When I visited the remote Island of Ama-Cho in May 2017, it had dramatically changed my perspective of the modern day Japan. Just like me, many Bhutanese government officials who visited Ama town could understand the importance of revitalization strategies, and its applications towards the formulation of the Comprehensive National Development Plan for Bhutan 2030 (CNDP 2030). 

Japan has had the experience to formulate and implement a series of long term plans since the early 1960’s and the first comprehensive national development plan’s objective was to achieve balanced development between regions through established clusters and connecting them organically. The second focused on enriching of the clusters through improvement of transportation networks to decongest and alleviate regional disparities. Towards the end of the previous millennia, in order to address issues relating to the declining and aging population, they formulated a grand master plan for the 21st century.     

The main objective of the CNDP 2030 was to develop strategies for curbing rural urban migration by promoting balanced development between the rural and urban areas in Bhutan. When the project members comprising of Bhutanese officials from relevant ministries, and the Japanese experts came together in 2017 for development of the first ever Comprehensive Development Plan for Bhutan, they needed to consider the unique development model recognizing the people centric development approach guided by the overarching of principle of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and its nine domains. 

Initially having focused primarily on the aspects of economic development, Japan realized the need to integrate the concept of sustainable development in their successive development plans, where concepts like Satoyama and Satoumi, which emphasize the importance and interdependence of the socio-ecological systems for sustainable livelihoods in land and the coastal areas in their locality are now being realized.  

More than 40 Bhutanese officials, who formed the working group members along with 17 Japanese experts has worked tirelessly for the last two years while reviewing more than 170 policies, strategies, Acts and regulations to come up with the development objective, strategies and scenarios as the starting point. The Bhutanese counterparts played a key role in organizing stakeholder meetings with the representatives from 20 dzongkhags, local governments and civil society organizations. Such detailed consultations helped the experts contextualize factors that were crucial towards the creation of development alternatives, the main basis for providing direction to the CNDP 2030. A dedicated chapter, which analyzes the GNH survey data to identify factors for improving each domain, is one of the main guiding principles of this document. The CNDP 2030 also developed the National Spatial Structure for promotion of balanced development through the creation of a capital region, regional urban centres, and the National Land Use Plan, which will help coordinate all land use legislations and plans under one umbrella, for efficient planning and utilization of limited available land suitable for development. 

Contrary to the cliché that most of the government agencies work in silos, it was found that the officials of the working group from over 27 departments worked well together, while sharing information and long-term plans of their departments, to ensure the alignment of the CNDP 2030 to the plans of their respective sectors. The project provided the officials a platform for sharing information, discussing cross-sectoral issues and analyzing the information from a holistic perspective. The 12th Five Year Plan recognizes the triple ‘C’ mechanism of coordination, collaboration and consolidation and such platforms help enhance the process of realizing the objective of Just, Harmonious and Sustainable Society through enhanced Decentralization. 

Japanese experts have reported that the project has not only benefitted the Bhutanese counterparts, but has also been an immense learning experience to them while also learning about GNH. 

 Over the period of two years, more than 50 officials had the opportunity to visit many small towns in Japan and interact with communities, who have been successful in creating employment opportunities, focusing on their locality and local resources. Many participants have already contributed inspiring strategies of how it could be tailor made for a village or towns of similar size in Bhutan. Some ideas are reflected in the recommendations for implementation, after further research and refinement. 

As the CNDP 2030 is finalized, the challenge of implementing the recommendations to meet the objective cannot be met by policy makers and government officials alone. The vision has to be understood at the grass roots level. In Japan, each phase of their comprehensive development plans were widely publicized, including simplifying it and including it as a chapter for high school students. The recommendations also require substantial resources; it will not be adequate through a single source. However, a roadmap including a timeline for implementation needs to be developed, as all statistical projections have been forecast for the year 2030. In addition to the government, the CNDP 2030 can provide a wonderful opportunity for development partners to collaborate in cross cutting sectors. The CNDP 2030 has ample facts to provide ample justifications to pursue the recommendations, which would immensely contribute towards the realization of many of the sustainable development goals and improvement of the nine domains of the Gross National Happiness.  

Contributed by:

Krishna Subba

Deputy Chief Program 


JICA Bhutan Office