Development: Conserving wetland was one of the main highlights of the draft structural plan for the dzongkhag’s thromde, presented to the people on June 4 at Punakha high school.

Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), urban planner, Tashi Penjore said the structural plan for the thromde extends from Khuru town till the dzong, and the hospital area. The thromde boundary consists of more than 600 acres of land, of which 36 percent is wetland.

He said the plan’s priority is to conserve wetland to promote the government’s objective of food self-sufficiency and also for the cultural landscape and to conserve open spaces within the thromde.

“Our plan is to integrate the existing Khuru town and Punakha hospital area, which remains isolated, through improved community connectivity and also provision of other recreational facilities along the stretch between the town and dzong,” said a MoWHS official.

Tashi Penjore said the main objective of the plan is to promote development, having high consideration for environment and also to promote livable settlements within the thromde through provision of infrastructures services and required amenities.

The dzong and settlements around the dzong was the major concern during the preparation of the structural plan. “As much as possible, the plan would like to glorify and celebrate the dzong,” he said.

While the majority present at the meeting were content with the draft plan, 40-year old Pema, a resident of Punakha said they were concerned with the plans to conserve wetlands.

“We are worried that if we are not allowed to convert wetlands into dry land, it might mean we have to pay huge land tax as per urban rules, while the earning from the land would not increase,” said Pema. “It would be better if we stay under the gewog.”

He said that more than 200 people living in the Punakha dzong area fall under the dzongkhag thromde, and most of them own wetland.

However, Tashi Penjore said people have a perception that soon after declaring a thromde, the wetlands will be converted into dry land and released for development. But through the structural plan, they will conserve wetlands, and also provide required incentives, through taxes and irrigation facilities.

Other considerations were on climate change and its consequences including glacier lake outburst flood, said the urban planner. Adequate considerations were also given to the habitat of white-bellied herons.

There are also plans to enhance and promote open and green spaces within Khuruthang town. This includes promoting the area around the hospital and the dzong’s vicinity to promote culture but also to earn a livelihood.

The plan is to develop shops opposite Punakha dzong into a craft-village, to have a tourist standard restaurant nearby and a museum. The draft plan also includes a town-centre, plazas, and an open-air theatre apart from recreational centres and green spaces. A space to keep horses and a khuru range were also proposed.

With many historical and landmark events, and the iconic 16th century fortress, Punakha recorded the third highest tourists. The draft structural plan aims to retain the status.

Dawa Gyelmo | Punakha