MPs debate about road construction

Tashi Dema 

Yesterday, the National Assembly (NA) endorsed the motion to start the construction of South East-West Highways like Nganglam-Dewathang, Panbang-Gelephu and Lhamoizingkha-Sarpang road yesterday.

Khar-Yurung’s member of parliament (MP) Tshering Choden submitted the motion yesterday, reasoning that roads are important for economic development.

She said that because of the pandemic and border closure, people in the south-eastern parts of the country have to travel via Trashigang to come to Thimphu to avail medical services. “There are similar problems for people residing in Samtse and Phuentsholing.”

She said that building internal roads in the south has become a must. “I thank His Majesty The King for the Samrang-Jomotsangkha and Gomtu-Samtse road construction.”

The MP also stressed the importance of the North East-West Highway and urged the government complete the road widening from Ura to Lingmethang by December of next year.

Kengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho said the South East-West Highway is a national priority. “Nganglam-Dewathang highway construction began in 2010 from both sides and only about 15 to 20km are left. I request the government to begin the construction soon.”

He said the Panbang-Gelephu road construction began as there is a road up to Umling in Gelephu. “Bhutanese people would benefit immensely once the Lhamoizingkha-Sarpang road is constructed.”

According to the MP, the government only has two years now and might not complete the construction. “But it is necessary to begin the construction.”

MP Rinzin Jamtsho also submitted that the government increase the workforce in the road widening work between Ura to Lingmethang, since road users have increased drastically. “I request a convenient road timing and an increase in the road width.”

Shompangkha MP Tek Bahadur Rai said Nu 400 million has been allocated in the 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) to construct the 88km Lhamoizingkha-Sarpang road. “The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement said they would construct a bridge over Sunkosh. So, I request that the government prioritise road construction.”

Lhamoizingkha-Tashiding MP Hemant Gurung said the road would help the security of the country. “It’d also help when the Sunkosh project begins.”

Lamgong-Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering said MPs pledged to connect water, electricity, and construct bridges wherever necessary. “Since many people have moved to Paro after the pandemic, traffic has become congested. He proposed a road between Debsi and Isuna.

“Improving the Drugyel Dzong to Shana road would not only benefit the residents, but also pilgrims.” 

Meanwhile, Tsirang MPs raised concerns about the lack of budget for the government to execute the work, and if it is necessary to put in motions.

Sergithang-Tsirangtoe MP Garja Man Rai said all 20 dzongkhags have immediate needs and plans. “It’s not necessary that a motion should be put to implement everything. We all know why the government could not implement the plans.”

He questioned what would happen if the government cannot implement the resolution. “It’d show that we are not respecting the NA’s decision.”

Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang MP Bimal Thapa said MPs are deliberating as if the government has not done anything. “As MPs, we should know whether the government has a budget or not. If such motions are accepted, I have many submissions.”

He said GC roads in Tsirang are in need of resurfacing. “The Gelephu-Tsirang road also needs widening. Can we submit it here like a shopping list?”

Jomotsangkha-Martsala MP Norbu Wangzom said although the works and human settlement minister had requested that Project Dantak complete the first cutting of Dewathang-Nganglam road, it has always been reported that they are conducting the detailed project report (DPR). “We don’t know how long it takes.”

She said that the government had deprioritised the Maokhola bridge, Gelephu-Panbang, and Sarpang-Lhamoizingkha road construction projects. “I don’t think there is a shortage of budget, as the government has always said there is an adequate capital budget. There is also a budget to blacktop farm roads.”

She also said the South East-West Highway is important and if the government starts it, future governments could continue it.

Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo raised concerns about the quality of road construction. “The Damchu-Chukha bypass is sinking. It has impacted the residents of Tsimasham. They might be near Wangchu one day.”

Wamrong MP Karma Thinley said lack of basic infrastructures like roads forces people of six eastern dzongkhags to migrate to Thimphu. “This impacts the social demography of the country.”

Drujeygang-Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk said requesting the road construction when the government doesn’t have a budget and is impacted by the pandemic is like trying to extract oil without a source.

Gangzur-Minjey MP Kuenga Penjor said Lhuentse road widening is more important than the South East-West Highway. “Think of Lhuentse and Gasa when such motions are proposed.”

He said many people go for pilgrimages to Lhuentse. “I propose an additional motion. Widen the roads in Lhuentse.”

Labour Minister Karma Dorji clarified there are about 30km between Nganglam and Dewathang. “Project Dantak officials are there to execute the work.”

Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said it is important to understand the security threats road construction would bring in the south. “Security is more important than the road.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering also raised issues on the motion submission. “I don’t understand how such motions are accepted.”

He said motions on the impracticality of law and issues of developmental activities should be submitted for improvement. “But if the NA passes resolutions with a deadline, it will be difficult for the executive body to work.”

Lyonchhen said the government has a budget for capital expenditure and wanted to base course all farm roads. “If we have to construct new roads, the farm road base course will have to be foregone.”

He said if the NA passes many such resolutions and the government is not able to implement them, the resolutions might not be respected.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said since the roads are not in the opposition or the government’s constituencies, all MPs should come to a consensus.

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering added further drama to the debate, claiming he was expecting to learn new ideas about how to construct the roads but had not learned anything new. “You all only know the problems I know. I don’t know what I will tell the ministry.”

He also said all roads are connected in the south. “We are trying like the previous governments. Only the Lhamoizingkha-Sarpang and Panbang-Gelephu roads are left and we are working on it.”

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said he is almost prostrating to the contractors to expedite the road widening in the north. “But I will not promise what I will not be able to do. If we can complete the widening quickly, I will be the happiest person.”

Meanwhile, out of the 40 members present yesterday, 21 voted for ‘yes’, 15 voted ‘no,’ and four abstained, passing the resolution for South East-West Highway construction.

The deputy speaker Tshencho Wangdi said the NA would send the resolution to the government and relevant ministry. “A status of the resolution implementation should be submitted in the next session.”

The motion to expedite the North East-West Highway widening did not receive support.