Township: Without harmony among parliamentarians, including council members, the “blissful land of the lotus”, Pemagatshel, will not have thromdes like other dzongkhags before the local government elections in 2016.

A close look at the voting pattern on the proposed thromdes strongly indicates that the opposition and the government were highly divided on the Pemagatshel thromde, which, if it still stands, will complicate matters, violating the provisions of the Constitution

The bone of contention

Pemagatshel’s dzongkhag tshogdu had endorsed Nganglam, as the dzongkhag thromde, while Denchi was the yenlag thromde, as proposed by the works and human settlement ministry.

At the joint sitting, Nganglam’s representative, Choida Jamtsho, said Nganglam should be the dzongkhag thromde, as it was the ideal location, connected with six highways and with a lot of potential.  On the other hand, Khar-Yurung’s Zanglay Dukpa said Denchi had always been the people’s preference, and that Nganglam was already a developed town that would naturally take shape.

He said that Denchi was favourable, as eight gewogs were located near Denchi, that would benefit people enormously.  Nanong-Shumar’s Dechen Zangmo also supported Denchi, while the council’s representative from the dzongkhag, Jigme Rinzin, took a neutral stand.

After three joint sittings and some pleading from a few members, both Nganglam that was proposed as the dzongkhag thromde and Denchi were unable to secure the required 54 ‘yes’ votes.

Some MPs (members of parliament) admit that there was so much confusion in Parliament that day, with the Pemagatshel representatives, all from the same party, equally divided.  They said, with both Nganglam and Denchi voted out, if the speaker had allowed voting on the yenlag thromde, one of them could be endorsed as the yenlag thromde.

Even the ministry’s guideline on the identification of the thromdes confused some members.  The largest town in the dzongkhag was proposed as the dzongkhag thromde, and the next largest town as the yenlag thromde.  However, it also states that the dzongkhag thromdes should be as far as possible from where the dzongkhag administration headquarters is located.

Was it politicised?

The voting records on Nganglam and Denchi indicate so.  Voting details with the National Assembly show that a majority of the opposition members voted for Denchi, while most members from the government, including all cabinet members, voted for Nganglam.  Similarly, council members stood equally divided.  Some members voted ‘no’ for both.

The works and human settlement ministry, as part of its responsibility in urban development, initiated preparatory works of thromdes.  Thromde boundaries for 12 dzongkhags remained the same as approved by Parliament in 2010, while thromde boundaries for the remaining eight dzongkhags had changes.  Based on the 2010 demarcation, the ministry had earlier proposed Denchi as the dzongkhag thromde.  After a presentation of the proposed boundaries to the Cabinet on October 17 last year, the cabinet decided on Nganglam, based on the guidelines.

During the two-day joint sitting of Parliament, some members recommended Denchi as the dzongkhag thromde.  As the demarcation was not endorsed even in two days, a royal assent for another joint sitting was sought.  In the meantime, the ministry had again sent the proposal to the dzongkhag tshogdus for endorsement.  Special dzongkhag tshogdus were held in the dzongkhags, where issues with demarcation arose.

The Pemagatshel dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) was not without issues. Some DT members said during the meeting, the dzongdag had said, as Nganglam was proposed by the ministry, and if not approved accordingly, he threatened to leave the meeting.

There are three gewogs near Nganglam and eight near Denchi.  Despite majority of gups being near Denchi, Nganglam was voted as the dzongkhag thromde in a show of hands.  Some gups said that they opted Nganglam, since the ministry had proposed Nganglam, while others said that there were timely reminders during the meeting that the ministry’s proposal should be endorsed.

Dzongdag Tshering Kezang denied the allegations and rumours.  He said he just read the letter for the gups to understand the content of letter from the ministry. “I just explained and asked them to decide among themselves because, in the dzongkhag tshogdu, a dzongdag or any other officials are not supposed to interfere in any matter or decision,” he said. “I never had any intention to pressure the local leaders.”

How would a thromde benefit?

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said, with thromde would come a separate entity with the thrompon, thuemis and elected members to look after the town and people. “At present, towns are clubbed with the dzongkhag administration,” lyonpo said. “Establishing thromdes would create business opportunities, jobs and a host of other opportunities.”

“It doesn’t matter whether Denchi or Nganglam and the ministry didn’t have a say on it,” lyonpo said. “But a thromde should have some means to sustain on its own in the long run.”

If Nganglam is chosen, besides landowners in Pemagatshel, it would also benefit people from other parts of the country, as a majority of the land, according to local residents, belongs to people from outside Pemagatshel.

Spread over 2,425 acres of land, the proposed Nganglam thromde has about 5,700 residents.  Of the total, about 1,100 acres of land belong to private parties.  Nganglam is about 145km from Samdrupjongkhar via Assam highway and about four hours via Mikuri-Tsebar-Durungri feeder road connected to Pemagatshel.  Nganglam will soon be connected with Gyalpoizhing in Mongar and Panbang dungkhag, Zhemgang.

If Denchi becomes the dzongkhag thromde, the thromde would be spread over 113 acres of land.  There are about 600 residents in Denchi that includes dzong construction workers.  While the whole area is private land, except for the dzong construction that is nearing completion, residents said there was not much happening there.  After Denchi was declared a town in 2010, landowners were already compensated with the land marked for town planning.

For a town to develop, urban planners said mere declaration of towns was not enough, as it had to be strategically located to be viable enough.

Identifying a thromde

The largest town in the dzongkhag was proposed as the dzongkhag thromde, and the next largest town as the yenlag thromde.  Dzongkhag thromdes should be as far as possible from where the dzongkhag administration headquarters is located.  The criteria for identification of the largest town included, among others, available land area and feasibility for future expansion, resident population and scope for future growth, proportion of population engaged in non-agrarian activities, revenue base for maintenance of its services and commercial, industrial or institutional significance.

Boundaries should have clearly defined natural features such as rivers, streams, ridge-lines, forest line, natural drops, cliffs, existing roads, traditional routes, foot trails, among others.  Boundaries also include settlements adjacent to the roads and foot trails and where there are settlements with distant public institutions, industrial or other establishments adjacent to or nearby for better planning and management of the suburb and the surrounding areas.  Wetland is to be excluded from thromde area as far as possible.

The next step

People from Pemagatshel, including those residing in Thimphu and other parts of the country, said that the government must find a way to move ahead with the decision of the dzongkhag tshogdu.  While opinions on the location differ, most felt that a thrompon for about 600 people did not make sense.  Some said, with a potential to become a major economic hub, if Nganglam was to grow without proper town planning, it could become a town, which people may not want to see.

A Pemagatshel native, Thukten Yeshi, who had been following the debate closely, said the argument that dzongkhag thromde will bring development to Denchi is flawed.  He said there are two kinds of development – social development and economic development. “Denchi will be the dzongkhag administration centre and social development like roads, schools, and hospitals will come along, but not economic development,” he said. “Economic development will require economic and trading prospects and Denchi doesn’t have that.”

Others feel that Nganglam was bound to expand and boom with many activities taking place, and that Denchi was in dire need of development, which can happen only if it was declared as a dzongkhag thromde. “Pemagatshel is one of the poorest dzongkhags, it should not be identified with Nganglam’s growth or prosperity,” said another supporting Denchi.

Khar-Yurung’s Zanglay Dukpa said, although the location could not be finalised yet, this could be a blessing in disguise for people, as they now have more time to discuss the issue thoroughly. “Personally, I’ve no preference on the township, but people told me that they weren’t consulted.”

Nganglam’s Choida Jamtsho said, as the ministry had identified Nganglam, the government acquired over 2,500 acres of land for town planning.  Choida Jamtsho attributed the division among the house to some members raising the issue after which members refused to support the ministry’s proposal. “I’d be happy to have a town either in Nganglam or Denchi but Nganglam has more potential,” he said.

Meanwhile, Election Commission of Bhutan officials said it was likely that elections can take place towards 2016 end if the parliament came to a conclusion in the winter session.  However, it is also likely that Pemagatshel will be a single election event in future as well, as Constitutional provisions are clear on the term of office.

By Kinga Dema