On the once outskirts of the Thimphu thromde, at Olakha, there is a problem that has ramifications on the government, the public corporations, state enterprises or the capital’s residents who own a car.

Those operating the automobile workshops at Olakha and their landlords  are entangled in a problem that, for years, couldn’t find a solution. The repercussions are eating into the pockets or government coffers.

Building owners revise rents, workshop operators complain and when lost in the bargain, pass on the cost to those seeking services. The capital city has one vehicle for every two people. Vehicles need maintenance and repair. The cost of maintenance and repair is passed on to owners when market rates determine cost. Maintaining or repairing vehicles has become expensive. The days when vehicle owners would travel to Phuentsholing for a vehicle repair “cum” shopping trip has come to an end with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently the Supreme Court ordered seven operators to vacate the space they rented within six months. This has not gone well with the operators.  They are asking for government intervention. They want the government to provide them state land so that they can continue their business. They also claim that chasing them with an ultimatum would mean about 100 people losing jobs.

The issue is not as straightforward as they claim. Operators are accused of violating thromde rules to earn more than they pay in rent for the rented property. The thromde recently demolished structures built illegally by operators – some of them encroaching on state land. 

The arguments from both sides are valid. The problem is there is no long-term solution. The only solution is that all the automobile workshops at Olakha should be relocated. The area identified, a long time ago, was the best available, not the best choice. The idea  was to develop it into a ‘model’ service centre with standard service backed by good infrastructure. 

The workshop is everything, but a model today. It is an eyesore, a source of pollution, congested and disorganized to the extent that many doubt if the pothole ridden, dusty or muddy road is a deliberate attempt to spoil more vehicles coming for repair. The Olakha workshop has become like the slum of Thimphu city. It is not at all the vision we had.

The automobile workshop has to be relocated. Where? We don’t know. But the condition it is in today and the controversies surrounding it is a good example of bad planning or shortsightedness.

It is also a lesson of imposing urban planning decisions on landowners. Landowners didn’t ask their area to be developed into what it is. The decision was imposed on them. That’s why landowners are demanding compensation for the bigger share they sacrificed in the so-called land pooling arrangement.

The government has to find a solution. An easy one is closing it down or providing choices for the operators. With the capital city getting congested by the day, we need to relocate the automobile workshops from Olakha. We could have service centres across the city and identify an area for the bigger repair works. It should be out of the city. Leasing state land could bring down prizes and increase competitiveness.