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On the Middle Path, The Social Basis for Sustainable Development in Bhutan

By C. Rinzin


Religion, culture and polity have largely influenced what is unique about Bhutan today. As a Mahayana Buddhist Kingdom, Bhutan has inherited a philosophy of life that is deeply rooted in religious traditions and institutions. Basic values such as compassion, faith, respect for all life forms and nature, social harmony, the spirit of community participation and prevalence of spiritual development over material achievements have played a significant role in shaping modern Bhutan. The overall goal of development is to achieve sustainable development, which is guided by the development philosophy of pursuing ‘Gross National Happiness’. The way it will be pursued is through a unique development strategy called ‘the Middle Path Strategy’. \ud \ud The aim of this study is to acquire a better understanding of the unique path towards sustainable development chosen by Bhutan. By analysing some specific cases, covering a broad field of sustainability issues that are relevant in Bhutan, we hope to inform our readers of how to understand development as a means of achieving Gross National Happiness. It also aims to understand the process of change, its implications, and particularly how it is rooted in society. \ud \ud We approach this research by analysis of Bhutan’s development philosophy combined with empirical sector-studies. The empirical chapters form the heart of our research. The research methods for the Chapters are based on literature study and empirical research. The information was gathered in three rounds of interviews all over the country. In the first round information for Chapter 4 was gathered; in the second round information for Chapters 5 and 6; and in the third round for Chapter 7. \ud \ud Sustainable development policy enjoys good support on the local level and in various stakeholder groups. The issue of social equity, especially the distributional aspects of the modernisation process, are a topic of discussion in the country. The challenge is to find a balance between openness and preservation, between hierarchy and participation, and between growing national income and distribution among the general population. The empirical study on the public perception on Bhutan’s approach to sustainable development in practice particularly, related to the four pillars of Gross National Happiness, highlights diverse views and expressions. The civil servants and people from civil society groups and the market fully support the spirit of this development strategy, although not always with a full understanding of the official concept. The local communities’ perceptions of nature conservation policy of the government is more skewed for the conservation of nature. In tourism, rural communities benefit from the trickle-down effect of tourism revenue. The ‘high value, low volume’ policy has been a successful policy so far in preventing negative environmental impacts. The Sustainable Development Agreement was well received in Bhutan and it provided lot of capacity building opportunities. In the Netherlands; however, the government was sceptical about the agreement and therefore, the programme received less political support and some of the projects implemented in the Netherlands were criticised

Topics: Sociale Wetenschappen, Gross National Happiness, sustainable development, the Middle Path Strategy, Buddhism, community participation, ecotourism, globalisation, capacity building, development, human wilde-life conflict, Bhutan
Year: 2006
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