Years ago, a friend offered me this rather queer kind of logic. He told me that it is not a crime to commit a crime but being caught in the act. The thought of this rather uncommon logic came to mind because I am rummaging through old newspapers and for the life of me, I cannot find a single report on tobacco related arrests in the past many weeks. So what happened? Has the Tobacco Control Act finally broken the backs of the smugglers and the delinquent smokers?
Or, have they all turned into smart criminals?
While on the subject of criminals turning smart, another thought comes to mind - that of the government’s proposal to construct the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass: please notice that I am calling it a by-pass and not a highway because we already have a national highway and do not need an additional one. The proposed road is said to be passing through the core tiger conservation area and cutting right across our world famous Biological Corridor which we have proudly called “Gift to the Earth from Bhutan”.
Key to my support for the Tobacco Control Act was for the need for strong laws and even stronger will to enforce those laws. It wasn’t about the need to ban tobacco consumption, as some have mistakenly misunderstood. But should the government go ahead and build that road across the wilderness that is home to some of the rarest wildlife species in the world, I would say that the spirit of the Tobacco Control Act would have been broken.
I am told that there are a number of laws and by-laws that prohibit construction of any kind within the protected areas of the park systems of Bhutan. Unless those laws are first repealed, how can the construction of the by-pass go ahead? No amount of justification, humanitarian or otherwise, can condone the breaking of a law. In particular, it would be foolish for the central government to be seen to be doing so. On the other hand, it does not seem like it is justifiable that such an expensive road, both in monetary as well as environmental terms, is warranted merely on the grounds that the people from Lhuntse Dzongkhag has the urge to get to Thimphu in a hurry. The government must bear in mind that while it seems to be eager to extend the luxury of an exclusive by-bass to the people of Lhuntse, people in other Dzongkhags lack basic necessities such as piped drinking water, farm roads and proper school facilities.
No doubt environmental conservation cannot come at the cost of human progress and livelihood. But from all accounts, the environmental damage that will be caused by the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass is likely to far outweigh the benefits that will accrue to the people of Lhuntse. People may offer a host of reasons why the road must be constructed, but all of them will pale against the argument that this by-pass is not critical and is unnecessary and just too expensive for the purpose it is proposed.
And what of our reputation as a champion of environmental conservation? How do we explain this irresponsibility to our many donor agencies that pumped in millions of Ngultrums to help us create the Biological Corridor and the conservation initiatives that have been put into place? How do we hope to justify the saving of 1-2 hours of driving time over the dismantling of a conservation effort that is a shinning example of our commitment to conservation?