Not long ago, landowners of Chang and Barp gewogs (south Thimphu today) wanted to hold on to their ancestral land when the government proposed expanding the city to their agriculture land.
Alien concepts like land pooling or land contribution scared farmers. The government had no choice. The capital city was overwhelmed by rapid development and an influx of people from other dzongkhags. It had to expand.
Thimphu city is expanding at an unprecedented rate. The urban population growth was 37 percent as of 2017. Most come to Thimphu in search of better opportunities. There is no space. Even the hillsides are not spared.
Kabesa, given its proximity to the city and the availability of free space could be absorbed into the city. The master structural plan excludes Kabesa. The people want to be included.
Representatives of the landowners are now requesting for conversion of their paddy land to ‘dry land’. They know the opportunities that would bring. The once farmers of south Thimphu are now landlords.
Located about 10 kilometres from the core city, Kabesa is a mix of rural and urban setting. Huge concrete buildings have sprouted out in between paddy fields. There is demand for land.
Kabesa landowners cannot resist the opportunities urbanisation can bring to them. The priority is to maximise the economic benefits of their property. A lot of land is fragmented and sold with the hope that one fine day the decision will be in their favour.
It is a testing time for decision makers. A move had already been made to see the implication of the conversion. There are not many landowners cultivating paddy. Some, especially the new owners, do not have enough for cultivation. They are waiting.
But there are complications. The Land Act has strict conditions on the conversion. But we also know there are many tricks to sidestep regulations. We are not surprised if it has become a political agenda already. If someone can pledge to fight for the conversion, it will be a sure vote getter.
The grand master plan, the Thimphu Structural Plan is up to 2027. Will there be a new plan? Will Kabesa be included after 2027? The pressure will only build.
There are opportunities beyond the value of land. The urban dream we had when our city was encroaching into paddy fields remained only on paper. We have failed to build a unique Bhutanese city in the once paddy fields. There is no positive feel to our development with the city getting choked up with solid concrete blocks.
Closer to nature and still not too late, we cannot sacrifice Kabesa to another planning tragedy or implementation failure. Basic ideas like greenery, open space, preservation of heritage sites and public recreation facilities are envisioned in our plans.
There will be pressure from interest groups like the landowners. They will not care for the general good because of commercial interests.
It will not be easy. But we should also be aware that the only thing left of Kabesa shouldn’t be the Pangrizampa Lhakhang.