l Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu
Finding an affordable house has always been a problem for residents of Phuentsholing, due to which there are thousands of Bhutanese living in the border town of Jaigoan. While successive Thrompons of the Thromde has always made availability of shelter within Bhutan their election mantra, realty says otherwise.
In the last couple of months, several Bhutanese have been asked to vacate from their flats, as building owners begin transforming the residential structures into hotels, as the rents obtained are higher. One of the victims is Kinzang Wangmo, 49, a mother of two children. “I lived in a building for six years paying Nu 10,500 per month for a three bed room flat. As the owner wanted to make the building into a hotel, I had to move out,” she said. This was not the end of the ordeal for her, the wife of a truck driver. Seven months in her new flat and fate had the same design for her. “The owner of the building also wants to turn the building into a hotel and we have been asked to evacuate,” she said, adding that due to the shortage of houses in Phuentsholing, she is now looking for a house in the Indian town of Jaigoan.
However, this is also not an easy task. Tashi, a single mother faced the same predicament like Kinzang Wangmo. “I also had to shift houses twice and this was not easy. Apart from the money we had to pay for the workers, several equipment, including my chhoesham was broken,” she said. For two months she has been living with a friend. “But for how long,” Tashi says, adding that she has not been able to find a house even in Jaigoan. “I found out that a decent and affordable house is there only in Dalsingpara,” she said.
From what is happening, this is just the beginning of worse things to come. Seeing Bhutanese owners transforming residents into hotels, many are following suit, including a massive building in lower Phuentsholing. “We have already been asked to look for houses,” a man who sought anonymity said. Underlining that he is wondering what the concerned authorities, especially the Thromde is doing, he mentioned that earlier it was the “go-downs.” “Several houses are being used as go downs, which according to law is not acceptable. Now, almost every residential building is becoming a hotel, and the complaints or pleas of the people fall on deaf ears,”
He said that as Bhutan’s commercial capital, people from all parts of Bhutan live in Phuentsholing. But successive Thrompons have failed to solve the biggest issue – housing crunch. He further stated that people are willing to pay the same rent as those who would run the hotels. “But the owners do not listen. Just mark my words. The hotels will be run by non-Bhutanese. It will be fronting. Slowly a draying will open and then there will be flesh trade,” he said.
At the other side, the rents are soaring. “Expecting that Bhutanese will have to look for houses in Jaigoan, because of the developments taking place in Phuentsholing, the house rents in Jaigoan has already increased,” Karma, who has been living in Jaigoan for more than a decade said. “I have seen all. Politicians from the National Assembly and the National Council inspect people living in Jaigoan to come up with measures. I have also heard the Thrompons say that housing for Bhutanese in Bhutan is their priority. One Thrompon came and left. The other is yet to do anything and I do not think that something will be done,” he said.
This is the situation of several people. “It is a very sad case,” a teacher of Phuentsholing Higher Secondary School said. “People are between the deep sea and the devil and seeing the children of these people sometimes makes me cry,” she said. “It is only when we see such cases that we realize how lucky we are,” she added. Jaigoan, she mentioned is a very volatile place. Anytime, there could be a strike and even ethnic clashes. “I always fear that innocent Bhutanese would lose their lives,” she said.
Another teacher said that generally, performances of students living in Jaigoan are also below average. “There is no environment to study. Children need to help parents fetch water and do other works. Thus, they have no time for their books,” he said.
However, the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) project to constructing 506 units of houses will be completed by June 18, 2017, which could provide some respite.
The Journalist could not contact concerned authorities in Phuentsholing for their comments.