Stop playing games

Walking for what?

I like to walk. And I like to bike. So today, on Thimphu’s inaugural Pedestrian Day, I enjoyed the opportunity to bike from my home (in Taba) to my office (in Langjophakha) to the clock tower square to lunch (in Motithang) to the PDP office (Changangkha) to Karma’s Coffee (Hongkong market) to the archery range (near the Indian Embassy) and finally back home.

The government has declared that, henceforth, every Tuesday will be Pedestrian Day, at which time most vehicles will not be permitted to enter the core area of Thimphu. Other cities are reportedly already following suit.

The intentions behind the Pedestrian Day idea may be good. Many of us, for example, already agree that walking is good for our health, and good for our environment. So many of us would not argue against Pedestrian Day.

But some of us may not like to walk, especially if we have several places to go to, in our ghos and kiras, when it is excessively hot or cold, or when it rains. Some of us may find it difficult to walk, like, for example, the old, the weak, and working mothers. And some of us may simply not like walking at all.

So the intention of starting Pedestrian Day – of forcing people to walk once a week – may be good. But the way it has been handled is not good; it is not democratic. The government has, once again, failed to consult the very people they claim to be helping. To walk or not affects the lives of each and every one of us. So we should have been consulted. And the cabinet should not have taken the decision; it should have been left up to the respective local governments. Instead, the prime minister himself has issued an executive order decreeing that, “… all Tuesdays henceforth, will be observed as Pedestrians’ Day throughout the country particularly in major towns”.

As expected, public reaction after the first Pedestrian Day has been varied and mixed. While some residents clearly enjoyed walking to work and back, others have bitterly denounced the government’s decision as arbitrary and draconian.

So the prime minister should call the first Pedestrian Day a “dry run”. And, based on even a few negative reactions, he should revoke his executive order. Then he should start honest consultations with the people. Better still, he should learn to leave these matters to local governments – it is their job to decide how best to organize community life in their respective areas.

The best course of action would be for the prime minister and the government to lead by example. They could call every Tuesday “Pedestrian Day”, encourage people to walk on that day, and make it convenient for them to do so. But people should not be forced to walk. Instead, the government should revitalize the defunct HEHE walk, and lead by example –  they should leave their cars at home and they, themselves, should make it a point to walk every Tuesday. In due course of time, most of us will follow, naturally and happily.

But there’s growing suspicion that the government’s decision to impose Pedestrian Day may not be all that noble. Some have suggested that government’s unilateral decision was motivated by the fact that Rio+ 20, a UN conference on sustainable development, and one that the prime minister is expected attend, will begin in Rio de Janeiro in barely two weeks.

That may indeed be the case. Pedestrian Day may have more to do with pandering to the west than really helping our own people. For instance, if you Google “pedestrian day Bhutan” you’ll find many dozens of news links from all across the world. This shows that the government has obviously targeted the international media; this shows that the government was more concerned about securing international publicity than attending to any domestic inconveniences.

This will not be the first time that the government’s policies would have been determined by our hunger for international adulation. In 2009 the government signed a promise to keep our country carbon neutral for all time to come. That promise, grandiosely called Declaration of the Kingdom of Bhutan – the Land of Gross National Happiness to Save our Planet, was put into effect, also without public consultations or discussions, hardly a week before it was proudly declared at COP15, the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

If this is the case, if Pedestrian Day has been timed to simply impress the Rio+20 gathering, the government must stop playing games, they must rescind their decision, and they must apologize to the people of Bhutan.

Photo credit: BBS

 

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Comments

  1. just as many of us expected, this is all part of MR. PM’s agenda for international publicity.matter of fact, a high profile foreigner in the country also asked me- “do you think its just for international publicity”? hell yeah it is!! This is not an initiative nor anything of that sort. it is an executive ‘order’ and a draconian rule imposed by a selfish government. OL rightly pointed out that the rule applies to everyone irrespective of age and physical fitness of citizens!!! An actor was quoted as saying by a newspaper that the govt should atleast consult people before taking any radical decision such as this. Wel this govt has little history of doing that, be it the tobacco control act, the vegetable ‘ban’ or any decision made by the PM on behalf of the people and his ‘own government’ for that matter!!! the cabinet as we hear is dictated by the man, so forget about consulting the general public.
    By the way, the pedestrian day is not helping the environment in any major way except for some additional income for the taxi drivers who burn their tires and fuel in a rush to serve as many passengers as possible.
    if this is just another game played by the PM, we demand the right to decide our daily lives!! The PM may as well stop yapping about GNH abroad and do as he please in the country. Guru Rinpochhe save the poor people of Bhutan from this draconian government.

  2. we need pedestrian bridges, better traffic system and pedestrian friendly roads NOT a pedestrian day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. tsewang dorji says:

    I agree that while such a day may help win some international appreciations, what we really need in all our towns is proper pedestrian bridges, proper traffic system and pedestrian friendly roads.

  4. I too agree that the Prime Minister should be more spending time addressing serious and pressing matters at home. Perhaps, figuring out the Rupee shortage problem would be a start.

    However, I am appalled and more importantly saddened by OL’s constant effort to incite controversy in such a small society as ours. There is nothing undemocratic about the introduction of pedestrian day. You cannot expect nation-wide consultation on every decision that the government takes and especially in this case when it really doesn’t negatively affect anyone.

    Asking the PM to revoke the executive order based on “even a few negative reactions” is completely ridiculous. Of course, there couldn’t be a more ideal situation than having unanimous consensus backing every decision but that would also imply that nothing would every happen then. I hope you that you will be more decisive than that when and if your party every forms the government. Please note that there are many “Bhutanese people” who support this initiative (wouldn’t it be undemocratic to take that away from them as well?)

  5. Sonam Deki says:

    Pedestrian day is much welcomed but like well mentioned, more business for taxis, more fuel burning, thus effect to the enviroment remains the same. The government should have consulted the people, not issue executive orders!!!

  6. When has this government ever consulted its people???? Name one instance in the last five yeas. They have come up with numerous draconian laws and regulations but NEVER EVER consulted the people that elected them. They just pass executive orders and demand that its subservient citizens follow the orders or be punished!!! GNH, what a farce!! GNH in Bhutan is more to impress the outside world than anything else. Look at all the bans this government has imposed on its mute citizens… the hyprocracy of GNH is getting harder to digest by the day.

  7. The Pedestrian day is one more proof that Bhutan is not a real democracy but rather an autocracy ruled by ministers with an old mindset.

    What is next? Will we be giving the Prime Ministers version of the Nazi salute and opening labor camps for the political opponents of this government.

  8. @kesang i agree that it is not viable to cosult the entire nation on all decisions made by the govt.(i mean the PM) but there is no question of ‘undemocratic’ as you mention in revoking the order. Bhutanese people who support the ‘order’ has all the right to walk not only on tuesdays but everyday. Old people, patients, people who are in an emergency and especially people who choose not to walk should be allowed to do as they please. As long as they take the taxi, it doesn’t make no sense about pollution control. And i think the ‘negative reaction’ is not just ‘few’.

  9. Thimphu’s road is unfit – no planning went into to. Disable people have the worst deal. Now, able people too. Pedestrian day without any pedestrian! We only have ourself to blame for bringing in this government and let me say this in advance – they will win again because we are Bhutanese – happy go lucky people.

  10. Tendrel says:

    Despite all his talk of Democracy and freedoms the Prime Minister is nothing but a dictator and despot more suited to regimes like Pol Plot and Kim Un Jung who torture their own people and massacre them when they protest.

  11. Tsencho says:

    The DPT is hell bent on losing in 2013. First it comes out with TCA, bans import of packaged food, bans vegetable and now forces its people to walk.

    There is no opposition party required. At this rate DPT is its own biggest enemy. This decision also shows that either the PM does not listen to good advice or he is surrounded by some of the biggest numbskulls Bhutan has ever seen giving him the worst possible ideas.

    I am about to throw up looking at the sheer stupidity of this govt.

  12. concerned citizen says:

    The best way to evaluate such interventions would be a pilot study of a group of people. checking this subset of peoples reaction both before and after the intervention.

    We can have such piolt study in various areas reprensing people from diffrent socio-economic backgroud.

    I personally feel before the policy is set it is good to test.. more scientic approach…

  13. lungdhar says:

    yes that’s good idea, vehicle free day is mainly initiated to save environment but what about Electric cars its 0 green house gas, if bicycles is yes why not electric cars laaa ?????………,

  14. I am in concurrence with what the Leader of Opposition has voiced here; on the audacity of the Government to force things the way they want and perceive.
    For any law or practice of this kind to be implemented, what we would need is a strong and professional public transport network; in terms of accessibility and efficiency (buses/taxis should arrive at their scheduled stops on time and depart on time). So, I for one would definitely argue against the declaration of such a day with no proper infrastructure in place for us to carry out our daily responsibilities responsibly (by the way, I work in a service sector: our daily job may not be classified as an ’emergency’ but it is definite we need to attend to any complaints we receive). No government (central or local) should have the authority to decide on our behalf without our consent. It should instead have been a voluntary act (which would have gauged our (Bhutanese) actual commitment towards environment protection) and not an executive order.
    From the actions of our existing government and the reactions of the opposition, I for one can infer that, we lack statesmen but have no dearth of politicians! Its high time the government realised the need to confer with the electorate on any national level issues and let the population decide for itself whats best for them and the country. Also, the opposition should know the fact the an opposition body’s job is not to always oppose what the government does, but to suggest improvements and provide a judicious mechanism of check and balance. These are things we have always been wishful for, and from the performance of both the government and the opposition till date, seems we will long remain wishful for.

  15. ‘ the prime minister should call the first Pedestrian Day a “dry run”. And, based on even a few negative reactions, he should revoke his executive order. Then he should start honest consultations with the people’

    Do you think PM is as free as you are…stop playing games OL…..that is why in your life you will never become PM. Of course this time you became OL because party president favour you even though most people believe Dasho Damchoe is more capable than you…

    You don’t have other works or what? Please go play another archery match with people of Haa hoping to regain the trust bestowed upon PM by people of Haa…

  16. Its really unfortunate that the Government comes up with some many ideas and policies (and executive orders) to incite anger amongst the public….

    I do not understand why the PM with his “so-called experience” come up with “weird” ideas and “publicity stunts”…. is it a sign that he is “helpless of the situation” OR is he so “obsessed with power”. In any case it is serious concern !!!!

    I completely fail to understand why is he missing the “bigger picture”…. we have a “serious economic crisis” which needs all our attention, yet he comes out with absolutely “crazy” policies and ideas, which indeed gets us to “dislike” and “dis-approve” the Government…

    My only only request to the Government, is to ask them to start solving the “Economic Crisis”, rather then to pretend that nothing is wrong and continue to claim that “happiness is a place” ….”better to nip it at the bud”.

    Government should stop all the nonsense and be practical !!!!

  17. What type of democracy are we having in Bhutan? We need to redefine it, if democracy mean what present government is doing. Its time for government to use brain not kidney..

  18. Pema Yangzom pelga says:

    This is ok. You failed in not bringing the issues of regional imbalance, lottery corruption, Gyelpozhing scam, Chang Ugyen corruption, and many high profile cases to discussion. You are just being a politician, not genuinely concerned. Am not impressed with this show.

  19. constitution says:

    If OL and some of the unhappy people claim that every move that the govt. does need to be consulted with the people, what power does GOVT. have to bring some changes to the nation?
    I’m sure, some day. OL and some people will ask the govt. to disclose to the public and consult with the public what meals they are planning to have in a day……

    When there are different thinking people, obviously some will appreciate it and others not.. so this is the same case………..what is so undemocratic about it…..nothing….rather, we bhutanese people are getting spoiled by the very name DEMOCRACY..while we have been following govt’s order or activities just 4 years back with all heart despite some silent disgruntled people. But, WORD DEMOCRACY is crazy thing if not properly addressed, so this problem is happening in the country where the democracy has just begun or partially.

    I’m highly impressed by this move and extremely proud to see HIS MAJESTY responding to it in profound manner. We people should draw some inspiration from our HM and of course, difficulties will be there ,hope govt. didn’t intend to FINE or PUNISH them if those people didn’t respond to it….otherwise, such initiatives are welcome and if OL and some people feel issuing decree was undemocratic and PM should apologize, I fear, elected govt. will be a man whose arms and legs are cut…or let us not elect govt….and let individual become more important than the nation…without HEAD..

  20. TORISE DRAGON says:

    just want to make sure that did the Lyonchen and other minister walked to their office from their residence???? did lyonchen walked all the way from babesa (near RTC) to his office at langophaka on his foot after decreeing the excutive order?

  21. gachibewmo says:

    OL,
    If your house is on fire, would you consult your neigbours on whether to put it out or not? Since Pedestrian Day is meant for all sections of our society, which particular section would you suggest the government to consult? Every one will have some opinion depending on their age, gender, interest, profession, status and political inclination. And people like you will never make it happen by inciting as many people as you can to block the decision. Right now, your priority should be to put your own house (PDP) in order before it gets burnt down. My advice to you: do not waste time consulting people because outside of this blog,they are all for DPT and will advise you to let it burn!!!

  22. @Mongar: Do not go personally…if you have points to share please do it, otherwise do not just bluff, it make you cheap.

    To me what Hon’ble OL pointed out has lots of meaning….What do you think-Mongar? you say PM has no time for bullshit…then why do you think he is wasting 45 mins times 2 on Tuesday….walking from YHS to office and back….. time is money and we do not want our leaders to waste time just walking for no immease benefit… Forget that, we jujst don’t want a top down decision from our leaders….

    Cheers to OL la..

  23. from BBS website !!

    karma Norbu
    June 6, 2012 – 10:18 am

    I didn’t get the objective of this move, pedestrian day? why do we need to observe this day every tuesday when 98% of our population are walking more than 10 mile everyday. it is truly unnecessary move it is disturb the efficiency of the city life and office work..

  24. constitution says:

    Yes gachibewmo, u r rite, Mr. OL should realize the deficiencies within PDP rather than wasting time in this small forum, filled with few people who thinks only in one dimension: i.e. whatever OL utter is right and malign the govt. that every move the govt. does, very next day, OL will ask for apology from the govt. But our OL seem to be unaware of the world outside this forum………so better start campaigning in the corners of the country..otherwise PDP is perishing forever sooner than later.

    Can we hear Dasho Damchoe’s side of story in the move made by the govt…..would Dasho Damcho Dorji could have made better OL? Otherwise, had enough with the stunts of Mr. OL….

  25. I think people like gachibewmo and others will never understand what Democracy is and what rights we have in a democracy as a citizen.

    Just a simple logic here.I have two kids, one in primary school and other in a day care center. How will people like me manage on this day so called “The Pedestrian Day”. I live in Motithang and my office is in town.
    I spent Nu. 500 yesterday to manage the whole day on Taxi and around Nu. 200 on lunch which other wise would have spent around Nu. 50 for my care fuel and lunch at home.
    I assume that on a average every individual who are FORCED to walk would spend Nu. 400.

    Now, if the whole intention of the government is to save environment and fuel import, I request BBB to do a simple calculation here.
    Visit the Fuel station (BOD) and ask for an average sale of fuel on other days and yesterday ‘Pedestrian Day’.
    If the average sale of fuel on “Pedestrian Day” is less than 50%, I will agree, that government is concern and is on right path. OR else, I will assume that the whole purpose of saving environment and cutting fuel import and saving INR is defeated.
    I doubt if the sale of fuel yesterday “Pedestrian Day” was less than 20% assuming the busy Taxi around.

  26. I stand by the ‘Pedestrian Day’ concept. His Excellency the Prime Minister himself has shown the way, walking to office on Tuesday. I have faith in him. I want to respect him.

  27. Only thing, if he walks to office maybe 15 tuesdays… (max)and let the media know… in his dedication to tsa-wa-sum.

  28. san,

    I am amazed that you had to spend Nu.500.00 on taxis plus Nu.200.00 on lunch yesterday because of the Pedestrians’ Day. I hope that you will have the good grace to take what I have to say as something positive. I do no mean to ridicule you or insult you.

    I think you did not prepare yourself. You did not plan things out properly. Let me tell you what I did. I dropped my children to school (also at two different locations) way before 8AM. My children carry pack lunch to school – so do I to office. So I did not spend a single Chettrum on taxis or lunch. I live in Taba, much further away than Motithang where you say you live. Me and my children did have to bear some bit of hardship, but that is something we were willing to do for the larger good of the country.

    The Rupee crisis is very real. We need to do something to help ourselves out of this situation. Surely you can understand the compulsions under which the government is doing things that they know are not going to go down well with the people. But as responsible people, we need to understand that each of us need to sacrifice a little and do not grumble at the slightest of discomfort and that too arising out of our own incapacity to apply our imagination.

    How can we hope to help ourselves if we are unwilling to do our part? Government is not a miracle worker. Government needs the citizens to do our part. Please, for God’s sake, understand that there will be inconveniences but that is a part and parcel of our fight to get out of the situation that we are now in.

    The Hon’ble OL is a politician and a very smart one at that. As you can see, he has managed to hoodwink some people, at least a few of them, into believing that what the government is doing is undemocratic. That makes him a smart man. We are the stupid ones – who believe in his line of argument. You fail to realize that the OL’s entire focus will be to discredit the government. It is not in his or his party’s interest to sing praises of the government’s actions. He is duty bound to punch holes into every move the government makes.

    You and I need to apply our mind and decide for ourselves and not believe in whatever the OL says. To do that is to accept that we are damn fools without an iota of common sense.

  29. Dear OL,

    The decision by the government? Or PM? [I am not sure whether it is government’s decision or PM’s] certainly lacks foresight. Although, theoretically the concept of having a dry day in a week is a great concept, but practically it needs a lot before implementing such ideas on ground. Before I make any further comment we must see the advantages and disadvantages of issuing such orders in democracy. The questions we must ask is…

    WHY?
    A simple answer to this would be to save the environment. However, the logic is defied when the same day taxis are allowed and that to without having any law in place to control the unjustified fares.

    The infrastructure should support the decisions. Furthermore, it is very important to see the long lasting effect of such orders. To start a campaign is okay, but will the PM or MPs (along with all the secretaries and civil servants) be capable of traveling on foot or bicycle when the parliament session is on or when it rains? [FOR HOW LONG]??? What about the documents pertaining to more important issues which they are expected to carry? that The noble concept can and must be implemented in phased manner. If government finds it too difficult to come to public and have their views than I am sure they would have consulted all the people’s representatives. It implies that all MPs should take responsibility for PM’s announcement.

    Another issue highlighted is WHY THIS TIME?
    Is it just to please the West? I really don’t know but I certainly expect a clarification on this f