In 2015, the Parliament carved out 1,356 acres of land in Paro as the Dzongkhag Thromde. The new town will include 500 acres of prime paddy land, stretching north of Bonday town, including the airstrip and the land between the district hospital and the current Paro town. It will encompass precious paddy land of 56 villages.
With restrictive wetland regulations, the face value of rice fields is diminishing. Farming is no longer attractive. Further, the dearth of labor compounded with high costs and poor returns with great risks make farming unappealing.
Given all the disadvantages of farming, and the temptations of the urban life, the Parops should have naturally welcomed the Parliament’s decision. Overnight, their land value had shot up. The farmers no longer have to live in fear of the elements or toil for such poor returns.
Despite the great temptations, however, the Parops demonstrated wisdom and had the courage to request the Parliament to reconsider their decision on the boundary so that their ancestral agricultural land could be protected.
Like all other Dzongkhags, Paro too wants its Thromde, but is against the idea of including prime paddy land within its boundary. The proposal of the Dzongkhag Thromde is not new. Five years ago, in 2010, the people proposed and the Parliament approved the existing town consisting of 90 acres as the Dzongkhag Thromde. However, with the change of guards, the issue of the Thromde came up again.
Sequence of Events
Following government directives, the Paro Dzongkhag tshogdue in close consultation with the people chose the existing Paro town as the Paro Dzongkhag Thromde and Bonday as the Yenlag (satellite) Thromde.
During the summer session, the National Assembly discussed the DT’s proposal. On 3rd June, during the joint sitting of the Parliament, the Paro Thromde proposal was presented without any changes. After extensive discussion, it was proposed that Bonday be merged with the existing Paro town.
The Parliament could not reach a decision and the Ministry’s proposal was nullified through a majority vote. The next day, the Parliament sought the merger of Paro Thromde and Bonday again. Voting ensued and 44 members voted in favour of Bonday being merged with Paro Thromde and 14 voted no while six abstained.
A week later, on 10th June, the Parliament discussed the Paro Thromde and problems arose. In a turn of events, the government surprisingly presented three maps as options. The first option was the existing Thromde town consisting of 90 acres merged with Bonday making it 204 acres. The second option was 1,356 acres and the third option was 1,223 acres.
When the opposition raised the question of the two newer options not having the consent of the people, the speaker called for a vote and the second option received majority votes.
A month later, on July 6, the Election Commission of Bhutan held a public hearing for the delimitation in the Dzongkhag Tsogdu hall in Paro. The majority of the people said they did not support the decision of the Parliament and requested for a reconsideration of the boundaries of the Thromde.
On the same day, the DT Chairman through a letter appealed to the Speaker of the National Assembly requesting the Parliament to review the map and relook at the issue. The letter state, “We are in favour of the boundary map, which has avoided paddy fields.”
Two weeks later, on 21st July, around 200 people from Hoongrel and Wangchang gewog met and decided to request the Speaker through their representatives to reconsider the decision of the boundary.
The MPs met the Speaker who sent a delegation headed by the Deputy Speaker and consisting of MPs, the Chief of ECB, and the Director of MoWHS.
On the 24th, the team met with the people of Paro. In fear of setting a bad precedent, the team tried to persuade the people to accept the Parliament’s decision by citing the following reason.
Urban taxes will not be levied immediately
Rural kidu will not be removed immediately
The Gewog will not loose its status
Wetlands will be protected.
The team also explained to the gathering the risk involved if they did not agree to the Parliament’s decision including a condition that the plenary committee may not consider their appeal as an agenda for the winter session of the Parliament. Even it if it was considered, the Parliament may reject it following the Election Act, which states that once a Parliament passes a law it cannot be changed for the next 10 years.
The people were not convinced with the reasons and at the end of the meeting, the Deputy Speaker called for a show of hands. All the people who attended the meeting raised their hands to re appeal.
On 7th August, the Paro DT Chairman wrote a letter to the Speaker with a request to consider the people’s wishes.
Following parliamentary procedures, on 17th September, DT met again and during the 8th meeting, the Thromde was discussed and the people unanimously decided to re-appeal. Based on the meeting, the DT Chair wrote a letter to the Speaker again to reconsider the Parliament’s decision on the Thromde boundary.
Almost a month later, on 14th October, the plenary meeting of the National Assembly met and rejected the petition from the local government of Paro dashing the hopes of the Parops to save their precious paddy land.
Brief History of Paro
Paro was known as Bar kor tsho drug or the “six circle settlement.” The valley consists of small clustered farmhouses with a local monastery that dot the luxuriant landscape. The quaint villages are never too far from Rinpung dzong or the, “Fortress of the Heap of Jewels that sits commandingly on a hillside above the river.
The rice fields are the gems of the valley. It is the country’s most fertile agricultural land that has the highest yields. It also has the most elaborate network of irrigation channels, of apparent antiquity that controls the flow of the Pachu into the paddy fields.
For centuries and over many generations, farmers have toiled the land and built and preserved many of the rich traditions and customs. The farmers have earned a reputation of being industrious who take great pride in their rich tradition and customs and being self-sufficient. For them, the rice fields are more than a livelihood. It is a way of life. Paro has been the rice bowl of the country, contributing greatly to food self-sufficiency in the country.
The Great Fourth’s Wisdom
During the 34-year reign of His Majesty the Great Fourth, one of his main policies was to protect the rice fields. His Majesty worked selflessly and tirelessly in the interest of the people whose welfare was uppermost in his mind. Often, His Majesty would forego economic gains to preserve the environment. For example, in the late 1970s, a profitable marble mine in Khangku, opposite the Paro Dzong, was shut down because His Majesty did not want to scar the beautiful Paro valley.
The Plenary Committee of the National Assembly’s decision not to consider the local government of Paro’s petition to reconsider the Parliament’s decision on the Thromde boundary is a damaging one.
Overnight out of the 1,356 acres, the land use of 500 acres will change. Out of the total population of 26,982, 4,034, which is 15% of the population, will become urban dwellers.
The blissful experience of flying in and out of Paro will change as the rice fields will be desecrated and destroyed just like Changjiji in Thimphu with concrete buildings making the experience of the approach and exit to the capital not a very blissful one.
Despite repeated requests by the local government of Paro to reconsider the demarcation of the Paro Dzongkhag Thromde, the Parliament has not changed its stand. However, with the winter session just about to begin, the Paropos are hopeful that their concerns will be raised during the Q& A Session. Failing which, the physical, cultural and archicetural landscape of the rice bowl of Bhutan will be altered forever.
Furthermore, it will be shocking violation of our Great Fourth’s policy of G.N.H where the happiness and welfare of the people should be of paramount importance to the government who promised to serve the people.