The dream of owning a piece of land in urban Bhutan is likely to remain a dream for most Bhutanese. Statistics show that in less than three decades, the land prices have increased from Nu 30,000 per decimal to over Nu 2.5 million in the capital. The average price of land now stands at not less than a million-ngultrum per decimal and the trend is expanding in other districts.  With the revised pay and allowances, the prime minister, one of the highest paid public servants would take almost six years to buy a 13 decimal plot whereas a driver would take 78 years and a senior mid-level officer will take at least 26 years. The ratio of real estate price and income in Bhutan is easily comparable to Tokyo, New York, London, or Dubai. Similarly, the rent-to-income ratio in Bhutan is over 37 percent, higher than in cities like New York, Singapore, London, and Tokyo. Financial inclusiveness is far from reality. Banks are refusing to take rural lands as mortgages. Currently, only those with wealth and property has access to finance. This makes Bhutan the most expensive place to live yet the income is nowhere near those living in these big cities. This makes Bhutanese working in the country almost impossible to acquire any wealth or property. Even most government officers are merely surviving where only alternative to acquire wealth is to leave the nation and work.

Article 7 guarantees the right to life and the right to own property as a fundamental right. Article 9 mandates the state to “ensure a good quality of life for people, develop and execute policies to minimize inequalities of income, the concentration of wealth and provide security from lack of adequate means of livelihood.” Article 10 mandates the Parliament to review policies and issues, Bills and other legislations, and scrutiny of State functions to ensure the aspirations of the people. However, neither the government nor the parliament has not been proactive to ensure these rights.

An Indian Court said: “the right to life means the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living and the easiest way of depriving a person’s right to life is depriving the right to livelihood to the point of abrogation.” An increasing number of Bhutanese including many highly educated citizens emigrating to third-world countries like Australia will further escalate the prices of real estate. If no immediate policy interventions are put in place, more civil servants including professionals may leave the country.  Preventing highly qualified professionals from leaving the country is extremely important because the nation has invested in these individuals through public money for decades. The foreign remittances from these professionals by working as labourers in other countries do not justify the nation’s investment in them. The waste of their education and professional expertise is not worth the foreign remittances we receive.

Leaving one’s country to work as wage labourers in other countries should not be seen as the best solution. The government including the legislature must devise strategies to address the issues of inequalities of income and distribution of wealth in the country. It is time that policies on affordable housing, home ownership, improve income, ensure easier access to finance are in place. Otherwise, inequalities of income will grow wider and only small group fortunate population will become wealthy who can go outside.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.