PHPA I resorts to local materials and manpower

May 19|Kuensel
By Phurpa Lhamo, Wangdue

Project progressing well, despite setback from Covid-19:  management

The  Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric project  (PHPA  I) may  be  delayed for years, but with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the project, there are some positive  developments  at  the project.

With the lockdown in India and  borders  sealed,  the  PHPA I  management  resorted  to  recruiting  Bhutanese  nationals to  fill  the  vacancies  and  using materials  from  home  country such as cement and steel.

The immediate impact has been on the project workforce, which mostly came from India. There are 1,064 foreign workers at the site of PHPA I, which includes 336 unskilled labourers. A couple of weeks ago, the project also announced vacancies for over 140 labourers who were initially planned to come from foreign countries.  “We have received a good response so far,” said PHPA I joint managing director (JMD) Karma Tshewang.

The  project’s  managing director,  NC  Bansal  said  additional  manpower  and  machine,  which  were  to  come from India is not possible with the  lockdown  extended.  He added that foreign employees leave for home every four to five months of work in Bhutan.  However,  currently  employees  weren’t  able  to  leave  and replacements  weren’t  able  to enter Bhutan. “The overall impact is minimum as of now but their morale is down.” The project is also counseling the Indian workers who were showing signs of distress.

Critical materials, which include permanent equipment that needs to be installed in the powerhouse, are imported with both governments taking lead in bringing the items to Bhutan. “Initially, import was affected.  However, now  with  the support  from  the  government and  the  government  of  India through the Indian Embassy, we are  able  to  bring  critical  items required at the project,” said the Managing Director. “In PHPA I, by and large all equipment are with us.”

Meanwhile, since construction began in 2008, about 86.86 percent  of  work  at  the  PI  has been completed as of April this year,  according  to  project  officials.

They said that the entire headrace tunnel and the 400kV transmission line work has been completed.  The transmission line is currently being used for evacuation   of   Mangdechhu Power to India. The powerhouse civil work and  electromechanical  work  is also  nearing  completion  with over  94  percent  of  work  complete.

With regard to the dam, the works of cofferdam, diversion tunnels, desilting chambers and major excavation of dam are also completed. The overall completion of dam work is 69.87 percent.  However, basic work such as concreting the dam remains.

The project is also working to find a solution to the critical landslide area on the left bank of the dam.

NC  Bansal  said  that  the project’s consultant had filed a report,  which  was  also  shared with  the  Bhutanese  officials. “We needed a third party opinion, which has been received. Now  there  is  a  small  difference of  opinion  and  that  will  be  resolved immediately.”

While  work  is  expected  to complete  by  March  2025,  the management   said   they   are working  to  bring  the  completion year to 2024.

Amid Covid-19 pandemic, the project has also put in measures to ensure safety at workplace. According to JMD Karma Tshewang, PI management had adopted a preparedness plan.

He added that workers who were required to work in groups were  allowed  to  work  from home,  labourer’s  dormitory were  guarded,  non-essential travel were avoided, food stocks to  last  three  months  have  also been  stocked  and  a  flu  centre has  been  set  up  by the  project management.

As for the workers at PI site, many worked at different sites and physical distancing wasn’t an issue, said JMD Karma Tshewang

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