Thimphu city is crowded. Many knew, decades ago, that this was going to happen and called for planned growth of the city. In recent years, as the new local area plans (extended areas of the town) opened up for development, the call was that the core city area should be decongested. One way was moving offices and institutions, businesses and other establishments to the new areas.

It has not happened, except for new businesses that found opportunities in the rapidly expanding town. The Road Safety and Transport Authority on Monday opened a service centre in Babesa, south Thimphu to cater to owners and drivers of medium and heavy vehicles who are restricted from visiting the head office at Lungtenzampa. 

It was a wise decision. There are many benefits besides easing the crowding at the RSTA head office. As of June 30, there were 61,240 vehicles registered in Thimphu, according to RSTA’s record. This is one vehicle for two people even if we consider the population of Thimphu to be 150,000. Those who got caught up in the traffic jam in north Thimphu would have wished they didn’t have to come to the core city or what some call now the centre business district (CBD) to work. And those whose offices were on the outskirts of the city or in the extended town would have had the last laugh as social media was filled with images of long queues of vehicles stuck in the jam. 

There is only one way of decongesting the capital city. We have to take services to where people reside. Five of the six banks, for instance, are located along the Norzin Lam. It is a crowded street seven days a week. A few banks have opened branches in the new settlements. Their services are being appreciated. A lot of services can be availed from their branches without having to come to Norzin lam, drive around for a parking space and pay hefty parking fees after finding a space to park. 

Going by the rural to urban migration rate and the promises (false or real) the capital city offers, there will be more people moving to the city. The capital city’s infrastructure cannot keep up with the growing population. We are experiencing it, whether in terms of traffic jams, waste management, housing and so on. It is only wise to decongest and ease the pressure on the limited infrastructure by decentralizing.

There were discussions of moving the Thimphu dzongkhag administration to Debsi. It is not happening and, in the meantime, Debsi has become a town, bigger than many dzongkhag towns. Moving the dzongkhag administration that caters to the gewogs out of Changlimithang makes perfect sense. The indecision is not. Freeing Norzin Lam by pedestrianizing it was another good idea our planners came out with. The idea was killed not because it was bad, but because of pressure from a few business people and because of the indecision of our decision makers. 

Thimphu is not obviously what we see today. It had to develop and grow, but as a late developer, we had the vision to make it a unique Bhutanese town. The congested haphazard unplanned growth was not what was envisioned. There will be demand for more offices and institutions. It will be worse if we cannot look beyond Norzin Lam or Chang Lam or the so-called core city area.