Phub Dem | Paro

Landowners of Tsento-Shari in Paro are questioning the moratorium on construction in the area issued more than a year ago.

It was issued to allow various government agencies and other stakeholders to prepare the Taktshang management plan.

The Paro dzongkhag administration issued a directive to the gewog not to allow construction of new houses in the area starting June last year.

It states that the dzongkhag administration and Department of Culture (DoC) were in the process of making a management plan for the area, to maintain the environment and landscape of the site as it lies on the way to the famous Taktshang monastery.

It states that the construction would be suspended until the plan is finalised.

With almost a hundred households owning land in the area, people are getting impatient with no updates of the plan.

However, the Department of Culture (DoC)  officials said that it would take until March 2021 for the plan to come through.

While the preparation and monitoring of the plan are done by the Department of Culture, MoHCA, and the Tourism Management Plan is prepared by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Paro Dzongkhag, Tsento Gewog and Monk body of Paro rabdey are the management partners.

“There are restrictions but the benefits are far more,” culture director Nagtsho Dorji said. “We’ve worked a lot on incentivising the locals.”

Landowners could avail timber concessions for construction and also the department would provide free building designs.

She said that a survey conducted by the department earlier this year showed that most of the landowners were in favour of the plan.

The management plan would cover other sacred sites near Taktshang like Bumdra nye, Ugyen Tsemo, and Zangdopelri, among others.

The management plan consists of a master plan for each of the sacred sites in the area, plans for tourism or visitor management, forest management, waste management, and disaster mitigation risks.

Close to 40 landholders bought the land, and more than 50 are the native landholders of Shari.

Almost all of the landowners are currently waiting for the dzongkhag to lift the restriction at the earliest.

The moratorium came  when Gyem Dorji, a native of Shari under Tsento gewog was about to build a hotel. 

Gyem Dorji said that he had been staying in rental although he owes land at Shari. He said that the pandemic had worsened the situation with many losing jobs and having to pay rents.

He said that many retired civil servants bought land at Shari but stayed with relatives and friends as they could not even build a cottage due to the restriction.

Although the landowners decided to meet and raise the issue to the concerned authority earlier this month, the meeting was cancelled due to the health protocol.

The affected landowners are in the process of drafting a proposal to the gewog to follow up on the plan.

According to Gyem Dorji, landowners are proposing to expedite the plan so that they can build their home at the earliest.

Another landowner said: “Our request is to know what the plan looks like and for the agencies to consult with the people before the plan is approved.”

Paro Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said that moratorium on the construction on new houses was placed to emphasise the carrying capacity and management of the area.

DoC’s Senior Architect, Yeshi Samdrup said that consultation was carried out at various levels. “We’re also going to conduct another round of consultation with the public soon,” he said.

The officials said the department was mandated to prepare management plans for important national heritage sites.

The department completed the management plan for Punakha Dzong,  a heritage building of special importance in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The department is tasked to complete five such management plans in the 12th Plan.

The Taktshang management plan was to be completed in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. However, the Covid-19 pandemic hampered work progress. “Despite that, work has not stopped,” he said.

The development of the trail to Taktshang monastery was part of the management plan.

“Some of the activities, such as the trail improvement were brought forward and implemented,” Yeshi Samdrup said.

Regional and rural planning division under the works and human settlement ministry has developed the development control regulation for Ramthangkha Valley in collaboration with DoC and Paro dzongkhag.

The maximum floor height of a house as per the plan would be three-storey, an official from the ministry said.

The regulation is to maintain the cultural landscape or the rural setting of the valley, provide guidelines for new construction and renovation of houses, enhance the main entry road with proper services, and to provide incentives to the community.

According to DoC officials, the present handicrafts market would be closed and moved into the houses in the community.

“Villagers can operate homestays, sell locally manufactured products, and other services to cater both local visitors and international tourists,” Nagtsho Dorji said.

A proper horse marshalling area, modification to the present parking and offices, and widening of the roads are some of the activities in the plan.