The modern legacy of close and mutually beneficial relations between Bhutan and India begins with the visit of Pandit Nehru in September 1958. The seed of visitation and friendship germinates and bears fruit until the beginning of the first Five Year Plan of the Bhutan in 1961. Today, India-Bhutan relations transcend diplomatic borders that shape the lives and careers of thousands of people from both countries. India’s support for the development of the hydropower sector in Bhutan is at the heart of this bilateral cooperation. Cooperation in the hydropower sector is full of opportunities and has been recognized by Bhutan and India as being mutually beneficial.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the modern hydropower projects that dot Bhutan’s sacred landscape are woven with inspiring stories of cooperation and teamwork between the two countries. The oldest and modest Jaldhaka hydroelectric project and the majestic Bindu Dam built on the Bhutan-India border at Samtse – West Bengal is a metaphor for the foundations, flow and brilliance of the strategic partnership.
Often unheard of compared to the megawatts and scale of larger projects like Chuhkha, Tala and Punatshangchu, the Jaldhaka Hydel Power Project is one of India’s oldest hydel projects. This is the first Indo-Bhutanese hydroelectric cooperation which started in 1961 and was commissioned in 1967 with a total installed capacity of 27 MW. What makes the project a real centerpiece of the friendship between Bhutan and India is that the majestic Bindu Dam is built right on the border of Bhutan with India, where three rivers converge, namely Jaldhaka Khola, Thoday Khola and Bindu Khola. The power project is supplied by water from the river and the left foundation of the dam is built on Bhutanese territory while the right foundation falls on Indian territory. The pond is built on the Bhutanese side and the power plant is located on the Indian side. It is operated by the West Bengal State Electricity Board and for many years neighboring regions of Bhutan like Sibsoo have received electricity from the project.
The project is 116 km drive from Phuentsholing via West Bengal and NH 17. It can be reached in an hour’s descent from the town of Tendruk to Samtse. Before the construction of the Sipsu Tendruk highway, the hydroelectric project and the town next to the dam was a lifeline and the closest roadhead for the Bhutanese settlements of Tendruk, Kuchin, Bara, Dubey, Lingtam, Chamghu , Khongkha and for the Royal Army of Bhutan. wing based in Tendruk. Jaldhaka and Bindu were where Bhutanese villagers traded their agricultural products like cardamom, ginger, and oranges. The road manager and the project facilitated the construction of facilities such as Bara Secondary School, among others, on the Bhutanese side. Bindu was also the gateway for residents of neighboring Bhutanese villages to travel to towns like Phuentsholing, Kalimpong, and Siliguri for education, medical treatment, and business. On the Indian side, the project has brought connectivity and tourism to settlements like Bindu, Thoday, Parangtar and Jhalung. Nowadays, Bindu Dam and its pulsating water discharge beside the road and the area is a major tourist attraction and vacation spot for the people of North Bengal.
Today, the Jaldhaka hydroelectric project resonates more than ever as the finest example of cross-border water cooperation when the world and the region are embroiled in cross-border water sharing issues, differences and conflicts. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, it will be a technical and strategic pilgrimage for policymakers to visit and pray over the foundations and facilities at the very source of the start of this momentous journey. The historic Jaldhaka Hydro Project awaits a facelift and a new coat of paint in the national colors of Bhutan and India to pay homage to the energy of the landscape, our natural resources, our rulers and the people of Bhutan and of India. The Jaldhaka project deserves to be recognized for having laid the foundations for the Bhutan-India electricity partnership.
QUT Design Lab