Bhutanese officials from the National Environment Commission (NEC), Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Department of Energy (DoE), Livestock, and Forestry among others expressed dissatisfaction over the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report presented by SJVNL (Satluj jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd) for the 570 MW Wangchhu hydropower project during a meeting in Thimphu last Thursday.
The project area lies in the south-western part of the country in Chukha Dzongkhag, above Chukha and Tala projects. Construction is scheduled to begin this year and will require 125 acres of land belonging to private individuals, an additional 39 acres of land for temporary labor camps and project site offices as per the findings of the EIA.
An official representing the NEC at the meeting to whom a copy of the report was circulated in advance said the report was subjective, incomplete and irrelevant. “There are also many cases of copy pasting from reports of other hydropower projects,” he said.
A GNHC official said “It looks like copy pasting since the name Punatshangchhu I was mentioned in some areas such as the objectives of the study, while the report was meant for Wangchhu.”
He said the EIA report which implied certain environmental implications of the project was similar to other hydropower projects which cannot be the case since different projects have its own location specific biodiversity, vegetation and size. “The human settlements affected also differ with each new project,” he added.
SJVNL was responsible for carrying out the EIA as well as the Environmental Management Plan (EMP). While the EIA will spot the impact, the EMP will find solutions to avoid or minimize the environmental impacts. The EMP was further outsourced by SJVNL to another consultant, Water and Power Supply Consultancy Services (WAPCOS), a GoI undertaking.“We will tell our subcontractors to re-work on the report,” an SJVNL representative said.
Referring to the EMP presented by SJVNL, the GNHC official went on to say that the report seemed to be “hastily compiled missing in essential information.” “The EMP which is supposed to provide a clear mitigation plan or solutions to minimize the project’s impact isn’t concise or concrete,” he said.
An NEC official said the EIA provides an array of flora and fauna being affected but failed to provide any solutions or plans to play down the project’s impact.
The report also lacked measures on reclamation of muck disposal sites, waste management and maintenance of existing farm roads and location of stone quarries.
A Socio-Economic and Social Impact Assessment by a faculty of Gaeddu College, among other findings concluded that 40 families, 12 houses, eight temporary sheds and around 3,420 horticulture trees of various kinds would be affected by the project.
However, the study also drew criticism from participants at the meeting that the report was “incomplete.” “Apart from the positive impact, it didn’t specify the adverse effect of the huge influx of labor such as increased crime rates and how to address such issues,” a GNHC official said.
Bhutanese officials also noted that muck disposal sites are usually afforested, but the report does not mention anything besides its location.
After the meeting, SJVNL officials said they will incorporate all the comments and feedback received and then update the whole report. “This wasn’t a conclusive meeting, it was a meeting to discuss the draft report,” one Indian delegate said.
On the same day, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) presented to NEC, EIA and EMP reports for the Chamkharchhu hydropower project carried out by WAPCOS in association with a local consultancy, M/s Himalaya consultancy.
The 770MW project which is expected to generate 3249.21 MU annually, if approved by NEC will be located near Khomsar village in Zhemgang with a 108m high concrete gravity dam constructed near Thazong village, 85 km east of Zhemgang. The underground powerhouse will be located at the right bank of Chamkharchhu, 3.5km upstream of Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu confluence.
Both projects will start construction this year along with five other projects that includes, Sunkosh, Bunakha and Kholongchhu.