Bhutan: An update on Recent Developments
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
There are only three issues that need to be highlighted on the recent developments. The first relates to an over pessimistic assessment of the World Bank on Bhutan’s economy- 2014. The second relates to a very impressive account of Bhutan’s way of life and its cherished goal of Gross National Happiness and the third relates to the refugee issue as one of the expatriates has given a religious twist to the whole refugee issue which in my view is very unfortunate.
The World Bank Report on Economic Developments in Bhutan- 2014.
In what is routinely issued by World Bank on the economic situation in the country, the update on Bhutan’s economy of 2014 appears to be unjustifiably pessimistic though in reality the economy of Bhutan but for the “Rupee crunch” is fairly robust and stable. In my view, with a little tightening in construction sector and judicious use of imports from India and completion of the ongoing Hydro electric projects in time would go a long way in overcoming this problem. The points raised in the World Bank Report and other related issues were:
* Bhutan’s financial sector has shown signs of vulnerability and weakness could be exposed after the recent decline in real estate prices.
* Increase in loans and deposit ratio to above 100 percent raises concerns- given the overall decline in deposits. This may result in Banks not having enough liquidity for any unforeseen fund requirements.
* There is a mis match between long term loans and short term, seasonal and volatile corporate deposits.
* Loans were more focussed on personal ones and real estate sector. ( This is true and has to be addressed soon)
* While the government is justified in concentrating on rupee crunch, it should also look into the health of the financial institutions, non performing loans and also a general drop in the profit rate of the banks.
* The unemployment issue is underestimated. (There is some concern over unemployment and under employment but these are not serious enough now to affect the stability of the country)
* There is an aspirational mismatch between skills demand and skills supply. ( Not a serious one as yet.)
Bhutan’s Way of Life and the Gross National Happiness:
One cannot but be impressed by an editorial of “Bhutanese” of May 2, 2014 on the Bhutanese way of life and how the Gross National Happiness in Bhutan cannot be measured by statistics but by Bhutanese visiting other countries and return to feel the way of life. The points highlighted in the editorial were
* Bhutan should not give up its collective soul in return for a few more Ngultrims ( Bhutan’s currency) or a rise in the GDP.
* While the Bhutan Government does a lot more in improving the business environment and activities, it should not make the mistake of copying the fundamental models of its South Asian counterparts- that would only result in the acceleration of divide between the rich and the poor.
* Bhutan should for the present, go for strengthening and increasing the number of cottage, small and medium business industries.
* In this context, the real nature of Gross National Happiness has to be understood. The only and the surest way of knowing Bhutan’s way of life is for doubters to spend some time outside Bhutan and then come back to Bhutan and note the difference. (Emphasis ours)
* While changes are inevitable and needed, Bhutan should not give up the “nation’s soul” in addressing the challenges. What is unique to Bhutan should be preserved and this includes a. retaining the forests and not cutting them down for profits b. not pollute air or water for solving the problems relating to poverty or economic recovery.c. not to allow governance to be chaotic as one sees around the region.
* Not to give up the cultural factors ad good manners which one could notice generally among the Bhutanese.
The Refugee issue:
The Bhutan News Service of May 21, 2014 carried an article under ‘opinion’ discussing the refugee issue and unfortunately gave it a religious twist on the ground that the refugees were thrown out of Bhutan just because they were predominantly Hindus.
The author Narayan Phuyal Sharma who perhaps is a refugee now settled in Philadelphia, has referred to the BJP’s manifesto which has called for sending back the illegal immigrants and also accept those for whom India is a natural home for the persecuted Hindus outside India. He then goes on to say that the overwhelming majority of Bhutanese refugees are Hindus and one fundamental reason for their being persecuted was because of their religion. Therefore this fact must enable the Bhutanese refugees for affirmative protection from the present BJP government in India.
The refugee issue was not a religious one and I have on my interaction with many of the leaders of the refugees had appealed to them not to make it a religious issue. In the days when the camps were full, Hindu religious leaders had visited the camps but to my knowledge they did not give it a religious twist.
At any rate, the refugee issue is almost getting solved and there is very little likelihood of religious issues being taken up now.
On 21 May 2014, the 90,000 th refugee was seen off to Montreal for resettlement. In US alone, over 75,000 have been resettled. Of the 27,000 refugees left in the camps, 21,000 have expressed their interest in resettlement and should go out in the coming years. That will leave only about 7000 left which is manageable.
I do not for a moment condone what Bhutan did with its innocent, harmless and hardworking citizens. It was an ethnic issue and not a religious one. Bhutan had decided for reasons best known to them that an ethnic balance of 75 percent of the majority community to 25 percent of the Lhotsampas of the plains is just the balance for its well being! It is unfortunate for a country that lays so much stress on the gross national happiness to have taken up this act of ethnic balancing and what is worse, not a single refugee of those who have even been acknowledged by the Joint Verification Committee is yet to be taken back!