In celebration of the joyous occasion of the birth of Her Royal Highness, the Gyelsem, the National Land Commission Secretariat is honored to dedicate the launch of the “National land Use Zoning Baseline Report 2023” to this historic event. Honourable Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering graced the special event held at Simtokha Dzong today Sept 18, 2023).
Population growth, developmental activities and urbanization have led to radical changes in the land use pattern of the country. The ever-increasing demand for land, often accompanied by competing and conflicting interests in land use, has led to negative impacts such as the removal of forest cover leading to land degradation and disturbance to watersheds, and the conversion of prime agricultural land for the development of infrastructure and urban centers.
The country has only 664,000 acres, comprising 7% of the country’s total land area, of arable land. Out of this, about 500,000 acres have been utilized and registered on freehold with a balance of approximately 164,000 acres. Further, about 13,776 acres of state land have been leased out for socio-economic developmental activities, such as mining, commercial and business. Recently, about 300,000 acres of pasture (tsamdro) were measured for Tsamdro Use Thrams. As such, there is ever-increasing pressure on limited land from accelerated socio-economic development activities taking place in the country, such as the construction of farm roads, electricity transmission/distribution lines, industries and urbanization. Even today the different sectors go about using land on a first-come-first-serve basis without any harmonized approach to delineating zones for different land uses according to its suitability and capability.
The primary factors contributing to the land use challenges in Bhutan are the scarcity of arable land and the lack of an efficient system to support the coordination of these competing demands. Furthermore, there is no nationwide land use map to serve as the basis for the coordination of holistic land use, nor a policy to facilitate the consolidation process. As such, the main detrimental factors include insufficient land use optimization, a lack of integration of geospatial data, and a weak institutional framework for spatial governance. Thus, efficient and judicious use of the limited land by the key stakeholders through proper integrated zoning has become crucial for a more sustainable socio-economic development approach based on the judicious use of our limited land resources.
Bhutan has several strategic policy and legal provisions calling out for nationwide land use zoning. Article 5 (b) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2008 states:
“The Government shall ensure a minimum of 60% of the total land area is maintained under forest cover for all time.”
Section 303 of the Land Act 2007 further stipulates that:
“The declaration of Thromde, industrial, and protected agricultural areas shall aim at the best use of land by: a) Assessing present and future needs by evaluating the land’s capability to supply them; b) Identifying and resolving conflicts between competing uses, between the needs of individuals and those of the community, and between the needs of the present generations and those of future generations; and c) Seeking sustainable options and choosing those that bring about the desired economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the citizens of Bhutan.”
According to the Economic Development Policy (EDP) 2016, all relevant sectors are required to submit sectoral parameters to the National Land Commission by 2017, and by 2018, a national land use plan for State Reserve Forest Land must be prepared to describe the usage of land for optimal utilization.
As per Bhutan’s National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) 2006, susceptible areas to natural hazards must be clearly zoned. The 2017 Bhutan National Human Settlement Strategy seeks to achieve a balanced, integrated growth of settlements, both rural and urban, including environmental protection, cultural preservation, and decentralization to encourage participatory development.
The National Land Use Zoning (NLUZ) initiative was started by the National Land Commission and other relevant sectors to address these concerns and issues by taking into consideration local demands and global best practices. To begin this massive endeavour, the NLCS and members of the Technical Working Team (TWG) from diverse sectors carried out spatial data integration, geo-processing and analysis on whatever geospatial data was available with different agencies. Based on the land use genre and relevance, the exercise reduced and reclassified land uses from a large number of traditional land categories into 9 macro, 23 micro, and 23 nano zones, including High Conservation Values (HCV) zones. The NLUZ acknowledges that traditional land classifications typically do not correspond to the real land uses on the ground, leading to uncertainties regarding the land’s value, use, tenure, and development.
According to the NLUZ Baseline Report 2023, the predominant land uses account for more than 65% of the country’s total land area, with Nature Conservation Areas (NCA) dominating the list of land uses. While looking at land use conflicts amongst micro land use zones and Buffer/Right of Ways, it was found that there are over 436,560.588 acres and 14,166.942 acres as conflict areas under these two categories. An important activity under the NLUZ will be to discuss and resolve these conflicts at sectoral, local, and cross-agency levels through comprehensive field validation, ground truthing, and rationalization. In addition, the Baseline Report includes a significant analysis of land uses, findings from the exercise, and recommendations for the future course of action.
In a nutshell, the NLUZ exercise endeavors to transform the current land use systems and procedures, resolve land use conflicts, and create harmonized zoning ordinances and policies for the future. One of the key efforts encapsulated within the future course of action is the building of a seamless Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS) that will enable sectors to integrate geospatial data creation and use and nurture a coordinated spatial governance system in the country. Any type of Location Intelligence (LI), Smart Growth, and pervasive digital disruptions, including digital twinning and many others, will eventually be supported by such a system.
The National Land Commission takes this opportunity to express its gratitude and appreciation to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Climate Initiative (IKI): an important part of the German government’s international climate finance commitment implemented in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), and the REDD+ framework for supporting the NLUZ project.