The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) has clarified its stand on the government’s decision to blacktop the Merak gewog connectivity (GC) in Trashigang via Khardung village despite the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) resolution to blacktop via Chaling.
The GNHC secretary, Thinley Namgyel, told Kuensel yesterday that the Merak gewog blacktopping project was being undertaken with the common minimum infrastructure (CMI) budget, which is over and above the funds allocated to local governments as per the resource allocation formula (RAF).
According to GNHC, the purpose of the GC road was to provide the shortest route between the dzongkhag headquarters and the gewog. GNHC officials added the Merak GC road was initially supposed to go via Khardung and that the blacktopping budget was allocated accordingly.
“One of the arguments used in favour of the GC road via Chaling is the coverage of a larger population. But the idea about blacktopping the GC road is not so much about the population coverage but facilitating the shortest distance between the gewog and the dzongkhag headquarters,” the GNHC secretary said.
The GNHC secretary said that the budget belonged to Merak gewog. “Our view is that it’s the people of Merak who should decide which road should be blacktopped. Also, the shortest distance to reach Merak is via Khardung.”
However, GNHC officials added that Shongphu gewog could use its block grant to blacktop the farm road within the gewog. “If the CMI budget was allowed to be used for blacktopping of the Shongphu-Chaling and Shektimey road, which is a farm road, other gewogs may also come up with similar proposals,” the GNHC secretary said.
The Trashigang DT and the Bartsham Shongphu MP are of the view that the DT resolution should be upheld as per the local government (LG) Act. GNHC officials said that they were mindful of the local government Act and that they would respect the DT resolution.
However, GNHC officials added that local government resolutions should be reasonable and implementable within the given resources.
Chief Planning Officer of the Local Development Division, Tandin Wangmo, said, “From the CMI point of view, the people of Merak should have the prerogative to choose and decide where they want the road to be from.” She added that Shongphu gewog was already connected with a blacktopped GC road.
Tandin Wangmo said that gewogs could choose to blacktop their farm roads with their RAF budget. However, she added that the present road via Chaling was not a GC road, but a farm road and that only GC roads were entitled for blacktopping under the particular budget (CMI).
“The catch here is that if we use the Merak GC budget to blacktop the road via Chaling, the GC road via Khardung will not be blacktopped (with the limited budget). These are the fundamentals that have gone into planning,” the chief planning officer said.
However, she reiterated that GNHC would have no say if it were the people of Merak who preferred the GC road to be via Chaling.
GNHC officials said that they were neutral and that they wanted the issued to be resolved among the people. “When the issue came up, we took a back seat and wanted the issue to be resolved amicably because we recognize and respect the LC Act. Our responsibility was to make sure that the Merak GC road was blacktopped as per the plan,” she said.
GNHC officials were of the view that earlier Kuensel stories did not give the holistic view and the background on the matter and that it hopes the matter to be resolved amicably at the earliest and that the project is implemented in a timely manner thereby benefitting the people of Merak gewog.
The construction of the Merak GC road was also undertaken in the 10th Plan itself.
In the 11th Plan, works on blacktopping majority of the GC roads were undertaken. According to GNHC, the Merak GC road blacktopping was already included in the 11th Plan. However upon the community’s feedback to allow the newly constructed road to stabilise before blacktopping, the activity was deferred.
The Shongphu GC road blacktopping was already undertaken in the 11th Plan.
The Merak GC road is planned as a Gewog CMI activity for Merak gewog, with a total budget of Nu 147.9M (million) for the stretch Khardung to Merak via Shektemey.
The CMI activities are provided with the primary objective to reduce differences in jurisdiction’s per capita endowment of basic infrastructure and facilities. The budget for CMI activities are provided as over and above the RAF budget, to help promote and achieve balanced and equitable socioeconomic development among the local governments.
Shongphu gewog was provided with separate budget for blacktopping of Shongphu GC road in the 11th Plan. The activity was completed as planned in FY 2016-17.
The connectivity between Shongphu-Chaling and Shektimey is as per Farm Road specification, and as of now farm roads are not eligible for blacktopping, according to GNHC.