Fresh attempt to revive two Myanmar hydel projects

Fresh attempt to revive two Myanmar hydel projects

New Delhi: In an attempt to counter the growing Chinese presence in Myanmar, India is making a fresh bid to revive two hydroelectric power projects in the neighbouring country through state-run NHPC Ltd.

The public sector power generation firm, which has faced criticism from the Indian ambassador to Myanmar over delays in updating the detailed project report (DPR) for the strategic 1,200 megawatts (MW) Tamanthi hydroelectric power plant and the 642MW Shwezaye project in Myanmar, hopes to submit a revised DPR for Tamanthi by December.

The stalled projects, part of India’s economic diplomacy initiative to engage Myanmar and counter China’s growing influence in that country, are located on the Chindwin river, the largest tributary of the Irrawaddy river, Myanmar’s key commercial waterway. The cost of the project, which requires the building of a transmission link to India, is estimated at Rs25,000 crore.

“The updated DPR is being prepared and will be submitted shortly," said A.B.L. Srivastava, chairman and managing director of NHPC.

“We have decided that the priority should be given to the Tamanthi project. After that, the updated DPR for Shwezaye will be submitted," said another NHPC executive, who did not want to be identified.

A well-prepared DPR would be the basis for the execution of these two capital-intensive projects, which involve relocation and resettlement of project-affected persons and the ability to withstand unexpected floods. India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) will underwrite as much as Rs40 crore of the expenses to be incurred by NHPC on hydrological studies required to develop the two power plants. A power transmission link with Myanmar would help create an electricity grid of countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). The Saarc grid envisaged meeting electricity demands and boosting economic and political ties in the region.

While the embassy of Myanmar in New Delhi could not be contacted, India’s power secretary P. Uma Shankar defended NHPC, saying: “NHPC’s capability is not in question."

An MEA spokesperson did not respond to Mint’s query at the time of filing the story.

NHPC had earlier submitted reviews of feasibility reports for the Tamanthi and Shwezaye projects to MEA and the power ministry. Subsequently, the reports were accepted by the department of hydropower implementation of the Myanmar government. The feasibility reports of Tamanthi and Shwezaye were prepared by Switzerland’s Colenco Power Engineering Ltd and Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc., respectively.

“We had reviewed the reports prepared by Colenco Power and had highlighted some issues that had to be studied and updated," said a senior NHPC executive, who is aware of the development, but who did not want to be named.

The Chindwin river originates in the Kumaon range and has a catchment area of 115,300 sq. km. Tamanthi is in north Myanmar. Once completed, the project will help control floods and provide water for irrigation in the region. India will receive the bulk of the power generated. Myanmar has hydroelectric power potential of 39,720MW and an installed capacity of 747MW.

“There were earlier problems in getting clearances from the Myanmar government for the movement of personnel. That issue has been sorted out with the power ministry and MEA taking up the matter with their counterparts in the Myanmar government," the NHPC executive quoted above added.

A two-member team from the Geological Survey of India is already conducting micro-earthquake studies over a period of three months at the Tamanthi site, which is expected to be over by 26 June. Another team comprising 14 officials from the ministry of water resources’ Central Soil and Materials Research Station has been in Myanmar since 5 June to conduct rock mechanics testing and the collection of material that is also expected to be completed by 26 June.

These projects are a part of the Indian government’s exercise to improve diplomatic and economic ties with a neighbour that has rich deposits of natural gas. Myanmar has natural gas reserves of 89.72 trillion cubic feet (tcf), of which 18.01 tcf is proven recoverable, or gas that can be easily extracted and tapped.

Elizabeth Roche contributed to this story.