The surfacing of electrical wires, fibre optic cables, drinking water and sewerage pipes underneath a subway construction have hampered the progress of the construction of the Northern Bypass Road (NBR) package-I in Phuentsholing. 

The subway construction comprises at least 30 percent of the total project work. The construction site is near the Omchhu bridge.

The fibre optic cable of Bhutan Telecom (BT) is the most critical because, if affected, the country’s entire internet network would be disrupted.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has funded this project with a grant of Nu 198.48 million (M) as Package-I. 

It is one of the key components of the South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) project in Phuentsholing thromde.

A Japanese company, Marushin Shitaka Construction Company Limited (MSCCL) and local construction firm, Rigsar Construction Private Limited (RCPL) were awarded the job under a joint venture (JV) partnership. 

Today, the electric utilities that belong to Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) and the thromde’s sewerage system do not interfere the construction works.

However, fibre optics and drinking water pipes still remain a challenge for the construction company. 

At the site, wires have been tied to two iron poles for support to hold the drinking water pipes. A wire as a temporary measure also holds the fibre optic wire just below the water pipes.

Bhutan Telecom’s regional manager, Tenzin Dorji, said they are working closely with the contractors and thromde. “They came to us on time.”

He explained that the fibre optic is the lifeline to the country’s Internet connectivity. “This particular fibre optic routes the entire internet data to Thimphu, from where it is then distributed to other places across the country.”

“The disruption would cost the country’s economy more than its impact on BT,” the regional manager said. “It is the national backbone fibre.”

Since the optic cables are deep beneath the ground unlike other connections, Tenzin Dorji said BT would assist the construction firm after other utilities are taken care of. But it cannot be shifted, as it would time.

Phuentsholing thromde’s project coordinator, Devi Charan Dhimal, said there were hurdles related to the project and there would be a loss of time and resources.

“But we need to understand it’s criticality and sensitivity,” he said, adding they have asked the construction company to keep a low profile at the moment. 

To ensure the water pipelines are safe, thromde has currently ordered spare parts to divert the water. BT would pursue their side of the work after the water pipes are managed.

Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said all stakeholders need to work together. “We have decided to share the responsibility if there is any problem,” he said.

Officials from the construction firm said they are working cautiously. 

The project started in September 2017 and is expected to complete in August 2019.

The bypass road that starts from the second gate in Phuentsholing would run through the current vegetable market and connect to a new bridge over Omchhu that will link the road on the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway. This 120-metre bridge is under Package II for which ADB has granted about Nu 246M.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing