By Tenzin Namgyel
Bhutan’s dream to generate 10,000 megawatt (MW) of electricity by 2020 could hit a dam brick wall, going by the Indian government’s recent indication of lack of funds for some of the major projects in the country.
In addition to some of the ongoing projects that are already being delayed, and the new ones not taking off as planned, the Indian government’s recently indicated that there is no fund to build three planned projects in the country. Sources said that the Indian government had declined to finance the 2,640MW Kuri-Gongri, the 2,560MW Sankosh and the 540MW Amochu projects, which are planned in the 2020 vision.
A Kuensel source said that, during the Empowered Joint Group meeting (EJG) held in Delhi, India on September 18, the Indian counterpart showed a lack of interest to finance the projects, proposed to be built on an inter-governmental model, because of cost factors. The source from the government said the Indian counterpart, which was represented by joint secretary (North), during the meeting, said that there was no money for Kuri-Gongri and Sankosh.
The Indian government also expressed security concerns on the Amochu project as it was close to India’s tri-junction. The catchments of Amochu are spread across Cherithang, Dolam and Sinchulam in the north, bordering China.
“The meeting clearly indicated a lack of support from the Indian government for these major projects,” said an official, who is aware of developments.
However, economy affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, said the main discussion during the EJG was to set a new deadline for achieving the 10,000MW as generating 10,000 by 2020 was not possible. “We’ll be soon commissioning a task force to rework on how the 10,000MW will be achieved.”
“Of course we discussed the financial part as well, but the larger context of the meeting was to set the new deadline,” said lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk. “We will look at it holistically to get through with the projects.”
Experts in the ministry said, going by the present trend of hydropower building and the kind of progress made, the country will be able to achieve only 3,540MW by 2020. This includes the ongoing projects of Punatsangchu-I, Punatsangchu-II and Dagachu, scheduled to commission next week.
Today, the country is generating about 1,488MW of electricity. An umbrella agreement signed in 2006 between the governments of India and Bhutan for 5,000MW was revised to 10,000MW in 2008.
A hydropower expert, who worked for the government, said the 10,000MW by 2020 is a myth.
“We’re not sure of even completing and commissioning the Punatsangchu-I by May 2018 (latest revised schedule by PHPA). The project may not see the light of the day even by 2020, unless the dam is re-located in its original site without any further delay,” he said.
An official from the ministry said some professionals in the ministry knowingly advised the previous government to dream of generating 10,000MW. “They should take the moral responsibility for the blunder they made,” he said. “The Bhutanese economy shouldn’t suffer at the cost of flowery ambitions professionals in the ministry made,” he said.
If the three projects are pulled out, millions of money the government spent to develop detailed project reports (DPR) of Amochu and Kuri-Gongri would go in vain.
However, the Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Gautam Bambawale, provided a consolation to the concern. He said hydropower is a very important area of cooperation between India and Bhutan that provides a win-win situation for both countries.
“The governments of India and Bhutan are committed to achieving the target of generating 10,000MW by 2020 in Bhutan. The government of India continues to abide by this commitment,” he said.
“The fact that Punatsangchu-I, Punatsangchu-II and Mangdechu hydroelectric projects are proceeding on schedule and as per plan is a pointer in this direction. Both sides are now focusing on the joint venture model of hydropower cooperation, which we have agreed.”
There are four such hydropower projects, which will be implemented by public sector undertakings in India and Bhutan, he said.
“I’m very happy to inform you that shareholders’ agreement, signed between SJVN ltd. (India) and Druk Green Power corporation ltd in Thimphu yesterday, shows the resolve of both sides to continue moving forward with our hydropower cooperation to achieve our joint goals,” he said. “India will continue to assist Bhutan in the hydropower sector, if that is a priority for the Bhutanese people.”