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People put off by highway project put on hold

Local community feels left out of the loop in govt.’s unilateral decision to defer

Highway: The government’s decision to defer the Nganglam-Dewathang highway for an indefinite period has left people of Choekhorling and Dewathang disgruntled, with people complaining that they were not informed of the decision, although they were equally involved in the project’s preparatory processes.

Villagers said they were left wondering if the project had been cancelled or deferred, as even the gewog offices couldn’t provide a clear explanation.  Villagers said the government should have at least informed the local leaders.

Gewog officials said they received inquiries from villagers on the status of the highway.  With the local leaders not sure of the status themselves, they said they were unable to clear people’s doubts.  The gewog officials said they learnt of the project being deferred only through the media.

Officials said villagers were unhappy with the decision, as the project promised development.  People of the two gewogs even contributed labour during the project preparatory process in 2011 and 2012.  With survey for land substitution completed, people were awaiting land compensation.  About 100 landowners in Dewathang and 90 in Choekhorling were to be provided land substitution.

Dewathang gup Sangay Pelzang said although they had not raised the issue yet, the government should have met the people and clarified, as rumours were rife in the villages. “If security was an issue, then they should have thought about it even before planning it, when there were more security threats then,” he said. “We’re unable to clear the confusion.”

Villagers in Choekhorling said that, whenever strikes were called in Assam, India, Nganglam town remained isolated with no other routes to travel to other districts.

Choekhorling gup, Tshultrim Dorji, said the highway would pass above the gewog centre that was located far from the border.  He said they couldn’t put up the issue in the recent gewog tshogdu, as they lacked clear information on the deferment of the highway.

“Because of the highway, two farm roads in two chiwogs were cancelled, as the highway passed through these villages,” the gup said. “Some villagers have also constructed houses and availed loans, thinking they’d pay from the cash compensation.”

A villager, Sangay Dorji, 49, said the government owes the people an explanation. “People have different views, like the government having diverted the budget of the highway construction to another project,” he said.

Although the government cited security as the reason for deferring the construction of the 68.3km Nganglam-Dewathang highway, people disagreed with it.  They said plying by the highway would be much safer than having to route through Assam highway.

Tender evaluation of the highway was complete and the department of roads (DoR) was evaluating the financial bids, when the cabinet issued directives to defer the highway on March 2.  The Asian Development Bank was financing the projects.  ADB had completed the project preparatory technical assistance worth about USD 670,000 between 2011 and 2012.   DoR, in doing the detail design of the road, spent Nu 12.59M (million).

In an earlier interview, the works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden had said that preparatory works for the road construction had reached an advanced stage, but the government had to review, following the recent security situation along the southern belt.

“They’ll not be deprived of roads,” she had said. “We’ll connect them within the 11th Plan with farm roads.”

The overall cost of the highway project is Nu 69M, of which 73 percent was supposed to be ADB soft loan.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Samdrupjongkhar 

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