His Majesty The King’s 116th National Day Address focused primarily on announcing the Gelephu Special Administrative Region called the Gelephu Mindfulness City.
His Majesty said South Asia is experiencing an unprecedented economic transformation. This is a period of growth and a period of immense opportunities for our region, which is home to around two billion people.
The land connection from Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar through Assam and Northeast Indian states, to Myanmar, Thailand, to Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, is a vibrant economic corridor linking South Asia to Southeast Asia.
“We are in a unique position to reap great benefits if we seize the opportunity, make good plans, and work together diligently,” said His Majesty.
The Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Gelephu as the economic hub will have the autonomy to formulate laws and policies that are needed. It will have executive autonomy and legal independence.
The purpose of establishing this SAR is to create a vibrant economic hub. There are economic hubs elsewhere that invite foreign investment by providing a conducive business environment and compelling incentives. Bhutan’s economic hub will offer all that and more.
It will be one-of-a-kind, anchored on the vision and values of GNH. It will be a Mindfulness City, encompassing conscious and sustainable businesses, inspired by Buddhist spiritual heritage, and distinguished by the uniqueness of the Bhutanese identity.
His Majesty said there will be screening process to ensure that the companies and people who come to Gelephu are sensitive to Bhutanese culture and traditions, respect Bhutanese identity, and shares Bhutan’s values. All businesses will be based on invitation, and Bhutan will select those that are most beneficial for the country and people.
The Gelephu Mindfulness City will cover an area of 1000 sq kms, or 250,000 acres. This is only 2.5 percent of the total surface area of Bhutan.
His Majesty said the project will bring vast benefits for the entire country.
The establishment of the Gelephu Mindfulness City will involve major investments in public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports. With inflow of foreign investments, there will be construction of offices, residences, schools, hospitals, and businesses such as shops, restaurants, and hotels.
His Majesty said the growth in economic activities will offer greater opportunities to the private sector.
Economic growth will generate demand for goods and services. The benefits will encompass all dzongkhags, especially farmers, providing niche and lucrative markets in the country for all products. With FDI, there will be more jobs for the youth, with international salary scales and greater access to technology and skills.
“A flourishing economy means that our people need not always think of migrating and the government coffers will be in a better state to distribute wealth more evenly to our people.”
His Majesty emphasised three immediate priority areas that will support the Gelephu project: Energy, Connectivity, and Skills.
First, Bhutan needs to further expand its energy sector. His Majesty talked of tapping all available sources including solar, wind, thermal and hydropower.
His Majesty said considering our current expertise, we need to enhance the installed capacity of hydropower by expediting the construction of projects such as Kholongchu, Chamkharchu, Dorjilung, Nyera Amari, Wangchu, Bunakha and Sunkosh, for which Detailed Project Reports are ready.
“Our electricity prices should be among the most competitive in the region so that our hydro resources are not just a source of revenue, but also an enabler of other investments.”
The second focus is on efficient and reliable connectivity, which is critical for a landlocked country. This includes constructing the international airport in Gelephu for which the ground breaking ceremony will be held later this month. The airport construction can commence after the monsoon season in 2024 and be completed within 2 years.
His Majesty also shared that during his recent visit to India, the Government of India expressed their full commitment to improve and expand the major roads leading to Bhutan. They also pledged to connect two or three of our border towns with railway lines.
“I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of India for their continued goodwill and support.”
His Majesty said Digital infrastructure and digital connectivity is equally important in this age of artificial intelligence. We have to improve our digital infrastructure and mobile, internet and satellite connectivity.
Third, to ensure that Bhutanese people do not miss out on this great opportunity, Bhutan will prioritise building up the skills of the people.
“ In turn, our people must take advantage of every opportunity to equip themselves for success. What we lack in numbers we have to make up for in the abilities and talent of our people.”
His Majesty said people will think that the main goals of the Gelephu project are to attract investments, boost trade and businesses, and create employment.
“During my reign as King, and for our generation, this is one of the most significant undertakings. It is an inflection point, a moment in history that is very important for us.”
Gelephu will become a gateway connecting Bhutan to the world and the future. His Majesty said the road is a gateway to the world– to markets, capital, new ideas, knowledge, and technology towards our future, and– to chart our destiny.
“I became King at 26, and now I am 43 years old. I will do everything in my power to realize this vision. I will put my own life on the line. And I will do it for your sake. Because you are an extraordinary and noble people. You are extraordinary in your devotion to one another and your love for the country.”