The first 5km will be done by June next year

Roads: Construction of the controversial 55-kilometre Shingkhar-Gorgan highway proposed a decade ago would complete in December 2017, the works and human settlement minister said.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said her ministry would soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with project DANTAK, which would build the road to complete it within three years.

The road was approved last July where it was agreed that Project DANTAK would construct the road after the National Assembly approved it in the 11th Plan. The budget was approved towards the end of last year.

“We admit the delay because we had to sort out so many things in terms of getting clearance and sorting things with Project DANTAK in terms of road specifications and budget,” lyonpo informed the National Council yesterday.

Lhuentse Councillor Tempa Dorji asked the minister that the people were concerned with the slow pace of the project.

“Once the NEC clearance is issued, DANTAK can start works immediately because they have the personnel and machineries ready,” Lyonpo Dorji Choden said.

The ministry is in the process of getting the forest clearance, and then the final one from the National Environment Commission (NEC). It already has the public clearance.

“I can say that the NEC clearance won’t take long now as we have been in constant touch with the commission,” she said.

Project DANTAK has also sought approval from its headquarters in India to conduct an aerial survey of a 26km stretch of the proposed road’s alignment most of which runs across difficult terrain.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said the 10km stretch between Shingkhar in Ura, Bumthang, and Singmala is ready for construction.

She said the first five km would be complete by June next year, which is also a part of the Lhuentse’s Annual Performance Agreement.

About 20kms of the road from Gorgan to Pelphu in Lhuntse towards Shingkhar is a farm road and about 36km remains to be cleared.

The road also features in the 2007-2027-road master plan and is also in line with the government policy of shortening the east-west highway distance by 100km.

The roads department conducted a survey of the proposed road and prepared an environment impact assessment.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji in an earlier interview said, “There weren’t many problems in the environment impact assessment.”

Having received clearance from forest, roads department was about to begin construction from Ura, Bumthang in March last year when the clearance was revoked two days later.

If constructed, the road, which would cost government about Nu 890M, is expected to reduce distance by 100km from Shingkhar, Ura (Bumthang) and Gorgan in Lhuentse.  The journey to Mongar decreases by 30km.

The alignment would run along the Shingmala pass, which is at more than 4,000m, with six hairpin bends and descend towards Pelphu Goenpa and Zhongme villages in Lhuentse.

Feasibility studies in 2006 and 2010 found the road passes through unstable soil condition, which could be prone to erosions and landslides.  Given these and the weather conditions, completion of the construction could take about four years.

Forest officials had earlier said that to clear the road construction, the rules and regulations on parks, mainly preventing construction of roads, have to be changed.

Conservationists have maintained that, if the road construction comes through, it would be in violation to the nature and forest conservation rule, 2006, which does not permit any kind of construction within the core area.

Bhutan being signatory to many international conventions, constructing the road in a core zone would undermine Bhutan’s environmental image.

The Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay maintained that other parks have roads passing through them too and it would help in managing the park as well.

By Tshering Palden