Rajesh Rai  | Lhamoidzingkha

Residents of Karmaling (Kerabari) gewog were curious when an unusual light sparked on a bank of Sunkosh river a night three decades ago.

Khadka Prasad Basnet was among those who sneaked to see what was going on.

“Tents were pitched and government officials camped on the bank. A generator had lit the area.”

In his 30s then, he went to inquire why the officials were there.

“We were told a team had come to conduct a survey for the Sunkosh Hydroelectric Reservoir Project (SHRP),” adding they were told about the benefits the hydropower plant could bring.

“I am 64 today and the project is still a dream.”

The 2,585 megawatt (MW) SHRP would be the largest hydroelectric project in the country and expected to boost the economy with an estimated yearly revenue of about Nu 30 billion (B) but it is just another project today that has been deferred for so long that residents of Lhamoidzingkha have almost given up on it.

Residents also claim that waiting for the project cost them heavily, as development activities in the three gewogs of Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag have been deferred in the name of the power project.

Residents say political parties campaign for the project during election time and forget it after the election. They say the present government also promised but nothing new happened.

A villager, Passang Sherpa, said when they asked the government to upgrade the school, they were told that the project would upgrade the school. “We ask for a basic health unit and we were told the project would bring a hospital.”

He said there are four important locations where bridges have to be constructed but it was never constructed in the name of SHRP.

“Every summer, the streams swell and cut off Karmaling from the rest of Lhamoidzingkha.”

Construction of houses are also not allowed within those locations demarcated for the project. Land transactions within the demarcated areas have also been stopped.

In Nichula gewog, CB Gurung said that he heard about the SHRP as a young boy in school.

“We were told a mega hydroelectric project would come,” he said. “Elders would even scare us with the stories of head hunters.”

CB Gurung said there were positive stories about the project everywhere in Lhamoidzingkha but it never happened. “People are still waiting.”

Nichula residents also need a bridge over Sunkosh. Residents say government officials told them a bridge would come with the project.

In Lhamoidzingkha gewog, residents said they would have benefitted if the project started.

A resident, Bomjan Tamang, said business would have thrived and employment opportunities would have been created. “We need the project but would it really come?”

Another resident, Hari Gurung said he heard about the project when he was in the sixth standard. “People took loans to construct big houses hoping for rentals and some have remained empty.”

Residents say only land prices have inflated exorbitantly with the news of the project.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the project has been held because of project’s modality between Bhutan and India. While Bhutan was pushing for inter-governmental (IG) model, India wanted it as a joint venture (JV). However, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, said that SHRP would be an IG model last year.

SHRP would need about 11,000 acres of land and more than 9,000 acres is state reserved forest land, while 2,000 acres is private land.