There are an estimated 5,000 Bhutanese living in the Indian border town of Jaigaon today

Housing: In order to curb the current housing problem in Phuentsholing, the government has identified seven sites to construct affordable houses in the next two years.

Although the exact number of houses to be built has not yet been decided, preliminary estimates are 400 units.

However, the correct numbers of units would be decided within the next week or two. The budget estimation is also expected to be completed by then. The National Housing Development Corporation Ltd (NHDCL) is spearheading the project with financial support from the government.

This development comes after the government formed a special committee to oversee housing problems in Phuentsholing. The committee chaired by the finance minister Namgay Dorji has members from the National Land Commission, Phuentsholing thromde, works and human settlement ministry, and NHDCL.

The committee will also examine, discuss and devise long-term solutions to the housing problem. The special committee met on April 9 in Phuentsholing.

NHDCL CEO Thinley Dorji said the main objective of the project is to solve the housing crunch in Phuentsholing.

“The project could commence in about two to three months,” he said.

The housing crunch in Phuentsholing has been going on for decades. High rents, limited space for construction, and non-national residents are the three major causes of the housing crunch.

“It is further aggravated by low-income earning groups, many of them working in the factories in the industrial estates,” a businessman residing in Phuentsholing said.

The businessman added that the only option for most Bhutanese are expensive apartments as many of the more affordable real estate are occupied by non-national businessmen running commercial shops.

Over 5,000 Bhutanese are believed to be living in Jaigaon today. The majority are from the lower income groups.

Some of the areas where large numbers of Bhutanese reside are the Chinese Lane, Bau Bazaar and Super Market. Although most say that they find it safe, there are many who say it is a burden to be living across the border. Lack of proper water connections, electricity, and security are some of the concerns.

Sonam, a class X graduate, who has been living in Chinese Lane since 2008 pays Indian rupee (INR) 4,500 a month as rent.

“I pay water bill, water motor charge, and electricity bills,” she said, adding that in total she pays INR 6,000 a month.

Sonam said that if she did not pay in INR, a three percent fee is charged.

Sonam earns Nu 6,500 and also supports a three-year old son.

While she said cheaper apartments are available it is for security reasons that she rented a larger apartment in Chinese Lane as her husband works in Trashigang.

Another Bhutanese living in Jaigaon, Lhaki, 23, has been renting a small room for INR 3,000 the last three years. Her husband who works in a factory in Pasakha.

“It is just about a week that I’ve been employed,” the class XII graduate said.

Lhaki has a seven-month-old child. Lhaki and her friends said that sometimes they are subjected to eve teasing.

To ease the housing problem in Phuentsholing, NHDCL is also constructing five new buildings. These buildings will create occupancy for 32 families.

NHDCL has awarded construction works to Neten Construction. It is estimated that an investment of about Nu 70M is required to complete the project.

The housing development will have installed 56 units in Phuentsholing since 2014. Three buildings completed in 2014 house 24 government employees.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing