Business: The 180MW Bunakha Hydroelectric Project is the last hope for many people of Tsimasham, Chukha, who foresee their businesses dying once the Damchhu bypass opens next year.

Tsimasham is located on the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway and travellers along the route are their major source of business. The Damchhu bypass is scheduled to be opened to traffic by mid-next year.

But Tsimasham businesses say the Bunakha project could help the town survive.

The owner of the ABC Hotel in Tsimasham, Sonam Phuntsho, said that the dzongkhag administration had told business people not to be concerned about the Damchhu bypass.

“They said that the Bunakha project would give us ample business even if the vehicles travel via the bypass,” Sonam Phuntsho said. “But what has happened now? I see nothing coming through.”

Sonam Phuntsho said that the Bunakha project has remained on paper for too long.

Many of the buildings in Tsimasham have been constructed with loans that are yet to be repaid. With business expected to dry up, many are concerned about how they will be able to repay these loans.

Tsimasham building owners said that they expect employees of Bunakha project to rent space from them. However, this has not happened as Bunakha project employees have opted to rent apartments that belong to Chukha Hydro Power Corporation (CHPC) in Tshimalakha. Cheaper rents is the main reason.

Kuenzang Wangdi, who owns a building in Tsimasham, said owning a building in the area is already not lucrative. “I just get Nu 19,000 a month from my three-storey building,” he said.

Another businessman, Lhakpa Tshering said it has been at least eight years since they heard about the Bunakha project but that nothing has materialised. “The dzongkhag and the previous government said the project will give us business,” he said. “We are still waiting.”

The 180MW Bunakha project is one of four aggregate projects (2,120MW) Bhutan is exploring as part of its 10,000MW by 2020 ambition. An intergovernmental agreement with India was signed in April 2014.

The 700MW Chamkharchhu, the 600MW Kholongchhu, and the 570MW Wangchhu are the three other projects. India agreed on a Joint Venture (JV) through the Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) between the two countries. Financing will be achieved on a 70 percent loan, while 30 percent will be on an equity basis for these projects.

The Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and Indian public sector companies will finance 70 percent with loans availed, while the two parties will invest an equity of 15 percent each to make 30 percent.

Meanwhile, DGPC managing director Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that the Kholongchhu project is the first JV project to be started for which the Concession Agreement is yet to be finalised and signed.

Negotiations on the Shareholders Agreements and the Concession Agreements for the remaining three JV projects is likely to be taken up after Kholongchhu project’s Concession Agreement is signed.

“While discussions are continuing, there are no definite timelines at this juncture for the remaining three JV projects,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

Kuensel has also learned that Chukha dzongkhag and the dzongkhag tshogdu provided administrative clearance for the 600MW Wangchhu hydroelectic project in March this year. The project once started will benefit the people of two gewogs of Chukha,:Bongo and Darla, and Dagana’s Lhamoizingkha gewog.

The Wangchhu project was initially conceived as a reservoir scheme. When the Detailed Project Report (DPR) was being updated by SJVN Ltd, the designated Indian PSU JV partner, the cost of the Wangchhu reservoir scheme was projected to be on the higher side making it economically not viable. It was then decided that the Wangchhu project should be developed as a run of the river scheme based on which SJVN Ltd completed the DPR.

Rajesh Rai | Tsimasham