Construction: Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo, secretary Pema Wangda and senior officials from the ministry are expected to work at the new bridge construction site for a few hours on April 9 as a gesture to encourage Bhutanese youth to take up blue-collar jobs.

Two new bridges, one at Dechencholing and the other at Hejo, whose salang (ground breaking) ceremony is today, will be built entirely by Bhutanese workers, starting from engineers to manual workers employed by the Construction Development Corporation Ltd. (CDCL).

“If our plan materialises, the labour minister will come to the construction site and work with us like any other manual workers there for a few hours,” a general manager of the CDCL, Pema Wangchuk, said. “The minister and other senior officials will be provided all the working equipment of a labourer.”

The construction of the two bridges, which will not involve any expatriate worker, will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

“Designing and execution of the high quality bridges purely by Bhutanese show that we have local capacity to construct quality national infrastructure,” Pema Wangchuk said.  He said taking up such projects was crucial for producing skilled manpower and generating employment in the country.

Both the double lane bridges with a 70 metric tonne capacity will be completed in 14 months from now.  The government of India is funding the construction.

The CDCL’s head of the bridge department, Tandin Dorji, said that construction of such a bridge would normally take 18 to 20 months. “But since every part of the job is being done by Bhutanese, we can change the decisions easily depending on the situation for quick implementation.”

He said most of the delays in the construction happen when the designers are from outside the country.

“This project is unique as it involves purely Bhutanese manpower,” he said, adding that it was high time to take up such projects independently by Bhutanese.  About 85 people, including engineers, will be involved in the construction of the bridges.

The 30-metre Dechencholing bridge will be built at a cost of Nu 29.5M (million), excluding the site development cost of Nu 16M.  The estimated cost of the 40-metre Hejo bridge is Nu 38.2M, excluding the site development cost of Nu 10.65M.

Tandin Dorji said that six private firms have collaborated with the CDCL for works such as designing.  “If our private firms are interested, we can still look for areas of collaboration, but not as sub-contractors,” he said.

The Dechencholing bridge is pre-stressed concrete, one that will be built with concrete beams and floor.  The Hejo bridge will be a plate girder with RCC (reinforced cement concrete) deck, which means that it will be a steel structure with concrete deck.

Pema Wangchuk said the CDCL intends to take up big projects like this one. “People don’t trust Bhutanese capacity when it comes to big ventures,” he said. “But this will be an evidence that we have the capacity.”

The manual workers will be paid Nu 250 per day for two months after which they will be regularised and paid about Nu 14,000 a month.

The workers will also be provided group insurance as per the labour act 2007. “We expect them to work in other upcoming projects,” Pema Wangchuk said.  About half of them have work experience in similar projects.

By MB Subba