Developing the East

There can be no denying that apart from a few pockets Bhutan’s eastern region is economically more backward than other regions in Bhutan.

There was no historical or political conspiracy behind this, but it was dictated by more practical matters like the tough and unfriendly geography of the place and its sheer inaccessibility.

In addition to the agriculture unfriendly land and terrain, the East was also not in the path of any major historical trade and travel routes like Western Bhutan.

Dictated mainly by geography and location, other parts of Bhutan like Western, Central and Southern Bhutan saw faster economic development.

Given the sheer size of the region and its large population, a poor Bhutan with limited resources could not fulfill all the developmental needs in the East.

Despite the practical difficulties imposed by nature, the government ever since the advent of planned development in Bhutan has been trying to bring the East up to speed.

Important projects like Kurichu which was one of Bhutan’s earliest hydro projects, Bhutan’s first college Sherubtse and others projects were a testimony to the government’s efforts over the decades to develop this region. Many poor families from the east were also given re-settlement land as Kidu by the Kings in the past. Though the eastern region comprises only around 27 percent of the population, this region by far are the largest recipients of Land Kidu from His Majesty the King lifting thousands of families out of poverty.

If one observes from the first five year plan itself there has been a conscious effort to bring development to the East. In fact a bulk of the farm road construction, drinking water facilities, highways, town development and others that have been constructed in the last decade, have been more in the East than anywhere else in Bhutan.

As Bhutan is finding more resources and funds, it is pumping a large amount of it into the Eastern Dzongkhags.

This is in the context of Bhutan still being a least developed country. There are still developmental challenges and even pockets of poverty in regions considered traditionally more developed.

However, in the bigger picture there is an emerging national consensus and effort to accelerate the process of development in Eastern Bhutan.

The PDP during the elections promised a ‘Rising East’ where they said they would focus on bringing more developmental activities to the east.

Itis goodto note that the newgovernment is keeping its promise by coming out with the Economic Development Initiative (EDI) blueprint.

The document is a comprehensive one covering several areas and it is also an interesting one since it has many fresh ideas.

One important fact to keep in mind is that the EDI will not only benefit the Eastern region but it will also benefit all other regions of Bhutan in an economic chain reaction. One small example is that it will reduce the rural urban migration.

The EDI is promising because it plays on the strengths and resources of the eastern region. Though the region maybe economically backward, it also has some of the most hardworking people in Bhutan just waiting for the right opportunities to capitalize on.

The focus on key areas like agriculture and agro industry, textiles and industries, tourism, connectivity, hydropower, educational institutes and others will go a long way in accelerating economic development in the east.

However, like any document or plan the key will lie in implementation. Realistically speaking if the government is able to implement even 50 percent of what is there in the EDI then the face of eastern Bhutan will change forever.

“Development is about transforming the lives of people, not just transforming
economies.”
Joseph E. Stiglit

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