Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where In The Name of DANTAK Is This Road? - II

I am told that on November 13, 2014, the representatives of DANTAK and CDCL (Construction Development Corporation Limited) conducted a joint inspection trip of the Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway - from Gorgan side. Thus there is no longer any mystery as to which road KUENSEL was referring to, when it reported that “DANTAK will also construct a new 56KMs segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse”. Good old Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway is once again in the limelight.

For the record, CDCL was/is the contractor who worked on the construction of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway/farm road, for the past few years.

In less than three days of the announcement, DANTAK the new contractors that unceremoniously replaced the hapless home-grown CDCL, has already moved in to take charge of matters. And word is spreading fast. One Gorgan resident tells me that DANTAK plans to complete the construction of the 56KMs segment of the highway between Gorgan and Singmala in just one year! Obviously, the poor blighter is blissfully unaware that it is the DANTAK’s unstated institutional policy to stretch all projects into oblivion. But the humble roadside restaurateur can be forgiven because his aspirations are greed-driven: he thinks he will see untold riches when the road construction is completed. So much for national interest - precisely why I subscribe to the view that all roads to GNH must necessarily be paved with GPH.

So then, what of the custodians of our environment - the National Environment Commission (NEC) and the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD)? They have been successful in stalling the project in the past - on grounds that the construction of the road through protected areas and the tiger corridor is illegal and NOT PERMITTED as per rules already in place. Are they likely to be as effective this time round too? Will they put up a worthy fight for which the law gives them the right and the duty to protect and to speak for, the environment? Will the powers that be ignore them, and the law, and bulldoze the project through? We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it is worth examining all that is wrong with this shadowy project called “Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway”.

First, the misbegotten highway was wrongly christened! This is a road that starts from Gorgan towards Shingkhar. Thus, it should have been named “Gorgan-Shingkhar Highway” instead of Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway.

Second, Shingkhar-Gorgan road stands out as a unique case of happy amicability between the victor and the vanquished - a rarity, however fishy! This is the only initiative of the DPT that the present government seems to want to carry through, from where the DPT left off. Other than this, the victorious PDP government chose to dismantle most of every undertaking the DPT government initiated during its tenure - Pedestrian Day, Tobacco Ban, Education City Project, Car Quota for Civil Servants etc. etc. and etc.

Third, the segment of the road from Gorgan to Pelphu Goenpa has since been constructed. If that were not enough, for good measure, DANTAK is now being engaged to RECONSTRUCT it! Curiously, environmental clearance for the construction of the road from Shingkhar to Singmala that would meander through 11-12 KMs of one of the world’s oldest and most pristine Fir forests - was sought and obtained. For the life of me I cannot understand why clearance for the road upto Singmala was sought because, by itself, this stretch of road serves no purpose whatsoever. Thus its construction is meaningless and a waste of resources.

Fourth, the WCD has categorically stated that environmental clearance for the construction of the remaining portion of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa will not be forthcoming - on grounds that the road cuts through protected area and the laws, as they stand, do not permit it. I am not aware that the Parliament that is currently in session has an agenda that deals with the revoking of the rule that will open up the possibility of an award of the environmental clearance. In the absence of the all-important environmental clearance that, as of now, seems unlikely, how do they hope to get the highway done?

Fifth, even while the WCD has made it public that they will not issue the environmental clearance for the segment of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa, the DANTAK and the Government of India is going full throttle with the plans to see through this illegal and environmentally disastrous project. One has to wonder: what gives them this level of confidence? How do they hope to circumvent the rules?

This is not a simple case of building a road - a whole lot of issues are at stake. Central to the issue is that rules will be broken, fragile ecosystem will be imperiled and those who profess to be the custodians of the law and justice, will be seen to be the transgressors of the very law they have been entrusted to protect. Tragically, no tangible benefit will accrue to any Bhutanese - whether Lhuentsip, Mongarpa, Trashigangpa or Shingkharpa!

A whole lot of people and institutions will be put to test. The manner in which the concerned officials will deal with the issue will prove if they deserve to be where they are; whether they have the courage to do what is required of them - whether they truly understand what it is to be of service to the Tsa Wa Sum.

1 comment:

  1. This is where the opposition can make some noise. The government of the day should not be high-handed to disregard what the country's leaders, especially our Kings, had rightfully preserved in the past. This will be a test of whether the powers that be would continue to be the custodians of our environment, or will they give into political pressure. Will Bhutan remain true to our conservation ethics, or are we just giving lip-service? We shall wait and see.