Truckers say changing drivers at Darachhu is risky and financially not viable

Nima | Gelephu

Sarpang dzongkhag Covid-19 task force is exploring a driver-switching method to facilitate the movement of trucks and heavy vehicles from Darachhu to Gelephu.

Today, trucks enter Sarpang, a high-risk zone, at 7 am with the help of escort officials who ensure drivers follow required Covid-19 protocols after entering the red zone.

The dzongkhag is facing a shortage of escort officials; monitoring incoming trucks at various contained areas in Gelephu to transport export and import goods has become challenging.

In addition to DeSuups, volunteers from the Bhutan Red Cross Society have also engaged in the escort works to date.

To ease pressure on the escort officials and to ensure a swift movement of vehicles in and out of Sarpang, the task force had identified a switching station, about 100 metres away from the Sarpang-Tsirang border.

Sarpang dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji said that there is a need to bring the relay point closer to Gelephu; away from the demarcated redline at Darachhu, which separates high and low-risk areas.

“We have to put in place facilities first. The task force had formed a team to study the existing methods that are put in place. There is also a need to review the redline marked at Darachhu. It’s close to Tsirang,” he said.

More than 20 trucks carrying heavy consignments and other essential items are escorted from Darachhu daily. The number of vehicles is expected to rise with the orange export time inching closer.

The task force had tried three different means to facilitate the movement of vehicles, ensuring swift transaction of essentials and export items since the lifiting of lockdown.

At first, the loads were transshipped at Darchhu for the trucks and vehicles coming in and moving out from Sarpang. Later, trucks were allowed to move based on a token system.

Dorji Gyeltshen from Wangdue said the current system of allowing trucks to move without having to transship loads at Darachhu is convenient.

“There is not much problem along the way. We don’t get to have meals on time but we managed so far,” he said.

He added that changing drivers like in Phuentsholing would increase transportation costs. “It might lead to an unnecessary price hike. The switching point is far, more than 70 kilometres away,” said Dorji Gyeltshen.

Lobzang Dorji said the task force was exploring an additional method.

“Institutional vehicles would be able to manage drivers, but it would be difficult for the private. Some vehicles would be escorted without switching depending on the nature of products,” he said.

He added that it was important for Sarpang to focus more on securing borders. “The restrictions on the inter dzongkhag mobility is not so convenient for the public,” said the dzongdag.

While the task force is waiting for directives from the national task force, the infrastructure and required facilities at the designated switching point in Darachhu are expected to be ready this week, according to the dzongkhag task force.

Thinley Dorji from Phobjikha said the driver switching method would be risky. “Any driver in need of work could say that he can drive well. The distance is long and trucks carry heavy loads. It would be a huge loss in case of an accident,” he said.

He added that there is a need to streamline loading and unloading at the mini dry port. “There are only a handful of loaders. It becomes tiring to be locked inside the truck for long hours,” said Kencho Dorji.

The task force has also planned for a similar arrangement at Tamala on the way to Gelephu-Zhemgang highway.