As impressive as the scale of the ongoing construction of two major hydropower projects in Wangduephodrang may be, however, it has not struck the right chord with the voters there. This is obvious from the primary round elections of the National Assembly (NA) when the former ruling government of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) lost in both constituencies of the dzongkhag.
In fact, villagers in some western parts of the dzongkhag are irate with the project activities and its adverse impact on their daily lives.
Villagers of Uma Khatoe-Khamey village under Daga gewog who talked to The Bhutanese listed the deteriorating conditions of farm roads, irrigation channels, and subsequent cracks on some of the houses as the negative impacts brought about by the activities carried out at the hydropower construction sites.
A farm road of about 12 kilometer was constructed in 2010 connecting the Uma Khatoe village to the national Wangdue-Tsirang highway at Beychhu.
“The road is just about two years old and it is not motorable at all during rainy days. One reason could be because there is no drainage constructed along the road,” a 69-year-old farmer Chador Gyeltshen said.
He is among the many farmers who say project vehicles such as heavy trucks and earth-moving equipment using the same road caused substantial damage to the farm road and irrigation channels.
Earlier last year, the villagers decided to construct a makeshift gate at the entrance of the farm road at Beychhu. “The gate was torn apart and project vehicles kept moving. We couldn’t do much,” a farmer said.
Daga Gup Kencho Namgay said if motorable, the farm road could benefit more than 50 households, while the irrigation channel benefited about 36 households.
Villagers are also worried about the cracks appearing on the walls of their residences which they said was due to blasting activities at the Punatsangchhu project (PHPA) sites.
“There is not a single day that we can live in peace because the vibration is strong enough to rattle our houses,” a villager said.
However, Gup Kencho said it was confirmed upon inspection that the cracks were caused by the September 2011 earthquake.
“After repeated complaints by the farmers, a team comprising gewog representatives, PHPA officials and dzongkhag officials conducted an inspection. They said the cracks were due to the earthquake, and not by the tremors caused by bastings at project sites,” he said. “So, we didn’t have any basis to take action,” he added.
Most villagers said their appeals to gewog authorities and local government proved futile and no action has been taken till date. “Everyone is ignorant and we don’t get to see the faces of our MPs for years after the elections,” Chimi Wangmo of Khamey said.
Another villager said, “We were not allowed to speak out at the common forums this time when the candidates were making promises. We would have raised a host of issues had we been given the opportunity.”
The villagers are hopeful that any party that gets elected to office will address the issues.