Residents living in extended areas of Rinchending and Pekharzhing under Phuentsholing Thromde seek government intervention to get a refund of the urban tax they paid to the thromde from 2011 to 2015.

The extended areas were taxed (urban) Nu 0.25 per square foot (sqft) and Nu 0.125 sqft for the four years. However, in 2016, the works and human settlement ministry withdrew the urban tax and provided incentives. The rural tax was once again reinstated in extended areas under thromde. This decision also came in line with basic infrastructure and facilities not being in place in such areas wherein landowners were not benefitted economically.

Landowners had to large amount as urban taxes.

Aita Singh Tamang of Rinchending had paid more than Nu 300,000 as urban tax. “I paid when there was no infrastructural development in my area,” he said. “I would like to know why this was done.”

Aita Singh said the feeder road in his village was constructed only in 2016. There are no other facilities even today, he said. According to him, there are about 15 landowners in Rinchending who had paid urban tax.

The landowner also said that he paid vacant tax to the thromde.

“I haven’t seen such cases in Thimphu,” Aita Singh said. He added that the thromde also has not given approval for construction, which had made him keep the land vacant without any private developments.

Damber Bahadur Ghalley is another landowner from Rinchending, who is not happy that he had to pay high tax when there were no facilities given. “There is no road, no water, no sewerage system, and no drains,” the farmer said. “And I paid taxes.”

Damber Bahadur is also among those who had to sell about 80 decimals of land to pay urban tax. The Rinchending resident paid Nu 38,115 in 2011 when the tax was Nu 0.25 per sqft.

“I used to sell areca nuts but I sold my land when I could not manage,” Damber Bahadur said. He added that from 2.75 acres of land he owns today, some fall under the Green Zone.

In Pekharzhing, Anil Pradhan said that their village is still underdeveloped and remains without basic facilities. “We don’t have proper water connection,” he said. “We have managed water on our own so far,” he said.

Although water connections were provided twice, Kuensel learnt that the residents have connected pipes on their own after the installed system went defunct. The feeder road that links lower Pekharzhing was also completed in the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, for a place to be levied urban tax, it needs to have access to motor-able urban roads, electricity supply, solid waste disposal water drain, drinking water supply (private or public), and sewerage (on site or centralised).

Except for electricity, Pekharzhing people said such facilities were not in place when they paid urban taxes.

Pekharzhing tshogpa Tirtha Maya Mongar said 26 households have suffered while paying urban tax. “People mortgaged areca nut trees to pay taxes,” she said. “Some even resorted to selling land.”

Bobi Ghalley of Rinchending also paid a large amount for her land in Pekharzhing. “It would be good if affected landowners get refunded,” she said.

Pekharzhing tshogpa Tirtha Maya Mongar and villagers also cited that Weeling village under Nubi gewog in Trongsa had paid urban tax in 2016. “They were refunded,” she said.

Besides Pekharzhing and Rinchending, residents in Pasakha and Dhamdara were also imposed urban tax.

Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said the matter is not in thromde’s hand. “The revision of tax was also not within our jurisdiction,” he said.

Thromde had “clear directives” from the ministry, he said adding that the thromde only followed the instructions. The thrompon said that thromde, however, is working hard to put in place all facilities under thromde areas.

“Once these facilities are provided, it would be easier for us to charge urban tax,” he said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing