15 foreign workers have left work at Jigmeling Industrial Park 

Nima | Gelephu

While the lockdown in Sarpang has been slightly relaxed since last week, construction activities were hampered by a lack of raw materials, as transportation has become an issue.

The first relaxation phase announced on February 7 allowed transportation of construction materials to the worksite with prior approval from the task force and allowed construction in containment mode.

Contractors in Sarpang and Gelephu applied for e-passes to transport construction materials and approval to work in containment mode. However, approvals were given only to construction firms with raw materials at the worksite. Allowing transportation of construction materials required opening hardware shops, crusher plants, and cement agents during the lockdown.

As the construction owners wait for further relaxations in the dzongkhag, foreign workers who were left without work during the lockdown ran away to India from Jigmeling recently.

About 15 foreign workers working with Yangchag Ferro Alloys Pvt Limited, one of the foreign direct investment companies at Jigmeling Industrial Park, left the work site last week. The workers were brought in two months ago.

An official from Yangchag Ferro Alloys, Karma Sherub, said the workers had been at the site for one and half months. The incidents were reported to the police.

“We don’t know the reason. We have found out that they reached home safely. They were paid in advance. Our management in India would be looking into the matter,” he said.

He said that there was not much progress at the site, as the firm faced a labour shortage when it started site development in March 2021.

“Those who were imported ran away. We’re not able to work well during the pandemic situation. We could seek permission to work in containment mode but there are no materials at the construction site,” said Karma Sherub.

Another investor at Jigmeling Industrial Park, Thom Bista, said over 30 foreign workers involved in civil work with Echo-Tech Bhutan are idle without raw materials at the site.

The construction project couldn’t transport raw materials.

Co-founder of the firm, Thom Bista, said that almost 80 percent of the machinery equipment required for the unit were at the site. “Civil work remains incomplete and we couldn’t start installing the machine. The project planned for seven months is taking one and a half years,” he said.

He added that the workers were planning to leave after foreign workers ran away from the project site. “There is no work for them without raw materials. We could gather the construction materials from within the dzongkhag,” said Thom Bista.

He added that the protocols to transport construction materials have not been finalised. “We have to pay workers when there is no work. They might run away,” he said.

Officials from Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry in Gelephu said the supply of construction materials has been halted because of the ongoing mass testing in Gelephu.

“Essential delivery services have also been halted. We identified shops that would supply construction materials. The shopkeepers were tested and ready to work. But, mass testing prolonged the plan,” he said.

He added that it was important to restrict movement to avoid further lockdown in the dzongkhag.

A contractor from Gelephu, Lobzang, said it was important to allow economic activities that can be done safely, without workers having to come in close contact.

“The same procedure used for the import consignment could be applied for construction activities. It will be difficult to complete the projects on time once the rainy season starts,” he said.

Meanwhile, Incident commander, Dzongdag Lobzang Dorji, said the protocols for transportation of construction materials were ready for implementation. “We will have to wait for the outcome of mass testing to decide on it. Transporting construction materials has been postponed for the time being,” he said.

He added that the construction firms with raw materials in stock are allowed.

The Sarpang Covid-19 task force will decide whether to allow the transportation of construction materials to the worksite only after the mass testing in Gelephu, which is expected to end today.