Despite orders from the National Environment Commission (NEC) to stop work along with a daily fine of Nu 20,000 since the last 40 days the Department of Roads (DoR) has still not stopped work at the Paro International Airport. The accumulated fine is close to Nu 1mn.
The NEC is so fed up that it now plans to put the issue up to their Acting Environment Minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho. NEC officials allege that ironically it is a government department that is turning the NEC into a ‘paper tiger’.
NEC officials also allege that the DoR’s extensive diversion of the Paro river lead to heavy flooding in the Paro Airport on July 25th 2012 when river floodwater even encroached 4 to 5 meters on the southern side of the runway facing Bondey.
Airport officials, however, say that there was no danger to the runway and no flights were cancelled.
The Chief of the Department of Civil Aviation, Karma Wangchuk, said that when the river swelled, it breached in from the lower-North side or the Paro Dzong side and the centre.
This was because the river protection walls in these areas are still incomplete.
The water then headed towards the Southern side of the Airport where it started accumulating as the small exit drain was not large enough to let out the flood water quickly enough.
Soon the water built up to such a level that small vehicles could not get through and it even flooded some sections of the southern side of the runway.
“The DoR provided an excavator which dug up enough areas so that the flood water could pass out again,” said Karma Wangchuk.
Although the incident did not affect any flight, the authorities have requested the concerned agencies to quicken the work to prevent such flooding.
The river protection works were supposed to complete within the monsoon, said Karma Wangchuk. Multiple contractors took over the work that was divided into North, South and Center. The retaining walls came up and the works were complete on the southern side.
“If they did not change the course of the river there is no way the flood would have reached to the runway,” said an NEC official.
More than a month after the NEC issued a stop order on the river protection and road widening works by the DoR a NEC team that went to Paro to see if the orders had been complied with came back disappointed. The Bhutanese had earlier reported on the first stop order ssued by NEC.
The DoR had earlier appealed to NEC after the stop order was issued. But NEC officials say that NEC cannot view those appeals favorably as it was in gross violation of all the terms of references of the forestry and Dzongkhag clearances. This is because the current activity of taking of stones from the river bed for embankment purpose and changing the course of the river is not allowed.
Then NEC had earlier written to the department to stop their works so that the NEC could investigate whether it was a river protection or road widening works.
With little or no response frustration is high within NEC. “We will be putting up to the higher authority that is the Minister In-charge, Lyonpo Dr Pema Gyamtsho and if it is not resolved then the matter might land up in the court,” they said.
The Executive Engineer with the Thimphu Field Division under DoR, Chador Gyeltshen explained that there is no problem. “It is a communication gap between the ministry and NEC,” he said.
He said his office had received the letter from NEC on July 6 imposing the fine and accordingly, the ministry on behalf of division wrote back to NEC with attached copies of the Dzongkhag clearance (valid till 30 March 2013) and forest clearance (valid till 18 November 2012).
On the environmental clearance part, he said that a notification came to the ministry on 20 June 2012 from NEC stating that henceforth, the ministries are not supposed to issue clearances as per Section 37 of the Environment Assessment Act of 2000 and also under the regulation for environment clearances of 2002. The clearance issued by the ministry was on 8 June 2012. “So we understand that the clearance is valid as it was issued before the notification came in effect,” he said adding that there are documents to support this.
On the flooding he said that the division is an executing agency. “The work was awarded by the end of March and we are ahead of the October deadline. It will be completed by September,” he said.
He added, “For quality works we need time. We are reclaiming around 30 to 40 acres of land for the airport.”
Civil Aviation Chief, Karma Wangchuk said that the new road and the river protection works would help improve airport security and also allow the airport to have more space of expansion.