Samtse Dzongkhag has 15 gewogs of which 10 gewogs are connected by 9 bailey bridges starting from Samtse Dzongkhag center till Norgaygang gewog which is the furthest among all the 10 gewogs.
Norgaygang, Tendruk, Pemaling, Tashocholing, Namgaycholing, Sangacholing, Yoeseltshe, Ugyentshe, Norbugang and gewog administration of Samtse are the 10 gewogs and they have 48 Chiwogs in total.
Of the 9 bailey bridge, the longest is the Diana bridge which is approximately 200 meters long. People have to either take the Indian route as an alternative route or they have to take a risk by using the riverbed route if anything happens to any of the bridges. If the first bridges collapses than all the 10 gewogs will be cut off from the Dzongkhag center.
Recently the Kuchidina bridge (150ft long) bridge collapsed while a loaded truck plied over the bridge cutting off seven Gewogs. The government is again constructed another bailey bridge over it but this incident underscored how easily Samtse’s gewogs can be cut off.
Talking to The Bhutanese, Tashi, the Dzongkha planning officer, said that those 9 bailey bridges have a very less carrying capacity of 18 to 25 MT. He said, in case there are any natural calamities like flash flood and washes away all the bridges at one go, than all the 10 gewogs will be cut off from the Dzongkhag center.
“People have to come to the Dzongkhag to avail services as most of the service centers are located in Dzongkhag headquarter. So if anything happens to those bridges, than it will be really challenging and an issue of concern for the people of those 10 gewogs,” he added.
The alternative route is commuters traveling via India but this can be risky for security reasons and during strikes.
He said, “In winter they can travel through the riverbed but in summer the river gets swollen which can pose a risk to commuters. The chances of the bridge being washed away would be high in the monsoons due to flashflood with heavy rainfall.”
Swelling of the rivers may not last for long but in medical emergencies this can always be an issue, he said. Until now no major disaster has taken place with the bridges but there an increasing need for the maintenance and reconstruction of the Bailey bridges.
People and local leaders have put up requests and discussions for the requirement of permanent bridges but since all the 9 bailey bridges along the highway falls under secondary national highway, it comes under the Department of Roads (DoR), under the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement.
Since the bridges are not under the Dzongkhag so, therefore, the maintenance and construction of the bridges is not the Dzongkhag’s responsibility. Therefore, the Dzongkhag, local leaders and Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) raised this issue with the concerned agencies.
Tashi said that DoR has also informed the government about the issue but somehow there always has been a problem because foreign donors cannot travel via India without travel documents and permits.
“Earlier there was no internal connection in the absence of the Amochhu Bridge whereby international donors had to travel through the Indian road, so it was always an issue. It has been just a year plus with the completion of Amochhu Bridge”, he added.
The international donors or their teams will have to travel for a survey and to study for any sort of construction. However, they did not get the opportunity because the international partner like JICA could not travel to Samtse since there was no internal route at the time, he added.
Nonetheless, from the government’s side they were always supportive and they have carried out various bridge maintenance Tashi said.
However, in the long run and for the safety and security of the people and commuters, a permanent bridges is required. Tashi shared that he is aware that the MoWHS has kept the provision of construction of bridges in the 12th FYP.
He said, “It is one of the priorities to secure the life line for many things.”
Meanwhile, Tashocholing Gup Samir Giri, said, “None of the bridges are strong and none of the bridges have the capacity to carry enough load. And when that is the situation, the price of the goods goes high because they have to make a double trip to transport their goods due to the bridge capacity.”
If the bridge carrying capacity is good than they can use jumper trucks and that way the transportation cost of the material will much cheaper.
“If we force the drivers to carry more than the bridge capacity they would argue as they will have to travel via the riverbed taking numerous risks. Thereby, the transportation charge become high and so people cannot do good business without a good profit,” he said.
He said if the bridge is strong and durable they do not have to rely on Indian roads. When anything happens to the road they have to travel through Nagarkata on the Indian side which is not safe at times, he said.
However, until now they have been using the Indian roads as an alternative route and suffering due to strikes, accident , longer distance and more. “If the bridges are durable and if the road connectivity is very promising than the people will have full confident and they can do things with ease. And everything can be done successfully”, he said.
He said today since the bridges are not durable and no major renovations were done people live with fear. He said, “We sometime feel we are valueless as bridges are the main supporting factor of communication. We did not get a donor as of now and we are worried about it. We have discussed in DT but nothing came up. With time bridge are collapsing as it is very old.”
DoR have been doing a lot until now and they have a hope that DoR would do even better with the bridges along Samste-Sipsu highway, he shared.
Nima Dukpa, Tendruk Gup said that “Until and unless we find any other solution traveling from the riverbed is always risky and we never can guarantee when and at what extend the river will rise. In any emergency we have to rely on the Indian route which isn’t safe at all.”
He also said that the recent bridge (Kuchidina) collapse has cut off 7 gewogs in total and this is how a single bridge can affect the commuters at large. It takes time reconstruct when a single bridge collapse and it is challenging in any emergency.
In addition, he also said that the Gewog Center road connectivity between Sipsoo Drungkhag and Tendruk has become like a farm road and no maintenance was carried out for the past 10 years. “We have been discussing the issue in DT for several times. DoR are giving their best but due to budget constraints nothing could be done. We are expecting a lot in 12th FYP”, he added.
Likewise, Namgaycholing Gup Ratna Brd. Rai said that the issues of road and bridge are common everywhere and with the recent incident of collapsing of Kuchidina bridge people faced numerous problems.
He said that they had to take the Indian route during those times whereby people across the border makes a number of different rules. “Taking the riverside route is not an issue in winter however having to cross the river in summer is always dangerous. When we cross thinking that the level of the river is low, the river suddenly gets swollen posing threat to life of the commuters,” he added.
There was an incident in the past whereby an Alto car while crossing a river got washed away from the middle of the river as with a sudden flash flood came. However, no casualties where reported as they can rescue on time. He said, “Likewise there could be such incidences in future if they have to use riverside road for longer period of time.”
He also said that the soil is of a muddy type whereby the vehicles while crossing the river may sink into the river leading to life lost. Knowing all the consequences, people decide to take Indian route as an alternative, he added.
He also said that the highway has become more or less like a farm road with lots of potholes which force people to sometimes take an Indian route. “Even if a small accident takes place in their area than it becomes more problematic. Therefore, if the roads and bridges are maintained well than it would benefit people of the 10 gewogs at large”, he said.
The story was supported by the DoIM content grant.