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Sem Gi Zhidhey-“You can fool the world but not yourself”

14494608_10154549838208350_7994598178136678627_nHaving spent four memorable years at Motithang Higher Secondary School from 1997-2000, I have much to be thankful for; to the school and to the teachers. Luckily my wife, Lhaki Dolma, had also studied there in 1996 so I could rope her in as well! We are glad we have been able to do this for our Alma Mater.

What actually began as a casual conversation between the very able and energetic Principal, Madam Jikme Choden, and us during the School Foundation Day last April resulted in fruition last evening. Given the want of time, having to manage a full time job and a family, we decided to re-direct the dzongkha adaptation “Thrimsung Zhibche” based on J B Preistley’s “An Inspector Calls”, first directed by my teacher Mr. Aninda Chatterji, in 2005, wherein I had also played a

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Courtesy: Kuensel

role. Much of the themes and content though had to be tweaked to suit and reflect the present scenario and issues affecting our society today. And use of technology thanks to my good friend Pema Gyamtsho and sound from Krishna Supersonic Services were superb and added much to the value of the show. But without a reference, it would definitely have not been possible to do this within a short span of time. So a big thank you to everyone involved than. I tried to get all the old casts to come and watch the show but most couldn’t make it and some skipped my mind. I guess I have grown old since!

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It was an honor to have Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck grace the show as the Chief Guest. In attendance were also the Hon’be Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, senior government officials, alumnis, parents, teachers and students.

The play revolves around several themes that affect our society today from politics to youth issues to growing number of suicide cases. But the most important of all is that “the world is a stage and we are mere actors”. Only we ourselves know the real character within. It is important to look at oneself periodically and see if we are able to look at oneself in the eye with no guilt or shame. We can perhaps fool the world but we cannot fool ourselves.

It was a great learning experience for me and Lhaki. And we are still in awe of the amazing talents our students possess. Save a few critical areas, the whole project was managed by the students themselves and in a very short time. And of course on a shoestring budget.

A big thank you and congratulations to the cast and crew. You all were superb! Thank you to Madam Principal, VPs Madam Tshering Zangmo T and Lopen Pema Wangchuk; Lopens Sonam Jorden and Karma Gayley and all those who were involved for your tremendous support and input. There is only so much the schools and teachers can do, given their workload, and I think it is important for parents, alumnis and community members to contribute as well. The schools are where we groom our future generations and the quality of education and values that we provide in the schools will perhaps reflect the quality of our future.

Enjoy some scenes from the play.

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Bhutan, quo vadis?

I know many of you must be wondering what quo vadis stands for. But for the moment, let us forget about it. I know it instills a sense of inquisitiveness, that’s fine.

A few sequences of events propel me to put forth the following for discussion. First is the blanket rule born out of the annual conference of cultural officers (though we know they are mere scapegoats) that directs our women folks to wear only ada rachus hence forth, purportedly to prevent dilution of culture and also to provide a clear distinction between the royals and the common folks. This makes very little sense to me.

First, on the dilution of culture: If everything that has evolved out of creativity of the artisans and enhanced economic conditions of the society is considered dilution of culture, then we might as well stick to wearing nettle fiber clothes, walking barefoot and abolish riding cars et al. The list would be endless and it would only throw us back in time. Culture perhaps survives in two scenarios. One, in an absolute dictatorship where people have no choice but to abide by the orders; other, when it is vibrant and dynamic. Prior to 2008, we were an absolute monarchy yet our beloved monarchs were revered more than feared for they cared for the people. Post 2008, we are supposedly a democracy yet today governance is borne more out of fear of repercussions than of duty, respect and reverence.  What is preferable and what must or must not last, we must decide as a society.

Second, to create clear distinction between the royal and the commoners: The true distinction I believe is in the blood and not in the clothes we wear. There is already a clear distinction in terms of color, size or the way it is worn. I see no urgency why it has to be further reinforced, apart from sycophancy. The other day, in Punakha, at the naming ceremony of our beloved Gyalsey, our King was dressed in a plain sertha namza whereas our Prime Minister had worn an intricate lungserm shinglochem and I had no difficulty identifying the King! If not anything, I see this dictate as a great disservice to our Royals who always made us feel part of the larger Bhutanese family.

What disturbs me more, however, is that there are very few voices of dissent from among the women folks themselves or organizations that represent them. Is this a sign of a society of subservience? Almost everyone I have heard or talked to is unhappy with this abrupt rule yet hardly anybody would like to object it publicly. This is the kind of democracy we have created because voices of dissent are often always construed as anti-establishment or even worse, anti-national. This is a dangerous precedent.

Monarchy is the most important institution in our country. It is the most respected and most revered for obvious reasons stated above. Any attempt to discredit this institution, knowingly or unknowingly, should be seen as a serious threat to the sacred institution as well as to the nation. Politicians will come and go but we remain in solace under the hope that our Monarchs will always be there to lead the way and serve reminders if we sway. I see two types of threats in the present scenario; one that threatens the institution from the outside. This is the one that is visible and can be externally controlled. The other is the one that lives inside and sucks on the blood. This is more catastrophic. Yet both are disastrous.

The other rule that I cannot comprehend is disallowing filming only beyond 200 meters of any dzongs or monasteries. I agree we need clear rules and guidelines. I agree we need to preserve the sanctity of certain portions of our dzongs and monasteries. I agree some of the players must have breached the instructions but that doesn’t mean we throw in a blanket rule. Putting every youth in prison for the fear of youth related crimes or building concrete walls around chortens to avoid chorten vandalism would not be prudent decisions even if they help solve the problems. The first task for the Dzongdas now would be to demarcate the 200 meter boundary to ensure that filmmakers don’t shoot from 199 meters out of ignorance. Films are powerful mediums and they help document our culture and traditions for posterity. If only we had a camera back then, we would have a picture of Desi Jigme Namgyel today. If only we had cameras then it would be easier to replicate the interiors of Drukgyal Dzong as we take on the gigantic task of rebuilding it. Look at how much we cherish old pictures and videos today because they give us perspectives of our past. Is Jigme Namgyel revered more because we don’t have a picture or is Ugyen Wangchuck revered less because we have his pictures? Would it be considered disrespectful if a filmmaker created a replica of the interiors of the Kuenray of Punakha Dzong and put in a pole dance sequence? Is the sanctity restricted to the Dzong itself or even applied to its replicas or artistic re-creations? An explanation from the relevant authorities would help so that people don’t fall prey out of naivety.

I am not despising nor condemning anyone or any institution, all I am insinuating is that we must all stake a claim in the kind of society that we aspire to build, the kind of future we dream and the kind of legacy that we want to leave behind. The role of state building, cultural preservation and patriotism are not a monopoly of the few powerful individuals or those in authority. It’s a duty of every Bhutanese like you and me.

Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase meaning “where are you going?” And indeed it’s time to ask Bhutan and the Bhutanese, where are we going?

 

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10 Rules For Getting Guaranteed Promotion Without Any Hard Work

1. Never walk without a document in your hands

People with documents in their hand look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they’re heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.

2. Use computers to look busy

Any time you use a computer, it looks like “work” to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal e-mail, chat and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren’t exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they’re not bad either. When you get caught by your boss – and you *will* get caught — your best defense is to claim you’re teaching yourself to use new software, thus saving valuable training dollars.

3. Messy desk

Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us, it looks like we’re not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer, last year’s work looks the same as today’s work; it’s volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your cubicle, bury the document you’ll need halfway down in an existing stack and rummage for it when he/she arrives.

4. Voice Mail

Never answers your phone if you have voice mail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing – they call because they want YOU to do work for THEM. That’s no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they’re not there – it looks like you’re hardworking and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel.

5. Looking Impatient and Annoyed

According to George Costanza, one should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.

6. Leave the Office Late

Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important emails at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35pm, 7:05am, etc.) and during public holidays.

7. Creative Sighing for Effect

Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.

8. Stacking Strategy

It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc. (thick computer manuals are the best).

9. Build Vocabulary

Read up on some computer magazines and pick out all the jargon and new products. Use the phrases freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember: They don’t have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.

10. MOST IMPORTANT!!!:

DON’T forward this to your boss by mistake!!!

Source: Internet

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Road must go to poor Lhuentse

A group has been created in the popular social networking site Facebook inviting users to ‘like’ the page titled ‘Stop the construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan road, Bhutan’. The page was yet to gain supporters at the time of writing this article, but it was surely anti-development. Conservation is a broad topic often ridden with conflicts, and the pains of conservation are often borne by the vulnerable people.

What should Bhutan prioritise? The tiger or the road? The panda or poverty? Is it the science or sentimentality that made people voice their opposition on the Facebook?

Digital explorer, Oliver Steeds, in his documentary titled ‘Conservation’s dirty secrets’ says, conservation work is undeniably complex, riddled with contradictions and competition but fundamentally it is underpinned by our own relationships to nature. We’re the cause and we can be the effect. Turn on our TVs and the natural world is often presented either as pristine or through an anthropomorphized looking glass – and that kind of makes sense. We need to love nature before we will want to conserve it. But we shouldn’t be deluded from what is really happening.” The documentary examines the way the big conservation charities are run. It questions why some work with polluting big businesses to raise money and are alienating the very people they would need to stem the loss of species from earth.

Research shows that conversation NGOs are one of the highest profit making organizations in the West. Let us look at the scenario in Bhutan. People who lived within or around the so-called protected areas generally led a simple life and have been able to conserve the resources of the region they inhabited. Their wants were limited to what the nature provided them. Their technology was simple. However, their scenario changed dramatically once they came in contact with culturally and technologically advanced people who promised them materialistic hopes in the name of conservation. They were denied access to their traditional habitats. Laws on the ownership of the land and forests were framed and many of the forests in Bhutan were declared as protected areas and reserved. People were denied access to their traditional way of life though they had been living there for ages.

Whatever reserved or conserved were figuratively and literally kept for future use but their rightful owner were denied access to them. In some parts of the park corridors, people were provided CGI sheets to replace their traditional wooden singles. It is ironic that the very organization that supplied or supported the purchase of CGI sheets to the people in park area in Bhutan are encouraging pollution and exploitation of nature in other parts of the world, mining ore for tin.

The prime minister rightly said that “the new ethics of environment conservation propagates the concept of poverty reduction strategy as part of the regular planning and management of protected areas… it is about living in harmony with nature through mutual protection of each other and not choosing one over the other. The rising human-wildlife conflict among others, he said, was a manifestation of Bhutan’s conservation efforts.” What did the so-called conservationists and ecological society do to address human-wildlife conflict in Bhutan? It is hardly right to say the wild animals started coming out to the farms because their habitats were disturbed, at least in Bhutan, because the forest cover has increased in the last one decade and Bhutan has been rewarded for it. What did these groups do to stop citizens of Samrang Gewog in Samdrupjongkhar leaving their village in fear of wild animal’s attack to their property and life? What did they do to address increasing human-wildlife conflict across the country?

Development is important and citizens around the country have the right to development like road, electricity, and drinking water. Conservationists may one day say that all spring water in the protected areas is for the tigers and humans cannot use it. The proposed road reduces the distance between Bumthang and Lhuentse and between Lhuentse and other eastern dzongkhags. Conservationists should also note that when the travel distance is shortened, the emission from the vehicles is less.

The government’s recent decision to go ahead with the construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan road may raise some environmental concerns but development must be taken to poverty-stricken places like Lhuentse. The new road is historically significant. Shingkhar- Gorgan route was once used by Jigme Namgyal to travel between Dungkar and Bumthang.

Rabi C Dahal is a Reporter of

Bhutan Observer pursuing his

Master’s in Australia.

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Shingkhar-Gorgan Road V

(Discussion on People’s Voice on BBS)

I completely agree with the Executive Director of RSPN, Dr. Lam Dorji that we cannot and should not override a standing law. If need be, amend the law first. In a democracy, the Rule of law is very important and it must be supreme over the authority of any individual or government. Laws must be dynamic yet it should not be easy to amend at the whim and fancy of any government. That is why we also have the opposition and the national council. Exhaustive discussions, debates and research must culminate into sensible and practical laws and there should be proper procedures and modalities to amend the law to suit the changing times. With regard to this road, if there is a contradiction with the Law, I would like to urge the government to first amend the law. No doubt the road is a necessity but let us not override the law. It is historic and significant that the government and the opposition both support this road and therefore should not be difficult to amend the law. So far, many of us complained that the opposition was only opposing to any initiative taken by the government. Now let’s not say the opposition is not opposing.

I also agree with Mr. Dago from RSPN again that if there are any alternatives to avoid constructing the road through the so called core zone, the government should explore. The fact that the government is willing to work with the environment agencies and NGOs is in itself a strong indication of the importance the government confers on the cause of the environment. The government is requesting all these concerned agencies to come forward and help in setting a trend to construct eco-friendly roads. I would see this as a big opportunity to contribute to the nation and revolutionize the way we built roads. As I said before, this is not the last road that we will built, there will be many more. If our environmentalists have supposedly spent a lot of time carrying out research in that area, they should probably suggest some alternative routes, if any.

However, I don’t agree with my MP Dasho Karma Rangdol’s argument that we should built the road because people want it and that the government should do what the people want. There is no limit to what we want. It is the government’s responsibility to weigh the pros and cons and then decide whether it is a basic necessity. How does it fit with the priorities of the government? That’s why we elect leaders.

Mrs. Thinley Choden from the Forest Department raised two points. One, we are taking poachers closer to the tigers. Two, we are depriving the people of Sengor and Thridangbi of their income. First one the PM already answered in his video interview. What if a poacher goes into this core zone and camps there for a few days and kills all our tigers? How will we monitor? As it is, we are always complaining about shortage of staff. The road will in fact facilitate to monitor the area better. With regard to the second point, Mr. Dawa, the moderator, asked a pertinent question. How about people of Tsimasham who are affected by the Chukha-Damchu bypass? How about people of Zhemgang affected by the Gomphu-Panbang road? And more so places like Sengor and Thridangbi have benefitted so far at the cost of rest of the people. Isn’t it time that we do something for the other section that has been neglected for long? And we are also not taking away their road.

Somebody probably from the Thrumshingla park management provided some statistics on how the park has helped the communities through the integrated conservation management program. He said CGI sheets were provided and fertilizers were distributed for free. Distributing CGI sheets is a hypocritical and debatable initiative. “It is ironic that the very organizations that supplied or supported the purchase of CGI sheets to the people in park area in Bhutan are encouraging pollution and exploitation of nature in other parts of the world, mining ore for tin”. There is also a Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. We should explore more holistic approaches than a onetime measure. I ask once again, if we have pumped in a lot of money in that area as claimed, why are people still in dire poverty? Where is the benefit? Where is the result?

Ironically, most of our poverty stricken people live around some of our parks, based on their geographic location on the map. People in Lhuentse and Mongar around the Thrumshingla National Park, people in Zhemgang and Kheng regions in Mongar around Jigme Dorji National Park and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. Isn’t it worth a thought? Are we reaping the benefits from conservation at the cost of the very people who owned and lived in harmony with nature in these areas for ages? Why are our efforts in conservation in these remote areas relatively more successful? It is because our rural folks trust our “dashos” from the government. But what have we given them in return?

I am also disheartened to learn that the road has been downgraded to a farm road. I agree that farm roads are expensive to maintain and not always built in an eco-friendly manner. I also agree with Dasho Paljor J. Dorji that if it is to remain as a farm road, it serves no purpose and doesn’t justify the money spent and the damage to the environment. It will not be pliable for small cars and tourist buses. But the idea is to upgrade to a National Highway and the construction is to be undertaken by the Department of Roads as a special case. So given our financial constraints, perhaps it is right to go with a farm road to start with but if the intention is to leave it at that, than I urge the government not to build it in the first place. But the intention is clear that it will be upgraded to a National Highway at the earliest.

Another member of the audience also said that eastern Bhutan would benefit from tourism through the helipad at Yonphula. Well, reasonably it will not benefit Lhuentse much. Lhuentse is more than 200 kms of grueling drive from Yonphula. Perhaps Lhuentse can boast to be the most remote and inaccessible district even after being centrally located in terms of geography. Our “little Bhutan” within Bhutan in blissful isolation like we were a few decades ago.

In principle, everyone agreed that the road is going to be of immense benefit to the poor people. The bone of contention was the law and that it falls on the core zone. The way forward, in my opinion, is to first amend the law and meanwhile look for alternative routes if any to avoid the core zone. But, definitely, there is no second thought on whether we need the road or not.

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Shingkhar-Gorgan Road IV

The fact is we cannot stop development. We will always be faced with this dilemma of environment vs. development for eons to come.  And perhaps environment concerns will be protected when the victims are a voiceless community and perhaps these very concerns will pale if opposed by money and power. Whatever it is, we cannot deny a fair share of development to our common people.

The solution to preserving and protecting the environment is not in being anti-development but a development mindful of environment concerns.  Roads are the backbone of the economy and development. So are mining and industries. What is important now is to have in place appropriate and sensible laws guiding the operations of these activities and ensure that provisions of the acts are adhered to without any excuses. When a road is built, ensure that eco-friendly measures are put in place and more so that they are implemented. It may cost a little more now but it will definitely be worth it in the long run. Inculcate in the people a sense of care and concern for the environment because we definitely need a concerted effort from all sections of the people. If people have no sense of waste management, if people illegally fell more and more trees, an effort from a handful of our people will not be enough.

But sometimes the government confuses me. A case in point is the mining at Bjemina.  At one point they were seriously concerned about the damage caused to the environment and the health of the people in the locality. There was also news in the media that crops were damaged.  It is imperative that mining is hazardous to the environment if not done responsibly. As I said before what is important is to monitor these businesses in line with the appropriate laws but agencies responsible for monitoring are more or less defunct. But now the government goes ahead and approves two more operations in that area. It is as if like saying; well if we cannot protect lets destroy it together!

Coming back to the Shingkhar-Gorgan road; if Lhuntse had a road that rivals any dzongkhag, why is it that almost 50% of its people live under the poverty line? Why is it that even after being centrally located in terms of geography, it is one of the remotest both from the capital and also from the southern border from where everything has to be brought in? Even for the government, it costs more to do anything in Lhuentse. Someone mentioned about the Gyalposhing-Nganglam road and how it will benefit Lhuentse. He claims that what is important is to connect a place to the southern border from where everything comes in. Well I agree but for people to bring in everything from the southern border don’t they need an income to be able to buy the basic commodities? Unless the government distributes free of cost and people just have to go and collect it.

When it comes to availability of funds, the fact that the government has committed to build the road indicates that they have the money or at least they know where it will come from. I don’t know if the government would be so foolish to commit something without knowing how to fund it.

I don’t care much about pleasing the world when you can’t guarantee a decent livelihood for our own people. A few hundred thousand dollars from a global environment agency is not worth the lives of our people.  Why are we the scapegoat? They cannot experiment and dictate to us what they have failed in their own lands. Why do we have to impress the world? Impress the world at the cost of our own poor people so that our environmentalists can get some more trips abroad to boast about our achievements oblivious of ground realities at home?

I would like to earnestly request our environmentalists to come up with a strategy to resolve the human wildlife conflict. People are either killed or threatened, houses destroyed, crops destroyed; threatening the very survival of people in some areas and our officials happily compensate them a few thousand ngultrums and expect them to return to normalcy. I tell you I will pay a 100 times more or 1000 times more, will these officials or will you or I be willing to swap places with them? Poverty is a reality. For us our concern is whether we get balanced diet, if the paints in the apartment are not toxic, is the floor clean? But for these people, they have no decent roof over their head, the earth is their luxurious floor, when they eat in the morning they are not sure if they will have their lunch or dinner. Such is the plight of these people.

A friend of mine asked what will happen to our GNH if we build the road. While environment is one pillar of GNH, so is economic development. As per the constitution, the country’s resources belong to the people of Bhutan not just to the urban people, not just to the industrialists, not just to the people with money and power. GNH means the collective happiness of the nation and its people in harmony with the nature. When a quarter of our people are in dire poverty, how do we achieve GNH by protecting a section of our environment? A GNH society in my vision is a society with collective responsibility and values, towards oneself and others. But a simple vision of GNH propounded by our beloved king has now become too complex and beyond the comprehension and interpretation of our common people.

In terms of the country’s economy, while mega projects are important too, I feel it is the cottage industries and the small and medium sized industries which will have real benefit to our real people. Big industries only benefit a few industrialists. If we do more, we will again make them richer because only they can put in more money. We only create masters and servants then. And if these industries close down, hundreds of lives are affected. Cottage industries are either family owned or a community owned. It revitalizes community living but without a road they cannot market their products. If we really want to act now let us start new, assess where we have failed, and weigh them against the benefits to the people. I assure you this road will feature very high in the list. Yes we need big industries too to boost our GDP but did we not say GNH is more important than GDP? Or are we confused ourselves?

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Shingkhar-Gorgan Road III

Agreed. Roads to Merak, Sakteng, Gasa and Laya are happening for the first time. But so is the Shingkhar-Gorgan road happening for the first time for the gewogs of Metsho and Jarey, two of the poorest gewogs under Lhuentse district. And I marvel at how you confidently proclaim without any basis that the other roads will be cheaper. And even if it is cheaper the other roads just benefit a community of a few thousand, while the Shingkhar-Gorgan road benefit the whole of Lhuntse, Trashi Yangtse and even the other eastern dzongkhags. Roads, everywhere, are “basic necessities”. I challenge you, it might cost more to built a road to Jarey and Metsho gewogs connecting from the present Lhuntse road and ultimately benefit only these two communities while Shingkhar Gorgan road will not only benefit these two gewogs but the whole of eastern Bhutan. If Jarey and Metsho are gewogs, so are Merak, Sakteng and Laya. Everyone will and should get a fair share of development but everything cannot happen at the same time.

Yes I agree we shouldn’t be stuck talking about the past but what guarantee is there that these environmentalists have really woken up? Maybe they are just shouting in their dreams and then go back to sleep again. And in the process jeopardize an important development project. Stopping a project to protect the environment is like putting everyone in jail to stop crime! Close the roads to stop traffic jams! No! Instead, built the road and in the process put all you have learnt, share your expertise with the government, work as partners. Fortunately, there are enough mistakes to learn from! Our environmentalists are supposedly super trained and super exposed. As per RAA report, they are the ones who have availed most training and travel abroad. Isn’t it time and opportune that they now put their skills at work? Sacrifice a few trainings abroad and visit the construction site as frequently as possible. Advise the government. Point out the flaws. Offer solutions.

Agreed that the humble dwellings of our Kings are a matter of choice and not compulsion. Agreed that it is precisely for this reason that our monarchs are held in such high esteem and reverence. But when were our ministers deprived of that choice? You talk as if the only other choice apart from a mansion is a hut or a bagho! Are ministers barred from being held in high esteem and reverence?

And I am marveled that a decent dwelling for our donors and the SAARC leaders is something over and beyond the Taj, Aman and the tourist standard hotels! A decent meal is a seven course meal in the Taj and Aman! The only other option being kharang and joktang or a delicacy all the way from Lhuenste! Wow! If this be the case, I pray that we don’t have to organize another high level meet here lest we land up building a mansion each for the MPs as well!

As citizens we don’t dictate the government what to do and what not to do. If things don’t go right, it is not you or me who will be held accountable. At best, if things don’t go well, we would be more than happy to criticize again. Our responsibility is to suggest and not to impose. After consulting and taking in views from all sections, it is up to the government to take the decision which, in its view, is the best. If the government takes an arbitrary decision all together, yes then we have the right to question. If the proposed plan makes no sense at all, then we have the right. If it benefits only a few industrialists and upper class, then we have the right. But in this case government has been very forthcoming to views and suggestions, requesting environmentalists to come forward to work together and that too to uplift the lives of thousands of people who live in poverty.

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Shingkhar-Gorgan Road II

Dear Sir,

Actually until late I have not been totally passionate in support of the road. But what has prompted me to respond is because many of the environmentalists seem to be vehemently against the road when there are ample examples of how they have failed to perform their duties in the past.

Yes I agree with your example of how we have failed to consider the environment impact while doing the Thimphu-Paro highway. But what were our environmentalists doing then? Did they just wake up to protest against the Shingkhar-Gorgan road? What was our apex organization like the NEC who seems to be now very deeply concerned? Where were they when roads everywhere where built ad-hoc without environment clearances, especially the farm roads? What are they doing when illegal mining is rampant causing irreparable damage to the environment? What are they doing to tackle pollution in the industrial area of Pasakha? There is not even a proper water treatment system at the Olakha workshop area. What are we doing to combat illegal felling of trees which seems to be a very organized and rampant business? Where were our environmentalists when BBC falsely claimed to have sighted tigers for the first time in Bhutan? Was there no rule, no law then? Whether the contractors will follow or not is totally irrelevant. They are business people and they may not but what are the mandates of our monitoring and implementing agencies?

There is a road being built to Merak Sakteng, a road to Gasa and Laya. The road to Merak Sakteng will only benefit about the 1000 inhabitants there and to Gasa about 3000. I am sure they come at very heavy cost too. The road to Gasa will then be continued towards Laya to benefit about 800 people there. But I am not saying they don’t deserve or that their economic prospects don’t befit them of a road. They definitely need to be connected. We cannot expect our rural folks to live in poverty to showcase to our western world and claim to have GNH when every rule is being broken to suit the urban needs and demands of industrialists. From central and southern dzongkhags, let me pull out Zhemgang and Samtse, two of the poorest dzongkhags again. Zhemgang will benefit from the Gomphu-Panbang road on the southern Bhutan east west highway. This highway will also pass through Royal Manas National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. A road to connect Samtse with Phuntsholing is being constructed within Bhutan. Almost the whole of Gasa Dzongkhag is under the Jigme Dorji National Park and almost the whole of Merak Sakteng under Sakteng wildlife Sanctuary. The fact is almost the whole of Bhutan is either a park, wildlife sanctuary or a biological corridor! There is nothing heavenly in Lhuentsi in comparison to this dzongkhags except for some of the most sacred baeyuls or hidden lands blessed by Guru Rinpoche such as Singye Dzong, Khenpajong, Phuning la, Rinchen Bumpa etc. The fate of the people there is no less or no better than many of our people around Bhutan who live in poverty.

And I have mentioned and it is apparent that the road will not only benefit Lhuentsi but will be extended towards Trashi Yangtsi which will reduce the travel to Yangtsi even more than Lhuentsi. The travel time to eastern Bhutan is cut by 30 kilometers. And unless you have proper statistics, I don’t think it’s reasonable on your part to hike up the cost of the road from Nu. 850 million to a staggering Nu. 3000 million.

Yes I also agree Chukha-Damchu bypass would carry 200 times more vehicular traffic. Perhaps with the bypass, maybe even 300% or 500%. So when there is proper infrastructure there will be more investment and definitely more vehicular traffic. Well yes the government of India is funding but where the budget should be allocated is as per recommendations of our government. If we want we could easily divert it to more pressing issues like you said.  Indian government in the 10th plan has a grant of 20 billion ngultrums the usage and allocation of which is to be determined by the Royal Government of Bhutan. It doesn’t come with instructions to specifically spend it for the Chukha-Damchu bypass.

Well yes, we have spent Nu. 450 million on the ministerial enclave and I don’t buy the idea that it served its purpose for the SAARC summit. I would have very much liked our SAARC leaders to experience the true Bhutan than to be given a false impression. We had to go to the extent of importing doors and windows from Malaysia, furnishing each mansions cost millions to the government. I don’t know if our SAARC leaders noted the irony that our Kings live in humble dwellings while our Ministers very conveniently built mansions for themselves in the name of SAARC summit. And this is also probably one reason why our donors are planning to phase out because they meet our Ministers in their mansions and not our common people in their huts. They dine in the Taj and Aman over a seven course meals and not a meager meal of kharang and joktang.

The Hon. Prime Minister on BBS yesterday said, “We will make sure that both the human and wildlife coexist and benefit from each other” and that “all concerned environmental agencies like NEC, WWF, RSPN will be invited to give their input and opinions on Shingkhar – Gorgan road. We need to know what is there and how the highway will affect those species. But the road is a necessity”. Now let us hold the Prime Minister responsible. Let us hold the government responsible and let us hold these environment agencies responsible to ensure that measures put in place.

Thank you.

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Shingkhar-Gorgan Road

Lhuentse dzongkhag is considered as one of the remotest and least developed regions in the country.  43% of the total population of about 27,000 live under the poverty line. Rural electrification coverage is only 68.42%.

The contention that the road is not justifiable considering the economic potential of Lhuentse dzongkhag is totally naïve.  You have stated yourself that there should be requisite infrastructure in place to stimulate economic growth and thus determine the economic potential of a region. Everything depends on the road;  the fact that no economic potential has been identified, the fact that 43% of its population live under the poverty line, the fact that only 68.42% of the households are only electrified;  all boils down to its remoteness and that everything gets costlier by the time it reaches there. If we strictly and vehemently go by your “basic principles of economics and rules of investment”, the bjob and brokpa populations can never justify for any development benefits due to their remoteness and modest population, unless they decide to incessantly produce babies to increase their population! (only Intended for humor)

Your presumption that people may still like to travel by the old route is best left as a presumption.  If our leaders in the 1960s, contemplating on the need to built the first road had based their decision on such a presumption that people may still like to walk; that no one owned a car in Bhutan-not even the King; that it was going to cost an infinite amount at that time; the fact that we had no money of our own; we would have been still living in blissful isolation, just as we were centuries ago. However, where we are today is all because of the decision taken by our leaders to build the road network. Road network is the backbone of development.

And it is not only Lhuntse dzongkhag that the road will benefit.  In future, this road will connect Trashi Yangtse, another remote and least developed dzongkhag. It also cuts the distance to Mongar by about 30 kilometers so this in turn will reduce the distance to the whole of eastern Bhutan via Mongar by that much.  So it is also a concocted fact that it will only benefit people of Lhuentse; concocted to suit the justifications against doing the road.

“Does it justify spending such a huge amount of money?” Well it sure does! It is directly benefiting two of the remotest and poorest dzongkhags and partially the whole of eastern Bhutan. Eastern Bhutan in general has not reaped the benefits of economic development as much as its counterparts in western Bhutan. Living conditions of people in the east can be compared to about 10 years ago in western Bhutan.  If we can spend over Nu. 2000 million (!!!) to do the Chukha-Damchu bypass that cuts the distance between Thimphu and Phuntsholing by mere 19 kilometers, it sure does make sense to spend Nu. 850 million (or 2000 million if you like with all your factors contributing to increase in cost) that cuts the distance to Lhuentse by 100 kilometers, much more to Trashi Yangtse, and rest of eastern Bhutan by 30 kilometers. It sure does make sense to spend that much and even more for the sake of the poor and neglected lot of the country. It sure does make sense if it is a crucial basis of survival for 43% of people in Lhuentse and a little less in Trashi Yangtse who are struggling under the poverty line.  If we can spend over 450 million ngultrums for the ministerial enclave, it sure does make sense. It is ironical that our ministers live in mansions while a quarter of our population is merely struggling to survive and that our Monarchs live in decent dwellings which don’t even qualify to be referred to as palaces. Even if based on bare mathematic calculations, Nu. 850 million divided by just the population of Lhuentse and Trashi Yangtse alone (approx. 50,000 people), the net expenditure is Nu. 17,000. Doesn’t it make sense to spend Nu. 17,000/- each for a section of our people who are struggling in poverty? Not to forget the generations of people of the east who will benefit. This figure doesn’t even consider the rest of the eastern dzongkhags who will also stand to benefit.

In terms of savings from fuel: if a modest 50 cars every day use the road to travel to eastern Bhutan; the mileage being 12 kmpl, fuel cost an average of Nu. 50 per litre; distance reduced is 100 kms: there will be a saving of more than Nu. 74 lakhs every year, only from fuel. This is not even considering the reduction in pollution, amount of time saved, expenses on wear and tear etc! So, by this calculation, the estimated cost of Nu. 850 million is in no way exorbitant but in fact trifles compared to what has been spent for other projects far less important and crucial than this road. Please share with us where it is even more justified to spend the money.

I wouldn’t state that Lhuentse dzongkhag is more deserving than any other dzongkhag or for that matter less deserving than any other dzongkhag as well. It would be interesting to know which dzongkhag in your opinion deserves more than Lhuentse and Trashi Yangtse and why?

Your reasoning that “It is quite possible that the overall length of the road may be shortened but the driving time may actually be longer” is but again a presumption. While you have asked for figures to back up how many households the road will benefit, the net cost on each individual and so on, I don’t know if you have any data and research to support many of your own presumptuous statements such as the one above and that people may still prefer to use the old road. You rightly asked, “If that happens, how have you achieved economy and savings and reduction in emission?” Rightly so, you are saying “IF”, but what “IF” it doesn’t happen as you foresee? The “IF” applies both ways!

To quote you again: “I have already said in my post that conservation should never be a hindrance to human development and progress. We are aware that such a thing is counterproductive and thus it must never be allowed to be seen as a stumbling block. Therefore, if paddy fields need to be usurped for the larger benefit of the country and the people of Bhutan, so be it.” I agree here. But in the same vein, doesn’t it make sense now to build the road which is going to be of great economic benefit to a needy section of our people? I understand the importance and the need to preserve the environment. In fact I myself have always been a very staunch supporter of environment preservation but the pursuit of any cause should not be such that as if a slight disturbance to it would mean the end of the world. I am sure we can find a middle ground where we also get the road while environment concerns are also being taken care of. I see it more rational that we use our citizenship right and duties to ensure that eco-friendly road construction methods are put in place not only for this road but for all others as well. It is our responsibility now to make the government live up to its words to built the road in the most eco-friendly and sustainable manner as stated by the Prime Minister himself.

I think we are already doing more than our bit in preserving the environment; perhaps even more than what we can chew.  Our environment policies are way too stringent and I would appreciate some flexibility to accommodate development activities to uplift the lives of our rural population. Considering the world ecology, our efforts can hardly make any difference when the developed world hardly pays any heed to all the climate treaties. However, by this statement, I don’t mean to undermine the importance and the need to preserve our environment, but if we have to make a little sacrifice for our very own disadvantaged people, so be it. By our constitution, 60% of the country is to be maintained as a forest and that is a huge contribution to the world from a small country like ours. But today we have over 70% under forest cover.

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