Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Twelve years after the construction of a 55ms ‘through-type bridge’ over Singeychhu in Pasakha began, people are still waiting for it to open for traffic.

At the bridge site, it looks as if it is completed. Colourful flags are also hung on the bridge. There are some metal parts nearby and grasses have sprouted from underneath.

People and vehicles, however, have to use the old bailey bridge right beside it to cross over. The old bailey bridge that had 24 metric tonnes (MT) load capacity is also wearing out. Mining trucks now face problem, as it only allows 20MT load.

Undertaken by Project DANTAK in 2007, the Nu 39.4 million (M) bridge would benefit about 300 households of three villages of Rangaytoong, Dhungena, and Pakchina in Sampheling (Pasakha) and also three mining companies.

A Rangaytoong resident, Budhiman Rai, said that with the old bridge wearing out every year, the completion of the new bridge has become important. “The new bridge would benefit us in many ways.”

He said the bridge would bring economic benefits with more vehicle movement. There is also a school and a basic health unit that the bridge would provide access. “We don’t know what happened to this bridge but it is taking a long time to complete.”

In 2015, the bridge construction was completed by 80 percent. By then the construction had stopped for two years. Project DANTAK officials then said the construction was halted because they were waiting for a “proof check” of the portion that was already executed.

Officials then claimed the proof check had to be completed because they said there were unexpected flash floods.

It was also learnt that the contractor, an Indian firm, M/s Lakhanpal Fabricators of Jammu, had faced financial problems and left the works unattended. Later that year, works reinstated but it was never completed and inaugurated.

Meanwhile, the incomplete bridge is affecting the truckers.

A trucker, Dawa Zangpo, who ferries boulders and cross Singeychhu on a daily basis, said trucks have been carrying below given load capacity due to the existing bridge’s problem.

“Loan repayment has become a big problem for us,” he said, adding a tipper truck just carried 12-13MT of stones.

Dawa Zangpo said ferrying mining boulders fetches them Nu 220 per MT. “Considering the maintenance and loan repayment of more than Nu 20,000 per month, business has deteriorated immensely.”

He also said it has been a year since they were carrying below the standard carrying capacity. “There is a genuine need for the bridge.”

Three mining companies use Singeychhu bridge from Pasakha.

Truckers and drivers say the new bridge should be completed. They said 12 years is too long for a bridge construction. “Both project DANTAK and government failed here,” a trucker said.

Another truck owner and a driver, Purna Bahadur Rai, said their business is dying. “The DANTAK bridge, if functional, would help a lot. We normally carried 24MT.”

Another driver from a mining company, RP Pradhan, showed his truck with nine MT load, which could fill only half of the truck’s carrier. His truck has the capacity to carry 20MT load. “But I cannot carry the load even within the limit because of the bridge problem.”

He said he was stopped from carrying loads within the limits twice. “I was fined once.”

Meanwhile, once complete, this bridge will connect the Paskaha alternative route that serves as a national highway between Phuentsholing and Thimphu.

Department of Roads officials in Phuentsholing said DANTAK has not handed over the bridge to them.

A Project DANTAK official in Thimphu explained that although work was completed earlier, it could not be opened for traffic, as the bridge did not meet the desired design criteria for a class AA/70 bridge. “As a result, the entire work had to be frozen,” he said. “After protracted efforts and time given to the contractor to rectify the same, Project DANTAK had to cancel the original work in December 2017.”

He said Project DANTAK in consultation with DoR has finalised a fresh tender and is in the process of obtaining sanction from the government of India (GoI) to recommence the work. “The process is in advance stage and DANTAK is looking to be able to recommence the work before the end of this winter.”

He also said they are optimistic to complete the work in approximately 12 months from recommencing. “We are strengthening the bailey bridge to ease the difficulties faced by industries.”