Thursday, June 22, 2017

Environmental Governance and Science of Hydropower Development in Bhutan and India

For the past two days, I have been participating in an interesting Seminar co-hosted by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation & Environment (UWICE), Bumthang at the Terma Linca Resort & Spa, Thimphu, in collaboration with the New Delhi based International Rivers, USA. The theme of the Seminar was “Environmental Governance and Science of Hydropower Development in Bhutan and India”.

The Seminar saw the participation by some seriously interesting and passionate environmentalists and regulators from India, led by Dr. S. Kerketta, Director, Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Government of India. Every one of the other speakers, comprised of a number of Indian environmental NGO’s, including a consulting firm, were enthrallingly articulate and insightful on the subjects they spoke on. It was enough to give me an inferiority complex – I felt so inadequate, on a subject that I have been, and am, so shamelessly passionate about!

Unfortunately our national environmental watchdog – the National Environment Commission (NEC), was not represented in the Seminar – they would have been so much more enriched by the discourse that had me gawking through out, as if someone had stolen my thunder. The discussions were so, so relevant to them!

The bewildering complexity that surrounds the design and construction of hydro-power projects and the devastating impacts they could have as a result of poorly assessed and monitored projects, finally gave me an idea – why the workings of the Punatsangchhu I & II are treated as our national secrets, and are zealously concealed from public scrutiny.

The incidences of disasters in the Indian context as reported during the various presentations of the Seminar - both to human and wildlife, as well as to the environment and the ecology, have to be herd to be believed. It is mind-boggling. It was reported that because of design flaws, inadequate EIA, faulty DPR and host of other problems that could result in possible impacts to the ecology and the environment, tens of dozens of hydro-power projects totaling thousands of megawatts have been stalled or altogether scrapped. India is lucky that there are responsible NGOs that monitor and oppose any incidences of mischief or wrongdoing in mega hydro projects. In Bhutan, hardly a squeak can be heard about the financial and environmental disaster that are being perpetuated at the Punatsangchhu I & II hydro-power projects.

It was reported that the underground powerhouse of the Punatsangchhu II had caved in a few months back. The right bank of the dam site of Punatsangchhu I is reported to be so unstable that whole mountainside has been sliding. Some have expressed the view that the only way to dam the Punatsangchhu river at that location is when the whole Gaselo mountain and village collapse in a heap, at the bottom of the ravine.

The Seminar was enlightening, although I am even more worried as a result. The eventuality of a dam burst as a consequence of a poorly planed, assessed and executed hydro-power construction are frightening. Even without the dam burst, the ecological, environmental and human disasters that can be caused by a shoddy work on the hydro-power projects are simply unfathomable. And the evidence of shoddiness at the Punatsangchhu projects are boundless.

One of the speakers at the Seminar pointed out that he had seen a number of work done by the principal Consultants to the PHPA I & II – WAPCOS. They were so bad and shoddy that he had recommended that the WAPCOS be banned from undertaking any work in the hydro-power sector.

I was happy about that because I too had put forward a similar view – in one of my articles on this Blog, that WAPCOS should be barred from doing any work in Bhutan - based on their shoddy and unacceptable work at the Punatsangchhu projects.

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