Shigkhar-Gorgan debate still on

The 67 kilometer Shingkhar -Gorgan highway construction that runs through a core tiger habitat at Thrumshingla Park, which is said to have been stranded because the previous government faced a budget shortage, is now underway.

The agriculture and forests ministry’s minister Yeshey Dorji said for the last ten years there was no record of tiger being seen in the park.

“I have been in that forest since my childhood, saw tigers, and even heard roaring of tigers during the mating seasons, but in the last years people said they did not see tigers which was also highlighted in the report,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said he is not the only one vouching for the highway as people of both Trashiyangtse and Lhuentse need the road.

“The people of Trashiyangtse and Lhuentse have discussed the issue during the DYT meeting and will be writing to the government on the need of the road,” he added.

Besides those concerns, the minister also said the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway was the initiative of the previous government and the present government was just continuing the work.

He said the highway would not only benefit Lhuentse and Trashiyangtse, but the entire six eastern dzongkhags.

If constructed, the road, which would cost government about Nu 890mn is expected to reduce distance by 100km from Shingkhar, Ura (Bumthang) and Gorgan in Lhuentse. The journey to Mongar decreases by 30km.

The former Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley when met by President of Bhutan Ecological Society, Dasho Paljor J Dorji, Executive Director of RSPN Dr Lam Dorji and WWF country representative Kinzang Namgay, after a joint petition was submitted to the Prime Minister on August 19, 2011 had said there is still not enough evidence that the tiger population will actually decrease or its core habitat will be disturbed because of the road, but there is enough evidence that if this road is not built, people of Lhuentse will sink deeper and deeper into poverty, and the eight gewogs of Lhuentse which are well below the poverty line, some going as high as 50 percent.

The petition expressed environmental concerns over the proposed road, where about 36km will pass through the Thrumshingla National Park, a core habitat for the Royal Bengal tigers.

The completion of the construction could take about four years as per the department of roads.

However, conservationists have mentioned it would be in violation to the Nature and Forest Conservation Rule, 2006, which does not permit any kind of construction within the core area.

Dasho Paljor said, “To have highway is a luxury and waste of money too. The money which is being invested on highway could rather be used in some other important work or developments.”

“How many people in Lhuentse will use this highway, how many people in Lhuentse own vehicles?” questioned Dasho Paljor.

Dasho also said there are many other things to be considered rather than Shigkhar-Gorgan highway. He mentioned that having a road is not the problem, but his concern is in regards to constructing the road in a core zone would undermine Bhutan’s environmental image where the road will pass through the Thrumshingla National Park.

The agriculture minister acknowledged that there might be negative impact, but one have to look at the larger picture and there is need to revisit the national law on the conversation.

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