The regional Department of Roads in Samdrupjongkhar has written twice to the State Mining Corporation Ltd in Samdrupcholing dungkhag, reminding them that trucks, which ferry coal should not be allowed to ply on bailey bridges as agreed before the mining company was established.

The letter was written to the company after officials observed the trucks were plying on bailey bridges on the Samdrupjongkhar and Samdrupcholing highway instead of using a bypass specifically meant for trucks.

This is because three of the five bailey bridges along the highway could be at major risk of damage or collapse with an increasing numbers of trucks plying along the highway daily.

According to chief engineer Jigme Choidup, while the bridges are still strong enough to carry small and medium vehicles, they are not for heavy vehicles given their capacity and life span. The bridges are more than 30 years old and have a gross capacity of only 18 metric tonnes (MT).

The administration has requested the company to monitor the movement of trucks and to make sure they use only the bypass and not the bridges.

“Even if trucks carry about 13MT of coal it would still be 19MT when the truck’s weight is included,” he said.

However, the roads office is yet to receive any response from the mining company, which is under Druk Holdings and Investment. The matter was also reported to the dungkhag.

Jigme Choidup added that road clearance was issued after it was agreed that trucks would use only the bypass and not the bridges. The roads office was concerned because if a bridge collapsed or was damaged the dungkhag would be cut off.

Samdrupcholing, which was earlier known as Bangtar is 67km from Samdrupjongkhar. Many residents and travellers alleged that the trucks use the bridges at night.

The roads office had also requested the company to limit the loads on the trucks if they intend to continue using the bridges but the company said such a move would result in losses.

Jigme Choidup pointed out that there is no plan to strengthen the bridges as the costs would be too high. “The only option would be to change entire bridges, which is not possible,” he said.

However, he added that while there is no immediate threat that the bridges will collapse, the concern is that the structures could be compromised with further traffic, especially during the monsoon.

About 95 vehicles ply along the highway daily as per statistics maintained by the road’s office.

State Mining Corporation Ltd manager Ramesh Kumar said they make sure that trucks use only the bypass and that all truck drivers have been discouraged from using the bridges.

“We do agree that a few truckers purposely ply on the bridges while some use them when the bypass is blocked or damaged but most of them use the bypass,” he said. “We also make sure that the bypass is cleared and potholes filled immediately so that truckers don’t have to use the bridges.”

Ramesh added they may not have responded to the roads department in writing but actions have been taken.

More than 12 trucks carrying more than 15MT of coal each on an average have been using the highway after the mining company was established last year. The coal is  transported to Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd in Nganglam.

“We’re also concerned and that’s why we came up with the bypass and we do maintain it. But sometimes it’s difficult to monitor all the truckers yet we’re doing everything to make sure the bridges are safe,” Ramesh said.

The manager refuted allegations that they transport coal only at night.

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupjongkhar