Public works

Thinley Lam

Thimphu’s main roads are fairly good. They are not necessarily beautiful, but, in spite of limited resources, they are, by and large, smooth, wide and well-managed.

The smaller roads, however, tell a different story. Many of them are narrow, riddled with pot holes, and have not seen any form of maintenance for years. Naturally, many local residents are frustrated. One such resident is Aum Thinley Lham. She lives in Taba and, for the longest time, has complained bitterly about the state of her road. But instead of continuing to grumble, she has decided to take matters into her own hands; she has decided to repair the road herself.

Last Sunday, I chanced upon Aum Thinley Lham repairing the road leading to upper Taba and to her property, Wangchuk Resort. She’d purchased several truckloads of concrete mix, and was using her own staff and her own vehicles to repair the road. Obviously, she couldn’t repair the entire road. But she felt lucky just to be able to patch up the biggest pot holes.

Most of us, who live in urban areas, take public property for granted. We want the best. But unlike our farmers, we do not contribute to building them. We don’t even contribute to their maintenance. This is not sustainable. If we want to enjoy good roads, good schools and good parks, we better learn, like Aum Thinley Lham, to contribute. Or we better be willing to pay our city corporation higher taxes.

Here’s a question: which, in your opinion, is the most beautiful road in Thimphu?

Thimphu structures

Thimphu’s biggest structure is easily the 169 feet Buddha statue in Kuensel Phodrang. Which is its second biggest structure?

An eyesore

I’m in Trongsa. Will visit the Dzong, and meet with sector heads and members of the new local government, before heading to Bumthang.

As we approached Wangdiphograng yesterday, I could see the new Bajo town on the other side of the Punatshangchhu. And for the hundredth time, I looked across the river and muttered: UGLY.

Neighboring Punakha’s town in Khuruthang is widely regarded as a mistake – an ungainly concrete jungle devoid of any Bhutanese charm or character. But the town, which was built more than a decade ago, gave us one very important lesson: how not to build our towns!

Bajothang shows that we haven’t learnt from our mistakes. The new town, which is located along the Punatshangchhu, among paddy fields and just below the Wangdue Dzong, is a bigger mistake, an eyesore.


How not to build a town

Great expectations

Tomorrow, registered voters in Thimphu, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will elect their respective thromde tshogdes or city councils.

As we discussed in my last post, the Thimphu city council – the new mayor in particular – will have to sort out the capital city’s water problems.

But the mayor and his council will also have to attend to many other competing priorities. Sewerage, solid waste, public transport, roads, traffic, housing, schools, fire, parks and income generation are some of the issues that should demand the city council’s immediate attention.

The thrompons of Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing will find that they too will have to address more or less the same issues.

But the biggest and most important responsibility of all four city councils will be to consolidate the powers and authority granted to them by the Constitution. Without these powers, the city councils will not be able to fulfill their Constitutional duties and obligations. And stand little chance of improving our cities.

The banner features the Thimphu City Corporation building, which will house the offices of its new mayor.

Water pipes

Pipes for peace

Thank you for taking part in “Big picture – 10”.

Your responses were varied, and many of them were deliberately funny. Answers ranged from electrical, telephone and TV cables; to branches, roots and stems; to serpents, TMT bars and organizational charts!

But most of you knew the answer – yes, the picture showed water pipes, and yes such pipes, carrying water to individual houses, can be seen all over Thimphu.

“namgay”, “Tshewang” and “dodo” guessed that the picture of the water pipes was taken in Hejo, Langjuphakha and Taba respectively. The picture was actually taken above the “RICB Colony”.

The pipes – I counted about 150 of them – are installed and maintained privately, and carry water from a small stream to the houses below. I was told that some of them deliver water houses in distant Changzmatog!

The pipes are there because Thimphu City Corporation’s water supply is woefully inadequate and unreliable.

Thimphu has sufficient water. The Wangchhu and its many streams provide more than enough water for the entire valley. But that water must be tapped and distributed efficiently. And that is something we have not been able to do.

So Thimphu’s new mayor – whoever should win the elections tomorrow – has his work cut out for him. The mayor will be expected to improve and expand the capital’s water supply system: to ensure that inhabitants get more than a few hours of running water each day; to remove the need for the water tanks that sit on top of every building; and to make the ubiquitous private pipes redundant.

By the way, the winner of “Big picture – 10” is “namgay” who answered: “Thats a Bundle of Polythene pipes la…conveying water i guess.. common see in places like hejo…”

The picture wasn’t taken in Hejo, but like “namgay” says, the pipes are a common sight in Thimphu.

“namgay”: please contact me by email to claim your prize.

More pipes

Our garbage

Residents in the capital will have welcomed the government’s announcement that “A massive clean-up campaign of the town and the river bank will begin shortly involving Thimphu’s residents” in preparation for the SAARC summit next month.

Thimphu will look presentable by this time next month. And our visitors will be duly impressed. But we, residents, must ask ourselves if our city really is as clean as it might look. And, if not, what we, residents, should do about it.

I took the following pictures a few days ago while walking to town from Taba.

Taba Rongchu

[Continue Reading…]

Demand for equity

Consider this: in rural Bhutan, our people are undernourished, stunting and wasting.

Now consider this: in urban Bhutan, our people are overweight and obese.

Time to get serious about the equity in the DPT’s Equity and Justice.

Talk about towns

Thimphu Thromde

Thimphu Thromde

Yesterday, the government proposed a motion in the National Assembly to endorse a list of thromdes (urban settlements). Thromdes, along with gewogs and dzongkhags, form our local governments. But the Local Government Bill, which describes different types of thromdes, has not yet fully completed its passage in Parliament as required by Article 13 of the constitution.

The bill was endorsed during a special joint sitting of the Parliament two months ago, and was submitted to His Majesty the King for His Assent. Till Royal Assent is granted, the LG Bill will remain just that – a bill. And that Assent is not automatic. Article 13 Section 10 of the Constitution states that: “Where the Druk Gyalpo does not grant Assent to the Bill, He shall return the Bill with amendments or objections to deliberate and vote on the Bill I a joint sitting.”

So a few of us suggested that it may not be correct to discuss the proposed list of thromdes until the LG Bill has been fully enacted. That could amount to taking His Majesty’s Assent for granted.

But the government’s proposed list of thromdes has other problems as well. First and foremost, the Dzongkhag thromdes are categorized as Class A or Class B. According to the LG Bill Cass A thromdes will each have a thromde tshogde (a town committee), which will comprise of elected representatives including an elected Thrompon. And, Class B thromdes will not have tshogdes. This distinction between the Dzongkhag thromdes may, in effect, violate the Constitution, which requires that “A Dzongkhag Thromde shall be divided into constituencies for the election of the members of the Thromde Tshogde”, and that “A Thromde Tshogde shall be heaTalk ded by a Thrompon, who is directly elected by the voters of the Dzongkhag Thromde”.

Many MPs have argued that most Dzongkhag thromdes (Gasa has been repeatedly used as an example) are too small to currently warrant a tshogde, and that such thromdes will be upgraded to Class A thromdes as and when the population in these thromdes increase to acceptable levels. I see it quite differently: give tshodges to the smaller Dzongkhag thromdes, and you empower them to attract businesses and people to their respective constituencies. Otherwise, the smaller Dzongkhag thromdes will never grow to levels that will allow them to be categorized as Class A.

The proposed list of Yenlag thromdes (satellite townships) also was not complete. Only eight thromdes were proposed in this category, and a few belonged to one dzongkhag. The Constitution, however, implies that each Dzongkhag will have at least one Yenlag Thromde.

In the end, the National Assembly resolved not to discuss the list of thromdes till Royal Assent is granted for the Local Government Bill.

Haa fire

Fire-Haa-18-11-09Another disaster has struck, this time in Haa. Earlier today, a fire raged through the upper market in Haa. Four houses were totally destroyed before the fire was bought under control. Residents suspect that the fire was caused by electrical problems.

By mid-afternoon, His Majesty the King was already in Haa.

Photo credit: BBS

Taxing cars

Car park

Car park

So our government is thinking about increasing the taxes, duties and other fees levied on vehicles. I suppose that that, in some ways, is inevitable. The number of vehicles plying on our city roads has increased drastically. And it’s already difficult to find proper parking spaces. So, unless something serious is done about it, we would have to deal with many traffic problems, including regular traffic jams.

But I wonder if our government has thought about the most obvious way to control traffic congestion: scrap the import quota system. Import quotas, which are given only to public servants, are directly responsible for the growth in vehicle numbers. Every quota is used. And, it’s common knowledge that, many times, the quotas are sold, illegally, to private individuals.

So discontinue import quotas. And replace them with a sensible allowance built into the salaries of public servants. That would cause an immediate reduction in the number of cars we purchase.

However, that won’t be enough. So taxes and duties would also have to be increased. But be careful. If the increases are meant to address traffic congestion, then apply them where the problem exists – in Thimphu and Phuentsholing. And use the money to improve and expand subsidized public transport in these cities. Most other places do not have traffic problems. In fact, their problem is quite different. They do not have adequate traffic, particularly local public transport.