The slide area in 2019

Final fate of P-I project may depend on advice from German and Austrian companies hired by RGoB

The government has hired a German and Austrian company each to take an independent look at all the data and reports of the troubled 1,200 MW Punatsangchu I project and then suggest a way forward.

The two companies, Fitchtner of Germany and Bernard Ingenieure from Austria was hired in the first week of July 2020 will look at the stability of the right bank slope and the assessment of the gravitational slope in the area.

The companies are collecting all the data from P I starting from the detailed project reports and various other reports. The companies will give a preliminary report in two months time and a final report by December.

A senior official said the two companies have world wide experience and more information and they would have also tackled other slides. He said the two companies should be able to analyze deeper and give a threadbare view.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Chairman of PHPA Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said the two companies would give an independent view from that of the project, RGoB and GoI. He said the idea is to also get a concrete view.

“This is not to undermine the works happening now. It is more to get an independent view to help establish what is being recorded so far. It is also to ensure further works that we do is stable, correct and scientifically tested leading to avoiding surprises in PHPA-1,” said Lyonpo.

The hiring of the German and Austrian companies are in essence to get another expert view on the issue and also an outsiders view given the confusion before a final call is taken.

 Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the focus is now on stabilization measures and ensuring adequate ‘factor of safety’. While the CWC had said there is enough ‘factor of safety’ to build the dam at 1.2 to 1.4 the NHPC in its review had said it is not safe enough as the factor of safety as per its review is below 1.

Lyonpo said that the final issue will be escalated to the Authority meeting now where a final decision will be taken. The authority meeting is expected to happen sometime in December by which time the reports of the German and Austrian companies are expected to come in.

Lyonpo said the companies will advise the government on the safety and whether the dam can be built there or not.

Matters have come to such a pass starting from June 2008 when the original dam site was changed by the then cabinet on the recommendation of then P I MD R.N Khazanchi to produce more power and reduce dam depth below the river bed.

However, the new site was clearly not investigated well as the soft soil below the river went very deep pushing up costs, and the right bank weakness was not adequately studied leading to later slides. 

In 2009 despite knowing there is a weakness on the right bank according to a study by National Geological Institute of India the P I overall consultant WAPCOS and the civil works consultant Central Water Commission (CWC) went ahead to tender the project works.

The problem manifested itself in not only having to dig deep for the dam but with a slide of the right bank in July 2013.

Despite expensive rectification measures of Nu 3.5 bn and assurance of the consultants, there was another major slide in August 2016 undoing the previous works followed by another slide in 22nd January 2019 that also undid past rectification measures.

WAPCOS and particularly CWC was asked after the January 2019 slide to give a comprehensive proposal to stabilize the right bank and proceed with the dam construction.

The CWC submitted its report and the the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) was brought in as a third party to do a review of the CWC proposal.

Contrary to the CWC’s claims that its stabilization measures would stabilize the right bank slope and allow a dam construction, the NHPC in its review essentially said it is not so and that it is not safe to build a dam at the current site.

The NHPC instead recommended abandoning the current dam site and instead building a barrage upstream.

The Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) with members from both countries to whom these reports were presented asked the CWC and NHPC to sit together and reconcile their reports and come to a conclusion.

They, however, have not been able to do so due to COVID-19 restrictions and working from home.

The project’s original completion date was November 2016 but due to the slides the project completion date has moved all the way to 2025. The project’s current cost is Nu 93.75 bn of which 60 percent is loan.

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