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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