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Bajothang - Bajo Town (Wangduephodrang)
Building owners in the new Bajo town have done their basic maths.

With almost every building owner having to repay loans, land and house owners formed a committee to fix the rent, long before people started moving in.

According to the committee's decision, an apartment with a balcony is fixed at Nu 6,500 and Nu 6,000 for apartments without balcony. Rent for the ground floor designed for shops ranges from Nu 3,000 to Nu 18,000.

The town chimi, Kelzang, said the rent was decided, keeping in mind the repaying capacity of the building owners, who took loans from financial institutions. "We decided to this rate after calculating each owner's loan and the monthly instalments," he said.

Kelzang explained most of the house owners had borrowed a maximum of Nu 6M, with them having to pay Nu 50,000 monthly instalment. "The calculation was made, keeping in mind that four flats would fetch Nu 25,000 per month and about Nu 20,000 from three shops," said the town representative. Some house owners, who run shops, had created more space for shops in their buildings.

However, rent for shops was not decided by the committee and depends on the location of the buildings. "The rent is high for those located in the centre of town, and less for those in the corner," said one. "Most of the owners are shopkeepers and illiterate, so this is our sole income," Kelzang said. "We also decided owners will stay in the attic."

But the committee's decision has left tenants complaining about exorbitant rents.

Most tenants said that they would have to pay in rent, more than half of what they earn. Prem Pradhan, running a sale shop in the old town, said he earns about Nu 15,000 a month. "I'll have to pay house rent as well as shop rent with this income," he said. "But I've eight months to escape from high rent."

Some are even questioning the legality of the committee. "Is it legal?" said one. "It's like forming a union to rob us. Maybe we'll have to form one and pay not more than Nu 5,000 or not move to the town at all."

Rinchen, who run a general shop, pays Nu 10,000 for the shop and Nu 6,500 rent. "I earn about Nu 30,000 per month," she said. "Now I have to pay half of my profit and pay personal loan too." Before Rinchen moved to Bajo, she was paying Nu 5,000 as house rent and Nu 3,500 for the shop.

Another shopkeeper, Tshering Dorji, who runs a shoe business, is still wondering if he will shift to new town, since he already booked a shop and room. "If my owner refuses, then I can't do anything," he said. He pays Nu 3,000 house rent and Nu 5,000 for shop at present.

Some expressed they would want to shift back to old town, since there is no agreement between owners and them. "Before I use to earn Nu 2,000 a day, but I hardly earn Nu 500 since I shifted to new town," Devi, a shopkeeper said.

Although the present tenants are mostly employees of the Punatshangchu hydropower project, who have no qualms with the rent, house owners said, once they leave, it would be difficult to pay the instalments.

For now, business people in the old town are happy with the grace period. "It has saved us lot of money," said one.

Contributed by Yangchen C Rinzin, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2011
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