Govt. nixes course proposal

Ura, Bumthang: The proposal to build a golf course in Ura, Bumthang, has been rejected by the government.

The golf course has been rejected on grounds that it would affect community grazing activity in Shingkhar, and the water supply of a hydropower unit in Ura. A government agency found that almost the entire golf course would be located on wetland, once completed. A ministry of agriculture and forests notification issued earlier this year stipulated that natural wetland would be protected.

The golf course, once completed, would have occupied over 165 acres in Shingkhar.

The golf course had initially received clearance from the national land commission, the dzongkhag, and community, the tourism council media focal person, Damcho Rinzin, said. The tourism council of Bhutan (TCB) was pushing the proposal, as it was seen as bringing benefit to the local community, and was in line with the government’s “high value, low impact” tourism policy, Damcho Rinzin added.

As a result of the clearances obtained, the Bhutanese industrialist behind the proposal began construction of the golf course. But this construction was put on hold after the department of forests and park services (DoFPS) intervened to conduct its study. Once completed, DoFPS notified the industrialist that it would not be able to provide clearance, as the golf course would be occupying wetland.

DoFPS director Karma Dukpa said that the industrialist should have sought clearance from all agencies prior to constructing the golf course. But Damcho Rinzin questioned the need for a “double clearance”.

The industrialist then approached the government for compensation, as some construction work had already taken place, according to Damcho Rinzin. The government then notified TCB to reconsult with all stakeholders involved. But by then, the industrialist wished not to pursue construction of the golf course in Shingkhar.

Damcho Rinzin said the industrialist is now looking at another dzongkhag to construct the golf course. When contacted, the industrialist chose not to comment at this time.

Damcho Rinzin said TCB would support the construction of a golf course in Bhutan, if it sees “bigger benefit” for the local community. But he also added that close consultations with concerned agencies to study cultural and environmental impacts would have to be carried prior to any support. He said that a golf course would attract tourists, who are “more responsible”, as they would have higher incomes and travel often, in line with the government’s ‘high value low impact’ tourism policy.

Bhutanese academic, Karma Phuntsho, who spearheaded a campaign against the golf course being constructed in Shingkhar, welcomed the news. “It’s a victory for democracy,” he said, adding, “but I do hope the small internal wounds caused by this proposal will heal soon.”

Elected leaders of Shingkhar had passed the decision to build a golf course, despite 25 of the 36 households in Shingkhar opposing it to preserve pastureland.

Karma Phuntsho’s online petition garnered about three hundred signatures. A number of bloggers, many with their roots in Shingkhar, also networked and analysed the construction of the golf course. While the majority of observers were against the golf course, some saw the golf course bringing development.

“Shingkhar was the wrong place for the golf course for spiritual, ecological, historical, social and economic reasons, and I hope the authorities won’t authorise it in locations of similar significance,” Karma Phuntsho said. He said that he would not object to the golf course being built elsewhere, as long as the benefit outweighs the harm, and the proposal passes the GNH screening tool. “I’m proud of the unwavering entrepreneurial spirit and strongly pray the project succeeds in a more appropriate location.”

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