Hap­pi­ness is a Place … of rick­ety roads and bumpy rides!

Business Bhutan - - Opinion - Yeshey Dorji The writer is a mem­ber of the Ro­tary Club and an avid blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­pher

One evening a few days back, a re­tired se­nior of­fi­cer walked in on me while I was sip­ping beer in a restau­rant. I wished him Kuzuangpo and of­fered him a chair to sit on, and a beer to drink. He de­clined the of­fer of beer ex­plain­ing that it ex­as­per­ated his gout and gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems. But he ac­cepted the of­fer of a chair. Not quiet the shy and re­tir­ing type, my un­ex­pected com­pan­ion got straight to the point; “Yeshey, I read your Blog quite reg­u­larly and I like most of what you write. How­ever, I do not like your ar­ti­cles on the Shingkhar-Gor­gan road.” “What is wrong with my Shingkhar-Gor­gan road ar­ti­cles?” “In your last post on the sub­ject, you al­lege that some pri­vate in­ter­est is be­hind the push for the road. This is to­tally wrong. I know that there is no pri­vate in­ter­est in­volved. Any­way, why does it have to be pri­vate in­ter­est? Aren’t the peo­ple of Lhuentse im­por­tant enough to de­serve the Shingkhar-Gor­gan road?” “You also say that the road is il­le­gal. You surely know how many roads run through na­tional parks. Why is this made an is­sue of, while you keep quite about other roads that run through a num­ber of parks and re­serve forests?” He went on; “Lhuentsips spend hun­dreds of Ngul­trums more, to make a de­tour to come to Thim­phu or to go to Trashiyangtse. With this road, peo­ple of Lhuentse can get to Thim­phu much faster and with greater ease, and at lesser cost.” If few thou­sand lines that I have al­ready writ­ten on the sub­ject (which he has read) have not been able to dis­suade him from the folly of his logic, it is un­likely that an­other round of lec­ture will help al­ter his views. But I did try. Un­for­tu­nately, we had to cut short our dis­cus­sions since he was called way. It is a pity. This re­tired of­fi­cer worked in the civil ser­vice for close to four decades. He had risen to one of the high­est po­si­tions in the bu­reau­cracy; he held some se­ri­ously im­por­tant posts with great re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Dur­ing his ten­ure in the gov­ern­ment, he would have been in­doc­tri­nated in, and par­roted about, the virtues and mer­its of serv­ing the Tsa Wa Sum (King, Coun­try and Peo­ple), a few thou­sand times. And yet, all that he has to show for it at the dusk of his life is that it is still about serv­ing the “Tsa Wa Nga” (Self). I do not think that the ques­tion is about whether Lhuentsips are im­por­tant - more likely, the per­ti­nent ques­tion to ask would be whether they are more im­por­tant than rest of the Bhutanese. For con­text, please read my fol­low­ing post: What is the logic be­hind the gov­ern­ment want­ing to spend more than 2 bil­lion Ngul­trums (I am aware that the present es­ti­mate is Nu.890 mil­lion) to build that il­le­gal and sense­less road? What mean­ing­ful ben­e­fit would this road bring to the coun­try and the rest of the peo­ple of Bhutan, other then help­ing some Lhuentsips, in the words of this re­tired civil ser­vant, to get to Thim­phu in a jiffy? He also made the point that there are roads ex­ist­ing within the park ar­eas and re­served forests and that if I cared so much for the law and the en­vi­ron­ment, I should be mak­ing noise about those and not merely about the ShingkharGor­gan road. I am amazed at this un­for­tu­nate and re­gres­sive point of view. What he is say­ing is that we should con­tinue to break laws and im­peril the en­vi­ron­ment, on the grounds that there is prece­dence of roads be­ing built through the park sys­tems and re­serve forests. He is un­will­ing to con­sider that those were built dur­ing a time when laws pro­hibit­ing their con­struc­tion were not in place - that in some cases, the im­per­a­tives were dif­fer­ent and more com­pelling. I tried to ex­plain to him that there is no such thing as an il­le­gal law - that as long as a law re­mains valid and in force, it has to be re­spected and abided with, as stupid as they may ap­pear to be. That is what all law abid­ing cit­i­zens do. It is a mat­ter of great con­cern that not many seem to have any sense of the far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions of do­ing this road. Even fewer seem to un­der­stand that do­ing this road will test ev­ery sin­gle one of our re­solves – those re­lated to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, the prom­ise of “Bhutan for Life”, the claim that we are a GNH coun­try, that we are a comity of peo­ple who re­spect laws and the right of the an­i­mals, our re­solve and prom­ise to en­sure for­est cov­er­age of 60% for all times to come, our guar­an­tee for the eq­ui­table distri­bu­tion of na­tion’s wealth and op­por­tu­ni­ties. Do­ing this road will be the very an­tithe­sis to all the prom­ises we make and the hope we hold out to all those who look up to us, to pro­vide lead­er­ship and di­rec­tion in heal­ing a world that is go­ing sicker by the day. To say Bhutan can sin­gle hand­edly save this planet from ruin would be pre­pos­ter­ous - but to say that our ef­forts would be, as one of our hon­or­able Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans put it, in­con­se­quen­tial when big­ger spoil­ers aren’t do­ing their share, would be the height of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity. We can­not give up hope just be­cause oth­ers aren’t as car­ing. I hope that the present gov­ern­ment is ma­ture enough to re­al­ize that if they go ahead and do this Shingkhar-Gor­gan road, they will be seen as a gov­ern­ment that con­nives with in­ter­est groups to break laws - that which they have been elected to pro­tect and up­hold, and be the cus­to­di­ans of. Come to think of it - road con­struc­tion in Bhutan fol­lows a cer­tain set pat­tern that de­fies logic. Roads that we do not need get done, and those that are crit­i­cal re­main un­done. Shingkhar-Gor­gan road is il­le­gal, mean­ing­less, en­vi­ron­men­tally de­struc­tive, a com­plete slur to our rep­u­ta­tion as a cham­pion of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, and yet we want to do it, so des­per­ately that the gov­ern­ment would sub­mit false re­ports to the NEC in an ef­fort to ob­tain en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance. What we need is the widen­ing of roads: North-South and South-North given the in­crease in traf­fic and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in those ar­eas. And yet, it is the West-East road that we are widen­ing at great cost to the tourism in­dus­try and the en­vi­ron­ment. Kawa­jangtsa has seen the largest con­cen­tra­tion of some se­ri­ously large build­ings: Na­tional Land Com­mis­sion, Min­istry of Health, Royal Au­dit Au­thor­ity, WWF, RSPN, UNDP, NITM, ACC and, more re­cently the Democ­racy House. In ad­di­tion, the area at­tracts a large num­ber of tourists since the area has some in­ter­est­ing des­ti­na­tions of tourist in­ter­est, such as the In­sti­tute of Zorign Chusum, Na­tional Li­brary, Folk Her­itage Mu­seum, in­clud­ing most fre­quented hand­i­craft shops and a very pop­u­lar eatery called the Folk Her­itage Mu­seum Restau­rant. And yet, a patch of road in that area has seen years of ne­glect and ap­a­thy. The patch of road - no more that 500 Mtrs. - be­tween the Na­tional Li­brary and the Democ­racy House is in to­tal sham­bles. The Democ­racy House would have cost few hun­dred mil­lions to build and yet, they did not pro­vide less than a mil­lion to do up the road lead­ing to it. The bumpy pot-hole rid­den road is not a sight we can be proud of. Sim­i­larly, Bhutan earns hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars - from tourist arrivals ev­ery year. And yet, we are un­able to pave that short stretch of road in Paro - that run along side the BOD to­wards Dru­gyel Dzong. This stretch of road is not more than 500 Mtrs. And yet, year after year it re­mains bro­ken down and un­re­paired. It is quiet pos­si­ble that ev­ery tourist that land in Bhutan bumps along this road - on their sight­see­ing trips to Tak­t­sang, Dru­gyel Dzong, Kichu Lhakhang, and those who are headed for treks to Ju­mol­hari and be­yond. We talk of spend­ing Nu.890 mil­lion on the Shingkhar-Gor­gan road and Nu.8 bil­lion on the West-East high­way widen­ing --- and yet we are un­able to find the money to do less than a thou­sand Mtrs. of road resur­fac­ing in Kawa­jangtsa and Paro. If we hope to keep the cash cows moo­ing con­tent­edly, we have to learn to give them an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence. This is not the way to do it. As I said in one of my ear­lier posts, we have to be­gin to place our hearts where our minds are. Or soon there will be a cho­rus of: Hap­pi­ness is a Place! …. of bumpy rides and rick­ety roads.

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