Whenever you see a road construction or widening work in progress, it is normal to see bulldozers and heavy earth moving machines dump all debris down the slope at the very site without care for the flora it would be destroying.
The agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, made the scene glaring and evident when he proclaimed that environment issues are not taken seriously and the mandatory environment clearance (EC) certificate has just become a formality.
The agriculture minister, in a press conference last week, said “We have a stringent environment Act and also the requirement of environment clearance for any development project, but this has become more of a formality. In actual fact, there is no compliance,”
According to the National Environment Commission (NEC), every individual has the responsibility to ensure that environmental concerns are incorporated when formulating, renewing, modifying or implementing any policy, plan, program or project.
However, this does not seem to be happening.
Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said that there was good observation of formalities like environment clearance only on paper. “But once the paper work is completed, it becomes the business of the contractor and the bulldozer drivers, site engineers to do whatever they like.”
Lyonpo also said that people have not been taking the environment clearance seriously “and in the end there is a lousy job done not to mention the significant impact on the environment.”
“If you go and see some of the farm and feeder roads, there is absolutely no compliance to the environment requirements,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, citing an example of a road in Gasa where the whole slope is falling apart because of the debris disposed.
The officiating head of the Environment Services Division (ESD), NEC, Thinley Dorji, explained that big projects that have potential of affecting the environemnt on a large scale have to undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to get the clearance. Small projects need not undergo the full assessment but have to fulfill certain critical criteria.
“We can go ahead with any development activity but at the same time we should not compromise with the environment,” said Thinley Dorji.
Environmental clearances are required not only for new projects but also for expansion works of any project.
Environmental clearances have expiry dates and they have to be renewed at least a month before they expires.
When the necessary environment protection requirements are not fulfilled, penalties ranging from Nu 5,000 to 50,000 are imposed depending on the scale of the offence.
“In other countries, people put the environment first but here people look at the economic benefits first. It is therefore important that we create awareness on why environment is important,” said Thinley Dorji.
He also said that on an average NEC receives more than 30 applications for environmental clearances in a month. The maximum number of applications received is for rural electrification works and the construction of all kinds of roads.