Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road - Yet Again!

FLASH BACK: Vancouver, CANADA: 19th February, 2016; 9:30 - 12:10 PM (Pacific Standard Time) 

Our Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was the first speaker of the Session 12 on the concluding day of the TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada (15th - 19th February, 2016).

Within hours of his riveting talk at the conference, a friend sent me a link to the TED website where his talk was featured on the front page. It was heartwarming to see our Prime Minister speak with such skillful eloquence - nary a hint of hesitation nor of faltering - notwithstanding the presence of the assembly of people who, in his words:

“….. some of you here are worth more individually than the entire economy of my country”.

He spoke of our Gho and Kira, of our flourishing culture and of GNH, and free education system and the smallness of our population and economy - all of them with the deftness of an accomplished orator.

Amid laughter and applause, 7 minutes and 14 seconds into the talk, he declared:

“Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that's carbon neutral. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative”.

Then, 12 minutes and 55 seconds into his total 18 minutes and 47 seconds speech, the Prime Minister proclaimed:

“But it is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. But the beauty is that we've connected them all with one another through a network of biological corridors. Now, what this means is that our animals are free to roam throughout our country. Take this tiger, for example. It was spotted at 250 meters above sea level in the hot, subtropical jungles. Two years later, that same tiger was spotted near 4,000 meters in our cold alpine mountains. Isn't that awesome?

We must keep it that way. We must keep our parks awesome. So every year, we set aside resources to prevent poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in our parks, and resources to help communities who live in those parks manage their forests, adapt to climate change, and lead better lives while continuing to live in harmony with Mother Nature”.

The Prime Minister then went on to talk about another of Bhutan’s conceptual ideas - Bhutan for Life - an environmental conservation effort intended to improve our environment even better than it already is - for the benefit of the earth that is growing sicker by the year.

FAST FORWARD To: Lhuentse: Mid-Term Review Meeting

Shingkhar-Gorgan road to commence this year
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay assured the people of Lhuentse that construction of the much-awaited and controversial Shingkhar-Gorgan highway will commence this year. Lyonchoen said:

We will look into the reasons why the clearance was delayed and if the road is not illegal, work should start this year”.

His Excellency the Prime Minister was clear on this day that the construction work on the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will start this year - “if the road is not illegal”.

A great relief to those of us who know that the construction of this road is not only very, very illegal but also environmentally disastrous!

FAST FORWARD To: Lhuentse: Mid-Term Review Meeting

Dantak to construct the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway
The construction of the 56-km Shingkar-Gorgan highway has been awarded to Dantak, according to the Prime Minister in the mid-term review held in Lhuntse yesterday.

For the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, the government has allocated a budget of Nu 779mn and the project was awarded to Dantak because they have more machineries. The authorities are waiting for an environment clearance from the National Environment Commission (NEC) to proceed with works.

A rather disconcerting report - that the construction of the road has been awarded to the DANTAK. It is also confusing that “The authorities are waiting for an environment clearance from the National Environment Commission (NEC) to proceed with works”. The procedure is that they must first obtain clearance from the Department of Forestry and Park Services, which I know have been denied them, time and again, based on the rules that are in place.

FAST FORWARD To: RCSC Website: Same day: March 23, 2016

Secretary for National Environment Commission Appointed….
In line with the 56th Commission Meeting held on March 22, 2016, Chencho Norbu, Director General for Department of Forest and Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests has been appointed as the Secretary for National Environment Commission with effect from April 1, 2016.

I was crestfallen by this announcement but after a fretful sleep, I woke up to realize that the transfer is not so bad after all. As the Secretary of the NEC, he has even more teeth - to ensure the protection of our nature and our environment.

Forestry Director General Chencho Norbu has been admirably unshakable and steadfast in his opposition to the construction of the illegal Shingkhar-Gorgan Road.

Bhutan’s promise and declaration at the COP 21 and that of our Prime Minister at the TED Talks in Vancouver are based on the premise that they are good for humanity. It is now time to transcend the spoken words and demonstrate to the world community that those promises and declarations were made in complete sincerity and with the intention to translate them into action on the ground.

Our conservation and environmental protection laws that are in place explicitly do not permit the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road, not through the areas it is proposed. Thirty six Kms. of the total 56 Kms. of this road goes through complete wilderness. Even worst, the road has to pass through Singmala Pass that is at an elevation of over 4,000 Mtrs. - which is even higher than Thrumshing-La which is at 3,780 Mtrs. In fact, if this road is done, it will be the highest elevation road in Bhutan - even higher than the current highest point - Chele-La Pass at 3,988 Mtrs.

If the government has 779 million ngulturms to spare on a road that is illegal as well as useless for anybody, I would like to suggest that they spend it on building a bridge over the Mangdechhu in Rindibi, Zhemgang - where nine men died during May of 2014, trying to cross the river on a poorly equipped and unauthorized ferry service.

Since 2011, I have been opposing this road - on the grounds that it is not beneficial, illegal, and environmentally disastrous. The Agriculture Minister of the erstwhile DPT government, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, offered to resign from the Cabinet, should this road happen. The DPT government finally abandoned the foolhardy idea in 2013, realizing that they were acting against the law. And yet, this road keeps popping up, time and again.

Is there something that the Bhutanese people do not understand about the need for this road? Why is there such pigheadedness about this road, in spite of being fully aware that its construction is illegal, it passes through geographical conditions
and landscapes that are perilous, and will not contribute to the economic or social betterment of the people in the area?

What exactly is the matter?


  1. To link the issue of this road to PM's TED talk was desperate and cheap.May be Yeshey Dorji wishes to share some of the limelight that the PM achieved with his recent TED talk :)

    As a Lhuntship, I find it very offensive when you say the road is "useless for anybody". Please don't include the majority of people from Lhuntshe in your "anybody". You and your views do not represent us. People of Lhuntse have elected representatives in our parliament who we entrusted to represent us. If you find that the Government is adamant on going ahead with the road construction, then they are listening to the people, their electorate. Is it not the job and responsibility of the elected Government to listen to and work for the benefit of the very people who elected them? I do not understand why you find it hard to digest this. Why would PDP Government or any other Government want to spend that kind of money on a project if it was "useless" as you claim? The bottom line is the road is useful to the people who make a living in one of the most remote Dzongkhags in our country. It may not be of any use to you and me and the likes who lead a comfortable urban life, but we have no right to claim to represent the views of rural folks there.

    PS: I am doubly offended when you said "I would like to suggest that they spend it on building a bridge over the Mangdechhu in Rindibi, Zhemgang - where nine men died during May of 2014, trying to cross the river on a poorly equipped and unauthorized ferry service". I read in one of your post that you are originally from the Kheng region :)

  2. Dear Tshering Dorji,

    Unfortunately, you seem to miss the point completely. Our Hon'ble Prime Minister did awesomely in that TED talk - that is why his talk featured on the front page of their website - a rare honor.

    Our Prime Minister made some promises in that TED talk - he made some lofty declarations. Every body applauded at the commitment he said Bhutan had made with regard to conservation, environmental protection and combating climate change. The mileage he gained from that awesome talk will certainly translate into handsome benefits for the country, particularly in realizing our goals for the “Bhutan for Life” initiative.

    But talk is cheap and not worth a chetrum if it is not backed by matching action. Even worst, Bhutan’s reputation will suffer irreparable damage – if we say something and then go and do exactly the opposite.

    Thus, through my post, I wish to be a constant reminder our Hon’ble Prime Minister that he alone must shoulder the burden of upholding what he declared before the world audience.

    The Shingkhar-Gorgan road would pass through the TNP – something that is not allowed by law. It dissects one of the world’s only proven high altitude tiger migration corridor. The road will need to pass through an elevation that has never been achieved before. It will pass through places where the soil is unstable and the gradient too steep.

    I could go on and give you a hundred reasons why this is a bad and unlawful idea. However, I suspect that it would be quite useless because if I were to ask you, you probably couldn't give me two meaningful benefits this road will accrue to the Lhuentsips. There are none – other than that it will enable the precious Lhuentsips to come to Thimphu faster. That does not seem like a meaningful reason to spend 770 million Ngultrums and in the process devastate our natural environment.

    I am not interested in the interests of Lhuentsips or Khengpas – and I do not believe that a ruling political party elected by the people of Bhutan should pander to the wishes of a select group of people simply because it is in their interest. Lhuentsips’ or Khengpas’ interests should be subservient to those of the nation as a whole.

  3. I'm always for #ChangeClimateChange, so I agree with what blogger posted

  4. As stupid as I am, I fail to understand what benefits do these animals such as tigers, black necks and white bellies have to give to people. If it has to extinct, let it be. Dinosaurs are long gone. Again what benefit it has to pump in millions of dollars to study how dinosaurs looked like or behaved like to the living people. It is said archeological works have not contributed anything to improvement of present lives.

  5. Dear Anon,

    You are not alone - the state of the earth is what it is because of the poor understanding of the need for a healthy environment for a healthy planet. The problem is further aggravated because even those you understand and has the wherewithal to do something about it, is unwilling to do anything - for short term political and material gains.

  6. Or we could think about the EcoLink Bridge like in BKE Singapore. But it is gonna be really costly.

    check this out.

  7. It is very nice and informative post. So thanks for sharing this post with us. :)

  8. Thank you author, I am with you. You nailed everyone who is greedy and self centered to feature there own benefits
    Let's hope this road remain illegal forever
    Save world for brighter future

  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I
    am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

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