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Bhutan Observer
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Rural Bhutan should be 11th Plan’s focus
Needrup Zangpo, August 15, 2013
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The newly elected government is discussing the 11th Plan budget with the government of India. If India approves the proposed budget of Nu 45 billion, it will be a substantial increase of Nu 11 billion from the 10th Plan, which means there will be more to spend on development.

We do not know yet what would be the focus of the 11th Plan. The previous government defined the 11th Plan’s theme as “rural prosperity, urban wellbeing”, which is closely related to the 10th Plan’s theme of poverty reduction. The former prime minister said in several meetings and press conferences that the 11th Plan would focus on making the villages attractive for our people so that it would not only prevent rural to urban migration, but also attract urban dwellers. Considering inequitable and imbalanced development, it will be sometime before our villages can catch up with the towns in terms of public facilities and infrastructure. Therefore, rural development is inarguably a priority for five-year plans for now.

The 10th Plan’s focus on poverty reduction helped the villages in many ways. Although some critics have expressed reservations about the drastic fall in poverty rate, the plan’s focus helped take road to most villages and along with it modern amenities and business opportunities. We can call it a success. What is encouraging is that the PDP’s manifesto does not lose this focus. It has a substantial package of promises to further rural development. Further, the PDP’s manifesto also points out that in spite of government’s focus on balanced development, development activities have continued to be concentrated in the west. The manifesto says the east needs “special attention from the government” to achieve its full economic potential. This shows that the PDP government will give strong emphasis on balanced development. We hope that their belief in balanced development will be reflected in the 11th Plan.

We have many reasons to focus our time and resources on the villages. The villages are where the Bhutanese culture is and they are where majority of our people work and live. More importantly, the villages are where our food is grown. But the villages are troubled by a host of problems that mostly stem from poverty and harsh living conditions.

Urban develop should come one day. But what is the priority today? Should our priority be the production of enough food for ourselves or building monstrous infrastructures that gobble up our precious little farmland in the valleys? As a matter of fact, planners and policymakers often tend to look at glitches in towns – where they live – as priorities and overlook stark realities in the far-flung villages. If this generation of leaders that has roots in the villages overlook the rural Bhutan, the next generation of leaders, who would most probably be born and bred in towns, could forget the poor countryside completely. This is the time to lift the villages.

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