Environment: A proposed highway that generated a lot of debate in recent years, the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, has reached a critical stage today.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for the environment clearance is currently being reviewed by the National Environment Commission secretariat.

The road sparked much controversy as conservationists vehemently opposed the proposal as the road cuts through the core area of Phrumsengla park.

The Phrumsengla National Park issued the forest clearance under the directive of the  director general of the forest department to the roads department who then applied for the environment clearance.

At a Meet the Press session in June last year, Cabinet ministers said that construction of the road has already begun. Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said: “While the works have started from Pelphu in Lhuentse, works on a 10km stretch from Shingkhar in Bumthang would begin soon.”

Other ministers agreed that the road runs through the core area of the park and that there could be certain damage to the park.

Kuensel learnt that the forest department has stated the road would run through the multipurpose or buffer zone and not the core area.

However, the government had said that it runs through the core area of the park.

The works and human settlement minister’s argument is that 70km of the present road runs through the park area. Of that 50km of the present road falls in the core area. Of the 32km of the proposed highway that will be in the park area, the agriculture minister who is from Lhuentse said, only 18km will be in the core area.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said preliminary studies indicated that the road will be under less snow cover, shorter in distance, and more comfortable to drive on.

However, those opposing the road construction said it will pass through poor geology, disturb the pristine ecology, and since it passes over the Singmala pass, which is claimed to be higher than the Phrumsengla pass, using it would be a safety risk during winters.

Once the Shingkhar-Gorgan road is complete the old road is expected to become a park road.

The government has so far argued that although there are adverse impacts on the environment the economic advantage for the people of the poorest dzongkhag in country also needs to be considered.

The NECS is expected to submit the EIA with their comments to the works and human settlement ministry before March 7.

Tshering Palden