Some concerns seem to have been raised on online forums about whether the Pelkhil School bridge has an environmental clearance and over the mud dumping near the bridge. This is to be expected given the bird’s eye view that everybody has of the entire area! Out of sight is usually out of mind, but certainly not for this site.

We would like to confirm that yes, we have obtained ALL clearances for the bridge. In fact, we have obtained every conceivable clearance imaginable in Bhutan from the Bridge Division, the DUDES, the DOR, the Thromde, the environmental officer of Thromde, the environmental officer of MOWHS, the Minister of MOWHS, the NEC (which directed us to MOWHS) and the Town Committee of the Thromde etc etc. We also obtained a separate environmental clearance for the construction phase that is issued by the NEC. It took about three years and lots of fuel.

We unfortunately live in an era of buck passing, and a final approval is ‘acquired’ only after the signature of everybody that anybody in the chain can think of, has been obtained. This seems to be the only way our poor civil servants have the confidence to get things done without falling falling out of favour with the auditors it seems! The downside of this is that it is time-consuming and highly frustrating. The upside is that the final approval, with so many signatures, can only be described as ‘unassailable’.

So if any doubts still linger over the legality of the bridge, please drop by the school and review the entire list of approvals! You may also like to note that not a single bridge built in Thimphu by the government since 2002 has been processed for environmental clearance. There were about 10 built so far in Thimphu thromde alone. For those not aware, the first environmental assessment act was passed in 2000.

There also seems to be some perception that the bridge has ‘diverted‘ the river in some way. This is untrue. The river path was certainly changed after DOR built the expressway retaining wall into the river followed by further dumping of mud over the walls by the road project. Our bridge merely followed the changed alignment. For economical reasons, every bridge is partly built inside the river and the Pelkhil School bridge is no different. However the amount it has gone in is far less than most government bridges built in Thimphu. The Ola Rongchu bridge which is right beside it for example, has reduced the river from about 30m to just about 10m wide to accommodate the workshops on one side and the bridge underpass road on the other side. It is a disaster waiting to happen given that the Ola Rongchhu has a history of massive flooding. In the 1968 flood for example, it was reported that the Ola Rongchhu became bigger than the Wangchhu.

On the issue of dumping mud near the bridge, again there should be no basis for any concern. For the public that is. The situation is actually the reverse. From 2003, when the expressway retaining walls were constructed, the walls were built into the river sending the river many meters to the school side. Complaints submitted to the NEC in 2004 did not result in any proper action as mandated in the the Environment Act of 2002. The school boundary has thus been in danger of flooding ever since.

Olakha: 10m wide Wall foundation in the river, river flow pushed north Feb 2004

Olakha: Backfilling between road and Wall June 2004

Olakha: More dumping over wall about 5-10m into river Mar 2006



In 2009 and 2010, there were two consecutive floods which washed away parts of the school boundary. Along with that half a dozen municipal boundary pegs were also washed away. The current dumping is WITHIN that boundary and not in the river as some observers seem to feel. The boundary peg coordinates are in the Thromde records. Again, those with lingering doubts should feel free to obtain the coordinates and compare with the area on which mud has been dumped.  Or simply visit the site for a friendly and personally guided tour!

Major backfilling behind retaining wall February 2005 (soil in front of wall is excavated soil from wall foundation part of which was cleared by DOR)

The area on which mud is being dumped is private land and the mud dumped so far has been done with Thromde approval. You can check with the TCC’s local environment officer to ascertain this fact.

It may also be of interest to know that the Ministry of Works and Human Settlements (MOWHS) has shown particular interest in the ‘safety’ of the Olakha Chorten. Their assessment is that since the Pelkhil bridge has ‘constricted’ the flow of the river, the river now poses a threat to the chorten. Based on such analysis we have been instructed to build a protective wall along the chorten. We have not complied but requested for a proper discussion where the school authorities are at least represented and where the Ministry can present the details of its analysis of how it came to such a conclusion. So far we have received no such invitation.

Besides the inability of the MOWHS to provide a proper analysis of their perceived risk, we have also pointed out that flooding can cause damage with or without the bridge. In 2009 Cyclone Aila caused some damage to the chorten’s banks even without a bridge in place. In 2010 and 2011 there was no damage  with the bridge in place. And this year, on 24 July 2012 Thimphu  received the highest rainfall in 16 years and again there has been no damage. It is time therefore for the MOWHS to relax and accept that the school bridge poses no particular risk. Yes, threats do exist from future floods and cyclones, and if the MOWHS is truly concerned about the chorten, it has the means and authority to actually do something about it before the next monsoon.

Expressway retaining wall 8m inside river (February 2004) Note the thousands of cubic metres of excavated soil dumped into the river. Half of it was cleared by DOR on request in 2005. The rest was left to ‘protect’ the wall foundation from scouring. But it was washed away by Cyclone Aila in 2009.

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