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.

Share this article on:

The True Monarch

The dawn of November 11, 1955

A nation celebrated the birth of its future king

An assurance of yet another generation of unprecedented leadership

Continuance of a legacy of monarchs in the true service of the people

The nation was overjoyed; their future secured.

Today, over thirty years since His accession to the Golden Throne

The legacy of the glorious Drukpa still lives on.

 

I cried, Your Majesty, even as a man I cried

(And I am not ashamed of my tears)

I cried to see You abdicate in favor of Your worthy heir

A son of a lion will always be a lion, no doubt

But a simple tribute I had to pay

For the future we are yet to see, the past stands witness to our admiration

When time comes, I shall not regret to cry again-of course!

 

I saw, Your Majesty, I saw You as a true monarch of the people

Genuine kindness and compassion! Gods are not only in heaven!

My eyes are not divine yet I saw,

I saw and I felt, I felt the joy of serving

I bow to you, for that’s the least I can do

I bow to Your magnanimity.

 

A promise I make, Your Majesty, a promise I shall keep

I promise to work, to work with integrity, to work with inspiration

To work with dedication and to work for a purpose

The purpose-realization of Your vision of Gross National Happiness

If for that my little efforts can contribute, even a trifle

I promise to work with sincerity

A Bhutan You visualized, I pray, will be a Bhutan that the future Bhutanese will live in

 

We are at the threshold of a new era

An era reluctantly accepted by the people of Bhutan

Will not the unprecedented peace and happiness we enjoyed

Become a fairytale of the past? Many wonder…

My dear fellow Bhutanese, the past was glorious

The future lies in our hands

Let us join hands to make His Majesty proud of us, as much as we are proud of Him

 

History, my dear friends, history will tell…

History will tell of a King who served and not ruled

History will tell of a King who listened and not commanded

History will tell of a King who led and not directed

And this history perhaps might repeat once in a million years!

 

Dear gods in the realms of heaven

My deepest respects and reverence

My lord, were I to live my life all over again

I should like it just as I have done

Neither do I complain of the past

Nor do I fear the future

Yet a small wish a beg of thee

That the dragon Kings continue to guide us

And that the glorious Palden Drukpa continues to shine

That’s all I ask thee, My Lord, that’s all I ask thee

 

(The above is a poem I had written in 2008 and published by Tarayana Foundation in the book “Jewel of Men”- compilation of poems dedicated to His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, on the occasion of the Coronation and Centenary Celebrations. )

Share this article on: