Those affected by the two-month block are attributing lack of study and poor planning
Connectivity: Frustrations are boiling over in three gewogs in Trongsa affected by the roadblock at Dzongkhalum which is now into its second month.
The road at Dzongkhalum was blocked on July 5 and falling boulders damaged the bridge there on July 24.
The people of three gewogs in Trongsa: Langthel, Drakteng and Korphu; say that the agencies involved in should have conducted an in-depth study before carrying out road widening work in the Dzongkhalum area.
Dzongkhalum is around 10km from Trongsa town towards Zhemgang.
Bus services between Gelephu and Bumthang, Zhemgang and Thimphu, and Thimphu and Kuengarabten have also been disrupted by the block.
Lham Dorji, 47, from Langthel, like several others Kuensel spoke with, said they are frustrated at the concerned agencies of the Department of Roads (DoR) of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) and the dzongkhag. Many said the agencies are not doing enough to clear the block at the earliest.
Many also attributed the agencies for causing the roadblock in the first place.
Lham Dorji alleged that the contractor responsible had begun excavating the site from too high up the hill causing it to become unstable and slide. He fears that the road at Dzongkhalum will now get blocked every monsoon like Reotala.
An observer, wishing not to be named, alleged that the contractor may have excavated from such a height with the intention to claim a higher bill. “There was no logic in doing that otherwise,” the observer said.
Wangda, 49, from Korphu said that the concerned agencies could have conducted a study before carrying out the widening work. “They should have at least looked into the stability of the cliff which could have helped save the road and the bridge,” he said.
Observers said that an excavator and a few workers are at the site but as far as they are concerned, no significant work or progress is occurring.
“I have been travelling on this road since I was eight and never heard of a road block at Dzongkhalum until it was disturbed quite recently,” Wangda said.
Tenzin, 54, from Drakteng said: “I had requested our local leaders to even take the matter to the dzongkhag tshogdu but it was later learned that the dzongkhag tshogdu had not been able to decide anything on it.”
Wangda said the people approached their local leaders before the local government was dissolved. “We even requested our MPs who also could not do anything,” he said.
The concerned MPs did not respond to calls or an SMS from Kuensel.
A frustrated villager, also requesting anonymity, said that while MPs do show up for inaugural ceremonies, during such times, they are not around.
If the roadblock at Dzongkhalum remains, local government elections could be hampered. Besides the people in Trongsa and Zhemgang, the highway is also a lifeline for people living in Bumthang and Gelephu.
MHPA currently allows vehicles to pass through a tunnel serving as a bypass. But only vehicles with high clearance are able to pass through the tunnel.
DoR’s chief engineer in Trongsa, Tougay Choedup said DoR could not do much since the stretch has already been handed over to MHPA until September 2017. All maintenance and operations of the stretch are the responsibility of MHPA.
However, an observer, who wished not be named, said DoR should not be using the handover as an excuse. “DoR is the guardian of all roads in the country and they should ensure all the roads are open,” the observer said.
Tougay Choedup said DoR could still pressurise the project to have the road cleared at the earliest but the project is already doing all it can. “Road widening did not require feasibility studies as it is already an existing road,” he said, in regards to questions about the lack of a study being carried out.
DoR with MHPA are in the process of filling up the gorge at Dzongkhalum with boulders so that vehicles can ply through even without a bridge.
However, Tougay Choedup said the road would be opened to traffic by the end of September.
Some also raised questions on why a bridge could not be built at Dzongkhalum like the one at Kamji. The 160-foot bailey bridge, built over a portion of highway washed away at Kamji in Chukha took about five days to complete.
Tougay Choedup also explained that the bridge built at Kamji and the one required at Dzongkhalum are different in length and the geography of the area is different.
“We are carrying out temporary measures and permanent solutions simultaneously,” Tougay Choedup said.
MHPA’s managing director AK Mishra said they are in the final stages of finalising the bridge design. “We are also filling up the gorge and the road will be open by September 15,” he said, adding that a new bridge will be in place by December this year.
Trongsa Dzongdag Sonam Rinchen said the dzongkhag is also equally concerned about the roadblock. It has not only affected the business community but offices in adjoining dzongkhags. “I have been writing to the concerned agencies asking them to expedite clearing the road,” he said.
The dzongkhag has conducted two meetings on the block so far.
The dzongkhag has also recently written to MHPA requesting them to solicit expertise and increase technical capacity at the site to complete the work at the earliest.
The widening work was initially awarded to another contractor, but DoR took it over again and awarded it to the present contractor.
The work was awarded to the contractor last November and the contract period is for 15 months. The road widening is being carried out on an 800m stretch and the width of the road will be 5.5m once complete.
Nima Wangdi | Dzongkhalum