Over the Merak GC road issue

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

There is a new twist to the now controversial issue of blacktopping the Merak gewog centre (GC) road.

Yesterday, representatives of Shongphu and Chaling chiwogs appealed to the Trashigang court to investigate if the government’s decision to blacktop the road from Khardung has violated the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) decision.

The DT last September decided to blacktop the GC road from Chaling in Shongphu gewog.

Led by two chiwog tshogpas, four people appealed to the court yesterday insisting that the road should be blacktopped from Chaling as per the DT resolution.   “Instead of upholding the DT decision, the government has intervened and overturned a DT decision,” said Chaling Tshogpa, Lobzang Dawa. “DT is the highest decision making body in the dzongkhag to promote balanced social economic development in the dzongkhag.”

He said that DT has decided twice to blacktop the Merak GC road via Chaling considering it would benefit about 300 households and the road via Khardung is expected to benefit only 80 households.  “We don’t even need a local government in the country, if the government overtakes the decisions of local governments.”

Tshogpa Nima Dorji of Shongphu chiwog said that the Prime minister told them to blacktop the road till Sheteymey from Merak and then the government would decide. “But the order from the secretary of the work and human settlement ministry is completely different,” he said. The secretary earlier this month wrote to the Trashigang dzongdag to stick to the government’s stand and directed the dzongdag to blacktop the road via Khardung at the earliest.

The representatives also alleged that the government has favoured the ruling MP’s constituency. Khardung falls in the constituency of the works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering. “It’s clear for anyone to see. Khardung village falls in the Radhi- Sakteng constituency and Shongphu constituency belongs to the opposition MP Passang Dorji (PhD),” a representative, Sonam Dorji said.

“The ministry has ordered the blacktopping of the Merak GC road from Khardung. We are not happy with the decision of the government,” the appeal letter stated.

Another representative, Jigme Thinley from Shongphu said most Merak residents use the route from Chaling because it shortened the distance to the dzongkhag by 5km. “The immediate beneficiaries would be highlanders, but it also would help people of three chiwogs, Tongling chiwog of Radhi, Chaling and Shongphu.”

Representatives are also picking on the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s slogan of ‘narrowing the gap.’ “How would the government narrow the gap if they select a few people over many? How will governments eradicate poverty and solve the rural-urban migration problem, if the government don’t look for longer term benefits,” said Jigme Thinley.

He added that the government’s stand was on a limited budget and length of the road. “We are not saying the whole road should be blacktopped this year.”

Last week, officials of the Gross National Happiness clarified on the government’s decision. The GNHC secretary, Thinley Namgyel, told Kuensel 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.

The purpose of the GC road, GNHC officials said, was to provide the shortest route between the dzongkhag headquarters and the gewog. The road, they said, was initially supposed to go via Khardung and that blacktopping budget was allocated accordingly.

On the number of households expected to benefit if the blacktopping was done from Chaling, GNHC officials had said that 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 had said that the budget belonged to Merak gewog and that the people of Merak should decide which road should be blacktopped.