Monday, December 8, 2014

No end in sight for Nau Mile drama

Project Swastik realizes that long span bridge is not feasible, so it’s back to drawing board to dream up another solution

The 9 Mile conundrum on National Highway 10 [erstwhile NH 31A], a few kilometers out of Ranipool, continues to confound the Border Roads Organisation. Efforts of the BRO to tame this slip zone remain Quixotic with fantastic solutions projected on paper and then thumbed down upon evaluation; as a result, the only work on site then remains the depositing of still more rubble and stone to raise the road after every sink. It was clearly this stopgap approach towards resolving Sikkim’s road connectivity woes that convinced the High Court of Sikkim to open a suo moto PIL against BRO and other concerned agencies to take stock of road conditions in the State. The situation at 9 Mile was part of this PIL, and little over a month back, Project Swastik, the Border Roads Organisation agency responsible for the national highway and other strategically important roads in Sikkim, had informed the High Court that it had submitted a proposal to span the 9 Mile sinking section with a “Long Span Bridge” to be commissioned under the SARDP-NE project. It now appears that this option has been rejected by experts. It is then back to square one at Nau Mile.
The Project Swastik submission on installing this ambitious long, single span steel bridge had come about after the High Court pulled up the DG, BRO and Project Swastik for their continuing delay in implementing a more durable solution for the 9 Mile troublespot. And now this. A a High Court hearing in follow-up to the submission that a long span bridge was being considered for 9 Mile, the Director, Project Swastik under Border Roads Organisation, reportedly informed the High Court that the proposed bridge across the sinking zone at 9 Mile has been deemed not feasible. Interestingly, against the 150 metre long bridge proposed by Project Swastik, the actual length of the sinking area has been established to be more than 300 mtrs!
The Ministry of Roads, Transport and Highways has reportedly submitted an affidavit with the High Court submitting that the “…earlier proposal of construction of a long span steel bridge at 9th Mile has been held not feasible, wherein it has been mentioned that looking to above situation, the ministry will initiate the proposal from the consultants to suggest the remedial measures and prepare a project report for the same to construct a bridge at km 77.65 [9th Mile] on Sevoke-Gangtok National Highway-10.”
Earlier, in follow-up to the Project Swastik project report for a long span bridge, the Regional Officer, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, keeping in mind the PIL pending in the Sikkim High Court, the strategic importance and likely start of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra from Sikkim, directed Project Swastik to go ahead with the second proposal of “short term measures by way of treatment of slopes with Geo Cell or Geo Web and sub surface drainage to arrest or minimize the sinking on experimental basis”. The Regional Office cited a similar case of a sinking area at 4.9 KM on Rangpo-Rorathang road which was treated with this Geo Cell concept and where the slope has been “performing satisfactorily” for the last two monsoons and is stable at present.
The Regional Office has also said that the approximate cost based on short term treatment of 9 Mile on will be Rs. 2.50 to 3 crores, adding that incase this concept was adopted, immediate sanction and implementation will be required as monsoon will be here in April next year, making road works difficult.
Sources inform that the single long span bridge option was not feasible because of site peculiarities and the findings of a detailed site inspection. They however add that the proposal of a bridge or cable-stayed bridge can be considered for technical feasibility study through consultancy services. These however are very expensive to construct and may take a few years to complete. Project Swastik, it appears, does not have specialization for construction of viaduct/ cable stayed bridges.
The High Court is clearly not taking the latest twist too lightly and has directed the Ministry to show how and why - when the Government was already aware of the matter [vide its letter dated 22 October last] – was a joint site inspection carried out on 01 November and on whose instructions, the two suggestions [proposal for 150 mtrs long single span bridge and short term measures including treatment of slopes and sub surface drainage ] contained in the affidavit were made to the government. The court has also sought all related documents in this regard.

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