Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Journey of Self Destruction

Bhutan’s most dependable factories of debt – the Punatsangchhu Hydro Electric Projects-I & II – are once again in the news. In their latest issue, TheBhutanese newspaper reports that the estimated completion dates of these two disasters have been further pushed back to 2019 and 2022.

It is simply appalling – the level of absurdity of the project authorities and the governments of Bhutan and India. I think it is clear that these projects will not happen – not even in 2040 – at least not the PHEP-I! The project authority’s attempts at besting nature is quite laughable, and futile at best.

But something encouraging that TheBhutanese reports is that the authorities have finally agreed to seek a second opinion - from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. This is encouraging news. This is what I had written on February 19, 2015:

Thus, while we must ensure that WAPCOS is barred from future involvement in our hydro power projects based on their terrible record so far, we should now look at engaging consultants from third countries to investigate if the geological make of the Punatsangchhu areas is suitable for large hydro power projects. Through the engagement of better qualified consultants, we should ascertain whether it is wise to continue with the projects - or scrap it, to prevent further losses.

I am now encouraged to believe that the PHEP-I will finally be scrapped.

My New Year Wish during February, 2015 was as follows:

I WISH that the two governments of Bhutan and India would get together and take the only sensible decision they can - a decision to abandon the Punatsangchu Hydropower Projects.

Last year too, I wished the same:

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 hydro-power dreams.

The cost of one of these projects is in excess of the country’s entire annual GDP. And from all indications, they are going to fail. Bhutan cannot afford this. What this generation is doing is highly irresponsible – we are sealing the fates of our future generations. In our pursuit of a pipe dream, we are assigning our children to a life of economic bondage.

As I said in my last post on the subject, this is not about environmental conservation – it is about the fear of economic enslavement. However, we will do well to remember that we go hoarse claiming that we are a country of phenomenal eco-systems with immense bio-diversity. After all the claim that we so proudly make, the following is what we will leave behind for our children.

High tension power lines already scar Bhutan's beautiful landscape. Our future generations will have to live with this ugliness.

And yet, I would like to look at this catastrophic failure, with hope and optimism. I would like to believe that those who can make a difference will draw lessons from this failure – and bear in mind that our hydro-power aspirations are nothing but a journey in self destruction.


  1. All the say are valid and rich!

  2. Very true.... A very thoughtful analysis..

  3. Economic enslavement aptly describes the scenario. The revenue from the sale of hydropower is almost balanced out by the import of petrol, diesel, and kerosene (all dirty fuels), import of cars and parts, and import of electricity (ironically at a higher price than what we sell for) from India. BUT, we are left with all the mess - the wanton environmental destruction scarring our landscapes, the pollution in our air and waters, whole river disappearing into the mountains (as is the case with Punatsangchhu at the moment) and all the perpetual kowtowing to India. We are moving further away from the self-reliance our kings envisioned for us. All this stem from bad management and governance. Bhutanese people should not take this lying down - we need to speak out and make our parliamentarians hear our dissatisfaction with the status quo.