Hydropower:Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s visit to Upper Kheng in January this year and his confirmation on the execution of the Chamkharchhu hydropower project has raised some hope for the people of Khengrignamsum, who have been waiting for the dam for years.

However, on the ground, there are no signs of any activity at both the powerhouse and dam sites.

Except for some officials visiting the dam site seven months ago, there has been no other developments at the sites.

A few years ago, locals said some men dug about 430 metres into a cliff near Degalabi, which is more than a three-hour walk upstream from Rendigang. The area, which is the site of the powerhouse, today is covered by forest.

The dam site is near the existing suspension bridge over the Chamkharchhu near Shingkhar gewog. Construction of the dam alone is expected to employ more than 6,000 people.

The under-construction bridge over the Degala river is a critical link to the powerhouse site, 10km away. The bridge construction started in 2011 was supposed to be completed by 2013. It was delayed after a crack at the foundation appeared on December 26, 2011, halting all construction works.

The Department of Roads (DoR) office in Tingtibi corrected the crack after the company building the bridge quoted high rates for the additional work.

The construction work is currently held up as the roads department and the company are negotiating the rates for the installation of metal frames.

As of now, sub structure works are completed and super structure work that involves  erecting the frames is awaited.

Nine shopkeepers at Rendigang are still banking on the project. Today there are hardly any customers.

Tshering Samdrup, who shifted from Gomphu hoping for better business nine years ago, remains idle most of the time in his shop. “I don’t know if the government is really going to construct the project. I hardly get customers here,” he said.

Another shopkeeper, Tashi Pem, who started Khengrignamsum hotel with the help of an entrepreneurship programme, leaves her hotel closed most of the time. “Except for a few orders for meals from the drivers who pass through the highway in winter, there are no customers,” she said.

Their main customers are people from Degala, who come once a week and buy goods on credit.

Most of the shopkeepers are waiting for the project, while some have plans to shift to near the powerhouse site.

Nangkor gup-elect, Dorji Wangchuk, said that the project would benefit more than 52 households under Dunmang chiwog which mostly depends on farm products. He said that people from the chiwog could make a good income from the sale of their oranges. At present people carry oranges on their backs till Gomphu, which is a day’s walk away.

Shingkhar gup-elect, Ngeedup said the project would have immense change to the gewog, particularly to Nimzhong, Khomshar and Shingkhar because of the proximity to the dam site.

The project, which is yet to kick off sparked debate after critics filed a petition to the government asking to keep at least one free flowing river in Bhutan un-dammed.

Minister of Economic Affairs (MoEA) minister, Lekey Dorji, in an earlier email interview with Kunesel, said Chamkharchhu is needed economically for the nation and for Zhemgang which is perpetually languishing behind in the socioeconomic standings.

Villages that lie along the Chamkharchhu such as Dunmang, Kamjong, Degala, Kalamti, Langdurbi, Fulabe, Dunglabe, Khomshar, Bardo, Samey, Jowaleng, Nimzhong, Thajong, Zangleng, Shingkhar, Thrisa, Wamling and Radhi are expected to benefit from the project.

However, there are critics who argue that locals will not benefit from the hydropower project.

The project has also potential to connect the east-central-southern highways if a short road from Khomshar to Wangama is constructed.

The project, which the governments of India and Bhutan signed an agreement in 2006 is expected to cost around 70B.

The project is a joint venture between Druk Green Power Corporation and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, India.

Tashi Tenzin