As NA adopts Biological Corridor Nine Bill of Bhutan 2023 the gups and people of the six gewogs share their position

The recent adoption of theBiological Corridor Nine Bill of Bhutan 2023, which was unanimously passed with all 43 members present and voting in favour of the bill has ignited a debate among local leaders with both concern and support.

On June 15, the National Assembly (NA) adopted the Biological Corridor Nine Bill of Bhutan 2023, which was unanimously passed with all 43 members present and voting in favour of the bill. Though the bill is adopted by the NA, people of five gewogs Toetsho, Yalang, Bumdeling, Khamdang, and Yangtse under Trashiyangtse and only one Gewog Phongmey under Trashigang shared their excitement and concerns.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, on behalf of the Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, introduced the Declaration of Biological Corridor (BC) to connect Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary to the House on June 9, 2023.

The Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Yeshey Penjor, introduced the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS), which are the only protected areas in the extreme eastern landscape.

According to him, BC6 connects the SWS to Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the south, while BC7 connects the BWS to Wangchuck Centennial National Park and Phrumsengla National Park in the center. Despite the proximity, a comparable climate, a diversity of habitats, and biodiversity, there hasn’t yet been a biological corridor established to safeguard and provide the necessary landscape connectivity between SWS and BWS. In light of this, the Minister argued that this plan is an effort to establish ecological connectedness between BWS and SWS utilizing tools for simulating landscape connectivity and empirical data.

The House supported the motion to deliberate on the declaration, and it was referred to the Environmental and Climate Change Committee for further review.

The review report of the Committee on the Declaration of Biological Corridor was presented on June 14, 2023, by MP Gyem Dorji, Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee (ECCC).

The proposed BC is the only BC in the extreme east of Bhutan. Five Gewogs of Trashiyangtse (Toetsho, Yalang, Bumdeling, Khamdang, and Yangtse) and only one Gewog (Phongmey) of Trashigang will fall under the proposed BC.

The declaration of the BC will contribute to realising the constitutional mandate to maintain 60% forest cover, help in animal movement and genetic dispersion in BWS and SWS, secure conservation funds that will benefit communities, wildlife, and the natural environment, and promote ecotourism. Communities benefit from the adoption of appropriate policies, technologies, and systems used in curbing human-wildlife conflict, uplifting their socio-economic status through the implementation of Integrated Cooperative Development Project (ICDP) initiatives, and others.

It was also reported that the declaration of the BC restricts construction of infrastructure, clearing corridor for transmission line, recording documentary or commercial film or any sound recording, collection of any specimen, construction of cable car and ropeways and other activities that are restricted in State Reserve Forest Land.

The members stressed the value of supporting the livelihood of the BC-administered communities during discussion. Concerns were also expressed regarding the limitations and prohibitions included in the bill, such as the escalating conflict between humans and wildlife, limitations on development activities, limitations on land use, and harmonisation of the Bill with existing relevant Acts such as Forest and Nature Conservation Act and Biodiversity Act of Bhutan 2021. 

The House directed the Committee to re-deliberate and rephrase Section 12, which is The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources shall support the community livelihood and other economic developmental activities as prescribed under the rules and regulations of this Act. of Chapter 2 on Biological Corridor, regarding the facilitation of community livelihood and conservation activities to comprehensively cover the concerns raised by the members.

Additionally, the Committee was directed to re-discuss Section 14 Restriction All other activities that is restricted in State Reserve Forest Land. Concerning Restrictions to align it with Section 12 and include the Definitions as part of the Bill.  The committee has also been advised to insert a section on the definition of the terminologies.

MP Lungten Namgyel, Deputy Chairperson, Environment and Climate Change Committee submitted the Committee’s additional recommendation on Section 12, Section 14 and a new section on definition of terminologies, section 19 as per the directives of the House.

The House deliberated and passed the recommendations submitted by Committee on section 12, 14 and endorsed the addition of new section 19 on the definition. Along with it the House recommended the Committee to work on the details of definitions and submit to the House before submission to the National Council of Bhutan.

Local Concerns

The gups of these six gewogs and its people share similar sentiments.

According to Yalang Gewog Gup, the Department of Forest and Park Services and the Minister participated in a public consultation. The results of the consultation revealed that both the populace and the Gewog administration supported the proposal wholeheartedly.

“We were made aware of the prohibited areas and restrictions, which included no mining, logging, etc. Yalang gewog gup stated. Because there is no road connectivity and we don’t typically engage in these activities, we were all in favour of the bill,” said Yalang Gewog Gup.

Likewise, he said that he is also in favour of the bill because there is constant human-wildlife conflict. He hopes having this biological corridor will help them get a gewog development fund to address human-wildlife conflict.

Toetsho gewog gup Dechen Wangdi said, “During the consultation, they told us there is better than harm. We were informed that there would be no restrictions like in parks. We were informed that we can carry out our development activities without seeking permission from the authorities, except for a few big activities.”

“Nothing about how they are going to compensate us back or what the benefits will be the benefits are discussed specifically, but we did make a request to them to allow people to continue what they have been doing for ages, to waive off electricity bills, to introduce chain-link fencing since it is obvious human-wildlife conflict will exist, followed by compensation to the farmers,” he said.

“We did request that they include the gewogs falling under biological corridors to include us to discuss what is needed by the people,” he continued.

The residents of Phongmey Gewog were most concerned that they would not be permitted to cut down trees for the construction of houses, according to Phongmey Gewog Gup.

He said, “We were informed, nevertheless, that using heavy equipment would be prohibited so that we could keep receiving the advantages as usual.”

He claimed that because most people have not yet experienced it, they do not currently have many concerns.

According to him, the residents of Phongmey Gewog are hoping to receive compensation for the things they would lose.

There are 300 houses in Phongmey Gewog, and all of them are agricultural.

With 700 households, Khamdang Gewog has the most households in Trashiyangtse, and all but one of them are farmers. Gup Thinley Wangchuk is concerned about how their situation may turn out.

“Official pledges are being made to give preference to the gewogs falling under biological corridors, but we feel it will be difficult for us since we need permission for everything. Once the government’s laws and regulations are set, I believe we won’t have the opportunity to comment,” he said.

Yangtse Gup said, “For us, there is not much of a concern since the biological corridors are far from the settlement, and I feel there will not be any problem.”

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