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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