Budgetary, manpower and viability challenges for new Thromdes

However, if implemented well plan will unleash much needed planned urbanization across Bhutan

 

The parliament may have declared 15 Dzongkhag Thromdes and 18 Yenlag Thromdes in its last session, but now there are huge budgetary, manpower and viability issues around many of these towns whose implementation could stretch into multiple five year plan periods. (see status of Dzongkga Thromdes on page 11)

However, the implementation if done properly will also have a profound impact in giving more focus on the urbanization process of Bhutan with more planned towns across Bhutan.

 

Budget for Infrastructure

The Minister for Works and Human Settlement Lyonpo Dorji Choden admitted that there was no separate budget for establishing new Dzongkhag thromdes in the plan.

However, she clarified that except for Gasa, Pemagatshel and Lhuntse most other Dzongkhags already had functional municipal towns and services which are already there as part of the normal Dzongkhag services.

She said in most cases the issue for now would be about giving some additional infrastructure. She said first planning and then assessment of the infrastructure required would be done.

However, given that these towns have been declared as Dzongkhag and Yenlag Thromdes the government even though over a period of time is legally mandated to provide full services commensurate to a Dzongkhag Thromde.

Director of Department of Human Settlement, Wangchuk Thayey said that even for the smallest Thromdes basic municipal services like filtered drinking water, sewage systems, waste collection systems, paved roads and plotting would be provided along with proper urban plans.

Even for existing thromdes the main infrastructure cost will comes in terms of the huge expansion of its area and services over a period of time. Paro Thromde which was originally proposed at 90 acres of the existing core town is now comprised of 1,356 acres. Punakha Thromde which was planned at 297 acres is now expanded to 678 acres. Samdrup Jongkhar has gone from 1,220 acres to 2,048 acres, Samtse from 839 acres to 1,206 acres, Gelephu from 2,446 acres to 3,351 acres, Zhemgang from 275 acres to 410 acres, Gasa from 99 to 212 acres, Mongar from 318 acres to 752.78 acres and Bumthang from 2,050 to 2,269 acres.

In the case of most Yenlag Thromdes entirely new areas have been mapped out and some of the existing ones have expanded in size too.

Wangchuk Thayey said that the main reason why the 11th plan has no separate budget for establishing thromdes was because the budget for such activities should be put up by an elected Thrompon and Thromde Tshogpas based on local needs. He said under the concept of decentralization such budgets would never come to the ministry which can only provide technical support.

He said that though urban plans had been made for most Thromdes it was based on a long term outlook and would need to be implemented in a phase wise manner depending on the needs, population, viability and budget.

Giving the example of Thimphu he said even though it is the capital city it gradually grew over time and it has many Local Area Plan’s (LAP) that are yet to be implemented or are under implementation.

He said ultimately given the population and viability different Dzongkhag and Yenlag thromdes would be off different sizes. He said a Paro Dzongkhag Thromde would definitely be bigger than that of Gasa or Lhuentse and would therefore require for budget for infrastructure works in the future.

 

Manpower issues

With the country already facing manpower shortages in the government, especially in technical professionals like engineers, the establishment of so many Dzongkhag Thromdes and Yenlag Thromdes will cause a tight squeeze.

The MoWHS has estimated that just the salary requirement of the 20 or so Thrompons, various tshogpas and an executive secretary each will come to around Nu 65 mn a year. This does not even include the various other officials and staff required including support staff. The figure is expected to drastically shoot up once all departments and divisions in the Thromdes are put in place.

The town planning process itself faces dire shortages. According to the MoWHS ideally there should be around 40 planners with one for the Dzongkhag and one for the Thromde in all 20 Dzongkhags and Thromdes.

However, the ground reality is that DoHS in the MoWHS has only 9 urban planners of which only five are available as the rest of the four are divisional chiefs with their own responsibilities.

The Director said that to ensure that the Thromdes have enough manpower support to start with the Municipal Engineer Section currently under the Dzongkhag administration will be transferred to the new Dzongkhag Thromdes. He estimated an average of 15 to 20 people in this section in every Dzongkhag that has a town.

However, the municipal engineering section is by itself just enough to provide services to the current existing Dzongkhag thromdes. With many of them expanding more people will have to be hired. Also the establishment of some new Thromdes will require hiring of additional people.

The new Dzongkhag Thromdes will require around 16 Thrompons and around 90 tshogpas. In addition to this like the existing four Thromdes it will require 16 executive secretaries who would be civil servants at the executive level.

If the example of Gelephu Thromde is taken a Dzongkhag Thromde would require four divisions like Development Control Division with three sections, Urban Planning Division with four sections, Administration and Finance Division with four sections and Engineering Division with five sections.

All of these would over time entail enormous current expenditure by way of salaries, travel allowances, operating expenses, maintenance etc.

Here the Director said that once the Thromdes are established they would be encouraged to not only by politically autonomous but also financially autonomous. He said that as a beginning Thromdes would be encouraged to make their own revenue to meet a part of or the entire current expenditure. He said Thromdes don’t necessarily have to hire civil servants but as suggested by some existing Thrompons could hire people on contract.

He gave the example of Thimphu Thromde coming up with various ways to meet its revenue requirements.

 

Urban Plans

Four Dzongkhag Thromde plans and nine Yenlag Thromde plans are not there yet in the 11th five year plans. The Dzongkhag thromdes whose town plans are not in the 11th five year plan are Trashigang, Dagana, Haa and Lhuntse.

Similarly Yenlag Thromdes whose plans are not in the 11th five year plan are Chhumey in Bumthang, Damji in Gasa, Jyenakha in Haa, Yadi in Mongar, Lobeysa in Punakha, Khasadrabchu in Thimphu, Kuengarabten in Trongsa, Mendrelgang in Tsirang and Nobding in Wangduephodrang.

According to the MoWHS the main tasks in town planning include topographic survey, geo-technical studies, development of geo-database for larger towns and plan preparation. The entire planning process for an average town takes around 12 months provided land records and cadastral information is made available and the cost is around Nu 10 mn.

The MoWHS, however, already has urban town plans ready for Bumthang, Phuntsholing, Gasa, Trashiyangtze, Trongsa, Damphu, Mongar, Thimphu and Zhemgang. It is preparing urban plans for Punakha, Wangdue and Paro in 2015-16.

Of the Yenlag Thromdes declared the core area plans of Tsimasham in Chukha, Sarpang, Ranjung in Trashigang, Duksum in Trashiyangtze, Samdrupcholing in Samdrup Jongkhar are ready. The plans for Lhamoizingkha in Sarpang, Autsho in Lhuentse, Gomtu in Samtse and Panbang in Zhemgang is planned for 2015-16.

 

The paddy argument

The Director said that there has been some apprehension with increased Dzongkhag Thromde sizes eating into paddy land. He gave the example of the recent apprehension of Paro residents who had pointed out that around 1,000 acres of wetland had been included in the new Thromde.

“Just because paddy land comes in the Thromde does not mean it will be constructed on but instead we will have planned the areas to allow farmers to continue their agricultural activities,” said the Director.

He said that on the contrary it was the absence of planning that lead to many wet lands to be converted to dry land after being sold in small plots like in Kabesa, Thimphu.

Also giving the example of Phuentsholing Thromde he said the actual thromde on paper is from the main town till Pasakha but there was no construction in between because the area was not found viable.

 

Urban opportunity

Some government officials the paper talked to said that the Dzongkhag Thromdes and even Yenlag Thromdes is to only properly plan and address the eventual urbanization process of Bhutan.

Currently most five year plans focus the bulk of their expenditure on rural areas with projects like farm roads, schools etc. However, it has been found that despite being provided with rural infrastructure the younger educated generation preferred to come to towns looking for jobs. This has lead to expensive rural infrastructure heading to ghost villages while towns struggle to cope with the increasing migration.

The feeling in sections of the government also is that properly planned towns would allow for faster economic growth, more economic activities, job creation and also allow for more economical deployment of government resources on infrastructure.

It would also take the pressure of existing Thromdes like Thimphu and Phuentsholing and ensure the fruits of development are shared more widely.

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