Choki Wangmo

Contrary to the maximum building height of five-storey as mandated by the Thimphu structural plan, several 7-8 storied buildings have come up in different areas in the capital.

Most of the local area plans and Thimphu structural plan, designed to cater to the needs of its future inhabitants allow buildings up to five-storey for the high-density area and 2-4 stories for low-density or ecologically sensitive areas.

But in 2017, to prevent traffic congestion due to parking of vehicles along the roadsides and to facilitate sufficient parking spaces within individual plots, Thimphu thromde tshogde endorsed additional one storey to be used as a parking space, making six-storey buildings legal.

With such changes, five-storey buildings were allowed in urban village I (UV I), but with the additional two floors, and most building opting for jamthos, buildings today have 7-8 floors.

In the Hejo-Samteling area, four-storey buildings were constructed although the maximum height allowed was three-storey in the local area plan.

The performance audit report of Thimphu Thromde 2019 found that despite signing an undertaking from the building owner, the thromde issued the occupancy certificate without considering the deviation in 2016. Subsequently, four floors were allowed in that local area plan.

The increase in the building height and change of precincts is expected to cause an increase in the population density of the area, which would exert pressure on public services, and infrastructure of the area.

An additional floor would provide housing space for at least two more families, more vehicles, more sewage, more waste, higher water consumption and crowding in an area which was not designed or equipped to cater to such increase, in terms of infrastructures like roads, parking and open spaces.

With the increasing population in the capital, such practices might have serious adverse implications on the sustainability of the carrying capacity of the city.

The audit report states: “There is no preparedness in terms of strategies and funds to respond to overcrowding and increasing pressure on the carrying capacity of the city.”

As of 2017, Thimphu had a population of 114,551.

Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that if the thromde complies by the structural plan, people would be deprived of access to proper facilities like sewerage and water.

The increased storey, basement for open parking space, according to him is a logical move compared to underground parking in the past which increased the risk.

“Realising the practical problems, the tshogde has approved an additional storey. The plan fails to recognise this problem,” thrompon said. 

He also said that the increased storey won’t make the buildings vulnerable to disasters like an earthquake as the buildings are constructed with earthquake-resilient materials.

“I am confident,” he said.

This regularisation of additional storeys, however, has been misused by landlords to earn more income, either through rental space or conversion into shops.

The audit report found that there were only a few buildings, mostly institutional and hotels, where basements are used for parking. Although undertakings were signed, basements were used as shops, living, office and entertainment centres, which is attributed to thromde’s lack of monitoring.

Between 2015 and 2017, 231 basements and attics were regularised.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said he was overseeing the approval for basements in new buildings and ensuring that they were used as parking space.

If people illegally convert it for other purposes, he said the thromde would withhold the occupancy certificate and disconnect the water supply.

To curb the roadside parking issues and reduce congestion, the thromde is working with traffic police to penalise the defaulters by sticking stickers and collecting fines, the thrompon said.

He said that such measures would drive away tenants from buildings without a parking lot, which would force the owners to allocate one.

“We are marking roads and the traffic police are monitoring strictly,” he said.