Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

It’s been two months since the Mongar-Gyelpoizhing primary national highway (PNH) has been closed to traffic for the second time after the wall supporting the road base at Trailing collapsed.

The PNH has been closed again to reconstruct the wall. However, residents and travellers say that the progress is insignificant in comparison to the time consumption, and bearing the consequences of it is unfair.

A trucker, Cheten, said it’s been more than three months the highway has been closed and the bypass poses tremendous challenges from vehicle accidents, difficulty in making turns at the sharp curves, and giving sides when two heavy vehicles need passing space.

“We really don’t know whose failure it is to open the highway as usual. If it’s the contractor, the dzongkhag authority should have monitored the work and opened the road. Something is fishy in between,” he opined.

Residents have also started feeling insecure following a couple of accidents after the highway has been diverted via the milk processing unit in Trailing to the Jarungkhashor area that connects the hospital-town road below the helipad.

A resident, Sonam Choden, whose house was nearly crushed when a 10-wheeler truck carrying 18 tons of grocery items for a shop in Mongar recently toppled after the driver lost control of the vehicle due to a sharp curve and hung over her house, said she could not sleep in the house and went to a relative’s place due to anxiety. “We don’t have peaceful sleep most of the time, worrying a vehicle might fall off and hit the house because some other vehicles barely escaped accidents.”

RRM wall construction in progress

Residents said they don’t feel safe at all in houses below the road.

However, residents and drivers feel a little placated after the wall was removed and the sharp curve is being widened above Sonam’s residence following the recent accident.

Residents said there have been around five accidents on the road after it was made a bypass three months ago. They include a lorry carrying truck, car accidents, and a bike accident, besides several others.

“We have already asked the authorities to improve the road at the curves but they have not paid attention until an accident occurs. I am sure many other vehicles might undergo a similar fate in the future,” another 10-wheeler driver Wangdi said.

Residents said even the settlements along the road have been covered with a cloud of dust from the road.

“I think they should at least splash water on the road. We can’t live in a house full of dust anymore,” said Kezang Dawa, who runs a fabrication workshop below the road.

He said there is also an incense factory nearby, and maintaining cleanliness has not been easy.

Taxi fares have also soared due to road conditions, according to residents.

Trailing resident Kunzang Choden, who has a kidney patient at home, said taxi charges have doubled from Nu 100 to 200 for reservations and taking her patient a few times a week to and from the hospital has become pretty difficult.

Dzongkhag officials said the wall construction on the highway is part of the Trailing LAP development work included in the whole package of initial contract work amounting to 40.489 million, as the area became unstable and the road collapsed while widening the road.

According to officials, although the previous wall collapsed due to poor workmanship, the contractor has been asked to construct the same Random Rubble Machinery (RRM) wall which is underway at their own expense.

The dzongkhag has also awarded a project that constitutes wall and hume pipe drains of 1.81km, and a 1.2km L drain, with a budget of Nu 13.23 million, and another project amounting to Nu 13.75 million for wall and footpath construction has been awarded to the contractor.

Looking at the present work progress, residents said it is not likely the work will complete any time sooner. “We don’t see adequate labourers at the site most of the time,” a resident said.

A contractor said additional work should not have been awarded to the same contractor who has already failed to execute the other projects. “There are many other contractors among whom some are without work in hand. We really don’t know why the same contractor has been awarded more work packages. There are some serious lapses somewhere.”

The dzongkhag has awarded the work for 16 months, from June 2020 until October 15, 2021; the dzongkhag gave an extension of three months in the interest of progress affected by Covid-19 pandemic, and the deadline is this month.

Officials said the current work progress is at about 65 percent. Hundreds of vehicles ply the highway every day.