Dubbed as an environmental champion, Bhutan probably is one of the few countries in the world that prefers building forest to concrete cities.
While keeping at par with the global developmental activities, the country has successfully maintained about 72 percent of its total area under forest cover.
This globally acclaimed feat today, was made possible with the farsighted vision of a handful of people in the past.
How it all began
Former minister, Om Pradhan, recollects how it all began for the tiny Himalayan Kingdom.
The Forest Act of Bhutan 1969 holds a significant place in promoting Bhutan as an environmental champion today, he said during a presentation at the third BLISS Talk Series in Thimphu on October 18.
The country has done a lot to safeguard its environment, biodiversity and ecological heritage. “We are all proud of it,” he said. “But we must also realise that all these have happened because of the certain actions taken in the past.”
The former minister said that in the late parts of the 1960s through the 70s and 80s, the consciousness and the realisation of how the environment was being affected by human activities had not really surfaced.
Bhutan however, was a step ahead in game.
In 1969, the first Five Year Plan (FYP) had just concluded and works to implement the second Plan was underway. The main focus of the second Plan was to make Bhutan accessible to the outside world with the construction of roads from the southern borderlands into the central areas.
With construction works in full swing, Om Pradhan said that exploitation of forest came out as an evident result. For various economic reasons, forest exploitation was increasing.
He said that with the new developments, earlier laws, rules and regulations were inadequate to address the emerging issues. Limited manpower and expertise also added to the growing challenges.
By then, the land use rules and regulation in the country had also become outdated. While there were different categories under which land were used by people, there was no clear understanding as to who owned the land, he added.
Given the urgency, the then Paro Penlop, His Royal Highness Prince Namgyal Wangchuck, during a national assembly session explained that as far as the minerals under the soil of Bhutan is concerned, the ownership is with the state.
Tsamdro and Sokshing, HRH said belonged to government. “This was made clear but the traditional rights of the people were maintained,” the former minister said. “People could still use the land, extract trees for construction and firewood. None of the traditional rights of the people were deprived.”
Om Pradhan said that following the blessings from His Majesties The Third and Fourth Kings, HRH Prince Namgyal Wangchuck spearhead the programme and took over vast unoccupied areas and converted them into forest reserves.
“That is why we have about 72 percent of the total land cover under forest today,” he said. “Had it not been for these steps, Bhutan could have also lost several forested areas like its surrounding areas.”
Given its small size, he said that Bhutan’s impact on the overall environment of the world might be small, however, the example it has set remains very large for the global community.