Shingkhar-Gorgan road is Bhutan’s development story that is muddled deep in the quagmire of complications. The tussle between the government and environmentalists has been going on for a long time now, delaying the construction that has a huge potential to take economic development to some of the poorest regions of the country.

The construction of the road began from Pelphu in Lhuentse last year as a development priority of the present fiscal year. As important as environmental conservation is, taking development to the backward and remote corners of the country is critically important. The road could also benefit our conservation efforts in the future.

There is a need to strike a balance.

Although the road passes through the core area of protected forests of Phrumsengla National Park, environmentalists should see the road as one of the few ways to alleviate poverty in one of the poorest dzongkhags. At the same time Department of Roads should make sure that the construction of the road causes minimal disturbance to the environment and the denizens of the wild.

Currently, however, the status is that the National Environment Commission (NEC) has asked the Department of Roads (DoR) to first clear the legal aspects for the road after reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment. This has been the biggest hurdle facing the construction of the road. According to NEC, most of the baseline information submitted is secondary in nature and sourced outside the project area, which could have implications on actually determining the anticipated impacts from the proposed activity. It is upon DoR now to respond. The sooner it answers to the call, the better it will be. With a part of road already under construction, there could be huge resource waste without any tangible benefit to the communities it is meant for.

Shingkhar-Gorgan road is a case of our time. In the future, increasing development projects will compel us to tear into our protected forests. It is only natural. There is a need to revisit our forests and conservation laws so that development efforts are not impeded by stringent legislations. What we must remember is that most of the settlements in this country are surrounded by protected areas.

Let Shingkhar-Gorgan road be a lesson.