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Updated: 16 min 55 sec ago

Urban agriculture initiative supplies 500kg of vegetables during lockdown

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 12:27

Choki Wangmo

The urban agriculturists under the urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu supplied about 500 kilograms (kg) of vegetables to the Centenary Farmers’ Market during the lockdown.

They collected their second harvest yesterday.

A group harvested 399kg of vegetables from 21 plots of land in Beybena, Changtagang, Kushuchen, and Begana during the lockdown. They earned Nu 18,585. A farmer said the prices were comparatively lesser than the market price but “this is the time for us to help the nation.”

Some of the farmers, however, were upset with the prices they were given. For example, a kg of beans fetched Nu 23 and Nu 19 for cabbage according to the government-fixed price during lockdown. “Such prices might discourage farmers,” one of them said.

Sixty percent of the crops like beans, carrot, pumpkin, coriander, chili, peas, radish, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and spring onion was harvested. The group expects to harvest the remaining crops in the coming days as per the instruction of the agriculture department and the national Covid-19 task force, which allows only one person from the group to visit the field.

“Due to movement restriction and delay in harvest, crops such as spinach, carrot, coriander were damaged by rain, sunshine, and invasive weed,” a farmer said, adding that some of the crops were stolen.

The initiative which rolled out in May as a part of Covid-19 initiative converted 26 acres of fallow land converted to agricultural land in places such as Begana, Bebeyna, Kushuchen, Changtagang and thromde areas in the capital. There are 34 groups, mostly laid-off workers from the hospitality sector. The initiative was funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Now with the nationwide lockdown, the groups said they were worried about self-sufficiency if the lockdown continues. “Our work plan is to continue the agriculture work as before and would like to request the government to allow us to work at the field with few people.”

The coordinator of the initiative, BB Rai, said that although they did not get time for cleaning and weeding due to lockdown, the production was good. He said that the agriculture department had arranged special permit and was taking farmers to the field following proper health protocols. “Except for the harvest, we aren’t allowed to work in the town areas according to the protocols. The permit is for one person and he or she can’t do much.”

“Few of them are disheartened,” he added.

The farmers officially harvested the produce twice before the lockdown.

He, however, said that due to the lockdown they had missed second cropping which starts in August-September and is harvested by the end of October. Crops like turnip, radish peas, and onions are grown in the second cropping season.

He said that the pricing system was fixed by the national task force in collaboration with the agriculture department and included the cost of production and prevailing market price.

Some members proposed door-to-door sale of vegetables in places near their fields.

New Normal Education will start with New Normal Teachers

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 12:26

Education will never be like before; new normal education has begun. New normal education will start with new normal teachers.

Children lost the whole of 2020 academic session and we are uncertain of 2021 academic session or beyond.  This will cost everyone dearly. The pandemic has affected education like never before. It has forced homeschooling and online learning—suddenly, children stopped going to schools and stayed home. Education was synonymous to schooling and there were very less or no alternatives to education. Suddenly, when the school gates closed for children due to the pandemic, the otherwise lively classrooms and play grounds were nothing more than empty structures.

Homeschooling and online learning were something no one was familiar with but we had no options. Bhutan saw one of the best continued education delivery right from the beginning when the pandemic’s pandemonium started hitting us. Under the farsighted guidance of our beloved King, a supportive government and a dedicated Ministry of Education along with various stakeholders, every effort was made by this tiny yet nation of big dreams. eLearning through Tele Education, Google Classrooms, Social Media platforms and Self-Instructional Materials reached all 170,000 plus children. We are still doing the best.

Now, six months into the pandemic and the nation in lockdown, it is certain that the new normal education should take a good shape and foundation. We are continuously blessed by His Majesty’s visionary’s guidance. The government will support. Ministry of Education will lead and every other stakeholder will do their best for future fitting our education system and going forward with a promising and practical new normal education. However, it is teachers who can make everything deliverable. New Normal Education will start with new normal teachers. Teachers must start accepting, preparing, learning, unlearning, relearning and delivering the new normal education. Our children are out there in their homes and every passing day without school should be made as worthwhile as possible. Parents will do their part. Time calls for teachers who are resilient and possessing strong emotional intelligence. Teachers should be tech savvy innovators who are continuously learning to create the new normal teaching learning cycle. Technology is a big part of the new normal education. Teachers must become creative content creators. Video conference-based classes, Google Classrooms, Virtual Learning Environment, Chat rooms and virtual connectivity with learners are some of the many things that teachers start learning seriously and accepting it as an integral part of the profession. Using technology and online platforms to deliver lessons will be a challenge to overcome because technology based learning is the future. A PDF file sent in a class chat room with notes and questions is just a small start-interactive, user friendly and creative ways of lesson delivery along with assessment and engagement strategies are the bigger steps. The new normal education will require the leadership of self and teachers collaborating with each other as well as stakeholders is a new normal priority. Teachers must become the most creative and versatile professionals. Critical thinking and communication skills should be a constant focus for every teacher. In summary, teachers need to inspire themselves to move up from the comfort zone of being just teachers.

Most of our strategies learnt at the colleges are already becoming obsolete and so will our skills. The uncertain times is calling all teachers to gear up for a whole new way of teaching learning. Time is now to invest your time in getting ready for something that is uncertain. When everyone else is taking care of their role in the new normal education, the 9,000 plus teachers, who are the key players, must gear up. Teachers will play the biggest role in realising the new normal education as a success. The stakeholders must equally equip, engage and empower teachers with the opportunities of taking forward the new normal education. Teachers are humble professionals and are always ready to adapt, innovate and initiate. Teachers are important in every society at all times but this uncertain future calls for an added importance and responsibility of teachers.

 

Contributed by 

Sonam Norbu

Teacher

Lobesa LSS, Punakha

Hay Lung: Haa, the Sacred Valley of Surprises

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 12:25

In Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo’s (1385- 1446/1458?)  biography, the valley of Haa is referred to as Hay. The Choekey, word is used to express breath-taking surprise. Five centuries later, the great Tibetan Dzogchen master, Polu Khenpo Dorji (c. 1896-1970) confirmed the name of the valley as Hay.

Like Haa, there are multiple sacred sites by the same name, both in Bhutan and elsewhere. For example, Paro Taktsang was called Hay Taktsang. The monastery of Neyphug is actually Hay Phug. In Tibet there is a monastery called Hay Puri. Similarly in Nepal, the village next to the sacred site of the Draphu Ma Ra Tika is called Hay Li Si. All these sites have two things in common: association with Guru Padmasambhava and towering hills.

The eighth century mystic Guru Padmasambhava is credited with the creation of several hidden lands to offer safe refuge in times of crisis. Several of these sanctuaries are in Bhutan. Haa is considered one of them.  

Ancient lore embraces tales of how Guru Rinpoche hid many ter or treasures in Bhutan including in the Haa valley. The great Buddhist master blessed Haa as a bes ney or hidden land. Following in the Guru’s footsteps, many other great Buddhist masters visited and blessed the valley. Some of these luminaries include Gelong Ma Pem, Terton Sherab Mebar and Drubthob Thangtong Gyalpo.

The 13th Je Khenpo of Bhutan, Yonten Thaye (1724-1784) recognised the sacred state of the Hay valley. His Holiness said that the valley is so pure that there are no traces of impediments or obstacles. So it does not come as a surprise that the valley is filled with ney, or sacred sites. It has at least 17 neys, 42 Lhakhangs and 113 Chorten Dangrims

Ap Chungdu

The main protector of the sacred Hay valley is Ap Chungdu. People in the valley revere him as their principal protector as much as they fear his wrath. 

Ap Chungdu features in Terton Pema Lingpa’s book of revelations, Thuji Chenpo Muensel Droenme. According to a legend in the book, during the eighth century Guru Rinpoche performed the fifth series of Avalokitesvara’s Abhisekha ceremony at the cave of Gyon-yul-pal. 

At that time, Ap Chungdu had been working in concert with other evil deities. Together, they were trying to obstruct the Guru’s spiritual pursuits. The combined evil forces created cyclones, set lakes on fire, split rocks, cut down forests, reduced mountains to rubble and rolled the resultant debris down the hillsides. In defence, Guru Rinpoche simply wielded a golden dorje and knocked the evil forces unconscious. 

According to the legend, when Ap Chungdu regained consciousness, he found himself turned into a boy. Realizing Guru Rinpoche’s power, he prostrated himself in submission before the almighty Guru with the following words: “We are all your subjects. We pledge to dedicate our lives to your service. We shall be the protectors of the Buddhist doctrine.”  It is said that Guru accepted Ap Chungdu’s peace offering and blessed him, and made him the principal protector of the valley. 

Although Ap Chungdu is only the deity of Hay, his status is that of Zorarakye, the protecting deity of the beyul (bes yul) or hidden land, Khenpajong north of Bumthang in Lhuentse.  Because Ap Chungdu received blessings directly from Guru, he has been included amongst the deities of the Tantric Mandala. To this day, people in the valley pray to Ap Chungdu for protection. There is a statue of him in the Lhakhang Karpo.

Black and White Temples

Lhakhang Karpo, the White Temple is one of the most important temples of the valley. The other is Lhakhang Nakpo, the Black Temple. 

In the Lho Chojung Sarpa by the 69th Je Khenpo Gendun Rinchen who is regarded as a great scholar, there are two stories about the history of the temples. His Holiness says that in the absence of documents he had to base his research on oral accounts. According to the first story, the 33rd Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (c.605-650, dates vary) built the two Lhakhangs at the same time as Jambay and Kyichu Lhakhangs. But this is yet to be attested.   

Je Gendun Rinchen relates that the Tibetan King set a black and a white pigeon free from Lhasa. The places where these birds landed in Haa are where he had the temples built miraculously in one day.

The second story is as magical as the first one. It recounts that people appeared from the three hills, built these two lhakhangs in a day and then disappeared back into the hills. These three hills are considered Ap Chungdu’s neykhang or abode. Hence, from that day the hill was called Rig-sum and the valley given the name Hay Lung or the Valley of Surprises. 

In Lopen Pema Tshewang’s paper titled, Neyig of Hay Valley, he records an oral account of how the head of the Amitabha Buddha statue miraculously appeared in Lhakhang Karpo. Lopen Pema Tshewang said that while the main statue was being sculpted, a stranger came to sell the head of the statue. Drawn by the workmanship, the sculptor placed it on the body and it stuck like a magnet. 

Fondly known as Lopen Pemala, his story validates local knowledge but the village elders have more details to share. According to them, when the sculptor was finding it difficult to sculpt the head of the statue, a stranger dressed in blue appeared at crack of dawn. After delivering the head of the statue he disappeared from view.

Seeing the statue fit perfectly, the sculptor is amazed. When he looks for the stranger, he is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed, the sculptor exclaims “Hay”. 

That statue is the main nangten (relic) of the Lhakhang Karpo and can still be seen today. The peculiar feature is that the head is slightly bent and somewhat disproportionately large for the body.

The other main nangten of the Lhakhang Karpo, a statue of Jowo, is considered equally sacred. Lopen Pemala found that both temples were built by the same carpenter. It is believed that the master craftsman was the manifestation of King Songtsen Gampo. While no written records have yet surfaced, oral tradition holds it that the master carpenter miraculously built the temples at the same time as the Kyichu temple in Paro. 

Yipri/Kipri 

In Lopen Pemala’s Neyig, he also unravels the enigma of Kirpri Budethangkha. The popular pilgrim site is where the rock with the impression of Guru’s body and hat can be seen. It is believed that the impression is similar to the one at Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang. The impression of where Guru tied his horse Balaha on the rock can still be seen today. 

Stories in the Neyig tell of Guru’s pursuit of a demon that had transformed itself into a serpent. When local residents heard about it, they hid behind a hill, an act that gave rise to the name of their village Yipri, which is now known as Kipri. Guru is said to have tamed the serpent and transformed it into stone. The place where the rock stands is Budethang, with Bu meaning snake and De means demon and thang meaning flat land. 

A village elder narrates another version. He said that when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was fighting the Lam Kha Nga, it is said he hid behind the hill and hence the name Yipri.

Below the Budethang rock is another rock. Though smaller in size it is associated with Guru. It is said that when Guru visited Kipri (Yipri), the locals hid behind the hill because they were feeling shy.

Another legend talks about how the tutelary deity Vajrakila Kumar (Dorji Zhonu) appeared at a house in Kipri. The man of the house was not the most pious person in the valley. When he saw the deity, he threw sticks and chased the divine being away. It is said that the deity took flight, landing on an oak tree in Chubarna in close proximity to the Black Temple. It is said that the deity then flew onwards, flying above the Hay Dzong and finally settling down on another oak tree in the village of Bangyena. 

The owners of the two houses went in front of the tree and invited the deity to their respective homes. The deity went to the upper house, causing the owner of the lower house to become envious. 

He began quarrelling with his neighbour, the quarrel escalating into a bloody fight that resulted in the death of the owner of the upper house. As required by the traditional laws of the time, the accused offered the family of the victim a plot of land. Since then, every year on the eleventh month, the Vajrakila ritual is performed. A statue of Vajrakila is said to have flown to the Zang Lhakhang at Hechu. The statue can still be seen today.

Rig-sum Gonpo

Our elders in Haa are convinced that the three sacred hills in the valley represent and remind them of our two living monarchs and Gyalsey, our Crown Prince.

According to these elders, the central hill represents Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and corresponds to His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo who has evidenced this appellation by his actions and is revered by the populace as representing the ultimate embodiment of compassion. Our elders are convinced of His Majesty’s ability to recognize and empathize with the suffering and pain experienced by all sentient beings.

According to our elders, the hill that represents Jampelyang (Bodhisattva Manjusri) symbolizes His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, as he is seen by them as the embodiment of transcendental wisdom.

The right hill represents Chana Dorji (Vajrapani) the Holder of the Secret Doctrines, remover of obstacles and our spiritual guardian. This reminds the elders of our Gyalsey who is seen as the embodiment of the energized power of all the Buddhas of the past, present and future.

Haa is often described like a mirror covered by the vapour of one’s breath. The sacred valley is filled with traditional folklore that often blends with facts.  In the valley of the three sacred towering hills, hangs stories that are now only seen in movies. As a cool, wet alpine haunt of Bhutan, with pristine white water gushing through it, the magnificent valley of Hay can easily qualify as an earthly paradise filled with breathtaking surprises.

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi

Happiness and well-being project to be completed next year

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:59

Thinley Namgay  

Happiness and Well-being Project, coordinated by the Paro College of Education (PCE) for the nine colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), is on track.

European Union (EU) has certified the overall progress of the project as ‘good’ in the last two reports.

Project Officer, Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho, said: “Due to the good certification, we received budget on time which is crucial to carry out activities. “Fund is from EU’s Erasmus+ programme under its capacity-building project in the field of higher education.”

The total budget for the project is Euro 505,960. So far, for the last two pre-financing period, 90 percent of the budget has been received.

“Remaining budget will be disbursed soon,” said Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho.

To enhance mental health, counselling and well-being support for students, the project has some specific mandates such as establishing a happiness and well-being centre in all the nine colleges, with lead centre at PCE with an extension at Samtse College of Education.

“We are in the final stage,” Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho said. “So far training level-three has been completed at PCE and Thailand.”

The two-year project, which started in November 2018, was supposed to be completed by November this year. However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the project completion dateline had to be postponed until November next year.

Some of the activities delayed, Pelden Dorji Dadil Jamtsho said, were proper setting up of ICT equipment and books at the centres, signing of final memorandum of understanding between 10 national stakeholders, further training and certification of trainees by the Bhutan Board of Certified Counsellors, among others.

He said that during this pandemic, time and stress management handouts were developed and yoga, meditation and other mindfulness activities were carried out in the colleges. “Counsellors are supporting frontline workers at Paro airport by printing and issuing brochures related to mental health for those who came from abroad.”

University of Birmingham, the UK, Institute University of Da Maia ISMAI, Portugal, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium are the project partners.

Coping with Covid-19

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:57
Did you see the two-year-old baby tugging at its sleeping mother to wake her up? She had died of starvation on her trek back to their village. If you had seen the families of millions of people who had lost their loved ones to this pandemic, you would have also seen the pain and the suffering that follows its trail.  Have you peered in their eyes to see the arrant hopelessness that dwells in their hearts?

Fortunately, due to the enlightened leadership of this country, we have been spared the trauma and the tragedy that follows this scourge. There is an air of tranquillity which is all pervasive. We are living in an extremely protected environment with a sense of security which only this country can give.

The damage and destruction wrecked by this pandemic is unparalleled in recent history. Global economies are in ruins and the financial markets have gone into a tailspin. Stimulus packages that the governments of various countries offered for its revival have failed to stem the tides of recession. Yet in all the chaos and turmoil that is swirling around us, we have remained imperturbably unaware of the hardships and privations which people have faced elsewhere. The audacity of this global contagion can never be downplayed because of the trail of desolation it leaves behind. Despite the government’s adoption
of extreme measure for our protection and safety, Bhutan cannot insulate itself totally by creating an impenetrable bubble. But it can control and mitigate its impact through proper planning and execution. The risks can only be contained by motivating the task force at the ground level and making the public sufficiently aware of the dangers and the preventive measures. They say the mettle of a nation can only be tested in times of crises. Bhutan is facing that crises today, and facing it with confidence. The strength of this country and the ability of its people to confront such unforeseen calamities is consecrated in the unshakeable faith which the people have placed in their beloved King.  He has won their hearts with his charm, and their trusts with empathy and compassion. His Majesty has galvanised the entire population into a nation of foot soldiers proudly marching behind his footsteps.

The steely resolve of the people of this country is the result of the resolute efforts of our King and his creative ideas. The effulgence of a new dawn began with the coronation of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It was a momentous moment of history which brought into focus the extraordinary gift of leadership and character possessed by the Druk Gyalpo. It also revealed the essence of the man: a person whose vision for the future was fuelled by his dreams and powered by his foresight. His Majesty could foresee the digital revolution changing the world. He could feel the urgency of revamping the education system with greater emphasis on science and technology and the need to strengthen the backbone of the country with good governance. Institutions like RIGSS were specifically created to impart to the bureaucrats a deeper understanding of their responsibilities. A militia of trained volunteers, who came to be known as De-Suups, the Guardians of Peace, were raised to support the government personnel in times of unforeseen disasters. The national health care system was further strengthened and given the additional task of preparing for epidemics and other unforeseen contingencies. These tasks were implemented with fierce urgency. We are prepared today only because of the measures taken yesterday.

Despite the hurdles the lockdown must have created, no one was allowed to suffer any extreme hardship. The garbage van invariably arrived on time. The sorely needed vegetables reached us just when our supplies started to dwindle. FCBL was mandated to supply all essential commodities to all people at all times, and they never lost sight of that credo. While we sleep comfortably in our homes, our heart goes out to the hundreds of FCBL workers, officials as well as fellow workers, who are toiling day and night to ensure that the vegetables are delivered to every household on time. Even the CEO and the directors of FCBL are lending

a helping hand. They are all there, merrily eating and sleep- ing in the FCBL complex so that they are available for duty at all times. They voluntarily opted for these jobs: for them this is a lifetime opportunity to serve their country and their beloved King. No less is the contribution of the health workers who are spending sleepless nights to cover the tracks of Covid patients and test thousands of suspects for the slightest sign of the disease. Then there are the De-Suups, who are seen everywhere, involved in all the multifarious activities. They are always there within easy reach to help the old and the feeble. They are there helping with medication and food deliveries and securing the borders against infiltrators and intruders.

For the homeless coming in from Jaigaon, the army built 6,000 apartments in record time.  The army personnel are always at the forefront of any emergency that may arise. Only recently four of these fearless soldiers lost their lives while rescuing some people who were stranded in the midst of a river in full spate. They are the ones who are ever ready to make such sacrifices. While all these activities were going on at a hectic pace, the police force was busy ensuring compliance with their smile and polite words. The members of the task force heading the Covid-19 team were charged with the planning and execution of all activities, which must be undertaken to meet this challenge. They synchronised the entire gamut of the intricate and divergent aspects of these operations with clockwork precision. This is a team, comprising of the best brains the country can produce, nothing can come better. We are also fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is a doctor by profession. His knowledge and advice is an integral part of the drive by the government launched to contain the spread of the dreaded coronavirus and he is carrying out that task with “surgical precision”.  The way Bhutan has handled and contained this pandemic is a matter of pride not only for our own people but also for the international community.

We were quite apprehensive about the rumoured lockdown which was about to take place. When it did occur, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the logistics for supply of food and vegetables, to every household both in urban and rural areas, were already in place. When some of our friends from across the border telephoned to enquire about the lockdown, they were shocked to hear that no one was facing any hardship due shortage of food. The government had taken care of it. How- ever, what they found amazing and unbelievable was the fact that the government had not only ensured uninterrupted supply of food and provisions for the people, they had also ensured that the stray dogs on the street did not go hungry. Things that we take for granted looks quite different from the other side of the table.

But the towering figure behind this story is that of His Majesty The King. It was his vision and foresight, which energised the people to reach out to one another and present a cohesive and united front. Whereas the Kidu of land went a long way towards alleviation of poverty, the Kidu of cash subsidy in the form of monthly allowances sustained the lives of thousands of nationals who had lost their livelihood. The compassion and empathy, which His Majesty bestowed on the people, percolated down to the lowest rung of the society. Just as they received it from the bountiful hands of His Majesty, they too felt obliged to offer it to their neighbours and to their needy countrymen. The sudden lockdown had deprived many of the opportunity to stock up on their immediate needs. It was heartening the see neighbours stepping up to share their provisions, ensuring that no one went to bed with hunger in their bellies.  I was pleasantly surprised to see my own neighbours coming forward to offer me home cooked food and any other assistance that I may require.

His Majesty has enthused the nation with grit and determination and enabled them to meet these formidable challenges. The capability
of this nation, which could launch its own satellites, can never be underestimated and the resolve of the people to confront this pandemic can never be undermined. His Majesty was always at the forefront. The frenetic pace of activity required His Majesty’s presence at diverse junctures. He was perpetually on the move, moving like the wind, from once place to another, just to ensure that you and
I remain safe. His presence was the greatest motivating factor for the frontline workers and the greatest source of inspiration for the entire nation. During his speech His Majesty had pledged never to rule but always to serve, and today he has redeemed that pledge. Nothing stood in the way, not even the need to be present at the birth of Their Majesties’ second son. We can never recompense him for the sacrifices His Majesty has made, but we can fulfil his dreams with some of our own sacrifices.

Afroze Bukht,

Phuentsholing mailto:zanazbi@gmail. com/ zanazbi@gmail.com 

 

13,000kg chicken disposed of in last two weeks

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:45

Choki Wangmo

Despite limited human resource and mounting public demand, the Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited (BLDCL) is fighting another challenge of keeping the livestock products fresh before delivery.

Due to lack of refrigerated vans, blast freezers, cold storages, and improper processing facilities in the dzongkhags, meat products go bad quickly.

The chief executive officer (CEO) of BLDCL, Jigme Wangchuk, said that in the last two weeks, 13,000kg of chicken were spoilt and discarded.

Since August 15, BLDCL has distributed 48,205 cheese balls, 3,291kg of butter, 1,385 kgs of beef, 4,309kg of chicken, and 3,841 cartons of egg in Thimphu.

A kg of butter and cheese costs Nu 450 each and a tray of egg is Nu 375.

With the help of livestock department, the corporation has deployed 44 people with 14 pick-up trucks to distribute the dairy products to shops in different zones and households.

Although there were no records as to how many households had been reached, the orders dropped in the last three days, said the CEO. The drop in demand might be because the cheese was the only product regularly consumed, he added.

Local eggs, cheese, and butter are main products available with the corporation which are brought from other dzongkhags while beef is bought from a local importer. Jigme Wangchuk said that other dzongkhags had surplus products and so the office did not have to deploy officials to deliver in other dzongkhags. The product prices were negotiated with the farmers in consultation with the dzongkhag livestock officers.

“We can continue to supply eggs, butter, and cheese if the lockdown continues for a month,” he said.

But he said that BLDCL might need to increase the storage facilities in the capital and also set up more sales outlets or distribution points to fast track clearing the stock.

In the earlier days of the lockdown, people on social media complained about lack of efficient service delivery. This, according to Jigme Wangchuk, was due to lack of proper address and GPS system in the capital.

He said: “The deliveries had to be made with description of the location and landmarks on call which led to delay in delivering the products.”

The corporation, formed three years ago, is mandated to supply dairy products for people during the nationwide lockdown.

Enough rations in Jomotshangkha for residents

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:41

KelzangWangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Jomotshangkha drungkhag in Samdrupjongkhar remains isolated after the lockdown, but residents will not hungry for lack of essentials, according to officials.

The incident commander (IC) and Jomotshangkha drungpa, Lamdak Wangdi, said that the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) depot and the shops identified by the trade had stocked the items before the lockdown.

The drungkhag Covid-19 task force, FCB and identified essential delivery shops deliver the goods and other essential items to the recognised shops in the drungkhag’s three gewogs.

The drungpa said although the trade office had identified two shops in Jomotshangkha town, the drungkhag task force identified four other shops in Jomotshangkha town, six at Serthi and Lauri gewogs each and three shops at Langchenphu gewog to assure better service to the people.

“The task force, De-Suups and essential suppliers deliver the rations and other necessary items to the identified shops in all the three gewogs. Those shops deliver essential items to the doorstep in the gewogs,” Lamdak Wangdi said.

The drungpa said that the drungkhag also had sufficient vegetables as the task force had identified two shops each at Lauri and Serthi gewogs to supply vegetables to the residents in Jomotshangkha town.

He said the suppliers goto the villages and collect vegetables like cabbages, radish, chilli and beans and bring them to the Jomotshangkha town. “The task force members and De- Suups deliver the vegetables going door-to-door.”

Lamdak Wangdi said the drungkhag had deployed the De-Suups, army, police, foresters, retired armed forces (RAF), customs and immigration officials keep vigil at all illegal routes and border gate. Local leaders are also monitoring the situation in the gewogs.

“But cow herders from across the border often try to cross the border. Our security officials on duty explain and send them back,” Lamdak Wangdi said.

The drungkhag clears the irrigation channel leading to fields in India so that farmers from the other side can’t enter to maintain them, the drungpa said.

The Norzin Lam traffic signal post speaks

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:37

Yangyel Lhaden

I retired to bed on the night of August 10. I am still resting. The lockdown has given me a good rest. If you ask me, I would want this lockdown to continue.

At the four-way intersection on the Norzin Lam, I had spent years since the early 1980s when I was born. Dressed in traditional attire, I had provided shelter to the traffic signal man for decades. Now, I am alone and deserted. The pride I had as the home to the traffic signal men, which made Thimphu the only capital in the world without traffic lights is slowly fleeting away. Where are you my policeman?

I heard that there is a nationwide lockdown, which means restriction on movement. I pinched myself to ask if it’s a dream and if the busy traffic and the policeman would return. But it has been days, none of them have returned.

The city is dead, so I see and so I reflect.

From boring days of waiting for a few scooters, Mahindra jeeps and Ambassador cars, whose drivers I knew by name and address, this city has become crazy. They say it is the fastest growing city in the region. I take no pride in it. I saw how the capital city’s main thoroughfare had changed.

I used to laugh when visitors told me about traffic jams. I thought it was another variety of jam. But here, I stand to see it happen. The number of vehicles increased. It pains to feel the pain in the arms of my policeman who starts signalling for direction from 8:30 am to 6:30pm, seven days a week. There used to be one. It was increased to two. Now we need four man to control the traffic.

Covid-19 came as a relief to me. When the first case was reported on March 6, I laughed at the frenzy. Some eyeballed my policemen as they rushed to hoard essentials. The number of cases increased, so did those coming out. Just before the lockdown, traffic was back to normal.

Norzin Lam, where I stand has always been a problem. There was a plan to do away with parking spaces when the two multi-storey parking were completed. There was also Pedestrian Day planned to reduce the traffic once every month. None of them worked. I would love to wave to kids and families strolling around without the worry of speeding vehicles and rowdy drivers. We would have provided the best public space for the town that is increasingly getting congested.

For decades, I have heard planners talk about making Thimphu as a different city. I feel sad, none kept to their words or to the plans readied after numerous study tours abroad and millions spent in consultancy fees.

I am happy to see my friend, Pala, who bought a Maruti van after selling momos on his rickety Bajaj scooter for years. It was a good mode of transportation, a necessity. But I am angry with the growing number of vehicles and shrinking space. I am also sad because owning a car is a pride, not a necessity. Bigger the car, the bigger the pride. I know from how they look at me when they pass by.

Covid-19 seemed to have affected some families hard but I saw hundreds of new cars since March. I could make out from the registration plate. From BP-A, it is now BP-E. We were saying that soon it will be BP-Z or BG-Y.

Across the Thimpchhu, at the road safety office, I heard officials talk about numbers. This pandemic year, five months to be precise, they saw 3,386 new vehicles. As of July 31, there are 58,143 vehicles in Thimphu. “Wow. That’s almost one car for three people in the capital!”

I question myself. Do all members of the household own or need a car? The answer is somewhere else, with smart businesses and smart marketing people. Banks compete to avail cheap loans to buy cars, vehicle dealer have competitive schemes to lure the stupid residents. I felt sad when 20 percent of old Dorji’s meagre salary was deducted as “vehicle loan.” He is not. Driving around his new Baleno twice a week is enough for him.

While I am enjoying the peace at Norzin Lam, I am also breathing in the cleanest air for years. I would not age, but I was sick of the smoke and the carbon monoxide at Norzin Lam. We have been breathing the cleanest air in many years since I was born.

I wish for the lockdown to continue, but it is not fair. Livelihoods are affected, development plans are derailed and the economy is bad. The reality is when life returns to normal, everything is forgot- ten as we chase after income, profit and economic growth. Nobody will pause to reflect what we have learnt from our first nationwide lockdown.

Only those who test positive are to receive calls

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:30

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Many residents in Phuentsholing were left panicking when they didn’t receive calls about their test results after the recent mass surveillance testing.

The samples were taken days ago and when the surveillance team left for Thimphu, they were in a dilemma.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo in a press conference yesterday evening in Thimphu said that only positive cases would be contacted.

“We will only call when it is a positive case because there are other important procedures to follow as doctors have to check them and quarantine.”

If the health ministry officials were to call and inform each and everyone, the health minister said that thousands of people would have to be called. However, lyonpo said that they have also considered informing people through SMS.

A resident of Pipal Dara, Sonam Penjor, said that he expected a call because he had met so many people just prior to the lockdown.

Another resident in Pemal- ing said that he and his family worried the most when 12 new positive cases were reported recently.

“It was natural for us to get worried. We waited for two days and there was nothing,” he said.

He said that there were rumours of the places from where the 12 were detected, which got many worried.

“If they could have at least informed a few from one particular community or one person in a building, it would have eased the tension,” he said.

Meanwhile, during the conference, the health minister Dechen Wangmo also emphasised that people should be at home during the lockdown.

“But to be honest, this is not happening.”

The minister also shared that a few who later tested Covid-19 positive had been to others’ homes or had visitors in their houses. This only adds to more contract tracing, she said.

“If people had not been anywhere, then contract tracing may not have to go beyond one family.”

Gasa self-sufficient amid the pandemic

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:26

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Despite Gasa’s harsh weather conditions and short cultivation season, the dzongkhag is self-sufficient in vegetables and dairy products.

As of August 20, the dzongkhag exported around 13.3 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables. A majority of the vegetables were sold to Punakha and around 3MT of potatoes were sold to Thimphu dzongkhag.

Today, the dzongkhag cultivates various kinds of vegetables in its Khatoed and Khamoed gewogs, which are much warmer compared to Lunana and Laya.

On August 26, farmers from Khatoed and Khamoed donated around three boleros of vegetables, rice and fruits to De-Suups and the monastic body along with 50kg of butter and 40kg of cheese.

There are around 100 De- Suups in the dzongkhag.

Gasa Dratshang Umzey Tshering Dhendup said that around 80 monks live inside the dzong and around 12 monks stayed in the newly constructed dratshang. Villagers from the two gewogs had earlier donated fruits to the dratshang during kurim.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer Karma Wangchuk said that because almost everyone in the dzongkhag has a kitchen garden, there was no issue of vegetable shortage.

Prior to the lockdown, the dzongkhag took some major initiatives in agriculture to ensure that the dzongkhag had vegetables supply during the lockdown.

Greenhouse distribution, fallow land revival, electric fencing, bio-fertilizers and distribution of improved seeds were executed as part of the agriculture Economic Contingency Plan (AECP) with a budget of Nu 5.4 million (M).

Around 70 acres of land in Khatoed and Khamoed were also developed for cultivation.

The dzongkhag officials also initiated the Dzongkhag Zhiyog Lamten Dumra and Gomo Lhatshog Dumra by the Gasa dratshang. Under the Dzongkhag Zhiyog Lamten Dumra and the Gomo Lhats- hog Dumra by the Gasa drat- shang, small gardens were maintained by the civil serv- ants and the dratshang body.

Govt. offers T-Bills to raise money

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:22

MB Subba

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has offered Treasury Bills (T-Bills) worth Nu 3 billion (B) for sale on behalf of the government.

T-Bills are a debt instrument issued by the government to mobilise fund from the market and can be negotiated and traded freely in the market.

The T-Bills, which have a maturity period of 91 days, are being auctioned and issued through the RMA.

Any Bhutanese person, firm, company, corporate body, financial institution and trust, among others, can subscribe the Bills. But the RMA will have the full discretion to accept or reject any or all the bids either wholly or partially, without assigning any reason, the central bank notified.

The sale of Treasury Bills comes at a time when the government is reportedly facing shortage of funds amid the Covid-19 pandemic. T-Bills can be used for financing temporary revenue shortfalls in the government budget.

However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering downplayed the sale of T-Bills saying that issuing of Treasury Bills is a regular practice.

“This is issued to ensure un-disrupted cash flow in the market. This will help the economy,” he said.

According to the finance ministry’s Operation Guidelines for T-Bills, the Bills shall be listed and issued through the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan. The Public Finance Act authorises the Ministry of Finance to raise loan from any person, organisation, or government, either within or outside Bhutan.

The government estimates the domestic borrowing for fiscal year 2020-21 at Nu 13.604B, which will be financed through issuance of T-Bills and long-term government bonds in the domestic market.

As of today, the government has been using T-Bills for deficit financing and cash management. However, the government plans to raise financing through long-term bonds of different maturity, according to the finance ministry.

The Act also allows the ministry to borrow money to finance budget deficits, to refinance maturing debt and to maintain credit balance in the bank accounts by way of issue of public securities such as bills, bonds or commercial paper.

Lockdown could go on for some days more

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 11:17

Nima Wangdi

Given the rising number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country, the national lockdown may not be relaxed any soon.

The health ministry is carrying out health surveillance and tests for all the vulnerable people.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said the government imposed nationwide lockdown, as it was the best intervention to break the virus spreading chain.

“We now have to assess risks in all the places and then relax lockdown phase-wise,” she said. “For example, we have already relaxed lockdown in villages and the next phase will come dzongkhag wise depending on the risk findings,” she said.

She said the lockdown couldn’t be relaxed in any dzongkhag where the primary contacts of the index case in Phuentsholing tested negative. This is because one-time testing negative doesn’t mean that one can be free from virus.

“Lockdown has helped us in containing the virus as people confined to their own places. It could have been spread to all 20 dzongkhags if people were left to travel as usual,” she said. “For instance, about 1,000 people travel between Thimphu and Phuentsholing every day and lockdown could prevent this.”

Lyonpo said that lockdown minimised people’s movement which help tracing and testing of all the contacts of the index case. It also gave time for the ministry to plan and implement the measures accordingly.

Lyonpo said: “We must be careful before deciding to lift the lockdown. Our lockdown has been an example to many countries.”

She said that if lockdown protocols were followed strictly at the household levels, focusing on the family in which a member has tested positive would be easy.

Lyonpo emphasised that if the situation worsen in some places, lockdown in those places could be more stringent.

Fighting two pandemics hand in hand in Asia and the Pacific

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 18:18

Ending hunger and poverty amid COVID-19 impacts will require leveraging agricultural technology, innovation and partnerships 

Global hunger has been on a regrettable rise in recent years, and despite Asia’s economic clout, the continent – home to more than half of the world’s undernourished – has not been spared. Now COVID-19 is leading to a slow-down of regional economic growth and further threatening food security.

Southern Asia is particularly vulnerable, with the number of chronically underfed people projected to rise by almost a third to 330 million by 2030. It is also the only subregion in the world, where more than half the children from the poorest fifth of society are stunted, a condition that prejudices their futures. But there are challenges all around: The Pacific Island States have the world’s highest child wasting rates, and East Asia has the world’s highest absolute costs for a healthy diet – one that goes beyond mere calorie counts to offer balanced nutrition. On top of that, Asia and the Pacific is the region where obesity and overweight, for children and adults, are growing faster than anywhere else.

We are facing two pandemics. COVID-19, which beyond its health toll is crushing livelihoods, and hunger, a scourge the international community pledged to eradicate by the end of this decade – the Sustainable Development Goal 2. 

Tackling them will require new ideas and more robust political will. Past progress was sustained by the benign trickle-down effects of strong economies. This is not the case anymore.

The facts have changed, and so must our minds. 

We need to find ways to increase resilience across our food systems by identifying new marketing channels (like e-commerce), increasing efficiency to reduce losses, improve the quality of products available and storage facilities, which are critical to flows of healthy foods and income to those who produce them. Inclusive access to finance to strengthen and expand rural supply chains is also crucial. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently launched a new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme to provide an agile and coordinated global response aimed at ensuring access to nutritious food for everyone by mobilizing all forms of resources and partnerships at country, regional and global level. In line with the UN agenda to “build back better”, and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.

So we are making headway, but we must, as a priority, attend to the most urgent issues at the very source by enabling farmers to be more dynamic, entrepreneurial and competitive through continual innovation.

We need smallholder farmers to produce nutritious foods, without fear of crop failures, and we need to get those foods to the mouths of the hungry across the region and beyond. To do this, smallholders desperately need access to financial resources, technology and innovation. We also need to educate people on the importance of healthy diets, so that farmers will have a solid base of demand to whom they can market those foods.

The Asia-Pacific region is as dynamic as it is large. It has some of the best agricultural scientists, institutions and innovative ideas. From Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific to China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and virtually every country in between, innovators are proving that everyone can benefit from new technologies and science.

Examples range from deploying drones to monitor flood and pest risks, smartphone apps that can identify plant diseases, advanced genetics that build on crop and livestock breeding, precision agriculture and aquaculture systems that conserve natural resources such as water, indoor farming and consumer tools for nutrition monitoring and smart purchasing.

There is no time to waste.  Everyone needs to lend a hand: governments, academia, the private sector, UN agencies, civil society organizations, international financial institutions and the people who bring us the food we eat – the smallholders. And our hands need to be working in unison to overcome pandemics that by definition affect and involve everyone.

FAO has rolled out the Hand-in-Hand Initiative to tackle these collective challenges, and the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, which will be virtually hosted by Bhutan (1-4 September), is the perfect opportunity for forty-six Members and other partners to forge ways to expedite action and leverage resources. 

By working together, learning together and contributing together, we can overcome both pandemics and transform the agri-food system.

Contributed by 

QU Dongyu

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Around 400 workers of PII want to go home

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:18

PII management will facilitate their journey back home

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue 

About 400 workers of the Punatsangchhu-II hydroelectric project (PII) have submitted their names to project authorities expressing their wish to leave for India.

This came after nearly 500 workers of the Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group), a construction company working for PII, came together demanding to go home yesterday. The crowd gathered around 9am in front of the Jaypee Group office in Wangdue.

For the past few months, hundreds of PII workers had expressed their concern and wanted to leave for home. Most workers pointed out that they had stayed in Bhutan for long and now wished to leave. Others reasoned family issues and the upcoming celebration of major festivals in India like the Durga Puja.

The PII management led by chairman Lyonpo Loknath Sharma has ensured to help the  workers leave at the earliest. Lyonpo Loknath Sharma reached Wangdue yesterday afternoon and immediately met with the workers. Lyonpo also visited the campsites to meet with the workers, listening to their concerns and hosted a dinner for the workers yesterday.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the worker’s immediate request was that they be sent home. He added that the workers were of an understanding that the government wasn’t allowing them to leave. “From our side, we can send them any time. 

There are formalities to be completed from the Indian government side as well. That is why I am going to take all the forms and the list and go to the Indian Embassy.”

Lyonpo said that the management would request the Indian embassy to expedite the process. “Not all of them are from West Bengal, some are from other parts—each State has their own route of transit. Bus and trains are not available.”

Many workers of the project usually leave for home after a few months’ stay in Bhutan.

Jaypee Group today has around 2,800 workers. Prior to the lockdown, more than 1,000 workers left for home. Eleven workers who were to leave on August 11 were stranded because of the lockdown.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the workers leaving would disrupt the hydropower construction work. “But human beings are more important for us, their families are more important for us, their sentiments are more important for us.”

Lyonpo also expressed concerns over the worker’s experience in Bhutan and its impact in future.

After over 400 workers left for India last month, the construction companies of PI and PII announced vacancies. The project had plans to recruit Bhutanese workers. PII announced around 268 vacancies.

However, as of mid-July only 17 vacancies were filled.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the project’s plan to recruit Bhutanese had not worked. “We are also thinking about bringing workers from India as replacement. The management and contractors are working on it. If we can bring in around 500 workers we will be okay.”

However, Bhutanese would be given priority.

Critical works at PHPA to begin

Despite the shortage of workers at PII, the project management has plans to begin critical works in PI and PII.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the management had talked with the dzongkhag taskforce with regard to continuation of the critical works.

He added that the management was developing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). “We have some specific work such as at the powerhouse, which can be done with a certain number of workers.”

If possible, work at the critical sites will begin today. The workforce would be managed with the available workers at the project.

Tenants in despair, hope for rent waivers

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:16

Tshering Palden  

Besides the Covid-19 virus, many residents, mainly those running small businesses or private sector employees, in urban areas across the country are faced with a major problem which they say is more pressing than the pandemic.

Many businesses continue to remain shut. Economic activities have come to a halt since the government declared lockdown on August 11.

Some residents in Phuentsholing, which is a red zone and has new cases almost every day, were served notice to pay their rent already.

With no end in sight for the lockdown, a grocer in town said he was worried about meeting the basic needs of his family. For now, paying the rent is bugging him.

Bir Bahadur Tamang who runs a pharmacy shop in Gelephu town said it was difficult to earn even a few thousand despite having a permit to open his shop twice a week.

“I won’t be able to afford the rent this time for sure. Hardly any customer came to buy medicine,” he said.

Bir Bahadur Tamang and the tenants of the same building, who are running small businesses, received a one-time rent waiver of Nu 1,500 to date.

“It’s been quite sometime after the government announced a loan waiver. But it’s unfair to see that we are not able to get the benefit from the Kidu,” he said.

He will have to pay a rent of Nu 10,000 for the pharmacy shop and another Nu 5,000 as rent for the apartment where his family lives.

But his income this month is only Nu 8,000.

He said that the lockdown was an important measure put in place to combat the outbreak.

“But, it’s difficult when the benefit of the government’s initiative is not reaching us,” he said.

With a huge drop in businesses, private and corporate companies are also strategising how to minimise costs including cutting the salary of employees. Some are already on half salary. Others are drawing up more desperate measures as lockdown continues.

A shopkeeper in Samdrupjongkhar town, Namgay has similar concerns about paying rent for two spaces but without income. “Shop is the main source of income for me.”

“Although some homeowners have to pay loans, it would help if they could waive a small portion of the rent because I have to pay about Nu 100,000 a month for my apartment and shop,” Namgay said.

Lhamo, 35, from Pemagatshel, said that she would not be able to pay rent this month and the landlord has not indicated any discount in the rent.

“I don’t have other alternative sources of income and also have to look after my poor parents in the village.”

With restricted movement, cab drivers in the country are left with no income. Most have volunteered with the Bhutan Red Cross Society to help in Covid-19 response.

It has been more than two weeks for Karma Phuntsho, a taxi driver from Satsham in Paro without any income.

He is worried about the payment of rent and other dues, as his saving has already exhausted.  “If the lockdown extends, I am worried.” His house owner hasn’t reduced the rent so far.

A young woman opened a restaurant in Paro after returning from the Middle East recently. Two weeks later, the nationwide lockdown shut her business. She is hoping for a rent waiver from the building owner.

Having invested all her savings in setting up the restaurant, she said that she was already running into loss.

She said that she would have to leave the restaurant if there was no reduction, as there was no business at all.

However, some landlords have waived the rents by certain percentage starting March. Pema from Lamgong said that her landlord reduced the rent to Nu 8,000 from Nu 12,000.

Meanwhile, a house owner, Sangay said that her family’s only source of income was the rent. “It is difficult during lockdown for my family as well.” She said that the rent took care of the family’s grocery and bills.

 

Additional reporting from Phub Dem, Nima, and Kelzang Wangchuk 

Jomotshangkha makes own movement cards

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:15

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar 

The Jomotshangkha drungkhag Covid-19 task force came up with their own design for the movement card as they lack the printing press or facilities like other dzongkhags.

The task force had designed the movement card and printed in black and white because they could not travel to Samdrupjongkhar to print the cards due to lockdown.

Officials used sketch pens to colour about 25 cards for the essential and medical suppliers.

The incident commander (IC) and Jomotshangkha drungpa, Lamdak Wangdi, said that the Jomotshangkha town was divided into four zones- north throm, east throm, upper throm, and lower throm.

He said the movement for cardholders is allowed for two hours. The four movement timings are divided between 8am to 6pm. “One movement card was issued to a household in the respective zone, and vehicle movement is not allowed.”

The drungpa said that since the drungkhag does not have printing presses or facilities like other dzongkhags, the task force printed the cards in black and white and distributed them to about 224 households in the four zones.  There are about 1,500 people in the town. 

He said that the task force members and De-Suups completed the distribution of the cards on August 25 and implemented the movement pass in the respective zones on the same day.

“People have to wear the face masks, wash hands and follow the health protocols.”

Meanwhile, the drungkhag task force lifted the lockdown in the gewogs. People in the gewogs are allowed to carry out farming and other works like before.

“For monitoring, we deployed police, foresters, army, De-Suups and retired armed forces (RAF), among others while the gups and local leaders also monitor the situation in the gewogs,” Lamdak Wangdi said.

A genuine concern

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:14

For many Bhutanese with a single source of income, the last week of the month is the best week. It is, even if for a few days, the time when they have cash in hand or balance in their account. Rents and dues are paid, empty LPG cylinders are refilled, essentials are bought and if lucky, spare a few for a family treat.

This August, it is not going to be the same. The salaried group, civil servants and most corporate employees have little to worry, as the salary and the various allowances are credited in their account even if many stopped working since August 10. Daily wage earners, part timers and the thousands in the informal sector depending on small shops and eateries will feel the pinch of the lockdown this week.

Shops, except for a few identified, have not opened since they abruptly closed on August 11 morning. Many found themselves workless when they woke up with the news of the lockdown. After remaining idle for nearly three weeks, the greatest fear is the knock on the door from the landlord asking for house rent.

Businesses were affected since March when Bhutan recorded the first Covid-19 positive case. There were no complete shutdowns. The discount house owners gave after they benefited from the government’s monetary policy eased the burden. Some waived off house rents for a month or two, some gave generous discounts while some argued that they had no loans to pay.

The lockdown is different. Apart from a few critical industries, offices, shops and all businesses are closed. The hope is that there will be concessions because the little they have needs to be spent on essentials. The reason is that the second phase of the Covid-19 monetary measures are still in place.

Those with loans need not pay interest on the loan until September and there is a concession of 50 percent from October until March next year. Payment of loan itself is deferred for one year without penal interest. It would be unfair to avail discounts or waivers to all, but there are people whose means for livelihood has suddenly disappeared with the lockdown.

There is no compulsion and the government will not intervene as they feel it is the “moral responsibility” of the house owners. However, no one is certain when the lockdown will ease so that people could go about with their lives. Like in the first quarter of the year, some house owners will step up, without having to be told, to help their fellow citizens.

As we wait to see another week pass by in lockdown, whether the government should intervene or leave it up to house owners is worth pondering over. The government has come to the rescue with the monetary policies. If the lockdown, an extraordinary circumstance, continues for long, the benefits of the policies is a good reason to convince property owners to let some of the benefits trickle down to the tenants.

Paro relaxes lockdown outside towns

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:11

Phub Dem | Paro 

With no new Covid-19 cases for a week, residents in buffer zones and gewogs in Paro started moving out of their homes yesterday.

Except for farmers working in the fields and herding cattle, there was no rush in stores nor people loitering in the open space.

Jitsiphu, which is the hub for shoppers in Tsento gewog, saw only a few customers.

Khandu Wangmo rushed to a nearby grocery store to buy some goods for her four-year-old child. She said that it was convenient to visit the shops and buy the required things rather than ordering it through service delivery.

“As service delivery is only for essential goods, we don’t get the things as per our desire.”

Besides, another resident said that it usually took two to three days for the ordered goods to reach home. “Easing the lockdown has been of immense help.”

Paro dzongkhag administration distributed movement cards to residents in the buffer zone on Wednesday.

However, movement card is not distributed in Tshongdue town along with high alert zone—Bonday, Chang Mendi and Woochu.

Paro Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said, “Considering the population density and five positive cases from these areas, the place still remains a high-risk zone.”

He said that the dzongkhag would allow movement in the town area only after the health ministry and government declare it safe.

The dzongkhag is divided into three zones: town, buffer zones, and gewogs.

Chiwogs that are adjacent to the town zone and share boundaries with the area are identified as a buffer zone.

Each individual in the buffer zones is allowed to move around their zone for three hours. The movement duration is divided into morning, afternoon and evening starting from 8am to 7pm.

Movement of the individuals from the same building will have different timing.

Except for farm works and cattle herding, movement between gewogs is restricted.

Only a member from each household in gewogs is allowed to move from 9 am to 5pm. But it is limited to a maximum of five people working in the fields in a group.

Paro dzongdag said that the gewog officials, along with Food Corporation of Bhutan, would distribute essential items if the zones do not have shops in their area. Besides, he said that construction works were allowed in gewogs.

For Dawa Choden from Nemjo under Lungnyi gewog, the movement card won’t ease the hassle of buying essential goods. She said that the small general stores in her zone don’t have any required essential goods.

Another resident Tshewang Rinzin said that the cards would be helpful only for walking around the paddy fields and refresh oneself. “Otherwise, there is nothing in our area.”

Dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said that if the shops identified in the buffer zones don’t have the necessary goods, the residents were not allowed to enter into another zone. “But the essential service providers will continue to deliver the goods.”

He added that wholesale dealers would also deliver essential goods to the retail shops in gewog and buffer zones if the shops run out of stock.

As per the standard operating procedure, the identified shops have to setup handwashing facilities, and the customers should follow strict health protocols.

Trashigang residents relieved as lockdown eases 

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:10

Neten Dorji | Trashigang 

When the officials and volunteers came knocking and delivering the movement passes, residents of Trashigang were much relieved that the process to lift the lockdown has begun.

Residents have gradually appeared on the streets of Trashigang that donned a deserted look in the past two weeks.

Thukten Zangpo, who works at a private company, said he feels much relief after they were allowed to move around.   “It has been quite tough and really hard to stay at home without any work for weeks.”

Another resident, Sangay Zangmo said she was happy that at least she could buy the food items thats her family wanted. “With movement cards, we can buy everything, as per our needs and choice.”

She said it is also time to support the government and follow the health protocol while everyone is out.

“We are very excited when we get the movement cards,” said Dolma Lhamo, who runs the business. “It has been really tough for me.  Now I feel relaxed.”

The residents thanked His Majesty The King and the government for easing the lockdown and allowing them to move around in a regulated manner.

Another resident, Thinley Wangchuk said: “You can already tell that there is a sense of relief from people being able to do shopping themselves again. It brings a little more of that feeling of normal coming back.”

A civil servant said that for many people, they have been cooped up in their homes by watching television and staying with children. “Being able to get out again is a big deal,” he said. “But people need to be responsible and follow the government’s advice on health and safety.”

Officials monitor strictly. They ensure people follow every health safety protocol.

“I feel comfortable with the protocols we have in place,” said a graduate, referring to wearing face mask, washing hands and keeping physical distance.

“To stay at home is most difficult for youth like me,” he said. “It is a relief for me since we get four hours to move around.”

Deyjung wholesale owner, Yeshi Zangmo said that not many people are coming out like the first day of easing the lockdown. “During the lockdown, we used to get orders from more than 10 households in a day, now it has reduced,” she said adding that people now only order heavy things.

Meanwhile, the number of calls to  Trashigang operation centre for delivery services has dropped after residents were allowed to move out of their homes. “We used to receive 70 calls in a day for essential items and other purposes. It has dropped to 40 calls today,” an operator said.

Lhuentse divided into three zones

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 11:07

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar 

Lhuentse dzongkhag is divided into three zones excluding the gewogs. Phaling town near the dzong area, Autsho in the lower and Khoma gewog area in the middle are the three zones. Phaling town has 140 households, Autsho has about 130 and Khoma has around 45 households.

De-Suups started distributing the movement cards since Wednesday.

Lhuentse Dzongdag, Jambay Wangchuk, said the implementation of movement card would begin from August 29, as they would need a day for sorting out the cards and do necessary corrections if there are any. There are two time zones, three hours each in the morning and afternoon where residents can shop from the identified shops.

The dzongkhag, according to the dzongdag has been doing well in terms of door-door delivery of essential items including LPG cylinders. The dzongkhag distributed almost all the essentials through Food Corporation of Bhutan F and farm shops, with only a few necessities unavailable with FCB arranged from identified shops.

The dzongdag who is also the dzongkhag incident commander said while gewog vehicles (Boleros) were deployed to cater essentials to rural communities, many volunteers came forward with their private vehicles to supplement the transportation needs.

A self-sufficient dzongkhag in vegetable and livestock products, Lhuentse dzongkhag supplied four DCM truckloads of surplus vegetables and 130 trays of eggs to Nganglam. The dzongkhag also sent 153 kg of butter and 1200 balls of cheese to Thimphu.

Meanwhile, 665 movement cards were distributed in Trashiyangtse yesterday after dividing the dzongkhag into four zones — Yangtse Throm I and Throm II zones, Doksum town zone and the gewog zones.

The dzongkhag Covid-19 task force has issued cards to all three town zones and also issued six special cards to single mothers and disabled persons.

People will be allowed to move around in their zones starting tomorrow.

Residents in respective zones can move around from 9am-5pm, with their specific time.

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