Minister quizzed on road construction, quality

Infrastructure: The works and human settlement ministry will be reviewing the rural construction regulations that will also address some of the issues that Parliament members raised at the question hour session yesterday.

Phuentsholing’s representative Rinzin Dorji asked why only construction of two-storey structures were allowed in rural areas and if the ministry would lift this provision in future.

Citing examples of places like Sorochen, Rinchending, Kharbandhi and Pasakha, Rinzin Dorji said if more than two-storey structures are allowed in these areas, it would help ease the existing housing crunch in Phuentsholing. “Given the housing shortage, people from low-income groups reside in the Indian border town of Jaigaon,” he said.

Similarly, Gelephu’s representative Gopal Gurung also said that rural constructions require approval from the gewog and the dzongkhag administrations while people have to pay up to Nu 50,000 for the design.

“Most farmers construct houses availing loans from banks while they have to pay a huge chunk for the design,” he said. “Why can’t the ministry come up with a standard design for rural houses that would help people?”

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that the two-storey regulation is not a temporary measure but a regulation that applies in all rural areas in line with tradition and culture. The same principle, she said, applies for construction of dzongs and lhakhangs as well.

Lyonpo added that as Bhutan lies in an earthquake prone zone, two-storey structures were safer in rural areas. “But people can construct three-storey structures in rural areas if they follow the regulations on traditional design,” she said.

On the Gelephu representative’s query, Lyonpo said that the dzongkhag approves construction if people opt for a cement structure with construction materials from outside. She added that approval has to come from the ministry for constructions of guesthouses or hotels in rural areas.

“If people are to construct their houses in the same design as it was previously, the gewog approves the design,” Lyonpo said. “Only if the gewog is not competent, the approval should go to the dzongkhag.”

With regard to cost of design, Lyonpo said that a one-storey structure would not cost so much. “When architect and engineers are involved, it means the structure is big and depending on the size and design of the structure, one has to pay accordingly,” Lyonpo said.

However, a standard design for all houses, Lyonpo said is not possible as it was a tested practice in the past wherein they had the same designs for RNR centres that not only worked but was also criticised.

South Thimphu representative Yeshey Zimba also questioned the minister on how the ministry would ensure smooth farm roads without roadblocks through out the year considering the importance of farm roads to farmers.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that farm roads were constructed even before the country’s transition to democracy. However, given the quality of farm roads, she said even maintenance was an issue.

Lyonpo said that there are about 6,000kms of farm roads besides gewog connectivity roads today. Improvement and black topping of about 2,000kms of farm roads are underway which would immensely benefit farmers.

“As the existing farm roads lacked quality, major repair and maintenance is required,” Lyonpo said, while explaining how the maintenance also lies with the local governments and communities. “The government has been supporting the communities through the Central Machinery Unit (CMU) in deploying machineries.”

“We are also strengthening CMU not just to build highways but for farm roads as well,” Lyonpo said.

Besides rural construction regulations and farm roads, Lyonpo Dorji Choden was also questioned on the condition of the recently blacktopped highway between Thimphu and Lamperi.

Bumdeling-Jamkhar representative Dupthob said that there were issues along the blacktopped stretch already. “If such is the quality of work, what would happen to the remaining works of the east-west highway widening project,” he said, further questioning whether it’s the ministry or the contractors to be blamed.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that the government was equally concerned and that as soon as they heard about the condition of the road, they visited the site immediately.

However, Lyonpo said people should understand that given the terrain, a lot of stabilisation works had to be carried out. Following the stabilisation works, Lyonpo said heavy downpour affected works and the blacktopped stretch. “The affected area is damp further aggravating the issue,” she said.

To prevent water from flowing onto the blacktopped road in damp areas, box drains are required and the contractors have built such drains but it gave way. “Our emphasis is on quality but when it comes to road, depending on the area it runs through, there are issues in some stretches.”

Lyonpo said that the government was not rushing to complete the works like some members perceived. “It’s not that the contractors aren’t carrying out their responsibility well,” she said. “It’s there for all to see, there is nothing to hide with all people having to ply on the same highway.”

Meanwhile, the minister was also questioned on the progress and status of the Shingkar-Gorgaon and Ura-Kurizam highway construction, which is expected to benefit people in the eastern dzongkhags besides commuters to these dzongkhags.

Kinga Dema

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