Bhutan is known for taking care of the environment. Bhutanese are not.

We may be more literate today and enjoying a higher standard of living, but when it comes to keeping our surroundings clean and taking care of public properties, we have not done well.

The recent flower exhibition, which saw more than 17,000 people turned Samdrupjongkhar town into a garden. After the exhibition, the thromde found that more than 100 flowers planted to beautify the town were stolen. Some were uprooted from the pots while others were robbed with the nursery planter bags.

Stealing plants and flowers from public places is not new. A few years ago, two men were caught stealing flowers planted along the divider in Thimphu city. They were charged for larceny.

While Samdrupjongkhar thromde administration has notified people on the area being under CCTV surveillance and defaulters to be penalised, these instances show poor ownership of public properties among the people. Unless it is for an event, we don’t value public properties nor take responsibility for it.

Much time and resources were spent to beautify the town. Instead of nurturing the plants and sustaining the ambience, we are robbing the place. We have contributed more in harming the environment than in taking care of it.

Take the plastic ban, which we are trying to re-enforce for the third time in 20 years.  It never worked because the users believe it is not their responsibility to take care of waste and the environment. The GNH survey findings show we feel less responsible for environment conservation.

Penalties and rules, we have realised , are not enough to deter people from littering.

Because we failed to implement the rules and keep our surroundings clean, we are now resorting to CCTV cameras for surveillance. What does this tell us about our society?

Bhutan is widely admired for our conservation policies, pristine environment and clean air. Bhutanese acknowledge this with pride without realising that the clean air and pristine environment is not our doing. The clean parts of the country are those that we have not inhabited. The places we inhabit are filthy.

We are aware that awareness and respect for the environment would help keep our environment clean. But we have not been successful in inculcating this culture. Cleaning campaigns are becoming symbolic just like the national environment commission – the custodian of our environment while littering and stealing has become the norm.

Keeping the country clean, according to tourism council , remains the biggest challenge for tourism. While the stress on taking tourism to the top may bring some focus on waste, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.

We don’t keep our homes clean for visitors. We keep it clean for ourselves.