Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu

The government is considering extension plans for Gelephu dry port to ensure its ‘scalability and functionality’ in anticipation of a potential mega city project in Sarpang.

Industry, Commerce, and Employment Minister, Karma Dorji, said that the size and scope of the dry port are being considered, and the existing construction plans may need to be modified.

“Based on the existing design, the construction will be re-proposed in a way that aligns with the future development plans,” he said. 

As the construction activities, including government projects, have come to a halt in Sarpang, the concern among the locals is about the continuity of the dry port development after a week-long halt in April.

Lyonpo Karma Dorji said that the temporary halt was to assess the possibility of relocation and realignment with the project. “The construction resumed as planned after it was determined there were no issues. Minimum requirements would be installed while keeping in mind for future modification and adjustment.”

“Currently, the best option for transporting heavy machinery and equipment is by road. If these machines are brought by sea, they would still need to enter the border by road,” he said, adding that a dry port is essential for trade purposes in any development projects.

While yet to be confirmed, Lyonpo says, the planned railway station would be located at the dry port. “There is also potential to bring goods by air if the Gelephu airport is internationalised.”

Construction on track

The construction of Gelephu dry port is making steady progress as planned. The project is divided into five packages, with phase-1 currently progressing at 60 percent.

Phase-1 of the site development includes the construction of boundary walls, retaining walls, entry-exit gates with security cabins, parking lots, roads, cable ducts, footpaths, and drainage systems, which is expected to complete by April 2022.

According to the trade department, the work progress is constantly reviewed and necessary measures are taken to keep the project on track. “Resources are being mobilised for the construction of warehouses and covered transhipment sheds for phase-2, with subsequent work packages being initiated based on the progress of ongoing ones.”

While the construction faces no significant challenges, water scarcity at the project site and continuous rainfall hinder the progress of the project.

Once the dry port becomes operational, goods can be directly brought into the country using India and Bangladesh as transit routes. It is expected to bring economic benefits to central and parts of eastern and southern dzongkhags, making it easier and more efficient for imports and exports.

The trade department believes that Gelephu holds a huge potential to grow into an important trading hub with existing road and air connectivity, and the expected establishment of a rail link from Assam.

The department states that the development of the dry port would create a wide range of employment opportunities across various sectors, from low-paying cargo handling jobs to high-paying positions in information technology, banking, management, and executive roles.

Spreading over 26 acres along the Sarpang-Gelephu highway, the dry port will be equipped with modern facilities such as import and export warehouses, transhipment sheds, watch towers, weighbridges and control rooms, sewerage treatment plant, street lighting including CCTV, and other essential amenities, which would facilitate seamless trade operations.

With a project having begun in April 2022, the Gelephu dry port is expected to complete between 2024 and 2025. The project, funded under the Government of India’s trade support facility programme, has an allocated budget of Nu 880.70 million, excluding contingencies.