New agriculture minister approves previous govt.’s plan despite environmental concerns
Road: People of Lhuentse could see their long held dream, the 67km Shingkhar-Gorgan highway that runs through a core tiger habitat at Thrumshingla park come through, as the newly elected agriculture minister commits to back the plan.
“I’ve gone through the environment impact assessment conducted by the previous government and there weren’t many problems,” agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji, said.
Moreover, he said, there remained a few kilometres for fresh cutting, only about 25km, because a farm road has been constructed until Pelphug, from Lhuentse.
“And there’s a road from Shingkhar earlier used for logging,” the minister said.
The ministry of works and human settlement proposed the road in the 11th five-year plan.
“It’s now up to Parliament to decide whether it should go through or not,” department of roads director, Karma Galay, said.
If constructed, the road, which would cost government about Nu 890M, is expected to reduce distance by 100km from Shingkhar, Ura (Bumthang) and Gorgan in Lhuentse. The journey to Mongar decreases by 30km.
Works to realign the Bumthang-Lhuentse highway on the lateral route, to cut travelling time by three hours was decided in March during Lhuentse’s mid term review. The road was already in the list of 10th plan activities.
The alignment would run along the Shingmala pass, which is at more than 4,000m, with six hairpin bends and then descend towards Pelphu Goenpa and Zhongme village in Lhuentse.
Feasibility studies in 2006 and 2010 found that the road passes through unstable soil condition, which could be prone to erosions and landslides. Given these and the weather conditions, completion of the construction could take about four years.
However, conservationists have maintained that, if the road construction comes through, it would be in violation to the nature and forest conservation rule, 2006, which does not permit any kind of construction within the core area.
Bhutan being signatory to many international conventions, constructing the road in a core zone would undermine Bhutan’s environmental image.
The agriculture minister said that the other parks in the country have roads passing through them too, and that the road would benefit not just Lhuentse district, but the whole of the eastern region.
The road has been proposed for a long time, and was last discussed in the 84th session of the then National Assembly in 2007, which resolved that the road must be included in the 10th Plan. It is said the previous government, for shortage of budget, could not implement the project.
Lhuentse dzongda, Sonam Wangyal, said that the dzongkhag is hopeful the works and human settlement ministry takes up the work during this plan.
By Tshering Palden