The high cost of connecting Bhutan’s remotest gewogs

Establishing a community centre in these gewogs could cost at least Nu 8 million each

Community: The establishment of community centres in five remaining gewogs may not be possible given high costs, it was pointed out by the Department of Information Technology and Telecom during its mid-term review (MTR) held last month.

The five gewogs are Soe, Naro, and Lingzhi in Thimphu, and Laya and Lunana in Gasa.

The department recommended three options: that the government approve additional funds for the establishment of centres in the five gewogs, provide the gewogs with public services through mobile connectivity, or reduce the target to 200 gewogs.

The government plans to establish a centre in each of Bhutan’s 205 gewogs.

Of the five gewogs, only Laya is connected with electricity while the remaining are off-grid.

The average cost to construct a community centre that is connected to a motor road is around Nu 2 million. As the four off-grid gewogs are not connected by motor road, the construction cost is expected to double to around Nu 4 million.

“We can’t really say what would be the actual cost of construction in these gewogs until we get the estimate from the dzongkhag but our assumption would be double the estimate from the past only for the construction,” said Department of Information Technology and Telecom ICT officer, Jamyang Sonam.

As the community centres are off-grid, a power source would also have to be provided. One of the options being considered is solar energy.

Information and communication secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji said that the cost of providing solar energy equipment to the off-grid centres would be around Nu 4 million each. This would mean that the total cost of one centre would be around Nu 8 million. This excludes costs associated with equipment and last mile wireless technology.

“We are exploring alternatives for the community centres, draft proposal providing laptop and printer with alternative power generator or solar which ever is cheaper, in these gewogs,” Jamyang Sonam said. He added that DITT is also exploring two technologies, VSAT, which is a satellite communications system, and radio, to connect the off-grid gewogs with internet.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said that most community centres were not economically viable but that the four off-grid ones are basically unaffordable. He added that the communities that would be served by the four centres are also very small.

Lingzhi, the remotest gewog in Thimphu is connected by a mule track and has a population of 495, followed by Naro with 189, and Soe with 183. There are a total of 174 households and 41 villages in the three gewogs.

In Lunana, an eight-day walk from Gasa dzong, the population is around 705, with 155 households. Laya has a population of 1,200 and 149 households.

Dasho Kinley Dorji added that the four gewogs would not be dropped completely from the plan and that once electricity reaches, community centres could be provided.

DITT is hoping to establish a community centre in Laya by next year.

“The fund for the construction of a CC in Laya gewog has been proposed in next fiscal year and hopefully we can start the construction work in the beginning of next fiscal year,” Jamyang Sonam said.

However, there may be some hope for the three off-grid gewogs in Thimphu. Thimphu dzongdag, Dasho Tshewang Rinzin, said that work is ongoing to connect the four gewogs with electricity. He said that the effort may take a year.

Currently, to ease the burden of obtaining public services by residents of the three gewogs, applications are collected by the gewog and brought down to the nearest point connected to the internet.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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