While the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (PI) management and the economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma, assured that the sliding of an overburden on the right bank of the dam construction site is nothing to be worried about, those following the project claim it is a matter of huge concern.

PI managing director, NC Bhansal, said the slide occurred when they were removing the overburden in a controlled manner. “It just got out of control slightly.”

He assured that everything is under control and that people should not worry about it.

The managing director also said people should not worry about the cracks detected uphill the dam construction. Kuensel has, however, not received a response to the written queries from the management as of yesterday evening.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, who was on his way to PI to visit the distressed area yesterday afternoon, said the slide occurred when the muck of the 2016 slide was being removed. “It was not a new slide and but an overburden that was already loose.”

He said the management was trying to stabilise the slide. “The management hired a third-party expert, the Norwegian Geological Institute (NGI) and even an IBIS radar has been installed on the hill, which observes the unground movement.”

The minister said there are delays in the decision, as the experts did not want to take risks. “Our wish and way forward are that we don’t want to wait any longer now.”

He said he would visit the site and find out what is happening. “I am concerned too just as everyone is. PI has become a concern for everyone.”

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said there would be an expert meeting on the project on January 31 where they would discuss the issues.

However, sources who follow PI closely said the slide is a serious problem and that it occurred because of the change in plan by the new management.

A source alleged that the new management had stopped the highway recessing and offloading but removed the overburden without approval and consultation with all concerned agencies. “That is why the 2m concrete piles and 100MT of cable anchoring are damaged.”

The source said that since there were cracks detected uphill, taking the issue lightly would be risky. “When the first slide occurred in 2013, the Bhutanese side pressurised for external expertise but the consultant denied it, claiming that they handled world-class projects and they would be able to resolve it.”

Another source said that almost six years after the first slide, a solution has not been found yet. “If the problem is not resolved now, there would be a major problem during project operations and maintenance.”

Kuensel also learnt that the IBIS radar has been signalling that the hills are unstable. “There would not only be delay in the construction but also we are incurring an interest of Nu 12.5M daily,” a source said.

Tashi Dema