Opinions divided about project’s social benefits filtering down to local community

MHPA: Mangdechhu hydroelectric project authority (MHPA) officials are dismissing claims by community leaders that the social benefits of the project have not trickled down to the community.

Project officials say that various schemes are being implemented to uplift the livelihood of people in the locality.

MHPA agreed to provide Nu 200 million to implement 27 various social, cultural and environmental schemes in Trongsa last year.

MHPA managing director, AK Mishra, said the project had brought a lot of good things to Trongsa. “Facilities, such as local transport system, have been improved,” he said. “Before, Trongsa was a sleeping town.”

According to a MHPA December 2014 status report, the project has taken over 43.5km of national highway – from Dzongkhalumpa to Langthel – from the department of roads for periodic maintenance.  Major renovation works of the road have been completed.

Since its inception, the project has increased its human resource strength to 459, of which 419 or 91 percent are Bhutanese.  Only 40 are Indian nationals.

Bhutanese contractors, mostly engaged in infrastructure works, have human resource strength of 384, of which 87 are Bhutanese, and 297 are Indian nationals.

MHPA has also repaired and restored two irrigation canals at Samcholing and Bija villages for the benefit of local communities, officials said.

The Indian contractors have human resource strength of 3913, of which 261 are Bhutanese and 3652 are Indian nationals.

Dust was one of the main problems in the locality.  However, the problem is under control, with the implementation of the air and noise management plan, it is stated in the report.  MHPA has approved Nu 4 million for the plan, of which almost Nu 1.3 million has been released.

The report also states that there has been a large increase in vehicular traffic and a huge amount of dust has been generated.

The project authority has also carried out land management campaigns in various distress sites annually.

The MHPA so far has acquired 718 acres of land, of which 1.2 acres is private land and 616 acres is government land.  As of December 2014, the project paid Nu 12.8 million towards compensation for acquisition of private land, crop compensation and lease rent and trees compensation to the community.

The project authority is also carrying out a compensatory forestation programme worth Nu 22.9 million, of which Nu 6 million has been released.  About 89 hectares of prime forest will be removed from the project site, and it is mandatory that double the area, 178 hectares, will be identified for compensation by the department of forests.

MHPA has already completed 62 hectares of compensatory forestation and sub-catchment area of the Mangdechhu basin.

However, local leaders claim that the project has brought bare minimum socio-economic benefits.  Langthel gup Lham Dorji said the project has brought more damages than benefits to the local community.

Dragteng and Langthel gewogs are the most affected due to the construction of the project.  He said the project may have long-term economic returns for the nation, but they have come at a huge price. “The project has come at human and social costs.”

He said that trucks carrying heavy loads have damaged roads spoiling the drainage system.  The Langthel gup also said that cultivation of major crops and vegetables are compromised due to dust and water problems.  Water is drained to meet the needs of thousands of project staff and labourers.

The households were given an option to choose between the cash compensation and land replacements.  Most of them opted for cash compensation.  AK Mishra said that the money has been released, and the affected people are being compensated through the dzongkhag administration. “We have to see only the genuine cases for compensation,” he said.

The Langthel gup said the local people could not sell vegetables and dairy products to the project, as most vegetables and other requirements come from India. “The project has been beneficial for a very few people,” he said.

Member of National Council (NC) Tharchen said the affected people have been raising the issue in various public meetings. “The community hasn’t benefited from MHPA,” he said.

By MB Subba