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No more waiver, Bhutan to levy charges on Indian tourists

Regional tourists take selfies at the National Memorial Chorten, a prominent religious landmark in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

Bhutan mulling to impose entry fees for regional tourists

To ensure that the country remains an exclusive tourist destination, the Bhutan Government is planning to introduce a few measures. With Bhutan witnessing growth in the footfall of tourists, it has been rapidly marching toward mass tourism destination, mostly facing overcrowding issue from the neighbouring countries.

While many foreign tour companies are pulling back from the country citing that it has turned into a noisy place, many foreign tourists are complaining that they are bound to pay much higher tariff for hotel rooms than regional tourists.

Now people from BangladeshIndia and Maldives enjoy the status of regional tourists in Bhutan. And in such a situation, when the Bhutan Government is trying to find a solution to tackle the overcrowding problem, the regional tourists might have to prepare themselves to face the brunt.

As per latest news reports, the Bhutan Government is planning to control tourist inflow within a year by introducing a fee for regional tourists as recommended by the Pay Commission.

Bhutan mulling to impose entry fees for regional tourists

Recently, the Fourth Bhutan Pay Commission has also recommended that the government should impose a minimal Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) on regional tourists. And if implemented, charging SDF will help the government to earn revenue of around INR 4.25 crore on an annual basis.

The government is also planning to regularise the rates of low-budget hotels in the country and ensuring that hotels take in a limited number of regional tourists. Further, as per reports, the Tourism Council of Bhutan will also be monitoring the hotel facilities in the country.

Not just this, the country will also keep a check on the number of foreign vehicles entering the country.

The iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery in the Paro Valley is Bhutan’s most famous tourist site. Founded in the eighth century, the Buddhist temple clings to a cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

Wedged between India and China, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has long been regarded as one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, off the beaten track for the average tourist.

Until recently, a cautious approach to developing international tourism, in line with a “high value, low impact” strategy that requires foreign visitors from most parts of the world to spend a minimum of $250 a day during peak season, had limited arrivals while generating substantial economic benefits. Tourism is the country’s biggest hard-currency earner, bringing in $85.4 million in 2018, and overall revenue is second only to hydropower.

But Bhutan’s reputation as an exotic, luxurious destination is being wrecked by an explosion of regional tourists, mainly from India, who are not subject to the minimum daily spending requirements imposed on travelers from farther afield. They can also travel in tour groups and stay in budget accommodation, and are not required to employ guides.

The influx has been so overwhelming for the landlocked mountainous nation of just over 750,000 people that some high-end tour operators are now considering pulling out because they feel that Bhutan can no longer be sold as an exclusive destination.

Robin Smillie, an American tour operator who has been leading high-end travelers to Bhutan since 2001, said he plans to end tours to the country by April 2020 because of overcrowding at prime sites such as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang, a cliffside Buddhist temple.

Regional tourists take selfies at the National Memorial Chorten, a prominent religious landmark in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

“Since 2001 I have successfully sold Bhutan as a high-end, less-traveled destination to seasoned travelers,” he said. “Imagine their dismay when they arrive at the foot of Tiger’s Nest to find a parking lot bursting with buses, hordes of noisy regional tourists clogging the trail, a gauntlet of vendors hawking fake made-in-Bhutan products and garbage-strewn roads.”

Other high-end tour operators share this sentiment, lamenting the emergence of mass tourism in Bhutan, which received 274,097 visitors in 2018, equal to a more than third of the population. More than 200,000 were regional tourists, mainly from India but including some from Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Up to 2012, only about 100,000 tourists a year visited Bhutan, with about half coming from the region. International arrivals have since grown by about 7% a year on average, but regional arrivals have risen by roughly 25% a year.

The soaring numbers have prompted angry exchanges between high-end travel operators from overseas and regional tourists on social media, while many Indians have taken umbrage at being characterized as uncouth, messy and noisy.

Tourists take a photo in front of Thimphu’s 54-meter-high Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest of its kind in the world.   © Reuters

“My partner in Europe has expressed [the desire to end] tours to Bhutan because the last time he came here, most tourist sites were crowded with regional tourists,” said L.B. Gurung of Blue Sheep Tours & Treks, based in Thimphu. “I don’t know how long Bhutan can continue as a high-end destination.”

In part, Bhutan is a victim of its own success in branding itself as a tourist destination, which has encouraged regional visitors to join the flow. The country shares a 700 km border with India, and its cooler climate offers an easy escape from summer heat and polluted cities.

To meet demand, there had been a surge in investments in the hotel industry, particularly in budget accommodation, doubling the number of available beds to 10,000 over the same period, according to the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan.

A cap hangs in a souvenir shop in Thimphu. Not everyone is happy with the growth in tourist numbers.   © AP

The government has sought to encourage high-end investment through tax incentives on imported hotel furnishings and fittings, and two years ago it introduced entry fees to popular monuments and heritage sites in an attempt to control visitor numbers. But a newly elected government plans to go further, introducing a cap on the number of regional tourists permitted each year.

“The issue has been discussed with the Indian leadership and they suggested capping,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Tandi Dorji, who is also chair of the Tourism Council of Bhutan. “It is not just people here but also visitors from India and Bangladesh who are complaining of the crowds and feel something should be done.”

Other planned measures include mandatory advance applications for e-permits for visitors arriving by road and an extension to all tourists of a sustainable development levy that currently applies only to international arrivals.

But the plan to cap numbers has worried some in the industry, who argue that regional tourism benefits the economy, and should be encouraged by better management and regulation.

Entry fees were introduced at the National Memorial Chorten and other heritage sites two years ago. (Photo by Phuntsho Wangdi)

“There is a misconception that Bhutan is facing mass tourism,” said Sonam Wangchuk, chairman of the hotel and restaurant association, who said tourism seems more invasive than it really is because the country has too few visitor sites, mostly located close together in the west of the country.

“We support [the idea] that a policy and rules and regulations should be in place, but discouraging regional tourists is a concern,” he said, adding that regional tourists make up for the annual low season for high-end visitors, when numbers fall.

“It should not be one segment of travelers or the other,” said Nyima of Namsey Adventures, who has been in the travel business for more than 20 years. “Regional visitors should be encouraged because it benefits the entire supply chain. and the government should instead focus on diversifying products and spreading out the numbers,” she said.

The government has set aside 1.5 billion ngultrum ($22 million) for a flagship program intended to diversify products and spread tourism beyond the western region. These include adventure sports, highland festivals, bird-watching, and heritage tours in the east and central regions.

Nyima said that regional tourists also bring in Indian currency, which is crucially important to Bhutan because it relies on India for 80% of imports. Retailers in the Paro Valley, home to a number of religious and historical sites, now offer change in Indian rupees, which was unthinkable a few years ago.

But high-end tour operators and international visitors welcomed the idea of capping numbers and charging expensive entry fees to attractions. “Whatever means are available to Bhutan to limit volume, by legislation, supply and demand pricing, it must be done, and quickly,” said Joseph Breen, 79, an American who has visited Bhutan 15 times over the past decade.

“During my four visits in the past two years I have been struck by the suddenly overwhelming impact of mass tourism as I travel the country, especially in the more heavily visited region from Paro [in the west of the country] to Bumthang [in the center].

“I was in Bhutan for more than two weeks just two months ago, when my current views were reinforced that Bhutan is now starting down the path to becoming just one more overcrowded tourist spot.”


Sikkim to explore ‘cable cars’ to beat traffic snarls in Gangtok

Dichen Ongmu : 

 In an effort to control the alarming traffic congestion faced by residents while commuting, the Sikkim government has decided to explore ‘cable cars’ as a means of public transport system in state capital Gangtok.

The length of the conceptual mass transit systtem rounds up to 12.42 km with 13 stations.

In a statement, the state information and public relations department said that Sikkim chief secretary SC Gupta on Wednesday chaired a meeting on ‘Techno-Economic Feasibility Study of Cable Car as Public Transport System for Gangtok’ held by the Urban Development & Housing Department in co-ordination with Urban Mass Transit Company Limited (UMTC) in New Delhi. The meeting was also attended by the head of various stakeholder departments of the state for their opinion over adopting cable cars as a solution.

The statement further stated that representative of UDHD while attending the meet at the national capital informed that it had engaged UMTC since September 2016 and thereafter, during a period of three months, the UMTC team will conduct a primary survey of data for the projection of traffic situation in the next 30 years in Gangtok. The chief secretary also stressed that the report being presented during the meet was only preliminary data and not the detailed project report (DPR).Sikkim Chief Secreatary, SC Gupta chairing the meeting with UPHD and UMTC officials in New Delhi.

Chief secretary Gupta in the meet also stated that adopting cable cars as mode of public transport in Gangtok is being explored as one of the appropriate solutions available for the capital to tackle the burgeoning traffic menace. He said that if adopted, cable cars can become a viable long term solution to solve the grievances being faced by the state in terms of road traffic. He also put forward the resolution of the state government to effectively decongestant the roads of the state capital and mentioned that all possible options are being explored with utmost priority.

Adding to it, Gupta also expressed that Gangtok is a hill station and all the challenges in terms of geography and limited space are being considered while devising customized solutions to solve the traffic problem for the capital.

In the meeting, the state chief secretary also made various inquiries regarding safety, travel time and environmental factors related to cable cars and expressed satisfaction at the study that was done by the concerned department and UMTC.

Meanwhile, UMTC manager Harshita Sharma focussed on ‘moving people and not vehicles’ as per National Urban Transport Policy, 2016 and taking into consideration the population of Gangtok including tourist inflow and the unique geography of the town.

She further added that the key mobility concerns of the town were challenging terrain conditions, limited land availability for road network development, increasing private vehicle share, extensive dependence on taxi services, poor infrastructure and lack of parking spaces.

The presentation also touched upon coverage, multi-modal integration, accessibility and safety of cable car transport system.


Defence Minister opens bridge on the river Sishiri in Arunachal

THE new bridge over Sisseri River, which will be inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday during his two-day trip to Arunachal Pradesh, will reduce travel time between Dibang and Siang valleys in the state, sources said here on Thursday.

According to a senior official of the Indian Army, the 200-metre bridge, which will connect Pasi Ghat with Roing, will reduce travel time between the two places by at least five hours.

The bridge built by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) falls along the road that is being constructed by the Union government under the Trans-Arunachal Highway project.

“The road will be extremely beneficial for local transportation. Earlier, the locals had to trudge several miles to reach Pasi Ghat from Roing or vice versa. With the new bridge, travel time between the two places will be cut by more than five hours,” said the official.

The bridge, engineered by the BRO, is a double-carriageway structure with four spans of 50-metre each.

“The bridge is an important link in the Trans-Arunachal Highway that is being built from Tawang at the extreme end of Arunachal Pradesh to Kanubari. The Sisseri Bridge will help travelling to the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge through which commuters can reach Tinsukia district in Assam,” said the official.

The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge, named after popular Assamese singer and filmmaker Bhupen Hazarika, is the first road connection between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017.

The Trans-Arunachal Highway being constructed by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways spans a total length of over 1,500 km. The project, though launched by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has been pursued aggressively by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) since 2015.

The highway project is expected to boost tourism in Arunachal Pradesh besides giving impetus to the under-developed industrial sector in the northeastern state.

Rajnath Singh reached Arunachal Pradesh on Thursday where he was received by the state’s Chief Minister Pema Khandu.

A Defence Ministry official said that Rajnath Singh visited the Tawang War Memorial and Tawang Monastery on the first day of his two-day trip. He also attended the Maitree Diwas celebrations, a multi-cultural social event, held in the Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatso high altitude stadium in Tawang as the chief guest of the event.

On Friday, Rajnath will visit India’s forward post at Bum La near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, apart from inaugurating the bridge.

In October, Rajnath had inaugurated another bridge of the BRO that has been built across the Shyok River in Ladakh. The Shyokm River bridge, named after a valiant soldier of Ladakh, Colonel Chewang Rinchen, has been built to allow ease of troop movement to the Daulat Beg Oldi sector, located near the LAC along China’s Xinjiang province, where a 21-day military standoff had taken place between India and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.


FAC recommends subcommittee on Etalin HEP, says 2017 recommendation not complied with

by  Tongam Rina 

The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) has recommended setting up a subcommittee of the FAC regarding diversion of forest land for the 3097 mw Etalin hydroelectric project (HEP) in Dibang Valley district by the Jindals’ Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited (EHEPCL), as the FAC recommendation of February 2017 has not been complied with.
The FAC noted that the representatives from the EHEPCL and the Arunachal government were not present at the meeting it held in October this year, so their viewpoints for consultation and clarification of doubts could not be obtained.
The FAC has recommended that a subcommittee visit the site and check if the total land requirement could be further reduced.
The subcommittee, which will include representatives from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), will also look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.”
Prior to the latest meeting, the proposal regarding the diversion of 1165.66 ha (including 91.331 ha underground area) of forest land for construction of the Etalin HEP was placed before the FAC in January 2015, and again in February 2017.
The ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) had recommended environment clearance for the project in January 2017.
In its February 2017 meeting, the FAC “had recommended conducting multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment by an internationally credible institute as environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completely inadequate in this regard.”

Omission of facts on flora and fauna
Following the February 2017 meeting of the FAC, the ministry had written to Arunachal’s principal forest secretary in March 2017, pointing out discrepancies observed, including omission of facts regarding the presence of flora and fauna.
The site inspection carried out by the state government’s forest officials did not mention about the biodiversity of the area in its report, the FAC had noted.
It said the proposed project falls under the richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone, under one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world, besides being an important habitat of tiger and many other endangered species.
About six globally threatened mammal species are found in this region, of which three are endangered and three are under the ‘vulnerable’ category. About 680 bird species have been recorded from this region, which is about 56 percent of the total bird species of India. Among them, 19 are globally threatened, and 10 are near-threatened. It has four critically endangered, two endangered, and 13 vulnerable species.
The entire region falls under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Management Categories III and IV as an endemic bird area, a global biodiversity hotspot, and a key biodiversity area, indicating its importance on a global scale. The chief conservator of forests, however, mentioned a few mammal and plant species. “In fact, this area has more biodiversity than any other part of the country,” the FAC noted.

Conflict of interest

Even as the FAC asked for a fresh study, in September 2017 the MoEFCC, questionably and in clear conflict of interest, wrote to the WII, stating that the “ministry has decided that WII to conduct the study on mutually agreed terms and conditions with the user agency & WII and the report may be submitted to the state government/user agency for further consideration.”
Ideally, the ministry should have asked the report to be submitted to the FAC and not to the Jindals or the state government.
Following the letter from the ministry, the WII floated an advertisement seeking applications for subject matter specialists for preparation of a wildlife conservation plan for the impact zone of the Etalin HEP on a contractual basis, for a flexible period of 90/180/270 days.
Instead of carrying out multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment as recommended by the FAC, the WII changed the scope of the project from an EIA report to: ‘Preparation for wildlife conservation plan for impact zone of Etalin HEP, Dibang Valley district’.
The change in the topic of study clearly reflects that the WII is in collaboration with the Jindals.
The state government, according to the MoEFCC, had requested the WII “to conduct multiple seasonal replicate study for the preparation of wildlife and biodiversity plans and the WII submitted a proposal to conduct the study and requested the government of Arunachal to give administrative and financial approval, along with the provisions of funds.”

2,80,677 trees proposed to be felled

The project is located in the Anini social forest division, in Dibang Valley district, and an estimated 2,80,677 trees are proposed to be felled for the project.
The compensatory afforestation has been proposed over 1074.329 ha over an equivalent area, with a total financial outlay of Rs 19,64,56,700, in the degraded community forest land. However, the district administration said that suitable degraded non-forest land is not available in Dibang Valley to carry out compensatory afforestation activities.
In its October 2019 meeting, the FAC said the subcommittee may also look into the concerns highlighted by the environment ministry’s regional office in Shillong (Meghalaya) in its site inspection report (SIR), especially related to the tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in the biodiversity assessments study conducted by the WII.
The SIR noted that there would be five sites of stone/shoal quarries over an area of 27.856 ha. It suggested that option may be explored to reduce the area if the quarries are located inside the submergence areas.
It also suggested that the dumping areas which are proposed at 13 sites, amounting to 100.774 ha, may be reconsidered to save destruction of forests.
A huge area under construction has been proposed, which includes labour camps, a contractors’ colony and the owner’s site office, apart from other sites for the main office, the residential colony and the contractor’s colony, measuring about 64.99 hectares. This obviously has come under the scanner of the regional office as well as the FAC.
The SIR specifically noted that the enumeration has not reflected the ground reality because (a) huge trees have not been reflected in the enumeration list, (b) the size of the sampling plots were actually less than recorded and have been measured along the slope, and (c) the sampling intensity is too less for getting proper assessment of the composition and structure of the forests.
It suggested that enumeration needs to be redone on a sampling of minimum 10 percent sampling intensity after ensuring that the representative areas are taken in the sampling, and that all tree-size areas are recorded.
The report further noted that neither has the certificate of the chief secretary regarding unavailability of non-forest land been submitted, nor have the details of the land identified for compensatory afforestation and land suitability certificate been submitted.
The catchment area treatment plan and compliance with the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, have not been submitted.
The Etalin HEP is proposed to be developed as a combination of two run-of-the-river schemes, and the project envisages construction of concrete gravity dams on the Tangon and the Dri rivers, and diverting the water through two separate waterway systems to utilize the available head in a common underground powerhouse located just upstream of the confluence of the Dri and the Tangaon rivers.
The project is being executed through the EHEPCL, a joint venture company of the Jindal Power Limited, and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited, at an estimated cost of approximately Rs 25,296.95 crore. (Arunachal Times)



Railways Connectivity For Tawang In Arunachal Pradesh Soon

We are very soon going to connect Tawang with railways, General Manager Northeast Frontier Railway Construction said.

India’s bid to take trains to Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district at a height of 10,000 ft is inching closer to reality with the laying of foundation stone of North east frontier railways camp office and rest house on Friday.

“We are very soon going to connect Tawang with railways,” General Manager Northeast Frontier Railway Construction, Nilesh Kishore Prasad, said.

He said the railway line from Bhalukpong to Tawang will be 198 km, out of which 177 km will be under tunnels with very little disturbance to the ecology.

Mr Kumar said the proposed railway tunnel crossing Dzela pass will be 27 km and is one of the longest tunnels in the country.

Bhalukpong is the entry point on the road to Tawang at 10,000 feet about 290 km away.

Tawang is also connected by a helicopter service, but unpredictable weather often leads to cancellation of flights.

“It was a distant dream for us to have Tawang connected with railways, but now the dreams are going to be achieved in reality,” Extra Assistant Commissioner Tawang, Choiki Dondup said.


Lecture on sustainable community development

Naga Scholars’ Association (NSA) organised a special lecture on “Sustainable Community Development: Giving Back to Communities” on October 19 at the School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). 

Prof. Murari Suvedi, Michigan State University, USA, who was the speaker of the programme, shared his action research work on community development in Nepal. In response to an appeal from the community, he undertook the challenge of organizing six different developmental projects. 

This was stated in a press statement issued by NSA president, Dr. Zuchamo Yanthan. 

Some of the fundamental principles of sustainable community development he derived from his work includes the following points: “Farmers are not used to cooperative marketing since managing cooperative requires social and cultural change”. 

He said local farmers can be empowered to manage improved production as well as marketing of farm products. 

Stressing that participation of the beneficiary was inevitable and collaboration with the development partners was essential, prof. Murari said that capacity building required teamwork. 

His presentation was based on the fundamental question of asking what “we” owe to each other and how one can give back to own communities, especially the least advantaged, through effective community participation for sustainable development, the statement stated. 

The special lecture was chaired by prof. PVK Sasidhar, School of Extension and Development Studies, IGNOU. Dr. Zuchamo Yanthan, president of NSA opened the session with a prelude to the theme. 

The rapportuer of the session was Dr.Phuireingam Hongchui, PhD scholar in JNU. Dr. Lungthuyang Riamei, general secretary of NSA, proposed vote of thanks.


103 private hydro projects fail to take off in Arunachal

  • Firms that won the contract to set up the projects lack the capacity to do so, says govt
  • india has installed generation capacity of 357.87GW. Of this, 45.4GW comes from hydropower projects

As many as 103 private hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh totalling about 35 gigawatts (GW) are still to take off despite the government’s Act East policy focus.

This comes against the backdrop of growing concerns on the delay in India’s plans to generate power from rivers originating from neighbouring China.

The projects that are estimated to require investments of about₹3.5 trillion were awarded to the private power producers by the Arunachal Pradesh government, said three Union government officials aware of the matter on condition of anonymity.

The state government has now approached the Centre to explore whether state-run power producers such as NHPC Ltdwould want to take over the projects, said the three people mentioned above.

The Arunachal Pradesh government has already issued termination notices to 21 such projects totalling around 2.5GW, the three people mentioned above said.

“Those projects couldn’t be constructed. The work is at a standstill on all of them,” said one of the officials. “Those projects were awarded by taking some upfront money or premiums from the private sector developers. Not one of these projects could be constructed,” said the official.

The government has been pushing an economic agenda, especially with respect to long-pending infrastructure projects, keeping in mind the geo-economics of the northeastern region. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has also substantially increased budgetary support for the region.

A delay in building hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law. India is concerned that hydropower projects planned in Arunachal Pradesh may be affected by the neighbouring country’s plan to divert water from rivers that flow into the Brahmaputra towards the arid zones of Xinjiang and Gansu.

Arunachal Pradesh, which has the greatest hydropower potential among Indian states, awarded private companies contracts to build four hydropower projects though NHPC had prepared their detailed project reports (DPRs), Mint reported on 8 October 2012. A DPR forms the basis for implementing capital-intensive projects, which involve relocation and resettlement of project-affected persons and the ability to withstand geological surprises and also requires a substantive investment of time and money. “The private sector companies don’t have the capacity to set them up,” said another of the officials mentioned above.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India in a report, Performance Audit on Capacity Expansion in Hydro Power Sector by CPSEs (central public sector enterprises), tabled earlier in Parliament, said the power ministry should instruct state governments that allocation of projects above 100 megawatts needs to be “fair, transparent and competitive”.

“The government of Arunachal Pradesh is committed to harness in a time-bound manner, the hydro potential of Arunachal Pradesh, which is about 60% of India’s potential, in close cooperation with the government of India, including central PSUs,” said the state’s chief secretary, Naresh Kumar.

India’s north-eastern region, along with Bhutan, has a total hydropower generation potential of about 58GW. Of this, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50.32GW. India at present has an installed generation capacity of 357.87GW, of which 13% or about 45.4GW comes from hydropower projects.

“Doors are open for projects in the North-East particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. Hydropower will play an important role in the development and integration of the region with the mainland,” said Balraj Joshi, chairman and managing director of NHPC.  (The Mint) 

Development, International

Key tunnel on Lhasa-Nyingchi railway completed

Construction on a pivotal tunnel on a railway linking Lhasa and Nyingchi in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region was completed Friday, marking huge progress of the mammoth project.

  • The Bukamu Tunnel, located in Milin County of Nyingchi, is 9,240 meters long with an average elevation of 3,100 meters above the sea level. It is also the 37th tunnel being finished, leaving just 10 tunnels to be completed by the end of the year.
  • Over 3,000 rock bursts were counted during the construction of the tunnel, while the oxygen level inside was merely 19 percent that of the plain areas, said Wang Shucheng, director of the project.
  • The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is 435 km long, 75 percent of which are bridges and tunnels. It is expected to be completed in 2021

Most of the tunnels along the Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway have been completed, railway authorities said over the weekend.

The Bukamu Tunnel, one of the longest tunnels on the railway linking Lhasa and Nyingchi in Southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region, was completed on Friday. With its completion, 96 percent of the tunnels on the Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the railway are finished.

The 9,240-meter Bukamu Tunnel is located in Manling county of the region’s eastern Nyingchi city. According to the China Railway 17th Bureau Group, and it is also the 37th tunnel to be completed for this section, leaving 10 other tunnels to be finished by the end of the year.

“Once construction began in October 2015, it took more than 300 workers 1,234 days to complete the tunnel,” said Yan Qingjing, an official of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway Headquarters, which is part of the group.

“The oxygen level in the region is merely 50 percent that of the plain areas, with the tunnel’s location at an average elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level, and the oxygen level inside the tunnel is only 19 percent of that of the plain areas,” Yan said.

The group’s statistics show that more than 90 percent of the tunnel is rock burst section, and that more than 3,000 rock bursts were counted during construction of the tunnel, with an average daily burst of three.

Wang Shucheng, director of the project, said the tunnel’s depth reaches 1,381 meters at one point, and high geostress inside causes the tunnel’s highest temperature to reach 42 C, much higher than the railway tunnel construction safety temperature of 28 C.

“The tunnel is like a steam room,” said Kang Yanjun, who works with the group. “Once you get inside, you begin sweating profusely. It is like doing anaerobic exercise.”

The technicians must exert a lot of energy every time they work in the tunnel, and each person needs at least 10 bottles of water, Kang said.

“We have implemented a 90-minute work shift schedule,” Kang said. “We place ice blocks in the tunnel to prevent workers from getting sick because of the high temperature, and we also use fans and oxygen transfer stations inside the tunnel.”

With a length of 2,416 kilometers, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway connects Southwest China’s Sichuan province with the Tibet autonomous region. It is the second railway linking Tibet with the rest of the world, along with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.


Development, Society

University of California, Berkeley to adopt 100 villages in Meghalaya

The U.S.-based University of California, Berkeley will adopt 100 villages in Meghalaya to start a concept of smart villages and address the issue of urban migration due to environmental issues, Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said on Friday. The Chief Minister was addressing a gathering at Montreux (Switzerland), who converged for the Caux Forum, which aims to inspire, equip and connect people, groups and organisations to build a just, sustainable and peaceful world.

The State government will sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the University of California, Berkeley in September to adopt 100 villages to start the concept of smart villages in Meghalaya, Mr. Conrad said, according to an official release issued here.

Our cities are already choking and having smart villages will prevent urban migration and related environmental issues, he said.

The Chief Minister spoke highly of the States’ uniqueness in terms of land ownership, forest conservation techniques as he deliberated at the Forum.

He said, “We as a government are proud of our society and the idea of our sacred groves and living root bridges should be known to the rest of the world. My government has given importance to these indigenous knowledge and have stressed on community participation in the implementation of government programmes, he said.

With a population of about 3.3 million people, the Chief Minister said the State is known worldwide for receiving the heaviest rainfall in the world.

Another great aspect of the State is the discovery by Geologists in 2018 about the Meghalayan Age which put the State in the global spotlight, he said.

Informing that about 6,500 villages are there in Meghalaya, he said the government will ensure that the National Resource Management Plans are made through full community participation.

He also informed that there is also a special emphasis on restoration of land in more than 400 villages of the State and added that the government has linked all livelihood programmes to natural resources and are encouraging people to protect these natural resources.

I am happy to inform that this year on World Environment Day we have planted 1.2 million trees and every citizen is encouraged to plant and adopt one tree, he said.

On water scarcity, the Chief Minister said Meghalaya is one of the first States in the country to be ready with the State water policy to face the issue of water conservation and water use.

There are problems we have to address and there are also solutions, we just need to come together to talk, discuss and share and need to create goals that must permeate down to the individual level so that every individual has a goal for the development and good of the society, the nation and the world, he said.

At the 2019 Dialogue at Caux, global thought leaders and practitioners will explore how community and individual actions can reverse degradation leading to peace and stability.