Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, during the question hour session in National Assembly on May 19, said the Nganglam-Deothang highway construction is not cancelled, but it has been postponed for a year based on security issues in the south.
The question on why the government had cancelled the highway construction was asked by the Member of Parliament (MP), Nganglam, Choida Jamtsho. He said that the cancellation of the highway construction has affected the gewog roads and other planned activities.
He said the security concerns could have been identified through a detailed study and not on some vague grounds. He said the main motive behind the highway construction within Bhutanese territory was to ensure the safety and security of the people.
Nganglam MP also shared that the Nganglam-Deothang highway is an important road construction priority in the 11th Five-Year Plan, further adding that in 2011 and 2012, the government had spent Nu 12 mn and its time working on it.
PM said the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) is minding the border areas so the militants from India do not get inside Bhutan’s territory. However, he pointed there are still threats, like incidents of fire exchange between the army and the Indian militants, kidnapping cases in Sarpang, and the Indian militants using explosives near bridges and roads to cause destruction in Bhutan. He also said there are problems in Assam, between the NDFB and Adivasis, where NDFB killed many Adivasis in December last year.
PM said His Majesty the King visited Gelephu with the Chief Operations Officer of RBA, Lt. General Batoo Tshering, to discuss on how to distribute the army and ensure their safety. During the Indian operation against NDFB, PM said, Bhutanese army had encountered fire exchanges.
In May 7, PM said, the Indian Army had an operation against NDFB camp in Ultapani, Kokrajhar, which is 14 km away from Sarpang. The operation resulted in the seizure of weapons and explosives from the Indian militant.
PM said that Bhutan faces the continuous risk from the Indian militants, and he said if the road construction is on, it would cause further risks to RBA since the Indian militants will be hard to distinguish from the common labourers.
“Our country is very small, and our very important national goal is to protect the sovereignty and security of the country,” PM said, making a mention of the situation in 1990s, when militants from India crossed the porous borders to conceal themselves in the southern forest of Bhutan and could not be flushed out.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said that it was the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, who risking his own life, personally led the RBA to flush out the three groups of militants, United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) from Bhutan.
PM added that after going over the risks and threats in the south with RBA, he then talked with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and decided to postpone Nganglam-Deothang highway for a year. He said the government will discuss and look at the possibility of constructing the road after a year.
PM also said that the Nganglam-Deothang highway is one of the projects of South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation and is very important for the socio-economic and balanced economic development.
With the government’s thought on the project to start soon, PM said that he, along with the Finance Minister, visited Manila, Philippines and signed the agreement for construction of the highway.
Last year the government received USD 69 mn (Nu 4200 mn) for the project in September 5. PM said that the tendering work was complete and the contractor was to carry out the feasibility study, but due to security reasons, it was discontinued.
Opposition Leader, Dr Pema Gyamtsho, said that it would be better if government could share information with the people.
As for the Sarpang-Lhamozingkha highway construction, PM said, the government was not able to decide as only one year timeframe was given by ADB. However, the government is discontinuing it mainly due to security concerns, PM added.
The Nganglam-Deothang road, measuring 68.3 km in the subtropical southern Bhutan is to be constructed with assistance from ABD in form of a credit loan.