ about 100 labourers.

Both managements have announced vacancies and have plans to recruit Bhutanese nationals through the recently introduced Build Bhutan Project (BBP).

PII MD Amresh Kumar said that the project would work with the government to recruit people through the BBP.

“Project always welcomes Bhutanese nationals so that they participate in building the nation. Through BBP, it is expected that a sizeable local people will respond to the manpower challenges the project is facing,” he said.

Since the lockdown, both PI and PII have announced vacancies for various unskilled, skilled and semi-skilled works.

The PII management through the contractors announced 268 vacancies. However, today only 17 Bhutanese have joined the project.

At PI, six local welders have begun work.

PI’s MD NC Bansal said that the project would prioritise to employ Bhutanese who meet the job requirements to replace the workforce.

“We have issued vacancies for both skilled and unskilled works.”

Despite the issue of manpower shortage, both project managements said that the overall work progress wouldn’t be hampered.

For PII, the 344 workers who left for home constitute 10 percent of the total workforce. The management is relocating workers from non-critical to critical works to keep the work progress on track.

“Besides, the actions for further mobilisation of manpower are underway,” Amresh Kumar said.

PII is also in the process to bring in specialists from India and other parts of the world for the project.

“Specialists for cable anchors are to be mobilised from other parts of the world, other than India,” PII management said.

Future movement of the workers would comply with the standard operating procedure.

“The Project has adapted to the new situation created by Covid-19 pandemic. The manpower challenges too shall be overcome in a few weeks,” Amresh Kumar said.

Meanwhile, 156 workers from the Nikachhu hydropower project left for their home in India.

Additional reporting by Rinzin Wangchuk