Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Dark Side Of Our Hydropower Projects III

I am truly amazed by the arguments put forward by some Khengpas in defense of their support for damming the Chhamkhar Chhu for a hydro-power project on it. By the way, I am a Khengpa too. Despite a slew of reasons I offered to demonstrate that the projects do not benefit the common man in the vicinity of the projects and, going by recent examples, not even the nation, they still insist that Chhamkhar Chhu project will propel Khengrig Namsum to the top of the charts in terms of riches, once the project is done.

It is a dangerous thing to sell such proven unrealistic dreams to the poor unsuspecting Khengpas. Please do not mislead the people.

It has been argued that upon arrival of the project in the Kheng area, network of roads will be built, communications will improve, schools will be constructed and medical facilities will expand. HOW? What is the basis for this argument?

Why would the project entail the crisscrossing of the Khenrig Namsum with motor roads? For what purpose? Why would the project require roads outside its project area? Why would it need hospitals dotting the Kheng villages when it can do with one moderately equipped and staffed hospital at its project site? Why would it require the building of schools when all the workers in the project would be Indians and that too grown up people needing no schooling or already educated?

Why would the project be required to electrify far-flung villages in Khenrig Namsum?

Are the proponents of the project suggesting that the Chhamkhar Chhu Hydropower Project will be mandated to implement developmental activities in the Khenrig Namsum area, in addition to building hydro-power plant? If not, how would the project contribute to building these?

Is there a single incidence in the past where the hydro-power projects have built schools and hospitals and network of roads in the Dzongkhags where they are established?

If Khengrig Namsum continues to languish in poverty and neglect, it is the fault of the government. If developmental activities have failed to reach Khenrig Namsum, it is the failure on the part of the elected leaders to deliver their promises.

Just ask yourself this question: Why is the Chhukha NC Member still shedding tears of despair at the condition of her constituents - even after forty years of the start of the construction of Chhukha Hydropower Project in her Dzongkhag, in 1974?

It is not my contention that the hydro-power projects are not beneficial - they will be, provided they are done in the correct manner, provided the financing method changes from the present one, provided the project execution is done efficiently, provided the composition of the management team is chosen with care.

However, this is NOT about Chamkhar Chhu Hydropower Project - it is about leaving Chhamkhar Chhu free-flowing for the benefit of our future generations. If you believe that Bhutan needs at least one river without a dam over it, please sign at the following to show your support:


  1. 1. Why Chamkharchhu amongst all the river basins?
    2. Did the request come from all those people living along this river basin (starting extreme north Bumthang till Panbang)?
    3. Considering Chamkahrchu basin as one with better hdyro potential, what will be the impact of studies done on many other projects on this river?
    4. What better alternatives have the petition proponents got for those people who have to forgo the socio-economic benefits that would be accrued from projects?
    5. Whats the planned outcome of proposing to keep this river free of dams??

  2. Applause for Mr. Yeshey for wonderful analysis however i would like to throw some light on your question....."Is there a single incidence in the past where the hydro-power projects have built schools and hospitals and network of roads in the Dzongkhags where they are established?" If i am not wrong usually after a project is started, school has to be constructed and medical services has to be setup so naturally in those area where there is no such facilities the project has provided. Example ..Kurichhu LSS was built, as was the BHU sevices , same goes at chukha and Tala . I think the Infrastructure of Gedu College was also constructed by Tala which was later handed over to the Govt for School of higher studies.
    I am also not in the view that hydropower don't have the dark side. it has socia-eco impact in the both scale of measure. the brilliance of your views is appreciated however i just wanted so correct some facts in your writing.

    1. Hi Tshundu,

      As a rule I do not like to defend my post - each of us have our individual points of view and none may claim that his or her view is the superior one. However, I would like to respond to yours since I think there is a little confusion in your understanding and thus my explanation would perhaps serve to inform and educate others who also seem in some bit of confusion.

      In most cases, 95% of the project workers are Indians - already grown up and educated - thus there is generally no need for the creation of schools. If there were incidences of having to create schools in the project areas, such as Wangchuck School in Tala and Tsimalakha School in Tsimalakha, it was strictly to cater to the project workers' children’s schooling needs. In fact you may not know that the school in Tsimalakha even taught Hindi as a subject since the school was for the project workers’ children who were Indians. Some schools were started in the vicinity of the projects because of the incidental growth of local population and those were not created by the projects but by the government. The Kurichhu LSS is an example – it was started to cater to the expanding population of Gyalpoizhing. Agreed that small hospitals were built by the projects - to strictly meet the medical requirements of the project workers.

      The Gedu College was started in the facility vacated by Gedu wood factory ... some of the housing complex vacated by Tala hydro project would have also been taken over ---- but that happened only after the project was completed and they had no use for the buildings.

      Chhukha HSS located in Tsimalakha was also started only upon the completion of the Chhukha hydro project - they had no use for the houses - thus the government built on the Tsimalakha school that was already there. However, something you need to know is that the buildings when taken over were in a terribly dilapidated condition – having outlived its useful life. Thus whole lot of money went into renovating and refurbishing them.

  3. Dear yeshi,
    The project will benefit people of vicinity and the whole Dzongkhag. This is easy. There are many incidences, particularily Kurichu for me. We are not asking to reach top of the riches, but at least get out of poverty. Project will bring roads and other basic facilities by default, and it will automatically improve the quality of people's life.

    This is not an unrealistic dreams. This is the fact and proven method. But as you said, it needs to be done in the right way, in the most efficient and sustainable way.

    To transport materials and to meet other logistics need, a good road must come to the project, thereby connecting some portion of Kheng. As a result, constructing other networks of roads or farm roads will be easier, practical and realistic. Its like killing two birds with one stone. I would say, its being efficient. All other things like school, hospital and shops depends on road and there is no doubt that such facilities will come up not only in project areas but also in other kheng areas. Logistics will be easier.
    Again same answer for electrification. With road, people don't have to carry power poles on thier back, meaning, electrification would be easier and faster.

    Kurichu Project is the best example. It answers most of your questions on incidences of propelling the quality of people's life due to better and developed facilities/ neccessities.
    Yes it is the fault of the govt for. We have been neglected for so long? why? its not fair. Not when the Govt wakes up from long slumber of injustice and comes to justice, why few people wants to stop it? Not saying an environment is not important, its is vital, but not at the cost of human being's suffering. This can be felt, seen and observed. Its not that hard.
    Chukha and kheng cannot be compared in terms of socio economic development. She might be crying on some incidences. We must know and accept that there will be few poor people anywhere, be it near the past project's site or any corner on the District.
    But, overall, poor people in Kheng are so overwhelming that no tears would be enough to cry after them.
    for future generations? What for? to make thier life better? but, at present people of Kheng needs basic facilities, which is impossible without the project. why? everyone has seen it thus far. Kheng and khenpa has been discriminated and neglected for so long. This is the only chance and hope to rise up, take a bay step and catcp up with the rest of the districts.

    1. Dear Dawa

      Thank you for your comment - I know you care. I do too .... more than most would understand. Road is certainly an issue for Kheng but it hasn't been coming and this project, if it happens, will not help roads come to Khen. Trust me on that. I have been championing the cause of roads in Kheng since quite sometime back. Please read the following:

      But trust me this project will not bring the roads that you speak of – the project is not mandated to build roads and schools and hospitals and electrification of villages. It has a different mandate altogether. It hasn't happened in Kurichu, it hasn't happened in Chhukha, it hasn't happened in Puankha and Wnagdue, neither in Trongsa. The only place I remember a road happening was in Basochu where the road was taken to the village but that too happened because their dam site was located next to it.

      I am not discounting the possibility that some villagers in the vicinity can begin to sell few bunches of spinach, few dozens of eggs and perhaps some kilograms of pork or illegally trapped fish – to the project workers. Some may even be able to peddle some kgs of Kii and Jukpang – but that will be all.

      Do you know what was the cause of the shameful episode in Gyalpoizhing? Kurichu project and the prospect of a road extending to Naglam. You surely understand without me having to elaborate on the matter. Same thing will happen in our villages too – places like Digala, Choormalung, Nimshong, Pantang etc. will come within the radar of the rich and the influential – poor Khengpa villagers will be left clutching whole lot of fatherless children.

      Trust me, if roads are your concern, please talk to the government, talk to our elected MP’s. They surely see what you and I see.

      Or don't they?

  4. If roads and access are what Khengpas want, why do you need the mess of big hydro just to get your roads? Look at the Mangde basin, or Punatsangchhu area. The technology we are using to generate hydro is obsolete. If it is power the people of Khennrig Namsum want to generate, can we not go for small, innovative hydro? Such as what DHI and Natel Energy are planning to pilot? Let us not get sucked into more hydropolitics where India is surely the winner. The whole river basin from Gangkar Puensum to Panbang is so rich in many other things - scenic landscapes, rich biodiversity, rushing rivers, and fertile soils - it baffles me that we can only think of hydro as a source of revenue and a ticket out of roadlessness. The problems Zhemgang will be left with when the clamor of the bulldozers and the hollering of the Indian laborers are long gone will be there for our Khengpa brethren and sisters to deal with. In order to sacrifice what hydro 'could' bring, you will have to use this as an opportunity to develop the area in your own terms. Hydropower is a lazy solution, if it is even a solution at all. Please remember that Chukka and Tsimalakha became ghost towns not so long ago. Gyalpoizhing never picked up the way it was supposed to. This is the time to explore many exciting alternatives.