Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Although the global pandemic did not affect much of the government’s capital expenditure, it had hit the recurring expenses, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

He said that it delayed the government’s plan to convert Samtse as the fifth thromde.

Answering to Barshong-Songphu’s representative Passang Dorji’s question on the town’s status of becoming the fifth thromde in the country, Lyonchhen said a comparative study on feasibility of Samtse and Gelephu thromde, which has similar land space and population, shows that Gelephu requires Nu 120 millions (M) in recurrent expenditure per year.

“The recurrent expenditure would be more than this to start Samtse as thromde,” Lyonchhen Lotay Tshering said.

He also said Samdrupkongkhar thromde, which is much bigger in space, has less recurrent expenditure. “Thimphu thromde’s expenditure was Nu 250M.”

Prime Minister said that although the government is continuously working on plans and policies today, the domestic revenue generation is affected due to the pandemic.

“And we have to think when it comes to implementation of the work.”

He said that although Bhutan was not affected as much as other countries globally, the government has some doubts if the work would conclude, even if started, considering the recurrent budget scenario.

“That’s why we have temporarily halted the implementation.”

Lyonchhen said that the member of parliament (MP) of Phuentshopelri-Samtse constituency had repeatedly asked and followed on the thromde status of Samtse.

He said that the research was conducted as per the Supreme Court’s order to place an experts’ committee and study the feasibility of Samtse and other dzongkhags that was considered to be made as thromdes.

“As per the report, which the government received back in March, Samtse is very feasible,” he said, adding conversion of Samtse had tremendous potential compared to other dzongkhags.

Along with the plain area in Samtse and the 4.8 sqft identified thromde land, Samtse also has a population density of 1,100 people per sqft—compared to that of 19 people per sqft in the national standard density.

“There is huge economic opportunity,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said. “Additionally, Samtse is now connected with Haa and Phuentsholing. The connectivity of Samtse and Tendruk-Bara is also well on place.”

Further, Samtse also shares close proximity with Siliguri, one of the major market corridors for the town.

Under the government initiative, Lyonchhen also said that the economic affairs ministry is closely working with the Indian government and have had dialogues on starting a railway link to Samtse.

Meanwhile, Samtse residents are apprehensive.

A resident said that it would still be a challenge to convert Samtse to a thromde due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have to consider quarantine and social distancing protocols. Even conducting elections would be a challenge.”

In terms of the urgency in converting Samtse the fifth thromde, he said, it would make sense if the dzongdag had “too much” responsibilities. “Otherwise, there wasn’t the need considering the population within the town, space and infrastructures.”