Ugyen Dorji

As night falls, the streets of Panbang town are engulfed in darkness, forcing many shops to remain closed and leaving residents concerned for their safety. The absence of streetlights has become a pressing issue for the town, while nearby areas, such as Sonamthang, have recently been equipped with this basic facility.

Shopkeepers in Panbang town have expressed frustration over the installation of streetlights along the National Highway instead of in the town itself. They argue that the allocation of government funds should prioritize the appropriate areas. Panbang’s Thromde Thuemi (Representative), Jampel Cheoeda, agrees, stating that the absence of streetlights is adversely impacting businesses, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when customers are already scarce.

The shopkeepers assert that the lack of streetlights poses several risks, including the danger of customers being attacked by dogs and the inconvenience faced by individuals returning home in darkness after nighttime entertainment events in the town. Moreover, shopkeepers complain that they are subject to an annual land tax of Nu 7,000, as per the Thromde regulation, while residents in rural areas only pay rural taxes.

Installing streetlights in the town area would address these issues, making it safer and more convenient for customers, according to the shopkeepers. The management of Panbang’s streetlights falls under the jurisdiction of the Dzongkhag and Drungkhag administrations.

Gyem Lhamo, one of the shopkeepers, highlighted the personal risks she faces as she often travels at night. Without proper lighting, the threat of snake bites looms large. She lamented that, unlike other towns where customers visit shops during evening hours, Panbang suffers from a lack of foot traffic due to the absence of streetlights, resulting in early closure of businesses.

Another shopkeeper pointed out the proximity of the hospital to Panbang town, emphasizing the urgent need for streetlights. Installation of adequate lighting would enable residents to seek medical attention during emergencies, even at night.

Yeshi Dema, a student of Sonamthang Central School, expressed her fear and reluctance to travel at night due to the absence of streetlights. She urged the relevant authorities to swiftly install streetlights in Panbang town to ensure the safety of residents.

Ngangla Gup, Rinchen Tshering, clarified that the streetlights were installed at Sonamthang because it falls under the periphery town category, with a larger population residing there. He emphasized that the streetlight plan for Panbang town was not transferred to Sonamthang and was implemented by the gewog administration with proper planning.

The gup said that as Panbang town is under the purview of the dzongkhag and drungkhag administrations, streetlights would naturally be included as part of the basic infrastructure development. The gewog administration has invested Nu 1.17 million to install streetlights at Sonamthang.

Panbang Drungpa Sonam Dorji, said that the streetlights at Sonamthang were prioritised and funded by the gewog, not the town’s budget. He revealed that the drungkhag administration proposed the installation of streetlights in Panbang town during the 12th Plan but failed to secure the necessary budget.

Although the streetlight installation is proposed for the financial year 2023-24, the drungpa said it is uncertain whether it would be approved due to budget constraints. He said that the gewog administration plans to extend the streetlight project to Panbang town once funding becomes available.