Two Cabinet ministers also question how Thromde is going about the whole business
After business owners and shop owners in Norzin Lam formally wrote to their MP Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo on 25 September, Lyonpo, being the representative of people of North Thimphu, will forward the letter to the Minister for Works and Human Settlement, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering. MoWHS Minister after consulting both the parties will then table it to the Cabinet for a decision.
The representatives of house owners, business owners, hotels in Norzin Lam and the Taxi Association signed the letter. They shared their grievances during a meeting with their MP. Being the people’s representative, Lyonpo said it is her responsibility to hear people’s grievances and make it visible to the government. She said since she is not the right person to present the issue, it would be wise to leave it up to Minister for Works and Human Settlement to take the matter.
The former cabinet, put a freeze to plans to remove the parking space along Norzin Lam based on the submission of shopkeepers with the cabinet saying the 14-year old plan needed more consultation and study. Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that since it is inconveniences faced by the people, it should be tabled in the Cabinet and brought to the notice of the government.
She said, “For us, the government’s order is a Cabinet Order, and unless it is revoked it is still a Cabinet Order even if it is by the former cabinet. I would consider this as valid Cabinet Order and there hasn’t been any change. In our level, we had never had any discussion on it with the Thimphu Thromde, but people have come to us with their grievances, and we will try to mitigate and manage it.”
Regarding the legality of the issue, she said, “Thimphu Thromde might be having some power on the use of land because Thromde would not take such a huge step.”
However, she said that the question that begs to be asked, is if we know where the congestion is happening in Thimphu? “If we study the traffic congestion at around 5 pm in the evening when the offices gets over, the congestion is not in Norzin Lam but it is on Chang Lam. That’s where the parking gets choked up,” Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said.
She said, “Even we are trying to learn how will removing of parking space along Norzin Lam create pedestrianized or people-friendly street? The roads and footpaths along the Norzin Lam that we have, at present, is not people-friendly or it doesn’t encourage us to walk. The footpath along the Norzin Lam is so unfriendly that we might fall if we walk.
“By removing the parking space along Norzin lam, are we going to walk by pothole filled roads with cars passing by which is even risky for our children and old people? In order to support their decision, we must first try to understand their plan and how their plan would benefit the people.”
Lyonpo said that having a very artistic plan is important, but it must importantly look into the people’s convenience.
If their intention is to decongest the traffic, she said, they should improve the public transport. “There are many other alternatives to decongest traffic. Thimphu thromde should do strategic studies while carrying out any plan.”
She further added, “I would like to request Thromde, that before we go about with any plan, in democracy, people must be consulted and people’s consensus and concerns must be taken because we are here to serve the people.”
A representative of shopkeepers and house owners in Norzin Lam said that this concern is not just from one group but it is from all the groups along the road stretch because be it hotel or grocery or hardware shops, all of them need a mode of transportation for loading and unloading their goods, and 5 minutes is not enough unless you have a back entry which many don’t have.
He said, “In December 2018, Thromde called for a meeting with the business owners and house owners in Norzin Lam. We were told that it is a consultative meeting, but later we realized that it was Thromde’s presentation on what they want to do with the Norzin Lam. We were told that they will not pedestrianized Norzin Lam but only remove the parking space with 15 minutes parking rule, which eventually came down to 10 and 5 minutes now. Slowly, they are planning to pedestrianize it.”
He said Thimphu Thromde is panicking because they have completed the construction of MLCP but there are no people who want park their cars. Initially they have planned to remove the parking space from BOD to main traffic but later they decided to extend it. “They don’t look into our interest,” he said.
The Taxi Association said that there are around 3,000 taxis in Thimphu. Recently it received a letter from Thromde saying that there should be only 25 parking spaces for taxis in the City Bus Parking area and 20 taxi parking spaces in Lungtenzampa area. “We were told to keep running around in town,” said the association.
So many livelihoods are at stake as there are around 40 hotels, 3000 taxis and 200 building and few restaurants in Norzin Lam, said one of the representatives of hotel in Norzin Lam. Though the initial plan of the Thromde was just to have parking space in the MLCP structure, the Thromde later announced its plan of having shops and hotels in the structure, which is also a concern, stated the representative.
KCR Private Limited said that it is mentioned in the contract agreement that of the total built up area, 20 percent of it can be used for commercial purposes. “Everything is done legally and there are no loopholes in this,” the KCR CEO said. In MLCP 1, there would be a few shops and a one three- star tourist standard hotel, and in MLCP 2, there would be only shops.
The MoWHS Minister Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said that the Cabinet Order says pedestrianization of Norzin Lam should not happen at this point of time and they have to go by this order.
“The concept of pedestrianization of Norzin Lam is given in Thimphu Structure Plan, and the order says that since the structure plan was conceptualized 14 years ago and is outdated and not implementable today, but I would say that structure plan is not outdated but there are many other components that would come together with pedestrianization of Norzin Lam,” said Lyonpo.
He said there are many components mentioned in the structure plan that has to come with pedestrianization, which is also mentioned in the Cabinet Order. It points out that there are lots of facilities that are not developed to pedestrianize Norzin Lam. He said, “As per Local Government Act 2009 and Amendment Act 2014, Thromde has the power to play with the parking. Depending upon the convenience, Thromde can make some changes with the parking spaces. It can remove some parking or even create new parking. But the situation is different today because it is not the issue of Thimphu Thromde, but it is a national issue because there are about 140,000 people living in Thimphu, and any change in Thimphu is for 140,000 people living here.”
He said, “Thimphu Thromde has informed the public about its plan on removing the parking space along Norzin Lam, but Thromde has never come to us with their plan. So far, there was no correspondent, communication or discussion on this issue with MoWHS or the government.”
Lyonpo said that removing of parking is related to pedestrianization of Norzin Lam as people won’t drive by the road to just enjoy the place.
He said, “If Thromde removes the parking space along Norzin Lam, so many people along Norzin Lam will be affected and as they claim if Thromde execute the plan, their business will eventually die and if this happens, Norzin Lam, which is the main hub of Thimphu City will become a dead place because if there is no businesses, why would people even care to go there?”
He also said the issue was between business owners and Thimphu Thromde. “Business owners were looking and trying various measures to stop Thromde from removing the parking space, and on the other hand, Thromde has done and is trying every possible way to execute their plan. But recently, these people have written to their MP seeking government intervention or at least to look into their grievances. But if Thromde implements this, it would result into something that no one can predict. They might want the Prime Minister, himself, to look into the matter because if Thromde implements it, it will become a serious matter, and the people will not stay quiet.”
“I would say that it would not be right to say that Thromde is removing the parking space just because MLCP is coming up,” Lyonpo said. It is not mentioned in the contract agreement that parking space along Norzin Lam should be removed. The agreement says that even after the completion of MLCP, the parking space along Norzin Lam can continue.
Lyonpo said that after he receives the letter from Lyonpo Dechen, and after consulting both the parties, the issue will be tabled to the Cabinet, so a proper decision is reached. “I am hopeful that Thromde might come to us before they implement it,” said Lyonpo Dorji Tshering.