For whatever reason, the unfathomable desperation to build a road across the wilderness from Shingkhar in Bumthang to Gorgan in Lhuentse is getting more and more preposterous. Are some of our elected leaders suffering from Brain fog or are they on a diet of Death Root? I am bewildered.
Today’s Bhutan Times features an article on their front page that is headlined “Farm Road in Place of Highway”. As incredulous as it may sound, the reporter of the news article stands by what she wrote in the article - that the government has now downgraded the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan secondary highway to that of a farm road and that they intend to go ahead and build the road.
I was aghast at the implications of what was said in the article so I called up the reporter to reconfirm that she got her facts right. She was in no doubt that she reported exactly what she was told by the two MP’s she named in her news report.
It is incredible to say the least! I mean the government would actually build a Ngultrums sixty million worth of farm road across the wilderness that does not have a square inch of farmland or a single human settlement? Does it get any more bizarre?
According to the news report, the Gangzur-Minjay MP is quoted as saying; “……… the road is the biggest aspiration of the people of Lhuentse”. Something is totally amiss here. Why would the people of Lhuentse aspire for a road that would run through total wilderness, one that exits at Pelphu Goenpa and terminate at Shingkhar in Bumthang, at a cost of sixty million Ngultrums? Aren’t they better off asking for farm roads and other services in their gewogs and villages?
Of the two surveys and feasibility studies conducted, the latest one was undertaken from 8th to 14th October, 2010. Out of the 5 members that comprised the latest study group, the two Lhuentse MPs were members along with a member from the Dzongkhag Administration and two from the Department of Roads. A report submitted by this team categorically states that:
a. There is not a single human settlement between Shingkhar
and Pelphu Goenpa - overall distance: 36 Kms.
and Pelphu Goenpa - overall distance: 36 Kms.
b. Of that length, more than half of it will pass through altitudes over 3,000 Mtrs. Barely 8 Kms from Shingkhar, the road has to pass over a high pass called Singmala at an elevation of over 4,000 Mtrs - way higher than Thrumshingla pass which is a perennial problem during the winter months. The report also states that “because of the elevation, the construction and maintenance will be affected since the area will be snow bound for extended period of time”.
c. The report also states that the road alignment envisages a minimum total of 22 zigs. This clearly means that the terrain is very steep and thus, prone to land slides.
d. A Park (TNP) officer I spoke to tells me that the area is wet and shrouded in mist and fog half the year and the other half it is snow bound. He also tells me that the soil condition is very lose and sandy and very unstable.
e. On page 3 of the Checklist for Processing Environmental Clearance, it is stated that the construction will involve the use of explosives consisting of: Gelatin, Safety fuse, Detonator and Cordex. The results will be catastrophic - given that the whole area is unstable and fragile.
f. The TNP and the Forest Department have, on two occasions - once in April, 2007 and another in June, 2011 refused the clearance for the construction of the road on various grounds but mainly because there is a law in place that prohibits construction of any kind in the core areas of a Park.
g. The first ever photographic evidence of the existence of Bengal Tiger at high altitudes was acquired from a place called Pemi in 2001. This place is in the vicinity of proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.
It is rumored that the required budget of Ngultrums sixty million to construct the road will be drawn from the overall seven billion of the SDP fund available for small development projects in the Dzongkhags. But it remains to be seen whether the SDP fund can be applied to construct a highway across the alpine wilderness that do not benefit any community. Other than that, there seems to be one other problem - I am told that a project to be funded with the SDP fund cannot exceed Ngultrums 30 million. Come to think of it, I wonder if the reason for the down gradation of the highway to the status of a farm road is to be able to qualify for funding from SDP fund? But what of the requirement that the project cost cannot exceed Ngultrums thirty million?
May be they will invite the Bumthang Dzongkhag MPs - Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho of Tang-Chhoekhor Constituency and Dungtsho Karma Wangchuk of Chume-Ura Constituency to participate in the project since the exit point of the high way falls under their Dzongkhag in Shingkhar.
That will be really funny.