Options are to lease land or leave CHP premises

Town: Thirty-five shopkeepers operating near the Chukha Hydropower Plant (CHP) fear they might have to close business soon.

They are unhappy with CHP for registering the land initially leased to them and for asking them to pay for the lease.

Chukha Hydropower Plant recently notified the shopkeepers to pay rent beginning next year.

The shopkeepers claim the land had been leased to them by the dzongkhag administration and they had even paid taxes until 2007. The market existed since the 70s.

“We didn’t pay after the then dzongdag asked us not to,” thuemi Namgay said. “We thought it was exemption from the government like doing away with the customary labour.”

He said the CHP had surveyed the land in 2011 without their knowledge. “We’d no inkling about it and when we realised everything was over,” Namgay said.

The town occupies more than 1.17 acre of the land that now belongs to the plant and is in the centre of the premises.

The shopkeepers also approached Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on the issue during his recent visit to the gewog.

Bjabcho gup Gyeltshen said the CHP officials earlier offered the shopkeepers either to lease the land on yearly, half yearly periods or to move outside their premises.

“The problem is there is no space anywhere near it for the town to move,” the gup said. The shopkeepers fear leasing the land could strip them off their earnings, he said.

The shopkeepers proposed shifting to an area near the plant’s workshop but plant officials said they wanted to build office.

“We have been here for decades and our livelihood depend on the shops, if we leave here we’ll have nothing,” Namgay said.

The shopkeepers wish to remain within the premises  but have little hope.

The issue was raised with the previous government, and the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and both agreed to intervene. The dzongkhag administration has also submitted a report on the issue to His Majesty’s secretariat.

Tshering Palden