The Construction of hydro projects in Bhutan is essentially a government to government business, with the main beneficiary being big Indian contractors handling all the main works.
The local communities are literally left in the dust as they either see only temporary or marginal benefits, which is outweighed by the loss of land and the impacts of the project.
Therefore, the hydro committee report’s recommendation to better benefit and involve the local communities in the projects is a welcome move.
Of the recommendations, one of the most important is to revise the land and asset acquisition compensation rates as the 2009 PAVA rates are outdated and do not reflect the market reality.
Hydro projects in Bhutan, like in the case of Gedu and Bajo see a huge increase in private building constructions to accommodate the projects staff and workers, but there are problems once the workers leave and the staff move into the project colony.
There has to be better coordination and involvement of the local government in projects to ensure that while the locals can benefit they must also not be allowed to incur huge losses. A project may last for a maximum of 10 years but a housing bank loan has to be paid back over 20 long years.
The majority of Bhutan’s population is still engaged in agriculture but it is an irony that the projects get most of their food from outside. Better and stronger measures must be put in place to ensure that local agricultural produce can supply the projects.
The report has also correctly pointed out on the generic and poor quality of the Environmental Impact Assessments for the projects and the need to have longer term environmental and social monitoring.
We still do not know of the impact of a project on a local community at various levels and how to mitigate them or even prevent them in the next project.
We are also in the dark on the long term environmental impact of a project on marine life and the surrounding ecology and measures to mitigate them in future projects.
Eternal vigilance is the price of eternal development.
Gordon B. Hinckley