Usha Drukpa, Thimphu
The bustling commercial hub of the country, Phuentsholing town, is still grappling with the ever increasing housing problem.
With over 30,000 thousand people, excluding thousands of floating population, residing in a small space which has not much scope for the town extension, the Thromde officials are confronting a mammoth task to address the issue.
According to Phuentsholing Thrompon, Uttar Kumar Rai, the housing problem is the Thromde’s priority issue and said that they are fighting a losing battle to curb this problem.
“Despite taking all necessary measures, shortage of houses in the town still remains as one main issue. We are approving the construction of many private buildings thinking that this problem may size down but the problem still prevails,” said the Thrompon.
He mentioned that Thromde, being a service oriented organization, do not have direct mandate to provide shelter/housing accommodation to the residents. “But we are expediting the infrastructural facilities like proper urban roads, water supply, drainage and other basic necessities in and around the Local Area Plan (LAP) to encourage the private plot owners to construct houses,” the Thrompon added.
He mentioned that the Thromde is mandated to coordinate with the National Housing Development Corporation Ltd (NHDCL)- the government’s assigned agency to provide shelter to the citizen.
“Currently NHDCL is constructing 500 units of houses under the project titled “Affordable Housing,” with the sole aim to accommodate those Bhutanese living across the border. This project is supposed to be complete by June next year,” said the Thrompon.
He mentioned that the construction of high density housing colonies by NHDCL is spreading beyond the Thromde’s jurisdiction.
“We are also encouraging the private companies to construct private colonies for their employees to help reduce this problem,” he said.
However, he said the Thromde office is worried about exorbitant house rents charged by the house owners. “Even if the houses are available, the affordability by those people who fall in low income earning group is our concern. Considering the high cost of construction, the building owner may charge high and we have no direct say in their rent fixation. And if this becomes the case, then we cannot bring in our people who resides across the border,” said the Thrompon.
The other long-term remedy, he mentioned, is the Amochu Land Reclamation and Township Project but that is yet to begin.
Meanwhile, there are over 5,000 people who reside across the border. The reason for living there enduring all hardships like inconsistent water and electricity supply, drainage problem and others, many said, is because of exorbitant rents in the town.
“It is very difficult to get a flat in the town and even if we get one, the rent would be too high. My salary is Nu 8,000 per month and if I have to stay in Phuentsholing, I would have to pay my whole salary as the rent. Thus, I have no other option than to stay in Jaigoan. It is difficult but economical for me,” said Jiten Pradhan, an employee at one of the factories in Pasakha.
“It becomes more complex when the local political parties here call for strikes. Apart from other problems like getting late to the office, we have to live in fear that the angry mob may attack our houses and take our lives,” said another private employee, Sonam Lepcha.
According to a local businessman, Karma, this housing problem in the town, in some ways, is attributed by the influx of non-Bhutanese businessmen.
“Many Jaigoan based businessmen look for flats in the town. They have money and can afford any amount of rents. They also know that Phuentsholing is more peaceful and secured place to live in. Thus, this adds salt to a wound. I think that the concerned officials have to do something to keep close tab of these residents and look for a solution,” he said.