Time to review hydro cooperation

It is good and timely that the Indian Power Secretary will be soon coming to Bhutan to review hydropower cooperation with focus on the 600 MW Kholongchu project, and the 10,000 MW by 2020 agreement.

In 2006 Bhutan and India signed the ‘Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Hydropower’ which would aim at 5,000 MW of projects.

In May 2008 the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Bhutan and this was upgraded to 10,000 MW by 2020 on the request of the new elected government.

However, in all honesty, the 10,000 MW by 2020 since then has run into many issues from delays to funding issues to modality issues and as a result only the 720 MW Mangdechu has been completed while the 1020 MW P II will be completed by 2024 and 1,200 MW P I is still up in the air over its barrage proposal.

The failure of the Kholongchu project despite both governments working hard to remove many hurdles clearly show that joint venture projects will not work in Bhutan.

The delays and issues in the P I and P II projects show that the old way of doing things in the Inter Governmental projects will have to be reformed for better outcomes in the future.

It is here that both sides must learn the lessons so far, and come up with a better management and projects system where expert and accountable people are put in charge.

A 2017 Hydropower Committee report has suggested several areas where reforms can be carried out here so that projects have a much better chance of being completed at time in good cost and avoiding the various surprises.

A good place to start is a professional management team hired from the market and made accountable to an empowered professional board of experts under the Authority.

Hydropower cooperation has served both Bhutan and India well and are not just economic projects, but they are one of the cornerstones of the Bhutan-India friendship.

It is hoped the two close friends can forge a common and new path ahead.

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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