The sudden closure of the Centenary Farmers’ Market, the main vegetable market in the capital city, has drawn a lot of criticism with many questioning the government’s abrupt decision.
It is true. Hundreds of vendors are affected even if they were provided temporary places to practice their trade. The government and the Thimphu Thromde had tried to clarify, but it has not convinced the doubters. The Opposition Party has now written to the government demanding a clarification on the decision.
The government had been quite clear on why they decided to restrict vendors at the CFM. It is the risk associated with Covid-19. But we surmise there are better reasons.
Apart from the risk of Covid-19, many Thimphu residents, if not policymakers, are of the view that the capital city is getting crowded and it has to be decongested. The CFM is one of the most crowded areas in the city for about four days a week. Many even wish there were several similar markets spread across the city, as they drive around looking for parking space and waste time.
The biggest complaint today is that everybody is rushing to the core city to establish their business. Whether it is a hotel, a small eatery, a grocery or a pan shop, everybody likes cramping around the same area. If it is not Norzin Lam, it is Changlam or the CFM area. We have failed to decongest the city even after opening up several local area plans from Dechenchholing to Babesa.
The failure on the part of decision-makers to stick to the plan has led to more and more people rushing to one area. We had a grand plan of opening community centres, neighbourhood nodes, commercial and residential areas in the once paddy fields of Thimphu. Farmers contributed land convinced that amenities would be spread across the city and that the value of their properties- land or buildings, would surge.
The value of land and landed property has increased. But it is because of shortage of land or houses, not because of the promised amenities. A building in Dechenchholing is worth a few shops on the Norzin Lam. This is the reality and this is because we cannot look beyond the core city area.
We can only decongest if we have facilities spread across the city. Why should people of Taba drive down to Olakha to fix a broken number plate? Why should residents of Debsi come to the CFM to buy a few kilograms of red rice or a bundle of nakey? Why should residents of upper Motithang or Jungshina rush to the CFM to buy some dry chillies or a kilogram of local Sikam?
Our businessmen are smarter than the policymakers. We are seeing a lot of hardware shops outside Norzin Lam. They know customers are spread across the city.
Ask any Changzamtog resident and they will say how thankful they are for converting an old school in the area into a well-managed vegetable market. There should be more of such in all the local area plans. This will not only decongest the capital city, but also help consumers and farmers in terms of competitive price.
Everybody knows how vendors thrive. It is their source of livelihood and there are hundreds of them. We should look into their interest. One way is giving the current registered vendors the preference to sell from the markets the thromde is going to establish. Trying to derail a good decision to decongest the town, even if not intended, is not going to benefit all.
Today, it is the CFM. There are many areas where our policymakers could look into. Some decisions are not popular, but if it is in the larger interest, we should go ahead.