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Gelephu Town
The core area of the border town of Gelephu could see some construction activity in the coming days with the construction freeze, enforced two years ago, now lifted.

Following a notification from the director of department of urban development and engineering services last month to permit constructions, Gelephu municipal officials are processing papers for the construction of two private buildings in the core area.

"We have sent the proposals for two other house constructions to the ministry," the municipal engineer, Chophel Dorji, said.

The municipal engineer said that Gelephu town was re-planned in 2006 and in 2008 the ministry of works and human settlement (MoWHS) approved the new town plan. "The ministry directed the municipal office to implement the town planning and update the thram status with NLC then," he said.

But the NLC froze all constructions in 2008 because every town plan had to be endorsed by it to ensure that all issues with excess land and thram (land registration) were clear.

"People who had made the excess land payment did not get thrams and people were not allowed to construct houses," an official said. About 80 plot owners paid for excess land holdings.

"It's high time the government allow us to construct houses," said a plot owner in the town. "We have bought the land and could not do anything with it until now," the businessman said, adding he could have otherwise constructed a house, rented it out and earned income two years ago.

The municipal engineer said that the office will announce the thaw in the freeze and plot owners who have paid for excess land before the NLC's suspension letter and want to construct should process for it. About 40 plots owners, whose plots are vacant, are expected to construct houses. "We'll announce the notification and plot owners should process for the construction," he said.

The town's core area measures around 14 acres but it had only 75 buildings most of which were built more than two decades ago.
One of the few locations in the country with ample flat lands and therefore the potential of becoming the largest urban centre in the country, its potential has largely been stifled by the insurgency in the bordering state of Assam. The southern problem of the 90s and related security issues literally made it a ghost town of buildings without tenants. Even its hold as the main shopping centre for the interior districts of Zhemgang, Trongsa and Bumthang shifted to Phuentsholing town.

In the past decade things have slightly improved for the town with a new highway connecting it to the Wangdue and Thimphu, the resettlement programme and plans afoot to use it as an entry point to transport equipment and material for hydropower projects planned in the central districts.

Gelephu dungpa, Yeshey Rangrik Dorji, said that constructions would be allowed to ease the housing problem. "But we're doing it very selectively to avoid complications," he said, adding that the set criteria would be strictly followed.

Meanwhile, about 425 plot owners of the one square km LAP I are still waiting for the NLC to endorse their plots. "I've visited the municipal office several times, asking if the endorsement had come," a civil servant, who owns a plot in the area, said.
According to the father of three, it is an indirect harassment where they are not allowed to construct in their own plot. "The NLC should look into the matter and take it seriously," he said.

The constructions in the LAP I would be allowed the moment NLC and MoWHS direct the municipal office to handover the plots to the owners, according to Chopel Dorji.

He said that officials from NLC had visited and verified the demarcation of plots in LAP I and given verbal consensus. "We've also allowed three plot owners, who have enough land to construct houses," he said, adding that other plot owners have small areas that could be affected if the LAP I plan is not approved.

Contributed by Tashi Dema , KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2011


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