Jigme Wangchuk

Thimphu is perhaps the only capital city in the world—in the 21st century—that does not have traffic lights. There is no need for it, the argument goes. Singularity brings fame and allied advantages, for sure. But Thimphu still doesn’t have a proper GIS (geographic information system)-based street mapping. And this has been bringing many complications.

On the first day of lockdown, on August 11, Sonam ordered a bag of rice, a kilogram tomato and half a kilogram of onion. They did not come. He waited. The wait prolonged. The orders did not arrive even after two days. There were stories of chaos. What came out starkly naked was that there was poor organisation among the many agencies and offices involved.

 The first—the only lockdown in Bhutan due to Covid-19 so far—was a lesson, many say. It indeed was a significant lesson. How each individually looks at it matters. Dangers have come and gone but new dangers will come.

 The vital question is: Why and how are we failing to organise ourselves smalls as we are?

There was the need and the National Land Commission (NLC) walked in. It had the expertise. The problem in Bhutan’s development journey, as in much else, is the how they are often sadly rendered hollow. The project started from April this year because service delivery can take many shapes and incarnations.

Duplication of responsibility is another story. What Thimphu Thromde did in 2011, which could have been a major success story, is now buried in heavy dust. Why must city residents go to the office of Bhutan Post to collect letters and parcels?

There was a general disregard for all the efforts made then, said one official who was involved in the first address planning process.

Some people got rich, very rich, said an official who knows Thimphu City planning quite well. The thromde experimented twice with the idea that did not come to any visible success.

April of 2020 is the month. NLC had already started mapping the city. Then came the lockdown. What happened after that, how and why, are the questions. Did the Thimphu residents even know that there are 14 “urban villages” in Thimphu?

Here is how the things are going to happen now:

Led by NLC, every residential unit in Thimphu will be reflected in the map—flat first, building number next, then the street name (lam) and then the postal code. G01, 53, Tshachu Lam, 1101, Thimphu. Simple, logical, and precise.

Talking about service delivery, the problem is with education. There are more than 900 streets in Thimphu Thromde, Debsi included. Culture killing is a crime but it is also a benediction. When direction and address is reduced down to landmarks—even as landmarks are important to draw true shape and the very nervous system of the community—service delivery takes the beating.

The obvious question is: What next?

Naming of the roads and buildings. NLC and the agencies involved have achieved it all. What is reassuring is that the stakeholders, led by NLC, is looking at developing an App that will record and show right address and directions.

NLC’s Samdrup Dorji and Sonam Yangdon are at and on it every day. The naming and marking of the streets is the next step. If successful, the initiative will be tested in other dzongkhag, down to the last village.

Director Geley Norbu of NLC is not in the habit of painting a glorious picture. He believes that NLC has worked enough to map the city for functional addressing system. “There were failures but we have built on them and moved on. We are designing a new App in collaboration with information technology department and human resource ministry,” he said.

The home-grown App—yet to be named—will guarantee perfect location and seamless service delivery.