Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

The recent debates in the Parliament on Shingkhar-Gorgan bypass highway construction have not been fruitful but residents of Lhuentse still remain hopeful.

There is an 11km farm road from Gorgan to Silabi and it is in poor condition.

Except for trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles the road is unfit for smaller vehicles. From Silabi the road splits to Maedtsho gewog centre road and to Zangkhar school in Jarey gewog. The proposed highway was to pass via Pelphu village, which is another four kilometres from Silabi.

Local residents believe the restoration of the road is on hold because of the plan to connect Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.

“Gewogs maintain and blacktop their gewog centre road and other farm roads except for this. As a result, our vehicles are getting damaged. We are forced to drive due to lack of transportation facilities,” a civil servant in Maedtsho gewog said.

Villagers of Lhuentse say the new highway would bring prosperity and economic growth.

“We are saddened by the recent news on pushing this plan out of the priority list, yet we are still hopeful,” a bus owner and the driver from Tangmachhu in Maenbi gewog, Wangchuk, said.

Wangchuk said many rural pockets are now coming up with mass vegetable plantations as part of the government’s initiative for socio-economic development and achieving self-reliance, and the highway would greatly help in access to the market.

“If the highway is through, Bumthang is just over a hundred kilometres away and we can sell our products in Bumthang and Trongsa, which is a huge market.”

He added that the impact on the environment is a concern and a priority. “So should the benefits of the people be indispensable and be considered equally.”

He said roads are cleared from both Shingkhar and Gorgan. “There is a road covering almost half of the 65 kilometres between Gorgan and Ura and to construct a road to cover the remaining distance won’t cost much. The impact on the environment shouldn’t be that bad.”

Sonam from Minjey gewog said the highway would also benefit the people of Trashi Yangtse if the Minjey-Trashi Yangtse highway comes through.

He said that Lhuentse is known for sacred sites and the highway could boost tourism.

Similarly, the residents of Gorgan town also believe that they would benefit if the highway passes by the town. At present, the town is struggling with a shortage of customers as shops open in most villages with farm roads.

“During the election campaign, all political parties and candidates pledged the road to make us happy but they tend to forget it soon. We are literally losing our hope now,” Wangmo from Maedtsho gewog said.

The highway pledge has been made by all three elected governments.

The issue was also raised in the recently concluded Parliamentary session by the Maenbi-Tsaenkhar MP Choeki Gyeltshen who asked the MoWHS minister about the status of the highway. The minister informed the National Assembly of dropping the plan from the priority list.

The current distance between Lhuentse to Ura in Bumthang is about 207 kilometres, and the proposed highway is expected to reduce the distance by around 100 kilometres.