Living in darkness

Settlement: Some still live in darkness in Zhemgang.

In a small temporary business settlement in Rendhibi, Trong gewog along the Tingtibi-Panbang highway, there is no electricity.

Residents depend on solar lights, kerosene lamps, candles, and firewood.

There are electric lines and poles nearby but not for the settlement.

There are nine shops housed in makeshift huts. The settlement is an important place for the people of Digala and Langdurbu in Bardo gewog and a few other villages nearby for purchasing necessities.

Pema Zangmo, 34, who has been running a shop in the settlement for five years, said life in Rendhibi is intolerable in the summers because of the heat. “We have no fans and no refrigerators,” she said.

She added that people have to regularly wade into a stream that flows below the settlement to cool down like “water buffalos”.

Shopkeepers said even the beaverages and mineral water they sell turn hot and customers don’t buy the products. Shopkeepers soak the beverages in cold water to keep them cool.

Sangay Zangmo, 21, said they will be grateful if they are provided with electricity. “Shopkeepers have been here since the Digala farm road and Mangdezam construction started in 2011 and we will be here even during the Chamkharchhu project,” she said.

People also said they are living a deprived life in the settlement. One of the shopkeepers said they can’t watch television and have to leave their mobile phones switched off, sometimes for weeks.

Sangay Zangmo said they have been charging their mobile phones in an office set up near by for the construction of a bridge. “People use generators but they don’t let us charge our phones every time,” she said.

Pema Wangchuk, 28, said he heard that the government is encouraging people to look for business opportunities in places where large projects are underway. “This is what we are exactly doing here but authorities are not providing us with electricity,” he said.

Shopkeepers said they pay Nu 3,000 a year to the landowners as rent.

Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) officials in Zhemgang said they would have provided the settlement with electricity during the Rural Electrification project. “But the dzongkhag, during the previous dzongdag’s time had written to BPC saying Rendhibi was an illegal settlement on government land,” a BPC official said. Following which the plan was dropped.

Zhemgang Dzongdag Harka Singh Tamang said the dzongkhag administration has found that some of the temporary makeshift houses fall within the right of way of the highway and the dzongkhag administration is discussing the issue with the Department of Roads.

He said others also own land in the area. He added that if these landowners ask for electricity supply, the possibility of also connecting the settlement exists. “We are still discussing with BPC on what could be done,” he said.

Nima Wangdi | Rendhibi

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