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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