T he challenges that Bhutan is faced with are indeed daring, but rather than taking corrective measures, one cannot deny the fact that the government is taking proactive steps to mitigate the evils of development. For instance, air pollution. Though not of the proportion Indian metros like New Delhi are faced with, there is no time for complacency in Thimpu, one of the most congested cities in Bhutan (see box: Heavy air ).
"Sustainable livelihood is important but to do that without good governance is difficult. And in Bhutan, we have the necessary political will," Seeta Giri . Sangay Wangchuk feels the same. "The realisation that conservation is necessary is backed by a lot of political will. This is why we are optimistic about maintaining it," he says.
In order to make people actively participate in the development process, in 1981, the government of Bhutan set up district development committees ( dzongkhag yargay tshochung-dyt s) in all the 20 districts of the country. It comprised a total of 560 elected members, all of whom have important planning and programming respon-sibilities. Further, in 1991, block development com-mittees ( gewog yargay tshochung ) -- headed by elected representatives called gups -- were introduced, with responsibilities for the planning, management and implementation of development activities at the lowest administrative level.
The decentralisation process was personally introduced and promoted by the king. Since the Fifth Five-Year Plan, considerable headway has been made in strengthening dyt s. The current Eight Five-Year Plan aims to spread the same to the block-level. "We are in the process of identifying blocks which merit recognition to begin the process in the first phase itself," says Pelzang Wangchuk.
undp is also giving prime importance to decentralisation. "People had got so used to someone else deciding for them that the new process is definitely going to bring about a change," says a positive Seeta Giri. "With decentralisation, we feel that the local people will be able to voice environmental issues in the planning process at a higher level," hopes Kunzang Dorji .
Besides, says Kinlay Dorjee of wwf , "As part of the government's decentralisation programme, we are trying to form a village-level committee to discuss development issues and planning. The idea is to develop a committee of foresters/government representatives/local people to chart an annual work plan."
"The government policy is so pro-conservation that in terms of environment and development, Bhutan is in a unique situation. And policymakers have stressed time and again that legislation is important in the choices that are made," he says.
"The essence of everything we do is pre-emptive, rather than fighting the problem," says Sangay Wangchuk. The government's policy to ban the use of plastic is one such move. Despite any incidence of plastic causing a menace in the country, the government learnt about problems elsewhere and under the guidance of rspn banned its use (see box: Plastic ban ).
Lam Dorjee sums up what's in people's mind: "We think beyond the country's border. It is a pride for Bhutan to see clean water from our rivers entering another country." If the people's will is strong and it is backed by the will of the policymakers, too, there is no reason to believe that the spoils of modernisation will tarnish the green image of the Himalayan kingdom wedged between the China and India.