Thousands of Bhutanese reside in the Indian border town of Jaigaon as a result of an acute housing shortage in P’ling 

Housing: A total of 72 buildings that will have 500 units in total will be constructed in the next 18 months in Phuentsholing.

Bhutanese residing across the border in Jaigaon will be accommodated in these units and charged affordable rent.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay yesterday attended the Sa-Lhang Tendrel or ground breaking ceremony of the project. Following the ceremony Lyonchoen also met with around a thousand Bhutanese who reside across the border in Jaigaon in rented accommodation.

Lyonchoen expressed his gratitude to the people who showed up for the meeting at the College of Science and Technology and said he understood that they resided across the border because they had no choice.

“If there was an opportunity, I know you would choose to stay inside the country,” he said.

Lyonchoen said that His Majesty The King is concerned about the increasing number of Bhutanese living across the border. Lyonchoen added that the government has been working on measures to solve the issue, and that while it may take time to solve the problem completely, the government will try its best to provide affordable housing facilities.

“We know you all have your own problems,” he said, adding that people must be thankful to people of Jaigaon for letting them stay peacefully. If Bhutanese were not allowed to stay in Jaigaon, Lyonchen said that there would be even more problems.

He asked them to respect and abide by the laws of the locality they live in.

A total of 1,754 families or around 5,600 people live in Jaigaon today, according to the Prime Minister.

Chinese Lane is one area in Jaigaon that houses several hundred Bhutanese families. The other areas where Bhutanese live are Bau Bazaar and Manglabarey.

Some estimates put the number of Bhutanese living in Jaigaon at around 9,500.

Locals said that many may not have been included when a survey was carried out.

A Bhutanese residing at Manglabarey in Jaigaon, Hemraj Chettri, said that there are several challenges to living across the border.

“I still pay the owner in Indian Rupee (INR),” he said, adding that despite erratic supply, utility services are expensive. Hemraj Chhetri pays INR 4,000 for rent, INR 1,000 for electricity every month and INR 200 for water in a month. “If there are some problems, we cannot say anything.”

During election time both in India and Bhutan, Bhutanese residing in Jaigaon cannot attend office or work as the border gate is sealed, Hemraj Chettri said.

Lack of land in Phuentsholing is attributed for the lack of affordable housing. However, many non-Bhutanese residents also occupy apartments in Phuentsholing. Businesses also occupy most of the building apartments meant for residential purposes. Locals say that many apartments in the town are used as store rooms.

These businesses are able to pay high rents driving prices up and out of the reach of locals.

The National Housing Development Corporation Ltd (NHDCL) is spearheading the housing construction with Nu 1 billion (B) financial support from the government.

The construction will be executed in two modes in nine different places under the Phuentsholing thromde, NHDCL officials said. A total of 44 buildings (310 units) will be tendered out to contractors, while 28 buildings (190 units) will be constructed departmentally by NHDCL.

The government had formed a special committee on February 19, 2016 to oversee the long-term acute housing problem in Phuentsholing.

The committee chaired by the finance minister also includes representatives from the National Land Commission, the Phuentsholing thromde, the works and human settlement ministry and NHDCL.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing