NEC: Not less than a year after it was introduced, the National Environment Commission (NEC) has reduced the environment clearance fee for construction of rural houses to Nu 600 from Nu 2,500. The revised fee was implemented since July last year.

Following feedback from local leaders, the NEC Secretariat had proposed to the NEC to reduce the fee. According to officials, the NEC chaired by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay took this decision recently.

“The government has reduced the environment clearance fee to Nu 600,” an official from the Office of Prime Minister, asking anonymity said. The fee was imposed as per the Environment Assessment Act of Bhutan, the official said.

The decision has not been officially disseminated to local governments and other agencies, it is learnt.

The decision, however, is applicable only for construction of traditional houses, according to sources. In case of a traditional house, the gup office can issue the clearance.

If the house to be constructed is not traditional, the environment clearance has to be sought from the dzongkhag environment office, in which case the fee remains unchanged.

Officials said that the fee had to be levied because some houses were built within 50 feet from the road. Houses were also built violating other environment rules.

On March 9, the opposition party through press release stated that the party has been receiving complaints from rural communities on the need to obtain environmental clearance and having to pay the fee.

“All along, we have been encouraging people to stay in rural areas and avoid out-migration to urban centres and garnering the support of local communities for environmental protection,” the press release stated.

The Opposition Member of Parliament who looks after environment issues in the National Assembly, Nidup Zangpo, said it was a common issue in many dzongkhags. “It is told that even to build a cowshed they had to pay Nu 2,500,” he said, adding that it was a big amount for farmers.

He said the government cannot impose the blanket rule on the farmers although the intention may be good. “If the NEC has reduced the fee we are yet to see any formal announcement,” he said.

The press release stated that if such “ill-conceived rules” are introduced without considering the larger national goals, it would be a major setback not only towards reducing poverty and rural-urban migration, but also in “responsible stewardship” of the environment.

They urged the government to urgently review this rule of having to obtain environmental clearance and having to pay the environmental clearance fee for constructing houses. “If we put hurdles and harass them for constructing on their own registered land, how are we going to get their support for environmental conservation and most importantly, how are we going to reduce poverty and rural to urban migration?,” it stated.

The party also recommended the government to strictly enforce environmental norms on its own implementation of highway widening, construction of new roads, reducing vehicular emission of carbon and protecting forests from fires.

The opposition party claims that over 200,000 trees that took over 30 years to grow and mature have been slashed and trashed along the east-west highway along with “indiscriminate dumping of muck” in the widening process.

“Over 12,000 vehicles have been imported in the past two years alone belching out tons of carbon dioxide while espousing electric cars and committing carbon neutral to the global community,” it stated.

The party also accused the government of not being able to deal with forest fires, which they said has decimated hundreds of acres of forests in the past couple of weeks alone.

“No wonder we see these contradictory and flip-flop policies of the government because the most important environmental organization, the NEC, has been running around without its head for the past six months.”

MB Subba