Gangtok: The Mantam Bridge, which connects 13 villages under Gram Panchayat Units (GPU) of Sakyong-Pentong, Lingzey, and Tingvong GPUs, has once again been washed away.
The bailey bridge, which was constructed in December 2020, was washed away in merely six months. The bridge is right on the banks of River Kanaka and authorities say “there is no way we can avoid it from being washed away every monsoon.”
But why a temporary bridge for a permanent problem?
In August 2016, a massive landslide in Syok Bhir resulted in the creation of an artificial lake in Mantam, which has hampered movement across the 13 connected villages every monsoon. The villages get cut off for most of the rainy season until the water levels recede there is no motorable way to reach the villages.
The solution during the monsoon season, so far, has been to stock up rations beforehand. Before this year’s monsoon, however, the Sikkim government constructed a suspension footbridge, stretching 200 metres in length at a higher elevation. But that didn’t resolve the problems of movement the locals continue to face.
Speaking with EastMojo, Affected Citizen of Teesta activist and local resident Gyatso Lepcha highlighted how the bridge has always been temporary.
“After the monsoon season and before winters, when the water level recedes, authorities put up this bailey bridge. Ever since the landslide in 2016, there is no permanent bridge. Five years have passed till now,” Lepcha lamented, who feels the temporary construction and connectivity are a violation of the locals’ right to commute and communicate.
“Our people have been curtailed from basic facilities for a very long time. Our people and their sufferings have been overlooked. We have to carry our elders and the sick on the back for emergency medical assistance. This is so primitive,” Lepcha said.
Sonam Wangchuk Bhutia, the assistant engineer in Dzongu told EastMojo that the bridge has actually not collapsed.
“People see the temporary bridge has collapsed, but it hasn’t. During monsoons, the water level of Kanaka river rises. Since the bridge is temporary and right on the banks, it gets washed away every season. We were hopeful it would aid for a few more months before the water level rises,” Bhutia said.
He added the bridge is for use only in the dry season, when people can stock their rations. “The bridge is ideally used for ferrying rations of the public and the construction material for the permanent bridge that is coming up,” Bhutia said.
Meanwhile, a “permanent bridge” has been sanctioned and is under construction. Locals hope the government is able to speed up the construction before the rainy season sets in.
“The only alternative for us locals is a pedestrian steel suspension bridge, but it’s too much of a hassle. We need to park our vehicle at one end of the bridge and then commute on foot to the disconnected villages, which are so many and spread across. It is no easy task and that footbridge cannot be considered a permanent solution. It all depends on timing as well. If you are late, you have to camp at someone else’s place and it is an unnecessary expense,” Lepcha said.
According to Bhutia, the “permanent” footbridge is a great alternative for the residents to use, as it is it is 200-meters long and is high enough “to not be affected by the rising river levels.”
“The permanent bridge is upcoming in Kayam village, and is being constructed by a private company. We hope it will be completed within this year, provided there is no problem. If the permanent bridge is constructed, then we will not need the temporary bridge,” Bhutia added.
Government authorities, specifically the roads and bridges department, have been manning and constructing the bridges — the permanent bridge, which is scheduled to come up by the end of the year and the temporary bridge, which got washed away, as well as the upcoming footbridge.