Early this year, 58-year-old Wangmo had a narrow escape when debris from a blast at the Kholongchhu project almost hit her.
Wangmo was working in her field in Koncholing, Trashiyangtse when the incident occurred.
“As I looked up towards my house, I could hear a whoosh right above my head. No sooner could I react, a sharp stone landed near my feet,” said Wangmo. “Had I moved a little, I would have been dead.”
The blasting work at the project has affected more than 30 households in the village. A two-storey traditional house that Wangmo constructed five years ago has developed numerous cracks from the vibration produced by the detonation of dynamites at the project sites.
“When we heard that the project was coming to my dzongkhag, we were happy for the development it would bring the residents,” she said. “So far, the project has caused more damage than benefit to our people here.”
Wangmo said that she constructed the house hoping the project people would rent her house. “Like many of us here, we thought the project could help us generate some income but it has done more harm than good to us,” she said. “Our vegetables and orange trees are also dying because of the dust from the blasts.”
Koncholing village is located opposite the current blasting site where work on access road is on going. The direct-distance between the village and the site is about 2km. Kholongchu in the middle separates the two locations.
Gyem Dorji, a resident of the village raised the issue at the recent dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) on August 17. He said that the two construction companies carrying out the blasting work have not recruited blasting-certified individuals.
“I’m a trained and certified blasting operator myself and I know that these people are not certified,” said Gyem Dorji. “The two companies, Bhutan Builders and Singye Construction Pvt Ltd, have assigned people without blasting knowledge which has caused damage to our properties.”
Gyem Dorji said that because of the excessive amount of gelatine used by the operators to detonate boulders, the vibration generated is heavier than what is usually produced in a normal detonation. “If only the contractors had employed trained personnel for the work there won’t have been any issues.”
Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited’s (KHEL) joint managing director, Kencho Dorji, said that since the affected houses are located along the line of sight of the blasting sites, the cracks could have been generated from the vibrations.
“We have to form an investigation team, including officials from the dzongkhag, to find out the actual damage so that we can conclude that the cracks were produced as a result of the blasting,” he said. “However, we are not denying that the blasting has caused problems to some of the villages, which is why we have been reminding our contractors to be careful and not to use large charges during detonation.”
Kencho Dorji, however, didn’t comment on the recruitment of the uncertified operators by the two contractors.
Former tshogpa Dorjila’s house was also affected from the blast. In November last year, one of the room’s walls came crashing while the family was asleep.
“The whole wall collapsed, including the door, and we were trapped inside. Luckily no one was injured and we got out from the window,” said the 43-year-old.
Dorjila said that the vibration from the blast shattered two of the windows before the right side of the house collapsed. “This is a different kind of bomb, a very powerful one they are using. It feels as if the detonation is happening right underneath us.”
Gyem Dorji said that the matter was discussed both with the gewog and dzongkhag officials, including the project authorities. “Nothing has been done so far to compensate our loss and to prevent similar incidences in the future,” he said. “More than 80 percent of the project is yet to be completed. Agencies concerned has to act now before this could lead to major accidents in the near future.”
One of the lhakhangs in the village is also affected. “This particular lhakhang has withstood earthquakes and windstorms in the past. But, this time, it couldn’t survive the artificial tremor generated from the blast.”
Younten Tshedup | Trashiyangtse