Burgangchu Boon in Buli

Burgangchu Boon in Buli

Khandu Zam, 38, owner of a small general store in Buli village, Nangkor gewog, Zhemgang is all smiles as she sits in the center of her establishment, a wooden house with corrugated iron roofs, the noises of truck drivers ordering noodles, canned products and cold beverages from her. And it is not one of the busiest days she sees.

Located about 12 kilometers up a winding road from the Burgangchu Hydropower Plant dam site, Khandu’s bustling shop is an indication of the economic activities that come together with development. “I am not the only one benefitting because of the project. My fellow villagers are also benefiting from the increased economic activity, as they are making more money by selling goods to workers, renting rooms in their homes, or working at the plant in various capacities such as construction, driving, and other duties,” Khandu says. And as more people work, they stop by at Khandu’s shop, which has made her increase the number of goods she usually keeps at her shop.

Burgangchu Hydropower Plant in south-central Bhutan, one of the three special hydropower projects built, is already increasing revenue and presenting opportunities for the local population. And it will continue to do so until it becomes operational four years down the lane and once operational, the benefits will be reaped by the whole country. Power generated by the 54-megawatt plant will be exported bringing in more revenue for the country. While Khandu Zam makes an estimated Nu 4,500 to Nu 6,000 every day, the country will get much more. As mentioned by Khandu, “happiness and wellbeing are influenced by how your days go and the income generated every day.”

Kinley Wangchuk, the former Tshogpa of the village says that life has not just become better for Khandu, but for the entire village. According to Kinley, the entire village has undergone enormous changes since the project started. “The first improvement has been the 12 km road that connects the project site and Buli village, allowing locals to hitch a ride or take a lift in the project vehicles that routinely goes between the two,” Kinley says.

Kinley Wangchuk also says that since the development of the hydroelectric project, it has become easier for people who have to go to the river to bring sand or stone. “This development has had a positive impact on the local economy, with shopkeepers benefiting the most from a significant increase in sales,” he notes.

This can be sensed and seen as there are nearly 100 employees from Druk Power Green Corporation Limited (DGPC) and 300 from the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCI), who are working at the project site and currently living in rented houses in the villages. This has also had a positive impact on the local economy, providing a stable source of income for the community. As a result, villagers can now earn around Nu 50,000 to 60,000 annually through house rents.

Bridging Community

In order to meet domestic energy demands, the government has initiated three special hydropower projects, with the Burgangchu project being one of them. The project involved improving and extending the previously bumpy path from the hydropower plant through Buli village up to the main road that connects to the Bhutanese capital and beyond.

“Before the project, this was one of the remotest districts in Bhutan, and there was nothing at the dam site but plain forest. Now, that is changing and people attribute it to the project,” said the project director, Yeshi Wangchuk

For the villagers, the project has made it much easier and more convenient to travel to the river near the dam site. Additionally, the project has brought a big market to the doorstep of the people of Buli, who live in a beautiful plain village where they grow crops and rear animals. The project’s employees are now potential customers for the villagers, allowing them to sell their crops without having to groan over the pain of a “lack of market”.

Additionally, as villages in the country battle urban migration, Buli is no exception. Many of the children have grown up and settled in Bhutan’s western districts, some to study and some for work. This has left only the elderly population in the village alone in their houses. However, with around 300 people involved in the Burgangchu project, many houses are now filled with them as tenants.

The wider community also benefits from the increased prosperity of individuals like Khandu and Kinley Wangchuk.

Singye Wangchuk, the magmi of Buli, stated that with the extra money in their pockets, villagers no longer have difficulty paying their household and land taxes. This has enabled them to pay their land tax, which is kept locally, and the funds can be utilized for local improvements.

“In the longer run, the plant, will bring in the contributions for winter consumption and then the country will not have to import electricity in winters,” said project director, Yeshi Wangchuk.

The road was constructed in July 2022, and the main work on the project began in January, 2023. The Burgangchu project, which has a capacity of 54 megawatts (MW), has been awarded to CDCL.”

The project is scheduled to be completed by around 2026.

According to the project manager, the total cost for the project is expected to be around a billion.  Additionally, the project will be an unmanned hydropower plant and will be fully automatic.

“Which means this project will require only a few people to monitor it,” the project manager said.

Meanwhile, the other 2 special projects are the 32 mw Yungichhu hydropower project in Lhuntse and the 18 mw Suchhu hydropower project in Haa.

This story is supported by GEF-UNDP Ecotourism Project under the Department of Tourism.

Tshering Pelden from Zhemgang