Three years after the Department of Culture (DoC) issued a circular in 2014 stating that it would not issue any permits to construct new monastic structures, it was found that there was a lhakhang, a guest house, a drasha (monk’s residence) drupkhangs and tsamkhangs (meditation centre) constructed in Laiju, Silambi in 2015 and 2016.

It is not clear how the structures were constructed since dzongkhag officials claim that they did not approve any such constructions but the owner of the structures, lam Pema Singye, received Nu 1.3 million (M) from the gewog administration for the construction from the 2015-2016 budget.

A Silambi resident alleged that the budget was actually approved to renovate a drupkhang at Wama chiwog but because the thram was issued to the dratshang and not in the name of the lam, the budget was used to construct structures at Laiju.

Silambi residents also alleged that the gewog allotted Nu 1M to the lam to renovate a drupkhang at Samten Gatshel in Silambi chiwog.

Lam Sangay Dorji, who represents lam Pema Singye and coordinates the Samten Gatshel drupkhang, said that the structures were constructed with approval and work order from the gewog administration. “We assumed that notifying the gewog office suffices,” he said. “We did not know we need approvals from other authorities.”

In 2015, following a report by Kuensel after local people complained that the lam constructed the structures without seeking forest a permit, foresters imposed a fine of Nu 72,000 on the lam.

Foresters also imposed fine of Nu 84,621 to lam Samgay Dorji for constructing the Samten Gatshel drupkhang that year.

Silambi residents are questioning how the gewog administration could approve Nu 2.3M budget for the construction of private monastic structures.

A villager, on the request of anonymity, said the gewog even constructed farm roads until the monasteries with gewog development grant.

The former Silambi gup, Tshering Dorji, in an interview with Kuensel in December 2015, said that the budget was approved so that the public would benefit from the structures.

Meanwhile, the Silambi resident also alleged that in Dag chiwog, the community constructed a lhakhang on a private land with financial support from the gewog in 2011.

The man also alleged that the new gewog officials also allotted Nu 400,000 for the sertok and choesham (altar) of the lhakhang.

He alleged that there was no approval sought to construct the lhakhang and a structure to offer butter lamps.

Silambi residents also allege that although there were several illegal constructions in the gewog, the gewog authorities never reported the matter to the dzongkhag administration.

Kuensel’s several attempts to contact Silambi gup Dorji Wangchuk, who was a tshogpa of Nagor chiwog before becoming the gup, went unanswered.

Mongar dzongkhag cultural officer, Peldup, said that the letter seeking approval to renovate the lhakhang in Laiju and Samten Gatshel was forwarded to the dzongkhag culture office in October 2015. The culture office then sent it to the DoC. “I will have to confirm with DoC whether the renovation was approved and also consult with gewog officials.”

He said he would visit the gewog soon and investigate it.

Peldup said that neither the gewog nor the dzongkhag administration has the authority to sanction new monastic constructions and renovations. “Only DoC has the authority.”

Tashi Phuntsho | Silambi