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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