Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Linking Lhuentse with itself

3 June, 2008 - Lhuentse may be one of the most “removed” districts in the country but, within the dzongkhag itself, barriers are coming down to improve connectivity amongst its gewogs.

The building of farm roads to five gewogs began almost simultaneously in June last year and dzongkhag authorities say that 75 percent of the work has been completed. With Kurtoe gewog already connected by a feeder road, six of Lhuentse’s eight gewogs will have road access soon.

The farm roads connecting Khoma, Menji, Tsenkhar, and Chengling gewogs are each 10 km long, while the Jangchubling farm road in Gangzur is about five kilometres.

“Once the farm roads are completed, most villages in these gewogs would be at a maximum walking distance of one and half hours from the road,” said Lhuntse dzongrab, Rinchen. But Ney village in Gangzur will still be a five-hour walk away.

The farm roads are being built under the agriculture marketing and enterprise promotion program (AMEPP) in six eastern dzongkhags. Of the total fund, 25 percent comes from the government and 75 percent from the international fund for agriculture development (IFAD). Two of the farm roads are being constructed on contract and three are handled by the dzongkhag itself.

“We have almost achieved hundred percent physical progress but we’re facing problems with the fund release which has slowed work,” said dzongrab Rinzin. “There is immense pressure from the contractors for payments.”

The programme facilitation office in Khangma, Trashigang, claims that the fund release problems are not unique to Lhuentse alone.

“Building farm roads involves long procedures, which need to stick to guidelines provided by the IFAD procurement program, particularly farm roads built under contract,” said the programme facilitation officer, Sangay.

According to the guidelines, construction begins with a release of advance money, after which the dzongkhag or the contractors are supposed to make an expenditure statement and report for further releases.

“We then prepare the withdrawal application and submit it to IFAD which reviews it and, if satisfied, releases the fund,” said Sangay, adding that the entire procedure took over three months. “There are times when contractors and dzongkhags do not report expenditure so, in the process, we can’t claim it from IFAD.”

“For Lhuentse, even the advance money was not enough and we’re following up with IFAD on a daily basis,” said Sangay.

Only Meso and Jarey gewogs, the dzongkhag’s remotest and poorest, not have a road connection. Dzongrab Rinchen said that a bridge was needed over the Kurichhu to connect the gewogs. “Under farm roads, there is no entitlement for building bridges,” said dzongrab Rinchen.

“There are no potential donors coming forward to fund the bridge across Kurichhu. If there is one bridge, both the gewogs can be connected,” he said.

The dzongkhag administration is also looking at the possibility of building a motorable bridge across to Khoma, which at the moment is connected with a suspension bridge.

Programme facilitation officer, Sangay, said that Khoma was initially connected by a power-tiller track and the suspension bridge was meant for that. “Later, it was upgraded to a farm road, considering the need of the people and now there is an urgent requirement for a bridge,” he said. “People take small cars over the suspension bridge which is risky.”

He said that it was ironical considering that AMEPP’s aim was to reach poorer areas, most of which were situated across rivers. “And there is no provision for construction of bridges and permanent structures in the guidelines,” he said.


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