The 700-acre Jigmeling Industrial Estate in Gelephu slated to be the country’s first special economic zone could seriously question Bhutan’s conservation credentials as it falls along the Dolongang elephant corridor.
This high profile poster project, supported by international financial organizations and could possibly have top investors like Tata, will further intensify human-wildlife conflict in the area as the estate would be fenced and elephants which freely moved across will now turn toward villages there.
The area, which would cover a major part of the estate, is dense forest and has wildlife species like leopard, black panther, deer, pheasant, peacock and others.
The department of industry (DOI) and DHI Infra, the implementing agencies, have not included the dzongkhag forestry section in the initial planning though they are supposed to be part of it as it is their duty to check on pollution and possible damage to forests once the project is through.
As the project is planned forestry clearance should be sought. First, a development plan should be submitted to the dzongkhag forest office, which would help, forestry officials know if the project is really environment friendly.
“Rules should have been followed properly because if the area is damaged then there is no alternative, said the Sarpang dzongkhag forest officer Kado Tshering.
Kado Tshering said that 150 acres along Bhur Khola river, which runs along the project site should be protected.
But the general manager of DHI-Infra, Karma Gayleg clarified that forestry clearance is required only for land registration in the department’s name, and not for land development and planning.
Currently, DHI Infra is in the process of working together with DOI to take over the land for industrial development at Jigmeling.
Before any planning or development zoning is done for the area, located 17 kms from Gelephu along the Gelephu-Sarpang highway, it has to be first ensured that all the private land holders who fall in the project area are relocated appropriately. There are about 43 private landowners who have to be relocated first. A total of 140 households are in the project area who will have to get land in exchange.
The general manager of DHI-Infra, Karma Gayleg said they were aware of the elephant corridor issue and the DHI team visited the site in January and the issue was raised then.
“But as per what we understand, the elephant corridor, the cliff and the river buffer is on the right hand side of the industrial estate boundary which can be clearly demarcated,” he said.
Moreover, once the huge industrial establishments are in place, they would be adequately fenced and protected from intrusion from the wild animals, he said.
“Also, while developing the industrial township, we would be very careful to abide by the environmental protection guidelines as per the NEC’s recommendations,” he said.
But there are no clear answers on how the elephants will behave once this huge area of land, through which they freely roamed, is fenced for industries.