A first comprehensive attempt towards achieving an overview of the phenomenon

NLC/DLG: The National Land Commission (NLC) will soon begin mapping gungtongs (vacant households) to get the total number of gungtongs in the country, the causes behind it and geographical details.

For the mapping, the commission recently recruited about 5 interns for data collection.

While details of methodology and completion of the mapping is yet to be known, officials of the department of local government (DLG) said, on completion of the mapping, which the department and NLC are doing jointly, they would come up with a list of recommendations to address the issue.

Although the gungtong issue is getting attention now, the issue was first raised during the 5th annual gup conference in 2009.  But in the past year, almost every dzongkhag tshogdus (DT) have discussed this issue.

The DT chairpersons’ meeting in June 2014 decided to form a gungtong working committee to tackle rising cases of vacant households.  The urgency to tackle the gungtong issue was felt after local government officials were unable to collect rural tax, which hampered socio-economic activities in the area.

Bartsham gup in Trashigang, Sonam Dorji, said, they had been managing rural tax collection, but instances of human-wild conflict were increasing because of vacant households.

His gewog, which is considered the most prosperous in Trashigang, has the highest number of gungtongs, at 162.

“But about 50 households have returned to live in the village in the last one year,” he said. “It’s a good sign and farming is one area we could emphasise on in bringing back vacant household owners.”

Local government officials also pointed out that when there were vacant households, the work responsibility, or the burden of community contribution, had to be shouldered by those in the villages.

While some dzongkhags and gewogs have their own data on gungtongs, a nationwide data is yet to be gathered.  For instance, Lauri gewog in Samdrupjongkhar has more than 60 gungtongs, while Trashigang recorded 1,055 in 2013.

Deputy chief program officer of DLG, Tshering Chophel, said the formation of a national task force was in the process and would involve representatives from across the sectors.

He said, local government alone would not be able to address the issue.

“Gungtong issue has no absolute solution and it’s not possible to address without it having to go with our development process,” Tshering Chophel said. “Local government officials aren’t even able to trace most members of the vacant households.”

DLG conducted a preliminary study in 2010 in Trashigang and Mongar to understand the implication of gungtongs.

Some of the social and economic reasons for gungtong, the study found were: to avoid burden of gewog activities, peer pressure and influence, marriage, poverty, lack of market for agricultural products, increased employment opportunities in urban areas, lack of infrastructure, old age, human-wildlife conflict, family fragmentation and isolation.

The study also came up with long terms policy recommendations, such as the need to revisit the rural taxation system, de-concentration of government offices, reconsideration of home placement for civil servants and need for increasing revenue-base for local governments, among others.

By Nirmala Pokhrel