…..Going far away….that far away from Gross National Happiness

…when the concept of pension and social security were being implemented in Bhutan, most people were ignorant of the benefits and mistook it for old pension system where military personnel got paltry amount as pension. It was during such confusion that I met ex- Drimpon Kencho, who had come all the way from Tencholing just to seek information on the new pension scheme. When he returned to his base, he seemed to have made up his mind to be part of the new pension system and ever since then, he has been its beneficiary. Thanks to His Majesty the Fourth King, whose vision gave dignity of independent living after retirement to civil servants, corporate employees and service personnel. It prevented many many people from falling below poverty at old age. This I am sure actually contributes to Gross National Happiness( hahahahahahaha…..my assumption).

Coming to ex- Drimpon Kencho....after he was retired from the service, he left for Tsirang on resettlement . As former service personnel and disciplined man, he found respect among the villagers. With monthly pension of over Nu.3000 per month, he was able to buy essentials that he needed at home and also save some so that he could go on pilgrimage.

Years go by. It is 2012 now. It is already nine years that he retired. His pension increased by about 20 percent (2% cumulative) since he retired. “ One kg milk powder that we bought at Nu.80 that time has now become Nu. 280. In fact the quantity of milk powder has been reduced to 700 or 800 gram. They only have added more air into the pack to look same,” lamented Kencho as he tried to understand the issue of ever increasing price of the daily commodities that he purchased and the complications that rupee crisis brought for people like him. There were many question marks hanging and the answers are even more complicated than the questions.

I said it is inflation. Inflation has eaten everything away and will eat everything ever more from now. To a person like Drimpon Kencho, it will suffice to say that diesel price increased, wage of the people working in the milk powder factory increased so the milk powder price also increased but there are people like you and me and many more who may have to understand little more than that.

If we look at our recent past, maybe when we were studying, cars were an extreme privilege which only rich and powerful could afford but today, people seem to upgrade their car every little while. Large percentage of Bhutanese people especially in the urban area owns a car or two and interestingly, majority of them are on loans. Those who do not have loans are those who are not eligible for loan. Average Bhutanese gross pay is in 5 digits which looks huge but the net is barely enough to meet all our social commitments and ever increasing rent.

So we carry tension. Fuel price increases, rent increases, children’s demand increases, potato price increases and bank balance decreases. We are on the run. We want happiness….I want more happiness….where is Gross National Happiness? I only have blood pressure now.

But silently, we have never questioned many things that affect our life in loops and cycles. Many years ago, money represented value but today, it represents debt. Actually, we are in perpetual debt. We take one loan from one bank to pay off another loan in another bank. In the past, our parents would think of passing assets like land and building  to us. Today, we parents pass buildings, cars, land and all with debt. Banks make money out of our debt. They create more money out of the values that we mortgage with them giving them opportunity to supply more money against whatever reserve they have in Central Bank. Their reserve remain all the more same but the amount of money that they create multiply manyfold. The large supply of land in the market with diminishing value of the money amounts to inflation. This means that, people like ex-Drimpon Kencho,who stay so far away from towns and live on modest pension are also effected. In fact, those children who are not yet born are also effected. They would be born in a costly place. Their parents may be forced to look at milk substitute. Thats one part of the story.  On the other side, those who have taken loan will be toiling day in and day out servicing loans so much so that our peace of mind is blown away.

However, all is not bad. Without loan, we can never buy cars or houses with our savings so we land up taking loan. Then we become its slave. There is this yoke tied to our neck and its other end is being held by banks.

Everyday, more people take more loan. The debts keep on swelling up, the insatiable banks keep on supplying more money, so that real value of money is diluted and price of everything including salt keep on increasing. Ordinary people cannot understand how milk powder become more expensive…(they find beer cheaper so people prefer drinking beer to tea). Happiness keep on going further away and finally, with full of tension, there is a heart attack, kidney failure and death. Then lama comes to your cremation and frees you…Bakcha Mindhu…loan dha banki dhu...thats so normal... The monster will not leave you even at death.


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