The Prime Minister and the agriculture minister justified the institution of the much contested ‘Pedestrian Day’ during the monthly Meet the Press session.
Lyonpo (Dr.) Pema Gyamtsho said government is aware that all sections of the Bhutanese society are inconvenienced. He said all this is of a short-term nature but benefits are for the long term.
He said that they had not singled out any segment of the society and the Day was not exclusive for any individual or groups.
“But for certain groups, the taxi drivers in particular, were allowed to drive taxis as it is their source of income and livelihood,” Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said.
The decision was taken after the cabinet and the ministry’s committee of secretaries (COS) and other stakeholders had agreed to it.
The agriculture minister said the country was 10 days away from observing the World Environment Day and there were discussions on how to do something substantial.
He said since Bhutan is “A Country recognized with such an invariable reputation for looking after environment there was a need for a demonstration which should be pivotal, requiring sacrifices from every individual”.
Therefore there was a unanimous decision among all the cabinet and COS members to go ahead with this exercise.
Lyonchhen Jigme Y. Thinley said the day was to be called “No Vehicle Day” but was finalized “Pedestrian day” as there was need for emergency services vehicles and other related services.
Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said there was a detailed discussion with stakeholders such as Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), National Environment Commission (NEC), Bhutan Postal Corporation (BPCL) and many other agencies.
Following that, the route map was designed for the convenience and this would ensure that no one has to walk more than half an hour. Even the time to stop the movement of vehicle in the core areas after 8 Am and before 6 Pm was decided as per the convenience of the people.
“Enough time was given for parents to drop their children to school early in the morning and fetch them in the evening and also do their other works in the evening
He said pedestrian day was criticized for lack of consultations.
The agriculture minister asked, “Whom to consult? As this initiative would affect every single individual; regardless of age, gender, professions and health but would not impinge on one individual”.
He said “What is convenient to the civil servants might not be convenient to businessmen and what is convenient to armed forces may not be for other sections of the society”.
Lyonpo said pedestrian day would not have affected businesses as it wouldn’t change the number of consumers and consumption pattern.
Lyonpo said sales of cars and consumption of fuel had declined but this was intended as the main objective was to help control traffic congestion and fuel emissions.
Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho cautioned that Bhutan cannot afford to pollute beyond its capacity like other countries. he said.
“Cynics, who prefer to remain within their comfort zones, restrain to make any sacrifices for the benefit of the society and they will obviously complain.”
Lyonchhen said “the move is not about convenience but about inconvenience, I am 62 years old, and for me to learn to ride a bicycle at this age is not convenient, to ride from Babesa to my office is not convenient, it’s physically challenging yet I have decided to go through it”.