The 1,200 MW Punatsangchu I (P 1) & 1020 MW Punatsangchu II (P II) projects will be subject to significant further delays, which among others will affect the revenue projections in the coming years. The Bhutanese Editor, Tenzing Lamsang had a candid question and answer session on the issue with the Minister of Economic Affairs Lyonpo Lekey Dorji who is also the Chairman of the Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA).
The 1,200 MW Punatsangchu I (P 1) & 1020 MW Punatsangchu II (P II) projects are considerably delayed due to geological faults and rectification measures. As pointed out in a past RAA report the Geological Survey of India (GSI) had warned of weaknesses in the right bank of P I but it was ignored. Who will be held responsible for this?
Lyonpo: It is a fact that P I hydropower project is considerably delayed due to geological reasons. GSI had indicated that the revised location has weak geological features on both left and right abutments. Subsequently, based on the clarifications provided by CWC and WAPCOS in a meeting with GSI in Kolkata, GSI noted the observations of the experts that such weak features were technically manageable. It was highlighted that treatment of shear zones of widths varying from 30-50 meters had been carried out successfully worldwide and in India as well. Thus, the relocation of the dam 1.4 km upstream of the DPR location was finalized and carried out in 2009 after extensive consultations among CWC, WAPCOS, GSI, DGM, and PHPA I officials considering the geological data available, feasibility of strengthening such weak features, and the merits of the new dam axis such as consequent ease of construction and increase in the installed capacity of the project by 105 MW. In such a scenario, it is not possible to fix accountability on any particular agency or official.
The PHPA had said that the Nu 3.5 bn rectification works on the right bank would mean that the P I project would be completed by July 2019 but now the new date is 2022. What went wrong and who is accountable given the already many delays?
Lyonpo: As per the information submitted to the Project Authority in January 2017, the Puna-I is slated for commissioning by last quarter of 2021 and not 2022. (Editor’s Note: The first report from PHPA to the government said 2022 but in a later report it was changed to 2021.) But the authority has not approved the revised deadline and asked the project management to adhere to the approved commissioning date of July 2019. However, we must be cognizant of the complexity involved in the drilling and erection of 2 meters dia RCC piles to stop the movement of the right bank. This is a specialized work and requires specialized contractors and tools.
A German company Bauer has been hired by the main contractor for the dam package to do this specialized work. The sub-surface geology encountered during the drilling works had posed a challenge where the drilling progress at such a depth was slower than anticipated.
Moreover, to ensure the long-term integrity and safety of the right bank, we are implementing the third phase of stabilization measures as a fresh slip outside the current slide area had occurred in August 2016. These measures are necessary in order to avoid any further slips and for long-term performance of the dam. We must appreciate that the dam excavation and foundation is going to be almost 80 meters below the river bed level, an engineering feat not carried out anywhere else in the world. As the chairman of the Authority, I invite senior journalists such as yourself to visit the site to appreciate the magnitude of the works and the engineering skills involved in such a complex project.
Even when the first slide happened in 2013, despite good advice to get third party experts the consultants WAPCOS and CWC took over, and now it seems they have not been able to neutralize the situation within the agreed timeframe and are finally getting third party advice from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. What is their excuse?
Lyonpo: Immediately after the slide of July 2013, the experts and designers from WAPCOS, CWC, IIT Delhi, DGM and GSI had visited the project site on regular basis. They made assessments on the cause of the slide based on which state of the art and comprehensive remedial stabilization measures along with the required instrumentation to monitor the movement were proposed and implemented to arrest the slide. Due to the specialized nature of the remedial measures, it is taking time to address it due to requirement of specialized contractors and equipment. The project Authority knows fully well that WAPCOS and CWC are doing their best and have given their best. The issue of third party opinion was to only make all of us doubly sure of the measures being implemented.
What is the mandate of the third party Norwegian Geological Institute in the two projects?
Lyonpo: As per the directives of the Authority, WAPCOS has engaged NGI, the renowned Norwegian geotechnical institute. The mandate of the NGI is to mainly provide expert second opinion on various stabilization and strengthening measures being proposed and implemented at the right bank of Puna-I dam site and the powerhouse complex of Puna-II.
The P II project powerhouse was supposed to be an over ground one but was moved underground on advice from PHPA. Why were adequate studies not done on the shear zone or weakness in the P II cavern that collapsed and what is the guarantee that the P II collapse will not lead to further delays?
Lyonpo: In view of the difficulties faced in disposing excavated muck and the routine disruption to traffic experienced in PHPA I, the project management had initiated an investigation for a suitable location for an Underground Power House (UGPH) for PHPA II. A team of 29 experts, 9 from RGOB and 20 from GoI, had met at site on August 6 and 7, 2010 to consider the proposal to carry out detailed survey and investigation of an option of an Underground Power House for the project. Based on the recommendation of this expert group, detailed survey and investigation was conducted by WAPCOS as part of the pre-construction stage activities.
In the 1st Authority Meeting of PHPA II held on September 9, 2010, the Authority had decided to consider the Technical Report of the Consultants and PHPA based on the detailed investigation of the UGPH option for taking a final decision as soon as possible.
In the 2nd Authority Meeting held on December 20, 2010, the authority was presented with the the investigations that had been conducted, with the recommendations of CWC, WAPCOS and GSI on the better option of having an Underground Power House at Kamichhu. After considering the recommendations, the Authority had approved the construction of UGPH subject to concurrence of the Technical Coordination Committee (TCC).
The 1st Technical Coordination Committee Meeting of PHPA II was held on December 22, 2010. Based on the confirmation of suitability of geology by GSI, due to better social and environmental effects because of less muck disposal and disruption to traffic, the TCC authorized PHPA to proceed with the option of UGPH.
The stabilization measures for the caverns in Power House Complex are being developed and some works are in progress. Based on the directions of the Authority to provide foolproof stability and holistic strengthening measures of all structures in Power House Complex and not to compromise on the quality and structural integrity of the infrastructure, all measures are being explored and the best possible methods are being adopted.
The rectification of the damaged structure due to collapse of the Down Stream Surge Gallery (DSSG) on 3rd March 2016 will be subsumed within the dam construction time, so we do not think there will be delays due to the power house.
According to some people a lot of the above problems are because the Bhutanese staff in the projects leave it in the hands of foreign experts or colleagues either due to seniority or deference. This has resulted in a lack of check and balances. How will you as the PHPA chairman ensure better accountability?
Lyonpo: I disagree with such views. However, you are right in saying that Bhutanese engineers are new or junior and therefore, less experienced in underground constructions compared to the expatriates. In fact, we had a senior Bhutanese leading one of the project components as its Chief Engineer. Adequate monitoring and quality control mechanisms are in place through a separate setup under the project management that ensures proper quality control and, check and balances.
As the Chairman of the Project, we have now instituted various measures such as establishment of Internal Audit Units, implementation of SAP/ERP for better MIS, secondment of senior officials from DGPC and RGoB at critical levels, rigorous supervision, monitoring and quality control.
Furthermore, the Authority has directed the project management and consultants to draw up schedules jointly with timelines and clear milestones with a view to minimize delays and fix accountability. I also visit the project sites frequently and have asked for increased frequency of TCC and Authority meetings to exact better accountability of the project management and consultants.
The Joint Managing Director of PHPA is a Bhutanese and is second-in-command in the project and under whom, amongst others Quality Control and Geology have been placed as a means of improving check and balance within the management. For the C-3 Contract Package which includes Power House Complex of PHPA-II, the Engineer In Charge is a Bhutanese – a Chief Engineer till December 2016 and now a Superintending Engineer.
We must appreciate that 822 staff out of 948 employed by PHPA I, and 911 of 954 staff employed by PHPA II are Bhutanese. Bhutanese have served and are serving the project with sincerity despite working under difficult conditions.
The delay of the two projects will lead to loss of projected revenue in the 12th plan. How will the government cope with this?
Lyonpo: Obviously, there will be delays in revenue generation corresponding to the delays encountered in the two projects. We are talking about notional revenue losses of about Nu 21 billion for Puna-I and Nu 17 billion for Puna-II for every year of delay, considering costs and tariffs at the present level.
However, since these delays are beyond the control of the projects, a force majeur, there is not much we can do other than to collectively address the challenges by managing and motivating the officials involved to enable commissioning of the projects without further delays. In this context, the Project Authority is vigorously pursuing on achieving the milestones through close scrutiny of progress and providing required support and guidance to the project management.
What can be done to ensure that the two projects which are handed over last their lifetimes?
Lyonpo: The structural integrity and long-term safety of the project components have been the key concern of the Authority especially after the unfortunate incidents of Puna-I right bank slip and Puna-II powerhouse DSSG crown failure. To address such crucial concerns, we are doing our best to ensure the longevity of the project components through state of the art designs and engagement of specialized contractors and world class experts such as M/s Bauer, M/sParsan, and NGI besides the expert designers of GOI’s apex agencies (WAPCOS, CWC, CEA, GSI, IIT Delhi). The project management remains fully committed to addressing this in particular and no stone will be left unturned to avoid future inconveniences.