For the last three years, a farmer of Gangtokha village in Barshong gewog, Tsirang, has been cultivating lands belonging to three households.

The farmer, RK Moktan, 54, said he does that to save his crops from wildlife.

“My neighbours on whose land I cultivate migrated to urban areas, leaving their houses empty and land fallow,” he said. “I started cultivating on their lands after seeking their approval over the phone.”

Today, the land is filled with maize and fodder for cattle.

RK Moktan has his reasons for cultivating fallow lands.

He said if the land were left fallow, it would turn into a jungle and invite wild animals. “I’m cultivating it to ward off wild animals from my crops.”

As payment for cultivating the land, he has to contribute labour for the owners.

Of the 12 gewogs in Tsirang, Barshong has the highest number of gungtongs. There are 126 empty houses, according to records maintained by the dzongkhag. Chunikhang and Gangtokha chiwog have the maximum gungtongs.

Barshong gup, Santa Lal Powdel, said there are three types of gungtongs. “There are gungtongs with empty houses and uncultivated farms; uncultivated land without a house while the third type is that a family has census and household number in the gewog but no property.”

He said that whichever type it is, it affects while planning for developmental activities in the gewog. “When there are gungtongs, others in the villages are affected.”

Human-wildlife conflict, he said, is one impact.

With 72 empty houses, Phungtenchu gewog has the second highest number of gungtongs. The largest chiwog, Tashichhoeling has the highest number of gungtongs.

However, the gewog mangmi, Jamphel, said that although figures maintained by the dzongkhag administration are high, there are only about 35 households that are vacant in the gewog.

“It could be the type of gungtong that made the difference in figures,” he said.

He also said gungtongs impact the gewog when it comes to planning and budgeting.

The mangmi explained that when the owner of the property does not live in the village, what the gewog plans for them and their demand later contradicts. “While the owners rarely visit the village, it is also difficult to trace them. Some have defaulted insurances and tax payments.”

Other gewogs like Kilkhorthang has 31 gungtongs, Gosarling has 13, Doonglagang has 12 and Semjong has 12. Tsholingkhar gewog has four gungtongs.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang