PM agrees to look for government land

Chimi Dema

The pressure on the government from the Automobile Sector Association of Bhutan (ASAB) is increasing. Even as the government agreed to explore options to relocate the automobile workshops from Olarongchu, the association has appealed to the Prime Minister.

In July, following a similar appeal, the works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering said options for relocation “to Pamtsho or Namseling or even further” were being explored.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering on Wednesday said that a lasting solution to the automobile workshop issue has to be sought. “I feel there is need to relocate the automobiles workshops away from the city proper,” said Lyonchhen when cornered by the members of the association.

“Relocation could be made most probably to a place where there would not be urban sprawl for at least 40 years.”

The ASAB appealed to the Prime Minister for government industrial land on a long-term lease. A member said that they appealed to the Lyonchhen as there was no progress in the assurance of relocating them.

In their appeal to the Lyonchhen, ASAB stated that the association is struggling to ensure its sustainability, continuity and security due to exorbitant increase in rent and uncertain lease term not in line with the provision of the tenancy Act of Bhutan 2015.

An executive member of ASAB said that even when workshop operators want to expand and install latest technology, the uncertainty in lease term is discouraging them.

“We may be asked to vacate the workshop within a short notice period,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that the existing workshops were relocated from Changzamtog to Olarongchhu in 2008 when Olakha was on the outskirts of the city.

“But today, the area falls in the core Thimphu city and it is understandable when operators claimed that there was no opportunity for expansion and digitalisation,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that there is an opportunity to discuss and identify a suitable location, set lease period, terms and conditions of lease agreement between the government and the operators if the government land is to be leased.

He also assured that if required,  he would participate in discussions between landowners and operators to find an amicable solution.

An operator said the workshop operators are put in difficult situation.  “We don’t have the capacity to pay unreasonably high rents as the automobile business is not doing well due to increased number of operators coming up in the area.”

“Initially the present location was designed for 31 workshops. There are 120 licensed operators today,” he said. “There is no scope for expansion of workshops business and safety measure system in the current location.”

Traffic congestion due to uncontrolled construction, narrow roads due to heavy flow of the vehicles and machineries kept for repair, noise and pollution in the present area are some of the problems at the Olarongchhu workshop area.

ASAB members claimed that they received many appeal applications from operators against eviction notices and increase of rent issued by the owners.

The other reasons ASAB stated are drinking water shortage, as majority of the employees are residing in the area, poor drainage or sewerage system and absence of waste treatment plant. They also highlighted fire hazard and pollution due to cramped workshops and residential buildings increasing in the limited space.

On rents, the letter stated that the monthly house rent was fixed at Nu 60,000 for large workshop, Nu 30,000 for medium and Nu 20,000 for small workshop. But from 2008 until 2017, the landlords increased the rent between 266 and 300 percent.

The ASAB also appealed for the amendment of Tenancy Act of Bhutan in industry and service sectors during the winter Parliament session.

Section 75, 76 and 77 of the Tenancy Act allows owner to issue notice on rental unit if he wishes to discontinue the tenant at the end of the tenancy, and he has the right to reacquire the rental unit for his own occupation during the subsistence of tenancy for which the owner may exercise that right by serving the tenant a written notice of two months in advance.

This, according to an executive member of ASAB, is placing the security and the survivability of the automobile business and employees at risk.

Lyonchhen said that the problem will never be solved this way.  “Our problem today is that we are not able to even implement the acts in our hand.” 

“And it would be impossible to amend in the upcoming parliament session as the agendas were finalised,” Lyonchhen added.

Landowners’ claim

Landowners said that the ASAB is making an issue hoping that the government would provide them government land to operate automobile workshops.

One owner said they would be happy if government land is provided. “But we have to run the automobiles workshops because the buildings were designed and constructed for workshops,” he said.  “We have loans to repay.”

Refuting the ASAB claims, another landowner said that it was the operators who proposed rent hike, drew up agreement and set the conditions when building owners wanted to renovate and asked them to vacate for a while. “They were the ones who came to us with the conditions that we all signed,” he said.

However, we have appealed to the court for judicial intervention and it will be made clear only when the resolution is passed.

Building owners also alleged that some workshop owners sublet the space and constructed additional structures without the notice of the landowners.

Meanwhile, ASAB members from Phuentsholing appealed the Prime Minister for uniformity in lease period and lease rates for government land similar to that in SamdrupJongkhar and Gelephu Thromde.

Lyonchhen said that the lease rates have to be decided in line with the property assessment and valuation agency rates.

Workshop owners from Paro, Dagana and Bumthang also appealed for the government industrial land on lease.