Article 7 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life. The basic elements of the right to life mean the right to food, shelter, and clothing. It is said “to make the right meaning to the poor, the state has to provide facilities and opportunity to build houses. Acquisition of the land to provide house sites to the poor houseless is a public purpose, as it is the Constitutional duty of the State to provide house sites to the poor.” But at the current rate of land price, purchasing land in most places has become almost impossible even for high-income people in the country.

The right to shelter “does not mean a mere right to a roof over one’s head. It is a home where a person has opportunities to grow physically, mentally, intellectually, and spiritually. Right to shelter, includes adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation, and other amenities like roads. The State should be deemed to be under an obligation to secure it for its citizens, of course, subject to its economic budgeting.”

In Bhutan, there is a serious challenge to own a home no matter how high one’s income is, especially for those working as employees in government, corporate or private sectors. In terms of salary, the minimum wage in Singapore is 5,000SG Dollars and the minimum rent is as low as 500USD (10% of the salary). Similarly, in Japan, the minimum wage is around 230,000 Yen and rent is around 50,000 yen, which is around 20%. In Bhutan, the minimum wage is around Nu 4,500 while the rent is also similar to that amount, almost 100% of the salary.

Access to finance is not only difficult but almost impossible where banks are refusing to even value rural land and property. Unlike Bhutan, in countries like Singapore and South Korea, interest rates are as low as 3%. But in Bhutan, the interest rate for any loan is not less than 7% and the collateral-free loan is almost impossible.

Today, owning even a small plot has become the biggest status in society, particularly in urban areas. With no intervention from the government, a small section of the urban people is gradually owning a major portion of the private land, making it impossible for the rest to even become a part of urban ownership. For example, despite its extremely small geographical size (less than 1km square-Bhutan 38,000km square) and huge population (4.5million-Bhutan less than 1 million), Singapore still has one of the highest home ownership in the world. They focused on affordability and universal home ownership through financial mechanisms, which included individuals paying loans and grants lasting for ninety years. Expecting the increase in home prices after the pandemic, the Singaporean government came up with a policy of higher household incomes, cooling of property prices, and accommodative interest rates.

If appropriate steps are not taken, except for a few fortunate, rest of the Bhutanese can’t even dream of owning a shelter without leaving the country and spending the most productive life in some developed countries. But Bhutan can’t afford to lose even over a hundred thousand leaving the country, not only for economic reasons but also for national security, identity, and sovereignty. Home ownership may be one of the best strategies to retain productive population.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.