Resolves the govt. should consider implementing those recommendations that aren’t being implemented

The National Assembly (NA) resolved that the government should implement the projects for highlanders’ development and initiate more such programmes.

The members, in a majority show of hands, decided as suggested by the ministers.

The ad hoc committee, led by opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), submitted numerous policies and programmes to support highlanders to enhance the sustainability of their livelihoods.

The deliberation extended till the afternoon with members appreciating the work of the committee. Although all members raised the need to prioritise highlander development, they argued without direction.

For the ministers, it was an opportunity to report in depth what they were doing for the highlanders.

The ministers including the education, health, finance and foreign minister, who was also a committee member objected to endorsing the recommendations.

They said since most of the programmes and policy interventions recommended were being implemented, adopting the committee’s recommendations could only lead to duplication and problems in implementation.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that if the NA adopts the programmes and policies for highlanders’ development, another community might seek such interventions. “Can we afford to do that,” he said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that tax exemptions for highlanders cannot be approved by the House during the session.

The committee report stated that in recent years, because of changing socio-economic conditions such as dwindling family labour and depleting natural resources as well as access to better alternatives elsewhere, there is a serious risk of people moving away from the border areas. This trend was already observed in high altitude areas of Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Bumthang, and Lhuentse.

The committee chairperson, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said once herders give up herding yaks, sheep, cattle and horses, the pastures they use are vulnerable to encroachment from herders across the border which may lead to undesirable events in future.

He said there are plenty of factors pushing highlanders out of their ancestral lands like depleting natural resource base, changing social norms and behaviour, restricted access to resources such as building materials and forest products as most the highlands fall in protected areas, and limited access to social services and limited access to financial and economic services.

The 11-member committee made 46 recommendations to the ministries and Tourism Council of Bhutan.

“Tsamdro lease should be given to the highlanders as soon as possible and if delayed it would lead to unsustainable use of the pastureland,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

There are opportunities to produce dairy products for tourists consumptions.

“Today, they have to carry cheese and milk because what is available in the highlands is not suitable for tourist consumption,” he said.

Making souvenirs for tourists is another area to explore.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that while some of the proposed programmes are being implemented, some could not succeed because of difficult conditions.

He said the highlanders could expect some respite from human wildlife conflict with numerous measures expected to implement soon.

The ministry has proposed for an endowment fund for crop and livestock in gewogs in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

South Thimphu MP Yeshey Zimba said there is a need to relook into leasing the pasture land. “The highlanders should be allowed to graze their livestock like in ancient times and not restrict them within their own dzongkhags.”

Tshering Palden