Mired in a political and environmental quagmire, the much talked about Shingkhar- Gorgan highway is back on the agenda again.

With the hope that the National Environment Commission (NEC) would give the green signal to construct the highway that will cut the distance to Lhuentse by 100 kilometres (km), the works and human settlement ministry has budgeted Nu 400 million in the 12th Plan.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering, at the Friday meet yesterday, said that if the construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway does not come through, the budget would be used for widening the Ura to Lingmithang highway.

The Shingkhar-Gorgan highway construction was stopped after the NEC rejected the Department of Roads’ (DoR) request for environment clearance to construct the road.

Lyonpo said discussions on the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway has been going on for more than a decade and the construction is on hold only because of the environment clearance although the ministry is ready.

“We’ve even submitted the additional required documents the commission had asked and we’re hoping that we would get the clearance at least by first or second financial year of the 12th Plan,” Lyonpo said. “If not, we will not waste time and divert the fund to the widening of Ura-Lingmithang highway.”

The commission has earlier reported that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), a key-determining factor in issuing the environment clearance, was inadequate. The first EIA report states that the road passes through the core area, while the DoR has the forest clearance stating the road is not passing through the core area.

It was also reported that most of the information in the EIA, which was submitted sometime in 2011 or 2012, was from deskwork and that the officials who conducted the EIA did not go to the field to assess.

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said that the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway is important and the NEC has still not issued the environment clearance. The delay has hampered the widening of the Ura-Lingmithang road. “If we get the clearance, widening would be a waste.”

The NEC had earlier asked DoR to redo the EIA. Lyonpo said that it would not be easy because it would incur huge cost and time. “Finding resources would take about two years and then another two years to complete the EIA. By then the 12th Plan would have almost come to half and by the time we get clearance, it would be almost 2023,” Lyonpo said. The priority today is to restudy specific flaws or missing data in the report.

Shingkhar-Gorgan road, which was initially estimated to cost around Nu 890 million, is expected to reduce travelling distance between Thimphu and three eastern dzongkhags.  The road will also benefit Lhuentse, a remote dzongkhag with one of the highest population under poverty. Lhuentse, today is reached after climbing to Thrumshingla, the highest road point, dropping down to Lingmithang and then climbing up to Lhuentse. The planned road, 69.60 kms, will reduce the distance by about 100 kms.

Yangchen C Rinzin