MoEA Minister responds why Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar were not included in eco-tourism project

The project aims to establish Bhutan as a model ecotourism destination

The Member of Parliament (MP) from Dewathang-Gomdar constituency, Ugyen Dorji questioned Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma why Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar, out of the six eastern Dzongkhags, were left out from the eco-tourism project during the question and answer session of the National Assembly on Friday. 

The MP said that five dzongkhags including Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Lhuentse, Mongar and Zhemgang are allocated budgets from the Nu 340mn project.

“These two Dzongkhags were not included, even though they also have a rich flora and fauna,” the MP said.

Meanwhile, the five-year project is being implemented by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) as part of the Tourism Flagship Programme in the 12th Plan and will cover two Protected Areas (PAs) of the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in eastern Bhutan.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the project was established in 2017 and there is a committee, which includes the Gross National Happiness Commission, UNDP and the TCB, which looks after the criteria.

“One of the criteria is that there should be Protected Areas, such as the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary,” the minister said.

Lyonpo said that Lhuentse was included because of Singye Dzong and given the opportunity for domestic tourism. Mongar was included because of the bird trail between Sengor and Yongpula and Aja Nye.

Lyonpo clarified that Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar were not included as there were no Protected Areas or national parks.

However, the minister said that Pemagatshel was included in the domestic cultural tourism flagship program, while Samdrup Jongkhar was not included as there were no domestic products in the dzongkhag and it is also a restricted area.

“With the tourism policy change and if there is no restriction in Samdrup Jongkhar, there may be a possibility to include it in the flagship program,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, Bhutan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a US$ 4.854mn ecotourism project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) this year in August.

The project seeks to mainstream biodiversity conservation into tourism development. It is a long-term strategy to mitigate threats to biodiversity, while also generating sustainable conservation financing and livelihoods for people within and outside the Protected Areas, facilitating human-wildlife coexistence, and mitigating negative impacts of growing tourism on Bhutan’s socio-cultural heritage.

The project aims to establish Bhutan as a model ecotourism destination.

The project’s design considers opportunities for contributing to green recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, including boosting domestic tourism, employment opportunities, and increasing community resilience and connection to nature.

The project areas represent the eastern and south-central parts of Bhutan. Given the astounding biodiversity and prevalence of high Human-Wildlife Conflict incidences in these areas, ecotourism will be used as a tool for long-term conservation gains through the management of co-benefits and trade-offs.

The project will also address barriers to establishing ecotourism through enabling national policy environment and institutional coordination, sustainable financing, innovation, and diversification of ecotourism products. It will also integrate ecotourism value chains and best practices into local community engagement, knowledge and capacity.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu