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Bhutan Development
Gross National Happiness
Vision of development of a GNH society
Bhutan Development
Phases of transformation and guiding principles of development planning
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Gross National Happiness
Vision of development of a GNH society
In both developed and developing countries, planning is concerned mainly with the creation of the material basis of 'good life' while its content is to be defined by individuals. By conventional definition of development as well as ranking of countries by per capita income, both high levels of material possession and consumption that makes it possible for developing countries to "catch-up" with the developed, are necessary criterion in the concept of a developed nation.

However, this notion of development planning is at odds with the vision of a future for Bhutan that is not focused only on material or external development, but also on ecological and cultural integrity.

In any case, conventional development theories do not specify happiness as the goal of development; happiness is seen as a possible by-product of development. Equally, conventional development theories see the problem of happiness as an individual concern, not a primary policy concern of the state. The term subjective well-being, by which happiness is known in western literature, is telling.

In Bhutanese cultural context, the original meaning of development of the state, and the individuals within it, meant observance largely of enlightenment education with respect to ethics, intellect and wisdom by its population in order to reach happiness (dewa). And the function of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) state is to remove conditions and constraints, both physical and mental, to achieving it.

In the concept of Gross National Happiness promulgated by His Majesty the King, social welfare accrues not only from material goods but also from unquantifiable spiritual and emotional well-being. GNH raises happiness as the most important value that should guide policies. A proximate concept is deljor (abbreviated form of delwa-jorpa). Wealth (jorpa) is necessary to a certain degree but only to get freedom from wants to pursue fulfilling activities that fundamentally restrains the people from inflationary expectations damaging to their true happiness. Accumulation of wealth (jorpa) appears hollow if all of human effort is consumed in its pursuit, leaving with little freedom (delwa) and happiness (dewa or ga kid).

Five Causes of Rapid Development

The transformation of Bhutan occurred most rapidly since 1961, when the five-year plans were launched by the Third King. To give a picture of conditions prevailing before 1961, the first historic batch of 20 Bhutanese pupils completed high school only as late as 1968. This is not to say that there were no education or health services: the monastic education system flourished, as it does today, as parallel system to Western education.

The achievements are particularly remarkable given the modest base levels from which the process began. But a broad framework to guide, as well as evaluation, national choices and decisions were to come out with the achievements are particularly remarkable, given the modest base levels from which the process began. But a broad framework provided by GNH to guide, as well as to evaluate, national choices and decisions that could move in different directions, had to wait for the accession of the Fourth King in 1971.

The rapid development can be attributed to several distinct causes:

he first ..

... and the most important impetus are the activism and dynamic leadership of the kings of Bhutan, who had a central role in national policies in pre-1998 polity. A visionary, the present King could consummate his farsightedness with his immense capacity and energy for hard work. During a phase of rapid transformation, strong coordination and clear directions are prerequisites. Policy drifts, that could arise from party political cycles, have been prevented because of the existence of a disciplined vertical command structure. Continuity and cohesiveness in policies probably could not have been maintained without the benign but decisive authority of the king. People have internalised the value of monarchy as an active agency of development as well as tradition. However, His Majesty has increasingly transferred power and authority from the Throne to other institutions in the long-term interest of the nation.

The second...

...powerful cause of rapid transformation is that Bhutan possesses rich resource endowments such as hydropower and biodiversity, combined, unlike many other developing nations, with a low population density.

Hydropower is the main area of commercial investment and exploitation, and the rocket-engine of the economy.

With a population of 600,000 people, Bhutan has a low density. There is no labour surplus, contrary to the situation in many developing countries. Research show that Bhutan had about 260,000 people in 1747; so the dynamics of demographic was such as to create a stable population over the last 250 years. Primary health services combined with water and sanitation programmes have improved public health. Owing to these and other factors, the population growth rate was discovered to be already 3 percent in early 1990s, but it has come down to 2.5 percent by 2000 due to successful family planning campaigns.

A well-functioning administrative machinery and community organisations are not usually acknowledged as important factors of development. The presence of well-developed administration and cohesive community organisations is the third cause of rapid development. Their calibre and integrity are essential conditions for rapid development to occur. The former is an instrument of delivering goods and services, the latter one of receiving and utilising them, at the initial stage of development. Later, community organisations should progress to being author and subject of their own development. The 2002 DYT and GYT Acts point to such community organisations as bodies which can determine the nature and scope of transformation, including certain regulatory autonomy, within the community.

The third ...

... crucial cause of rapid development has been the long-term support of various donors. Not a single donor, whether multi-lateral or bilateral, who have come to participate in Bhutan's development has so far quit the country. This has to do with the transparent utilisation of aid, and the realisation of intended purposes.

The last ...

... cause, also often insufficiently stressed, is the primacy of Bhutanese culture. As a country whose experience remained different from that of historical trends in both the sub-continent, and in Tibet and China, Bhutanese culture and ethos evolved in relative continuity. This culture has been a source of defining development strategies of one's own choice and pace. To a large extent, the adoption of stereotypical ruling strategies and policies has been averted, and the decision making process in Bhutan has insisted on its own terms of development collaboration. Culture as a criterion of evaluation and perception has been embedded in the mores of high officials.

Its unifying grip may, however, be weakened as new generations move up the official hierarchy and as the administrators, professionals, business people, and industrialists do not necessarily have the same mooring in culture and traditions. This only reinforces the need for strengthening the intellectual and research bases rooted in values and culture of GNH that can support Bhutan's search for a path away from dominating influences of concepts and means towards homogenisation. Cultural distinctiveness is seen defensible for its intrinsic value as well as for the defence of the sovereignty of a nation faced with asymmetry of power with its neighbours.

(Gross National Happiness (GNH) - a guiding philosophy)
Contributed by Karma Ura, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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