After decades of planned development, now even people at the grassroots deciding their priorities, changes are clearly visible.
A trip to the interior of the country is enough to see how Bhutan has changed. Driving along the highways, what is starkly visible is the road network, especially farm roads. Every hill is scarred with lines of new road, some freshly cut. Some are blacktopped, others are not and inaccessible.
We could drive to Sakteng and Merak from Trashigang and come back the same day. And so with other areas that were once considered remote and inaccessible. Road was seen as the harbinger of development. It cut distance, helped lift people out of poverty by providing access to opportunities and letting development penetrate in the remote areas.
For our size and population, the length of the road is impressive.
As of December 2018, Bhutan has over 18,281 kilometres of roads in seven categories. Since transiting to a constitutional democracy, the priority has been connectivity with elected governments investing in roads, particularly farm roads.
Most chiwogs are now connected with roads, some accessible by more than one. The priority now is maintaining them and keeping it open throughout the year.
This is because, as critics say, roads in Bhutan are short of being a synonym of bad roads. All roads have not served the purpose. Some roads are not functional after investing millions, some cannot be used because there were no bridges while some had no “value for money” and some didn’t fulfil standards and, therefore, became not pliable.
In the meantime, we are caught up in the confusion about who should take the responsibility of the thousands of kilometres of roads built. One government passed the responsibility to the local government. Another took it over and handed to the ministry. There are still confusions over who will maintain the roads. Some local leaders are adamant on not having capacity to mend the roads.
Enough roads have been built. How to keep them open to traffic is now the challenge. The expectation is that the government should maintain it. The government will have to do major maintenance works. There is budget earmarked for it.
However, everything cannot be left to the Zhung. The government has taken roads to the doorsteps. The community, chiwogs or gewogs should take some ownership. Some maintenance or repair is about laying a few stones or a half-day volunteer to mend the road. But people wait for government budget.
In urban areas, water flowing on to roads causes potholes. Everybody takes pictures and posts them on social media, nobody bothers to fix it. Some cut roads deliberately and illegally. Everybody expects the thromde to fix the roads.
In the past, people contributed labour to keep Zhuglams and mule tracks open at all times. The community would volunteer days of free labour because it is their road. These values have disappeared with people now depending on the government for everything.
Together with it, our value of sharing responsibility is gone. And this matters.