Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Lunar New Year Wishes

I wish a VERY HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR to all my readers around the world.

Exactly three hundred and fifty five days back, on the 19th of February, 2015 last year, I had made a New Year wish - something that I have never done before. I had wished that the two governments of Bhutan and India would get together and decide to shut down the Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project-I (PHP-I). That didn't happen - the project authorities continue to dig deeper and deeper into the core of the earth, to find stable ground on which to start building the dam’s foundation. Unfortunately, despite years of digging, solid rock eludes them. In the meantime, the unstable mountainside to the right of the river continues to slide and sink - pointing to horrendous consequences, should we continue to ignore and defy nature’s warnings.

Eight years since construction started, the state of the stalled PHP-I dam construction as of 7.10.2015

First on the list of my wishes for the year is the reiteration of my last year’s wish: closure of the Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project-I. As bizarre and fantastic as it may sound, I believe that this is the only way out to avoid irredeemable loss - both environmental as well as financial. The fallout from the failure of this dam is simply inconceivable. Such an eventuality could be the cause of the end of Bhutan’s hydropower dreams.

Is another dam being planned for the PHP-II that is happening downstream of the PHP-I? If so, the preponderance of the near certainty of the failure of PHP-I dam would be cited - to justify the costly fortification measures to withstand the effects of dam burst of the PHP-I, if such a thing is possible. In all this what is certain is that the “self-liquidating” Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project-II too will see between 400-500% cost escalation. Regardless, the project authorities and the government will not bat an eye-lid. They will assure the people of Bhutan that “geological surprises” are a norm and that the project will still reel in money, guaranteed by the “cost plus” pricing arrangement with government of India.

My second wish for the year is still about hydropower projects - Bhutan’s most efficient factories of debt and enslavement. I wish: NO FURTHER HYDROPOWER PROJECTS - beyond the three that are at varying stages of planning and execution - Nikachhu in central Bhutan and Kholongchhu and Nyeramari in the east. And, as recommended in the first Bhutan Hydropower System Master Plan, that all future hydropower projects be located in one or two of our five major river basins, instead of shackling all of our river systems, to eternal bondage.

Playing Chinese Checkers: Bhutan's Hydropower Master Plan as of now

Yet again my third wish has to do with hydropower projects. I wish that all future hydropower projects be located closer to its ultimate market - India - towards the south of the country, instead of way up in the north bordering the alpine regions. What is the logic of locating the projects far away from the market? Other than to increase project cost and thereby bring down profitability, it makes no sense to locate projects far away from the market. Even a kid can understand that transportation of construction material and delivery of the product to its market will be lot more cheaper, if the production facilities are sited at locations that are closer to the market. There is something sinister in the way this simple logic is ignored.

Bhutan's Hydropower Master Plan according to my wish. No hydropower projects above the red line

Once again, my fourth wish has to do with hydropower and electricity. Our government and the hydropower sector are shameless in declaring that hydropower is the mainstay of our economic activity. We claim that we produce electricity in abundance and that our biggest export is electricity. We claim that we are the cheapest in the region - in terms of unit cost to the consumers.

If all these were true, how is it that our factories in Pasakha are shutting down one after another, for want of power? How is it that the common man is required to queue up for hours at the gas station, to buy and use imported LPG and kerosene for cooking and heating, instead of the supposedly cheap electricity? How can the government and the power sector be so brazen as to claim that we are the cheapest in the region? How does it matter? I repeat, how does it matter when, in the face of all this gloating, the reality is that the Bhutanese people are unable to afford our own electricity - neither for cooking nor for heating homes?

Therefore, my IVth wish is that instead of the Economic Affairs Ministry trying to organize and streamline the long queues at the gas stations, the government and the contended mandarins at the power sector put their acts together to ensure that there is no need for long queues at the gas station. One sure way is to make electricity affordable to the Bhutanese people. What we lose in Rupee earnings as a result of making electricity affordable for the Bhutanese people will be more than made up through reduced import of LPG and kerosene. Please do some mathematics.

The most shameful thing about a country that projects itself as a net exporter of hydro electricity, is the fact that we have to import power during the winter months at a price higher than that at which we export during the summer months. This is a most shameful and pathetic situation!

Therefore, my Vth wish is to build dams over the Wangchhu and the Punatsangchhu, so that we can harness the excessive water available during the monsoons, caused by snow melt and rain water which otherwise go on to flood the plains of India. Such storage reservoirs will augment the drastic fall in water availability during winter months, thereby making it possible for our generators in the power plants to work at full capacity to generate electricity, even during the winter months. This will eliminate the need for import of expensive electricity during the lean season.

The meaningless and environmentally disastrous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway is a ruinous undertaking that is the very antithesis to our reputation as a responsible nation with strong commitment towards the protection of nature and environment. The road cuts through one of the world’s most important high altitude tiger habitats, it infringes on the established laws, while it affords no benefit to the people or the country. On the contrary, doing this road will effectively dismantle our image as a forerunner in environmental conservation and stewardship.

I wish that the government would shelve this project once and for all.

My wish number VII for the year concerns one of our most shameful census rules: the law that disallows the registration of a child born to a Bhutanese mother as a natural Bhutanese. This law is in stark contrast to our claim that we have no gender prejudice in the country. Not only that, the fact that such a primeval law is still prevalent, is a demonstration that we are not truly a GNH country that we claim to be.

Therefore, my most important wish for the year is that we abolish this law immediately to bring equality among genders. The reason is simple: if one’s claim to Bhutanese citizenship is to be based on the Bhutaneseness of a parent, the mother is the only true parent that needs no verification in 100% of the cases, while a father may not necessarily be the claimed biological father. Thus, the law is flawed and it relegates the mother to the position of a second-class citizen. If we claim that we are not a primitive society then this law must go!

My last wish is a call for the amendment of the Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan. This law is the principal cause that has contributed to the creation of Gungtongs in the rural villages. Some of its provisions go against the concepts of conservation, which is all about maintaining a balance and not about according primacy to one species over the other.

1 comment:

  1. Some of the wishes are shameless wishes. ..