Minister of Economic Affairs Lyonpo Loknath Sharma

MoEA calls for North-South tunnels and rail links in the south to reduce cost and time of transport and encourage trade and industries

As part of its larger recommendations to the government to boost economic activities in the backdrop of COVID, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) has pointed to the high cost of transport and the time taken as one of the key economic weaknesses of Bhutan.

To overcome this, the MoEA Minister Lyonpo Loknath has said that transportation needs to be tackled both within and outside the country to enhance trade.

Within the country, Lyonpo recommended a North to South corridor to reduce the distance of travel and he said that options like tunneling should also be explored and invested in.

“In Thimphu when you want to get something from Phuentsholing it requires a long time and distance for travel and high transportation cost,” said Lyonpo.

Tunnels in the past had been looked at by the MoEA which had even studied doing tunnels between Thimphu and Wangdue to reduce the travel time and expand Thimphu.

There were also ideas in the past to put in place tunnels to avoid the slides at Sorchen on the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway.

Along the plains of the south Lyonpo said that small rail links could be made between mining and industrial sites to reduce the cost and time of transportation. He said Pemagatshel has a Gypsum mine so a rail line could be explored between the mine and Dungsam where the Gypsum can be used to make finished products and at the same time Gypsum can be exported too.

Lyonpo said that Bhutan has all the minerals that can be used to make cement like limestone and so a rail link could link these mines and the production centers.

He said there could be rail links and corridors between places like Samtse-Phuentsholing- Gelephu linking up mines and factories. 

Lyonpo said that to encourage exports the two airlines Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines must also bring in cargo flights to export high end Bhutanese products among others with the aim of at least one cargo flight a day.

The minister said this would be especially relevant in the time of COVID.

He said that Bhutan could link up with the countries where the flight goes and enhance trade through such air cargos.

On the external front Lyonpo said Bhutan could explore rail links to places like Gelephu and Nanglam from the Indian side.

In the case of Pasakha, Lyonpo wistfully said a road link of Alay had been established from the Indian side though the original plan had been for a railway link from Hashimara. He said the road, however had helped resolve congestion issues at the main gate.

He said that the rail link from Hashimara should also be utilized more.

Lyonpo said that to improve trade with Bangladesh waterways are already being used but there are efforts to improve certain protocols and overcome certain glitches.

Coming to more current transportation issues the minister said that COVID and the lockdowns had impacted import and export and the economy had been hit during the lockdown and is still not able to pick up.

He said that even now the taskforce is allowing exports and imports like before and so many small and big industries are suffering. He said that the movement of people are also restricted which has also impacted the economy.

The minister putting things into context said that lives are still more important than livelihood though both are important. He said if one only looks at the economy then there could be local transmission and that will lead to more issues.

Lyonpo said that the ministry is deeply concerned about the economy and one concern right now is the limited ability to import as Bhutan’s bordering areas do not have adequate dry ports.

The minister said due to the MDP issue the RRCO is able to handle only 15 to 20 trucks in a day due to limited loaders and staff.

The minister said the Alay way is being explored to facilitate import and export like the MDP.

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