It all started when the Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho asked the Prime Minister- why the government had not been able to achieve an average growth rate of 10 percent.
The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Dasho Tshering Tobgay replied saying that the delay in the construction of the Punatsangchu I project was the main factor. A delay he attributed to the DPT cabinet approving a change in the dam site in June 2008 without adequate studies leading to geological issues.
The opposition party then issued a press release saying that it was not a unilateral decision by the then cabinet and that there were other agencies involved.
They said the main reason for the change in the dam site was that while the original site had 70m over burden depth below river bed, the new site had an estimated depth of 35m and an additional generation of 105MW (increase from 1095MW to 1200 MW). Detailed studies were undertaken and discussions held between the technical agencies of the two governments.
DPT said there had been geological surprises with other past hydro projects as well but had been resolved.
The DPT release said that a ‘a landslide had occurred on the right bank of the dam in July 2013’ and hence it was on the current government to solve the issue which it could not do so in five years.
Lyonchhen in a counter press release issued on Friday afternoon made his stand clear and rebutted the DPT release.
In the release, the PM said that the Punatsangchu 1 Hydropower Project Authority (PHPA) was chaired by Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk from 2008 to 2013 in his capacity as minister of economic affairs.
Lyonchhen reiterated that the then Cabinet had approved the proposal to relocate the P 1 dam site in June 2008. The PHPA Chairman had submitted the proposal to relocate the dam site to the Cabinet.
The PM said that slippage on the right bank of the river at the P 1 dam site was noticed in July 2013.
“This ‘slippage’ is a major shear, a fracture in the entire rock face, inside the hill and extends all the way to the foundation of the dam. It was certainly not just a ‘landslide’ as reported by DPT,” said the PM.
He said that a proper investigation and detailed study at the location of the new dam site would have identified the fracture in the rock.
A joint audit investigation concluded that sufficient studies had not been carried out before relocating the dam site.
The project has spent about Nu 4 billion to rectify the shear zone and stabilize the right bank of the river.
Rectifying the shear zone and stabilizing the right bank has delayed the P 1 project by at least 6 years.
Lyonchhen said that the gross revenue forgone for every year for delay amounts to Nu 22 billion at a tariff of Nu 4.30 per unit. He said revenue forgone for 6 years works out to Nu 132 billion.
The Joint Audit report
A Joint Audit Report conducted by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) of Bhutan and the Comptroller General Audit of India (CAG) for the period -April 2012 to March 2013 showed that the PHPA, its main consultant WAPCOS and the Central Water Commission (CWC) knew that there were geological weaknesses at the right bank area but still went ahead with the tendering of the dam on the same site in 2009.
A geo technical appraisal report prepared by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) saying GSI had identified some weak geological features at the dam site was deliberated by officials from GSI, CWC and WAPCOS on 10th February 2009. The report pointed out that this may entail additional cost.
The GSI report also said that additional investigations were required for the exact delineation of the weak geological features.
However, instead of conducting further investigations before awarding the tender, in what was both a cavalier and procedurally questionable manner, PHPA’s consultant WAPCOS, on behalf of GSI, issued a clearance for the project dam bids to be opened on 16th February 2009.
Finally, work was awarded by PHPA to the dam contractor Larsen and Toubro on 27th March 2009.
However, an investigation report conducted between 29th April 2009 and 17th September 2009 by GSI showed serious problems in the current right bank of the project.
The GSI report said, “Examination of cores of the bore hill drilled on the right bank reveals the presence of a number of shear, fracture, faults zones represented by Nil to very poor core recovery with occasional clay gouge. As a result, it can be concluded that the right bank is riddled with a number of shears and fractures.”
The report also said, “Adverse geological conditions are expected in the dam site. Hence proper remedial measures for strengthening the foundation and to control the water seepage through the dam side and abutments should be taken to make the rock mass monolithic.”
The RAA report pointed out that the 3rd PHPA Authority meeting held on 8th August 2008 had resolved that “Bidding process be continued and price bids be opened only after receipt of confirmation by GSI.”
The Audit report says it is of the opinion that despite concluding the presence of weak geological features and envisioned geological surprises in the GSI report- the issuance of clearance for opening the bids, completion of the bidding process and handing over of the site to the contractor was not in line with the decisions of the third PHPA authority meeting. In other words, the PHPA had overruled it own earlier decision to wait for a confirmation by GSI.
The PHPA in its reply to RAA pointed out that Chief Engineer of Designs CWC on 10th February 2009 had said, “The only additional information is about the presence of shears and faults in the left and right abutment. These faults can be satisfactorily addressed technically but may entail additional cost. Thus the dam location and layout of various project components remain as shown in the tender drawings and no review thereof is warranted on geological considerations.”
The RAA report in a counter response quoted from the GSI report issued on January 2009 (before opening of the bid in 16th February 2009).
The RAA pointed out that the initial GSI report showed that detailed investigation had not been done prior to the opening of bids, which had necessitated further investigations in order to ascertain the fault zones.
The RAA says that in view of the November 2009 report that confirmed the multiple faults it could not understand why WAPCOS had issued a clearance on behalf of GSI, when the initial study was not done comprehensively. It says that this clearly indicated that there was a gap in the study concluded and the clearance issued by WAPCOS on behalf of GSI.
The project’s original completion date was November 2016 but with repeated delays especially with regard to the right bank area- the latest completion date is now late 2022 or early 2023.
The new dam site also did not have the 35-meter depth as hoped by the cabinet in June 2008 and the depth was found to be the same as the old site pushing up costs in a big way as the dam is the biggest component of any project.