Monday, September 5, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

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 Unless those laws are first repealed, how can the construction of the by-pass go ahead?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?

34 comments:

  1. When it is Democracy...people comes first Aue..
    If I was from Lhuentse...I would also say the By-pass is very much needed, but right now being from where I am I feel the Park is more important...I guess priorities are subject to changes anyways.
    Other thing is, we do have many laws and by laws but they are all subject interpretations and interpreters.
    When we are failing to take care of "youths" in the streets...why to care about animals and plants.....

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  2. Welcome back. You must have gone on a long tour this time, in to the wilderness...
    There is a lot of online protest going on against this highway construction, and I hope this nightmare does happen. Even if there wasn't a Law protecting the park there should be guilt...
    Since PM is on Facebook now, I hope those many voices have reached him.
    There must be a better way if we look for...

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  3. I support Shingkhar-Gorgan road construction. Pseudo-environmentalists are making it an issue when their actions like driving expensive SUVS, travelling abroad umpteen times in a year is causing much more carbon footprint than the construction of this very road does promise to bring down!

    Tigers cannot be used as a bargain tool over the larger welfare of the people of Lhuntse.

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  4. Hi Anonymous 1,

    I think there is a need to think globally. It is not a question of whether you are from Lhuntse or not. When an expensive undertaking with minimal benefit is considered, we need to look at the larger picture.

    In due course, you will learn that plants and animals are a part of the whole - in the cycle of life, humans, plants, animals, ice, rivers, ozone layer - all of them - they are all interdependent and draw sustenance from each other. Demise of one any one of the elements can cause disruption in the other’s wellbeing. So please remember that.

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  5. Hi Passu,

    Yea .. I have been roaming the wilderness :) but am back for sometime. I think there is not a rat’s ass of a chance that that road will ever be built. But one never knows. More importantly, it is important that the government is given a leeway to wiggle out of this madness. So, making a bit of a hullaballoo is within the scheme of things :)

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  6. Dear Anonymous 2,

    Alright, let us, for a moment, accept your contention that all those of us who are protesting against the construction of this Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass are a bunch of pseudo-environmentalists without an iota of knowledge and common sense. Let us also agree with you and rubbish the idea that the tiger has any role at all in maintaining the balance and health of our ecosystem and further agree with you that the tiger cannot be used as a bargaining tool to disregard the larger welfare of the people of Lhuntse.

    While you have rubbished the idea of the pseudo-environmentalists, you have not yet given us your argument in support of the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass. Lets hear it - what are the economic benefits of the this road. What are the added benefits this road will bring to the people of Lhuntse – over and beyond that which is being accorded by the network of roads that already exits in Lhuntse Dzongkhag.

    Please consider that by current estimates, the road will cost the country a mammoth Nu.850 million to build. By the time it is completed in about 10 years time, the cost would have escalated to over Nu.2,500 – Nu.3,000 million, after providing for inflation, appreciation of costs, cost overruns and corrupt practices etc.

    Against that backdrop, tell me: how many households in Lhuntse would the road benefit? Divide the total cost by the number of people in the entire Lhuntse Dzongkhag and tell me what will be the per head cost of that road.

    Please remember that Lhuntse Dzong is not a disconnected Dzongkahng. It already has a well developed network of roads. Also consider what is the industrial base of Lhuntse? How vigorous is the Dzongkhag’s trade and commerce activities? What does it produce that an exclusive and an expensive by-pass is needed to be built strictly for the Dzongkhag?

    What is the need to shorten the travel time from Lhuntse to Thimphu at such an exorbitant cost that the country can ill afford?

    When you are talking of using up such a huge resource of the country, you have to be able to justify why this is needed to be done in Lhuntse and not else where where the need may be even more justified.

    By the way, you may wish you know that when the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass was originally conceived in the 80’s, it was NOT so that it would benefit Lhuntse Dzongkhag. It wasn’t even because its construction would cut down travel time to and from Lhuntse. The Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass was considered because of the unstable nature of the Namling patch of road that was being a pain in the butt year after year.

    I am told that the idea was shelved because (a) at one point the road would pass a point which would be even higher than Thrumshing-La pass - thereby rendering the road unusable during the winter months as a result of icing, and (b) it would be too expensive to build and maintain the road given the starkness of the region through which the road would pass.

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  7. From Anonymous 2:

    You think that Nu. 2000-3500 million is an issue. But I challenge you to think in terms of not only the current generation of people of Lhuntse. Think about the future generations as well which the road under question is going to benefit. Multiply that by the number of hours which will be otherwise lost in traveling + petrol saved + emissions of CO & CO2 reduced + etc. If that is considered, the cost you estimated would pale in comparison to the benefit.

    On the issue of the industrial base, vitality of trade and commerce, what Lhuntse produces, etc:

    I want to believe that the very reason why you don't see any industries, why you don't see vitality of trade and commerce, and why people of Lhuntse do not produce anything be it agricultural or industrial is because it is not economical given the current road & communication network. Do you think that when a packet of salt which costs mere Nu. 5 in Thimphu costs Nu. 10 in Lhuntse, anything would be economically viable? Even if they produce anything, they have to sell it at very low prices thereby discouraging them to produce anything because the current road and communication network distances farmers from their prospective high-paying customers.

    And it is for that very purpose I believe the road in question is being proposed.

    I do not think there is any political agenda for the current Government to propose this road to Lhuntse. Lhuntse has just two constituencies which at the max is 2 MPs. Your assumption that "When you are talking of using up such a huge resource of the country, you have to be able to justify why this is needed to be done in Lhuntse and not else where where the need may be even more justified", may be WRONG!

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  8. Alright, while thinking globally, and agreeing with you on interconnectedness of everything I still don't see a larger picture in not allowing that road. I can go on with the economic benefits it would cater.
    But do you think the funds that are coming for the same park is trickling down to the "people" who are the the actual owners? I guess it is just going into those environmentalists' foreign travels, DSAs, and in their SUVs.
    Why do you think only few sections of the people need to contribute to the global welfare!

    On the contrary, conservation of environment is one of the pillars of GNH, and then we see a lot of paddy fields, being used for Govt. housing complexes...and we see there is not even a decent park for the people residing there...

    Anonymous 1

    We can also contribute gloabally by reducing carbon footprints, as some other Anon already pointed out.

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  9. Dear Anonymous 2,

    You talk as if Nu.2,500 - 3,000 million was some small change that can be dolled out without a second thought. To me, it is a huge, huge issue.

    Certainly I agree with you that Lhuntse’s present as well as future generations is deserving of our highest consideration. But even beyond environmental concerns which is still the overriding factor, building an exclusive by-pass for them goes beyond normal consideration. What you are asking for is a very special and out-of-turn consideration - something that can happen only at the cost of other, even more, deserving Dzongkhags.

    If you are going to argue that Lhungtse Dzongkhag is more deserving than other Dzongkhangs, please state your reasons. Failing that, tell us why that road is critical to the people of Lhuntse that we should ignore the basic principals of economics and rules of investment.

    I accept your argument that in order to stimulate commercial and industrial activity, we should have requisite infrastructure in place. However, setting up of infrastructure is generally based on the potential the Dzonghag has to offer. What exactly is the potential of Lhuntse Dzongkhag as of now? Even if there were potential, does it match the size and scope of the investment we are talking of? Is some industrial or agricultural revolution being planned there that we are not aware of? It cannot be that such a huge investment is sought for by the people of Lhuntse merely to reduce the price of salt from Nu.10.00 per Kg. to Nu. 5.00 per Kg.

    The reduction in emissions of CO & CO2 that will be afforded by the reduced length of road is something I can accept. However, the reduction is directly related to the size and type of vehicular traffic that the road is expected to carry. But as of now, we are not even sure if the by-pass will be the preferred road that the people will use in preference to the existing road. From what I hear, the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will pass through some seriously treacherous geography. It is quite possible that the overall length of the road may be shortened but the driving time may actually be longer. If that happens, how have you archived economy and savings and reduction in emission?

    By the way, I wasn’t hinting at political agenda. You surely must be aware that there are other agendas that can be brought to bear on the government.

    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 counter productive 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 do not understand why you begrudge the poor environmentalists their foreign travels and their DSAs and their SUVs. They serve their different purposes, as do the carpet beggars and the Maruti Altos and the Atlas bicycles.

    When the entire environment is ravaged beyond repair, reducing carbon footprint seems like a foolhardy thing to do.

    By the way, everything is subject to change. At some time in the future, it may happen that Lhuntse Dzongkhag may show some real potential. It will be then time for us to consider that by-pass but as of now, the potential is non-existent and thus, the country cannot afford the financial as well as the environmental burden.

    Regardless of everything, let us not loose focus of the fact that the laws that are currently in vogue do not permit the construction of this by-pass – not through the region that it is proposed.

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  10. Dear Yeshey Sir,

    While I respect your views, I hope you are open too. I have always been a fan of your photographs and of late your writings too. But in this case, I will like to argue otherwise. But I need some time. I will get back to you.

    But just to give you an idea on the cost which is presently estimated at over 800 million, let me bring to your notice that the Chukha-Damchu bypass that would cut the distance to Phuntsholing by about 19 kilometers is costing us Nu. 2000 million and your cost increase factors might take it much beyond.

    I will get back soon. Meanwhile I hope you are keeping well.

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  11. Phew...you are running out of steam. Cool down. However, on the issue of preserving environment..face it..Bhutan has some strict rules and act even the policy makers cannot follow it to the book. The rule and act was made to get donor funds and *foreign travels* but we are facing the hardship in terms of economic development.Infact this every rule and act doesnot let small and medium enterprises to grow and the very backbone of the economic development for any developing country is small and medium enterprises. There is no evidence that growth of big enterprises or giant enterprises brings economic development. It might when calculating GDP but how much is it going out to help the poorest of the poorest? Thats the reason the gap with the rich and poor is widening. (and did i just go out of topic..??? :S)

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  12. Dear Sir, while I respect your views, I would like to share my views in support of the road. The article has turned out to be quite lengthy but please bear with me.
    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 Lhuntse dzongkhag is totally na├»ve. 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!
    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.

    (continued in next post...)

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  13. (Continued...)

    However, 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 Lhuntse and Trashi Yangtse by 100 kilometers 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 are merely struggling to survive and that our Monarchs live in decent dwellings which doesn’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 Lhuntse 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.
    (continuation on next page...)

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  14. (continued...)

    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; distance reduced is 100 kms: there will be a saving of more than Nu. 74 lacs 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 manage 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.
    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 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?

    (continued on next page...)

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  15. (continued...)

    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 anything against it would mean the end of the world. I am sure we can find a middle ground where we also get the road but also ensure that minimal damage is done to the environment. As a responsible citizen, while I support the road, I will try my best to ensure that measures are taken to ensure minimal damage to the environment. I see it more rational that we use our citizenship right and duties to ensure the eco-friendly road construction methods are practiced not only for this road but for all others. 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. But by this statement I don’t mean we shouldn’t 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 cover and that is a huge contribution to the world from a small country like ours. But today we have over 70% under forest cover. Does this road reduce the forest cover below 60% in contravention of the mother of all laws, our constitution?
    But I am still a very strong fan of your photographs and your expressive writing skills.

    The end!

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  16. Dear Yeshey Sir,

    Sorry for the long article. Couldn't post in one go so had to break it up.

    I have also put it up on my blog la

    www.kuendup.com

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  17. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comprehensive comment to my post. Please do not worry about your comment being too long or in tangent to mine. Your views are as important as mine.

    I hope to be able to clarify some issues that you have quoted which I believe are out of context. I will do that tomorrow of day after .. right now I want to watch the interview of the PM which I am told the BBS is going to air in about 5 minutes from now. I don't want to miss it :)

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  18. Thank you la. I realized it is very easy to agree and drop a sweet line but very hard when you have to disagree coz in doing so you have to justify yourself.

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  19. Hi Anonymous,

    Gloating, are you?

    I just got back from Paro ... and once I am done with some work that I have to attend to, I will be happy to read through your comments once again and respond appropriately :)

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  20. No Sir. Definitely not gloating and no reason either la.

    Just a self-realization about how I found it very difficult to be responding to your article in disagreement while it was easy earlier to agree with whatever you wrote la.

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  21. Dear Anonymous 3,

    I am impressed by the volume of information you have disseminated in your comments. Either you are a fresh graduate waiting to attend your orientation course and have plenty of time in your hands, or you are as passionate about the support for the Shingkhar-Gorgan road as I am about the cause of the environment and the belief that this is one planned proposal that we can neither afford nor is needed at this time.

    Your contention that Lhuentse Dzongkhag is one of the remotest and least developed Dzongkhags can only be true if you disregard the fact that there are other Dzongkhags that are even more remote and even more poorly served. For instance, the moment you pull out Central and Southern Dzongkhags from under the carpet and compare their statistics with those of the Eastern Dzongkhags, your Lhuentse Dzongkhag will begin to sound like heaven on earth.

    You think electrification coverage of 68.42% is low? Compare it with some other Dzongkhags and you will find that it is something of a luxury! But that is digressing from the issue we are discussing.

    I bring up the issues such as economic theory and cost-benefit analysis simply because the Shingkhar-Gorgan road do not fall under the category of “meeting the basic necessities” of Lhuentse Dzongkhag. If that were so, I would say - throw the mathematics out the window and build that road. However, here we are talking of a road that would finally cost the national exchequer anywhere up to and beyond Nu.3,000 million. Do we have that kind of lose cash lying around to spend on a by-pass exclusively proposed to humor the people of Lhuentse? Even if we do, it is still unfair because there are other Dzongkhags whose basic necessities have not yet been met.

    I have not heard of Bjobs and Brokpas asking for a road costing the government a cool Nu.3,000 million. Perhaps, the Bjobs and Brokpas realize that it would be unfair on their part to ask for such a road because they know that there is no potential in their areas whatsoever, to justify such a demand.

    Comparing Damchu-Chukha by-pass to that of the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass is extraneous and misleading. Firstly, this by-pass will carry more than 200 times more vehicular traffic than the proposed Eastern by-pass. Secondly, the need for this by-pass is critical. Thirdly, the road does not pass through a restricted park area and thus does not contravene any standing laws or require any environmental clearance for its construction. Fourthly, and most importantly, the government of Bhutan does not need to scrap the bottom of the barrel to fund this project because the government of India is funding its construction.

    We spent Nu.450 million on the Ministerial Enclave? This is news to me. The last I heard, it was a gift from the people and the government of India. Not only did we not spend anything in the construction of this enclave, but the country has benefitted hugely by hosting the visiting SAARC ministers and their spouses in the ministerial bungalows. Actually, I still marvel at the astuteness of the government in hosting the SAARC summit at the same time the enclave was ready. It was a master stroke! Monumental cost savings aside, I shiver at the thought of the security and logistical nightmare the summit would have posed, had the enclave been not there.

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  22. ......... contd

    Are you kidding me about eco-friendly construction methods and practices? Look at the Thimphu-Paro highway. It is a road that was built right under our noses. Show me where such methods and practices were adopted. Do you truly believe the contractors will follow and adhere to such building practices? In the wilderness far removed from prying eyes?

    In the final analysis, my issue with the construction of this by-pass is not with the economic viability of the project. It has to do with environmental damage the road will cause, the critical tiger habitat it will destroy and the law it will break should the proposal go through. When you talk of the 70% forest coverage that we supposedly have as of this time, you have to understand what constitutes “forest coverage”. Regardless, please consider that if you keep chipping away at that 70%, tell me, how long will it last until you have to rectify that mother of all laws, the Constitution?

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  23. (From anonymous 3)

    Dear Sir,
    Actually I am neither a fresh graduate nor someone totally passionate in support of the road. But what has prompted me to respond is because many of the environmentalists seem to be vehemently against the road when there are ample examples of how they have failed to perform their duties in the past.
    Yes I agree with your example of how we have failed to consider the environment impact while doing the Thimphu-Paro highway. But what were our environmentalists doing then? Did they just wake up to protest against the Shingkhar-Gorgan road? What was our apex organization like the NEC who seems to be now very deeply concerned? Where were they when roads everywhere where built ad-hoc without environment clearances, especially the farm roads? What are they doing when illegal mining is rampant causing irreparable damage to the environment? What are they doing to tackle pollution in the industrial area of Pasakha? There is not even a proper water treatment system at the Olakha workshop area. What are we doing to combat illegal felling of trees which seems to be a very organized and rampant business? Where were our environmentalists when BBC falsely claimed to have sighted tigers for the first time in Bhutan? Was there no rule, no law then? Whether the contractors will follow or not is totally irrelevant. They are business people and they may not but what are the mandates of our monitoring and implementing agencies?
    (Continued)

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  24. (From Anon 3)
    There is a road being built to Merak Sakteng, a road to Gasa and Laya. The road to Merak Sakteng will only benefit about the 1000 inhabitants there and to Gasa about 3000. I am sure they come at very heavy cost too. The road to Gasa will then be continued towards Laya to benefit about 800 people there. But I am not saying they don’t deserve or that their economic prospects don’t befit them of a road. They definitely need to be connected. We cannot expect our rural folks to live in poverty to showcase to our western world and claim to have GNH when every rule is being broken to suit the urban needs and demands of industrialists. From central and southern dzongkhags, let me pull out Zhemgang and Samtse, two of the poorest dzongkhags again. Zhemgang will benefit from the Gomphu-Panbang road on the southern Bhutan east west highway. This highway will also pass through Royal Manas National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. A road to connect Samtse with Phuntsholing is being constructed within Bhutan. Almost the whole of Gasa Dzongkhag is under the Jigme Dorji National Park and almost the whole of Merak Sakteng under Sakteng wildlife Sanctuary. The fact is almost the whole of Bhutan is either a park, wildlife sanctuary or a biological corridor! There is nothing heavenly in Lhuentsi in comparison to this dzongkhags except for some of the most sacred baeyuls or hidden lands blessed by Guru Rinpoche such as Singye Dzong, Khenpajong, Phuning la, Rinchen Bumpa etc. The fate of the people there is no less or no better than many of our people around Bhutan who live in poverty.
    And I have mentioned time and again that the road will not only benefit Lhuentsi but will be extended towards Trashi Yangtsi which will reduce the travel to Yangtsi even more than Lhuentsi. The travel time to eastern Bhutan is cut by 30 kilometers. And unless you have proper statistics, I don’t think its reasonable on your part to hike up the cost of the road from Nu. 850 million to a staggering Nu. 3000 million.
    (Continued)

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  25. (From Anon 3)
    Yes I also agree Chukha-Damchu bypass would carry 200 times more vehicular traffic. Perhaps with the bypass, maybe even 300% or 500%. So when there is proper infrastructure there will be more investment and definitely more vehicular traffic. Well yes the government of India is funding but where the budget should be allocated is as per recommendations of our government. If we want we could easily divert it to more pressing issues like you said. Indian government in the 10th plan has a grant of 20 billion ngultrums the usage and allocation of which is to be determined by the Royal Government of Bhutan. It doesn’t come with instructions to specifically spend it for the Chukha-Damchu bypass.
    Well yes, we have spent Nu. 450 million on the ministerial enclave and I don’t buy the idea that it served its purpose for the SAARC summit. I would have very much liked our SAARC leaders to experience the true Bhutan than to be given a false impression. We had to go to the extent of importing doors and windows from Malaysia, furnishing each mansions cost millions to the government. I don’t know if our SAARC leaders noted the irony that our Kings live in humble dwellings while our Ministers very conveniently built mansions for themselves in the name of SAARC summit. And this is also probably one reason why our donors are planning to phase out because they meet our Ministers in their mansions and not our common people in their huts. They dine in the Taj and Aman over a seven course meal and not a meager meal of kharang and joktang.
    Thank you.

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  26. (From Anon 3)

    The Hon. Prime Minister on BBS yesterday said, “We will make sure that both the human and wildlife coexist and benefit from each other” and that “all concerned environmental agencies like NEC, WWF, RSPN will be invited to give their input and opinions on Shingkhar – Gorgan road. We need to know what is there and how the highway will affect those species. But the road is a necessity”. Now let us hold the Prime Minister responsible. let us hold the government responsible and let us hold these environment agencies responsible to ensure that measures put in place.

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  27. Hi Anonymous 3,

    As I said, I will support road connectivity as long as they fall under the category of “basic necessities”. Roads to Merak, Sakteng, Gasa and Laya are happening for the first time, if they are, and we cannot deprive them of this right on the grounds that the roads will cause environmental damage. It is an obligation on the part of the government to deliver this most basic service to the people of these regions. These are not super expensive by-passes.

    Seriously, are we going to be stuck talking of the past? If you look around, nothing seems to have gone right in the past. You may be right that the environmentalists had a role to play and they did not. But now that they have started to make noise, isn’t that an improvement? Are you going to shut them up, now they have begun to do their job?

    I cannot imagine talking high finance and millions of dollars of aid money over a spread of kharang and joktang. The least we can do is show a sense of appreciation by giving our donors a decent meal - atleast something that they are used to, and not make a dubious point by serving a specialty, all the way from Lhuentse.

    I think the humble dwellings of our Kings are a matter of choice and not compulsion. But it is precisely for this reason that our monarchs are held in such high esteem and reverence.

    Talking of the donors planning to phase out aid to Bhutan, trust me, if I know the politics of aid, we will continue to receive aid for sometime to come. But certainly it won’t happen by putting our ministers in huts and baghos.

    Yes I am aware of the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s views on this issue. I suspended everything to listen to both is Dzongkha as well as English interview yesterday, starting at 7.30PM and ending at 8.30PM. In fact, I have recorded the English interview - from start to finish.

    I have the highest respect for His Excellency and his oratory skills are unmatched. I can say with confidence that there is no other leader with a sense of commitment that he has. His dedication to the King and the country and the people of Bhutan is beyond doubt. But there is an inherent flaw in his assumption that the work on the road will be done as he wishes. I also do not believe that His Excellency can deliver on his commitment that “We will make sure that both the human and wildlife coexist and benefit from each other”.

    When men and animals collide, the animals suffer, all the time.

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  28. I would appreciate if you could support with some facts and figures rather than just play around with words. Mere words without facts and figures isn't suffiecient to stop a project of such magnitude. Unless you have no serious intention and only wants to create a little hullaballoo as you have claimed.

    If our Kings had the choice to live in decent dwellings, when were our ministers deprived of this choice?

    Ok maybe the environmentalists have had enough of their study tours and now would like to act. Thats terrific news. but the effort now should not be to stop a development initiative by the government. The overall mandate is to ensure that the government abides by what they have promised. Sacrifice a few trips abroad and visit this road construction as often as possible. Advice the government. (This may not apply to you. It is for our super trained environmentalists working in the government).

    It was nice debating with you though I am still not convinced by your reasons. and perhaps you are not too! How about we propose a tunnel from Thimphu to Tingtibi? perhaps thats more reasonable... haha.

    Cheers

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  29. (From Anon 3)

    OK roads to Merak, Sakteng, Gasa and laya are happening for the first time. Agreed. So is the Shingkhar-Gorgan road happening for the first time for the gewogs of Metsho and Jarey, two of the poorest gewogs under Lhuenste district. And I marvel at how you confidently proclaim without any basis that the other roads will be cheaper. And even if it is cheaper the other roads just benefit a community of a few thousand while the Shingkhar-Gorgan road benefit the whole of Lhuntse, Trashi Yangtse and even the other eastern dzongkhags. Roads, everywhere are “basic necessities”. I challenge you it might cost more to built a road to jarey and metsho gewogs connecting from the present Lhuntse road and ultimately benefit only these two communities while Shingkhar Gorgan road will not only benefit these two gewogs but the whole of eastern Bhutan. If Jarey and metsho are gewogs, so are Merak, Sakteng and Laya. Everyone will and should get a fair share of development but everything cannot happen at the same time.
    Yes I agree we shouldn’t be stuck talking about the past but what guarantee is there that these environmentalists have really woken up? Maybe they are just shouting in their dreams and then go back to sleep again. And in the process jeopardize an important development project. Stopping a project to protect the environment is like putting everyone in jail to stop crime! Close the roads to stop traffic jams! No! Instead, built the road and in the process put all you have learnt, share your expertise with the government, work as partners.

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  30. (conttiued from Anon 3)

    And I am marveled that a decent dwelling for our donors and the SAARC leaders is something over and beyond the Taj, Aman and the tourist standard hotels! A decent meal is a seven course meal in the Taj and Aman! The only other option being kharang and joktang! Wow! If this be the case, I pray that we don’t have to organize another high level meet here lest we land up being a mansion each for the MPs as well!

    Thank you.

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  31. Anonymous 3,

    That is a cheap dig.

    No where did I suggest that I am unhappy because the government is not proposing a tunnel from Thimphu to Tingtingbi in place of the Shingkhar-Gorgan by-pass. My stand has all along been that firstly, there are laws in place that do not permit the construction of a road or any other construction within the restricted areas of a park.

    Secondly, my argument was that a by-pass was not critical given that Lhuentse already has road connectivity that rivals those in many other Dzongkhags.

    Thirdly, my opinion was the country cannot afford to build that by-pass because it comes at a huge cost, financially and we do not have the financial wherewithal to undertake such a project as of now.

    And, lastly, my view was that as a country that has championed the cause of the environment, as a country that has received recognition at the highest level for our commitment to conservation, that it was not appropriate for us to go and contemplate damaging tiger habitat that every other nation in recent times have committed to protect.

    It is a pity that you have not understood a word I wrote.

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  32. Hi Yeshey Sir,

    This is Kuenga from RTA aka Anon 3.. haha. It was nice debating with you. I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you didn't mind my arguments. As a fellow kurtoep I thought it was my responsibility and obligation to let you know the other side of the story. I purposefully commented as Anonymous so that both of us can write uninhibitedly. You not knowing who I was and I taking advantage of you not knowing who I was. Otherwise we Bhutanese are normally kind to each other with ones opinions. Hope you didn't mind. Everything that I wrote was for the sake of argument and nothing personal.

    You have always been someone I admired for your frankness apart from the wonders you do with your camera. And I still remain so even if you are still not convinced to do the road. haha.

    I, however agree that if a law or a standing act is being violated such a law must be amended first. And I also believe that no act or law should be too stringent that nothing can be accommodated. I also believe that laws have to be dynamic and must evolve with time. On the road and my views on environment, I have written enough.

    And I still believe stopping the road is not the solution to our environment woes.

    Thank you.

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  33. Dear Kuenga,

    It really does not matter to me whether you are some one I know or do not know - my views remain the same. That road is not going to benefit the people of Lhuentse. I have gone through all the reports compiled in connection with the proposed road and I am convinced that the road is too costly to build, even costlier to maintain and worst, it will never serve the purpose it is purported to serve.

    If the government wants to build additional farm roads within the Lhuentse Dzongkhag without causing damage to the environment and without breaking a law and without dividing the TNP into two – they are welcome to it and I will not utter a word.

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  34. Talking of breaking of laws, I shudder at the thought of a government that breaks laws, being at the helm of things. Can you imagine what we are in for?

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