With uncertainty of Kholongchu Hydroelectric Project Limited (KHEL), project officials are returning to their parent organisations and vacating houses at the new Doksum town in Trashiyangtse.
Business and house owners in the town, who availed loans to construct houses to cater to the project officials, are now worried about their loan repayments.
A house owner, Karma Yangki, 49, said three tenants already left. “Two work in Construction Development Corporation Limited and one in KHEL only.”
She is worried another tenant might leave soon.
Karma Yangki said she constructed the house expecting KHEL project officials would occupy it. “With the project suspended or scrapped off, I won’t be able to repay the loans.”
Another house owner, Chogyal, 69, also constructed a six-unit house as residential place the KHEL officials.
The project used it as a store to keep old materials until they vacated on May 31 this year.
He said that they were told that the project will resume after two years. “Going by the delay occurred even to start the project, we can’t really rely on what the officials say.”
He said his monthly loan EMI is Nu 95,000 and without the project, it will be impossible for him to repay it.
Chogyal said the banks might seize the houses when they fail to repay their loans. “Everyone is worried here.”
A resident, Sonam Zangpo, 49, said he took huge loan to construct a house which will complete in about nine months.
“I can’t leave the house half as I have invested a lot of money, but it doesn’t look promising to continue,” he said.
Sonam Zangpo said business was far better in the old Doksum town. “Not many people come to the new town except for those who have errands to run.”
Another resident, Norbu Dema, 60, also has her building under construction and it is expected to be complete in about four months.
She said there were people booking shop space before, but no one wants them now. “It is a secluded area where not many people visit. I am worried about loan repayment.”
A resident, Sangay Choda, said that the new town still lacks street lights, footpaths, parking and safe drinking water. “It’s been without water for one week.”
He said nine buildings have been already completed and seven are under construction in the commercial category. “If the project is not stopped, there will be many people and offices in the town.”
According to Sangay Choda, the construction of the school and basic health unit (BHU) at Doksum was cancelled as KHEL was supposed to finance the construction.
A total of 40 commercial buildings of four units each and 130 residential buildings (four units each) and 20 residential buildings with two units each are being constructed in the new township.
As an integrated town, KHEL was supposed to lease 200 units of residential buildings during the project’s construction period. Once the project construction completes, it would then take in 120 units for the next 20 to 30 years during its operations and maintenance period.
Tendering of two of the three main civil works of the project: the construction of the dam and the powerhouse could not be resolved due to differences between shareholders, DGPC, and the Indian company, SJVN.
Construction of the Head Race Tunnel had started as of January this year.
Out of the Nu 20.276 billion for all three projects, the dam is worth Nu 9.72 billion and the powerhouse, Nu 6.21 billion.
The 600 MW Kholongchu project commenced in 2015 and was supposed to be completed in 2020. It was expected to generate 2,568M units of electricity annually.
KHEL was supposed to be the first-ever joint venture hydropower project in Bhutan and it is formed between Druk Green Power Corporation and India’s SJVN.
However, a hydroelectric project expert said this might be the last JV project for Bhutan given the current experience.
Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said the project will not be a joint venture anymore when questioned by the Member of Parliament (MP) of Bumdeling-Jamkhar, Dupthob, on June 28.
Lyonpo said the government is talking with the Indian government and companies.
He added that it is necessary to clear all the issues of the joint venture module. “Construction of all infrastructure will be kept on hold until the issue gets cleared.”