Opposition party out voted at the plenary meeting

Parliament: The plenary meeting of the National Assembly held on Wednesday rejected the petition from the local government of Paro to reconsider the Parliament’s decision on the thromde boundary.

The local government of Paro wrote to the National Speaker in August against the new thromde boundary demarcation, which includes most parts of Wangchang and Hoongrel gewogs in the Paro thromde. The local leaders argue that about 500 acres of paddy land have been affected by the declaration of the thromde by the last parliament session.

Despite strong lobbying by opposition members like Lamgong-Wangchang MP Khandu Wangchuk, the issue failed to make it to the agenda of the winter session. The Speaker Jigme Zangpo presided over the meeting attended by members of the Cabinet.

After a prolonged discussion on the agenda, the issue on the thromde was decided by a show of hands.  All the opposition members present at the meeting raised their hands for reconsideration of the issue. But they couldn’t get the majority.

It couldn’t be confirmed how many parliamentarians were present at the meeting. The issue is now closed as far as the parliament is concerned, said an MP.

National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo said the Parliament’s decision is final and cannot be reversed. “Parliament is the Supreme law-making body and there is no way we can reconsider the decision,” he said.

Moreover, he said that the thromde boundaries of Paro were passed by a majority of 60 out of 68 members during the joint sitting earlier. He said it was important to respect the “stability of laws” and that reversing the Parliament’s decision would not be in the interest of the legislative process.

The Speaker also argued that enough research have been carried out by the works and human settlement ministry on the issue and that the decision was taken in the best interest of the nation and democracy. “Paddy fields have been protected always,” he said.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden, however, chose not to comment on the issue. “It was a majority decision, which was part of the parliamentary process,” she said. “I have no more comments.”

MP Khandu Wangchuk said the people are truly concerned over the destruction of the “precious paddy land” in the heart of Paro, which are now falling in the dzongkhag thromde. He said that the people of Paro feel that such a decision would impact on food security, livelihood and the most valuable and impressive cultural heritage and landscape and force overnight rural-urban migration of people living in these areas.

Khandu Wangchuk said the Paro valley symbolizes the country’s policy of development in harmony with the natural environment.

In view of the repeated appeals, the MP said he had thought that the concerned authorities would recognize and respect the sacrifice and wisdom of the people and consider their appeal by including the discussion in the agenda.  “I made my best effort by explaining in the meeting that once the stretch of land is included in the thromde, its use would be changed and likelihood of maintaining them for agricultural purposes would be lost,” he said.

“I came out most disappointed and concerned (from the meeting). I’m also worried as this appeal was a test on the principles of decentralization and empowerment of the people and their local government, especially on local issues when their decisions are not considered despite repeated appeals.”

He said that the people’s wisdom and sacrifice were not recognized.

On setting the right precedence at the early stages of democracy, the MP said, “The right precedence would be to do what is in the best interest of the people and the nation and that we must have courage and wisdom to reconsider discussions when there is repeated and strong calls for the same.”

“The people of Paro and myself have failed to convince the plenary meeting to incorporate the issue in the agenda which has far reaching implications on food security, cultural landscape, environment, tourism, overall economy, the most cherished policy of decentralization and empowerment of local governments and the beauty of the valley,” he said.

He said an opportunity should have been provided to the parliament to discuss the appeal.

Wangchang gup Thinley Dorji said it was unfortunate that the people’s wisdom was not respected. “We have to explain to the people how we could not get the issue addressed,” he said.

“We were fighting for the issue not to protect our position as some people think, but as per the people’s will,” he said.  The gup also said that though he respects the Parliament’s decision, decentralization becomes meaningless when the Parliament does not recognize the local government’s decision.

Hoongrel gup Sangay said that the local government and the people have done everything to convince the Parliament. “But we have been told that there is no way that our issue can be considered,” he said.

MB Subba