Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Deliberate Misinformation

There is something not quite right about this whole business about the proposed construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road across the wilderness of the TNP. The more I think about it, the more I am puzzled at the idiocy of the whole business. Nothing rings true - there is something fishy about this whole business. Lets us consider the following:

First and foremost, if the politicians are to be believed, it is the people of Lhuentse who want this road. So then why is it called Shingkhar-Gorgan road? It should rightly be called Gorgan-Shingkhar road. The nomenclature Shingkhar-Gorgan implies that the people of Bumthang want to get to Lhuentse and not the other way round.

Next, if this is a farm road, why is it constructed through a desolate area without a square inch of farm land or a single human settlement? How is a farm road defined and what purpose must it serve?

Third, by definition, farm roads are designed to carry vehicular traffic of the class of farm tractors and power tillers. How will it boost tourist arrivals in Lhuentse and the Eastern Dzongkhags? Are the proponents of the road saying that the tourists will be thrilled to bounce along bumpy and muddy farm roads that run through elevations over 4,000 Meters?

One of the arguments put forward by the proponents of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road is that it will cut travel time which will result in reduction of harmful emission. Does that mean that they hope that a caravan of power tillers and farm tractors will traverse through this perilous wilderness to get to Shingkhar and beyond? If not, how is it possible to reduce emission? Certainly, public transport such as buses and trucks and passenger cars will not drive over farm roads and that too, over a terrain fraught with unsafe climactic conditions such as fog, mist, ice and snow.

Regarding the reduction of travel time merely on the basis that distance will be shortened is something that I am not willing to believe. The distance may be shorter but what is the guarantee that the travel time will be reduced? Particularly when you are talking of treacherous terrain shrouded in mist and fog and caked in ice and snow all the year round? I personally would prefer to drive five hours more but through a route that I am certain will deliver me safely to my destination, rather than risk my life in trying to reduce travel time driving over 22 zigs that may not remain open most of the time.

The government’s established cost estimate for a farm road is Ngultrums three million per Km. The overall distance of the proposed road is as follows:
          Shingkhar to Singmala            6 Kms
          Singamala to Pelphu              30 Kms
          Pelphu to Zhongmay               5 Kms
          Zhongmay to Selibizam          6 Kms
          Selibizam to Gorgan               5 Kms

        TOTAL Distance                   52 Kms

At Ngultrums three million a Km, the road should cost the exchequer a sum of Ngulturms one hundred and fifty six million. Additionally, the government has committed that the road will be constructed with the most stringent environment friendly construction practices. This will mean that the cost of the road will be will be four times more!

Why is a lie being put out that the road can be done in under Ngultrums sixty million?

Startlingly, the most Honorable MPs from Lhuentse, in their doggedness to get this road, declared that Lhuentse Dzongkhag is the poorest Dzongkhag in the country. That is in contrary to the government published statistics. Surely, putting out misinformation of this nature is being very irresponsible and designed to deliberately undermine some other Dzongkhags who deserve better treatment than they have been getting so far?

Does the government have so much money to build such lavish farm roads? If yes, then we the people in Khengri Nam Sum want some of that money because, as per the NSB’s fact sheet, as of 2008, Lhuentse has 77.5 Kms of farm road for a total population of 15,395, while the whole of Zhemgang with a population of 18,636 has only 28.5 Kms of farm road.

How about some fair deal for a change?


  1. Thank you for writing this and opening my eyes to what is happening. I just flipped by when the debate was taking place because i had no idea about the high way and why people were considering its construction.
    Thank you sir, I now know.

  2. I think you are losing focus now. is it the road that is going through core TNP that you want to stop? or is it that you want for Zhemgang instead? What are you exactly trying to say? Is it environment over development or is it either a road for Lhuntsi or Zhemgang? Whats your point?

  3. So it is not even 67 kilometers? Only 52 kilometers?

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    I am not losing focus. What I am trying to prove is that even beyond the illegality of the matter, if this government has so much money to throw around on a luxurious farm road that serve no purpose while causing so much environmental damage, then I want to point out that there are other Dzongkhags that are even more poorly served than Lhuentse. Therefore they should focus on those Dzongkhags.

    What I am also trying to show is that, by being adamant about this road, the government is opening itself up to a host of other questions that still remain unasked but which will get asked as we go along.

    So if the government had any sense, they should have sensed by now that the best way to have their cake and eat it at the same time is to do the reasonable thing - leave the environment alone and give the precious people of Lhuentse their farm roads within their own Dzongkhag - without damaging the environment and without breaking a law and without fragmenting the TNP. But when they resort to tricks such as downgrading the highway to the status of a farm road and downscaling the cost to less than one fifth what it will cost, then I dare say that we are being taken for fools.

    At the end, my issue is still the environment – but in this particular post what I want to prove is the even if we were to disregard the damage to the environment, this road is a disaster – politically.

  5. mean everything is not what it appears to be...? Concerns for environment & and the national finance has been thrown out the window ? Gosh, hope not. Anon.

  6. This is a very good analysis of the road. At the UN General Assembly, the PM touted our forest cover increase as a good thing. When in Bhutan, such an increase is again used against conservation saying that people are suffering. This is politics. Use it whichever way suits your argument.

    AND people shouldn't use the western argument of 'people vs. environment.' We want long-term benefits for both, in a traditional Bhutanese way. Please take a moment to reflect how any half baked idea of a farm road (where there are no farms) going to help bring tourism. Instead look for innovation - luxury treks across the mountains, from Shingkhar to Lhuntse etc. - but this time make sure the locals run it, not someone in Thimphu.