Phurpa Lhamo 

Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions and stringent Covid-19 protocols, Punatsangchu Hydropower Project-II (PII) currently has a shortage of about 2,000 workers at the site.

There are currently 1,440 Indian and 522 Bhutanese workers with the project.

According to the PII managing director, NC Bansal, due to a shortage of manpower, some of the non-critical aspects have been halted. “The immediate requirement of the project is the introduction of required manpower. All possible efforts are being made, observing all required protocols towards Covid-19 pandemic.”

He said nearly 2,000 workers are required as of now to take up working on the available work fronts.

When the pandemic hit in August last year, Indian workers expressed their wish to leave to their homeland India with the announcement of the lockdown and border gates at risk of closing.

Following the exodus of expatriate workers, the management announced vacancies for Bhutanese.

Starting in October 2020, more than 400 Bhutanese were recruited in small batches. Indian workers were also simultaneously inducted.

Officials said 1,370 Indian workers have been inducted for the project as of yesterday.

NC Bansal said that following the mass recruitment in 2020, many Bhutanese workers have left the project. “Nearly 500 Bhutanese workers have left.”

However, Bhutanese workers continue to show their disappointment over the management and the Ministry of Economic Affair’s failure to provide incentives.

According to a former PII worker, after joining in November of last year, he received incentives for three months, in January, February, and March.

He said that he left in April, for which he hadn’t received the incentive of Nu 4,000.

The construction company, Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group), provided the individuals with more than Nu 13,000 every month.

“Many joined to get the incentive and the salary. The work is risky, too,” the worker said.

NC Bansal agreed that the incentives were provided up to March 31 this year. “Now the Department of Labour is considering additional funding.”

Meanwhile, project officials claimed that 90.91 percent of the work has been completed as of October.

“The majority of the work related to the dam, desilting chambers, headrace tunnel, surge shaft, butterfly valve, and tailrace tunnel have been completed; work related to application of concrete in the powerhouse and assembly of the generating plant and equipment are under progress with the limited manpower available at the site,” NC Bansal said. “The project is expected to reach completion by July 2023 on a best-efforts basis.”

Edited by Tashi Dema