Formation cutting along Damchu-Chukha, which was supposed to complete by March 2013, may happen by October this year.
Bypass: Montu Rao is from Hasimara, India. He is carrying fuel for the heavy machines in jerry can, down the narrow trail that was paved for a dog pound, from which the place got its name – Kutamor.

About a thirty-minute downhill through the trail, through dense broad-leaved forest, Rao and his friends are at Damchu-Chukha bypass (DC) site. A landslide that occurred two weeks ago has cut the access to the work site on the cliff that can be seen from the highway.

It is here, at the sector V, from where the formation cutting of the 29.2-kilometre Damchu-Chukha realignment will begin to connect to Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway. The realignment has been delayed and criticised for taking longer than it should.

Project DANTAK’s Chief Engineer Brigadier KC Panchanathan said that the remaining 800 metres of formation cutting across rocky cliffs will be complete by October. Even by DANTAK reckoning, though, it will not be an easy job.

Except for sector V and parts of sector II, most of the surfacing and blacktopping on other sectors have been completed. Sector II ends at Tanalungchu bridge, which means 300m formation cutting will have to be done.

The entire stretch between Damchu and Chukha is divided in to six sectors. The 2.175-kilometre Sector I starts from Damchu, and 3.049km-long sector VI at the end of the DC realignment in Chukha have been completed and blacktopped.

Sectors III and IV are 7.239km and 3.177km from Tanalumchu and cut through Jangtalumchu and Sirupachu towards Chukha. About 90 percent blacktopping has been completed.

Sector V is the most difficult area, which is mostly rocky cliff that measure about 7.27 kilometre in length. DANTAK has to cut 500m more to connect it to Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway in Chukha.

At the nearest point to the sheer cliff seen from the highway, six men are working with drilling machines, covered in dust. The noise is deafening. The problem here is that in some area, the cliff is inverted, top jutting out.

But it is Rao and friends, who are the vital links. Without them machines will not run. And without the machines, cutting the cliff is impossible.

Rao knows what the unpredictable mass above the formation cutting can do to those working down below. Two weeks ago a shooting boulder killed his wife. Also, a man working on a compressor died when a boulder fell on him.

“I’ve to keep working and move on as I have two daughters to look after,” said Rao.

Currently, the area is off limit. Project officials said that work will resume only after monsoon or by the first week of September.  The slide has buried about 400 metres of road.

Brigadier KC Panchanathan  said that the project lost an excavator along with the operator, seven labourers were injured; a compressor and a water truck sank in a slide area and went straight into the river. This is the record of loss since October 2013.

Rao said that the incidents left most of the workers shaken with fear. Project officials performed two rituals for Muslim and Hindu labourers.

“We’ll soon hire a lama to perform a ritual at the site. We need to perform rituals so that workers feel safe,” said Officer Commandant Major Ankur Mahajan.

Project officials said that regular landslides delay work progress. “Every monsoon, at least three weeks is lost clearing the landslides and repairing the permanent structures,” an official said.

There were about four major slides this year. Project officials fear that it could cost them to clear slide in terms of both time and labour.

At Semachu, a boulder the size of a two-storey house has broken the formation cutting. The slide happened last September and has blocked the road completely. DANTAK has to clear this slide to connect to the Jangtalumchu bridge site.

The project missed the June 2015 deadline because of difficult rocky surfaces and the monsoon damaging the permanent structures and the formation cutting.

The project has deployed 16 excavators, a road construction company of about 800 labourers.

Of the four bridges on the realignment, two will be complete by end of this month. Project DANTAK is constructing the first bridge a few kilometres before reaching DC realignment. The other, a 30m-concrete bridge over Sirupachu, will be the first of the three bridges to be awarded to an Indian contractor.

The engineer with Poddar Construction Company said that construction of the 75m-bridge over Jangtalumchu will begin from first week of September.

The construction of two bridges is expected to be complete by October 2016.
By Tshering Palden