Urban Development- Brief Introduction

The process of urbanization is more than four decades old and unlike many other countries, where the establishment and growth of towns and cities have been influenced by economic potential, the development of towns in Bhutan initially resulted from the establishment of administrative centers. Today, the urban population comprises 31% of the total population, and by 2020 it is projected that more than 50% of the population will be living in the urban areas. With this rapidly growing urban population, the urban centers, Thimphu and Phuntsholing, in particular, have already started experiencing adverse effects of urbanization such as water shortages, housing scarcity, sanitation and waste disposal problems, deterioration of air quality through pollution and proliferation of squatter settlements in sensitive environment areas.

Currently, there are urban plans for 31 towns, of which implementation of plans for about 17 towns are underway. With regard to regulations for urban governance, Thromde Act, Building Rules, Urban Area and Property Regulations, Water and Sanitation Rules, Development Control Regulation for Thimphu are in place. Additionally, the Building and Urban Development Act is under preparation though the preparation of the National Urbanization Strategy (NUS) has been completed and circulated to all concerned Ministries/Agencies. 

While basic rudimentary urban facilities exist in all the towns, they are inadequate and require improvement and expansion. Piped and safe portable water supplies have been provided to 20 towns and piped sewerage and treatment facilities to 2 towns. Solid waste management and disposal system have been developed in 13 towns. Water service charge based on actual consumption has been introduced in 10 towns, while the urban residents of the other towns are charged a flat rate, collected along with the land tax.

Opportunities and Challenges

The uncontrolled growth of satellite towns and the need to consolidate and sustain urban amenities and services are the primary concerns faced by the sector. There is the need to improve the live-ability of the urban environment through development of appropriate community spaces for recreation and public facilities and one that is in harmony with Bhutanese cultural norms. In this regard, the preparation of National Urbanization Strategy has been completed and circulated to all concerned Ministries/agencies. This will help address these constraints through provisioning of the much needed policy framework and guidance for the development of urban centers and infrastructure.

The shortage of competent manpower in the public and private sectors poses a major challenge. Currently, the sector has an acute shortage of urban planner, architects, geo-tech engineers, structural engineer, sociologist, economist, although the sector’s workload has increased substantially compared to the past. Additionally, the lack of professionalism in the private sector is also a major concern that impedes the growth of the construction industry.

Until recently, urban planning was largely constrained by the lack of data on population, rural-urban migration, socio-economic data & demographic information, appropriate base map; however, the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2005, has addressed this paucity of data to some extent.

Due to the fragile terrain and unstable geological conditions, the cost of construction is generally high. The cost further hikes up, roughly by 30% when the construction, as required, is carried out in compliance to the environmental code of practice. At the same time, the cost escalation is also due to frequent fluctuation in the cost of the construction materials, which are largely imported. 

Policy and Strategies

The Royal Government under the Tenth Plan will implement several programs to further strengthen and develop the urban infrastructure and services of the two major cities and several towns. Urban infrastructure will be developed in a cost effective manner while ensuring high live-ability and functionality. Additionally, the Royal Government, in expanding urban infrastructure, will also seek to maintain those aspects that best reflect the best of Bhutanese values, aesthetics and traditional architecture that is in harmony with the natural environment.

In the Tenth Plan, the Royal Government will enhance the national urban management capacity through the institutional strengthening of various agencies and municipalities overseeing urban development issues. This will include human resource development in the areas of urban planning, data collection, GIS, infrastructure design, engineering services, etc. As the quality of urban infrastructure and services are very rudimentary in several of the newer townships, efforts will also be directed towards upgrading water supply and sanitation facilities and solid waste disposal systems. To enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of urban management, the Royal Government will continue to promote the decentralization of urban services management through granting of autonomous status to municipalities based on inherent capacities to take up such functions. The urban public will also be encouraged to participate more actively in the development and management of their cities or towns, including enhancing the aesthetics of their urban environment.

The Tenth Plan also envisages preparing structure plan and local area plan for regional growth centers viz, , Paro, Gelephu, Punakha, Wangdue, Bumthang, Gyelpoizhing, Mongaar, Kanglung, Samdrup Jongkhar, Pemagatshel, Nganglam and Samtse. These towns have been chosen as the growth centers for the reason that they are already the largest towns in the region, have sufficient physical space for future population expansion and have an economic base required for self sustaining growth. The responsibly planned urban development will not just help mitigate rural urban migration but also will create opportunities to meet rising expectations for livelihood and commercial opportunities.

Among them, Gelephu is to be developed as a major national city and an important regional growth centre with the development of a second international airport, railway links, major industrial park and a dry port. The road linkages and corridors between these regional centers will be strengthened by the construction of Southern East-West Highway, Gyelpozing- Nanglam highway, and upgradation of the Gelephu-Trongsa and Gelephu-Wangdue highways. The Government will also strive to identify and develop regional and local specialization in particular economic activities for these growth centers, based on their comparative advantages and strengths. 

Targets for the urban development

• Urban infrastructure improved and consolidated in existing towns
• Prepare structural plans and local area plans in 10 regional growth centers & major towns
• Establish Gelephu as a major national city and important regional growth center
• Construct a government secretariat building and 1 convention centre ( MICE hall)

Financial Outlay for the urban development

The indicative total capital outlay for urban development is Nu. 3,410.057 million, excluding
Dzongkhag programs.