The old issue of pedestrianising Norzim Lam is back. So is the backlash.
The thromde had announced that the vehicles would not be allowed to park along the city’s main thoroughfare after the Thimphu tshechu. They can, of course, park for five minutes for pick up and drop.
Before the decision is implemented, representatives of the business community, residents and taxi association are appealing to authorities to do away with the thromde’s idea. They have appealed to ministers and warned of implication on their businesses.
The thromde is not known for taking the best decisions. Limiting Norzim Lam to a few minutes of parking and freeing the space for the general public is a bold decision. It is not sure if the thromde will be adamant on their decision, but if they do, it will be appreciated.
The business community and the taxi association is a powerful lobby group. They know how to undo decisions. They have done it in the past. The reason they appealed to the health minister, the elected candidate from North Thimphu and not the minister for information and communication indirectly sends a message. She is their elected leader even if most of the business people are not her voters.
The health minister represents the business community. She will so tread carefully on the issue.
There is not much free space in Thimphu. The main street is crowded, congested and is an eyesore even to locals. It would be in the “general interest” if the street is freed of vehicles. It is a trend in many cities to have a street only for pedestrians where people could walk and shop, meet friends, make it a place for artists to showcase their work and skills. It gives the city a breathing space from the daily going about.
The claim that it will affect business is an unfounded fear. There would be more shoppers if the street is free of vehicles. Thimphu residents would want to shop along Norzin without having to find a parking space and pay hefty fees or risk getting hit by vehicles.
Politicizing a good proposal will benefit only a handful. Elected governments are generous in talking about “national and public interest”. This is one decision that is in the interest of the public. It may not please the business people, but it is a well-thought decision.
The thromde is powerless even if it is headed by an elected Thrompon. If he can dare testing his voters, the elected ministers should too. The issue will come to the Cabinet, like in the past. Shooting it down will be a bad populist decision.
The ball is in the government’s court. It will be a shame to give into pressure from a few lobby groups and forget the “public interest.”
Meanwhile, the thromde should find solutions and come up fast to allay the fear of the business people. Norzin lam should be an exemplary street. If the hardware shops are concerned about not having trucks on their doorsteps on a busy street, the thromde should look for solution, like moving them away.
The value of a vehicle-free street is witnessed during the Thimphu tshechu when the thromde closes the street for vehicles. It is not about the thromde making money, but about creating public space.