MHPA MD rips into outdated Punatsangchu bidding documents and clueless hydro consultants

If there are two contrasting projects in Bhutan, then it is the 1,200 MW Punatsangchu I project hugely exceeding all time and budget limits, while the 720 MW Mangdechu has largely been built within budget and time and is already generating revenue.

The outgoing Mangdechu Project MD, A.K Mishra in a candid speech during the 12th Hydro Vision Conclave in Taj Tashi pointed out various project implementation issues in the hydropower sector in Bhutan.

Outdated Punatsangchu docs

A.K Mishra said that first question in 2011 was which bidding document would be used.

He said the he opted for the updated Standard Bidding Document (SBD) by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) which he said is not written in legal jargon language.

“If you read the other documents most of the engineers who do not have legal background get stuck up and are not able to catch things but this document can read like a novel and it makes you more comfortable.”

“Now the authority asked me why you want to use this document as I have the choice to use Punatsangchu I and II documents which are their own documents,” said the MD.

The MD in reference to the Punatsangchu bid documents said, “But a lot of things have changed after that. The documents or the culture which was developed by Himachal Electricity Board and was brought into Tala and from Tala to P I and P II. From Tala to P I no corrections were made.”

“Look at the gap, we are talking from 1996-97 to commissioning of Tala in 2006 and starting of P I and P II in 2008-09. If you look at it chronologically in more than 10 years we have made no corrections or additions into the bidding documents,” added the MD.

He said apart from being reader friendly SBD has a structured price formula whereby various construction inputs are to be price adjusted for inflation which is not there in P I and P II documents.

Comparing Mangdechu to P I and II, he said, “Same price, same work and same volumes and I am paying less but they are paying more. This is the advantage but what to do, these documents are existing (P I and II) and corrections are needed.”

He said the SBD used by Mangdechu is now a benchmark document as it is better and written in the Indian environment seeing the Indian conditions which are more or less similar to Bhutan.

“So the advantage is in project execution by bringing in a better document. It is a cost effective document paying less for the same job. You can compare. That is why Mangdechu is less costly,” said the MD.

Stressing on the importance of time, the MD said that he signed the MoU with NHPC on 9th January 2011 and in a year by March 2012 awarded the work when the view of the consultant was that it is not possible to award the work within a span of one year.

Clash with DPR and Design consultant

“On the technical front there are a few technical issues I have confronted with the designers and I have not agreed with them,” said the MD.

The MD said that he changed the Detailed Project Report (DPR) design in the surge shaft whereby he used a staircase like construction technique in the 600-meter long pressure shaft that gave 30 meter more head or height for the water to generate more power.

He also said that the original DPR design of an inclined shaft would also be difficult because the geology there was dangerous and not very competent.

The MD said that even the access roads the project constructed was quite different from what is in the DPR due to a different ground situation.

The MD also revealed that the surge shaft is located at a place which is very vulnerable due to high clay content in the soil, but they did many technical measures and so not a drop of water was there in the valve house.

“When it was charged with water, I was not sure that how much seepage will happen. Luckily whatever treatments we did and whatever methods we adopted succeeded,” he said.

He said, “For an upstream coffer dam (to block and divert the river temporarily) they were telling me to go for permeation grouting, but I was not comfortable as when we did a lot of drilling and analyzed the silt in that coffer dam area, it was about 28 percent. All literature says that permeation grouting is effective if silt is less than 18 percent.”

“I argued and fought with the people head on and and we succeeded,” said the MD.

He said that the modified coffer dam was such a success that even 60 meter below the river bed when they did a Pooja for the very first concreting he was sitting on the ground but there was no water on his pant.

“It was beautiful conditions that made the project a success otherwise it is a narrow valley and you would be doing de-watering of Nu 150 mn but I have not paid a single penny for de-watering,” said the MD.

He said usually people do the first concreting with little layer of water present which is not correct.

He said in the underground power house there were shear zones on both the walls in both the caverns and they were low dipping.

NHPC wanted him to shift the power house by 40 meters.

“I said I will not do it as it is a three dimensional problem and you are analyzing everything on 2 D. I want 3 D analysis. Incidentally they did not have the 3 D software available with them,” said the MD.

The MD got in experts from National Institute of Rock Mechanics, Bangalore, and got an independent examination done by them which did not require them to move the power house provided certain precautions were taken. He, however, said the consultant NHPC wrote in the drawings that that if anything happens they are not responsible.

“Had we shifted the cavern by 40 meters it would be one-year loss and Nu 150 to 200 mn work done would have gone to waste. That is the truth and this is how Mangdechu has been done,” he said.

“Somebody has to take that risk in spite of the consultant not being on your side. This is the story of hydro projects. If you are not able to take risk you cannot proceed,” said the MD.

He said he also had differences with NHPC when he shifted the surge shaft by 20 meters towards the hill as the consultant felt that he may encounter rock.

“But now there is a 152-meter shaft without rock and it is practically plain,” said the MD.

He said even in drilling of the surge shaft the DPR report said to bore the tunnel from bottom to top but he instead chose to go top to down and succeeded which would otherwise not be the case.

“So these things are very serious,” stressed the MD.

On the pothead yard the MD said they started works before the drawings but six months later when the drawings came the consultants confronted them, “but I told them it is in front of them as nature speaks for itself.”  The NHPC agreed to what the MHPA did and drawings were modified accordingly.

“Had I not started the pothead yard on that day, it was not possible to do that as each day counts, each hour counts and if you miss it- you are missing it,” said the MD.

“You are venturing into unknown territory and now you have to decide at what cost and time you want to do it. That is what is required. You have to confront and somebody would say you are wrong but professional courage has to come in the picture. That is why the MD, DT (Director Technical) and everyone is in the picture. Otherwise why am I here and why am I getting a salary if I am not trying to find out a solution. It is my duty to see that the solution is there and the project moves. That is the spirit that is needed,” said the MD.

Giving another example he said the main access bridge to Mangdechu once went down and the then Secretary of MoWHS suggested to fill up the Nala and have a temporary solution as a bridge is going to take time and will be costly.

“But I said whatever it is, it (the bridge) is a lifeline for Mangdechu and that we will do it.”

He said by the conventional procedures it would have taken a year and half to get a steel bridge but he got it done in much lesser time at a cost of Nu 25 mn only as the bridge was needed to transport cement and steel rods.

He said his only request is to please put a lot of pressure on productivity and efficiency. “I have taught all my employees in Mangdechu and the minimum working time of 8-10 hours a day is a must,” said the MD.

He said the final approved cost is under examination at CWC and it would get approved within 2 to 3 days but he is expecting his completion cost without adding Interest During Construction at Nu 51 bn.

“Now look, for design, engineering and consultancy I have paid Nu 1.2 bn for the entire project design to NHPC which will not even touch two percent,” said the MD.

“What I am trying to convey is that Mangdechu has been done meticulously on account of design, engineering and contractual issues. I have not left anything outstanding to settle down,” said the MD.  He said this has never done in India and Bhutan before.

“Look at Tala, which took two years to close the project after commissioning. I am not consuming that time because each month my establishment cost is 20 mn and for a year it is 240 mn. This money should remain with the project and it can be utilized for some other purpose,” said the MD who also revealed that he has asked the government to relieve him as he does not have any official engagement and that money paid to him as salary would be saved.

The MD said that 29th February MHPA would be handing over the project to DGPC on as is and where is basis.

The MD said that the project has built up a good team of Bhutanese engineers, two of whom are lady engineers in Delhi negotiating with CWC.

“Until you build in the efficiency and productivity, costs keep on escalating and suddenly you will find the project is unviable or uneconomical,” said the MD.

“Who will buy if you produce electricity at the rate of Nu 5 or 6 per unit. In India the tariff is going down. Even for merchant power nobody is going to buy the power at the price. These are serious issues. So let us look at how to optimize, economize, reduce cost, innovate it and do it at a lesser cost. These innovations are needed,” said the MD.

The MD said projects should not work with old equipment and technologies but they should bring in the best and do it fast and while there is a little more cost but in the long run it will be cheaper.

He said there needs to be mindset change, saving of time and bold decision making. “Until that type of thinking emerges it is difficult to do a project as there are a lot of decisions involved,” said the MD.

Giving an example of how money was saved the MD said that all their access roads were concrete paved and so they have not spent a penny in six years on maintenance. The MD received an award at the function from the Renewable Energy Promotion Association.

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