Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The much-awaited construction of Samrang-Jomotshangkha highway from Langchenphu gewog, Samdrupjongkhar resumed yesterday after a pause of more than six months.

The work had to stop in 2018 because of budget issues. Handing over procedure between Project Dantak and the Department of Roads (DoR) also took time.

Of the total 58km, the department cleared about 47 kilometres of the road with a budget of Nu 57M. The department started road construction in 2016.

Residents said that Jomotshangkha drungkhag would have been connected with the internal highway if the DoR pursued with the construction.

However, the government had awarded the works to Dantak.

Today, with India under a lockdown, Jomotshangkha remains cut off from the rest of the country. People today cannot travel out of the drungkhag as they have to go via the Indian highways which remain closed as India continues its lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Lauri gewog mangmi, Tenzin, said that since the drungkhag’s only route are Indian highways, travelling along the Indian roads are risky, and the frequent strikes affected travel plans.

He said the drungkhag is in dire need of internal road access because they could not carry out any developmental activities since the closure of the border gates and complete lockdown in India. “It has hampered the developmental activities as we could not procure and transport construction materials.”

“It would help if Dantak and government could clear the road soon because we cannot say how long the lockdown in Indian and the closure of the border gates would remain should the situation worsens,” the mangmi said.

Residents say it is the season for doma (areca nut) business and they could not even transport them to sell in Samdrupjongkhar. “We do not understand what could be the reason for project Dantak taking so long to start the works.”

“People travelling along the Indian highways via Assam landed in problems during the frequent strikes. They also get robbed and their vehicles damaged. These problems would be gone once the highway is open to traffic,” Langchenphu gewog mangmi, Wang Gyeltshen said.

He said the connection of the highway would not only help commuters but also facilitate power officials among others to improve the electricity supply, which has become erratic these days.

The distance between Samdrupjongkhar and Jomotshangkha will drop to 40km while people in the drungkhag have to travel about 192km via Assam to Samdrupjongkhar.

Meanwhile, a Mountain Hazelnut team travelled Jomotshangkha on foot, walking about 15 hours via Merak in Trashigang recently.

Works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering, said it would have helped people during such crucial times if the road was built before. “But nobody predicted such pandemic would reach our country.”

He said the government decided and awarded the construction of the highway to Dantak about seven to eight months ago, adding that  Dantak could have taken time to carry out the survey and complete the detail project report.

Lyonpo said Project Dantak would deploy about 12 excavators at the site.

“We cannot say how many kilometres Project Dantak would have to clear as it is not surveyed,” Lyonpo said, adding that they would also have to clear the road which was cleared before because some parts were blocked and washed away by the landslide.

Lyonpo said they need to construct about seven bridges along the highway and there are two major bridges which have to be constructed soon. “The ministry would take up the construction of the bridges while Project Dantak will carry out the road construction.”