The shortage is fuelled by the ongoing Burgangchhu mini-hydro power project
KARMA CHIMI | Zhemgang
People have been visiting Buli, Zhemgang in greater numbers in recent years, primarily for pilgrimage while some visit for other leisurely activities.
However, of late, locals and officials in the chiwog claim that due to the availability of only a few rental homes, the ongoing Burgangchhu mini-hydro power project which started in 2022, has placed additional strain on the housing facilities in the hamlet which resulted in a constant spike in rents.
Around 200 people are employed by the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL), the majority of whom live at the makeshift camp next to the project. However, a small number also stayed in Buli village, including nine Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) officials.
The residents of Buli say that while the number of homes in the village has stayed constant, the population has multiplied over the years. Thus, the population of the neighborhood has grown along with the number of individuals moving there in search of a home.
Prior to the start of the project, there was enough housing for the teachers and dzongkhag officials posted in the village.
According to Pema Tenzin, project manager for CDCL in Buli, there is not much of a problem for the project’s staff as the majority of them live in the makeshift camps that the project has built.
Pema said only a few employees who have children going to the school stay at Buli. In addition, they have plans to build more camps and also relocate those remaining employees near the project site.
Civil servants and business individuals residing in the chiwog share that they now face the dilemma of a high increase in rents.
“Because of the ongoing project, the locals perceive it as a viable source of income. Therefore, they increase the house rents of the residents,” said officials from the project.
Pema Tenzin added that the hike in the rent in the area is true but CDCL cannot do anything about the matter.
One resident who has been living in Buli for four years and does not want to be named shared that she will have to leave the house since the owner had people coming from the project and intends to increase the rent as well.
“Since our income source is low, we don’t have any other options but to leave if our rent is increased drastically,” she said.
Pema Samdrup, a teacher at Buli Central School said currently for a one-room and one-kitchen apartment he pays Nu 1,500. He said it is difficult for teachers to get a house in Buli as employees from the CDCL tend to offer much higher rent compared to them.
Bhutan Times learned that four teachers of the school are living in the school, in a room that is intended to cater to ill students, as there is a limited number of housing units in the community.
Officials from DGPC said there are only nine employees from DGPC for the project and if all the staff quarters are built near the project, there won’t be any benefit to the community. He said the villagers can benefit in terms of earning a livelihood through rental incomes through the project.
He shares that people in the community should also not hike the rent of the house as the employees from CDCL are going to stay for a few months in the locality until their camps are established beside the project.
Most houses in Buli are two-storied. While the top floor is mainly used for residential purposes the ground floor is used as store rooms and has not much economic use. So, the dzongkhag officials suggested that the ground be converted to flats and used for housing purposes.
However, this suggestion did not bode well with the local’s needs and only around three houses were initiated to convert their ground floors for residential purposes. Locals said that they needed additional funds to renovate and make the ground floor livable while it is also not well-ventilated.
According to local government officials of Buli there are a total of around 80 households in the chiwog. Of these, 14 have been converted into homestays with four certified by the Department of Tourism.
Most of the homestays don’t rent their houses as their focus is on visitors and tourists.
Sonam, the Mangmi of Nangkor gewog in Zhemgang, said if the locals could give their homestays as rent it would help ease the problem. He added he faced the same difficulty before he was recently accommodated in the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) housing complex.
The average housing rent in the village is Nu 5,000 with the highest being Nu 7,000 and the lowest at around Nu 1,500.
There are around 80 civil servants in the village for now and more than 200 personnel from the project.
No proper housing and tenant acts are being followed by the owners and the tenants of the village. However, officials from Dzongkhag, CDCL, and DGPC plan to give proper awareness and advocacy on the tenant and housing act to the local communities.