Something is not right with the Multi Level Car Parking project

The Bhutanese paper in numerous stories from 2014 to 2019 has been covering the two multi-parking structures built by KCR under a Public Private Partnership arrangement with the Thimphu Thromde where KCR would build the two Multi Level Car Parking (MLCP) structures and Thromde would provide it on lease for up to 22 years with some shared revenue and ownership to revert back to the Thromde after this time period.

KCR already collects all the Parking fees in the core areas of the city.

So far so good, but the issue cropped up from 2016 itself when shop keepers and residents along the Norzin Lam opposed the idea to pedestrianize Norzin Lam to fill up the two MLCPs.

For an ordinary observer, the business interest or convenience of shopkeepers or residents along Norzin Lam may not be as important as the grand aim of making Norzin Lam a pedestrian zone.

However, what did not add up was the parking math that Thimphu Thromde was proposing.

Now the whole reason the MLCPs were brought in was to solve Thimphu’s worsening parking woes by creating additional parking space.

The Thromde instead proposed to do away with 370 existing parking spaces in Norzin Lam, Thromde office area and the JDWNRH and then add 550 spaces from the MLCPs.

This means only 180 new actual spaces created for so much investment and government land.

The allotted commercial space for the MLCP is only 20 percent but there are clear efforts supported by Thimphu Thromde to push this commercial area up.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that right from the start of the project the Thimphu Thromde has gone out of its way to help in the commercial gain of the KCR, a private company.

Despite clear cabinet directives in mid 2016 to hold on to its plan to remove the parking spaces along Norzin Lam, pending a review by the Cabinet, the Thimphu Thromde tried to get it done on the quite by asking hardware shops in 2017 to move out of Norzin Lam.

Then in January 2018 it said cars would only be allowed for 15 minutes parking along Norzin Lam. This was a prelude to complete pedestrianization.

The former cabinet based on the complaints of the Norzin Lam residents and simple parking math finally shot down the pedestrianization push by the Thromde in July 2018 in a formal cabinet order.

 However, by September 2019 after the new government came in the Thromde was up to its old tricks and proposed for cars to park for only 5 minutes along Norzin Lam and that too with their blinkers on.

This was the Thromde disregarding a clear cabinet order of the former government, but still nonetheless a standing cabinet order.

Again, shop keepers and Norzin Lam residents put up the matter to two current cabinet ministers.

The Health Minister who is also the North Thimphu candidate Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo and the MoWHS Minister Lyonpo Dorji Tshering were approached by the people and both ministers questioned how the Thromde could go about violating a standing cabinet order among other issues.

The current cabinet put the Thromde’s 5 minutes parking plan on hold.

After this a reporter of the paper who covered Thimphu Thromde and did some of the stories was told by the Thrompon that The Bhutanese paper is to blame for the inability of the Thromde to pedestrianize Norzin Lam (and by extension the woes of the two MLCPs).

Suddenly Thimphu Thromde staff including the Thromde Secretary and Thrompon shunned the paper and stopped talking to it.

Also, advertisements to the paper stopped and payment for old advertisements bills going back to two years were held up despite clear Ministry of Finance directives to not hold up undisputed bills.

The MLCP project by all accounts is a private project and its success or failure should not impact the Thimphu Thromde in any way as the structures are already built and have to be handed to the Thromde in 22 years time.

However, the incessant efforts of the Thimphu Thromde since 2015 to benefit the KCR MLCPs to the point of even taking on the Cabinet and then blacklisting a newspaper shows vested interests and possibly other hands behind the MLCP project than just the formal owners.

The way conditions have been changed to help the MLCPs along with clear efforts to give them additional commercial gain is suspicious to say the least.

On the latest development while I support the Cabinet’s move to suspend the Centenary Farmer’s Market (CFM) for now, given the risks of an outbreak there which could go well beyond Thimphu, I fail to see how the MLCPs are a good substitute.

The CFM for all its flaws is well ventilated with no walls on any side and even WHO has said good ventilation is key to preventing transmission of the virus.

On the other hand, the MLCPs are heavily walled structures with much poorer ventilation compared to the CFM. I think the risks of transmission will go up by moving large chunks of the CFM to the MLCPs.

By Tenzing Lamsang

The writer is the Editor of the paper.

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