In response to a question Opposition leader (OL) Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that various experts from all over including Europe had been consulted on the Punatsangchu I project.
The OL said that if the experts are not able to say anything different about the geological stability and it is going to be geologically unstable then it would be better to actually hold the project at the current stage instead of spending millions and billions more only to finally find out that it will not be useful.
He said the Opposition had supported the National Council’s recommendation that a through study be done by experts and that the government should take a decision based on their recommendations.
The OL said that nobody can be blamed for geological surprises including people who planned it or implemented it as no one can know what is happening 30 meters below the surface. He said the very term geological surprise shows that it is a surprise.
He said that the decisions should be taken by experts and that he was only offering a layman’s opinion on why to bang heads when something will not work and that too with mounting debt and expenditure. The P I project was supposed to complete by 2016 but its latest completion date is 2024-25.
The Opposition’s statement is significant as it is the first one that hints at abandoning the expensive project.
The government though has claimed that it has achieved some breakthrough with new proposals to control the right bank and also build the dam.
The P-1 project has undergone several delays over the years after the slide in the right bank was discovered around July 2013. This was coupled with the dam depth going deeper than the expected 35 meters to around 70 meters.
The first cabinet in June 2008 had given permission to move the dam site to its current location with the understanding that additional power can be produced and that that the dam depth would also be lower than the original site. The proposal for removing the site was given by the PHPA Authority.
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 but by then work had already started.