While conservationists have opposed its construction, the govt. is of the view that the road will not only bring economic benefits but aid conservation efforts as well
Infrastructure: Construction of the 56km Shingkhar-Gorgan road has started according to the government. This was revealed during the meet-the-press session yesterday.
Agriculture and forests minister Yeshey Dorji said that construction has begun from Pelphu in Lhuentse. “Actually the works already started a few days back,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said, adding that machinery is already at the site for the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road.
“It is ready to start,” he said.
The Shingkhar-Gorgan road is a priority for this fiscal year. The agriculture and forests and works and human settlement ministries are working together on the road which environmentalists have opposed.
Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said that the road will be constructed in a way that mitigates environmental damage since it passes through core park areas. The road will be constructed departmentally.
“While the works have started from Pelphu in Lhuentse, works on a 10km stretch from Shingkhar in Bumthang would begin soon,” Lyonpo Dorji Choden said. “The works however would be executed stretch wise since there are environmental issues.”
Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that the road will be constructed considering the economic benefit it will bring to Lhuentse, one of the poorest dzongkhags in the country. “The road will also benefit conservation more than the existing highway through Phrumsengla,” he said.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also said that although the road will have adverse effects on the environment, the economic benefits of the road should also be considered equally.
“If the road can benefit people economically then the government cannot consider the environmental damages,” Lyonchoen said, adding that the new road will also help conservation efforts.
Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said one argument to consider is the comparison of the lengths of the existing highway and the Shingkhar-Gorgan road passing through the park’s central and core zones.
He pointed out that conservationists had no idea about this point because they were all in Thimphu.
According to the minister, the existing road passes through Phrumsengla pass to Yongkola in the central zone and mostly cuts through the southern region of the park. The current road runs through the park area for almost 70km. “Out of 70km of the road passing in the park almost 50km cuts through the core zone,” he said.
But in the proposed alignment of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road only 32km will pass through the park area, Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said. “Only 18km of the 32km will actually pass through the core zone. This is one aspect of Shingkhar-Gorgan, which needs to be considered,” the agriculture minister said.
The minster added that even for conservationists, the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will be much better than the existing highway through Phrumsengla.
The northern zone of Phrumsengla National Park can also be clubbed with the Wangchuck Centennial National Park, he said. “There is just two square kilometres of biological corridor, which can be merged with the Wangchuck Centennial National Park, while in the central and south, it can be clubbed with the Royal Manas National Park because there is already a biological corridor connecting the two parks,” he added. “Even the conservationists would agree that it is better to have more areas protected than fragmented.”
The agriculture ministry, therefore, reasoned that from the conservation point of view the Shingkhar-Gorgan road benefits the parks more compared to the existing highway, which is causing detrimental effects to key species like the Red Panda and Bengal Tiger among others.
The Prime Minister said preliminary studies have indicated that the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will be under less snow cover, shorter in distance, and more comfortable to drive. As a result it will become the national highway once completed.
This in turn will help in conservation since most people will not drive through the existing highway running from the core areas of Phrumsengla National Park.
“When everyone would start taking the Shingkhar-Gorgan road because of its shorter distance, the existing highway would no longer be a commercial highway, it will be turned into a park road. It will be restricted,” Lyonchoen said.