A common and often repeated narrative in the national discourse is on the relative backwardness of Bhutan’s Eastern region compared to other regions of the country.
The government, in an ambitious effort, has come up with and given in principal approval to a 30 page plan called ‘East Development Initiative’ (EDI) that aims to economically strengthen and develop six eastern Dzongkhags through a variety of national strategies.
The plan will cover Dzongkhags like Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar with the combined total population of about 201,050 constituting about 27% of the national population.
These initiatives are creating three regional growth hubs, improving accessibility and transport infrastructure, accelerating hydro power development, establishing premiere educational institutes, establishing agro based and green indust improving tourism in frastructure, establishing referral hospitals and providing policy support.
Soon after the election new government tasked ministers from the Eas come up with a comprehe plan for the East. committee comprised o Minister of Works and Hu Settlement (MoWHS) Lyo Dorji Choden, Ministe Economic Affairs Lyo Norbu Wangchuk, Mini for Agriculture Lyonpo Ye Dorji and Education Mini Lyonpo Mingbo Dukpa.
The plan was in line one of PDP’s major ple called the ‘Rising East’ wh talked about bringing ab more regionally balance development.
The ministers, whoever, were at pains to point out that this should not be seen in a larger national perspective as developmental activities in the East would also benefit the rest of the nation in many ways.
Lyonpo Dorji Choden said, “Some of the plans are new and not in the 11th plan so they will be incorporated. There are also many activities already in the plan but they will now be given thrust in terms of resources and implementation and things will be done in a holistic manner.”
The report says, “Despite best efforts by the Royal Government to bring balanced development in the Country, the development pace of Eastern Bhutan has not been as impressive as it could have been given its inherent potential.”
The EDI identifies three growth centers in Eastern Bhutan located at Kanglung, Gyalpoizhing and Nanglam (see separate story on pg 1). It also talks of bringing in Tourism in a big way (see separate story on pg 1)
Acceleration of Hydropower Development
The report says that there are sixteen projects with total capacity of about 6,200 MW
in the eastern region. All of these projects have either been studied or are under various stages of study. The report says the selection of projects in the east shall be carried on the basis that they bring larger economic benefits to the East.
The report recommends four projects located in such places that their constructions would ensure opening up of remote and underprivileged gewogs bringing in greater economic engagement of the local populace for income generating activities and eventually lead to the development of those far flung places.
These projects are 107 MW Jomori, 473 MW Nyera Amari-I&II, 363 MW Khomachhu, and 64 MW Gamri-I or 79MW Gamri-II or Gamri-I&II (Integrated).
It says the investments requirements would range from $ 150 million to $ 700 million and hence within the conceivable investment targets. The government will be looking at various financing models from seeking help from GoI to international loans.
For the power evacuation from these projects, the National Transmission Grid Master Plan of 2012 shall be reviewed to either facilitate for export or supply for local consumption.
Establishment of Premier Educational Institutions and Training Centers
The East will get a bonanza of many new institutes all geared towards generating jobs.
The EDI prioritizes the establishment of Nursing College in the East, which shall offer certificate, diploma and undergraduate programmes.
Considering the employability prospects, the EDI shall prioritize an establishment of Polytechnic Model College in the East to accommodate increasing demand of the students. This college shall offer certificate, diploma and undergraduate programme in the areas of engineering, entrepreneurship, hospitality, tourism and others, which are relevant to the job market.
A teacher training Institute shall also be established at Younphula. The Institute will serve as center for modeling excellence and innovation in teaching, educational research and services.
To meet the trained manpower requirements for the projects and to generate employment, Power Training Institute (PTI) is proposed to be established in the East for capacity building and for enhancement of the knowledge of officials and staff who would be working in the commissioned hydro-plants.
The report also plans to upgrade the existing Jigme Namgyel Polytechnic at Dewathang into an Engineering College. It also proposes upgrading the Trashiyangtse Zorig Chusum to College of Arts and Crafts that will provide higher level of education and training in the traditional arts and crafts to further promote and develop the arts and crafts industry in the country.
Agro and Green industries
The EDI plans to develop the six eastern Dzongkhags gives an important focus on developing agriculture in a major way.
It says economy of scale can be achieved from pooling the products through formation of farmer groups, associations, cooperatives and Federations. Gewogs and villages will be identified to produced certain crops or even process them.
The report says that Maize based industries for production of Kharang and Cornflakes will be identified by up scaling production and establishing processing centers.
The government will be investing in several irrigation schemes to enable production of rice in the East and it will also establish major rice milling and packing centers. There will establishment of commercial vegetable and fruit production industry.
The EDI also envisages establishment of mustard and sunflower oil industries by growing and processing them.
State of the Art Storage and Cold Chain facilities shall be established in strategic locations of Mongar, Samdrupjongkhar and Nganglam townships.
Essential items (rice, oils, seeds, seedling, agricultural tools and implements) shall be made available through promotion of One Stop Farmers Shops or Fair Price Shops in the towns and gewogs.
Medium to large-scale dairy and meat processing factories shall be established to serve as assured market for farmers produce and to improve product development and packaging.
The plan also envisages a dairy processing industry across Eastern Bhutan one of which will be Koufuku International Pvt Ltd – A joint venture (SNBL Japan and DHI ) dairy Processing Plant at Chenary, Trashigang which is expected to propel dairy initiatives in 25 gewogs of Mongar, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.
The plans also include establishment of Forestry based as well as non timber forest products in the eastern region.
Mines and Industries
In a major move all construction materials for the hydropower projects developed in the East shall be supplied from Eastern Bhutan and preferences shall be given for the industries that are owned and operated by the people from Eastern Bhutan.
The government will support in establishing the industries that produce high quality export oriented construction materials and Ferro silicon plants based on high-grade quartzite and preference will be given to the people from eastern Bhutan while issuing licenses for the establishment of these industries.
The professional and technical backstopping, for the development of mineral based industries in Eastern Bhutan, shall be rendered by the Department of Geology and Mines as matter of priority.
The government will also help support the development of major textile cluster groups in Lhuentse, Trashiyangtse, Trashigang, Mongar,
Pemagatshel, Bumthang, Thimphu and Paro for the development of textiles in the East from manufacture to branding and sale.
The government will develop the Bongdema Industrial Estate, which has a total area of 110.384 acres, with easy access to electricity, water, availability of land and marketability of products for the six eastern districts. It will have various industries relevant to the local economy.
Support will also be given for the manufacture of domestically produced Construction materials.
The 145 acre Motanga Industrial Estate in Samdrup Jongkhar will also help Industrialize the region.
Providing Supporting Policy Interventions and Institutional Reforms
The report says that the concentration of Ministries, other important institutions and other corporate head offices in Thimphu has created some kind of pull factor for rural urban migration.
To facilitate the EDI, the government shall explore relocating some of the institutions to Eastern Bhutan.
Improving Accessibility and Connectivity
The EDI says that it identified and prioritized road infrastructure development for socio-economic development that would connect all the regional growth centers and to the industries.
The EDI report says that despite numerous gewog Connectivity and farm roads being built in Eastern Bhutan lots need to be done especially in terms of its usability, long-term sustainability, maintenance and safety. Most of them are quite narrow with numerous hairpin bends and steep gradient. These roads can be used only during dry seasons. To solve this issue all gewog connectivity (GC) Roads will be taken over from Dzongkhags by Department of Roads for improvement and regular maintenance works.
The Government will explore the possibility of constructing link roads like connecting Lhuentse Dzongkhag to Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag without having to detour via Mongar. The other possibilities of linking Kangpara to Jomotsangkha, Gomdar & Wangphu to Martsala, etc. would be explored.
In addition to improving and Yongphula airport and making it ready by 2015 the government will also explore the potential of more airports in the east.
One major project is double laning the Northern East-West highway. The Government has prioritized the double laning and improvement works of northern East–West highway for an estimated cost of Nu. 7.310 bn. It says that the government will also construct the necessary infrastructure to cut down the 2 days travel tome from the West to East to one day so that even tourists can visit Eastern Bhutan.
The government will also prioritize the construction of Southern East-West highway. Of the 665 km distance except for the three missing stretches of coming to a total of 225 km all the others are all connected by roads. The EDI says that the Royal Government accords high priority for the completion of the 225 km stretch.
The report says that the government will prioritize and complete the double laning of Samdrup Jongkhar
– Trashigang Highway and Construction of Gyalpoishing
– Nganglam Highway.
Establishment of Referral Hospitals and Services
To provide effective and efficient health services, Dewathang hospital will be upgraded to 40 bedded hospital and will provide health services related to trauma, essential surgical and genecology. The EDI proposes Dewathang hospital to be up-graded to a fully functional hospital with all necessary resources to provide high quality services and create empowered mechanism to refer the patents to Guwahati in Assam, India for the patents that cannot be treated within Bhutan and for emergency cases.