There was a sharp contrast in terms of what the candidates of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) said yesterday in the live public debate for Bumthang’s Chhoekhor-Tang bye-election, which will be held on November 19.
DPT’s Tenzin Norbu, 35, used most of his two-minute opening statement to thank the volunteers including de-suups and armed forces under the leadership of His Majesty for their efforts to contain the Covid-19.
He also praised the former opposition leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) as acapable leader and that DPT had made it to Parliament in all three elections.
DNT’s Dawa, 42, said that his participation had come with the sheer belief and understanding that the people of Chhoekhor-Tang and Bumthang would stand to benefit from the advantage of his party having the representation in the government. He also said that government’s efforts under the leadership of His Majesty had been effective.
“I see my participation in the bye-election as a rare and precious opportunity where we don’t have to worry about who becomes the ruling and the opposition, but to present myself as a candidate for Chhoekhor-Tang who can work with the government to fulfil our collective aspirations,” Dawa said.
He reiterated his party’s pledge to blacktop three farm roads in the constituency, saying that it was in keeping with the government’s development stage.
However, DPT’s Tenzin Norbu expressed reservations when it came to making promises that would involve significant funds and time. He said that there could be resource constraints due to the Covid-19 pandemic and that making make big promises that were outside the 12th Plan would not be doable within the remaining years of the term.
Tenzin Norbu also said that there was no practice of blacktopping farm roads although the promises were good. He added that some gewog centres still lacked blacktopped roads.
But Dawa said that the practice needed to evolve and that the infrastructure like farm road should progress to black topped road. “And it is the responsibility of the government to mobilise resources. The government possesses the key when it comes to utilisation of resources.”
Tenzin Norbu, however, said that the state money belonged to all. He said that given the chance, he was capable of taking the responsibility of representing the people of the constituency and fulfilling other mandates as an MP.
Tenzin Norbu described Bumthang as a “tourism capital” and said that he had plans to develop the sector in the dzongkhag. “Given my experience in the tourism field, I have plans for Bumthang dzongkhag,” he said.
Citing the example of the Wobthang Organic Wonders (WOW) farm developed by the former opposition leader, the DPT candidate said that the Opposition MP could equally contribute in development. “The former opposition leader did it despite being in the opposition,” he said.
Dawa said that WOW project was a symbol of unity, where the two heads of the ruling and opposition parties had put together ideas and resources.
“The former opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho, given his expertise in the field, developed concept and proposal for the large scale farming project in Tang. Ensuring the project saw fruition, prime minister explored ways to fund the project,” Dawa said.
Those who watched the debate said that there was nothing to take home and make the undecided voters decide from the debate.
“Dawa was eloquent, but Tenzin Norbu was realistic in what he was saying,” said a Jalikhar resident. “He (Tenzin Norbu) was aware of the pandemic and the impact it had on the economy. Dawa took advantage of government plans.”
Another said that there was nothing concrete to convince voters. “Perhaps because it is a by-election and one is already representing the government,” he said. “If we have to decide from today’s debate, we are not convinced.”
A Euro 10 million project to help biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation actions in the nine south-western dzongkhags in the next eight years was launched yesterday.
The Living Landscapes: Securing High Conservation Values in South-Western Bhutan project will be implemented by WWF Bhutan, Tarayana Foundation, and the government.
The identified districts are Haa, Thimphu, Paro, Chhukha and Samtse in the west and Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, and Zhemgang in the south.
Through securing biodiversity and ecosystem services outside the protected area system by identifying landscapes with high conservation values, the project is expected to promote integration into the national land-use plan.
It also constitutes the development of technical and institutional capacity of eight divisional forests offices and enhancing the livelihood of the rural communities among others.
Forest Director Lobzang Dorji, said that out of 71 percent of total land under forest cover, only 24 percent falls within the protected areas, therefore, leaving a bigger chunk unprotected.
“Forest department will carry out the technical component and the social component will be implemented by the Tarayana Foundation,” he said adding that the project has set synergies among the stakeholders.
The project, he said, will also help to protect animals outside the protected area while equipping conservationists with skills.
Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the project would help enhance the livelihood of rural people which makes up 62 percent of the total population.
Meanwhile, through virtual address, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in New Delhi, Walter J Lindner, and chief conservation officer of WWF Germany, Christoph Hienrich applauded Bhutan’s conservation efforts over the years.
The project is funded by the International Climate Initiative under the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany with WWF and Tarayana Foundation as the implementing partners.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Many people, in Bumthang and outside, questioned why the debate for Chhoekhor-Tang by-election candidates had to be held closed-door last night when there were numerous mass gatherings conducted in the two gewogs.
A Bumthang resident, Tshering Dorji, said that when Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering was in Bumthang, campaigning for Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) candidate, Dawa, meetings were conducted in all chiwogs with not less than 50 people. “In some places, there was no physical distance maintained.”
He said that if the dzongkhag was following the Covid-19 physical distancing protocol during the debate, dzongkhag officials should have also monitored the party president’s meetings.
“We don’t understand why the debate should be behind closed door when the dzongkhag is not even a risk zone. We see many gatherings or trainings happening in places where Covid-19 cases are reported,” Tshering said. There are meetings every day in Thimphu.”
Bumthang dzongdag Pasang Dorji, who is the incident commander of dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce, explained the debate was held without audience as a preventive measure for Covid-19 and to discourage public gathering.
Only the debate moderator, two candidates with five participants for each candidate besides election officials were allowed to attend the debate.
“The hall could accommodate only about 25 people and we must also keep in mind the Covid-19 protocol. People can watch the debate Live on television for better coverage,” the dzongdag said.
He also said that common forum was conducted in 24 different places to avoid gatherings. “We had briefed both candidates on the protocols to conduct campaigns and to avoid large public gatherings.”
But this is not the first time where physical distance protocol was not uniformly followed.
Teachers in Lunana were not allowed to teach in classes with only 40 students because of protocols and vegetable vendors were relocated from Centenary Farmers’ Market to decongest the area but several gatherings are still taking place including some religious events, personal events like khadhar ceremony, birthday celebrations, and recent campaigns in Bumthang. Sports were also allowed without spectators.
While the government continuously appeal the public to follow Covid-19 norms like wearing masks and to observe physical distance by avoiding any kind of gatherings as a precautionary measure to stop the Covid-19 from spreading in the country, public gatherings, including several official meetings and events have been conducted.
A Thimphu resident, Thukten, said he attended a khadhar ceremony and met many people.
He said it is just two months since the country came out of lockdown but complacency has already set in and physical distance is no more taken seriously in any kind of gatherings or in the street.
“In some cases, people have also stopped using a facemask.”
The Small Development Project Committee (SDPC) from Bhutan and India approved 70 projects worth Nu about 1.25 billion (B) for the 12th Five Year Plan in Thimphu yesterday.
The approved projects are for the development of local governments in areas such as water supply, urban infrastructure, farms roads, irrigation channels, bridges and infrastructure in health and education.
These projects are expected to enhance the livelihoods of rural communities by enhancing accessibility, economic and job opportunities, and food security. “These projects are also timely as they will help to revive the economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” a joint press release from the committee stated.
Of the Nu 45 billion (B) approved by India for the 12th Five Year Plan, Nu 8.5B is committed for the SDPs. So far, Bhutan received about Nu 3.34B for the projects which amounts to 39.41 percent of the total fund committed.
Bhutanese delegation was led by the foreign ministry’s Director of the Department of Bilateral Affairs, Sonam Tobgay. Second Secretary (Economic) of the Embassy of India in Thimphu, Nidhi Dhiman, headed the Indian delegation.
Sonam Tobgay thanked the government of India for their support through SDPs, the projects that began in the 10th Plan.
The class got news that the game had entered extra time. Only a penalty shoot out would decide the game. In the class, some boys started shaping chalk pieces into small balls. One hastily makes a post out of a page torn from the notebook.
The shoot out begins. Legjay, the stout defender and the senior with the “most-powerful” kick sends his high and wide. Paro High School loses to Motithang in the shootout staged in the class. News soon reaches the school that Paro has won. The bell rings. Evening study is over. Everybody talks of the victory over dinner and into the night study.
This is a recollection of an experience from one high school football tournament. This was in the eighties and nineties. There was nothing like football including inter high school tournaments. Football was the most popular event that drew spectators in the thousands at the Changlimithang ground. On weekends, in the crowd would be villagers returning from the weekend market with their sacks and tsews (baskets) to cheer their local school team.
There was no TV or internet, therefore no live broadcast or streaming. This added excitement to the tournament. Neutral Thimphu residents would always support and cheer for teams coming from the dzongkhags. Yangchenphug, Motithang and RTI Kharbandi (the then Royal Institute of Technology) would always win the tournament. Adding to the fun was the late self-proclaimed local football pundit and commentator, Danny, whose presence lit up the match and made spectators happy.
As many watch professional European football matches that are broadcast live into our sitting rooms, local football has taken a back seat. Add to that local leagues and school level football tournaments have faded.
School football tournament is back. Although the youth and sports department organised tournaments every winter, the charm was lost perhaps because of TV and internet or more popular local leagues.
Bhutan Football Federation taking over the initiative is a good decision, which many will welcome. It is not sure if the excitement level will be the same as in the nineties, but bringing the tournament to Thimphu, after the initial rounds, would make the tournament competitive.
It also opens a window of opportunities for students. It would be a good ground to hunt for talents for local football clubs. Some students will get good exposure playing in better facilities and environment.
The BFF is offering scholarships for good players and a chance for a school team to compete in regional tournaments. We will also have a bigger pool to build a national team. Good players in schools and colleges are identified, trained and then drafted into professional sports everywhere. Today, there are still some who question the selection process and even accuse authorities of selecting players from Thimphu only.
Football has developed. We have now a couple of competitive leagues. Some are finding football as a career and practice their trade in more competitive leagues in other countries. Prices are attractive and sponsors interested. Our football clubs, although struggling, are influenced by the bigger leagues. Clubs are hiring international players and making the leagues more competitive.
While the global trend determines sports in the country, like hiring foreign players, the decision to revive the high school, now higher secondary school, tournaments is a decision many students would appreciate.
We could see some hidden local talents shine at Changlimithang once again and, hopefully, excite Thimphu residents.
Neten Dorji | Radhi
It’s harvest season in Radhi, the rice bowl of the eastern Bhutan. Farmers are seen threshing paddy on the terraces.
The harvest this year has been good. Nimble footsteps of the farmers and smiles on their faces tell.
The farmers in lower parts of Radhi harvest paddy in September for the early verities. For the late varieties, the harvest goes on until November.
Sonam Wangmo, 56, said that there was abundant harvest this year because of timely rainfall and favourable weather.
Yeshi Tshering, a farmer, said that paddy production on his field increased by almost 30 percent. “I harvested about 5000kg of rice this time—the biggest in my life.”
He said that there weren’t disastrous storms this year and farmers saw few cases of human-wildlife conflict.
Lobzang Phutsho, another farmer, said that had it not been for bountiful rains the farmers would have had to depend of irrigation water which could have affected the yield. “Irrigation water supply system is the main problem in Radhi. Farmers depend on the monsoon.”
Tandin Wangchuck, 70, said that if farmers employ modern technologies, rice yield could be doubled.
Gewog extension agriculture officer, Pema Wangchen also said: “This year, we are expecting to produce more than 2700 metric tonne of paddy.”
Radhi produced a total of 2553.59 metric tonnes (MT) of rice in 2017. The production increased to 2573.16MT in 2018. Last year the gewog produced 2640.36MT of rice despite the challenges from human-wildlife, lack of proper irrigation and shortage of farmhands.
Of the total 1258.91 acres of wetland in the gewog, 1236.19 acres are under paddy cultivation.
The government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) yesterday signed a USD 30 million (M) policy-based loan agreement under the Financial Market Development Program – Subprogram 2.
Policy-based loans provide the borrowing member countries with flexible liquid funding to support policy reforms in various sectors including financial sector.
The loan will be provided as budgetary support to the government to improve its financial market reforms targeted at increasing access to finance of the private sector and improving financial inclusion in Bhutan.
The objectives of the programme are aligned with key result areas of the 12th Plan, including macroeconomic stability, economic diversification, improving access to finance, and poverty reduction.
The support covers the banking system, nonbank financial institutions, financial inclusion, and financial literacy.
The loan will build on the first USD 30M policy-based lending extended by ADB under “subprogram 1” which was implemented from January 2018 to October 2019.
A press release from the finance ministry stated that ADB has been instrumental in providing budgetary support to Bhutan and also in helping strengthen Bhutan’s financial system, including the central banking role of Royal Monetary Authority.
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering at the signing said, “The programme will continue to add budgetary support while achieving financial reforms which is highly relevant during this challenging time of the pandemic.”
ADB’s country director for Bhutan Kanokpan Lao-Araya said that more than three and a half decades, ADB has been a reliable partner to the Government of Bhutan in designing and implementing financial reforms in both bank and nonbank sectors.
She said that the assistance had evolved over time to keep up with the development landscape, including addressing long-term government bond issuance, cyber security, and green financing.
“The programme will address financial sector deficiencies and vulnerabilities, which will ensure greater stability, efficiency, and inclusiveness for the benefit of Bhutan’s economy at large,” Kanokpan Lao-Araya added.
The press release stated that ADB was committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 of which are from the region.
Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck married Dasho Thinlay Norbu in a Royal Wedding ceremony yesterday.
The Royal Wedding was held at Dechencholing Palace in Thimphu. The Royal Couple received the blessings of His Majesty The King, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Holiness the Je Khenpo.
Her Royal Highness Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck was born in 1993 to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck. Her Royal Highness graduated with a major in Sociology from Georgetown University in the United States in 2016. As President of the Bhutan Paralympic Committee, Her Royal Highness represents Bhutan internationally to take forward the participation of Bhutanese athletes with disabilities in various global sporting events.
Dasho Thinlay Norbu was born to Yab Dhondup Gyaltshen and Yum Sonam Choki in 1992, and is the younger brother of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen. After graduating from St. Stephen’s college in Delhi University, Dasho trained as a pilot and has been flying for the national airline Drukair since 2019.
The Royal Couple are both active DeSuups.
Positivity rate within the cohort stands at less than 8 percent
Of late, incoming expatriate workers have become the new source of Covid-19 positive cases in the country. Of the 386 foreign workers who entered the country since October 1, 30 of them tested positive for the virus so far.
With at least one person testing positive from this incoming group every 24 hours, there is a growing concern that if the trend continues, it could compromise the entire disease containment efforts.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo assured that for now, whatever the government was allowing, the country’s health system could handle it.
Lyonpo said that the ministry was closely monitoring the trend of the incoming labourers. She said that it was important for people to understand that the proportion of people applying to come in, those getting the approval for the travel and those entering the country, there was almost 50 percent reduction in each of the stages.
The reduction, Lyonpo said, was because of the mandatory requirement of negative Covid-19 test results before their travel. Once the expatriate workers enter the country, they also have to go through the required 21-day quarantine.
While in the quarantine, individuals also have to follow the existing national quarantine testing protocol. It means individuals are tested between the third and fifth day after their arrival, and then on the 14th and 22nd day.
Lyonpo said that the ministry keeps a close eye on the positivity rate within the cohort.
“For now, the positivity rate is around 7.7 percent. Whatever we are allowing, our health system can absorb for now,” she said. “But if the positivity rate jumps to above 20 percent or the moment we know if it is beyond our absorption capacity, we will immediately stop this.” The minister said that subsequent tests are also performed to prepare for the next group of incoming labourers. “If the majority of the cases are detected during the 14th day, then the date of the next batch of incoming labourers are deferred.”
Lyonpo said that if the positivity rate jumps to over 20 percent, for example, it would be a significant concern for the ministry. “Once people test positive here, they cannot go back. Bed occupancy in the hospitals would increase, and it would overburden our health system.”
Simultaneously, if there is a community transmission, Lyonpo said it would be difficult for the ministry to handle the situation.
“For us, the health of the people is important. But then there is also a huge need for labourers in the bigger hydropower projects. We’ve to balance between disease prevention and economic development at the same time.”
11 indicators selected to rate IWP in the teaching sector
Yangchen C Rinzin
A lot of planned activities in the 12th Plan has undergone changes with some forgone and other frontloaded after the reprioritisation programme. However, the Individual Work Plan (IWP), the basis to assess civil servants will not change.
The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) will still use the IWP to assess performance of civil servants.
Senior human resources officer, Dorji Choidup said that RCSC will not revise the ranking of IWP because of a change in plan activities. “The review of the IWP and the process and procedures of civil servants would remain the same.”
This is because during the planning of IWP, it is based on the objectives and success indicators of Annual Performance Agreement (APA) that were planned agreed between department or division and the individual.
“The planning of activities is done from July to August where supervisors and the individuals agree to the IWP activities based on agreed APA objectives,” Dorji Choidup said, adding that during the review phase of APA, it will allow supervisors and individuals to discuss and if required, incorporate changes of plans and programmes.
He added that the review phase of APA takes place after six months of planning so if there is a change in the plan due to current situation, the agency can incorporate changed activities. “That is why we don’t see any reason to revise the process to evaluate IWP.”
APAs are agreed at the organisational level in alignment with annual budget and 12th Plan and recorded with the GPMD system, which is monitored by the GPMD, PMO. The National Technical Committees assess the IWP at the end of the year.
However, with schools remaining closed since March, the IWP for teachers would be evaluated based on 11 prioritised focus areas of Bhutan Professional Teachers Standards (BPST) identified by the education ministry. Initially, they are assessed based on 37 indicators.
Dorji Choidup said that although there will be no change in terms of process and procedures of the rating, there will be changes in the IWP activities drawn from 11 indicators.
“These indicators were identified based on the current teaching modality due to school closure.”
He added that education ministry and RCSC had changed the moderation exercise model for schools where schools with more than 18 staff would be allowed to take an independent assessment and evaluate teachers.
“We’ve now pioneered the implementation of the BPST that will assess all the teachers. With schools closed while some teachers have walked to reach students some have taught through online. So, selective indicators were selected to rate the teaching sector equally.”
Eleven selected areas would be implemented from August to December 2020. An official from the education ministry said that since not all teachers were involved in the contact teaching, IWP rating will not be based on classroom observation.
Teachers teaching online will need to maintain a portfolio of tasks assigned, assessment records and support rendered to students.
The official added that teachers who are not involved in teaching any subject (contact or online teaching) would need to maintain portfolio based on support rendered to the school administration or other subject teachers.
“IWP of non-teaching staff and school counsellors will remain same.”
Some of the indicators for teachers include support for learner participation, teaching-learning plans and processes, and teaching-learning resources, including ICT.
The forthcoming 26th National Council (NC) session, which will begin November 26, will witness deliberations on at least five Bills and international conventions.
No new Bills will be introduced in the House, however, according to Deputy Chairperson Jigme Wangchuk.
All the Bills that the House is reviewing have been passed by the National Assembly.
The House will deliberate the RNR marketing policy which will involve the government’s buyback scheme. Jigme Wangchuk, however, did not provide details of the review report which will be presented for deliberation.
The House held the pre-session plenary on October 27. Jigme Wangchuk said that committees presented updates on the review works on various Bills.
The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 is expected to take centre stage. It is one of the most significant Bills that were passed by the National Assembly in January 2020.
The NC would have completed discussions on the Bill had regular sessions not delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the absence of a new Mines and Minerals Bill Act, issues as to whether the state or the private sector should operate the mines and minerals remain.
Jigme Wangchuk said that the legislative committee was reviewing the Bill and that review work was almost completed.
The House is also preparing for a joint session on the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 (CCPC) and the Bhutan Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2019 (PCB).
The joint committees will work on the differences between the two Houses.
The House will also deliberate the Charter (Amendment) of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF), which is expected to ease project collaboration among the member states. The amendment enables one or more member countries to avail the fund for projects.
The NC will also deliberate the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking. Ratification of the convention would mean agreeing to cooperate in fighting terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
In the Plenary session, NC chairperson Tashi Dorji briefed the members on the Royal Tour to the southern dzongkhags. He said that the Royal visit had greatly boosted the morale of the people living in the south and further motivated them to remain resilient in combating the pandemic.
Police alleged people travelling from Covid-19 high-risk areas of providing wrong information while registering online in the checkpost management system (CPMS) to avoid a week’s mandatory quarantine.
Samdrupjongkhar, Sarpang, Dagana, Chukha and Samtse are identified as high-risk areas.
Lieutenant Colonel Ngawang Dorji of the police planning and research division said that people provided false information, claiming to be travelling from high-risk to another high-risk area, which did not require individuals to quarantine, even if they were travelling to low-risk areas.
He cited examples of how there were incidences where people travelling from Lhamoizingkha in Dagana would register Phuentsholing thromde as their destination in the system.
“People would then stay in Gedu without proceeding to Phuentsholing and register in the CPMS from Gedu and travel to Thimphu,” he said. “After incidences like that, we shared details of the travellers with Phuentsholing police to validate.”
According to the officer, people travelling from Phuentsholing take shortcuts and make arrangements with taxi drivers to pick them above Rincheding. “We had to set up CPMS checkpost at Kamji,” he said.
Ngawang Dorji appealed the public to be responsible and comply with the directives of the government.
CPMS was initiated last month to record accurate data on movement of vehicles and individuals in the country.
Initially, there were challenges of congestion in the checkpoints, as many travellers did not register before travelling, which caused a long queue of vehicles at the checkpoints.
Another challenge was network connectivity, according to police. “Network clogs when people who did not register uses the system at a time,” Ngawang Dorji said. “CPMS is now linked to fibre optic of the government network to resolve that problem.”
There are 32 checkpoints to validate the CPMS registration.
As of yesterday, about 7,300 vehicles and 15,000 people registered in CPMS to travel from high-risk areas to low-risk areas. About 7,500 vehicles and 12,700 people registered to travel from low risk to high-risk areas. It also recorded about 295, 274 vehicles and 922,144 commuters travelling in the country as of Tuesday.
Nim Dorji | Bumthang
Public debate for the two candidates of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) for the by-election of Chhoekhor-Tang constituency in Bumthang will be held behind closed-doors tonight.
This, according to Bumthang dzongdag Passang Dorji, who is also the chief election coordinator, is taken as a preventive measure for Covid-19.
He said that besides the election officials, debate moderator and the two candidates, only five participants for each candidate will be allowed inside the hall.
According to the dzongdag, the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce make the decision to discourage the public from gathering.
The program will, however, be broadcast live on BBS television and radio for the general public.
Beginning next year, Thimphu will have a fully automated sewerage system in Babesa with 12 million litres per day (MLD) capacity.
The mechanised plant with sequential batch reactor (SBR) equipment will have an artificial aeration, pumping station for low lying areas like Babesa, disinfection tank and screening system, among others.
It is expected to replace the current 1.75 MLD capacity wastewater stabilisation ponds in Babesa which have irked the residents of lower Thimphu and commuters along the highway.
While the pond catered to about 16,000 people the SBR system is planned to cater to about 100,000 people, especially from the south Thimphu and core city area.
The project, started in 2012, has been extended until June next year.
The contract worth more than USD 14 million is based on 85:15 percent cost sharing between the Asian Development Bank and the government.
Due to delays caused by the Covid-19, project manager Kinley Penjore, said that since some equipment and experts couldn’t be imported, in the earlier stage, the operation would be manual.
The plant is built on a five-acre land with space for future expansion. The current ponds, built on 14 acres of land, would be converted into recreational parks.
Bird lovers and conservation agencies have, however, expressed their concerns over the future of migratory waterbirds should the current ponds be turned into a park.
The founder of Bhutan Birdlife Society, Tshering Tobgay, said that the ponds and areas nearby had become one of the popular birding habitats in Thimphu. “It is sad news for society but we feel that if the ecosystem is getting replaced by an ecological park, there won’t be a drastic change.”
The society suggested the government keep some provisions for artificial ponds that will continue to receive the waterbirds and shorebirds.
An ornithologist, Sherub, said that birds are attracted to man-made structures such as sewerage ponds and reservoirs across the world. He said that with the ponds gone, the waterbirds would be displaced. “Sadly, humankind’s priority always takes lead over other species’ need.”
The members of the Bhutan Birdlife Society on their Facebook group debated over the topic. Some members said that the thromde should incorporate nature-based solutions with a park with a pond for visitors to enjoy feeding and watching birds.
“We can develop a recreational park with ponds and a few metres of a buffer zone to allow birds to have some space?” one asked.
A member said that the area was a great place to watch waterbirds but with drastic loss of wetlands, the survival of the species is threatened.
A participant, however, said it would be better to create a park.
“I think human health is more important than birds. The smell is causing a lot of problems to the people who are residing around the sewage plant,” he said.
More than 20 bird species have been recorded in the area, including the arrival of Critically Endangered White-bellied Heron.
The holes are visible, wide and deep, but there are no ending in the sight. Dug about two weeks ago along a busy road in a busier commercial area in Changzamtog, it is, residents say, a disaster in the waiting.
The first victim was lucky. A Bolero pickup truck fell into the pit. There were no casualties. The next one would not be so lucky. The road has become narrow and traffic movement is not restricted. The whole stretch is in a mess.
This is happening after we have learnt many lessons, some the hard way. Construction sites are prone to accidents. We know that too. Innocent lives were lost unnecessarily. It will be a tragedy if we do not learn from our mistakes and see another mishap.
We cannot blame the contractor who is also on the losing side. The issue is of coordination or lack of it. The traffic does not want to close the road. They fear causing inconvenience to commuters. There are power lines and poles in the line of work. It has to be removed for the work to progress and complete. Then there are sewage manholes which could be damaged during excavation.
These are not new to us. We have been digging and digging again the Thimphu roads since we built them. We dig them to lay sewerage lines, then to lay electricity lines, optic fibres and then to upgrade them all. We make footpaths and we dig them up to make another and then another. In short, we keep digging our town.
While we have dug roads and roadsides and filled them, we have not learnt that it will not be the end. From the number of times we dug the whole town we should by now know where the cable lines, the optic fibres or the electricity cables are. A coordinated effort would have eased the work and minimised inconveniences.
There will be no end to digging if there is no coordination. What if the work started after the Bhutan Power Corporation relocated its electric lines, the thromde marked the sewerage manholes and the traffic created a diversion? What if we started one stretch at a time? These are questions, logical questions, the lay people – shopkeepers and owners of small eateries are asking.
The capital’s mayor is not even aware of the issues. Somewhere, something is obviously missing. Like he said, if there was some coordination, there could have been solutions. The Bhutan Power Corporation, through televised announcement, has been urging people to inform them before they start digging to prevent damages to their infrastructure even as the work was happening.
The hume pipes the thromde had contracted out to be laid will be used to lay cables besides serving as sewerage lines. Hopefully, we will not have to dig it up to expand or lay some more pipes or cables.
Neten Dorji | Shongphu
Four years ago, 58-year-old Aleo started growing cardamom in about an acre of land. He brought saplings from Arekha, Chukha. Not a single seedling survived but he did not give up.
But farmers in the south were making fortunes selling the crop. On the second trial he could harvest 360 kg of cardamom and made Nu 130,000.
Most farmers in Shongphu, Trashigang are growing cardamom. The gewog agriculture sector gives 400 saplings to each household.
A villager, Tashi Dorji, started growing cardamom about the same time as Aleo. Last year, he made Nu 97,000 from the sale of cardamom.
“It is labour intensive but brings in good income,” he said.
With good road connectivity, market isn’t a problem.
Another villager, Tshering Needup, planted cardamom in eight-decimal. He sells a kg of cardamom for no less than Nu 400. “I made about Nu 11,000 last year.”
Tshering Needup is already planning on going big.
Maize is the main cash crop for Shongphu famers. Most of the famers are trying out cardamom farming as an alternative source of income.
Shongphu chiwog’s tshogpa, Nima Dorji, said about 70 households in the chiwog had taken up cardamom farming.
The soil is fertile and the water is abundant. Climate conditions are ideal for growing cardamom and all kinds of vegetables.
Gewog agriculture extension officer, Dorji Dema, said that about 36,756 cardamom saplings were distributed among the farmers for the establishment of cardamom orchard between 2017 and 2018.
“Farmers of Changmey, Chaling and Galing have also started growing cardamom,” she said
This has, some say, contributed to reducing fallowing of land in the villages.
To build a foundation in the fundamentals and principles of banking and non-banking Financial Institutions Training Institute (FITI) launched the Certificate in Banking (CB) programme yesterday.
Students will learn business developments, communication and customer care skills, skills of discovering and exploring financial markets during the two-month course.
Numerical and accounting skills, essential Information and Technology skills, and office management skills were some areas that the programme will cover.
Upon completion of the modularised programme, candidates would get a Certificate in Banking, and then progress to Diploma in Banking. The candidate would then qualify to apply for a Post Graduate Diploma in Banking from FITI.
FITI’s Head of curriculum designing and marketing, Sonam Phuntsho, said that the CB programme was launched to address the need to build human resource (HR) capacity in the financial sector.
“If we look at the trend, the candidates of the financial institutions were employed first and get skilled while performing their daily duties,” he said. “The trend has been changed. People are devoting to learning and doing.”
He said that the programme was designed to address the need of the university graduates who aspire to join the financial institutions.
Sonam Phuntsho said that FITI expects to create a route to highlight the importance of HR development, especially in the financial sector.
“In the years to come, we would like to build a vibrant financial sector in the country that has not only the theoretical knowledge but the practical knowledge,” he said.
The programme attempts to build a foundation and impart knowledge with hands-on experience to join the financial sectors in the future.
Sonam said that the programme was designed and developed by FITI in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Banking.
There are 12 individuals from financial institutions in the country enrolled in the programme.
Tashi Dorji, an employee of Bank of Bhutan, said that since he joined the bank after graduating from high school, he only learned the old practices. He expects to understand the foundation of banking.
“The programme offers classes on customer care skills which would help me provide better services to the customers at my work,” he said.
Come 2021, higher secondary schools in the country will compete in a professional football tournament organised by Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) to uplift the standards of the sport.
Bhutan Higher Secondary School Championship (BHSSC) will be an annual event in line with BFF’s grassroots football development agenda.
The Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) has been organising annual sports meet for the schools. The new tournament is expected to be more competitive and inclusive.
BFF officials said that this championship will curb down the growing concerns of regional imbalance in terms of representation at the national level. It would also allow the federation and the clubs to pick good players.
Players could also avail scholarship opportunities.
BFF’s Media and Marketing Officer Phuntsho Wangdi said that the federation would bear all the expenses. “We will provide coaches and equipment for schools if they need them.”
The winning team will compete in the South Asian Football Federation’s (SAFF) School Championship next year in Bhutan.
“The SAFF member countries and the Asian Football Federation supported Bhutan’s plan to host the SAFF School Championship,” said Phuntsho Wangdi.
BHSSC is for both men and women among 82 higher secondary schools. Of the 82 schools, 12 are from Thimphu.
BFF will organise this tournament in three stages. In the first phase, the teams will compete at the dzongkhag level between Match and June. It will be a home and away league match at 29 venues.
In the second phase, 22 teams from the dzongkhags will play a single league format in the Regional Higher Secondary Championship in July.
Seven teams selected from regional tournaments will play in the National Higher Secondary Championship at a centralised venue in December. It will be both league and knockout tournament.
Currently, officials from the BFF are travelling to the dzongkhags sensitising on the BHSSC for the Dzongkhag Education Officers, principals and relevant stakeholders.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
More than 120 residents of Samdrupjongkhar have participated in the two-month health walk so far.
The health walk, which started on October 19, will end on December 19.
The walk is being organised by the dzongkhag multi-sectoral task force (MSTF) and community-based social service (CBSS) in collaboration with respect, educate, nurture and empower women (RENEW).
The theme for the walk is to prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCD) and lead a healthy and happy life by keeping diabetes, hypertension and other NCDs at bay.
The MSTF’s secretary and the focal person of CBSS, Chang Chung, said that people gained about four to five kilograms and developed mental stresses during the lockdown.
He said the objective of the walk was to help people refresh, relax and relieve and also to overcome the mental stresses. Walking, he said, helped burn calories, lower the blood sugar, ease the joint pains and boost immune function, among others.
“The programme is also aimed at cutting down on the free health service-related expenditure because the government spends about Nu 5B annually,” Chang Chung said.
He said that the people were able to walk about eight kilometres starting from 5am to 7am and from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.
“The programme is being organised following the Covid-19 preventive measures by wearing a mask, maintaining a distance of two to three metres and not more than two persons are allowed to walk in the group, for example,” Chang Chung said.
He said that monitoring and record-keeping was also done to evaluate the consistency of the walk. Competent technical committee, he said, would conduct the ad-hoc inspection six times a month—three times in the morning and three in the evening.
“The committee would also measure the weight of the participants and ask questions related to the communicable and non-communicable diseases,” Chang Chung said.
He said that best walkers would be selected and awarded prizes based on the walk record maintained by the committee. There will be 15 consolation prizes.
Tshewang, 35, said he had been going for walks for more than three years. “The programmes such as happy, healthy walk would motivate and encourage people to go for a walk and lead a happy life,” he said.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
A fortnight ago, Nim Pelmo woke up to her neighbour’s alarming call. Another one of her cattle was killed that night.
This time, the predators weren’t far—the hunting ground was in front of the Sephu Primary School located around 300 meters from Nim Pelmo’s house.
For over a year, Asian wild dogs or doles have been hunting cattle in Sephu gewog, Wandgue.
Villagers in the gewog lost around 150 cows this year. Of five chiwogs in the gewog, hunting is rampant in Busa, Longtoed and Nakha.
“Within this year, I have lost three cows to the phaw (wild dogs),” 56-year-old Nim Pelmo said.
Just yesterday, the gewog mangmi reported the loss of four more cows to the wild dogs.
Pointing to the Nikachhu flowing through the gewog, mangmi Sangay Dorji remarks, “There are so many cattle bones along that river.”
“Every farmer in the gewog is distressed, and we don’t know if there is anything we can do,” he said.
The dogs attack cattle at night. Apart from the distressing blurts of the cows and calves, pinning their location becomes difficult.
Farmers consider themselves lucky to find little remains of their cattle. Within 45 minutes, the dogs finish the entire animal.
Rescue is almost impossible, farmers said.
In retaliation, farmers know the tricks to kill the dholes—a lethal combination of rat poison mixed with shards of tiny glass in the meat.
“We heard that rat poison alone doesn’t work because they vomit it,” a farmer in Sephu said. “We haven’t done that yet. I don’t think people are doing it right now.”
With reddish-brown back and white undersides, dholes closely resemble domestic dogs but are larger. While the locals view dholes as a threat to the livestock, habitat loss and depletion of prey base have put their species in danger.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included dholes in IUCN’s list of endangered species.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that there are fewer than 2,500 mature dholes in the world.
Despite this, the farmers are today close to taking the vindictive measure to save their cattle. Apart from cordyceps, livestock contributes to a significant share of income of the people in Sephu.
Wangdue dzongkhag records show that Sephu gewog produces 233.44 metric tonnes (MT) of dairy products annually.
The milk-processing unit (MPU) in Sephu collects at least Nu 150,000 worth of milk every month.
The MPU sells more than 1,000 balls of cheese and at least 60kg of butter. MPU staff Ugyen Dema said, “We never had a problem selling the produce. Local demand is high, and all items are sold easily.”
However, with the increasing depredation, farmers report a decrease in milk contributed to the MPU. “I used to sell around 5 litres every day to the MPU, but now I hardly sell 3 litres,” Nim Pelmo said.
Big cats kill yaks
A few hundred meters above Busa chiwog in Sephu, the wildlife conflict replicates. Tiger and snow leopards prey on yaks.
At least 60 households in Sephu keep yaks. Of the total, 35 are in Longtoed, 22 in Busa and three in Nakha.
In Longtoed alone, more than 200 yaks were reported killed by the predators, mostly tigers in the past two years. The chiwog has around 800 yaks.
Similar to the wild dogs, tigers and snow leopards are globally endangered species.
While the issue worsens, farmers receive little to zero compensation for the livestock lost to the wild animals.
To help the farmers, the forest range office in Sephu introduced the livestock insurance scheme in 2016.
The office administration provided the conservation committee with Nu 500,000 seed money to compensate the farmers.
Initially, more than 40 households were interested in the scheme. Today, it has 19 registered members. Farmers receive compensation ranging from Nu 700 to Nu 2,800 per animal depending on the breed.
In the past, the forest range office recorded the livestock loss in the gewog.
However, without any compensation, farmers have stopped reporting to the office, said Park Ranger Sangay Penjor.
“So, we don’t have any records of the animals killed in the gewog. People don’t come forward to tell us if we don’t give compensation,” he said.