Damchu-Chukha link Road is one of the most important road presently under construction by Project Dantak. It is economically significant since it will reduce the distance and time drastically of the most important Phuentsholing-Thimphu Western highway, the commercial life line of Bhutan. The work that commenced in 2010 is still continuing which brings the road in news every now and then. Considering the fact that the Road is the most eagerly awaited, its early completion is well understood. There cannot be any justification for the delay, however certain reasons and realities resulting into these presumed delays needs to be understood for correct appreciation of the situation. Hence through this article an effort has been made to bring out certain realities associated with this work, so that readers can get the correct perspective.
Project Dantak since its arrival in Bhutan in 1961 developed Phuentsholing-Thimphu, Samdrup Jongkhar-Trashigang, Gelephu-Trongsa and Semtokh – Trashigang to single lane roads with the assistance of DoR and people of Bhutan under the guidance of “Their Majesties”. Similarly, the Project also made Road Confluence-HAA, HAA-Paro and Confluence-Paro Road to complete the viable Road connectivity in the country. In addition the Project also undertook other important works like construction of Paro and Yangphula Airfield, Sherubtse College, Bhutan Telecom Service infrastructure, the Chukha Dam Ancillary infrastructure and India House Estate. All these setups served the country well till the turn of the millennium. Subsequently with the increase in Socio-Economic activities, the necessity was felt to widen the single lane roads to double lane and upgradation of Bridges to higher load classification. Accordingly in the first half of the millennium widening of Phuentsholing-Thimphu and in later half, Samdrup Jongkhar-Trashigang Road was entrusted to Project Dantak. The widening of the Road Phuentsholing-Thimphu was planned to be undertaken in three phases. In the first two phases, Road from Phuentsholing to Chukha (Km 82.5) and from Damchu (Km 131) to Thimphu Gate (Km 161.5) was undertaken. The widening of these two stretches to the double lane specification was completed by Mar 2010. The work on these two stretches was basically of widening of the existing single lane road, which is comparatively much easier than cutting a new green field alignment. However for the remaining 50 Kms of Road stretch between Chukha to Damchu, a new alignment was selected, bypassing the existing Road. Out of the total 29 Km of the link Road, 23 Km was completely new green field alignment.
Accordingly the Detailed Project Report (DPR) was prepared in Oct 2009. The DPR had planned for formation cutting of over 190 Km Cl 9 equivalent alongwith the Bridges and other permanent works. The total cost of the work as per DPR was pegged at Nu. 2090 Millions. However in Feb 2010, the work was sanctioned only for Nu. 1450 Millions, reducing the scope of formation to 128 Km, substantial reduction of permanent works and total deletion of all the Bridges. The scope of the work was reduced probably due to restricted availability of fund of only Nu. 1450 Millions as against requirement of Nu. 2090 Millions which must have been decided in the Annual Planned Talks of that year. Accordingly the work commenced in Mar 2010 with completion date of Mar 2013, the so called first dead line. As brought out earlier the work that commenced in 2010 and was to be completed in 2013 was not only having the reduced scope of work than what was required for the overall completion, but there was no provision of Bridges in that scope. Hence the work that was sanctioned initially and was to be completed by Mar 2013 was incomplete at the sanctioning stage itself probably due to limited fund availability and hence Mar 2013 cannot be considered as the first dead line for completion of the entire work.
To complete the remaining scope of the work including Bridges, a Revised Adm Approval was taken in Jun 2014, after the required additional allocation of fund was provided for the remaining quantities of the road as well as three Bridges for Nu. 2474 Millions based on new SSR rates which came into vogue in 2012. The three Bridges that were planned were on Sirupa Chu 30 mtrs, Jangtulam Chu 70 mtrs and Tanalung Chu 125 mtrs. After the sanction of revised Adm Approval, the work again commenced to complete the remaining scope of the work which was not earlier catered due to paucity of funds. The Bridge contract was finalized on 16 Nov 2014 with a completion period of two years i.e upto 16 Nov 2016.
The situation at the beginning of Dec 15, when the present Chief Engineer, Brig PKG Mishra took over the Command of the Project was that a hard rock stretch of about 2.5 km near Chukha was remaining to be cut. In addition the similar rocky portion of about 400 mtrs towards the access to Tanalung Chu Bridge was not cut. The access to Jangtulam Chu Bridge was about to be completed and the Sirupa Chu Bridge was nearing completion. After his first visit to the site the Chief Engineer carried out fresh appreciation of the work and took certain important and critical decisions to ensure that the work gets completed at the earliest. He declared this work as his KRA (Key Result Area). Accordingly certain resources were moved in terms of excavators, Dozers, Rock Breaker and Air Compressor from Eastern Sector as well as other Roads, additional hiring of Excavators from civil and CDCL. Thus as against 8 to 10 plants and Equipments that were deployed earlier they were increased to more than 20 Excavators and other plants to tackle the hard rock portion near Chukha. Simultaneously resources were deployed to give the accesses to the two Bridge Sites. The Contractor was ordered to complete the Sirupa Chu Bridge on Priority so that work on other two Bridges could commence. Thus the Sirupa Chu Bridge got completed in Jan 2016. Simultaneously the final recce of Jangtulam Chu Bridge was done since the approach to the Bridge site was cut by then. On conduct of detailed recce the bridge span increased from 70 mtrs to 75 mtrs. Thus the new design was made which was sent for approval. The approved design came in Apr 2016 and thereafter the work on the Bridge commenced. By now i.e Apr/May 16 the 400 mtrs of hard rock was also cut to provide the approach to Tangtulam Chu Bridge. Thereafter similar exercise of finalizing the design of the Bridge was carried out. The span of this Bridge increased from 125 mtrs to 145 mtrs due to peculiarity of site conditions. Again the design was sent for approval for 145 mtrs which got approved in Aug 2016. The Contractor was asked to increase the labourers to tackle both Bridges simultaneously. However during this period of time the new Immigration policy came in to vogue where the laborers were supposed to have voter ID Card and not the Aadhar Card which most of them had. Also the mandatory new medical test policy for immigration further reduced availability of labourers to the Contractor. Notwithstanding the Project got conditional special dispensation from concern authority to mitigate this problem to an extent.
Simultaneously the work on cutting the 2.5 km hard rock portion near Chukha was in full swing, despite the challenging conditions. Finally the connectivity towards Chukha side was achieved in May 2016. For all those who have travelled on the rocky connectivity including the HE Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, Hon’ble Prime Minister, HE Shri Jaideep Sarkar, the Ambassador of India and Dasho Kinzang Wangdi, the Cabinet Secretary have witnessed the challenges and efforts involved in cutting down the rocky portion. The average benching down of the hard rock portion was about 80 mtrs with maximum cut going upto 100 mtrs. Very rarely in the history of Road Construction, one comes across such stretches, which generally get tackled by either change of alignment or going for a tunneling option which is comparatively much costlier. However by now it was too late to change the course of action. Hence additional plants and equipments were deployed under most inhospitable and challenging conditions, with work being done in two shifts upto late night. The severe monsoon of 2016 further affected the work. The road disruption near Kamji in end Jul resulted in stopping the work at D-C Road for more than a month and putting the entire might to restore the communication by first launching the Bridge and thereafter restoring it to its original specification.
The constant shooting stones from a height of more than 80 mtrs further made the Chukha side very risky proposition where the Project has already lost precious lives as well as equipments. It requires lot of courage and motivation to work under such conditions. Various dignitaries mentioned above would recollect the difficulties that they saw during their visit to the site.
The massive hard rock portion and the heights of 80 to 100 mtrs of cut during the formation work further increased the scope of work. Thus when we see the progress of work for formation work as 106%, it is a clear indication that the work has surpassed the quantity that was originally planned due to unprecedented hard rock stretch and the height of cut involved. The increase in the scope of formation cutting as well as in the span of Bridges by 25 mtrs necessitated taking an additional RAA that was taken in Jan 2017 for an overall cost of Nu. 2753 Millions, with PDC of Dec 2017.
By now it was clear that the two Bridges were running behind schedule for the reasons highlighted earlier. Hence all out efforts were made to ensure that the Bridges get completed at the earliest. It should be appreciated that the 145 mtrs Bridge on Tanalung Chu under construction once completed will be the longest Bridge in Bhutan. This will get surpassed only by 204 mtrs long Bridge which is presently under construction on Damchu – HAA link road.
As per the present status the formation work of the hard rock portion near Chukha will be completed by Aug/Sep followed subsequently by surfacing work, thereby the Project completing its departmental work. Had the Bridges constructed by the Contractor been completed by its PDC of Nov 2016, the entire work would have got completed within the overall PDC of Dec 2017. However the reasons for the delay of Bridges have been already highlighted.
The road will be opened once the two Bridges get completed, probably the Jangtulam Chu Bridge by Nov/Dec 2017 and Tanalung Chu Bridge by Jun/Jul 2018 slightly behind the official deadline. To count the deadlines for this work as 2013 or 2015 may be factually incorrect since the project in the initial stage was not even sanctioned in totality as explained earlier. Moreover if the Contract of the Bridges was done in mid Nov 2014 after the required funds were allocated, with two years period of completion, then there cannot be a deadline earlier than mid Nov 2016 by which the Bridges were to be completed and additional period required subsequent to Bridge construction for conduct of load test and preparation of approaches to the Bridge, without which the entire road cannot be opened.
As far as the overall cost of the Project is concern it got increased from Nu. 2090 Millions that was planned as per DPR of 2009 to Nu. 2750 Millions as per RAA of 2017 an increase of approx Nu. 660 Millions. The reason for the same have been adequately highlighted, i.e increase in scope of formation cutting due to unprecedented hard rock stretch, increase in the span of Bridges, and the revised higher rate of new SSR which came into vogue in 2012 as against the lower rate of SSR 2009, on which the work was originally planned. All the three factors would have been equally applicable even if the work would have got completed, say hypothetically in 2013 or 2015. Hence it is incorrect to presume that the eight years period of construction was solely responsible for the cost escalation.
The aim of giving the entire details of the work is to ensure that the readers know the true story. It is in no way to justify the delay or put the blame on someone. The Project has definitely learnt few important lessons while executing this work like not to reduce the scope of work as per fund availability, early finalization of Bridge contract, providing early accesses to Bridge sites for finalizing the drawing and simultaneously tackling of hard rock stretch rather than leaving them for the end. All these lessons were adequately incorporated while executing the work on Damchu-HAA link road which has progressed very satisfactorily and would be completed within the given PDC.
Project Dantak remains grateful to each and every one for all the help (direct and indirect) that they have provided for this most challenging work, and most importantly to the people of Bhutan for being so patiently waiting for its completion, which will happen shortly. The work may have got delayed a bit, but if the readers can understand that the ‘Delay’ was not intentional by the Project for any sort of personal benefit, the purpose will be achieved. After all the Dantak has completed 56 years of its existence in this beautiful country committed to its motto of ‘Connecting People, Connecting Countries’.