Local leaders of Paro have changed their minds. They are now not happy with the Paro Valley Development Project, a 20-year development and land use plan for the preservation of cultural landscape, topography and the natural environment among others.
There is pressure on the limited land available for construction. Land value has soared overnight and although Paro is a fertile valley, most of the land is paddy fields, which is strictly restricted for conversion. There is a growing demand for land in the prosperous valley.
With Thimphu almost filled with concrete structures, the next best bet many say, is investing in land in Paro. As a developed dzongkhag and full of potential, Paro could come under a lot of pressure. There had been several debates about preserving the paddy fields in the valley when the Dzongkhag Thromdes were discussed in Parliament.
When the Parliament in the past declared the boundary of the thromde including parts of the Wangchang and Hungrel gewogs, local leaders argued that about 500 acres of paddy land would be affected by the declaration of the thromde. Many supported preserving the paddy fields and even making it an example of development in harmony with the natural environment.
Local leaders are now finding that the development project has not considered the ground realities. Landowners are finding the project as an impediment to their plans of constructing houses. There is a demand for dry land. It is evident from the concrete structures appearing year after year from the lush green hillsides.
It may pain farmers to see their paddy fields make way for concrete buildings but that is already happening. More and more concrete buildings are popping up on what were once paddy fields from Shaba to Drugyal Dzong. Some are envious, as they know there is more income from rentals than paddy fields. Only a few can turn wetland into dry land and start construction activities.
Given its proximity to the capital city and scope for development, it will be difficult to hold onto the farmlands for long. Local leaders experienced it. Should there be a town planning, there will be pressure on the paddy fields, Paro’s identity.
Priorities will change with time. But what we can do is save Paro from another disastrous urban planning. The PVDP is a 20-year long project. Sounds similar to the grand Thimphu Structural Plan of 2002-2027. The capital city is not the city that planners envisioned. Beyond Thimphu, we have the Khuruthang and Bajo town, another examples of bad urban planning.
Paro valley, a pride for all Bhutanese should not be victim of another failed planning. We have learnt enough lessons from our past mistakes. We will be fools to repeat them. We have lost time and opportunities to come up with an exemplary town based on what planners call intelligent urbanism where development is in harmony with nature and heritage while also making it convivial and efficient.
Why not make Paro into an exemplary agricultural town?
The potentials are there. The land is fertile and the valley making it convenient for mechanised farming, water is abundant and the market is ensured. The dzongkhag has the potential to increase its cropping intensity from 120 percent to over 190 percent, according to agriculture experts.
Good policy interventions can save Paro and also contribute to our dream of food self-sufficiency.