Tshering Palden

Vision 2020: Bhutan realised the importance of having a longer-term vision for the future. A visionary document called Bhutan 2020, A Vision for Peace, Prosperity and Happiness, released in June 1999, during the silver jubilee celebrations of His Majesty The Fourth King’s coronation by the then Planning  Commission. 

The 1,010-page document divided into two parts gives an outline of all sectors on the developmental stages that Bhutan will go through over the next 20 years.

The year 2020 has dawned. What have we achieved? Have we lived up to the vision?

The Gross National Happiness Commission’s assessment in 2017 of the Vision 2020 document showed that close to 80 percent of milestones outlined in it were achieved.

“Bhutan has been largely successful in either achieving or is on track towards achieving almost all the milestones,” the GNHC chief planning officer of the perspective planning division had said at a presentation in January 2017.

Three years hence, critics point out stark contrasts in some of the major targets and objectives of the vision document. There are arguments that the country could have achieved much more had governments invested wisely and adhered to the well-articulated development guidelines.

Vision 2020 was to serve a long-term vision that provides a road map for the journey ahead and with signposts against which the country can measure the distance it has travelled towards the preferred destination.

The document outlines development objectives mainly in line with the four pillars of Gross National Happiness as its central development concept. While most of the indicative milestones in the social sectors such as health, education and communications have been over achieved those sectors related to the economic self-reliance have had slower growth.

Critics say that the primary objective of the vision was to achieve economic self-reliance. “We have not only derailed from it, but moved backwards in terms of structural planning of our economy,” a critic said.

Those in the private sector say that their industry does not even close to what was envisaged in the document. The Bhutan 2020, if things went as envisioned, state that the private sector would be “much more broadly based” in 2020 than it was in 1999, and “it will have established its place as the main engine of growth and will serve as the magnet for the employment of our young people”. The sector is neither broadly based nor has become the magnet of employment except for the hotel industry.

Despite the provision of power tillers to each gewog and establishing a state-owned enterprise, Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd, and numerous cold storage facilities, farm lands are turning fallow and food self-sufficiency still remains a major challenge in the country today.

Today, 62.2 percent of the population still reside in rural areas, more than a quarter of the farmlands remain fallow from various factors such as irrigation shortage, wildlife predation, and shortage of labour.

Of 250,062 acres of farmland, 54,614 acres of dry land, 8,957 acres of wetland, and 2,350 acres of orchard land are left fallow according to latest RNR statistics 2019. In 2014, 6,345 acres of paddy fields were left fallow.

With 28 percent of cultivable land used for rice cultivation, Bhutan remains only 52.4 percent self-sufficient in rice. Annual Statistical Year Book 2018 shows that in 2017, Bhutan produced about 86,386MT of rice and imported about 78,449MT.

Vision 2020 targeted increasing farmers income and income from horticulture by 300 percent each respectively in 20 years. Constructions, forced by increasing rural-urban migration, have gnawed into orchards in urban areas and pests continue to hamper production in rural areas.

However, there are numerous interventions worthy of mentioning for instance the land commission’s land-use certificate programme, and the farming cooperatives including youth cooperatives that have cropped up across the country to promote agriculture and create employment.

The manufacturing sector was disadvantaged by the goods and services tax that India introduced in recent years. One common criticism against the private sector has been that they have relied heavily on tax incentives and has lacked in innovation and did not build the competitive edge.

Since elected governments held the reins of governance, Bhutan’s ambition grew much more beyond what the vision document had cautiously laid down. For instance, the target for hydropower production fluctuated from 2,500 MegaWatts as in the Vision 2020 document by 2017 to 10,000 MW by 2020 and then reduced to 5,000MW by 2020. Similarly, the floodgates to tourists opened. While it earned more revenue, it also gradually led to mass tourism which led many to call for regulations.

Decentralisation has taken roots as local governments have been given increasing control over the use of budget and planning the activities.

Almost all homes have electricity, medical and education facilities have reached closer to homes across the country.

A bill on culture has been drafted but has not been tabled for some years now. Officials from culture department said that the intangible aspects of culture also needs to be recognised and preserved which would be best done through a policy.

On the environment front, the country has more than 71 percent of forest cover but stronger monitoring on air quality is expected. 

While the party manifestos have been deciding the major parts of the five-year Plans, questions have been consistently raised in the Parliament on adherence to the Vision document. An Opposition member last year questioned the government on how it plans to achieve the objectives of the Vision document. Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said achieving vision 2020 is merely impossible at the current state. “We need to analyse and understand the vision 2020 for achieving economic self-reliance,” he said.

He said the vision 2020 was created in 1999 when there was no mention of introducing democratic governmental system. “That’s why until 2007, developmental plans were all based on vision 2020.”

He said that after the democratic system was introduced, and consequently when the 10th Plan was made, the plans were based on pledges and manifestos since then.

“The focus was lost on the actual vision while three different governments have taken turns to rule where focus was directed in fulfilling respective manifestos.”

He said the new vision document would consider all the elements of the democratic system.

Meanwhile, the Gross National Happiness Commission is gearing up to chart out the national long-term vision document, Vision 2045, for the country with only a year left for the current vision document to expire.

The former prime minister and economic affairs minister, Khandu Wangchuk said that such a vision becomes even more relevant now with democracy, politics and vote bank demands, wherein there is risk of compromising long-term national interest for short-term gains.

“We must take note of the fact that any long term vision and goals, while absolutely necessary and beneficial for the future of our country, will call for short term pains and sacrifices.”

The guiding principles in Bhutan 2020 have been identity, unity and harmony, stability, self- reliance, sustainability, and flexibility, he said.

“The document, as a 20-year perspective is valuable in being a long-term vision of our country. This document has been carefully crafted as a vision for peace, prosperity and happiness of our people and nation.” 

“I recommend that all Bhutanese, who have not read the document, especially the leaders of the day read it. Wherever necessary, the document may be revised and updated to ensure this document is made into a living document. For it to gather dust on the shelves will be a pity.”