Gangtok, Dec. 8: The Border Roads Organisation with its exhausted machinery and labour shortage will be able to restore the full connectivity of the North Sikkim highway and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg only after 18 months.
The Project Swastik of the BRO looks after the roads in Sikkim, including NH31A, the only road link of the land-locked Himalayan state with the rest of the country. While NH31A did not suffer major damage in the September 18 earthquake and its connectivity was restored within a day, the North Sikkim highway and JN Marg, which links Gangtok to Nathu-la, were not so fortunate.
Landslides triggered by the earthquake had caused multiple disruptions of major and minor magnitude and washed away parts of North Sikkim highway and JN Marg, considered important from strategic and tourism perspective.
The armed forces use these roads to move towards the China border while tourists commute through this route to reach picturesque destinations like Yumthang Valley in North district and the Nathu-la border pass at 14,000ft in East Sikkim.
The 60km long JN Marg had been temporarily restored by September end while the repair of the North Sikkim highway (180km) was completed by the second week of October for traffic movement. But as Project Swastik officials here said the roads are still vulnerable to landslides. "The full restoration is going to be a very tough job. It will take us almost one-and-a-half years to get back to the pre-earthquake status," said a BRO source. They said that heavy machines, including 37 excavators, and manpower had been deployed to the maximum levels to restore roads, though temporarily, after the earthquake.
"All our machinery and man power were overused during restoration. Most of these machines need extensive repair and we are looking for replacements," said the source.
The Project Swastik has submitted an initial estimate of Rs 100 crore to the Centre for full restoration of JN Marg and the North Sikkim highway.
It has also submitted separate proposals to the Centre for the repair of three tunnels ' one (600m) at Theeng which is part of the North Sikkim highway and two (1.5km each) along JN Marg.
The repair expenses for the tunnel come to around Rs 45 crore per km. While work is about to begin on the Theeng tunnel, the repair of the tunnels on JN Marg is still in a stage of proposal. Recurring landslides along these roads is also hampering the BRO work. "So far more than 340 slides have taken place along these roads. We are forced to clear the slides and restore traffic repeatedly," a BRO source said.
Lack of labourers is another problem for the BRO. Hundreds of labourers mostly from Jharkhand, Bihar and Bengal engaged in road and hydel power projects in Sikkim fled after the earthquake. Most of them have refused to come back. The Project Swastik employs around 2,000 day labourers and the figure has come down to 700, who are mostly locals.
The BRO is now banking on the Centre to avoid the delay. "The Centre is ready to give us more equipment to avoid the delay. They don't want the projects to be deferred and everyone is helping out," said the official.
The Project Swastik is now engaged in removing the loose boulders along the JN Marg and North Sikkim highway. "There are large boulders which are lying loose above the roads. We are removing them to ensure safety of the road users," said BRO sources.