Address by Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan at PanIIT, 2010 (Closing plenary) at New Delhi, India

31 October 2010

I was told over tea and coffee before the session that the reason why I have been kept as the last speaker is so that you could end this conclave on a happy note. But what the organizers did not realise is that this session on happiness is a very serious matter and one often can, at the conclusion of the discussion of the subject, can feel rather gloomy. And the truth is that not many of us really know about happiness even though we all claim to be pursuing happiness, to be wanting happiness and we recognize it as the ultimate aspiration. But only a few times we are able to afford to it. In fact, we forget happiness in the process of what we think, mistakenly, leads us to happiness. The means have taken over the end. The means have become the end in themselves.

Between Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Montek S Ahluwalia, we have heard of the challenges faced by the world and indeed, by India in terms of the kind of technology that must be developed to ensure sustainable prosperity for India. Likewise, in the case of Montek, he has mentioned how negotiations at the international level has not been that productive while in fact, a key to a more sustainable future for mankind is a global agreement.

I will share with you some of our Bhutanese thoughts. First of all, it is indeed a great honour for me to have been invited by IIT titans, you are all titans. You have achieved titanic proportions in terms of your contributions far exceeding the vision that Nehru had for all the role he wanted these institutions, the IITs, to achieve. You have become world leaders, global leaders in technology and in your thinking. And indeed, you have given new meaning to the word India and Indian, to mean technological wizardry, innovation and creativity. That says a lot for India and we admire you. And as a well wishing neighbour of India, which prospers through your genius, it raises our optimism and hope of the prospects of our country.

Although, it is happiness that I have been requested to speak on. I feel that your goal and your theme of the conference which is to build a sustainable future: a green India is far more fundamental and basic than happiness itself. When we speak about a sustainable future, a green society, we are not talking about happiness so much as survival. If there is a conflict between green and growth, we have serious problems. There cannot be conflict between green and growth, of the total economic and material kind. If we have growth as the means of civilization, we must focus but in a way that is sustainable. You are speaking of the transformation of India. Well, India must transform in the way where achievements through transformation can be sustainable. If we do not address the problems and the questions, the issues surrounding sustainability, there is no meaning to growth and prosperity. The prosperity that India has achieved, in fact in the last two decades, is amazing. The question now, I think, is whether you can maintain this prosperity and in fact, promote further growth of the beneficial kind.

There is this word, future, added to this theme, a sustainable future, but I believe that it is not the future that we are talking about. There cannot be a separate sustainable future with a non sustainable past and present. Future is the continuation of the present and I feel, unless, we are able adopt and live by sustainable means, there is no future. So future begins here.

The word sustainability has been used often times, and we use it carelessly all the time. But what does it really mean. I understand it to mean the equilibrium between resource extraction, the used cycle version, and the capacity of the nature to be able to renew and replace what it has lost by giving to society for what we say, growth. It is ensuring that what this generation is able to extract and benefit from nature can also be shared and enjoyed by future generations. It is also about generational equity. I think sustainability is, what a pair of people or the sages, have developed, known as the ecological footprint. I think in order to maintain the current model of growth or the current model of consumption, we need 1.7 times the resources that are available on this planet. In other words, we need almost 3.4th more resources that what this planet can provide. We have exceeded our limits. We are borrowing from future already and this so for, as Jeffrey mentioned earlier, for 6.7 billion people occupies this planet today. By 2015, as Jeffrey had mentioned again is going to be about 9 billion or excess thereof. According to the estimates made by researchers, we will need three times the resources that this planet can give by 2015. The way we live is simply not sustainable. And what are the benefits of this growth for the sake of growth, the limitless growth that we have pursued. Many are beginning to realize that much of what we have achieved, in fact, is really of no true value. Very little meaningful value has been achieved out of the vast resources that we have consumed.

And this has been made so very clear, time and again, through the kinds of financial economic downturns that we had suffered and the latest one, which we are still going through. Nobody knows as to whether recovery of this downturn has truly begun or whether we would be experiencing far more difficult times. India, with good leadership and sound policy, has largely escaped unscathed. But global economy as a whole is still in the doldrums.

Earlier crises, we have seen what we believe as real wealth, real prosperity, lost overnight. Millions and billions have disappeared over night, we have lost our homes, our jobs, cars, bank balances, stocks but what real wealth was there in the first place. If these can disappear so quickly, in the trickling of an eye, could such forms of wealth be meaningful. In terms of achievement, science and technology, medical science for instance, miracles have been achieved to what extent – yes we live longer lives but there are many, especially, in the industrialized countries, living a longer life is not a joyful experience. It is loneliness, it is depression, often, leading many to contemplate and indeed commit suicide. It is living in these indignities, suffering indignities of being marginalized. On the other hand, the biggest cause, of course, is having supposedly prospered so far, so much, having advanced so much in terms of science and technology and we are now seriously having to consider our survival.

Our survival is certain. Because the very life support systems that nature provides is itself dying. Air is becoming more and more poisonous; water sources are drying up or are being contaminated. In cities like Delhi for instance, whenever I pass through, I wonder how long Delhi can survive before it becomes Mohenjo-Daro for instance or some of these lost ancient cities. Where are you getting your water from, the city continuous to grow and extend. Your water table is going further and further down and there isn’t enough rain that is coming to replenish what you are taking away from the barrels of the earth. And climate is changing and with climate change, we are faced with all kinds of problems including crop failures and we know of thousands of farmers having committed suicides. Our social systems, the integrity of our society has been grossly undermined by the growth that we have pursued, our families have become nuclearized as they say and as we become more and more urbanized, we lose the support, the benefit and the compassion in the relationships we within families. Communities are disintegrating and fewer people think in terms of the love and affection for their country, it’s about individualism, growth compelled by the need to consume. Consumerism has led to the pursuit of the primary interest, the self. And one realizes that having succeeded with these illusory wealth, one is left indeed with a sense of void and emptiness to be filled with more and more consumption. And of course, we have the added advantage of information, communication and technology to spread this desire for more. And as a result our society is dying, depression, suicides and crime rates are going up.

Technology too, I think, has largely contributed to the way in which we have pursued unsustainable development. Technology has conspired with the consumerist to extract natural resources more quickly and rapidly and in the end, we are now faced with the kind of problems we are suffering from – global warming and climate change. And now we have reached a stage where we need to think seriously about change, clean energy and moving away from fossil fuel.and so on. Why have we reached where we are and why have we come to a stage where we have to think about our survival. We have not yet thought about how long it will be before the environment will no longer be able to sustain life. Like I said by 2015, we will need resources three times the capacity of the earth. What does it mean? what is the timeline which we have, how much longer..

The culprit for all this, we believe, is our blind adoption of the indicator- GDP taking it to mean, or to understand it that growth in GDP means greater human well being, greater societal progress and what is pursuit of GDP- its essence. It is all about growth. No matter what kind of ideologies that we follow, the various economic models that we follow, we know that all convention economic models are led and guided by the GDP consideration, which is about promoting growth, more and more growth, in fact limitless growth. But is limitless growth really possible in a finite world especially if growth must come from the utilization of resources that are finite and limited. Also the conventional economic models do not explain to us as to what this growth is going to take us to, where would they lead us to, what is the end of growth. The law of nature tells us that growth must lead maturation, what form of maturation is undecay? Should we not think about it?

We talk about development. GDP is all about development but for what purpose. GNH, a development philosophy, which was conceived by our Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is about sustainable development. It is about growth of a beneficial kind, development to a certain end and that end is the promotion of happiness. Happiness, the end goal and the final aspiration of every human individual. It is a development paradigm to make society resilient and make transformation and it result sustainable. It is a holistic development paradigm. This includes sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. It emphasizes the importance of conserving the Himalayan environment within which we are located. The fragile Himalayan ecology. It is about preserving and living by the basic human values and norms of society, to maintain the extended family network, to give value human relationships and to have a spiritual framework within which we can take decisions on a day to day basis. And it is about good governance. And I believe that when we talk about sustainability, we need to go beyond simply ecological sustainability into sustainability of the systems such as governance systems, good governance systems, good social and cultural practices and think about the sustainability of the economic progress that we have achieved. So these are some of the things that we are doing.

Let me point out some of the things that we are trying to do. Happiness, we believe is about, balancing the needs of the body with the needs of the mind, balancing the material with the spiritual. In that context, development must mean not only development of those things that cater to and appease our sensory requirements but it must mean the inner development of the mind. So that by the way, in the development of the mind we will be able to discover, how we can fill that growing emptiness and void within us which we think can be filled with material acquisition, that there are other ways to fulfill the emptiness in us so that we can enjoy happiness. In our schools, we have now started the practice of beginning each day with a few minutes of meditations, contemplating on what the meaning and purpose of life is and on what the day must be like and how it should end in a happy way. We have and we continue to emphasize the importance of not losing the extended family network for which India, rural India, is so very rich. I think the urban India is losing it. Much of Asia still has that wealth of extended family network. This we believe is extremely important. It is a natural, social safety net which cannot be replaced by state sponsored and state managed welfare systems, they will collapse as they are artificial and unsustainable, as we have discovered even in the wealthiest of nations. We are and we will always continue to maintain this cultural vitality, the importance of identity and the security we can find in our identity and in our being especially for a small country that becomes very important.

Bhutan, at the Cop 15- there are many positions that we can take. India and Bhutan are the closest of neighbours. And as I have said earlier, you raise the success with which India has been growing, prospering makes us very proud and gives us confidence in terms of our future. I think we need to be frank with each other and that we are, at all levels. We share the kind of frankness between ourselves that far surpasses a heart -to-heart dialogues that any country might be able to achieve. In confidence, what I want to say to you the leaders of technology, India’s future, is that global negotiations are not succeeding because, among others, politicians and leaders are too afraid to tell their people the truth. But a good thing, in fact, that is happening in many countries is that at the individual level, at the community level, at the corporate level and at the sub-national, local government levels, there is a lot of good that is happening with respect to making society sustainable.

While we negotiate with determination, confidence and with strength, I think we should, nevertheless, take unilateral steps in our respective countries and respective communities. On Bhutan’s part what we have done is that, despite the fact that Bhutan, an innocent country that has always been a conscious about preserving the environment and has achieved a 72% forest coverage has never gone beyond polluting or emitting green house gas beyond our absorptive capacity. We have unilaterally offered or rather declared at the conference of parties in Copenhagen on climate change that the Bhutan pledges to forever remain Carbon neutral. That is a huge commitment and we are fully mindful that it entails huge costs. It will mean that the kind of material prosperity that our people will have access to may not be made available in the shortest time and to the extent that they would desire. And I am happy to say that Bhutanese people are behind us.

All policies, all plans and programmes in Bhutan are being screened whether they are sustainable, GNH positive or not, whether they will lead to ecological problems or whether they will lessen the chances of finding happiness by the people of Bhutan. These are some of policy screening mechanisms that we have introduced.

These are some of the few things that I wanted to mention. I have taken a lot of your time. I am once again greatly privileged and honoured to have been given the opportunity to address this august gathering – people who have led and who will lead in innovation, in creating new technologies not only for India but for human society as a whole. We acknowledge and celebrate your achievements and your contributions and we admire the way in which the purpose of this annual conference is to determine ways and means through which you can contribute to the growth of India and the larger world society as sustainable society.

Thank You.


Lyonchhen meets Shri Narendra Modi Nath, Prime Minister of India

Lyonchhen meets Shri Narendra Modi Nath, Prime Minister of India

Read More