20th Aug 2018 THE HINDU Editorial Analysis ha ii
Sovereignty and sensitivity When the Border Roads Organisation, which helps build Bhutanese roads under Project Dantak, decided in July to make those reflective stickers and highway markers in shades of the Indian tricolour, it raised red flags among the Bhutanese on social media This wasn't a first. In April last year, the Department of Roads had to remove a board which read "Dantak welcomes you to Bhutan" at the Paro international airport. And on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing arterial highway, another board that credited the "Government of India" had to be painted over Eventually, in the recent case, which was covered by the national weekly The Bhutanese, the Minister for Public Works stepped in, and the stickers...
....were changed to blue and white The National Assembly of Bhutan was dissolved and an interim government was appointed this month ahead of the election, which will be completed by October-end, marking 10 years of democracy in Bhutan . The People's Democratic Party, led by imcumbent Prime Minister Tobgay. enters the elections with a visible edge, even if it may not be able to repeat its landslide victory in 2013 . At his party's first rally on August 4, Mr. Tobgay touted the 8% GDP growth in favour of his party, which has been fuelled by a construction and tourist boom in Bhutan. He can also take credit for stabilising the rupee-ngultrum crisis that he had inherited, as well as for economic reforms including lifting the import ban on cars
However, Mr. Tobgay has been unable to curb the national debt, owed mostly to India for hydropower loans, as he had promised to do in his last campaign Attacking Mr. Tobgay over a perceived pro-India" stance will be part of the Opposition's messaging. Crucially, this election comes after the 73-day India-China stand-off in 2017 in the Bhutan-claimed area of Doklam. Even though public commentary on the tensions has been frowned upon, the opposition advocates a Bhutanese foreign policy that is less dependent on India Given this, India must step lightly and thoughtfully around the upcoming election. The Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government's decision to cut cooking gas subsidy just before the 2013 elections in Bhutan has often been shown as proof of Indian interference...
...especially by the opposition party that lost that election Since then, the current Indian government's actions, indicating a preference for one party (for example, Sheikh Hasina's Awami League in Bangladesh) or antipathy for another (such as for Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party), have been noted closely in Bhutan The government would be best advised to keep high-profile visits at an arms length from the election process, especially given that there will be several such visits after the National Assembly is chosen. Mr. Modi is expected to visit Thimphu once a new government is in place, and Bhutan's King is expected for a state visit this year too The hydropower projects where delays in constructing and commissioning in Bhutan by Indian companies have led to the country's burgeoning..
..national debt. Although the government agreed to raise tariffs for the original hydropower plant in Chukha (by about 30 paisa per unit) in February this year, other tariffs will need to be renegotiated too In addition, India's power-surplus status and the advent of other renewable energies like wind and solar power will make it more difficult for Bhutan to ensure that its hydropower sector becomes profitable. And unless India finds ways to help, it will be accused of the same sort of "debt-trapping" that China is accused of today India also needs to focus on policing cross-border trade better. The goods and services tax still hurts Bhutanese exporters, and demonetisation has left lasting scars on the banking system Doklam, which has long been discussed as part of a possible "package.
...solution" to the Bhutan-China border dispute, could become a point of India-China face off, with Bhutan becoming a hapless spectator in the middle - again After Mr. Modi's Wuhan outreach and several meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Bhutan too has decided that there is little point in avoiding engagement with China. China's Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou's July visit to Thimphu was an outcome of this stance Interestingly, these issues are reminiscent of the situation in September 1958 when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru undertook the arduous three- week journey by yak across the Chumbi Valley to meet Bhutan's second king. As former Foreign Secretary Jagat S. Mehta wrote in his book "The running anxiety during the 1960s for Bhutan was to steer its external relations with China by giving neither provocation nor the impression of
...getting into a bear hug of dependence with India. Both could jeopardise [Bhutan's] autonomy."
For better slum policies For the thousands who come to the cities every day, cheap housing in slums is often the springboard to better lives. However, studies show that these migrants often get stuck in a vicious cycle of debt and socio- economic stagnation India must get its numbers right as there are no concrete figures on these temporary and semi-permanent settlements. Slums have a fluid definition and legal thoroughness leads to exclusion of people. The 2011 Census estimated 65 million people in slums, a marked shortfall from the UN- HABITAT's 2014 estimation of 104 million Current slum policies primarily focus on housing, relocation or in-situ development of multi-storey complexes, which free up swathes of prime
....real estate. But in doing so, they miss out on the brewing socio- economic distress in slums A long-term, multi-institutional survey by researchers from the Netherlands, the U.S. and a local NGO, Fields of View, reveals that over 70% of families in slums live in debt. The difference between their monthly earnings and expenses is less than Rs. 1,000 leaving them vulnerable in case of educational, vocational, social or health emergencies Moreover, with no access to formal financial systems, any borrowing comes from private money lenders at high interest rates. For many, even water and electricity are disproportionately more expensive as they are forced to rely on the grey market rather than on formal, subsidised channels
o A case can be made for a nuanced slum policy, rather than a one-size-fits- all approach. Until better integration are considered, ambitious but slow to-implement housing schemes will do little for the welfare of slum dwellers
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