Lhakpa Quendren 

As Thimphu city began to grow and expand, residents of Kabesa, a community north of the city, saw the change and opportunities coming their way too. That was almost a decade ago.

Their hopes and expectations, however, were short-lived. A construction moratorium was imposed in early 2016 with the development of the local area plan (LAP).

Today, no construction is allowed in LAP-1—from Dazhi to Choekhor Lum.  Temporary constructions are allowed in LAP-2—from Choekhor Lum to Kuzhugchen, and Kuzhugchen, which is LAP-3.

Timbers, stones, and construction materials are piled in front of every house and many timbers are seen rotten while waiting for the finalisation of the 7-year-old LAP.

Pushing the government to allow for building infrastructures, Kabesa residents say that development should also come to the community to enhance the economic prospects of the people.

Ugyen, 55, is among many who bought land in Kabesa and have been waiting to build a house.

“We feel that development should happen equally in all the communities,” said Ugyen. “Over the years, we have raised the issue several times both at the gewog and dzongkhag levels.”

While the residents support the protection of the wetlands, many feel that infrastructure-development on the dry lands should be allowed.

“Infrastructure developments have a huge potential to transform the economy of the community and livelihoods of the people,” Ugyen said.

Ugyen said that even selling land and land-fragmentation is not allowed in Kabesa. “Given this situation, there are bigger issues to worry about because we have to divide the land among our children.”

Tashi Tshering Drukpa, 30, from Dazhi_Zhoshuel Chewog, is among many who had to postpone his construction plans. “The construction moratorium is costing us a lot.

“I have already lost 2,000 cubic feet (Cft) of timbers. I had to use them as firewood. I have been losing stones as well.”

With the increasing population in the thromde, he said that social change can be achieved while also meeting the increasing demand for housing.

“Everything, including rentals has increased in the thromde. There would be more people coming here and more businesses because of comparative advantage,” Tashi Tshering Drukpa said.

If the temporary prohibition on construction is lifted, Tashi Tshering Drukpa said that it would bring “great relief” to their community.

Residents say that without the government’s help, the people in the community will be forever bogged down with this longstanding problem.

“We are counting on the elected leaders to bring developmental activities,” a resident said.

Health minister Dechen Wangmo, a Member of Parliament from the North-Thimphu, said that the issues would be resolved once the Thimphu Structure Plan (TSP) is completed.

Lyonpo said that the exercise is due to be completed by July this year.

“Kabesa LAP has always been my concern and I want to resolve it at the earliest possible,” she said.

TSP which covers Kabesa, Changtagang, and Begana in the north and Royal Thimphu College area, Debsi, and Nyzergang in the South, is being revised, according to the Lyonpo.

“For the long-term sustainable vision and balanced development, I am looking forward to the structure plan and I am also in constant touch with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation (MoIT) to finalise and implement the plan,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that MoIT in collaboration with the Royal Commission for Urban Development has completed the preparation of the Thimphu-Paro regional strategy.

“This is envisioned to promote good growth in the right places by cultivating a balance between the natural and built environment, creating opportunity for the region to be the driver of growth and inspiring sustainable paradigm of development,” Lyonpo said.

Kawang Gup did not respond to Kuensel’s queries.

Why the delay?

Despite public consultations in 2018, the work progress has been delayed due to the issues related to the conversion of wetlands to dry land on which construction is allowed.

Given this issue, MoIT could not reach an agreement with the landowners, which is why the draft LAP-1 is on hold. The landowners did not agree to the plan and demanded that wetlands be converted to developable land use, according to the officials.

To promote planned and coherent development, the preparation of the LAP-1 of Kabesa was initiated in November 2014 by the Thimphu Dzongkhag Administration and the former Ministry of Works and Human Settlement.

Officials say that as part of the plan preparation, several meetings, presentations, and focus group discussions were carried out with the stakeholders, including the landowners of Kabesa.

“The plan was also presented separately to the key stakeholders to ensure that the national laws and regulations on land, agriculture, culture and environment, among others, are appropriately and adequately addressed in the plan,” said an official.

Thimphu Dzongkhag Administration and landowners have approached the Prime Minister’s Office for intervention.