The National Environment Commission (NEC) has asked the Department of Roads (DoR) to first clear the legal aspects for the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan road and whether the road passes through the core zone of Phrumsengla National Park.

After reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the NEC wrote to the DoR in early March to resolve the legal aspects of the clearance the department has sought. “In the EIA report, most of the baseline information submitted is secondary and sourced outside the project area, which thereby could have implication on actually determining the anticipated impacts from the proposed activity,” the letter stated.

The NEC also stated that the details on the technicalities under the environment assessment would be conducted based on the response from the DoR. This development comes following conflicting reports in the EIA and the forest clearance, which the Phrumsengla National Park issued. Earlier, the park has issued the forest clearance under the instructions from the Department of Forests and Park Services.

The DoR then applied for environmental clearance last December. Woks and Human Settlement Minister Dorji Choden during a meet the press in June last year said that while 50 of the total 70 kilometers of the existing highway passes through the core area, only 18 kilometers of the 37.28 km of Shingkhar-Gorgan would pass through the core zone.

Lyonpo had also said that while works have started from Pelphu in Lhuentse, works on a 10km stretch from Shingkhar in Bumthang were to begin soon.

Shingkhar-Gorgan road, which was initially estimated to cost around Nu 890 million, is expected to reduce traveling distance to Trashigang by 100km from Thimphu.  Travel distance to Mongar would decrease by 30km.

However, the NEC after the EIA review found that the road not only passes through the core area but the entire 37.28 km falls in the core zone area of Phrumsengla National Park. “As per the report, it clearly mentioned that the entire length of the proposed road falls in the core zone of the Phrumsengla National Park,” the letter from the NEC stated.

The letter also stated that page XIII of the EIA report highlights the presence of Schedule I species under the Forest and Nature Conservation Act (FNCA) and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Endangered and Vulnerable lists.

It also pointed out that chapter XII of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules 2017 strictly prohibits felling in core zone areas. Section 22 of the FNCA bars killing, capture, destruction and injury or collection of all wild animals and plants listed under Schedule I indiscriminate of whether these species are in the Government Reserve Forests or not.

Exceptions would be made to these provisions if the ministry grants a special permit or rule issued under the section 23 of the Act. “Under section 23, the ministry may issue a special permit for taking any animal or plant for scientific or conservation purposes or for purposes such as culling or control,” the letter stated.

The letter however does not specify whether such a special permit could be issued for the purpose of construction of road. Earlier this year, Kuensel also learnt that the forest department had stated that the road would run through the multipurpose or buffer zone and not through the core area.

Tempa Wangdi