Conference: In what could be taking the method of infrastructure planning to the next level, a Geographic Information System (GIS) will be used in the 12th Plan.

That means any government agencies making plans for infrastructure development will need to inform the National Land Commission (NLC), the custodian of GIS. NLC will help the agency with identifying the development area (state or private land) and firstly complete the compensation process if private land is required, among others.

“GIS is important for the preparation of the 12th Five Year Plan,” Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said speaking at the first ever National Geo-Conference in Thimphu yesterday.

He said coordination among agencies in using GIS for planning activities was a major problem in the past and the conference is critical for Bhutan as GIS is important. Today there are about 32 agencies using GIS, which will now enable them coordinating their efforts so that the country can benefit.

While GIS is important for all countries, he said,it is particularly critical in three areas for Bhutan. The country has small population and therefore GIS services is required for spatial planning. GIS is also important because of the topography, which has populations spread across high mountains and narrow valleys. The third reason was that planning properly is a must for a poor country so that limited resources are used most efficiently.

To ensure that we are true to our commitments, such as being carbon neutral for all times to come, we must make sure we do proper planning, he said. This is where GIS and spatial planning comes, lyonchoen added.

To improve agriculture, ensure food security, improve the quality of Bhutanese produce, allow farmers to prosper, we must ensure they have proper opportunities, he pointed out. Those opportunities will be available if proper planning is done, he added.

“Spatial planning is fundamental for most of our planning,” he said, adding the recently declared 16 new thromdes also need to be properly planned.

“If we are to improve planning in Bhutan and take it to next level, we must ensure spatial planning and efficient use of GIS,” he said. “If there is one area that the government has focused on in the last three years in terms of governance, it is coordination. This I believe is an auspicious start.”

Today, there are over 100 GIS experts from 32 different agencies, including the private sector, who are members of the Centre of GIS Coordination (CGISC). The centre works with the primary goal of sharing resources and avoiding duplication in the spatial industry.

The National Land Commission is also working towards publication of the first ever Atlas of Bhutan on the dual theme of land cover and intuitional facilities. The publication is expected to be completed by next year.

NLC secretary Pema Chewang said the topographical base maps generated in the 1960s are out-dated and fall far short of serving as a source of fundamental information for planning and decision making purposes. The commission and JICA are currently executing a mapping project in seven southern dzongkhags.

“The commission and CGISC have been working towards creating a geographic information policy, whose concept was approved by the Cabinet,” he said, adding that draft of the policy will soon be submitted to the government for approval.

Presenting on the state of GIS education in Bhutan, a lecturer at Royal Thimphu College (RTC), Dr Samir S Patel said most tertiary educations in Bhutan offer modules on Remote Sensing and GIS, GIS Application in Spatial Analysis and Photogrammetry, among others.

Geospatial knowledge and skills is an important part of the national workforce, added Dr Karen Beardsley, a Fulbright professor at RTC.

“Becoming GIS-educated goes beyond geography. It will help gain research skills, develop problem-solving abilities, manage large real-world problems,” she said.

Nirmala Pokhrel