River Manas in Bhutan. Photo credit - CK Duworah

Turning a deaf ear to demands to take measures to control flood intensified by the released water from Kuri Chu Hydro-electric Project, Bhutan Government is going to build a new Kuri-I project with cooperation from India and Bangladesh.

This new project is most likely to appear as a potential disaster to the downstream villagers and farmers in Assam and the wildlife and environment of Manas National Park.

The existing Kurichu Hydro-Electric Project authorities have been releasing excess water during rainy days or flood creating havoc in downstream. There are instances when unannounced release of water of Kurichu dam by Bhutan jeopardized the lives of thousands of people downstream. In the last few years, there were many incidents of sudden rise in the water levels of river Beki that washed away embankments, roads, and bridges.

The new project will be built on Kurichu after the confluence of river Dorjilung. The Government of India has formed a review team to revise the guidelines on cross-border trade of electricity it is not concerned about the potential devastating floods in downstream areas in Assam.

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji, the economic affairs minister, revealed on Tuesday, the memorandum of understanding for the 1125MW Kuri-I or Dorjilung project would be signed at an occasion when leaders of all three countries – Bhutan, Bangladesh and India would meet.

Authorities of the two districts in Assam, Barpeta and Baksa have been alleging that there was no prior warning by Bhutan before releasing the water from its Kurichu dam, which affected several thousand families and flooded Manas and Beki rivers, the two principle tributaries of Brahmaputra river in lower Assam as well as large area of Manas National Park, a UNESCO heritage site, were inundated on Wednesday night after an embankment was breached.

Lekey Dorji said that talks are still under consideration by the three countries. “To this effect, the draft MoU that provides broad framework for trilateral cooperation stands shared among the three countries and still being reviewed by respective authorities in finalising it,” he told the Kuensel, the official newspaper of Bhutan.

The draft MoU provides for establishing a steering committee to work out the implementation modalities for approval by the three Governments. However, Lyonpo said that the government of India has formed a review team headed by the power secretary and that the team is currently working on revising the guidelines.

Lyonpo said the ministry formally received correspondence from the Government of India seeking views and comments from Bhutan on the CBTE through the Indian embassy.

“We have shared our concerns regarding the provisions of the guideline that would impact Bhutan, and considering that Bhutan is the only net exporter of electricity. The Government of India has taken our concerns and views positively,” he said. “We have been reassured that the Government of India would address our concerns, bearing in mind the special relations between two countries and the importance of hydropower cooperation,” he added.

While the CBTE is to facilitate cross border trading of electricity between India and the neighboring countries by promoting transparency, consistency and predictability in regulatory approaches across jurisdictions and to minimise the perception of regulatory risks, some of the provisions have affected the development of some projects. The concession agreement for Kholongchhu project is still on hold because of the issues with guidelines.

The guideline states that companies fully owned by the Governments of concerned countries, those that are funded by India and those having 51 per cent equity investment of Indian public and private companies could export power to the Indian market after obtaining a one-time approval from the designated authority in India.

This is for projects that are built or being built on inter-governmental modality, where import or export of electricity is agreed between the GoI and the government concerned.  The tariff for such transaction is also determined through government-to-government negotiations, and the guidelines states that appropriate authorities in India also must adhere to such transactions.

However, any other participating entity shall be eligible to participate in cross border trade of electricity after obtaining approval of the designated authority on a case-to-case basis. This is applicable for JVs and PPP projects because Indian Public sector companies are not likely to hold 51 per cent of the shares.

There is an agreement between India and Bhutan to share river and weather data on the release of water from the Kurichu dam, but allegedly continues to release water from the dam without sharing the information with the Indian authorities.

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