The decision to let the Department of Roads (DoR), instead of Project DANTAK, to construct the controversial 56 kilometres Shingkhar – Gorgan road, is progressive.
Although the road construction remains contentious with environment clearance now halting the project, the DoR executing the project would still mean enhanced monitoring and accountability. How the road is constructed matters, more so in this case because a section of the stretch runs through the protected area.
The plan to construct this road from Shingkhar in Bumthang to Gorgan in Lhuntse has been mired in politics since the last government’s tenure. Environmentalists have raised concerns over a stretch of the road running through a core area of the protected area. Then, the concerns were louder and the Forest And Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations too did not allow a road to be built through the park.
This time the rules and regulations are amended and despite voices of ardent advocates of environment mellowing, the construction of the road remains suspended. For now and perhaps for once, the National Environment Commission remains firm on its decision.
When the issue was discussed at the National Council, concerns were raised on the slow progress of road construction undertaken by the Project DANTAK. Council members pointed out that the construction of the bypass at Damchu, is still incomplete just as the road construction from Chuzom to Damthang in Haa. Progress on the Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway, the East West Highway and from Chazam, Trashigang to Yadi in Mongar were also questioned.
The minister’s response, however, did not touch on these concerns and people are still left without answers. We must understand that despite rapid socioeconomic progress, we are a country that is still connecting communities with roads. Roads bring schools and hospitals and electricity to villages. It is a sign of development, and when progress on such lifelines is dismal, it impacts lives as much as the credibility of those executing the works. It raises questions of governance.
An elected government must not be indifferent to the concerns of the people. It must respond even as it works hard to fulfil its pledges. Just as the government pushes for a road through a protected area, it must also seek accountability from those where monitoring and accountability is weak. That is nation building, indeed.