Chamkharchhu project out of government’s plan

May 28 | Kuensel
By Phub Dem

Much to the happiness of activist and environmentalists, the fate of Chamkharchhu Hydropower project is not decided.

It is not even sure if the project will be dropped from the 12th Plan or if it would be delayed for a few more years, given the nature of discussions at the National Assembly yesterday.

Minister of economic affairs, Loknath Sharma in responding to whether Chamkharchhu project will be on track within five years, said that looking at the current scenario of hydropower projects in Bhutan, the government will not consider the construction of Chamkharchhu Hydro project.

However, he clarified that if there happens to be a positive change in the scenario, the government may consider building Chamkharchhu. Low return on investment and financial viability were attributed for not taking up Chamkharchhu project.

The numerous inconveniences and geological surprises that occurred in the hydropower projects – Punatsangchhu I and II, and Mangdechhu alerted the government. The hydro committee submitted a report that recommended leaving Chamkharchhu and applying a brake on building hydro projects.

The minister said that the current focus was on Sunkosh hydropower project and to complete the ongoing hydropower projects that are delayed. “It has been three years since Kholongchhu was started, but there is no progress,” he said. Kholongchhu was the first joint venture (JV) hydropower project. “Bargaining the tariff and exporting electricity at our rate is difficult.”

Member of Parliament (MP) of Athang Thedtsho constituency, Kinley Wangchuk questioned if Chamkharchhu hydropower would bring development to Zhemgang. He said that although Punatsangchu had helped his constituency, the plant did more harm than benefits.

The recent news of poor hydrology affecting electricity generation has also alerted parliamentarians.

However, Zhemgang Panbang’s MP, Dorji Wangdi stressed on having Chamkharchhu project. Initially, there was no talk of Kholongchhu and Sunkosh, he said, Chamkharchhu was prioritised as a JV project in achieving 10,000MW by 2020.

During the first government’s time, nine-kilometer road constructions, a huge bridge, and the machinery were all readied for the project. It was an approved project during the 11FYP. “But the project, after debating for years, came to a halt,” he said. “A written proclamation and hydropower master plan needs to be presented in the house for integrity of the decision,” he added.

In response to the Pangbang MP, the finance minister Namgay Tshering said that rather than emphasising on past decisions, it was better to consider the current scenario – excessive hydropower debt. “For regionally balanced development- Zhemgang dzongkhag was selected as a focus group in the tourism flagship program,” he said.

Meanwhile, some MPs were in favour of having Chamkharchhu project. Bardo Trong’s MP, Gyembo Tshering said, although the previous hydropower projects saw increasing escalating costs and delay in the completion, the hydropower remains the highest revenue generator in the country.

When it was confirmed that Chamkharchhu hydropower would not see the light of day, Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) asked if Zhemgang would get integrated rural development in lieu of the developmental activities kept at halt due to the Chamkharchhu project.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, using a Dzongkha proverb, which roughly translates to “make hay while the sun shines,” said that Chamkharchhu should be taken up at the most appropriate time. “Given the problems and feasibility, Sunkosh hydropower project is the priority,” he said.

On replacing Chamkharchhu with other projects, he said that asking for replacement was like doing business. “Hydropower projects should benefit the entire population and not one specific region. If hydropower projects are only benefiting the dzongkhag where the project is located, it is different. But it is not.”

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