On 18 June 2022, a 55-year-old woman was killed in a landslide in Kabreytar, Phuentsholing when mud and debris flowed into her bedroom on the ground floor of the building, killing her.
The Bhutanese has learnt that the land was originally an Environmental 4 Zone land precinct that only allows for two-story house construction on 25 percent of the land, however, the expired woman’s husband managed to convert the land from an E-4 into an Urban Village Low Density (UVLD).
After doing this, the husband constructed the four-storey building.
The Phuentsholing Thrompon, Uttam Kumar Rai, said that around 2014-15 the husband had approached the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM), and had made them do a study on the slope. The DGM had issued a report saying it was safe.
The husband then used this letter and put up an application in the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), which finally approved the change of the land from E-4 into UVLD.
The Thrompon asked how such a report was issued by the DGM, in the first place, and asked if it was even a fake one.
As per the process, when the person applied to the MoWHS then the ministry would also rely on a ground report by the Thromde.
So the bigger question is how the DGM, Thromde and the MOWHS allowed this land change to happen in an area which was clearly not suitable for such a major construction.
The question also is, what were the Thromde inspectors doing at the time?
Here, the Thrompon said the city inspectors are limited in number, and they are only qualified to inspect a building and not the safety of the surrounding area.
The Thrompon said that if the area had been kept as E-4 then only a limited construction would have been allowed and space would have been kept for debris to fall there.
He said the slopes in Phuentsholing are made of phyllite and clay, and when too much rain water gets into them then they are not stable. He said it is important to also have good drainage.
To construct the building, the slope area had been cut. The Thrompon said when the cut was done, it looks like proper bioengineering was not done, and proper protection was not done for the building right under the gorge. He said so when it rained, the phyllite and red soil had come down.
The Thrompon said both for the old local area plans and new ones, there are requests from the people to either convert their E-4 land into UVLD or some other conversions.
The Phuentsholing Thromde Executive Secretary Lungten Jamtsho said that there are general guidelines in terms of slope, geological formation, density etc while deciding on the land types. He said the public are consulted during LAP planning, but the change of an area cannot be done by the Thromde, and can only be done by MoWHS.
He said that illegal constructions are also not allowed as the Thromde though the due process gives adequate warning, and if it is not rectified then it is demolished.
A danger from the above case is that as land prices go up, and it becomes more scarce then agencies can come under public and individual pressure to allow certain conversions, and constructions that may not be safe, be it in its location near rivers or steep areas unsuitable for construction.