The Mystery Canal Rears Its Head – Yeshey Dorji

On 24th June, 2019 I was informed of the report in the, about the response by our Prime Minister on the matter relating to Sankosh reservoir project during his recent visit to India. I am happy that the Prime Minister merely states “reservoir project” and not Sankosh Reservoir Hydropower Project. I would like to believe that there is a huge difference in the two.

First, the government has already declared on the floor of the Parliament that there will be no further hydropower projects – until those in the pipeline are completed and brought on stream. Thus the Prime Minister could not have done an about turn on a Parliamentary decision largely influenced by his party.

Second, the Prime Minister is fully aware that India is now electricity surplus and ranks among the top four electricity producers in the world. They are all set to export electricity.

Third, the Prime Minister should be aware that India is in the forefront of alternate energy production, such as solar, wind, thermal and nuclear. Because of the declining cost of production of other energy sources, hydroelectricity represents merely 13% of India’s total installed capacity, as of December, 2018. This will drop even further in the coming years.

Fourth, technologies in the production of alternate energy such as solar and wind has advanced so much that they are now the cheapest to produce – not hydro – atleast in China and India:

Soon, hydroelectricity production technology will be obsolete, in addition to being costly, as well as, environmentally disastrous.

Fifth, global warming is causing ice melt at an alarming rate, causing unpredictable shifts in weather patterns, and altering water flows.

Sixth, hydropower projects take many years to build – Punasangchhu-I was started in 2008 and after 12 years, it is still not even half done. They are prone to cost overruns and subject to geological surprises and environmental destruction.

Seventh, the Prime Minister would be aware that if a 1,200 MW project could take over 20 years to build, Sankosh at about 4 times the size would take half a century to build. By then electricity as we know now may no longer be in existence.

That brings us to the question: Then why talk of Sankosh Reservoir Project at all? The answer I think is the “mystery canal” that talks about. I think the Prime Minister was talking of doing a water reservoir project – not hydropower project – in line with India’s grand plan of the Manas-Sankosh-Tista-Ganga Link Project:

This project would make sense to India as well as Bhutan. India will benefit in terms of mitigating the increasing threat to their water security, given the recent developments in the third pole region. Flood control is another aspect to this project.

Bhutan will benefit since we do not have to pay for the construction of the project – at 10% interest. If India wants to do a water reservoir project – we should allow them, as a goodwill gesture between two long-standing friends. However, we should impose one condition:

There should be absolutely no hydropower project linked to the Sankosh Reservior Project. Doing so would cause us to be straddled with 70% loan at 10% interest and with no management control over the construction of the project. It is for this reason that I have been making noise for over a decade not to shackle our river systems with loans that do not benefit the people – not even the government – and a financial burden that we do not need.

Our water in it natural form should be even more precious to us, and to others.

The writer is an ardent blogger and a Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu.