The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is there room for urbanisation in Bhutan?

Bhutan will have to "negotiate and compromise" other priorities to find adequate land for urban development, says Hee Nam-jung, a South Korean research fellow from the Korean Institute for Human Settlement (KRIHS).

"Bhutan will have to find a middle way," Nam-jung told urban planners and works and human settlement officials at a three-day South Asian regional workshop on "Promoting access to affordable land and housing" in Thimphu, which ended on June 5.

South Korea has 130 land laws that govern various elements like culture, agriculture and forests, among others. "So whenever we have an issue, we have meetings between various ministries, agencies and interest groups to negotiate, which takes a long time but minimises conflict within society," Nam-jung said.

South Korea, because it has very limited land, has given planned development the highest priority for urban development.

"In a democracy, people will have to have some role in the development of areas," he said.

Bhutan, the urban planning expert said, needed to change its plans for urban development from time to time as per the needs of the population.

Megraj Adhikari, an urban planner with the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, said the Bhutanese were a bit too conservative, because the priority of the government was developing rural areas, where the majority of the Bhutanese people live.

While more and more people are pouring into the towns every year, he said the development of the urban centres has not received as much attention as the development of rural areas in the country.

"The reality is that people are now moving into urban areas. So we have a challenge there," he said. "The focus in Bhutan is on rural development rather than on urban development."

The constitution of Bhutan maintains that 60 per cent of the country should be covered by forest for all time to come.

"On one hand we have agricultural land to be protected, and on the other hand we have to maintain 60 per cent forest coverage," Megraj said. "So where do we go from here?"

Another Works and Human Settlement official said there were many problems in protecting the cultural and heritage precincts. The establishment in 1974 of a central town planning committee to guide urban development kicked off the process of town planning in the country. 

However, Works and Human Settlement officials said it was unsuccessful then because no donors were interested in supporting infrastructure development in the country.

The ministry's "Bhutan Urbanisation Strategy", drawn up to ensure balanced and equitable regional development, projects that by 2020 more than half of the country's population will live in urban areas.


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