Jigme Singye Wangchuck


King Jigme Singye Wangchuck

His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”.

With his famous declaration in the 1970s, the former King of Bhutan challenged conventional, narrow and materialistic notions of human progress. He realized and declared that the existing development paradigm – GNP (or GDP) – did not consider the ultimate goal of every human being: happiness.

SQSwans Jigme Wangchuck Reports/Articles.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck (born 11 November 1955) was the King of Bhutan (Druk Gyalpo) from 1972 until his abdication in favour of his eldest son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2006. He is credited with many modern reforms in the country.

Rural development

In his Coronation Address on June 2, 1974, Jigme Singye stressed the need “to attain self-reliance and preserve Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence.” He also stressed that any development undertaking should be a genuine collaboration between the people and the government. During the 1970s, immediate aims for rural households unfolded in terms of intensive valley projects, cash crops cultivation, especially potatoes – irrigation, and resettlement. Enhancing the income and livelihood of the rural people were the main focus of the 3rd and 4th FYPs. Soon after he acceded to the throne, Jigme Singye launched the Trashigang and Tsirang Intensive Valley Development Projects in 1972. These projects were part of a larger vision of food self-sufficiency and income generation.

Encouraged by the achievements in the Trashigang and Tsirang Intensive Valley Projects, similar valley projects were replicated in Mongar and the newly created Shumar (Pemagatshel) districts. These projects were also sites of experimental and participatory decision making. It led to the formation of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogchungs (DYTs), which brought the chimis, gups and officials to prepare plans together. By 1981, Trashigang and Tsirang had fully functional DYTs.

In higher altitude areas a new initiative by Wangchuck in early 1970s consisted of diffusing potatoes as cash crops, first tested in royal pastureland of Longtoed and Longmed, which had been converted to potato farms. Beginning with the large-scale production in Khaling and Chapcha, potatoes become a key export crop, reaching 60,000 tonnes, grown by over 10,725 households by 2006.

In southern Bhutan, the focus was on growing citrus fruits. For example, in 1977, the King encouraged the people of Dagana to start cardamom and orange plantations. Both of these cash crops are now major sources of rural income as 3,400 tonnes of cardamom, 55,558 tonnes of oranges and 7,400 tonnes of apples were produced in 2006 due to the initiatives taken first in 1970s.

Environmental preservation

Wangchuck also enhanced the protection of natural resources such as forests and biodiversity. Wangchuck foresaw the potentially adverse impacts of both increased economic activity and increased population on the fragility of the mountain ecosystem. He raised the importance of preservation of environment during policy discussions, which resulted in vast areas of the country being devoted to parks and sanctuaries.

Among events of his reign:
* Jigme Dorji National Park, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary declared in 1974
* Environmental Studies started in schools, 1985
* Bhutan identified as a global hotspot, 1988
* National Environment Commission established in 1990
* Bhutan Trust Fund for Environment established in 1992
* Toorsa Nature Reserve, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (known earlier as Jow Durshing National Park), Thrumsengla National Park, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary established in 1993
* UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Convention on Biological Diversity signed in 1995
* Environment Assessment Act, 2000
* Bio-diversity Act of Bhutan, 2003
* Wangchuck and the people of Bhutan received the “Champions of the Earth” Award from UNEP, 2005

2003 military operation

The boundary with India was demarcated completely in the reign of King Jigme Singye. Discussion on the China-Bhutan boundary issues have been held since 1986 and the demarcation issues are about to be resolved with China.

The king resolved the Ulfa-Bodo militancy threat to national security and sovereignty. The well-armed militants from Assam and Bengal had illegally entered jungles of southern Bhutan and camped in some 30 locations while carrying out attacks back in Assam and Bengal. For many years the government of Bhutan appealed to the militants to leave the country. Having not heeded to peaceful and friendly gestures, Bhutan was left with no option but to evict them militarily. The king personally headed the military operation and flushed them out in three days.

The remarkable speed and surprise of the military operation planned and executed by King Jigme Singye across all the 30 camps brought an end to over 10 years of security threat to the country (also check Operation All Clear).


At the same time, the justice system received His Majesty’s increasing attention to make it fair, simple, and accessible at low cost. This required, as Wangchuck wrote in a Kasho in 1989, a selection of capable and upright people with impeccable values as judges. He foresaw that integrity of judges is most important. In 1974, there were nine district courts and four sub-district courts compared to 20 district courts and many sub-district courts.

The Annual National Judicial Conference was introduced to broaden legal education and standards in 1976: courts were established in dungkhags, along with financial and administrative reforms, and capacity building. The National Legal Course was introduced in 1995; the Penal Code to aid the judges in the proper interpretation of laws and effective adjudication came in 1995, followed by a somewhat Anglo-Saxon based Civil and Criminal Procedure Code in 2001. During Wangchuck’s 34-year reign, some 87 laws were enacted by the National Assembly.


SQSwans Jigme Wangchuk Reports