As per the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2017, the total population count is 735,553 people. Out of that 175,116 people are from the eastern dzongkhags of Trashigang, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Lhuentse, Trashiyangtse and Samdrup Jongkhar. Of 175,116 people from the east, 78, 039 are males and 85, 078 are females.
It was noted that the eastern districts have the highest number of voters in the country. It has 154,547 registered voters and occupies a total of 17 seats in the National Assembly.
However, the voter turnout is very poor in the East due to the dwindling number of people residing in Eastern Bhutan. Rural-urban migration is a major issue in the east. A total of 85,259 people migrated from the eastern dzongkhags to other places, with the highest number recorded in Trashigang at 31,930.
The other issues for such a large number of people leaving behind their dzongkhags are the poor access to roads and water supply, human- wildlife conflict, and the lack of tourism infrastructure among others.
Given its high number of voters, Trashigang is a crucial dzongkhag for all four political parties for the upcoming elections. It has 47,614 registered voters, out of which 23,000 are males and 24,614 are females.
Rural-urban migration is a serious issue in Trashigang.
For Trashigang, the percentage of urban to urban migrants is 3.6 percent, urban to rural migrants is 2.5 percent, rural to urban migrants is 13.3 percent, and rural to rural migrants is 13.8 percent.
This has resulted in agricultural lands being kept fallow due to farm labour shortages and land fragmentation leading to low agricultural productivity. Other challenges faced by the dzongkhag include human-wildlife conflict, water shortages both for drinking and irrigation purposes.
The total resident population of Trashigang, according to PHCB 2017 is 45,518 of which 23,414 are males and 22,104 are females.
Trashigang has experienced a decrease in population size by about 5,607 persons during the census period, a decline by about 11 percent between 2005 and 2017. This negative growth is brought in by the delimitation process of the parliamentary and local government constituencies in 2008 as well as other factors such as migration. The population of Trashigang in 2005 was at 51,134 persons.
Trashigang Dzongda, Chekey Gyeltshen, said, “Given its high number of voters and seats in National Assembly Election, Trashigang dzongkhag is very important. It has 47, 614 voters and 5 seats.”
He said, “Increasing cases of Gungtong or unoccupied houses are reported from almost all villages. It is a pressing social issue, for which there is no specific solution. Bartsham gewog has highest cases of Gungtong in Trashigang.”
Bartsham, Bidung, Yangyer and Udzorong gup said that apart from rural urban migration, access to marketing of agriculture produce resulting from poor access to road, human- wildlife conflict and water shortages, both drinking and irrigation, are the major issues.
“Although Trashigang has high number of voters, voter turnout is very poor and this could be because half of the people are living outside Trashigang. Almost half of the population in Trashigang migrated to urban areas, like Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Paro and Samdrup Jongkhar,” the Dzongda added.
Tenzin Dawa, 49, a civil servant from Bartsham Shongphu constituency said, “Access to improved road is a major issue in Barstsham gewog because Bartsham road was the first road to be blacktopped in Trashigang, but the blacktopping was completed only last year. Similarly, there are many roads that are not blacktopped, and any party that forms the government should make road their first priority.”
He said, “Trashigang is an important dzongkhag for all four political parties, but particularly for Druk Phuensum Tshogpa because during 2008 and 2013 election, DPT secured the highest votes from Trashigang. But I feel that this year, we cannot say anything and I feel that Trashigang’s vote will be divided between DPT and DNT, and there are a large chunk of people who might vote for DNT.”
Ngawang Thinley from Kanglung said, “People in our gewog are well informed about the parties and the candidates, and I am sure that people will vote for the strong party and the candidate instead of voting for their relatives. In the past, voting was determined by the head of the family, where the father decides to vote for a party, and rest of the family members also voted for that party.”
Mongar is 450 km east of the capital city, Thimphu. The dzongkhag is bordered by Trashigang, Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Samdrup Jongkhar, Zhemgang and Bumthang.
Mongar is located in the sub-tropical region and has the huge potential for production of agricultural products like barley, maize, potatoes and fruits. The electricity generated from 60 MW Kurichhu Hydro Power Plant, the completion of Gyalpozhing-Nganglam highway in the Eleventh Plan, the construction of industrial estate at Bondeyma, close proximity to domestic airports at Bumthang and Yonphula makes this dzongkhag a potential agro-processing hub of the East.
However, with the water sources drying up, the provision of clean and safe drinking water is a major challenge in Mongar. Small and fragmented landholdings, access to rural credit and human-wildlife conflict are obstacles for commercial farming and development of livestock enterprises. Facilities for storage, distribution and marketing of agricultural products are a constraint. There are also high cases of Gungtong in the dzongkhag.
Mongar Dzongda, Ugyen Sonam, said, “Water shortage for drinking and irrigation, human wildlife conflict and poor access to roads are the major challenges for the people in Mongar dzongkhag particularly Kengkhar and Jurmey gewogs.”
He said, “Mongar is home to a variety of Bhutanese languages and dialects, like Sharchopa, Chali kha, Gongduk, Chocha nga cha kha and Dzongkha. However, language is not a barrier for people in Mongar as majority of the people can speak Dzongkha.”
Drametse and Mongar gups said that the acute shortage of water supply for drinking and irrigation persists in villages, like Dramedtse, Kengkhar and Jurmey including Mongar town.
Dokola, 46, from Mongar said, “Water shortage is the major challenge in Mongar town as there is an increase in the number of people in the town area. People here face water shortage constantly, and sometimes, people have to stay without water for more than a month.”
He said, “It doesn’t matter which party forms the government, it can be PDP or DPT or even BKP and DNT, but the government should make water supply their first priority because water supply is the issue everywhere.”
Tshering Phuntsho from Dramedtse gewog said, “With election nearing, people in Dramedtse are very excited, and I feel that we are well informed about the election and parties. People will vote for party according to their manifesto.”
Mongar has 34,589 voters and 3 seats in NA.
With the establishment of domestic airport in Yonphula, the accessibility to Trashiyangtse has been made easier. The numerous heritage sites and major festivals, such as the annual Gomphu Kora and Chorten Kora festivals, Chazam, the Blacknecked cranes and handicrafts tours are seen as the attractive products for tourism development.
However, some of the challenges include lack of proper tourist amenities, such as hotels. In addition, depleting forest resources has posed a challenge to the people making Dapa. The situation is further compounded by fewer youth willing to take up the trade, which was traditionally passed on as a family trade usually from a father to a son. In terms of agriculture, the fragmented land-holdings, farm labour shortage, human-wildlife conflict, lack of storage and marketing facilities pose as constraints to enhancing agricultural productivity.
The Dzongda said, “Trashiyangtse dzongkhag is also very important, like any other eastern dzongkhags as there are 2 seats for NA election. Trashiyangtse is rich in biodiversity, culture, flora and fauna, and it has so much potential to develop. However, access to road and human-wildlife conflict are common issues.” He said, “Monsoon is yet another problem as heavy rainfall results into landslides, farm road blockage and irrigation channel being washed away. We need immediate intervention.”
Boomdeling Gup, Mani Wangda, said, “Flood is common in Boomdeling, every year, crops are being destroyed and bridges are washed away. We sought the dzongkhag’s assistance, but due to limited budget nothing much could be done. So, we need a government that would look into such matter. Other issues are human-wildlife conflict and access to road.”
Ramjar gup said, “The increasing case of Gungtong is one of the biggest concerns of the people in Ramjar. From 374 household in Ramjar gewog, about 70 to 80 houses are empty resulting from rural to urban migration. Another major problem is due to less rainfall this year, crops are being damaged and there is a shortage of water due to drying sources.”
Chencho Tshering, 64, from Boomdeling said, “We hope that the new government would do well and so people should vote for the right party for that to happen.”
Trashiyangtse has 18,388 registered voters out of which 8,857 are males and 9,571 are females. It has 2 seats in NA.
Being the ancestral home of the Monarchs,it is host to important religious sites with its reputation in Kishuthara textile weaving, there is potential to enhance economic development through agriculture and livestock productivity, tourism and cultural industries in Lhuentse.
There are a number of historical and religious sites in Lhuentse which could be explored for development as potential tourism products, both for domestic and international tourists. Natural tourist attractions include historical and religious sites, trekking routes, picnic spots and camping sites. Besides, the rich art of kishuthara weaving, farm houses, home stays and the rich flora and fauna could be potential products.
Kurtoed Gup said, “Shortage of labour and lack of tourism infrastructure are the major issues in the region. Constant attacking of crops by wild animals, like wild boar, deer and monkey is also common.”
Gangzur Gup said, “Damaging of roads by heavy monsoon during summer is very common in the region. Constant occurrences of flood has worried the villagers.”
Jambay, 34, from Tangmachhu, Lhuentse said, “Currently, the number of tourists visiting the dzongkhag is very few, mainly due to lack of proper accommodation and other facilities.
The tourists either have to depend on the dzongkhag guest house for accommodation or have to drive all the way from Mongar.”
He said, “With regard to agricultural productivity, the dzongkhag has an arable land of 5,876 hectares with the capacity to be food self-sufficient. However, due to shortage of farm labour and human-wildlife conflict, agricultural productivity has not been harnessed to its full potential.”
Lhuentse has 16,581 registered voters and it has two seats in NA.
Being the main trading hub for the five eastern dzongkhags and the gateway to the Indian and Bangladeshi markets, Samdrup Jongkhar town is growing rapidly.
There are plans to prioritize development of a second 170.79 acres industrial estate at Motanga. Samdrup Jongkhar town will become the main transit with the construction of Dewathang-Nganglam, Samdrupcholing-Samrang, Samrang-Jomotshangkha, and the upgradation of Samdrup Jongkhar-Trashigang highway which will further improve access and connectivity to Samdrup Jongkhar.
Already, the existing urban infrastructure facilities and services are under tremendous pressure with the growing population. The challenges faced by the Thromde are unplanned growth in the periphery areas, issues of affordable housing, lack of clean and reliable drinking water supply, solid waste management problems, safety and other insufficient urban infrastructures.
The Dewathang Gup said, “Shortage of water for drinking is the major issue in the region, with the increase in the number of people. People in Dewathang wants the Nganglam-Dewathang road as people need to travel via Assam which is not safe.”
Tshering Chophel who works in a private firm said, “In Samdrup Jongkhar, issues of affordable housing is a concern. House rents are high and it is very difficult to get an affordable housing. Most of the developmental activities are in urban center like Thimphu, and I feel that any party that forms the government should focus on dzongkhags like ours which has so much potential for development.”
The Dzongkhag has 25,826 registered voters and two NA seats
The completion of Gyalpozhing–Nganglam highway and Tsebar-Mikuri–Durungri feeder road, the commencement of Dungsam Cement Project, the feasibility of establishing a regional hub at Nganglam, the construction of the Pemagatshel Dzong and development of new township at Rinchenthang, Nganglam and Denchi, were some of the major activities in the dzongkhag during the Eleventh Plan.
Pemagatshel has potential for cultivation of horticultural crops, like cardamom, ginger, vegetables and tropical fruits.
However, farm labour shortage, lack of storage and marketing facilities have not resulted in commensurate increase in the incomes of the farmers.
Therefore, many of the farmers have shifted to off-farm activities, such as manual work at the Gypsum mining, road constructions and production of cultural, religious and tea items such as Jaling, Dhung, Thonphu poe, Nyashing Jurma tea leaves, Thongsa Kamthap and Yurung Bura for their livelihood.
Addressing issues of farm labour shortage, storage and marketing facilities, human wildlife conflict, water scarcity, etc., would result in significant transformation in the lives of the people and their livelihoods.
Sonam Jamtsho, 45, from Yurung said, “People in Pemagatshel have many opportunities in cultivating crops like cardamom, ginger, vegetables and fruits, but poor access to market is the major obstacle.”
He said, “People in the dzongkhag are well educated and informed about the parties and the candidates. Voting for right party is important for the development of not just one or two district or dzongkhag, but for the development of whole nation.”
The Dzongkhag as 26,141 registered voters and three NA seats.