January 28, 2020 SANDRP
In July 2019, former Prime Minister of Bhutan and President of the People’s Democratic Party Tshering Tobgay makes impassioned plea to act on the melting glaciers of Hindu Kush due to climate change and among other things, form a Third Pole Alliance of eight countries of the region, including China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar to work collectively to avert the future catastrophe affecting 1.6 billion people.(https://www.ted.com/talks/tshering_tobgay_an_urgent_call_to_protect_the_world_s_thi rd_pole#t-855110)
Chamkharchhu project out of government’s plan
Indian Minister of economic affairs, Loknath Sharma in responding to whether Chamkharchhu project will be on track within five years, said that looking at the current scenario of hydropower projects in Bhutan, the government will not consider the construction of Chamkharchhu Hydro project due to low return on investment and financial viability. He clarified that if there is a change in the scenario, the govt may consider Chamkharchhu. The hydro committee submitted a report that recommended leaving Chamkharchhu and applying a brake on building hydro projects. The minister said that the current focus was on Sunkosh hydropower project and to complete the ongoing hydropower projects that are delayed. “It has been three years since Kholongchhu was started, but there is no progress,” he said. Kholongchhu was the first joint venture (JV) hydropower project. “Bargaining the tariff and exporting electricity at our rate is difficult.” it was better to consider the current scenario – excessive hydropower debt. (28 May 2019) http://www.kuenselonline.com/chamkharchhu-project-out-of-governments-plan/1125 Mw Dorjilung HEP put on back burner
According to magazine The Bhutanese, the trilateral 1,125 MW Dorjilung project involving Bangladesh, Bhutan and India is put in the backburner. New Delhi, which is a major stakeholder in the project, is yet to give its nod to the project. The Dorjilung project is important because it is the first time that a third country is keen on investing in Bhutan’s hydropower sector and purchasing power. The project is likely to see an investment of US$1.25 billion from Bangladesh. https://www.orfonline.org/research/south-asia-weekly-report-volume-xii-issue-13-49443/ (2 April 2019)
One of four turbines down at Chukha hydro project
One of the four 86 MW (actual generation up to 92 MW when there is sufficient water) units of 336 MW Chukha HEP is out of operation since Aug second week. The cost of the power sold to Indian states from this project is now at Rs 2.55 per unit, since 2017, the sixth revision since the commissioning of the first hydropower project of Bhutan in 1986. (27 Sept. 2019) http://www.kuenselonline.com/one-of-four-turbines-down-at-chukha-hydro-project/
The irregularities in the hydropower sector
The findings of the Public Accounts Committee on unresolved irregularities are disturbing. There are Nu 3.95 billion (B) worth of pending audit issues related to the hydropower projects. The Royal Audit Authority and Comptroller and Auditor General of India pointed out the irregularities. The irregularities are related to excess payment, recruiting more than what needed or unrealistic payment is amounting to billions. http://www.kuenselonline.com/the-irregularity-of-the-hydropower-sector/ (23 Jan. 2019)
3,460 acres forest lost to 3 hydropower projects
Bhutan lost about 3,460 acres of forest due to construction of three hydropower projects – Punatsangchhu-I, Punatsangchhu-II, and Mangdechhu. A study by Department of Forest and Park Services, “Forest Cover Loss Due to Hydropower Projects and Transmission Lines”, observed that forest loss was more due to the transmission lines than from the construction of infrastructure development. About 3, 67,052 trees were removed due to 3 projects. About 84,504 trees were removed for PHPA-I project; 86,380 trees for PHPA-II, and 1, 96,168 trees for MHPA project. http://www.kuenselonline.com/3460-acres-of-forest-lost-to-hydropower-projects/ (31 May 2019)
Many questions as Bhutan plans big dam with reservoir
With more than 70% of its land area under forest cover – its Constitution mandates at least 67% of the area remain so – and a small population of about 800,000, Bhutan has not faced serious problems of displacing either human or wildlife populations for its hydropower projects. Nevertheless, the two Punatsangchhu hydropower plants currently under construction have impacted the habitat of the white-bellied heron, and the Amochhu project will displace the oldest indigenous people of the country. (24 June 2019) https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/06/24/bhutan-prioritises-reservoir-hydropower/
Hydropower revenue drops in 2018
With the Wangchhu recording the lowest flow due to the worst hydrology since 2008, the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) saw the lowest generation of electricity in 2018. DGPC was short of 13.18 percent of the target generation in 2018. Chukha, Kurichhu, Basochhu, and Tala hydropower plants together generated 6,574 MU against the target of 7,440 MU. Dagachhu hydropower plant, a subsidiary company of the DGPC, also recorded the lowest generation since its commissioning in 2015. The net export of electricity to India dropped from 5,068 MU in 2017 to 4,054 MU. Domestic energy consumption increased from 2,137 MU in 2017 to 2,454 MU in 2018. Import of electricity rose from 208 MU in the previous year to 300 MU in 2018. DGPC earned Nu 11.68 B against Nu 12.27 Billion in 2017. DGPC recorded the highest generation at 7,573 MU in 2016. http://www.kuenselonline.com/hydropower-revenue-drops/ (22 May 2019)
GDP growth slips for the second time
The GDP growth in 2017-2018, slowed further from 6.3 % in 2016-2017 to 5.5 5 on the back of weaker performance in industry, slowdown in construction of hydropower projects and weak water flows affecting power generation. Growth is likely to slightly increase to 5.7 % in 2018-19 with the commissioning of Mangdechhu. “Barring further delays to the commissioning of the Mangdechhu Hydropower Plant, a full year of operation in FY2020 will help lift growth to 6 % in 2019-20,” the ADB report stated.
Hydropower development entails large fiscal swings, from heavy expenses during construction to robust revenue flows upon commissioning. To accommodate such swings, a stabilisation fund was established in November 2017 to set aside at least 5 % of hydropower revenue annually to smoothen budgetary volatility. India’s GST has affected competitiveness of Bhutan exports. http://www.kuenselonline.com/gdp-growth-slips-for-the-second-time-adb/ (18 April 2019)
The 720 MW Mangdechhu project start has been delayed from original July 2017 to now possibly in Feb 2019, cost has gone up from Rs 2900 Cr to 4500 Cr and possibly more, with 30% grant and 70% loan. The per unit tariff is agreed at INR 4.12. (14 Jan. 2019) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/energy/power/4-5k-crore-hydro-project-mangdechhu-to-start-producing-by-end-of-next-month/articleshow/67528519.cms •
The Union Cabinet chaired by PM Modi has approved Amendment to the Article 3 of the Agreement between India and Bhutan regarding Mangdechhu HEP in order to extend the loan repayment tenure from 15 to 17 years. India to buy surplus power from the project at the rate of Rs 4.12 per unit. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189281 (7 March 2019)
• Power tariff protocol finalized India and Bhutan have signed tariff protocol for the Mangdechhu hydropower project. An agreement was signed by Bhutan’s economic affairs secretary, Dasho Yeshi Wangdi and the power secretary of India, Ajay Kumar Bhalla on April 23, 2019 in Thimphu. The starting tariff for a term of 35 years is Ngultrum 4.21 (Eqv. INR 4.21) per unit. That will go up at a rate of 10% every 5 years till Bhutan’s loan for the project is repaid and 5% afterward. Government of India has funded INR 33.82 bn for the project with 70% of that as loan and 30% grant. The power plant is on the Mangdechhu River in Trongsa Dzongkhag District of central Bhutan. It is being developed by Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority constituted by India and Bhutan. (25 April 2019) https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/india-bhutan-finalized-rs-4-5k-crore-mangdecchu-hydro-projects-power-tariff-protocol/69042951
The foreign secretary said that the Indian side was looking forward to reaching an early agreement on Sunkosh and inauguration of the Mangdechhu. The two sides also discussed on taking forward the Kholongchhu project which has been halted because of the issues with the Indian guideline on cross border electricity trading. The guideline was revised last year upon Bhutan’s request. http://www.kuenselonline.com/gois-assistance-for-12th-plan-formalised/ (27 April 2019)
PM Modi inaugurates Mangdechhu HEP
PM Modi on Aug. 17 inaugurated the Mangdechhu hydroelectric power plant. It was developed by the Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA), which was jointly constituted by the Indian and the Bhutanese governments. (17 Aug. 2019) https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/trends/current-affairs-trends/pm-modi-inaugurates-mangdechhu-hydroelectric-power-plant-in-bhutan-4344941.html
Sunkosh is the priority. Discussions during PM Modi’s visit will revolve around the modality of implementation and financing. http://www.kuenselonline.com/pm-modis-visit-marks-five-decades-of-hydropower-cooperation/ (16 Aug. 2019)
Sunkosh HEP: Mega Problems
For “a mega project of this magnitude with a huge storage reservoir having an impact on the environment too, Bhutan is rightly insisting on being involved in the construction of the dam. It also wants to have a say on all aspects in the implementation of the project whereas the Government of India’s thinking is to have a turnkey project, given to a separate entity” and then handed over finally to Bhutan. These differences have meant no progress on the Project since Indian PM’s Bhutan visit in Aug 2019. https://www.eurasiareview.com/06012020-bhutans-sun-kosh-hydro-power-project-mega-project-with-mega-problems-analysis/ (6 Jan. 2020)
Bhutan Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering
On Mangdechhu HEP Mangdechhu is in the final stages of completion now, and we have requested another govt-to-govt mega-hydropower project on the Sankosh river, which may see some progress as well.
On Shift in Hydropower agenda the shift is probably to slow down the pace of [starting new projects]. During my tenure, I am targeting one mega-project, and if other current projects are completed, we might think of new ones.
On Power export to Bangladesh There hasn’t been much progress on that (electricity Trade with Bangladesh) yet, but we are in discussions. But our immediate neighbor India has a huge market, and only when India’s needs are met, or if there is a huge tariff difference we will be able to broaden our supply. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/its-too-early-to-call-off-saarc-and-say-it-isnt-relevant-or-viable/article27957700.ece (17 June 2019)
According to this DRUK GREEN company’s note dated Aug 23, 2019, “timely completion of the on-going projects are necessary” and hoped that by Dec 2019, “a breakthrough on the Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project Authority-I (PHPA-I)” is expected, possibly paving the way for an agreement on Sunkosh Project.
Flash flood in Punatsangchhu basin warning of changing climate
On August 6, 2019, a flash flood caused by an intense monsoon event swept through a side stream of the main Punatsangchhu River in the district of Wangdue Phodrang. The flood took down bridges, houses, rice paddies, and a hydropower equipment storehouse causing an artificial lake to form from the debris buildup. The debris dam burst from the pressure, sending water gushing down the steep hillside. Standing trees had water up to their crowns. The redirected river swamped an equipment storehouse belonging to the Indian company Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, one of the contractors of the struggling Punatsangchhu-II hydropower project. About 110,000 USD worth of equipment was ruined or washed away towards the Indian border. A car containing four Indian labourers, who were in Bhutan working on the hydropower projects, was swept away. Officials never recovered the bodies. In the southern part of Bhutan, where the Punatsangchhu river flows through the lower-lying district of Dagana, a site has been assessed for USD 2.8 B Sunkosh reservoir project.
Scientists have assessed sites for solar and wind projects, but with hydropower electricity being given priority, these projects being seen more as a Plan B. (28 Oct. 2019) https://india.mongabay.com/2019/10/unstoppable-rivers-bhutans-quest-for-energy-security-and-development-in-a-changing-climate/
Sunkosh Threatens Thimpu’s Philosophy
The report warns about the consequences of Bhutan taking up massive Sunkosh Dam. (29 Aug. 2019) https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/santosh-dam-threatens-bhutan-philosophy/
Civil Society Groups for managing cross-border Rivers
Lack of a mechanism between India and Bhutan to address the downstream impact of cross border rivers prompted several community-based organisations from the two countries to issue “a call for action” to work together for effective management of the river risks. The declaration, named Kokrajhar Call for Action on Bhutan-India Civil Society Organisations’ Partnership for Inclusive Water Governance was signed on June 20, 2019 by at least 12 organisations, following a two-day-long consultation.
According to the NGOs, at least 56 rivers flow down through Bhutan to western Assam districts including Kokrajhar. People living in the downstream areas often express apprehension that release of excess water from the dams in Bhutan without proper warning resulted in floods and “unscientific mining” impacted their farming.
The efforts to unite the community level organisations to mutually address the concerns gained momentum in 2016 after flash floods in Bhutan’s Sarpang district had literally wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. While floods left many homeless, excessive silt had turned large tracts of farmland unsuitable for paddy cultivation. (22 June 2019) https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/indo-bhutan-groups-for-managing-cross-border-rivers-742185.html
Bhutan faces GLOF threat
Bhutan sounds the alarm as its biggest glacier lake (the Thorthormi Tsho (lake)) swells dangerously due to sustained high temperatures, causing the water level to rise by almost two meters. A team of senior glaciologists, hydrologists and technicians visited the site in Lunana to monitor the development. Any major disturbance on Thorthormi Lake could result in a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF), potentially with huge cost to life, property and infrastructure. A major breach on the moraine dam will combine the two lakes that will release more than 53 million cubic meters of water gushing down the Pho chhu valley. This would be three times bigger than Bhutan’s last major GLOF in 1994 that killed 20 people. Tenzin explained that, unlike Bhutan, the bordering areas of India were plains. There the floodwater would inundate surrounding land for weeks. This would mean much greater damage.
The director of National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), Karma Dupchu, said Bhutan had good communication mechanisms with the Central Water Commission of India and any water and flood related information is shared with India on a sub-hourly basis during the monsoon. This is often not enough, and a system of WhatsApp information sharing between Indian and Bhutanese NGOs and civilians has helped supply timely flood warnings. (10 July 2019) https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/07/10/a-glof-threatens-bhutan-right-now/
EARLY FLOOD WARNINGS THROUGH WHATSAPP SAVES LIVES
The following is an excellent example of how early flood warnings from Bhutan, shared with downstream Assam communities using WhatsApp messages, saves lives. This needs to be highlighted and word spread to implement it in all flood prone areas on Urgent basis, including in trans-boundary areas.
In the last few weeks of June 2019, a series of WhatsApp messages (sent via unofficial channels) were sent from Bhutan to India to warn “cross-border friends” downstream of the Aai, Saralbhanga and Manas rivers about cloud-bursts, swollen rivers and possible flash floods affecting people in the Indian state of Assam. Official Channel would involve the dzongdag – the administrative head of the dzonkhag, or district – in Geluphu passing information to the officials in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, who would then inform officials in New Delhi, the capital of India. They would, in turn, inform officials in Guwahati, the capital of the Indian state of Assam, who would pass the warnings on to Kokrajhar district headquarters. In the final stage, these messages would be relayed from there to villages along the India-Bhutan border.
Now, though, the communities are relying on these “WhatsApp early warnings” routed through members of Bhutan-India Friendship Association to friends in NGOs like the North East Research & Social Work Networking (NERSWN), who pass the information to their network. Messages are forwarded within minutes, giving the villagers precious lead-time to prepare and escape the wrath of the suddenly rising rivers.
Banglajhora is a small village on the banks of Saralbhanga River in Kokrajhar district of Assam. The village faced three devastating floods in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Since then, every monsoon the fear of floods is palpable among its residents, who belong to the Bodo indigenous community. “One contingent of the Army rescue team was deployed to rescue us with lifeboats but the force of water was such that the first lifeboat turned turtle in the middle of the river and the villagers ended up rescuing the soldiers,” said Kamal Basumatari.
“Already this year, the WhatsApp warnings from BIFA to the last mile family has travelled within 10 minutes of being sent out. The delay was due to the fact that the last family ran out of phone batteries, so when we didn’t see the ticks going blue, I borrowed a motorcycle to alert the family. Mobile phones are warning systems but you need a
motorcycle for sure, as there are always those without mobile phones,” said Aniram Basumatary, who does not own a motorcycle but is saving up for one.
Building on these relationships between BIFA and NERSWN, 14 civil society organisations from Bhutan and India, including the Bhutan Transparency Initiative and Aaranyak – a leading NGO in Assam – under the stewardship of Oxfam India’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) programme came together on June 20-21, 2019 in Kokrajhar. What you are seeing in Kokrajhar district goes beyond the official friendly ties between Bhutan and India. In fact, this informal collaboration for early warning and sharing of our water resources between border communities of Bhutan and Assam is a model for peaceful relationships between countries at a time when the world is threatened by the climate change induced disasters,” said Kinzang Dorji, who served twice as Prime Minister of Bhutan, and is now the chairperson of the Bhutan Transparency Initiative. (4 July 2019) https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/07/04/community-communications-save-lives-in-assam/
Assam braces for worse as Bhutan releases Kurichu dam water
Excess water released by Bhutan, Assam’s northern neighbour, from its Kuricchu dam on July 25, 2019 sent the water level soaring in seven flood-hit districts of the state. The water released from the 55-metre tall Kuricchu Project by Bhutan led to a rise in the Beki River, which flows from the Himalayan country through lower Assam before draining into the Brahmaputra.
“Due to release of excess water from the Kuricchu Hydropower Plant reservoirs on the Kuricchu River in Bhutan, some districts of western Assam – Barpeta, Nalbari, Baksa, Chirang, Kokrajhar, Dhubri and South Salmara are facing rise in flood water level,” the Assam State Disaster Management Authority stated in its report. The Barpeta district administration had on July 24 sounded a flood alert after Bhutan informed the Indian district administration that excess water would be released between 3am and 6am on July 25. The Central Water Commission in its advisory stated that the Manas, Beki and Gaurang rivers are flowing in “severe flood situation” in the districts of Baksa, Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Dhubri. The situation is likely to continue, the advisory added, as “severe to above normal flood” for the next two to three days. The Kuricchu hydel project, located at Gyalpozhing in Mongar in eastern Bhutan. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Assam-braces-for-worse-as-Bhutan-releases-dam-water/articleshow/70388510.cms (26 July 2019)
As per DGPC, the company opened the gates of the dam by 7 metres and 10 metres respectively on Thursday morning releasing around 1200 cubic metres of water per second. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/assam-on-alert-after-bhutan-releases-excess-water-from-hydro-power-dam/story-9PhB8ukqDEMVJs1HcdTF2M.html (25 July 2019)
Bhutan dams affect downstream Assam
It says: “But dams in Bhutan continue to be a nightmare downstream, having created havoc at regular intervals. In the last 10 years, over one lakh families were rendered homeless while more than one lakh ha of farmland were devastated in the downstream districts of Baksa, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Kokrajhar, Chirang and Nalbari.” In July 2019, there was a sudden rise in the water levels of the Beki river that washed away a part of the embankment at Panchmile, inundating the entire Manas National Park. (19 Aug. 2019) https://nenow.in/neighbour/bhutan-dams-unleashing-havoc-in-downstream-assam.html
Authorities are struggling to meet the water needs of the fast growing capital, especially when Wang Chhu its main river freezes in the winter. The river is known as Raidak in W Bengal and Bangladesh d/s. (21 Nov. 2019) https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/11/21/thirsty-thimphu-in-water-rich-bhutan
Top Six Landslides of Bhutan in 2019 https://youtu.be/O9UJnL_D9Lk (From Dave Petley Blog: https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2019/07/31/2019-landslide-videos/ July 31 2019)