Bhutanese Context of Civil Society

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Karma Galay

Civil society is an issue of great interest, and a topic of important
theoretical and political discussion, in many parts of the world, both more
developed and less developed. The issue concerns that public space in
society which is occupied by neither state or church, nor by their organs, in
which open and independent conversation about society and culture can
take place and in which citizens can organise social movements, voluntary
organizations, popular organizations, and citizen’s bodies. The conversation
in the space provided civil society concerns the state, the society, the
culture, the nature of responsibility and citizenship. The organizations of
civil society endeavour to protect the individual living in the society and to
provide safety, stability and the opportunity to act independently of the
state or church and their institutions. Where public space and civil society
exist, it is the arena in which the society and culture also define the
institutions and procedures of market or determine the degree to which
extra-market forces, such as state or custom, will govern the market.
Finally, civil society, public space, is the arena in which the institutions of
cooperation and trust among the people and the ability of communities to
organise themselves for common purposes, outside the control of state or
church, exist. The accumulation of such institutions, trust, and ability
constitutes the social capital, which is a crucial factor that makes civil
society to exist and function effectively.
Some aspects of civil society in Bhutan will be discussed in this paper,
based upon the general theoretical description provided above. Moving
from traditional community associations and forums to the emergence of
new forms of associations provides both institutional and historical
perspectives. Categories of associations and organizations are defined
according to the nature of their activities, and the description of these

Researcher, The Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu

Journal of Bhutan Studies
200 activities illustrate the role of civil society in Bhutan. The role of social
capital, such as trust and cooperation among the people, in the socio-
economic development of the country, the role of government in creating
an enabling environment for the growth of civil society, and some of the
distinctive characteristics that differentiate civil society in Bhutan form
civil society, elsewhere, are also discussed.
Historical Perspective
An analysis of civil society in Bhutan must be rooted in the history and
nature of Bhutanese communities. A community unit usually consists of a
village or a group of households. However, sometimes, different
communities may exist within one village. For the sake of convenience, a
village will be considered as a community unit in this paper.
Individuals in any particular village share many interests simply by virtue
of the fact that they are inhabitants of the same village. Consequently, a
strong sense of cooperation and interdependence among households or
individuals historically prevails in the villages. Although it is often said that
this sense of solidarity is due to shared Buddhist beliefs, other factors also
determine this solidarity. The way in which village resources are managed
and the way in which festivals and ceremonies are organised also determine
this solidarity.
The inhabitants of a village share more than just the geographical
nomenclature of the village. They own and share different resources, which
are registered as communal property. Such resources include pastures,
drinking and irrigation water systems, roads, bridges, community-halls, and
monasteries. Different communities have their own systems of managing
these communal properties and organising local festivals. It is such systems
of management of communal resources and organisation of festivals, which
are unique to different localities that introduce the concept of civil society
into our understanding of Bhutanese villages. Therefore, it is useful to
discuss some aspects of the management of such communal properties.
Some case studies of the construction of communal properties, such as
roads and the organization of annual festivals will be described in the
following section.

Civil Society
201 Section I: Traditional Associations
Construction and Maintenance of a Feeder Road in Lomnyekha,
The feeder road to Lomnyekha, which is about five kilometres from the
Thimphu-Phuntsholing highway, was constructed in 1984. The idea of
constructing this feeder road was conceived by three community leaders.
Two of them were businessmen and one a retired gup
1. This idea of road
construction was discussed in one of the community meetings. The rest of
the people of the village responded positively to the proposal put forth by
these three leaders.
The three leaders acted as coordinators to mobilise resources and seek
approval from the authorities for the construction of the road. The people
agreed to make contributions both in labour and in cash. There were no
standards fixed for cash contribution. People contributed according to their
abilities. A common fund was created from the cash contributions made by
the businessmen, civil servants, and other people in the village. However,
with the consensus of all the members of the community, a standard was set
for the contribution of labour. It was mandatory that every adult between
the ages of 18 and 60 work on the construction of the road. This meant that
if a household had five persons in the above age group, all of them had to
work every day in constructing the road, until the project’s completion.
A bulldozer was hired from Bondey farm in Paro. Payment for hire of the
bulldozer came from the common fund that was generated from the
voluntary contributions. More than one hundred persons worked everyday.
Two Chupoens
2 of the village were given the responsibility for
coordinating the labour. Penalties of Nu.50 and Nu.30 respectively were
fixed for male and female absentees. Apart from labour and cash
contributions, different households voluntarily took turns to host lunch, tea
and dinner for the whole work force.
As soon as the formation cutting was completed, the whole village
concentrated on making drains, constructing culverts, and levelling the
surface of the road. Labour contribution was still compulsory, but people
from some households, who possessed other resources volunteered to use

Journal of Bhutan Studies
202 them. Those who owned trucks and tractors used them to bring stones and
mud for levelling the road. Community leaders recall that because of the
strong sense of cooperation, construction of the road was completed in one
The chupoens of the village have been entrusted with responsibility for
coordinating the maintenance of the road. During the monsoons, when there
are occasional roadblocks due to landslides, the chupoens inform the
community and, as in the construction of the road itself, the community
response is spontaneous and the roadblocks are removed in a matter of
Operation of a Monastic Credit Scheme in Chapcha
The prevalence of a sense of trust and cooperation among the people is very
strong in Chapcha village. As in Lomnyekha, they have constructed a farm
road. Lopen
3 Changlo, who runs a monastic school at the goenpa, 4
coordinated the construction of road. As a lopen at the local monastery and
gomdhey 5, he had no problems raising funds and building consensus among
the people.
As a Lopen at the monastery, he also coordinates to the organization of
religious ceremonies, such as annual bumdhey
6 and nyungney 7. These
ceremonies are organised through voluntary contributions made by civil
servants, businessmen and farmers of the village. Lopen Changlo says that
such contributions from the people are not a new practice. He recalls his
days as a young gomchen
8 at the monastery, when people contributed rice,
chillies, and other resources for the performance of various religious
ceremonies at the monastery.
The voluntary contributions, in both cash and kind, far exceed what the
monastery can spend for the performance of religious ceremonies. The
excess contributions, together with other contributions made by the people
for different purposes, enable the monastery to accumulate a good reserve
fund. It currently possesses a total revolving fund of more than Nu.
700,000. This fund is used for the purposes of carrying out occasional

Civil Society
203 minor repairs and maintenance activities of the monastery. Such activities
require only small expenditures.
In consultation with the other community leaders, Lopen Changlo has
converted the excess fund of the monastery into a community credit
scheme. He and other community leaders have fixed a simple interest rate
of Nu.3 a year for every Nu.20 borrowed, which is 15% per annum.
However, those people who avail themselves of this credit pay back Nu.4
for every Nu.20 that they borrow. The extra Nu.1 is being paid as their
contribution to the monastery. Thus, the real interest rate is 20% per
Certain criteria have been developed for the allocation of credit to the
needy people of the village. First, is that another household in the village
must guarantee the loan. Second, credit is allocated only for the purposes of
house renovation, the purchase of corrugated galvanized iron sheeting for
roofing, and for the purchase of land and housing in the village. Credit
cannot be obtained for the purchase of a vehicle or a business venture.
Lopen Changlo maintains, at the monastery, the records of the credit
allotted to different people in the village.
The disbursement of credit takes place only once a year. On the 30th day of
the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar, the whole community of
Chapcha gathers at the monastery. Civil servants and businessmen from the
village also attend. Among other activities and discussions that day, the
gathering reviews the recovery of credit and makes decisions on new
This scheme is very popular among the community’s members. Apart from
the need to have a guarantor, no other collateral is required. Even when
debtors are not able to repay a loan due to some problem or misfortune, the
rest of the members of the community forgive the defaulters. The credit
facility is also considered an opportunity for the borrowers to perform their
service to the monastery.
Traditional Water Users’ Association in Tangsibji, Trongsa

Journal of Bhutan Studies
204 Almost every household in Tangsibji owns some paddy field. During paddy
cultivation, these fields are irrigated with water from a single irrigation
channel. All households cultivate their paddy fields at almost the same
time. In order to prevent conflicts over use of water from the irrigation
channel and to ensure that every household gets its fair share of water, the
community of Tangsibji has been following a system which sets the rota for
different group of households to irrigate their fields.
For this purpose, the village is divided into three groups, known as
drongdhep, lekyap and zoorkyap. This grouping of the households is done
on the basis of the fertility of the fields that the households own. Those
households, that own the most fertile fields are grouped together as
drongdheb, those with average fields as lekyab, and those with infertile
fields as zoorkyab. This categorization by the fertility of the soil demands
an explanation. In each group, it is possible to have households that have
lands with various levels of fertility, but it is not the case.
In earlier times, the paddy fields of Tangsibji belonged to Trongsa dzong
Local people carried out the cultivation of these fields on a lease basis. A
system called thogjog
10, which is still prevalent in many parts of the
country, was practised. According to which, the people, often a group of
households together, were required to give fixed amount of paddy to
Trongsa dzong annually. This amount was agreed between the dzong and
the people on the basis of the fertility of the fields. Fertility assessment,
which was normally established by assessing past yields, played an
important role in determining the amount that each household was required
to pay. In a situation, in which either an individual or a group of households
was required to pay a fixed amount of paddy to the dzong annually, a
combination of households cultivating fields of different levels of fertility
would not have been feasible. This is the origin of the system of grouping
of households into three groups based on different levels of fertility.
Each group appoints a leader called a leytshen
11, who, with the senior
chupoen of the village, forms the committee that decides on the rota
12 for sharing water for a particular year. The rota is not fixed
through verbal discussion and therefore, it is not subject to negotiations or
alterations by influential members of the committee. Lots are drawn to fix

Civil Society
205 the rota and, therefore, the order for water use is a matter of chance. As
soon as every household completes paddy planting, the committee calls a
meeting of the community, on, of course, an auspicious day; the meeting
takes place either at the monastery or at the chupoen’s house. Traditionally,
every household used to participate in this meeting, but nowadays most of
the time only the members attend. Three bamboo sticks the length of a
forefinger are prepared, and each one is marked with one or more crosses.
The one with the single cross is the stick that represents the drongdheb; two
crosses represent the lekyab and three crosses the zoorkyab. The chupoen
holds the three sticks in his hands and prays for adequate rainfall and good
harvest. Only the two ends of the sticks are visible to other members and
the crosses are hidden in his hands. The sequence or order of pulling the
stick out of chupoen’s hands remains same every year. By the virtue of
possessing the most fertile land, the representative of drongdheb is the first
person to pull a stick from the chupoen’s hands. It is believed that if the
stick that the representative of drongdheb pulls out is the one with the
single cross, i.e. the group’s own stick, the crop yield for the year will be
good. However, since it is a matter of chance, this doesn’t normally happen.
The stick that the representative of drongdheb pulls out is one with either
two or three marks. Whichever group’s stick the representative of
drongdheb pulls out entitles the first turn to use water. The second
representative, i.e. the one representing lekyab, then pulls one of the two
remaining sticks and whichever group that stick represents becomes the
second group to use water from the channel to irrigate their fields. Thus,
chukor or rota for irrigating the fields is established. The duration of time
for each group to access the water is one night and one day, starting from
the night on which the turn is fixed and is repeated in that order until it is
no longer necessary to irrigate the fields.
The architects of this system did not rule out conflicts and violations. In
order to prevent conflicts between the groups due to violation of the rota,
punishment has been fixed for the violators. The form of punishment,
however, has undergone a transformation over the years. The elderly people
of the village recall that when they were young, the violators were required
to offer zongtshen-soom
13 to the community. Only the few wealthy
households, could afford to pay this fine. This punishment was replaced by
the digging of paddy field. The violator was made to dig a patch of a few

Journal of Bhutan Studies
206 metres wide in every household’s field. This came to be considered
somewhat inhumane, because as it took many days for the violator to
complete the digging. Today, violators have to deliver mail and other
government consignments to the neighbouring village of Kella. This is
considered punishment not only in terms of the sacrifice of time that the
violator must be absent from work but also because the journey to Kella
village in summertime is very difficult. The path that links the two villages
passes through thick jungles, so the violator has to risk attacks from wild
animals. Moreover, s/he, has to pass through thick bushes of stinging nettle
and could suffer a significant loss of blood from the bites of numerous
The Five-Day Annual Archery Match in Ingo, Haa
The community of Ingo gathers together each year for five days. This is not
to pay tribute to any local hero or to pray to a local deity. It is, rather, an
annual tournament that has taken place since time immemorial. Two teams
are formed; sometimes the contest is between teams made up, respectively,
of younger and older men, sometimes between two age groups more
loosely defined.
The event itself is not particularly interesting, since such occasions are
quite common in villages throughout the country. What makes this
particular contest interesting is in the contest of a discussion of civil society
in the way in which the community organizes itself for this event. Every
household has to contribute an equal amount of rice, meat and other
edibles, together with firewood necessary for the occasion. Normally, there
is no event in village life when a household would refuse to make a
contribution, but here each year two households, identified in the rota
described above, are responsible for the cooking for the community. An
elderly person is given the task of overseeing the contributions of the
different households and of taking care of the stock gathered.

Civil Society
207 For the entire five days of the contest, the whole community gathers at the
community hall. This event not only provides the community with an
opportunity to celebrate together but acts as a forum for the discussion of
problems that different members face. For example, at the last contest, the
community discussed the problem of the shortage of money faced for
performing the necessary rituals and services when relatives die; they
decided to raise funds to help at such moments. The community now has a
common fund to which its members can turn in times of emergency.
These case studies are only examples of various kinds of organizations and
institutions that exist in different parts of Bhutan. They illustrate how
communities organise themselves to manage resources and to conduct
festivals and religious ceremonies. These structures prevent conflicts
between community members and ensure the sustainable use of resources.
It is through such institutions that the public is able to participate in the
community life in various areas of activity.
Section II: Contemporary Associations
New and more modern types of associations and organizations are also
coming into existence in various groups of communities. Most are being
formed by educated people and, unlike the traditional associations that
operate on the basis of unwritten customary rules and norms, most of these
new associations and organizations are governed by written rules and
regulations. The first such association to be formed was the National Youth
Association of Bhutan
14. It was formed by a group of young civil servants
in 1973. This association was intended specifically to provide a radio
broadcast in English on the weekends. It became a part of The Department
of Information and Broadcasting in 1979 and thus was absorbed into
mainstream government organizations.
The second contemporary association was formed in 1978 by a group of
civil servants
15. They made contributions and conducted a tshechu 16 at the
Memorial Chorten in Thimphu on the 15th day of the 4th month of the
Bhutanese calendar. This first tshechu stimulated the group to decide to
make the tshechu an annual event. As the group was engaged only in
organization of tshechus, it came to be known as Tshechu Tshogpa;
17 since

Journal of Bhutan Studies
208 this annual tshechu was performed at Memorial Chorten, it came to be
known as Chorten
18 Tshechu Tshogpa.
Interactions among the members of this tshogpa have increased as a
consequence of their cooperation in conducting the Tshechu. Whenever a
relative died or some misfortune struck in a member of the group, the
others provided help. Such occurrences increased with time. Finally the
group decided that, in addition to its main mission of organising tshechus,
its members would also assume a mandate to help each other in times of
difficulties. It formulated a well-defined constitution for its operation and
named itself the Lothuen Tshogpa in 1983.
In 1981, the 53rd session of the National Assembly passed a resolution to
establish the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB), which
was organised that same year. The government provided both personnel
and other resources required for the initial operations of the NWAB. This
should not be mistaken for government interference in the operation of a
non-governmental organization. The government did not play any role in
the day-to-day functioning of this organization.
Another association was formed by a group of former students of Semtokha
19 Institute in 1985 20. It was stimulated by the fact that civil
servants in those days worked in their offices from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. and
thus had a considerable, almost excessive, amount of leisure on their hands;
in that period, there was comparatively little entertainment available to
occupy the leisure time of a newly urbanizing class. The group met every
day after office hours and practised drama. The dramas were then staged in
public. As the formation of their association coincided with the
International Year of Youth (1985), they named their association as The
Youth Welfare Association of Bhutan. It was renamed The Bhutan Youth
Development Association in 1987. In that year, too, another major non-
governmental organization, the Royal Society for Protection of Nature was
established, under the patronage of His Majesty the King.
Parallel to this development of associations and organizations through
private initiatives, a similar development was taking place within the
government sphere. In 1981, the government initiated a policy of
decentralization. District Development Committees were established in all

Civil Society
209 the districts. A decade later, in 1991, Block Development were constituted.
These two government-sponsored institutions enable the people to plan and
implement development activities in their respective districts and blocks.
This has fostered among the people a great sense of ownership and
commitment to development activities. The success of these two
institutions has encouraged people to establish several other associations,
such as school management boards, village development committees,
village health development committees, associations of potato and apple
growers, and beekeepers’ associations, and host of other committees.
It is against this background that non-governmental associations and
organizations in Bhutan must be discussed. While several associations
already existed, new ones began to develop in the early 1970s and 1980s,
and more are being established every year. Today, there are hundreds of
associations, both traditional and non-traditional.
Section III: Types of Contemporaray Associations
Associations in Bhutan can be grouped into five categories, based on the
purposes for which they are established and the nature of their activities.
First, there are associations or institutions that have been created for the
management of resources. Such resources normally include communal
properties such as pastures, bridges, monasteries, community halls,
drinking and irrigation water supply schemes, and roads.
The second category consists of those that are relief based. Most of the new
associations that have come into existence since the early 1970s fall into
this category. Previously, the entire community acted as a relief
organization and is still prevalent in many villages. These more modern
associations, however, were established to provide relief to bereaved
members due to loss of children, spouses or other relatives and to help
during times of sickness. Apart from physical help in terms of contribution
of labour and other resources, bereaved members are provided with a
certain amount of money from the association. These amounts differ
depending on whether the death is of children, spouses, parents or other
relatives. For instance, the Charter of Deling Phendhey Tshogpa outlines
the following compensations for the deaths of different category of relatives
of a member:

Journal of Bhutan Studies
210 Sl. No Deaths Compensation (Nu.)
1. Husband or wife 7,000
2. Father/Mother 7,000
3. Parents-in-law 4,000
4. Children above 5 and under
25 years5,000
5.Children above 1 and under 5
6.Children above 3 months and
under 1 year1,500
Different amounts are specified for misfortunes with which members
themselves may be afflicted. When a member suffers disability through loss
of limbs or sight or paralysis of the body, or when a member has to undergo
a transplant of organs such as the heart or kidney, he or she is entitled for
Nu.5,000. If a member dies, the bereaved family is paid Nu.10,000 as a
The third category of associations consists of those whose purpose is to
conduct different religious ceremonies. These associations conduct
tshechus and other religious ceremonies on auspicious days. Tshechu
tshogpas in the villages conduct tshechus on the 10th, 15th and 30th day of
every month of the lunar calendar. The Nyungnyey Trust Fund of Bartsham
conducts the nyungnyey annually.
Fourth, there are associations that advocate or carry out government
policies. The National Women’s Association of Bhutan conducts activities
that promote the development of skills among the female population. In this
way, it ensures that the government’s policy of promoting income-
generating activities for women is effectively pursued. The Royal Society
for the Protection of Nature promotes the government’s policy of
environmental conservation. Through support to different business
ventures, the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry ensures effective
implementation of the government’s policy of demonopolisation and private
sector development. The Bhutan Youth Development Association executes
different activities related to youths and environmental preservation. It
conducts camps and scouting sessions for the youths.

Civil Society
211 The fifth category includes commercial associations. For example, one of
the main purposes for which Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators was
established was to enable the tour operators to liaison with different
organizations that have a stake in the development of the tourism industry.
The Contractors Associations of Bhutan was formed to provide a common
forum for the discussion of issues that affect the construction activities in
the country. The Sonam Nyamrub Tshogpa of Trashi Yangtse was formed
to cultivate and market shitake mushroom. Similarly, several associations
like Potato Growers Associations, Apple Registration Groups, Beekeeping
Association and Milk Cooperatives are functioning in different parts of the
country. These associations not only discuss issues and problems
confronting them but also market their products together in order to enjoy
the benefits of economies of scale.
In addition to indigenous and national associations and non-governmental
organizations, there are eight international non-governmental organizations
and associations operating in Bhutan at the present time:- The Japanese
Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), Volunteer Service Overseas
(VSO), Volunteer Service Associations (VSA), Save the Children
Federation, (SCF), HELVETAS, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ),
and Netherlands Development Cooperation (SNV), and the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF).
Section IV: Activities of Contemporary, Non-Traditional Associations
Many of the recently established, non-traditional associations engage in
particular economic and social activities that, in one way or another, mark
them off from other associations of a more traditional nature, whenever
they are or were established. For example, the Phunstho Norbu Tshogpa
owns a share of Bhutan National Bank worth approximately Nu.100,000.
The National Women’s Association of Bhutan has introduced programmes
like non-formal education and group savings and credit schemes in order to
provide opportunities for women to develop skills and generate income.
Weaving centres have been established in different parts of the country to
train rural women in weaving. Besides, the Women’s Association engages
in buy-back arrangements whereby the products woven by rural women are

Journal of Bhutan Studies
212 bought. It has installed several fuel-efficient stoves in rural homes, reducing
health hazards resulting from inefficient traditional stoves.
The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a forum through which
the interests of the business personnel in the country are protected. It
negotiates interest rates and other terms and conditions that financial
institutions impose on business people for loans, it identifies industries to
be managed by private enterprises. The Association of Bhutanese Tour
Operators and the Contractors Association are forums, which discuss issues
pertaining to their own industries and initiate discussions with the
government or any other parties involved in one way or another with their
The Bhutan Youth Development Association has recently installed fuel-
efficient community stoves in two monasteries and nunneries in
Trashigang. It conducts workshops to promote environmental awareness,
and it organises camps and other activities for the youth. It is planning to
carry out a situational study of street children and prostitution in urban
The Royal Society for Protection of Nature promotes environmental
education through its assistance in opening nature clubs in schools and its
participation in designing school curriculum. The Sonam Nyamrub Tshogpa
in Trashi Yangtse promotes social forestry through the planting of oaks and
other species of plants in the region.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals (RPSCA)
was formed by a group of young volunteers, and they collect waste food
from local vendors and restaurants and feed the stray dogs in Thimphu. It
carries out anti-rabies and sterilisation activities. The Voluntary Artists
Studio, Thimphu, provides training to young artists and facilitates the
participation of artists in national and international competitions.
Section V: Organizational Structure and Source of Funds
With the exception of associations that are based in the villages, almost
every association mentioned in this study has a written charter. The
associations or institutions in the villages are governed by unwritten sets of

Civil Society
213 rules and norms that are generally accepted within the community. The
charters of the contemporary associations outline their aims and objectives,
their code of conduct, the roles and responsibilities of the members and
portfolio holders, the members’ benefits, etc.
Committees are formed to manage and run the activities of the association.
Normally, there are two committees: an Executive Committee and a
General Committee. The Chief Executive Committee consists of a
chairman or president, a secretary, public relations or welfare officer, and
an accountant or treasurer. The General Committee, which consists of three
or four members, supports the Executive Committee. The members of both
committees are elected. Their tenure and responsibilities are specified in the
association’s charter.
The National Women’s Association of Bhutan, the Royal Society for
Protection of Nature, the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the
Contractors Association of Bhutan and the Association of Bhutanese Tour
Operators are formally organised, and each one has an office. The rest of
the associations do not have offices, and their meetings take place in
various places depending upon convenience, such as hotels or members’
These associations rely on different sources of funds for their activities.
Most of the informal associations survive on the basis of the modest
contributions made by the members. These contributions consist of
entrance fees for new members and monthly fees for regular members.
Both the entrance and monthly fees differ from association to association.
Fines collected from absentees at the meetings also go into the common
fund. In a few associations, if a member travels abroad he or she is required
to contribute a certain percent of his/her daily subsistence allowance to the
association’s fund. Some formal associations like the Contractors
Association and the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators also run their
activities through funds gathered from their entrance and regular
membership fees.
The government has authorised the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and
Industry to collect 40% of the license renewal fees and 0.25% of the total
value of letters of credit from Bhutanese exporters. Other sources of funds

Journal of Bhutan Studies
214 for its activities include membership fees and the sale of business licence
forms. It gets occasional donor assistance for performing services such as
the training of entrepreneurs. The National Women’s Association used to
receive certain grants from the government, but this was discontinued in
21. Today, its activities are funded by UNICEF. It has also received
some assistance from Denmark and the International Fund for Agricultural
Development. The main source of funding for the Royal Society for the
Protection of Nature is the assistance that it receives from the Bhutan Trust
Fund for the Environment. It also collects a nominal fee of Nu.100 from
each of its members.
All these associations require their books of accounts to be audited at
regular intervals. While most of the formal associations follow the
government’s rules and audit their accounts of income and expenditure
twice a year, the informal associations audit their books at the end of each
Civil society in the form of different community associations and
organizations forms an integral part of traditional Bhutanese society, not
the design of modern Bhutan. They provide the people with opportunities to
participate in taking decisions related to different activities that have a
bearing on their day-to-day lives. The new and emerging associations
formed by the educated people are really only an extension of the
traditional associations. Most of the new or contemporary associations are
relief-based, and some act as links between the government and the people.
The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Associations of
Bhutanese Tour Operators and the Contractors Association of Bhutan
associations negotiate issues of interest to the business community in
Bhutan. Apart from providing skills to help women earn incomes, the
National Women’s Association of Bhutan also works towards assuring
gender equality between men and women.
In addition to acting as a mechanism or space for the public participation in
decision-making, civil society plays an important role in economic
development and in the environmental and cultural preservation of the
country. Many communities have constructed farm and feeder roads on

Civil Society
215 their own. This has provided them access to markets and other social
services, such as schools and hospitals. Reliance on traditional norms in the
allocation and management of communal pastures and the use of water
have ensured efficient and sustainable utilization of resources. These
practices are of paramount importance to the government’s environmental
policy. By assuring fair and just access to common properties, they prevent
conflicts within the community. The role of associations and communities
in the maintenance of monasteries and in the organization of religious
ceremonies and traditional games, plays an important role in sustaining
Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage.
Despite the existence of a vibrant civil society and the important roles it
plays, some of our development partners have often remarked that civil
society does not exist in Bhutan. Civil society in their countries usually
consists of registered organizations. In contrast, traditional social
organizations were never required to register with the authorities. In
Bhutan, civil society exists perhaps more informally than formally and
plays many important roles in the socio-economic development and
preservation of our culture and environment.
Analysis also confirms the important roles that social capital play in our
society. Social capital in the form of community leadership and trust and
cooperation among the people plays an important role in Bhutanese society.
It has not only enabled successful implementation of projects and
programmes initiated by the communities themselves; it has also enabled
the cost effective implementation of several government-funded projects
and programmes in many parts of the country. Its role in the maintenance of
development projects forms an important factor in promoting the policy of
sustainable development in the country.
The Royal Government plays an important role in sustaining a vibrant civil
society in Bhutan. The policy of preserving our rich culture and tradition
creates an enabling environment for the survival of the diversity of both
traditional community organisations and contemporary associations and
organizations. The rules and the forms of such associations are preserved.
The diversity and richness of such local institutions are often fed into
national policy. The government’s policy of instituting water users’
associations for both drinking and irrigation schemes in different parts of

Journal of Bhutan Studies
216 the country has been drawn from the example of traditional water users’
associations. Today, there are more than four hundred
22 users’ associations
for irrigation schemes in different parts of the country.
The policy of decentralization, which the government introduced in early
1980s, has gone a long way in nourishing and promoting civil society in
Bhutan. We can conclude that in Bhutan the government and civil society
exist in a symbiotic relationship, each contributing to the other. In order to
further promote the growth of civil society, the Royal Government is in the
process of preparing NGO and Cooperatives Acts as a legislative
framework for the further development of Bhutanese civil society.

Civil Society
217 Notes
1 Elected representative of a block.2 Representative of a group of 10 households.3 Bhutanese word for a Teacher.4 Monastery.5 Monastic school.6 Ceremony in which 16 volumes of religious scriptures are recited.7 Religious ceremony in which people fast for a day and a night.8 Lay priests.9 Fortress.10 A system in which a person cultivating the field is required to pay fixed amount
of paddy or other crops to the leaser of the land.
11 A community leader.12 Rota for sharing water.13 Three different types of textile products, viz.14 Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, Auditor General, Personal Communications, December
15 Mr. Zangla Namgyal, National Assembly, Personal Communications, November
16 Religious ceremony performed on the auspicious days.17 An Association or a Committee.18 Stupa.19 Institute for traditional/Buddhist studies.20 Mr. Goenpo Dorji, Kuensel Corporation, Personal Communications, December
21 Dasho Daw Dema, Secretary, NWAB, Personal Communication, December 2000.22 Mr. Kelzang Tshering, Chief Irrigation Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Personal
Communication, December, 2000.

Journal of Bhutan Studies

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