Gungtongs on the rise

Gungtongs on the rise

Minister says addressing the issue is the responsibility of all ministries and that the government cannot prevent people from migrating for better opportunities

While the talk of the country for quiet some time has been about Bhutanese leaving to Australia and other countries to either study or work and its impact, there is a similar though not the same issue. It has been there for quiet some time and concerns houses in villages becoming empty as younger generations move away, seeking employment in urban Bhutan, resulting in increasing cases of gungtongs or unoccupied houses, which are reported from almost all villages.

Tsamang gewog under Monggar district is one with the village seeing an increasing number of gungtongs everywhere. Currently, there are 24 houses without residents. Tsamang gup, Sonam Phuntsho said that the reason for guntongs in the gewog is mainly due to rural urban migration and human-wildlife conflict.

The gup said that gungtongs have affected community teamwork and planning activities of development activities. The gup said that in order to reduce guntongs in the gewog, they are advocating people to live in the villages, while disseminating information about advantages in staying home.

Similarly, Khamdang gewog under Tashiyangtse district has 44 gungtongs.  Khamdang Gup Tashi Wangchuk said that the reason for gungtongs is mainly lack of infrastructure and other amenities in the village, such as good road connections and job opportunities unlike in urban areas.

Saying that the number of gungtongs has been rising every year, the gup underlined that when the government provides facilities, people have to contribute labor.  “But we do not have enough labor to carry out the tasks.” He added that this has become the most difficult situation, for any development plans.

He also added that other impacts have been loss of cultural values, weakening of family cohesion, and administrative problems during the annual census and tax collection. With land left barren due to the issue, wild animals have begun intruding into the village.

On possible measures to reduce gungtongs, the gup said that there is nothing else that they can do other than improve the facilities in the community, such as better road facilities, improved education and health facilities, amongst others.

Similarly, there is a total gungtong of 130 in Phongmey gewog, Trashigang. Phongmey gup, Namgyel Wangdi said that the main cause is rural-urban migration.  He said that other reasons are human-wildlife conflict, and people looking for better facilities in urban areas.

With the increasing number of gungtong in the gewog, he said, they are facing challenges. “There is no one paying taxes. We have shortage of labor forces in the villages, while implementing planned activities,” he said, adding that the number of gungtong could be reduced if villages have ll types of infrastructures like in urban areas.

Jarey gewog under Lhuentse also has this issue. There is a total of 46 gungtong out of 219 households.

Another gewog seeing an increasing number of gungtongs is Kanglung gewog under Tashigang district. There are a total of 81 gungtong in the gewog.

However, Kanglung gup, Kinzang Dorji said that as of now, there is not much of a problem that the gewog faces because of gungtongs.

Nonetheless, he said, there are little problems faced which are rectified by means such as neighbours paying taxes and using social media to connect with those who have left their houses empty. He said that during the tax connection period, and even community works, members who have left their houses vacant are helping them.

The gup said that land left barren is an issue.

Meanwhile, Home and Cultural Affairs Minister Ugyen Dorji said that there are no specific plans or strategies to address the issue of rural-urban migration leading to gungtongs in the country.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said the ministry feels that it is an equal responsibility of all the ministries to address gungtong issues in rural areas.

The minister said that even globally, migration is an issue and that it is not a new trend in the country. According to the minister, people go for better opportunities to urban areas, which is natural, and that the government will also not be able to restrict such migration.

“It is important to give services to the people living back in the rural areas and to give better opportunities to those leaving for urban areas,” Lyonpo said.

However, the minister said the government is doing everything to address such issues, and 50% of the budget is also used for developing gewog centers in the dzongkhags.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu