The idea is to focus on existing edifices, given limited manpower and other resources

Circular: Construction of new religious structures, including lhakhangs, temples, choekhangs, tshokhangs, chortens, tshamkhangs and drashas, is frozen for the next two years.

The home ministry issued a circular last month, notifying all ministries, dzongkhags, religious organisations, corporations, private agencies and individuals not to accept applications for new constructions.

The decision was made after the department of culture (DoC) faced difficulties in managing and maintaining the existing religious structures, which are more significant, when compared to the newly constructed ones.

Chief architect with the department, Nagtsho Dorji, said it was necessary for the department to take stock of the needs for new constructions and reconstructions in existing religious structures.

“We have to get a clear idea on how many religious structures need reconstruction,” she said. “Over the years, we’ve seen a rise in new lhakhangs and chorten constructions,” she said.

According to the circular, there was a need to carry out a thorough assessment and review of the existing situation on the requirement of constructing new religious structures.

Ground assessment and review was required, because there are already thousands of religious structures that required huge resources in terms of manpower, time and finance, for maintaining it in terms of renovation and reconstruction of the existing structures.

“The maintenance work has been exacerbated by the earthquake in 2009 and 2011,” the circular stated. “Securing financial support has also been an issue with the dzongkhag as well as the department.”

Nagtsho Dorji said the government funds 90 percent of the constructions.

In the last five years, the department of culture approved construction of 88 new lhakhangs and 22 choekhangs.  Another 69 approvals were given for reconstruction.

“This is a huge number and every application cited “damage by earthquake” as a reason for the reconstruction or renovation,” an official of the heritage conservation division said.

The department does not have a record of the total number of religious structures, but officials estimate that there could be over 2,000 lhakhangs and 10,000 chortens across the country.

While the heritage conservation division encourages renovation, it receives at least six applications a day for renovation of various religious structures.  Officials said the stress is more on heritage point of view and its preservation, which is possible through renovation.

Culture department officials said it was crucial for the department to properly assess and review the need of new religious structures.  It expects that a review will be done in another two years.

However, Nagtsho Dorji said that, if there were any genuine constructions to be carried out, the department would verify and approve them.

The department has also notified all dzongkhags to not  accept any budget proposal for religious structure construction for the financial year 2015-16 and 2016-17.  The finance ministry will also be informed about it.

While freezing new constructions for the time being, the department encourages investments in the maintenance of existing lhakhangs.  The freeze is expected to help secure financial support for maintaining old lhakhangs.

By Nirmala Pokhrel