Monday, July 27, 2015

Yet Another Disastrous DPR In The Planning?

Even while the country is still reeling under the shock and frustration of discovering the pathetic quality of DPR carried out in the Punasangchhu-I project, resulting in losses amounting to billions of Ngultrums, the ugly word has yet again resurfaced - this time related to the ecological and environmental disaster that is being contemplated - in the form of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.

KUENSEL (issue dated 20/07/2015) reports that: “DANTAK hopes to complete DPR for Shingkhar-Gorgan highway by October”.

This is very strange - how can a DPR (Detailed Project Report) be done on a project that still hasn't been cleared for implementation? The erstwhile DPT government scrapped the project - because they realized that they would be breaking a law if they went ahead with the project.

The proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan highway passes through the core areas of the Thrumshingla National Park (TNP). Our laws prohibit any construction within a protected park area. Additionally, the Thrumshingla National Park is an important habitat for the near-extinct Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) - that the whole world is trying to save and salvage.

The world will not be sympathetic to a country that professes to champion the cause of environmental conservation, and yet, vandalizes an important habitat of a species that is nearing extinction.

We can certainly do without this road - it benefits no one, it passes through complete wilderness and, above all, the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) of the Department of Forests and Park Services who must give environmental clearance before this road can happen, has sworn never to allow this project to take place - because it will be the very antithesis to their being - should this road happen.

One environmentalist I spoke to few days back is aghast at the idea of doing this disastrous road. He cannot think of anything else - except political gimmickry. In his opinion, since the road passes through Lhuentse which is where the Agriculture Minister’s constituency is, he thinks that the highway may be in partial fulfillment of his campaign pledge. The environmentalist is of the view that the Agriculture Minister hopes to be able to influence the WCD (a Division under the Ministry of Agriculture) to issue the environmental clearance that is required before work on the road can begin. Such a charge is premature and can only be proven - if and when, the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway happens.

However, I do not believe that to be true. Political brinkmanship of this magnitude is still not something that our politicians are capable of - not as yet - I mean I hope not. Also, even beyond being the Minister of the Department that must do all it can to uphold the law, His Excellency the Agriculture Minister cannot forget that he is one of the trustees elected by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, under Article 5, to protect and safeguard the environment:

“Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the adoption and support of environment friendly practices and policies”.

In defense of his opposition to the foolhardy idea of this road, all that the Minister need do is quote the relevant laws that are already in place. The then Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho offered to resign from the Cabinet - should the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway happen!

Ancient Fir forest that will be desecrated if the highway goes through

It is said that the highway will require 26 zigs before it can reach the Singmala top giving us an idea of the geological make of the area

Total wilderness between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa - there is not a single village in between

Total wilderness between Shingkhar and Singmala - there is not a single village in between

 Total wilderness between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa. Additional 30 KMs climb from Pelphu Goenpa to Singmala. They have already built a road (16 KMs) from Gorgan to Pelphu

 Total wilderness at the top of Singmala

 No villages between Shingkhar village to Singmala
It will take another 30 KMs of digging into the mountain side before the road reaches Singmala top from Pelphu Goenpa

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