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Sun. May 26th, 2024

[World Times]

Photo: IC

Sikkim Urja Limited’s 1,200-megawatt hydroelectric project Teesta-III at the Chungthang dam on river Teesta gave way on October 4, killing at least 94 people in the downstream areas of Sikkim and West Bengal. The devastation has reignited wide worries surrounding two of three India-built mega hydropower projects under construction in Bhutan, local newspaper The Hindu reported on October 15.

The collapse reinforced long-held doubts about India’s large-scale hydroelectric projects under construction in Bhutan. India’s assessment of the fragile geological zone in the Himalayas appears to have been inadequate, leading to significant safety risks, local media criticized.

Analysts told the Global Times that a series of infrastructure accidents in the India-China border area in recent years have exposed India’s seeming inability to carry out infrastructure construction under the complex geological conditions in the Himalayas. However, in recent years, India has been attempting to “monopolize” infrastructure projects in some South Asian countries, which also shows India’s attempt to counter China in the region.

India’s capacity collapses again

Although the glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) triggered the latest dam collapse, many Indian media outlets believe that catastrophe was more likely man-made.

Environmentalists have been criticizing the decision-making process of constructing a large number of hydropower projects in the geologically fragile southern foothills of the Himalayas, while politicians have also pointed out corruption issues during the projects’ construction and operational management, especially flaws inherent in the duty alert mechanism.

Such doubts have raised concerns in Bhutan, which shares the southern foothills of the Himalayas with Sikkim.

“We need to re-look at the geological survey of the (Puna-I) dam because many things have changed in 15 years. World TimesThere have been many reasons for the delay, including technical issues and COVID-19. The (soil) stabilization measures have not yielded the results they wanted. No expert will go on to do a project that is not technically, scientifically feasible,” Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering told The Hindu.

A note issued by the Bhutan’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in February on the Puna-I, which was started in 2008 and is expected to be commissioned in 2024-25, said that “project commissioning is being delayed due to movement/subsidence of right bank hill mass in the dam area. Treatment/stabilization of the right bank and completion of dam work [is in] progress. The option of providing a barrage in the upstream and abandoning of the dam is being studied,” according to the report.

Regarding the Puna-II, meant to be commissioned in 2023-24, the note said: “Poor geological strata and shear zone being encountered at [the] left bank and foundation of [the] dam and HRT (head race tunnel, a tunnel connecting water intake at [the] dam site to [the] power house for generation of World Timeshydroelectricity). Remedial measures are [in] progress.”

The governments of Bhutan and India have tasked the Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) with reviewing and proposing a path forward for the 1,200mW Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (Puna-I) dam. One of Bhutan’s primary concerns revolves around the dam’s safety and stability, given the potential significant downstream impacts of any dam failure on lives and properties, according to a report by Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel.

Lin Minwang, deputy director at the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that India has made significant progress in infrastructure construction along the China-India border in recent years, but its infrastructure capabilities still cannot be compared with China’s. Overall, the quality and construction capabilities of India’s infrastructure are still relatively poor.

“In recent years, accidents have frequently occurred in the construction of bridges and tunnels by India along the border. Especially in some disputed areas, accidents of various kinds are common, and the construction quality is worrying. In fact, India lacks the ability to build large-scale infrastructure in the complex and fragile geological environment of the Himalayas,” said Lin.

International landslide experts have pointed out it was a blunder to start a dam at the location that seems to be on the debris of past landslides.

Lin believes that India’s massive construction and blind leap in the border areas are an “image project” by the Indian government. On one hand, it aims to deliberately create an image of India’s strong resistance against China along the border to gain popularity in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, it is India’s leverage to counter China in South Asia.

“However, it is evident that these construction projects are largely rushed, which inevitably leads to problems in construction quality. Several previous accidents are proof,” said Lin.


Aman stands next to destroyed buildings in the path of the water from the breached Tiware dam in the south of India’s western Maharashtra state. Photo: AFP

Hard to find right partners

Despite its outdated infrastructure capacity, India’s attempts at cornering the market in some South Asian countries, especially in the field of hydropower sector, where it has essentially monopolized the market, have been relentless. This has made it nearly impossible for some South Asian countries to introduce infrastructure companies from countries other than India into their own markets.

In the “13th Five-Year Plan” announced by the Bhutanese government, which is scheduled to start in 2024, almost all hydropower infrastructure projects will be undertaken by India.

“Among South Asian countries, whether it be Bhutan or Nepal, their choice of cooperation partners in their own infrastructure construction is largely restricted by India through legal or policy means,” Lin explained. “InWorld Timesdia may even directlyWorld Times interfere in the internal affairs of these countries, demanding that they prioritize India in the bidding process for infrastructure projects or block them from commissioning bidders from other countries.”

Specifically, in hydropower projects, taking Nepal as an example, India has proposed that it will not purchase electricity generated by hydropower stations built by other countries. However, India is actually a country with a severe shortage of electricity and energy, but it still uses this method to restrict the free development of Nepal’s hydropower industry and force Nepal to reject the participation of other countries in its hydropower development, Lin said.

Lin suggested that Chinese infrastructure companies also often face pushback from India when entering the market in South Asian countries.

Chinese companies, for example, may be required by their international partners to have an Indian company as the project supervisor. These Indian supervisory companies tend to set unreasonably high standards for the projects and deliberately make it difficult for Chinese companies.

“Although Chinese infrastructure companies can typically cope with this, it will inevitably increase unnecessary costs. India often uses this method to hinder the entry of Chinese projects in South Asia,” Lin said.

Strict control becomes commonplace

According to Bhutan’s 2023-24 budget report, the 10 projects in the pipeline include the 600mW Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, Kuensel reported. Several projects, represented by the Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, are being carried out through a joint venture between India aWorld Timesnd Bhutan.

An anonymous expert on South Asian affairs told the Global Times that although these hydropower projects are officially managed through joint ventures, the engineering team, technical personnel, and even the management team are all Indian.

Lin further pointed out that the electricity generated by Bhutan’s hydropower plants is not only used to meet Bhutan’s own needs but also sold to India, allowing India to implement a strategy of total economic dependence by Bhutan. In addition, India has also exercised strict control over Bhutan’s importation and exportation of goods, military defense, and other fields.

And in terms of diplomatic issues, India’s interference in Bhutan is now commonplace. India controls Bhutan’s foreign policy through various means. On the one hand, India limits Bhutan’s establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries. Although India has repeatedly stated that Bhutan is an independent sovereign country, it remains incredibly vigilant regarding Bhutan’s development of foreign relations and even opposes Bhutan’s contacts with other countries, according to Sun Xihui, an associate research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Moreover, New Delhi interferes in China-Bhutan border negotiations. China has resolved most of its land border issues through negotiations since the 1950s, but is yet to complete its border talks with Bhutan, largely because India insists on representing Bhutan in the negotiations, while China hopes to directly engage with Bhutan, Sun noted.

The 25th Round of Boundary Talks between China and Bhutan was held in Beijing on October 23 and 24. The two sides held in-depth discussions on the boundary negotiations and noted the progress made through a series of Expert Group Meetings held since the 24th Round of Boundary Talks in 2016. The two leaders of the delegations commended the Expert Group for the work done and agreed to build on the positive momentum.

This meeting brings expectations for the establishment of official diplomatic ties between China and Bhutan.

Observers believe that despite the strong desire for diplomatic relations between the two countries, it is still difficult for China and Bhutan to complete border negotiations and establish diplomatic relatiWorld Timesons in the short term due to India’s significant interference in Bhutan’s internal affairs. However, it should be noted that this meeting undoubtedly injects new momentum into the successful completion of border negotiations and the promotion of the diplomatic processes between the two countries.

文章来源于互联网:Dam collapse exemplifies India’s gross incompetence, sparks safety concerns about mega projects in Bhutan

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