Implementation of any development project always has innumerable deleterious effects on the local environment specially the local biodiversity and the life style of the local community.
The 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project has a construction phase of 7 years. It is in its peak Construction phase at the moment with excavation works in full swing at Dam, Head Race Tunnel (HRT) and Underground Power House Complexes.
Therefore, the adverse impacts exerted are also at their climax stage. The adverse impacts and temporary changes in the Environmental parameters on Land, Environment, Water Resources & Hydrology, Biological Resources (Flora & Fauna), Socio-economic environment are expected due to Excavation works for various project activities, Muck Transportation to designated sites and disposal, quarrying of construction material, construction of access roads and buildings, Operation of Construction equipments, Soil erosion, construction of labour camps and project colonies, Movement of Vehicles, Blasting operations and overall execution of the project.
Samchholing being a densely populated area located near to the National highway and with the location of maximum no. of Mucking sites in the area, it’s most adversely affected in terms of dust and noise pollution.
These adverse impacts started with the project work and will continue till the end of the construction phase which is expected to be completed by mid 2016 as per the Construction Schedule of MHPA. Dust generation and other inconveniences are inevitable during the Construction phase of the project. However, the observations made by the Researcher and the concerns expressed are valid and we fully agree with them. MHPA on its part is taking all steps to minimize on these predicted adverse impacts. Following are some of the mitigation measures undertaken by MHPA:
- Slope stabilization in all the access roads (completed) by applying geo-textile with various Bioengineering techniques and mass plantation with fast growing local species. 90% of slopes in the Access Roads have been stabilized so far with various species of plants. Efforts will continue in other areas once the road works are completed and in the appropriate plantation season. Timely collection of quality Seeds and timely plantation with appropriate technique is a number one priority of the Social and Environment Division of MHPA.
- Compensatory Afforestation in the barren and degraded Catchment areas in and around the project sites in close consultation with the Dept of Forest and Park Services. Around 20, 000 saplings and over 10,000 Grass slips have been planted so far. MoU has been signed with GNHC and DoFPS on behalf of RGoB will continue with the plantation works for 4 more years in the areas already identified and agreed upon. MHPA has committed support for plantation in over 200ha degraded catchment/other areas.
- Land Management Campaign was held on World Environment Day 2012 with the caption “Learning by Doing Mode” with the Technical Guidance from DoFPS and involving the Local Communities. Various Distressed project sites were treated and the areas have stabilized well. These low cost but effective interventions have inspired all stakeholders in the project. World Environment Day is celebrated with mass plantation every year in MHPA. Couldn’t involve the communities in 2013 due to election norms. Over 25000 numbers of grass slips, live stem cuttings, wooden live stakes, brush layering with various species has been implemented so far.
- Rescue and restoration of the rare and endangered species of flora specially the Orchids have been undertaken in close collaboration with National Biodiversity Centre. Several species of Orchids & others plants have been rescued and can be seen in the National Botanical Garden at Serbithang, Thimphu which otherwise would have been buried under the muck. These species if not available at site upon completion of the project activities will be restored back so as not to lose the species diversity of Mangdechhu project site. Otherwise it will be an addition to the national gene pool.
- MoU has been signed with GNHC for conservation of the Endangered Golden Mahaseer and other native fish species and National Centre for Aquaculture, Gelephu under Dept of Livestock is implementing the project.
- Aquatic biodiversity Assessment of Mangdechhu River has been done by Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) Bumthang prior to the diversion of the Mangdechhu River. This will provide baseline information on availability of various aquatic biodiversity so as to plan future research and monitoring programs in other rivers of Bhutan planning hydro-projects.
- One more project proposal from DoFPS has been approved by MHPA Management and is in the process of signing MoU with GNHC for Watershed Management in the Catchment areas, Biodiversity conservation and various Forest Protection functions which would ultimately contribute towards improving the livelihood opportunities of the local communities by improving the Environmental Services in their Catchment areas.
- For Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and for installing an Early Warning System MHPA has approved project from Dept of Hydromet Services (DHMS) MoEA and Dept of Disaster Management, MoHCA and is in advance stage of signing MoU with GNHC prior to its implementation at site.
- Restoration of Quarry sites and rejuvenation of Muck dumping sites can take place only upon completion of the project activities. Therefore, though temporary in nature, these inconveniences will remain until the completion of the Construction phase at site.
- Two Water Sprinklers have been deployed by MHPA for suppressing the dust in the Highways. In addition, each contractor has its own Water sprinklers to suppress the dust in their respective areas of operation.
- To minimize the adverse impacts on the Socio-economic,Cultural and ecological aspects of the local community 30 diverse projects proposed by Dzongkhag Administration Trongsa in consultation with local communities have been approved by MHPA Management and MoU will be signed with GNHC shortly. With implementation of these project activities many adverse impacts will be mitigated/minimized in Trongsa Dzongkhag.
- Two waste Compactor trucks have been handed over to Dzongkhag Administration Trongsa for proper collection and disposal of the Solid Waste of the Trongsa Dzongkhag as well as that of MHPA project sites.
- MHPA has taken over the repair and maintenance of Gelephu-Trongsa Highway from Dzongkhalumpa to Dang Dung (43.5km) from Department of Roads. This stretch of the road shall be maintained by MHPA till the completion of the Project. The major repair and maintenance of road is underway where three Bhutanese Contractors are working. Further the road from Trongsa to Dzongkhalumpa is also being repaired by MHPA as one time initiative. The total awarded cost of repair is Nu. 149.27million
- Full efforts have been made in implementing the corrective measures such as placing speed breakers at crucial places and supporting the activities of District Administration Trongsa. Recently Speed guns and drug detecting equipments have been handed over to Royal Bhutan Police Trongsa.
- MHPA has been and will continue to implement EMP in its true spirit. Mixed plantation with selected fast growing, fast acclimatizing local species, biological fencing for protection from grazing and plantation with appropriate species for soil binding capability will be some of the priority activities for MHPA during the Construction phase so as to ensure that there is no adverse impact on the aesthetic environment during the Operational Phase.
Further MHPA in its endeavor to provide economic opportunity to the locals and also fulfilling social obligation in the following manner:
Employment Opportunity for the Project Affected Families on Priority.
In compliance with Hydro-Power Policy of the Royal Government of Bhutan employment opportunities are given to the project affected families on priority basis. As on date there are 95 numbers of employees in the project who are from the locality, most of who were given the employment on priority basis.
In addition to the employment by the project directly concerted efforts are being made to persuade the contractors to employee Bhutanese at large and the local candidates in particular in their offices and work sites.
Enhancement of Market for Local Agriculture Produces
The project has taken active role in the efforts to enhance marketing of local produce in order to provide ready and reliable market for local produce. Senior officials from the project including the Joint Managing Director have participated and given practical suggestions for the development of reliable and viable marketing system for the local communities. The contractors (comprising of 3 Non- National and 16 National companies have recruited 4116 staff and workers as on date) have been persuaded to purchase the local produce such as vegetables for their mess.
Restoration of Irrigation Channels
The project has taken active roles in the restoration / renovation work of irrigation channels at Samcholing and Bubja waterfalls. The works are in advanced stages of completion and is expected to bring much needed relief for local agriculture and beauty.
Restoration of Drinking Water Supply
The project is also taking lead role in the restoration of the defunct drinking water supply scheme in Chang Ray Village in Draktang Gewog.
Support to Health Services in the Project Areas
The project is also committed and is in advanced stages of tendering out the construction of BHU (I) facilities at DangDung, Renovation of Kuenga Rabten BHU (II) and Trongsa Hospital.
Support to Education Services in the Project Areas
The construction of school buildings in DangDung is almost complete. The project is working out the arrangements of school facilities with Dzongkhag Administration and Education Ministry.
Support services are also provided to the schools within the dzongkhag whenever required.
Compensation to Affected Families
The payments of compensation to the families who have lost their properties to the project are processed promptly.
Support In Terms of Collaboration and Cooperation with the Local Authorities and the Communities.
The project has always been providing support to the local authorities and communities in times of major events which required additional support.
Mindful and Sensitive
The project has been very concerned about the apprehensions and complaints raised by the local authorities and communities regarding the affects of the project activities such as the blasting. Immediate actions were taken to study the issues and address them properly. Renowned institutes, individuals experienced in the related problems and the service of professionals in the field has been engaged to study and mitigate the problems and concerns of the people.
Mangdechhu Project upon completion will improve the Economic and Social status of the local residents. However, during the construction phase of the project, inconveniences shall remain but they are there only for short duration. MHPA is implementing the Environment Management Plan in its true spirit and the results shall be visible to the entire local area within few years from now.