Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - 12:04 AM
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The ‘power tiller’ tshogpa of Goenpang Shali

IMG_7203The power tiller has eased the burden of farming especially for the elderly

The only one in the village who knows how to ride the machine is willing and able to help 

Agriculture: With the maize cultivation season on, villagers of Goenpang Shali in Shumar, Pemagatshel are not looking for workers this time.  They wait for their tshogpa Cheki Gyeltshen.

Cheki Gyeltshen is the only one in the village, who knows how to ride the power tiller they received from the government recently.  Since then, the tshogpa has been making rounds, using his skills to help farmers till their fields.  He has completed tilling for six households and has seven more to go.

Based on the cultivation season in various chiwogs, and following a discussion among five chiwogs, the tshogpas and gewog officials, along with the agriculture extension officer, prepared a work plan to hire out the power tiller.

Goenpang Shali chiwog, with 158 households was the first to use the power tiller. “We’ll use the power tiller only in farms where it can run,” the tshogpa said, adding that they have to complete the work soon, because sowing season has begun in other chiwogs.

As per the guidelines, each household can use the power tiller for eight hours a day, at a hiring charge of Nu 1,400.

“The power tiller has come as a great help, else we’d be looking for labourers to plough our fields,” he said. “But eight hours isn’t enough for some households that have more than an acre.”

The power tiller was handed over to the 11 gewogs in Pemagatshel to help optimise land utilisation.  With most of the young men working outside, villagers said it would help the old, who have been left behind to work on the farms

For 46-year old Sangay, this season was the first time he was able to plough his 62 decimals of land in a day.  It took him four days in the past.

“If we had to hire a private power tiller, we’d have to pay Nu 2,000 and there is no hour system too,” he said. “It would have been better if a permanent operator was hired, since many of us are inexperienced in using a power tiller.”

However, many said that, although the power tiller would help them cultivate, they continue to worry about losing half of their harvest to the wildlife.

Meanwhile, Shumar gup, Lepo, said they have requested Bhutan Oil distributor to supply diesel for the power tiller on credit since they have no separate budget.

“After collecting the fees, we’ll pay the credit,” he said. “The gewog agriculture extension office will maintain the details.”

Meanwhile, assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tshering Dorji, said of the Nu 1,400, the operator would thatbe paid Nu 500, while Nu 900 would be used to fuel the tiller.  He said the power tiller uses about four litres in a day and  they charge Nu 200 for every extra hour.

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Pemagatshel 

253 counts of charges in Gelephu dungpa’s case

ACC to forward its investigation report to OAG within a week

Corruption: The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has finalised its investigation on one of the biggest embezzlement and fraud cases in the country in recent years.

The 500-page report with evidence implicates 253 counts of charges against Gelephu dungpa Pema Wangdi and six accomplices, including the dungkhag administrative officer and three engineers.

Majority of charges are against dungpa Pema Wangdi.  The report will be forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution within a week, according to ACC officials.

ACC reportedly took about five months to compile the investigation report, with evidence collected from a Hilux load of documents.

One of the charges against the dungpa is the alleged embezzlement of millions of ngultrums.  He was alleged to have siphoned Nu 10.637M, a fund generated from Losel Cinema hall in Gelephu town; Nu 1.388M by claiming fictitious expenditure on account of maintenance work of cinema hall, and misuse of about Nu 0.12M, which the dungkhag office had received as compensation for dismantling a bakery affected by town planning in Gelephu thromde.

The other charges against the dungpa are the fraudulent award of contract works.  Dungpa Pema Wangdi had allegedly awarded three contract works to construction firms without floating tenders.

ACC officials had established that the dungpa awarded renovation work of Gelephu tshachu (hot spring) worth Nu 1.350M to four contractors, who were believed to be his and his son’s friends and acquaintances.  The tender documents were submitted later and some documents were forged.  Awarding works of renovation of Nu 1.2M Gelephu crematorium, and re-roofing of Nu 1.6M cinema hall followed the same modus operandi.

ACC in August last year suspended trade and contract licenses of seven construction firms allegedly indulged in fraudulent tendering process, following an investigation on complaints lodged against the dungpa.

The suspended licenses belonged to Jigson Construction of Wamrong, Trashigang, T. Dradul Construction in Nganglam, Pemagatshel, PKDS Construction in Tsholingkhar, Tsirang, Ugyen Gyeltshen Construction in Radhi, Trashigang, Kholo Construction and Pelden Lhamo Construction, both in Sarpang, and Dangpeng Construction in Trashiyangtse.

In the same month, ACC also froze three plots in Phuentsholing and Gelephu from any transaction.  These plots were allegedly transacted by the dungpa on 50 percent commission.

ACC officials began investigation on June 13 last year after receiving several complaints against the dungpa, who has been suspended since June 23, after they found a prima facie case of corruption and embezzlement.

In the process of investigation, ACC officials recovered Nu 3.401M from dungpa’s residence in Gelephu.  ACC officials also reportedly investigated the controversial Tokay gecko case.

Administrative assistant Sonam Norbu is also charged with aiding and abetting the alleged crime and embezzlement.  The Royal Audit Authority (RAA), while auditing the financial status of Losel cinema and other related works, also found that the dungpa and dungkhag administrative assistant, who was also the Losel cinema hall in-charge, have misused and embezzled more than Nu 10.63M, after winning a legal battle with the State Bank of Sikkim.

The auditors revealed huge deficiencies and lapses of serious nature, manipulation of records, submission of fictitious expenditure on repair and maintenance of cinema hall, and unaccounted funds.

By Rinzin Wangchuk

Picture story

The nine-day Phurpa Namcha Purdri drupchen at Takila, where Guru Rinpoche’s statue is under construction in Minbi, Lhuentse concluded on February 14 with a Tsewang by Dzongsar Jamyang Khentse. More than a thousand people attended the drupchen that the Druk Odiyana Foundation organsied.


Picture story

Photo: www.bhimf.org

Launch: HRH Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck arrives at the inaugural of the Bhutan International Festival on February 14 at the Centenary Park in Thimphu.


A tradition keeps a community alive

IMG_7223Tenzin Drakpa has been making trumpets for 20 years

The trade is so lucrative, that almost every household here is involved in the business

Craft: The fields are getting fallow, roads have reached almost every chiwog and children are getting to schools. But in Tsebar, the tradition of making duung and jaling (traditional ritual trumpets) is flourishing.

Villagers are not only keeping a strong tradition alive, and the tradition has helped the village generate employment both for young and old, including women. The prospect of leaving the village to work at construction sites or towns, have not yet swept the minds of the people engaged in the craft yet. It is their livelihood and the business is getting better.

A certain Lama Sangay Dorji was constructing a Zangtopelri in the village.  He ran out of funds and went to Samdrupjongkhar to learn how to make trumpets, so that he could sell them and make some money.  That is how the tradition of making traditional Buddhist trumpets came to the village.

In the beginning, when the craft of making trumpets was new to the village, makers had to go from door to door to sell the finished products.  Today, orders come from different dzongkhags, and the trumpet makers of Tsebar are prospering.

At a time when trumpet-making skills are dying, it is in Tsebar where trumpet makers are refining their skills. Tsebar trumpets are preferred to improvised and machine-made trumpets imported from India or Nepal.  The business is so profitable, that almost all the households in Tsebar are into the trade of making trumpets.

It’s probably because of this that most of the land in the village is left fallow, said one villager.  And there is stiff competition among the villagers that leads to the production of finer trumpets.  Young people undergo apprenticeship and perfect the art of making first class traditional trumpets.

The success and popularity of the trade has encouraged the villagers to form a group, Tsebar Lakzo Thuentshog that buys trumpets from the villagers.  Tenzin Drakpa, the chairperson, has been making trumpets for the last 20 years.  The tshogpa buys trumpets from the villagers and supplies them to handicraft shops in Thimphu.

“Demand for trumpets made in Tsebar has been growing over the years. It’s very encouraging,” said Tenzin Drakpa. “A villager can sell about five pairs of trumpets every month.”

The tshogpa that receives some support from the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) also has members from Chongshing, a neighbouring gewog.

The tshogpa buys raw materials like copper, metal, copper wire and German silver, among others, and saves them in the raw material bank that APIC helped establish.  Trumpet makers no longer have to go to Samdrupjongkhar to get raw materials.

APIC supplies the raw materials. On the 16th of every month members deposit money in the bank for raw materials. APIC has also trained villagers on new designs and decorations on instruments.

Sounds of beating metal greet visitors to the village. Inside a small hut close to a house, two women are working on a design. Their full time job is running the house, but the business is lucrative and they have learnt the skill. “There are not many women into weaving or farming,” said one.

“I first learnt design arts on trumpets when I was 12 years old. I’ve never looked back since,” said 38-year-old Karma Tshomo, a mother of three. “At least we’re assured of instant income right after we finish doing patterns and designs. We also encourage young girls and boys to learn from elders, instead of remaining jobless. And they’re showing great interest in it.”

A pair of duungs fetches a villager anywhere between Nu 5,500  and Nu 10,000.  On an average, a villager makes about Nu 12,000 from a pair of trumpets.  A pair of duungchens (large trumpets) costs upwards of Nu 100,000 depending on the thickness of the metal.  A pair of jalings sells for not less than Nu 7,000.

Tenzin Drakpa said that villagers have taken to making trumpets, because the work involved is a lot less than farming in the fields.  And the income from it is far more. Farmers were losing crops to wild animals. Mandarin yield has been declining with disease. So the business of making trumpets has picked up, a village elder, Jambay Gyeltshen said.

“The business also prevented young people from leaving the village. This means the future is good. At the same time, we’ll be able to keep the tradition of making traditional trumpets alive.”

Income from trumpets has been more than enough for Jambay Gyeltshen to build a two-storied family house. He always advises the young to take up the art. “While many leave the village to work as truck drivers or in mines, most  youth, especially school dropouts are picking up the trade.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin, P/gatshel

This town’s not big enough for two of us

Is how Drukair feels about Tashi Air vis-à-vis its plan to fly to Singapore 

Aviation: In an indication that the international sector is not big enough for two airlines, the national airline Drukair has recommended that private airline Bhutan Airlines (Tashi Air) reconsider its intention to fly to Singapore, on grounds that existing passenger demand is too low.

The private airline had requested the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to obtain rights for a route that would connect Paro and Singapore via Myanmar, as it was considering flying to the island state.

Drukair CEO Tandin Jamso said that he “strongly recommends” Tashi Air to reconsider its intention to connect to Singapore, as demand is not high enough for two airlines.

He pointed out that Drukair usually flies around 60-65 passengers, which is a 40-45 percent cabin load, during the tourist season.  However, during the off-season, as few as 15-20 passengers are carried, he said.

“Now, if Tashi Air starts to operate, we’ll be sharing these 15-20 passengers,” he said. “They’re going to lose, we’re going to lose.”

The CEO said that the national airline is already struggling financially on the Singapore route.

Drukair began flying to Singapore in August 2012.  It currently flies twice to the island state via Kolkata, India.

Tandin Jamso said that Drukair is already meeting whatever demand there is currently, and Tashi Air should wait until additional capacity is required.

He explained that both airlines are already losing on the Paro-Bangkok sector.  Both airlines operate daily services to Bangkok.  According to statistics maintained by Drukair, while seat capacity has increased one hundred percent with Tashi Air’s entrance, passenger traffic had increased only by 27 percent, as of October last year.

He added that the growth in traffic from Bangkok could also be attributed mainly to promotion discounts that had been introduced for both the local and Thai markets.  He said that, while passengers are benefitting, both airlines are “bleeding”.

Tandin Jamso also said that, if the aviation policy in Bhutan is to enhance tourism, then more gateways needed to be established.  He said that Tashi Air should take a lead role and establish different gateways like, for instance, Kuala Lumpur, so that the two airlines complement rather than kill each other.

However, Tashi Air CEO Phala Dorji, while agreeing that two small airlines should complement each other, disagreed that the private airline should not operate to Singapore.  He pointed out that, as a licensed Bhutanese operator, the private airline needed to sustain, and that initial market studies had shown encouraging results for a Myanmar-Singapore flight.  But Phala Dorji said the airline was still studying the viability of the route.

He also questioned whether Drukair would allow Tashi Air to enjoy a monopoly, if it risked opening a new gateway like Kuala Lampur, and the route turned lucrative. “If we’ve to look for new routes, does that mean Drukair isn’t going to operate on that route?” he said, adding that the national airline should assure Tashi Air that it would not.

Phala Dorji also explained that, for new gateways to be opened, the government first needed to establish an air service agreement with the respective country.

Bhutan currently does not have the permission to operate a flight between Myanmar and Singapore.  Discussions have been initiated to obtain permission from the Myanmar government, but it has been reluctant to grant it, reasoning that an existing right of two flights a week connecting Bhutan to Thailand via Myanmar is not being used.  The Myanmar government has said that it was, however, willing to consider a Singapore route, if the existing one was given up.

Tandin Jamso said that it would be a mistake to give up the existing rights, and that instead diplomatic means of obtaining the additional Myanmar-Singapore route be pursued. “We’d strongly disagree. We think that the government and authorities shouldn’t exchange whatever we’ve been granted,” he said, adding that it would be hard to re-obtain the rights.

He said that, while Drukair once operated to Myanmar, it had to suspend the service, as there was not enough demand between Paro and Myanmar, but that there was sufficient traffic between Myanmar and Bangkok.  He added that there is now potential for traffic between Paro and Myanmar, with the country opening up economically and to tourists.  He said that Buddhist tourists might look to combine Nepal, Bhutan and India in a single trip, and that there was an economic opportunity for both airlines.

But for that to happen, he said, the flight needed to end in Bangkok, as it was a main gateway to Bhutan.

Drukair is considering recommencing flights to Myanmar from next year.

Phala Dorji said that a joint sitting between DCA and both airlines be held to further discuss the issue.

DCA is yet to make a decision on whether to surrender the rights in exchange for Singapore rights.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Piggery on the decline in Trongsa

IMG_0319Many have turned to piggery to supplement their low incomes

Villagers are dissuading those in the occupation on religious grounds 

Farming: Sukmati Rai in Marshing, Langthel gewog in Trongsa has taken up piggery to supplement her cash income of Nu 5,000 that he earns as a National Work Force (NWF) member.

With four children, all attending school, Rai’s family is facing tough financial times.

“One of them studies in a private school in Gelephu,” Sukmati Rai said, adding that the rest of her  children attends a government school.

To Sukmati Rai, becoming a pig farmer was a way to support her family.

“When it became too difficult to afford children’s school expenses we started piggery to counter the rising costs of children’s education,” she said.

Similarly, another NWF worker from Yuendrucholing, Phul Maya, also turned to piggery to meet the costs of her children’s education.

“I started piggery to earn some cash income, which could be sent to my children while in school,” Phul Maya said.

Phul Maya and Sukmati Rai are among 20-25 low income earners who contributed to the dzongkhag exceeding its pork production target stipulated in its annual performance agreement. The dzongkhag reported production of 16.2 metric tonnes (MT) of pork in just six months. Its target was just 1.5MT.

But pig farming is proving increasingly challenging in the villages where it has diminished over the years.

Dhan Kumar Gurung from Marshing who recently started rearing pigs has been getting increasing pressure from his wife’s relatives from Kela, Tangsibi to quit.

“The villagers including my wife’s relatives most of whom are either lay monks are persuading us to stop piggery saying it will accumulate negative karma,” Dhan Kumar Gurung said, adding it is also worrisome to rear pigs in a dzongkhag where piggery is banned.

Dzongkhag livestock officer, Sherab Tenzin said that no one raises pigs in upper Trongsa.

Piggery has been given up by even the Monpas of Phumzur, Jangbi and Wamling, who once lived off hunting animals.

“Only certain parts of lower Trongsa like Dranteng and Langthel raise some pigs now,” Sherab Tenzin said.

According to the Langthel extension livestock officer, Sonam Tshering, even in lower Trongsa only a few villages like Koshala and Pangzur maintain pig farms. Villages like Bayzam and Ngormay completely gave up piggery before 2011.

“And the dzongkhag’s effort to revive piggery in 2011 failed miserably amidst religious sentiments,” Sonam Tshering said.

Trying to initiate and convince people to take up is a losing battle. Of late even some of the existing piggery farm owners like the NWF workers are planning to quit because of societal pressure.

“They would have quit piggery years ago but I have held them back,” Sonam Tshering said, adding these farms would also be gone in few years time.

“And sometimes the community objects to the the pig farm’s location because of its proximity to a lhakhang,” Sonam Tshering said.

“Rearing pigs is banned in dzongkhag as well as Tangsibi gewog now,” Dhan Kumar Gurung said.

In Keila none of the villagers are taking up piggery. Its tshogpa, Tashi Gyalpo said that the village stopped rearing pigs after a renowned Rinpoche banned it a few years back.

“And I might encourage people to rather take up agriculture and livestock but piggery never,” Tashi Gyalpo said.

The villagers are also becoming more aggressive towards the pig farm owners with some reporting incidents of villagers causing nuisance.

“Though no physical attacks were made few villagers often are mischievous and discriminating towards us,” Sukmati Rai said, adding she worries sometimes the villagers would turn against her to stop the pig farms.

Some families like Dhan Kumar Gurung’s is also getting increasing pressure from relatives.

“It scares me that if my wife’s relatives’ demur could actually cause some friction in our relation,” Dhan Kumar Gurung said.

Availability of piglets, feed and lack of proper space to open semi-commercial farms are some constraints for pig farms.

“My husband wants to quit from the lack of space and shortage of feed,” Phul Maya said.

Sukmati Rai cannot increase the number of pigs in her piggery despite her plans.

“The dzongkhag officials gives us only one even if we wanted more saying it is difficult to get piglets in large numbers since villages have no applicants,” Sukmati Rai said, adding she would take up semi-commercial farming if the dzongkhag helps her out with supply of piglets.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa

Need to tackle the symptoms first, not the malaise

Night is a time of behaviours dark and wild and bright.  Night is a time of privacy.  This day in the country, however, what is time of peace for one is also a time of violence for a growing number of young people.  We live in a time of change that compels us to look deeper into our own souls.

Our small and happy society is no longer at peace with itself.  This is no exaggeration.  We should be able to accept this much, at least.  For why are the police beginning to frisk people after 10pm?  Crime rates may have gone down by numbers appreciable, but intensity has grown by much more.

Where have we failed as parents and elders?  And why?  We need to ask these questions.

The initiative the police have taken is welcome.  We need to protect innocent citizens from wanton acts of violence, fuelled by disillusionment, drugs and others intoxicants that our young people are increasingly resorting to.  A thing about promises is that they often fly beyond reality.

What our young people need today is a place where they can comfortably be and prosper as their skills allow them to be.  These are the times when jobs are scarce.  It is, therefore, the responsibility of the government of the day to create employment opportunities for our young people in the light of the fact that we are a country with a predominantly young population.

Our demographic change stands at an interesting stage.  Our window of opportunity is small.  We are running short of time.  Statistics from National Statistics Bureau tells us so.  The burden of economy and welfare will fall on our young people, who are running riot in the streets, trying to make sense of their own purpose.

The police have issued a communiqué with pictures of weapons our young people carry to protect themselves and to eliminate the hurdles standing in the way of their personal dreams.  These are loud and harsh cries from parts of our society that we have ignored for far too long in the process of development.

Frisking is a good initiative.  But how police deal with it will matter much more than the initiative itself.  There is only a thin line between privacy and authority.  Any little shift in balance will cause differences and divisions that will have us in a trouble and require us to look at our own well-thought out actions.

Initiatives to make our society safe and peaceful are welcome.  What the people are worried about is that law enforcers could cross the leeway with powers they are bestowed with.

Getting at the leg first will not solve the problem until we delve deep into the heart of the problem itself.  There must be reasons why our young people roam the street with weapons all day and night long.

The bamboo alternative

bamboo-houseCompleted bamboo community center at Pakpay, Samtse (photo courtesy: SFED)

To take pressure off the forest, a study suggests the viable use of this tree in constructions  

INBAR: Bamboo could be an alternative to timber and save it from the pressure it’s under from increasing building and temple constructions within a few years, say forest officials.

A 2014 study by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) stated that the bamboo construction sector is viable economically, socially, and technically in the country.

Using bamboos for constructions of houses or its parts could provide community forest management groups with new livelihood and income earning opportunities, and reduce the burden on timber for construction, the report said.

This could help bring long-term financial sustainability, as well as pave the way for expansion and replication of bamboo sector development across the country.

In Zhemgang, community groups earn annual incomes of about Nu 180,000 from selling bamboo shoots, culms and finished products.

The Social Forestry and Extension Division (SFED)’s bamboo and cane focal person, Tshewang Dorji, said, “Employing modern techniques, bamboo could make construction cheaper, more durable with stronger resistance to earthquakes.”

He said the idea of bamboo for housing emerged after the 2009 earthquake hit eastern Bhutan.

“Over the years, people have also realised that bamboo could become a potential source of income,” Tshewang Dorji said, citing the success of Radhi villagers in Trashigang.

Until 2006, Radhi villagers in Trashigang cultivated rice and wove raw silk textile for income, which has since then shifted to selling bamboos.

A pole now earns them Nu 100, a rhizome Nu 75.  Some even earned as high as Nu 10,000 a year from the sale.

However, the INBAR report points out that the scale of construction would be limited without significant improvements to resource base management and development, strengthened capacity to design and build with bamboo.

Tshewang Dorji said that, while the nurseries in the country were mandated to grow bamboo saplings, the SFED distributes imported seeds to the nurseries.  Farmers can also avail bamboo saplings for free.

The division planted six hectares of three varieties, suitable for house constructions, in Samtse in 2012, and will be ready for harvest in a year or two, forest officials said.

The use of bamboo for many generations and its applications has been mostly restricted to non-structural and lower-grade buildings.  Tshewang Dorji also said that there was a social stigma attached to building bamboo houses.

“We’re promoting bamboo structures in the country now to save timber, and the environment, because bamboo takes only three to four years to be ready for harvesting, while the trees take ages,” he said.

As part of the INBAR study, bamboo houses were constructed in Zhemgang, Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang and Samtse dzongkhags, to set up demonstration value chains for bamboo construction.  The division built a gazebo in Thimphu and similar structures in other dzongkhags.

Officials said the bamboo prospect would only grow while timber availability would become scarce over the years. Balancing the constitutional mandate for forest conservation and the expected need for timber will become increasingly challenging, say forest managers.

In 2013 alone, the Forest Resources Management Division (FRMD) issued more than 200,469 cubic feet (cft) of timber permits for repair or construction of 53 temples, monasteries, dzongs and institutions.

Dzong renovation in Wangdue and Pemagatshel took 169,141cft of timber.  Another 169,691cft was given to build classroom in monasteries, schools, and residences for mostly religious institutions.

Roughly 10 percent of forest in the country is viable for commercial timber harvesting.  Current estimates show a total of about 3.8Mcft of standing timber available for harvest annually, which is higher than the useable timber for sawn boards and finished wood products.

The annual timber demand estimated over the next five years could be as high as 10Mcft, including close to six million cft for rural needs.  This amount is much higher than the available timber for harvest.

The forest department’s forest resources potential assessment last year, which assessed potential forest areas that could be utilised for sustainable commercial harvesting, showed 11.27 percent of the area has the potential to become production forests after removing forests on steep slopes.

The INBAR report also pointed out that there was a need for guidelines or codes of practice for using bamboo in construction, which could eventually form part of the country’s existing building code.

The only guideline in place is a chapter on bamboo in the works and human settlement ministry’s “Guidelines for Planning and Development of Human Settlements in Urban and Rural Areas of Bhutan to minimise environmental impacts”.

By Tshering Palden

Two bridges due, one year overdue

DSC01387The Rongthongchhu bridge is expected to be completed next month

Plagued by flash floods, the Rongthongchhu and Bamridrangchhu spans will be completed this year

Bridge: Two bridges, one at Rongthong, and the other at Bamri, will now be completed this year after a delay of more than a year.

The two bridges were supposed to have been completed by March last year.

The Rongthongchhu bridge is now expected to be completed by March, and the Bamridrangchhu one by the end of this year.

After project DANTAK awarded the contract to an Indian government contractor, M/S Mohan Bajaj, work commenced on both bridges in 2009.

The project manager, Gopal Yadav, said the design for Rongthongchu bridge was disapproved by project DANTAK in 2009, following which they had to redesign it, which took seven months.

“While carrying out survey, we encountered a hard rock that would increase the height of an avertment on one side. The design had to be changed,” he said.

Recurrent floods during the rainy season, coupled with frequent strikes in Assam, further affected the construction of these bridges.

“The first flash flood in 2010 stopped work at Bamridrangchhu bridge for almost four months,” he said. “We were carrying out the foundation works, when the flash flood resulted in the base being filled with soil up to 6m from one side.”

In 2012, when the concreting works were underway, the bridge was again hit by another flood that washed away a major portion of the foundation.

“The steel fixing we’d carried out had all been damaged and we had to redo the foundation works. We lost about five months there,” he said. “We couldn’t work during the rainy seasons, with the water level rising and chances of flash floods remaining very high,” he said.

Because materials have to be procured from Meghalaya and Kolkata, the project manager added that frequent Assam strikes further delayed the constructions.

“At times, our trucks are stranded for weeks because of strikes,” he said.

Only the abutments of Bamridrangchhu have been erected so far, while Ronthongchhu bridge is undergoing staging works, where shuttering plates are being laid.

Observers claimed the construction has been suspended for over a year now and the site has remained abandoned.

“It won’t take long for Bamridrangchu bridge since we need to work on the super structure only. The materials are already here. We’ll continue the works after we complete Rongthongchhu bridge in March,” he said. “But, we’ll be able to start by August only. We have to wait for the rainy season to pass.”

Residents of Rongthong said that, even if the bridge is completed, chances of it getting washed away by flash floods is very high.

“In the early 2000s, project DANTAK had constructed a similar bridge ,only to be washed (away) by a flash flood a few months later,” a resident, Sangay Dorji said.

Currently, vehicles use the existing bailey bridges to cross the two rivers.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang