Yangchen C Rinzin 

More than 150 applications to set up industries have been kept pending because of incomplete infrastructure at the industrial estates, non-issuance of clearances for various agencies, and bureaucratic hurdles.

In an attempt to find out why the establishment of the industrial estates were delay, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering met with officials from the Department of Industry, and Gross National Happiness Commission.

Dhamdum Industrial Park in Samtse, Bondeyma Industrial Park in Mongar, Motanga Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar, and Jigmeling Industrial Estate in Gelephu were identified since the first government’s term.

Although some of the works are underway, the establishment of industrial parks has been moving at a ‘snail’s pace’.

Lyonchhen said that the government is trying to sort out the hindrances to help boost the economy and enhance private sector development for which industrial park development has to move faster.

“I found out that industrial park development is a major work of economic affairs ministry and I wanted to find out the status of the parks and what government can do to prioritise, re-prioritise or coordinate the works,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that although works are underway, there were many issues mainly in coordination among agencies that have hindered the progress. “Nothing concrete has come as of now.”

He said that the industrial park concept has been developed, applications were submitted by the interested people. “However, many are anxiously waiting for the approval and we hear some of the applicants have even expired waiting for the approval.”

Prime Minister said that these applicants could create employment but they are kept waiting while there is a lot of noise on the need to solve unemployment.

“More graduates are looking for business, and many more are encouraged to do business through entrepreneurship courses, start-up training, but on the other hand, people who are genuinely interested to do business are still stuck.”

Department of Industry’s director general Yonten Namgyel said that the development works are underway to provide immediate amenities like electricity, water, and roads.

“However, some areas require clearances, and obtaining them take a long time delaying the entire work,” he said.

Reporting the work progress at four parks, the director general said that it is uncertain how the work could be fast tracked, as various factors have to be considered before establishing the industries.

“But we’re definitely in touch with officials from the dzongkhags and thromdes to ease the processes,” he said. “Studies are being carried out wherever needed.”

Yonten Namgyel said that coordination and waiting for clearances for every work from the National Environment Commission (NEC), National Land Commission, and other agencies are some of the reasons that have slowed work progress.

He said that there is no shortage of budget and that the ministry is trying to use the budget prudently.

At the end of the meeting, Lyonchhen said that he would soon meet all the applicants, officials from the NEC, and other relevant agencies to discuss the issues.

“It’s time we ask and identify each others’ problems and give the applicants a straight answer on whether they should wait or if their application is cancelled,” Lyonchhen said.

“We should come together and see how to solve the problems, is there a need to tweak some policies because your 20th Century mentality shouldn’t spoil the 21st Century proposal.”

Lyonchhen said that the government will also try to fast track the clearances, talk with the NEC, ask applicants what kind of expertise and skilled workers they need to see if the government could facilitate.

“When I meet individual applicants and agencies, they’ve their explanation and are right in their own ways. So, if we come together we can identify the problem together and solve the issues right away.”

Lyonchhen said that government will expedite the completion of industrial parks within 2021 by giving the required budget and use of additional contractors or execute works by CDCL if needed.

The government will also expedite approval of business proposals by addressing issues with the environment clearances, immigration and work permit issues or any other required clearances, provide training to Bhutanese in the skills those industries need, and set up, if possible, one-stop service for fast-tracking establishment of industries.

The planning for industrial estates began in the 10th Plan while the economic affairs ministry received a budget sometime in the middle of the 11th Plan. Actual works like providing electricity, temporary water supply and access roads began from 2016.

Initially, Druk Holding and Investment was supposed to implement the plan on Public-Private Partnership model. However, the project was returned to the ministry following land ownership issues. Most of the development work at the industrial parks are stuck because of the environment clearance and some even for more than two years.