This is prompted by a recent article in Kuensel titled “Self-Sustenance a Distant Dream for Thromdes” of April 2, 2015 and the BBS news interview with a Ministry of Works and Human Settlement specialist.
Who can deny the wisdom in the sayings that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first single step and Rome was not built in a day? Thimphu was a mere village in the early seventies when I trekked to study in Western Bhutan from remote Bumthang. Changlingmethang was a marshland and commerce in Thimphu was basically a single row of small shops. How these places have been transformed by the will, determination and genius of our leaders, planners and builders over the decades is there for all of us to see!
Sadly, a few politicians and bureaucrats in the last few years have been dragging their feet in regard to establishing the constitutionally guaranteed development of urban hubs in all 20 dzongkhags through Dzongkhag Thromdes and Yenlag Thromdes, even in the face of the reality of daily confrontation of issues of unemployment and overcrowding of Thimphu.
The father and founders of the Constitution cherished the vision of every dzongkhag having thromde opportunities and ensuring economic vibrancy in every dzongkhag with appropriate state interventions and support. If more commercial and economic hubs come up, economic opportunities would be more evenly spread throughout the country, jobs and business openings will increase and the oft-decried goongtongs could become a phenomenon of the past. Not daring to reach out, take calculated risks and build but just lamenting the lack of an ideal situation would never help realize the national vision!
To expect thromdes to manifest and flourish automatically and miraculously without a conducive policy, legal declaration and shrewd investments is nothing short of being unrealistically wishful and actually bordering on irresponsibility. It tantamounts to undertaking the journey without even making a modicum of effort. If one does not make a beginning how will one ever reach the destination? This is the time for public functionaries at every level to become go-getters and visionaries rather than just being satisfied with mere maintenance of status-quo.
Contrary to the gloomy content of the news article, we are confident and optimistic that as long as the long overdue ground work by concerned authorities like MOWHS, dzongkhag administrations and local bodies are executed on time, there would not be any difficulty to establish the remaining 16 Dzongkhag Thromdes and the elections called thereof.
During a BBS TV News interview, the specialist from MoWHS was making a feeble attempt to justify against declaration of the 16 Dzongkhag Thromdes and Yenlag Thromdes on the grounds that:
(1) Most of the proposed thromdes do not qualify to be urbanized because of lack of resource like water supply;
(2) Most of the proposed thromde areas are covered with wetland (chuzhings), which means that building of permanent or temporary infrastructure is impossible for at least a given period of time;
(3) No population are residing in some proposed dzongkhag and Yenlag Thromde; and
(4) Some dzongkhags have proposed more than one Yenlag Thromde.
In this regard, let us consider the issues in actual context, including that:
(1) No thromdes could, or is expected to, be self-sustaining immediately upon its declaration and this is why the Constitution provides that they are eligible to receive an annual grant from the central government besides their own revenue;
(2) The Constitution specifically provides that local governments, including thromdes, shall be entitled to adequate financial resources and be allocated a proportion of national resource to ensure they are self-reliant and self-sustaining;
(3) Once the thromdes are approved and local bodies elected, it would be their duty to ensure services like water supply;
(4) Transfer of civil registration of all interested and eligible voters can be pro-actively facilitated for better representation and ECB and its field offices would definitely facilitate the task of enrollment in the Electoral Rolls;
(5) Every Dzongkhag having not less than one Yenlag Thromde is a right provided by the Constitution; and
(6) The concern for preservation of wetland and good agricultural land is indeed a valid national concern but it has no direct relation to declaration of Thromdes. I could not stress more that urban authorities, planners and builders must ensure not to destroy or encroach on chuzhing as it is there for all to see how private builders have planned and built beautifully in rugged, non-arable lands and in fact our forefathers built many communities on hillsides and hilltops. Indeed there are still many non-arable areas that could be ideal urban sites with proper planning and investments.
The identification of the Thromdes has to be wisely made which we believe is being done through a process involving all stakeholders in the twenty Dzongkhags and vetted through proper consultation.
Take for instance the Gasa Dzongkhag Thromde. We have received reports that the Dzongkhag Administration and MOWHS have completed the process of relocation of the Thromde at Kolikha, one kilometer away from the present temporary town and they have finished the topographical survey last year itself.
As far as the Gasa Yenlag Thromde is concerned, the groves of shop at Lepgang and Damji under Khamaed gewog have been identified and its proper establishment to be finalized soon. Therefore, the Thromde setup and shifting of residency of people (voters) are likely to take place in due course of time. This indicates that even in the least populated dzongkhag, the Dzongkhag Thromde establishment is a real possibility given the commitment and political will to make it happen.
It is, therefore, fundamentally a matter of political will and administrative proactiveness on the part of the elected leaders and concerned civil servants to rise to the occasion (or make way for others who can) and make earnest effort to fulfill the Constitutional provisions as responsible, as dedicated citizens and as facilitators and builders who nurture growth with equity, equality and creativity.
Urbanization is an inevitable phenomenon but we can, through visionary leadership and strategic planning, determine and ensure that it is beneficial in both the short and long terms. Hence, ensuring establishment of Thromdes is a statutory obligation, even if its self-sustenance may be a distant future.
Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan