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My Covid-19 experience

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:58

I  took a look at the world. It was rotting away fast. Deaths and diseases are natural but the humanity was coming closer fast to something very settlingly dark.

Worries do not help. I continued going to school by subways. Then, one day, I started coughing. I got a fever too. I could not say whether it was Covid-19 attack or just a seasonal flu.

The season of hope had come but I was growing weaker by the day. Then shutdown began, one after another. I got more worried. I had never felt vacant like this before.  Something had really changed. I could feel it in my bones.

Covid-19 is really painful. It is agonising. It is maddening. All of a sudden one becomes weak and fatigued. It feels like one’s head is being ceaselessly beaten by a sledgehammer.

Once the Covid-19 strikes, it is serious if one does not get enough care. Appetite loss is a given and that can sink one into a dangerous depth.

I thought I was dying. Thinking—thinking overly—does not help in a situation like this.

The doctors came to me after a long wait to tell me that I had contracted Covid-19. His professional attitude was most irritating at that moment.

“You might have been infected with Covid-19,” he told me. The hospitals in the United States had run out of test kits, he said. “But I suggest you to stay home in isolation and not go around. You’ll be fine.”

I could neither laugh nor cry. I began losing sleep by the day.

But then I figured the importance of health advice. If one can keep inside, in isolation, there is a certain level of safety in the community. And if one gets good medical attention, Covid-19 can be handled well.

I got to hell and back, so to speak.

Being home is a special feeling I cannot express. Lockdown and travel bans were happening everywhere. I wanted to return home and am among the lucky few who could do so early. When I saw the landscapes from my country from the Drukair’s window, I found myself crying like a little baby.

The preparedness that I saw immediately after landing at Paro International Airport made me feel that I had made the right decision to return home. In my experience, no other nation was alert and prepared like Bhutan.

When the US and other countries are still struggling with whether to quarantine or not, Bhutan had already made her decision. Anyone flying into the country would be quarantined because Bhutan did not have, still does not have, a local Covid-19 positive case.

Right after arriving in Thimphu, officials from health ministry contacted me to tell me that everything was taken care of and that I should not worry about anything. My family members were informed too.

Where do you get this kind of care and support? Every individual in the country was going out of his or her way to help the government to tackle the pandemic. This gave me strength to fight the disease. I did my best as a citizen—followed health advisories and kept myself awake and active.

Why am I telling my story? Is it even important?

It is. I need to tell my story because I know it best. I am now clean I have tested negative. But I cannot celebrate this achievement alone, like this. I must educate the people and warn them of the imminent dangers.

What Covid-19 is and can do to us, we do not know clearly yet. We can only take care of ourselves and our community. Listen to health advice. This alone can ensure safety for all but we must act each individually for the common good. That is the only way we have to fight the disease.

Contributed by 

Chimi Y Tshogyal 

Fifth COVID-19  Patient

Former army chief Goongloen Lam Dorji passes away

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:57

Rinzin Wangchuk

The former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Royal Bhutan Army, Goongloen Gongma (Lt. General) Lam Dorji passed away yesterday morning at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Thimphu. He was 87.

Recipient of two Druk Thugsey medals, Druk Yugyel, and the Drakpoi Wangyal Medal from three Monarchs, Goongloen Lam Dorji served two monarchs in a career that spans more than four decades during which he had helped strengthen and mature the armed forces in Bhutan. 

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was born in Haa on October 23, 1933. He became a soldier when the Royal Bhutan Army was in its infancy. His career matured with the army, and he retired when the RBA had grown into a professional force of 10,000 strong personnel on October 30, 2005. He served 41 years as Chief Operations Officer and became the world’s longest serving army chief.

He passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India, at the end of 1954 and completed a post-training attachment with a range of Indian Army units and schools of instruction.

In March 1959, he received his first assignment to establish the RBA training centre in Wangduephodrang and transformed 80 rough but dedicated farmers into soldiers who served their nation with a salary of five Ngultrum a month and some basic rations. 

Having worn out many pairs of boots on the rough Bhutanese terrain, and having covered the length and breadth of a stark but beautiful countryside, with limited food and facilities, he left a force of trained and dependable soldiers who enjoy good housing, pay, and facilities and a high morale with very clear responsibility: to serve their King in the interest of their country.

In 1962, during the Indo-China war, he was posted to Lingmithang to oversee the training of a militia force drawn from Kurtoe, Bumthang, Mongar, and Pemagatshel. He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel on August 7, 1962, and served as the Commandant of training centre from 1963 to 1964.

On November 25, 1964, he was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer at the army headquarters in Thimphu by the late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who promoted him as Colonel in 1970. His Majesty The Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted him to the rank of Goongloen Wogma (Maj. General) in June 1981, and then as Goongloen Gongma on August 2, 1991.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji, like other members of his generation, helped pioneer the infrastructure development of Bhutan as His Majesty The Fourth King took over the helm in the early 1970s. 

As General Secretary of the National Sports Association of Bhutan, from 1974 to 1978, he worked directly under His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo to develop the Changlingmithang stadium and the Royal Thimphu Golf Club.

In 1979, under the command of His Majesty, the RBA built the 21-kilometre Laptsakha irrigation channel in Punakha, at a fraction of the estimated cost, enabling the resettlement of over 200 landless pensioners and bringing into cultivation over 1,200 acres of land. 

In 1981 he was appointed Chairman of the Government Welfare Project, now known as the Army Welfare Project (AWP), a project conceived and launched by His Majesty to generate funds for the welfare of servicemen and to provide employment for retired personnel. Aimed at being a sustainable commercial venture that proved to be an example to other government ventures and corporations, AWP now earns more than Nu 200 million a year.

In 1983 he was assigned command and control of the Royal Bhutan Police by His Majesty to reorganise and streamline the service conditions and improve the morale of the RBP.

During the uprising of 1990 the RBA safeguarded the security of the nation at a time when the southern dzongkhags saw unprecedented violence. Under the personal leadership of His Majesty The Fourth King, the RBA rose to the challenge of flushing out the Indian militants who were illegally camped on Bhutanese soil in 2003.

As the Chief Operations Officer, Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji developed a close rapport with 15 Chief of Army Staff of the Indian army. Generals and senior officers of the Indian army expressed their deep appreciation, over the years, for the outstanding contributions made by General Lam Dorji in enhancing the close friendship and cooperation between the Indian army and the Royal Bhutan Army, thereby contributing to the strengthening of Indo-Bhutan relations.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was awarded the Druk Zhung Thugsay medal in July 1969, by His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. During the National Day celebrations in 1991 His Majesty The King awarded him the highest medal of the Royal Bhutan Army, the Druk Yugyel (DYG). In recognition of his long and dedicated service to the Tsawa-Sum he was awarded the Drakpoi Wangyal by His Majesty in 2001.

In 2010, His Majesty The King awarded him the Druk Thuksey Medal and said that Lam Dorji had already received the highest awards of the nation but was being recognised today as a symbolic gesture to present him to the youth as an example and to show that, ‘service to the nation shall never go forgotten.’

“An alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, Googloen Lam Dorji was part of the history of Bhutan,” Colonel Shankar, a retired Indian Army officer who had served in Bhutan said. He remembers Goongloen was a great ambassador of Indo-Bhutan friendship.

“Dasho Googloen as he was known, was full of compassion and always regaled us with stories about Indo-Bhutan relations which he had the privilege to witness from very close quarters,” Colonel Shanker said.

Youth unemployment rate drops to 11.9%

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:53

The overall unemployment rate decreases to 2.7% as per LFSR

Yangchen C Rinzin

Decrease in the youth population, youth preferring to continue higher education and youth staying out of the labour force are attributed as the “probable” reasons for the decrease in the youth unemployment rate.

The Labour Force Survey Report (LFS) 2019, the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) released yesterday recorded the youth unemployment rate at 11.9 percent in 2019. This is a drop by 3.8 percent from 15.7 recorded in 2018. The rate was 12.3 percent in 2017.

The LFS defines youth unemployment rate as the percentage of unemployed persons in the age group of 15-24 years to the labour force (also known as economically active population) in the same age group according to the report.

The report stated that in terms of absolute numbers, there was 3,626 youth who are without work, actively seeking and are available for work during the reference period, which is during the survey conducted in November and December 2019.

“The youth unemployment rate in urban areas is double than that of rural, which is 19.4 percent compared to 7.8 percent,” the report stated. “Paro with 21.9 percent has the highest youth unemployment rate, followed by Trongsa and Thimphu.”

Going by the report, female youth unemployment is higher than that of male with 13.8 percent against 9.7 percent.

NSB’s deputy chief statistical officer, Phuentsho Yuden said that although there was no further research carried to determine the reasons for the decrease in the youth unemployment, there are three probable reasons based on the data collected for the survey.

The deputy chief explained that one of the reasons was the decrease in the youth population as per the population projection of PHCB 2017. This led to a decline in youth labour force entering into the labour market.

“It was also found that majority of the students had continued to study in class XI, which means entry into higher secondary schools increased in 2019,” Phuentsho Yuden said. “This figure is also supported by an increase in the number of enrolment of students in class XI.”

The enrolment figure has increased to 11,750 class XI students in 2019 from 8,882 in 2018 (Annual Education Statistics, 2019).

She added that the data also shows that the students or trainees who were currently in school or institutes increased to 92.1 percent in 2019 from 87.9 percent in 2018.

“This means that the percentage of students and trainees who prefer to stay out of the labour force has increased in 2019 compared with 2018.”

Phuentsho Yuden said that the data also estimated a substantial decline in the number of unemployed youth who were seeking jobs. By qualification, those unemployed youths who completed class X declined to 11.5 percent in 2019 from 24.4 percent in 2018.

She added that the highest rate in Paro was because as per the data, the youth labour force in Paro is minimal.

According to the report, the overall unemployment rate has also decreased to 2.7 percent in 2019 compared with 3.4 percent in 2018. The lowest unemployment rate was in the year 2016 (2.1%).

In absolute number, there were a total of 8,698 persons seeking jobs during the reference period.

As per the International Labour Organization to be termed as unemployed, the person has to be aged 15 years and above who are without a job, who were seeking work in the last four weeks prior to the interview, and were available for work in the next two weeks.

A total of 9,012 sample households were selected from 20 dzongkhags, out of which about 3,420 households were in urban areas, and 5,592 households in rural areas. A total of 66 enumerators and 15 supervisors were engaged in the survey data collection.

Sarpang has the highest unemployment rate at 5.2 percent followed by Thimphu (5.0 percent).

“Majority of the respondents reasoned recently completed studies as a reason for being unemployed or lack of qualification and experience,” the report stated.

Over one-fifth (22.4%) of all unemployed (8,698) persons have been looking for work for two years and more.

Phuentsho Yuden added that when the youth unemployment decreases, it also has an impact on the overall unemployment rate, which is why the unemployment rate has reduced in 2019.

Meanwhile, clarifying rumours, Phuentsho Yuden said that the drop in unemployment rate was in no way related to Covid-19 pandemic, as the survey was conducted in November and completed on December 24 2019.

Former Goongloenn Lam Dorji passes away

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 15:10

The former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Royal Bhutan Army, Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji passed away this morning at the national referral hospital, Thimphu.

He was 87.

Popularly known as Dasho Goongloen, the former chief of the Bhutanese army served two monarchs in a career that expands more than four decades in the army.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was born in Haa on October 23, 1933. He became a soldier when the Royal Bhutan Army was in its infancy, his career matured with the army, and he retired when the RBA had grown into a professional force of 10,000 strong personnel in 2005. He passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India, at the end of 1954 and completed a post training attachment with a range of Indian Army units and schools of instruction.

In March 1959, he received his first assignment, to establish the RBA training centre in Wangduephodrang, and also represented the Armed Forces at the National Assembly.

In 1962, during the Indo-China war, he was posted to Lingmithang to oversee the training of a militia force drawn from Kurtoe, Bumthang, Mongar, and Pemagatshel.

He was promoted to the rank of Maktsi Wongma (Lt. Colonel) on August 7, 1962, and served as the Commandant, Training Centre, from 1963 to 1964.

On November 25, 1964, he was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer at the army headquarters in Thimphu by the late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who promoted him as Maktsi (Full Colonel) in 1970.

His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted him to the rank of Goongloen Wogma (Maj. General) in June 1981, and then as Goongloen Gongma (Lt. General) on August 2, 1991.

Drayang employees become parking fee collectors

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:20

Paid Nu 10,000 a month

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

For about a month, vehicle owners in Phuentsholing did not have to pay while parking their vehicles in the congested town.

With India under lockdown since March 25, parking fee collectors, mostly from across the border in Jaigaon, couldn’t enter the commercial town, giving car owners free access to parking spaces.

But parking fee collectors are back.

Neatly dressed in kira, donning caps, these parking fees collectors are former drayang employees, rendered jobless after the government ordered the closure of entertainment centres across the country as a prevention measure against the new coronavirus.

The Phuentsholing regional labour office has enrolled them for the job. A monthly salary of Nu 10,000 has been fixed. There are about 22 drayang workers and they said they like their new job.

Dorji Yuden, 23 said her new job was more respected by the people.

“People often ask how this new job was different from working in a drayang,” she said. “They praise us for taking up the job.”

A class seven dropout, Dorji Yuden, couldn’t continue her studies because of financial problems. Her mother, a divorcee, often became sick and Dorji Yuden decided to drop from school to help.

Another fee collector, Chozang Lhamo, 25, said the job is quite similar as it is about dealing with people. “We are thankful to the government for the job. It is better than being unemployed,” she said.

Chorten Zangmo, 30, who is collecting parking fees at Zangtogpelri said drayang job was easier. “We just have to wait for customers,” she said.

A heart patient, Chorten Zangmo said she is not fit for labour-intensive work. If the situation doesn’t improve, she said she is happy to continue the fee collection, as it doesn’t require heavy physical works.

The former entertainers said that although some motorists are rude, the verbal harassment was nothing compared to the harassment they faced from drunk customers while working in drayangs.

Collecting fee when the movement of vehicle is restricted has also irked motorists.

A resident, Namgay said while some fee collectors are rude, the fee has also become expensive. “Although I understand the intent of employing our affected people, charging Nu 50 an hour for parking is expensive at this time when everyone is facing difficulties,” he said.

Parking fee agency’s owner, Kipchu, said the rates have not been changed in any parking areas. “There are not many vehicles these days and we have to pay to the thromde the same amount,” he said.

Kipchu said he is worried if what is collected from the parking lots would be enough to pay his new employees. The agency has also written to the thromde requesting a deferral on the monthly payment.

On a day, a parking fee collector collects about Nu 700 to Nu 1,000. They are also allowed to buy lunch and snacks from their collection.

Meanwhile, the new development in the parking fee business reveled that most collectors are people from Jaigaon. 

Kipchu said the Bhutanese youths are not interested in teh job. The labour office is well aware of this situation, he added.

“I even advertised the post in the newspaper, local and social media forums, but not many came forward,” he said.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the parking agency had about 38 parking fee collectors, out of which 27 were from across the border and 11 were Bhutanese.

Today, 33, including the former drayang employees, are all Bhutanese.

Kipchu said that the drayang employees would be given the preference for the parking job if the situation returns to normal.

“They can work until 6pm to 7pm,” he said, adding they can then work in the drayangs.

Highlanders of Thimphu have adequate food stocks

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:18

Thinley Namgay 

Should the country enter a lockdown situation, in terms of the food reserve, Thimphu dzongkhag is prepared. 

According to a recent food assessment survey, of the eight gewogs under the dzongkhag, 870 households had food stocks that could last for a month, while the other 400 households had a two-month stock, and 308 households had enough stocks for three months. 

As per the dzongkhag’s capacity assessment of expected vegetable outcome (April, May, and June), it could produce 49,250kg of beans and 27,500kg of potatoes in June. In the next two months, the dzongkhag could produce 14,800kg of cauliflower and 38,100kg of cabbage. 

 The dzongkhag’s expected livestock production for April, May, and June are 384.305MT of milk, 14.522MT of butter, 10.1293MT of cheese, 10.12 million numbers of eggs and 7.48MT of pork. 

 Gewogs, located at a higher altitude, have sufficient stock to sustain if the Covid-19 situation becomes worse.

According to the dzongkhag response plan, at least 65 households in Lingzhi have enough food stocks to sustain for three months. 

Lingzhi Gup, Wangdi, said that the gewog is comfortable with the food reserve. “Every year, we buy food items from Thimphu and Paro at the beginning of the year. It is not due to the Covid-19 issue.”

He said that with rice, flour, oil, butter and cheese available, most people visit the town mainly to buy vegetables. “During summer we grow the vegetables in the villages.”  

As instructed by the government, people in villages are taking adequate measures in the wake of the Covid-19 issue in the country, the gup said. Gewog administration has been sensitising people on Covid-19. 

With over 500 people, Lingzhi has five chiwogs with 96 households. 

According to the response plan, Soe gewog has at least 10 households that have enough food stock to last for three months.   

Soe Gup, Kencho Dorji, said that the gewog could comfortably sustain for the next five to six month. “In the absence of road connectivity and heavy snowfall during winter, we start collecting food items at the beginning of the year.” 

However, he said that some households in the gewog might not be able to afford the food items if the situation continues for a longer duration. 

To help these groups of people, the gewog administration has written to the dzongkhag seeking support from the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL). 

There are five chiwogs with 28 households in Soe. 

In Naro gewog, there are at least nine households that have food supplies to sustain for three months. There are 45 households with food stock to last for a month, and 20 households have supplies to last for two months. 

Naro Gup, Wangchuk, said that unlike Lingzhi and Soe gewogs, if the situation becomes complicated, it would affect his gewog. “Naro is near to the capital city, and most people here usually don’t stock up their supplies.”

Naro has five chiwogs and 310 people. 

Meanwhile, people with underlying health conditions are relatively low in the three highland communities according to the response plan. Of the 321 people with some health conditions in the dzongkhag, 11 are in Lingzhi. Soe and Naro have only three to four such cases.

The number of elderly (60 years and above) people is also less in Lingzhi, Soe and Naro with 50, 17 and 21 respectively. The three gewogs also have zero poverty rates as per their local government portal.

UNDP extends support in Covid-19 response

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:13

Staff Reporter

UNDP Bhutan office signed an agreement with the Gross National Happiness Commission committing its Covid-19 response support to the government.

The response package that has three main components of support will include support to the health ministry, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and Civil Society Organisations working with vulnerable populations, according to the UNDP press release.

The first component of the support package is ICT equipment support, which will be focused on the roll-out of Covid-19 emergency IT solutions developed by the information and communications ministry. “This will help the ministry to obtain real-time data to effectively monitor and rapidly respond to the pandemic,” the press release stated.

The second component is the procurement of essential safety personal protective equipment (PPE) which is expected to supplement the health ministry’s efforts to equip frontline health workers as well as waste handlers especially those who collect wastes from quarantine facilities.

The third component will focus on Covid-19 risk community and advocacy will focus to disseminate crucial information targeted at hard-to-reach and vulnerable population groups.

“The support to NCWC and allied CSOs is also centred around strengthening their support services for women and children under difficult circumstances during such pandemic,” the press release stated.

The Commission in the press releases stated that such support would immensely contribute towards preparedness both in health and in protecting vulnerable.

The Resident Representative of UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota said that ICT during such crisis has given impetus to technological advancement and demonstrated the potential of technology in contact tracing and other areas.

“Real-time data is critical for targeted and rapid decision making. I commend the innovation, creativity and pro-activeness of the local innovators and the health ministry.”

There is no reason to panic

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:12

We do not know how long the Covid-19 pandemic will last. And that means, besides the current disruptions across the sectors, we have no way of knowing what challenges await us.

We can only prepare. We have done well so far; the glitches that we are faced with today are lessons. Post Covid-19, it is going to be a different world altogether. But that is future we are talking about. Tackling the problems of the present is more important. Sometimes though, unwittingly, we could get it dangerously wrong.

However the message went on to the people from the recent press conferences in the capital, the government is not “hoarding”. The government is stocking up essential items, food reserves among them. In fact, schools’ multipurpose halls are being used as reservoirs.

There is no reason to panic, far from it. The government has and will ensure that there are stocks of food and other essentials enough for six months at all times. If the people want to hoard, they can do so—the real message ought to have come across this way.

Bhutan will not face food shortage. Essential items will be made available. Our people will not have to deal with hunger and desperation. What is important is to not let the country and the government be crippled by the power and the dangerous capriciousness of the pandemic.

Bhutanese from abroad are coming back home. This will continue for sometime. A strong quarantine system is still our best weapon, if we can call it that.  We do not have a single local Covid-19 positive case still because our screening and quarantine systems have been very effective.

These systems must be strengthened. At the same time, we should study the changing dynamics of the disease very closely. Otherwise, we can fall short in our actions to prevent the pandemic from creating more disruptions in our society.

We are small and that is our advantage. What is reassuring is that a growing number of volunteers are coming forward to help the government in these difficult times. We haven’t lost it all. This goodness in us will see us through these dark times.

“I’ve a bigger responsibility to shoulder” 

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:11

Health minister shares a busy mother’s experience

Younten Tshedup

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo is always on her toes and most of the time, in sneakers.

With the new coronavirus keeping the minister busy since the outbreak in early January, Lyonpo Dechen has involved herself in every aspect of the response efforts the focal ministry has engaged in so far.

Although well aware and more prepared given the decades of experience in public health-related issues, the current situation have has taken a toll on the minister.

At a closer look, behind her smile at press conferences and other public gatherings, there is a sleep-deprived swollen pair of eyes. Lyonpo feels most comfortable in sneakers as she runs from one office to another for meetings.

Walking the extra mile has been tiring for the mother of a child. The health of the country, as of now is more important than her family.

“I have a very good support system at home, which is my family,” she said when Kuensel asked how she is balancing work and family life. “Although I have little time to spend with my son, I have a bigger responsibility to shoulder. My son understands the need of the situation and that is what matters the most.”

A recent picture with her son on her Facebook status which stated,  “With my current hectic late nights, blessed to have an evening with my sweetheart,” went viral with several hundreds “likes” and followers appreciating the minister for her sacrifices.

“I wonder if he misses me,” she said when asked if she regrets not spending time with her son. “Every parent wants their children to miss them but like most children, he is a bit preoccupied with his own things,” she said.

However, Lyonpo said that her son knows that she is fighting Covid-19. “You do feel a bit guilty as a mother because you are not able to be with him. I try to make the most of it when I get a little time to be with him, but it has been a challenge for me as a mother. I hope things will change for the better.”

Sharing a personal moment, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said her son has been wanting to take her out for a dinner for some time now. “Because he has Nu 1,000, he was telling me he wants to take me out. I’m looking forward to that in one of these days.”

 

A request 

The health minister is preoccupied with preventing the spread of Covid-19.  Within seconds, she brings the attention to the virus from her family.

Lyonpo said that given the changing nature of the epidemic, people must keep an open mind and be adaptive to the changes in decisions and actions the government would be taking until the situation improves.

“People must recognise that this disease that we are fighting is changing its course as we speak,” she said. “We have to plan accordingly. If people follow as per the directives, this would be one of the biggest benefits to all of us.”

She said that all decisions made are carefully studied and recommended by a group of experts at the ministry. “I spend my midnights reviewing every publication that is there. If we have to be ahead of the epidemic, then we have to make our plans based on science and evidence. There is a change and change we must adopt.”

Lyonpo said, “My request to the public is to trust health officials. This ministry will never make a judgment that is not logically driven based on evidence.”

Passengers say cabbies are hiking fares

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:10

Chimi Dema | Tsirang

Although the implementation of physical distancing in taxis was widely regarded by many people, commuters say that cabbies are overcharging because they cannot carry more than two passengers.

Karma, a student, said that going from Thimphu to Tsirang he was charged Nu 1,100 “The rate normally is Nu 750.”

Karma travelled home with his friend after completing 21-day quarantine period in the capital. For his friend, Santa Rai, who was going to Gelephu was charged a fare of Nu 1,800.

“Fuel prices have dropped but drivers are robbing the people,” Santa Rai said.

A woman said that she had to go to Gelephu recently due to some emergency. She had to pay the cabbie Nu 1,600.

“The authorities concerned should look into this matter,” she said. “These are tough times for everyone.”

Passang Dorji Tamang who faced a similar situation recently said that taxis drivers were taking advantage during such a situation. “There are other drivers, though, who do not charge the passengers arbitrarily.”

Cabbies argue that carrying only two passengers affected their business. “Even with a drop in fuel prices, there is a difference of only Nu 300,” one said. “And there aren’t many travellers these days.”

But there are others who see it differently. Tshering, a cabbie, said that his business was not affected with just two passengers and the same fare rates.

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) recently issued interim standard operation procedures for public buses and taxis; the carrying capacity of busses and taxis has been reduced by half.

On April 3, the communication ministry circulated a directive to the RSTA to strictly monitor the operation of public transport in order to ensure uninterrupted services and also to avoid overcharging of fares.

Meanwhile, the regional RSTA office in Tsirang hasn’t received any formal complaint yet.

“When it comes to fare, it has to remain the same,” the official said adding that the passengers should report if excess charges are being claimed.

“The monitoring is also underway,” he said.

Macroeconomic stabilisation plan in the face of Covid-19 pandemic

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:08

His Majesty the King’s address to the nation highlighted the ever-increasing care and love Bhutanese have been receiving for more than a century. A Kidu programme was rolled out to help people overcome the current situation: establishing a national resilience fund of Nu 30 billion, deferring the mortgage payment, and waiving off interest payment for three months.

As an economics scholar and corporate lawyer, we find that to be a novel macroeconomic policy. It is fiscal policy and monetary policy at its best to enhance the welfare of the people. The policy attempts to maintain the same level of income and reduce cost considering wider impact of the pandemic. Individuals and businesses have the same pre-pandemic level budget constraints thereby improving the purchasing power and the welfare of consumer and producers.

The current economic situation, with the mobility of labour and capital constrained, international trade and tourism on halt, and foreign aid severely disrupted because of the bad economic conditions of donor economies, resembles a closed economy.

Thus, the economic shock runs from goods market to factor markets to capital market. However, if left to the market to adjust, it would force many employees out of job and bankrupt employers, especially small and medium. That in turn could severely affect the financial market causing chain reaction. Therefore, Bhutanese must work together to maintain stability of the economy while fighting the pandemic.

Market stabilisation

In a stable market, the amount of goods supplied in the economy along with the stocks from previous period should be equal to the goods demanded by the overall consumers and investments required. Thus, under temporary economic conditions, market would clear when the return on the factors of production is equal to the marginal productivity of the factors of production. However, under the current situation, because of the shock, the return on factors of production is severely diminished thereby creating disequilibrium in the market. Hence, the market will clear at a price where more producers are not able to supply their goods or demand is inadequate. Most consumers will not be able to buy as desired due to income loss.

The Kidu fund addresses the problem from supply side and demand side using both fiscal policy and monetary policy. Under the current circumstances, unless the society makes concerted effort, the burden of cost will be exerted on the national resilience fund.

Sentiment adjustment should bring the overall cost in the economy down, which would mean that despite the loss in income both consumers and producers would be able to produce and consume at same level, thus maintaining same level of welfare.

From the fiscal standpoint, without negotiated adjustment, it would burden the government, not just on account of the stimulus package but also from loss in tax revenue. Even after the pandemic, it is unlikely that the market and consumer sentiments will immediately return to pre-pandemic levels. That requires the government to roll out more fiscal policies. Such fiscal burden will be carried over for significant period, which in turn would impede developmental activities. Such adjustment to maintain temporary market equilibrium will give more fiscal space for further stimulus efforts at later stage.

Systematic adjustment, by applying the 80/20 principle (Pareto principle), must pick up about 20 percent of the commodity bundle that makes up for 80 percent of the household and business expenses, primarily focusing on the fixed cost. In this respect, rent, interest rates and wages become the major component of cost for any household or business. The rent is a function of interest rate and, therefore, interest rate serves as a very important policy tool, as it is the returns on investment or capital that is addressed through the Kidu.

It was heartening to see some building owners voluntarily reducing or waiving off the rent for a few months. But people’s incomes are drying up at much larger scale in tourism, retail or small and medium enterprises, workers in ‘gig economy’ and informal economy. Therefore, such efforts ought to be replicated widely to account for the income shock. With the Kidu Fund, real-estate owners should now be able to make sentiment adjustment by lowering the rent.

Further, public sector being the largest employer, the cost reduction in the economy needs to be initiated from the public sector employees. RCSC and some public corporations have already donated to the Covid-19 fund. But one-time donation might not be enough. As a quick cost reduction policy, Ministry of Finance (MoF) could set up bonds where certain percent of monthly wages of public sector employees is invested in the bonds for the period of sentiment adjustment at nominal coupon rate. This public sector employees’ offer will redistribute the incomes and provide liquidity to small producers and service providers at low cost. Considering that the cost of entire economy is bought down, it would increase the purchasing power. 

Capital flows

While incorporating such expansionary fiscal and monetary policy, there is possibility that because of the trilemma, the government and RMA might come under pressure of maintaining external account balance. With earnings from tourism disrupted and hydropower export shrinking, there will be stress on external account.

Remittance from abroad: Remittance from Bhutanese working and living abroad will play a crucial role in balancing the external account. Global sluggish economy caused partly by this pandemic, hurting major economies, might not find Bhutanese abroad at their best. However, a collective effort in shouldering responsibility will see our nation through this pandemic. Repatriation of money now, by formal means including Remit Bhutan, would help in balancing the external account.

Bonds for past visitors: Bhutan made many friends around the world over the years. Through our tour operators, a closed bond market can be established, where they could invest with various maturity dates. This instrument will enable those who want to help Bhutan.

Future contract for tourists: We can reinvent and use future contracts—a concept widely used in commodities market—in the tourism industries. Rather than physical goods, the delivery at the end of contract in the future will be tourism service. It can be packaged like the current tourist package targeting future offseason periods but discounted at present value or perhaps a bit lower rate to provide attractive investment. In other words, tour operators and hotels will be using future income to sustain their operation under current circumstances. Such earnings could be tax-free for business operators while executing the contract to reduce the future burden.

One welcome development is the recognition of the need to boost agricultural production. Perhaps this is the right time to revisit the agriculture sector ranging from method of production, supply chain management, transporter, market dynamics, yield, role of economic agents, including state-owned enterprises. At the same time, insurance companies could to explore the possibility of introducing unemployment insurance scheme.

 

Contributed by

Pema Dorji, 

Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate School of Economics, Nagoya University, with inputs from Namgyel Wangchuk, Lawyer. (zamlingnelam@gmail.com)

Haa still without a doctor

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:06

Phub Dem | Haa

Jitsim, 40, from Dorithasa, Sombaykha came to deliver her third child at the Haa hospital. But she had no signs of labour pain.

Nurses said that she was already 42 weeks pregnant, which is post-term pregnancy. The hospital decided to refer her to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) following the procedure since there was no Gynocologist or a doctor in the hospital.

Jitsim did not want to go.

“I don’t have any relatives there. Where will I stay?” she said concerned.

Besides, she said that it was the virus (Covid-19) that she feared the most about Thimphu.

“If our hospital has a doctor, we don’t have to go anywhere. It is a struggle.”

Jitsim said that although Haa had a large hospital, it did not serve the purpose without any specialist.

It has been more than five months since the hospital is without a doctor.

Like Jitsim, Chundu, who required Physiotherapy is in Thimphu for his treatment. He said that although he was anxious about the Covid-19 infection, there was no other way to treat his joint pains.

“We need a doctor in our dzongkhag, especially at this crucial time.”

Without a specialist, residents of Haa are frustrated.

Clinical Officer (CO) of Haa hospital Tshewang Gyeltshen said, without a permanent doctor, he alone had to look after the emergency, Outpatient Department (OPD) and do ward rounds.

On average, the CO has to look after 50 patients a day. Besides, he said that while doing ward rounds, he failed to attend the outpatients, to which many people complain of having to wait longer.

Despite the lack of a specialist, he said the dzongkhag had a comprehensive Covid-19 response plan on how to handle a case.

Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that the dzongkhag highlighted the absence of a doctor and ventilator as a challenge in the Prevention Management and Recovery Measures for Covid-19 in Haa dzongkhag’s manual.

He said that the situation wasn’t grave considering the proximity of Haa to other hospitals in Paro and Thimphu. Paro is a two-hour drive, and it takes an hour more to drop patients to Thimphu.

“The ventilators are not required at the moment, and for the moment, we have committed senior health workers.”

He said that during an emergency, there were ways to get help.

Meanwhile, Jitsem was sent to JDWNRH on Saturday.

Jomotshangkha highway construction resumes

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 11:56

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The much-awaited construction of Samrang-Jomotshangkha highway from Langchenphu gewog, Samdrupjongkhar resumed yesterday after a pause of more than six months.

The work had to stop in 2018 because of budget issues. Handing over procedure between Project Dantak and the Department of Roads (DoR) also took time.

Of the total 58km, the department cleared about 47 kilometres of the road with a budget of Nu 57M. The department started road construction in 2016.

Residents said that Jomotshangkha drungkhag would have been connected with the internal highway if the DoR pursued with the construction.

However, the government had awarded the works to Dantak.

Today, with India under a lockdown, Jomotshangkha remains cut off from the rest of the country. People today cannot travel out of the drungkhag as they have to go via the Indian highways which remain closed as India continues its lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Lauri gewog mangmi, Tenzin, said that since the drungkhag’s only route are Indian highways, travelling along the Indian roads are risky, and the frequent strikes affected travel plans.

He said the drungkhag is in dire need of internal road access because they could not carry out any developmental activities since the closure of the border gates and complete lockdown in India. “It has hampered the developmental activities as we could not procure and transport construction materials.”

“It would help if Dantak and government could clear the road soon because we cannot say how long the lockdown in Indian and the closure of the border gates would remain should the situation worsens,” the mangmi said.

Residents say it is the season for doma (areca nut) business and they could not even transport them to sell in Samdrupjongkhar. “We do not understand what could be the reason for project Dantak taking so long to start the works.”

“People travelling along the Indian highways via Assam landed in problems during the frequent strikes. They also get robbed and their vehicles damaged. These problems would be gone once the highway is open to traffic,” Langchenphu gewog mangmi, Wang Gyeltshen said.

He said the connection of the highway would not only help commuters but also facilitate power officials among others to improve the electricity supply, which has become erratic these days.

The distance between Samdrupjongkhar and Jomotshangkha will drop to 40km while people in the drungkhag have to travel about 192km via Assam to Samdrupjongkhar.

Meanwhile, a Mountain Hazelnut team travelled Jomotshangkha on foot, walking about 15 hours via Merak in Trashigang recently.

Works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering, said it would have helped people during such crucial times if the road was built before. “But nobody predicted such pandemic would reach our country.”

He said the government decided and awarded the construction of the highway to Dantak about seven to eight months ago, adding that  Dantak could have taken time to carry out the survey and complete the detail project report.

Lyonpo said Project Dantak would deploy about 12 excavators at the site.

“We cannot say how many kilometres Project Dantak would have to clear as it is not surveyed,” Lyonpo said, adding that they would also have to clear the road which was cleared before because some parts were blocked and washed away by the landslide.

Lyonpo said they need to construct about seven bridges along the highway and there are two major bridges which have to be constructed soon. “The ministry would take up the construction of the bridges while Project Dantak will carry out the road construction.”

Covid-19’s silver lining for tourism sector 

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:26

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Covid-19 pandemic walloped the tourism sector, but Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is considering it as an opportunity to reboot the industry and give it a new face post-Covid-19.

TCB’s chairperson and Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji at the meet the press yesterday said that although the pandemic wreaked havoc in many areas, this is a chance to work on the tourism policy to make tourism efficient.

“With high value, low volume in mind, this is the time we can develop a stronger policy,” Lyonpo said. “This situation has been a lesson for us to realise that we should have a strong policy to protect workers, as they were the worst affected.”

Lyonpo said that the other activities are to beautify the tourist sites, redevelop or create new ones, and also look into waste management. 

The plan also includes diversifying handicraft products and exploring tourist attractions beyond culture and nature tours.

Another major transformation is enhancing and strengthening procedures for tourists to come to Bhutan. Currently, tour booking is a lengthy procedure and sometimes takes a year. The system has been in place since tourism first began in 1974.

According to TCB’s Director General Dorji Dhradhul, this is one of the major complaints from tourists. The tourist has to book through a local operator, pay advance through their bank, which is challenging.

“We’re now relooking into these procedures to see how we can strengthen and make them easier for tourists without hampering the tourism policy.”

He added that TCB will look into making payment easier building on the digitalisation drive and institute an efficient visa or route permit procedure.

“We’re not saying we’ll do away with the current procedures. We’ll study the services and make recommendations to ensure tourists experience fewer hassles.”

He said that TCB has already instituted a working group that is looking into transforming tourism with three objectives: reacting, rethinking, and recovery post-Covid-19 focusing on the approach to new tourism.

“We can do so many things right now since there is no tourist in the country,” he added. “The tourism stimulus package that is developed will also contribute to the transformation of tourism.”

Dorji Dhradhul said that for instance, one common complain from tourists is about the lack of toilet facilities. So TCB is looking into developing roadside amenities and build with toilets and assign a caretaker including a convenience store or café.

“We’re also looking into promoting domestic tourism and programmes are being designed,” he said. “One of the programmes is to develop Druk Nyekor, which is already in advance stage and it will also cater to international tourists.”

He said that TCB will identify 108 religious sites and lhakhangs to take people on pilgrims. A booklet would be issued to record and seal every time a person visits these sites until they complete 108.

“We’re expecting to start maybe in about three months and in the first phase, we’ll start with 16 sites in Thimphu. The seal on the booklet is to recognise their own achievement for being able to visit the sites.”

The director general said that TCB is also exploring spiritual, wellness and wellbeing tourism.

He added that with Bhutan being known as the land of medicinal herbs, peaceful surrounding, and with GNH, Bhutan is an attractive destination for travellers to reflect, relax and rest.

Bhutan today has no tourist after the only tourist in the country left Bhutan earlier this week. The only tourist left in the country was the woman who tested positive for Covid-19 on March 20.

The tourist ban after the pandemic has resulted in a national revenue loss of USD 4.4 million after 2,550 international tourists cancelled due to Covid-19 between January 15 and March 23. It excludes cancellations from regional tourists.

However, about 200 tourists have still kept their bookings on and not cancelled with the hope to visit Bhutan after the pandemic according to the director general.

Nu 1,271M allocated for stockpiling essential food items

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:25

MB Subba

The government has, as of April 20, received more than Nu 90.018 million (M) and USD 5,675 as contributions for the Covid-19 response fund.

Officials from the finance ministry, led by Finance Secretary Nim Dorji, appraised this to the joint parliamentary committee on Covid-19 preparedness on April 21. 

The amounts include contribution received in cash and cheques. The contributions received as international assistance have been deposited as cheques through the government budgetary process.

The government has opened Current Deposit Accounts with Bank of Bhutan and endorsed an operational guideline for proper management of the contributions. Officials have been informed to make voluntary monetary contributions towards the response and containment of Covid-19 virus.

The overall response and support has been encouraging. According to the finance ministry, people under quarantine and isolation have also contributed to express their appreciation to the government. 

As part of its budget re-appropriation exercise to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has allocated a total budget of more than Nu 1,271M for health, fuel, appropriated, and essential food items.

The government says it has already stockpiled vaccines and essential medicines to last up to nine months. Food and other essential items are also being stockpiled. 

A National Resilience Fund of Nu 30 billion (B) has been established to deal with the circumstances and the need for unconventional strategies to build economic resilience and boost growth. 

The finance ministry also stressed the need to revitalise the rural economy and create employment opportunities with the main focus on tourism, agriculture and infrastructure. 

Joint committee’s recommendations 

The joint parliamentary committee expressed concerns about Foreign Currency Reserve.

The committee’s chairperson, Dorji Wangdi, said that an imminent risk that Bhutan could face was depletion of foreign currency reserve, both Rupee and convertible currencies. 

“Therefore, the government must accord the highest attention to management of Foreign Currency Reserve in close dialogue with the Royal Monetary Authority,” he said. 

The committee also drew the finance ministry’s attention for the need to review the economic development policy (EDP). 

Members of the committee stated that the government needed to formulate new EDP in view of new economic scenario. “The 21st Century Economic Policy should be a much longer vision document,” he said. 

The committee advised the government to use the opportunity of the current crisis to revive domestic agriculture in a big way. 

The government, the committee said, should use the opportunity of the current crisis to re-engineer policy and investment direction in health and education sectors, private school, as well as tertiary education and health services. 

The committee also recommended that the ministry formulate plans and strategies to retain Bhutanese workers in the domestic economy after Covid-19. 

“Nonetheless, a lot of reprioritisation activities being done based on the position of budget and practicability of implementation being done,” the committee chair said.

Routine immunization should continue: Health Minister

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:24

Tshering Palden

The health ministry is assuring parents and encouraging them to vaccinate their children as scheduled after parents raised concerns with health workers on whether it was safe for them to bring their children for immunisation.

At the meet the press session yesterday, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo reiterated that routine immunisation for children must be continued.

“Routine immunization of your child should continue even during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimise the risk of disease outbreaks and loss of life due to vaccine-preventable diseases.”

The minister said, “The country had invested a huge amount of resources in having a very good health care system and we want that to be protected.”

Lyonpo emphasised on preventive measures including physical distancing, proper handwashing and other advisories have to be complied for personal safety and the nation’s well-being.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that on His Majesty’s command the government is working to administer flu vaccine for everyone.

The message is also part of this year’s World Immunization Week, which is observed from April 24 to 30. Themed, “Vaccines work for all,” the week-long observation aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Bhutan has sustained high immunization coverage of over 95 percent for many years and the routine immunization schedule protects children against 13 diseases. On average, about 87 children get vaccinated every day in the country.

Following concerns raised by parents and caregivers, the health ministry, UNICEF and WHO also issued a media advisory yesterday assuring parents that it is safe for them to bring their children for routine immunization services.

The advisory states that the novel Coronavirus pandemic is a stark reminder that health services such as immunization and other emergency services should be continued to reduce vulnerability against vaccine-preventable diseases.

UNICEF Representative to Bhutan, Dr Will Parks said, “In these unprecedented times, our message to parents is to make sure children receive their routine immunizations while following national guidance on COVID-19 preventive measures.”

WHO’s technical guidance to help countries protect critical immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic complements Bhutan’s effort to sustain the momentum and progress made until now in the immunization programme, the advisory states.

WHO Representative in Bhutan, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus said, “Vaccines are safe, effective and life-saving tools to control and prevent an outbreak of infectious diseases. Doctors, nurses and other health service providers are putting their own health at risk to care for our families. We must trust them when they call on parents and caregivers to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases.”

The health ministry, UNICEF and WHO is continuing collaboration to ensure uninterrupted routine immunization services in the country. The Japan Committee for Vaccines, GAVI and the Bhutan Health Trust Fund also support the procurement of vaccines in Bhutan.

Smuggling is the worst crime today

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:23

Even with the borders sealed and strict restrictions in place, smuggling has become so rampant of late that it seems smugglers are competing or testing people who are ensuring that no illegal activities are happening amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Bhutan Police and related authorities have ratcheted up their surveillance system.  However, in just a week’s time, police with the help of Desuups and other volunteers have apprehended about six people who were smuggling in banned products.

High on the list are tobacco and banned substances. The amount of  “drugs,” as it is known, people are trying to smuggle in is disturbing. Thousands of pills and tablets, besides cigarettes and chewing tobacco are the most common substances smuggled. It doesn’t reflect nicely on the society.

Many are convinced that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is because of the courage of the smugglers even with strict restrictions in place. Smuggling is an old business. It becomes rampant when there is a crisis, health or economic. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided the same opportunity to smugglers.

There is a huge black market that provides opportunities for quick money.  Cost of tobacco products has shot through the roof. This is encouraging people to smuggle.

We have stringent laws on banned substances and tobacco. However, in today’s case, it is not so much about implementing the laws, but the risk posed by smuggling.  Smuggling breaks all rules. The borders are closed and the movement of people restricted to contain the spread of Covid-19. This is the priority of the government. And it is the same all over the world.

Smuggling increases the risk, as goods and movement of people escape the eyes of the authority. All goods that come in legally are sanitised, there are standard operating operations even if goods are imported. All these are to ensure that there are no risks of importing the virus with the goods.

With borders sealed and neighbouring states under a lockdown, one question is who is supplying and how. From the quantity of drugs seized, we can surmise there is a racket or a nexus. We cannot do anything that is beyond our jurisdiction, but we can on our side of the border.

The risk is real. From Assam to West Bengal, our two immediate neighbouring states, new Covid-19 cases are increasing on a daily basis. While we have successfully contained the spread from imported cases, the risk of community infection is from along the borders. That’s why we are restricting trade and movement of people.

Long before we realized, His Majesty The King had warned that “the reckless action of a single person who clandestinely crosses the border for trade, or to meet acquaintances, or to bring someone to Bhutan, risks spreading the coronavirus in their community and in the country.”

The greed of quick money is jeopardizing what has been done so far. Smuggling is not only making banned substances available at a high cost, but it is also risking a national effort to contain the contagion.

Given the risk, the perpetrators should be penalized so that it will discourage others who are mulling to make the most of a pandemic.

OAG drops charges against former finance minister

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:23

ACC proposed to charge former minister and seven others in connection with illegal encroachment

Rinzin Wangchuk

After more than a year of review, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) dropped the case where the former finance minister, Namgay Dorji, and seven others were indicted for illegal encroachment on government land at Taba, Thimphu.

The OAG concluded that the investigation was carried out with neither prima facie basis nor on the discovery of credible evidence to substantiate its allegations. The OAG wrote to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) yesterday informing its decision to drop the case “entirely.”

The commission in its investigation report forwarded to the OAG on March 1, 2019, proposed to charge the former finance minister along with two former local government officials of Kawang gewog for encroaching into state land during the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) survey in 2000.

ACC’s investigation report 

In 1987, Dechen Wangmo, sister of Namgay Dorji, bought 20 decimals of wetland from Aum Bakhum. It comprised six bunds of paddy field called Churagang. The plot was numbered 166.

Seven decimals from the initial 20 decimal land was transferred from Dechen Wangmo to her sister Leki Wangmo under plot number 164.

During the course of investigation, ACC found that plot 164 was once recorded as a ‘government land’ and other time as ‘thramless.’ The 1988 detailed survey map showed plot number 164 completely as a different plot and separate from the mother plot, 166.

Later, Leki Wangmo had given her 7-decimal plot to her brother, Namgay Dorji, with the latter overseeing the 2000 NSC survey although actual transaction did not take place. During the survey, Namgay Dorji had measured a state land identifying it as a 7-decimal land in plot number 164 and moved the plot away from the mother plot 166, which tantamount to encroachment into state land. The 7-decimal plot later increased to 10 decimal.

Surveyor KB Rai, recollecting the 1988 survey and practices of the past, told ACC that there existed a general practice of recognizing some land as “Thram-less” or “Government Land” when the landowner was unable to validate his/her ownership. Similarly, three residents of Taba, stated to ACC that the “land in question was an empty land and was known to have been used as a crematorium.”

Based on the statements, the ACC concluded that the land bearing Plot No. 164 was state land.

During 2000 NSC, Namgay Dorji unable to personally represent his sister Leki Wangmo, requested a local land committee member, Dophu, to represent his sister while measuring her land, which is currently disputed by ACC as state land. The ACC report implies illegal ownership transfer of the land from Leki Wangmo to Namgay Dorji. The report concluded that the land transfer was done in 1992 and hence alleged Namgay Dorji of illegal encroachment and deceptive practice.

Both former Kawang gup Sonam Dorji and former mangmi Rinzin were implicated for two counts of offences as they endorsed the Kappa form of Leki Wangmo’s 7-decimal plot and witnessed the illegal survey, which enabled Namgay Dorji to encroach on state land.

Sonam Dorji, Rinzin and other five residents of Taba, were implicated for facilitating Namgay Dorji to successfully register a state land in his name by signing the no objection letter stating that Leki Wangmo’s 7-decimal land identified as plot 164 is registered as ancestral land.

The commission received a complaint on November 20, 2017 alleging that Namgay Dorji had encroached into state land between 2004 and 2009 at Taba. The investigation began in May 2018 during which ACC officials reviewed documents and summoned, interviewed and interrogated 19 people.

OAG findings and decision

Namgay Dorji became the lawful owner of land measuring 10.28 decimals of registered land under Plot No 164 and Thram No 711 in August 2001, and not in 1992 as concluded by the ACC report.

All the land ownership transfers, from Aum Bakhum-through two sisters – till Namgay Dorji, were in strict compliance with the due process established under Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979, according to OAG.

To determine the relevancy of the statements made by surveyor KB Rai and three residents of Taba, the OAG sought conclusive clarifications from the NLCS on the history and status of Plot No 164. The NLCS clarified that the land in Plot No. 164 was never a state land. To substantiate the correctness of its record, the NLCS enclosed old records of its Thram, survey maps of 1988 and NSC 2000-2001.

Hence, OAG established that the land under Plot No. 164 was never a state land nor vacant land without Thram as concluded by the ACC report, which is based solely on dubious statements that does not give credence to support the allegations.

“The NSC 2000-2001 was measured based on the Plane Table Survey map of 1988 and other documentary records issued by the court and home ministry as per Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979 which are directly relevant and provide credible evidence pertinent to the land ownership issue,” OAG stated.

The separation of seven decimals from its original area of 20 decimals or the slight changes noted in the shape of the separated plot was due to the demarcation of an access road between the two plots as evidenced by the survey maps of 1988 and NSC 2000-2001.

“It was not an illegal shifting of its location into state land as concluded by ACC, but by the demarcation of the new access road between the two plots which made the lawful owner, Leki Wangmo, forego 2.72 decimals while regularizing excess land.”

OAG also established that ownership transfer from Dechen Wangmo to Leki Wangmo, the demarcation of seven decimals out of 20 decimals, the assignment of new plot and Thram numbers by the DSLR, the demarcation of access road that delinked plot No 164 from the previously shared common boundary with Plot No 166, the payment made for the regularization of 3.28 decimals of excess land, and updating registered area of Plot No. 164, from 7 to 10.28 decimals, in the Chazhag Thram had all taken place when the land was still owned by Leki Wangmo.

“For these reasons, any liability arising from the alleged offence, if any, should inevitably fall on the landowner, Leki Wangmo,” OAG stated.

“Therefore, ACC proposing to charge Namgay Dorji for the alleged offence of encroachment to state land is not discernable to OAG, both in law and fact,” OAG stated. “The questions of “who to be charged for what offence” must be dictated by the facts of the case and not by preferential choice of an investigation.”

Based on the findings, the OAG determines that all the Thram transfers and regularization of excess land in the Chazhag Thram of Plot No 164 was executed in strict compliance with the requirements under Section KA 1-3 of the Land Act 1979.

“Besides the loss of 2.72 decimals, out of seven decimals of excess area, there is not a shred of evidence, even by implication, to corroborate the allegation of encroachment into State land by the lawful owner, Leki Wangmo,” OAG stated.

“India will stand by our close friend and neighbour, Bhutan.”

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:22

Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj talks to Kuensel on the Bhutan-India collaboration in the wake of Covid-19pandemic.

The Prime Minister of India called Lyonchhen on the telephone last week. Can you brief us about this?

Indeed. Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have recently had an excellent, warm tele-conversation, reflective of the special and privileged relations between our two countries. Prime Minister Modi expressed his admiration for the personal touch and wisdom of His Majesty The King of Bhutan and Lyonchhen, both of whom have led from the front to limit the spread of infection within Bhutan. The Prime Ministers also discussed the regional situation, and updated each other on the steps being taken by their respective governments to curb the effects of the pandemic. Prime Minister Modi thanked Lyonchhen for Bhutan’s contribution to the SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund and both leaders also expressed satisfaction at the progress made in implementing the special arrangements agreed on 15 March between the leaders of the SAARC countries. Prime Minister Modi referred to the timeless and special nature of India-Bhutan ties, and assured Lyonchhen that India would ensure all possible support to Bhutan to minimize the health and economic impact of the pandemic.

 

How has India helped the Bhutanese students and nationals returning home over the last few weeks?

As you are aware, India has been in lockdown since 25 March, which has subsequently been extended till 3 May. Despite the restrictions, India has facilitated the maximum number of special Druk Air flights to ensure the return of Bhutanese students and nationals, ordinarily resident in India. 1,350 Bhutanese students from Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mohali, Mumbai, Amritsar, Chandigarh and Delhi have been able to return to home as an outcome of these efforts. Several Bhutanese have also returned home by road through special arrangements made in coordination with State Governments. No doubt, this exercise has been possible only because of robust cooperation between the Ministry of External Affairs, India, the Royal Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi, and of course Druk Air.

 

India recently announced that essential medicines including Hydroxychoroquine would be supplied to neighbouring countries upon request. Will Bhutan receive some of these medicines as well?

Prime Minister Modi has emphasized that the fight against Covid-19 is not just one country’s, but also all of humanity’s. Our ancient Indian heritage sets out that the world is one family, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”.  He has repeatedly underscored the need to put human beings at the centre of our vision of global prosperity and cooperation, and to freely and openly share the benefits of medical research and development. The world is facing a common challenge and the key to success against Covid-19 is all about togetherness and resilience.

In this spirit, India has reached out to the global community – our neighbourhood, the extended neighbourhood as well as other countries – offering a helping hand to deliver medical supplies and assistance, whenever and wherever sought. In this vein, we have been honoured to hand over two consignments of medical supplies to Bhutan.

A third shipment containing essential medicines including Hydroxychloroquine is expected to be handed over to Bhutan next week.

 

Lyonchhen and Prime Minister Modi joined their counterparts in the SAARC Video Conference held on 15 March to launch a common front to combat Covid-19. Any follow-up action on the SAARC VC?

A number of follow-up actions have been taken by India pursuant to the SAARC Leaders’ Video Conference on 15 March. The SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund with India’s contribution of US$10 million now has a healthy corpus pledged by all SAARC member countries.

A dedicated COVID-19 website (http://www.covid19-sdmc.org) for use by all SAARC countries has been set up by the SAARC Disaster Management Centre, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, to disseminate reliable information, best practices and COVID-19 updates in the region.

SAARC health professionals at the level of Director General have also held a videoconference on 26 March to exchange best practices and lessons learned to combat Covid-19. Likewise, senior trade officials of SAARC countries have met virtually through a videoconference on 4 April to discuss the impact of travel restrictions and other issues affecting intra-regional trade.

Live Webinars have also been streamed by faculty members of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Raipur on Covid-19, under our e-ITEC Programme.  We were delighted that 36 Bhutanese health care officials participated in these webinars. Another series of five live webinars on “Managing  Covid-19: Experiences and Best Practices of India” will be hosted by the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh from 27 April onwards, where we also hope to see Bhutanese participation in good numbers.

 

Contact tracing, quarantine and testing have been the key elements of Bhutan’s policy response to Covid-19. What about India?

Ours has been a pro-active and graded response led by Prime Minister Modi. We started screening entry into India from mid-January itself, while also gradually increasing restrictions on travel. This step-by-step approach helped avoid panic. Meantime, we also increased our public awareness campaigns on TV, print and social media. We made special efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups. We also worked quickly to ramp-up capacity in our system including through training our medical staff across the country.

We enhanced diagnostic capabilities and we also developed protocols for each stage of managing the pandemic: for screening at entry points; contact tracing of suspected cases; quarantine and management of isolation facilities; and for discharge of cleared cases. We have also responded to the call of our people abroad, evacuating Indians from different countries. We have similarly helped some of your citizens, in keeping with the special nature of our bilateral relations.

On mitigation measures, recently the Aarogya Setu Mobile App, a futuristic tool for coronavirus tracking and contact tracing, has been launched by our Prime Minister. He has also emphasized the importance of Ayurveda and Yoga, both of which are timeless in the effort to boost immunity and enhance general health and wellbeing.

In terms of international partnerships, India has delivered medical supplies and assistance, whenever and wherever requested including to Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and of course Bhutan. Medical commodities have also been shipped to Myanmar, Seychelles and Mauritius in our extended neighbourhood, as well as to Italy, Iran and China at the height of the crisis in those countries. India has also not been shy of granting clearances for export of key pharma products to partners such as US, Brazil, Spain and Israel, and to other countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

These efforts have drawn praise from others. While the WHO has lauded India for announcing a series of measures to take care of communities directly affected by the ongoing lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has commended Prime Minister Modi’s leadership and the proactive measures taken by the Government of India to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak in India. Both His Majesty and Lyonchhen have graciously praised the bold and decisive steps taken by our Prime Minister to fight against Covid-19, we are indeed deeply touched by their kind gestures.

 

Some local manufacturers are reporting shortages of raw materials from India. How does GoI ensure the supply of raw materials?

I am pleased to share that the Government of India has made all efforts to ensure the uninterrupted movement of essential as well as non-essential commodities to Bhutan. Around 400 vehicles carrying essential goods and supplies enter Bhutan on a daily basis, a figure that is comparable to the number of vehicles prior to the lockdown in India. I will add that even as both our countries continue to face exceptional and extraordinary circumstances, India will stand by our close friend and neighbour, Bhutan.

 

Could you update us on the third internet gateway, which Bhutan is trying to get from Bangladesh.

We fully appreciate the significance of a third internet gateway for Bhutan, not least considering the increased usage of internet in Covid-19 times, with an emphasis on online education. The issue is under consideration of both sides and we hope to arrive at a mutually acceptable decision, within the earliest time frame.

 

How is GoI assisting Bhutan in its effort to prevent cross border infection?

The full machinery of the Government of India is geared towards ensuring strict compliance of the ongoing lockdown. Concerned State Governments are working in unison to fulfill the joint endeavour to contain the spread of Covid-19 and to ward off any possibilities of infection spreading across the border of our two countries.

 

Any updates on progress in the Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric project?

Let me assure you that efforts are underway and ongoing to find a holistic solution and way forward. In this vein, we hope to convene early meetings involving Bhutanese and Indian stakeholders via video-conferencing, which is the new normal!

Local governments decided the revised 12th Plan activities

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:21

Tshering Palden 

In light of the Covid-19 situation, the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) has reworked on the 12th Plan programmes and activities in consultation with the local governments. 

Some of the deprioritised activities are mainly constructions which are not yet initiated, such as office construction, staff quarter construction, fencing, study tours, workshops, and training. 

GNHC secretary Thinley Namgay said, “In their place, activities related to tourism, mainly focusing on activities that can be implemented immediately like roadside amenities, and construction sector has also been rescaling.” 

In the agriculture sector, the focus is on improving market access so that farmers are incentivised to produce more. 

Thinley Namgay said the government would target improving about 9,239km of farm roads at the cost of Nu 14 billion (B) in the next three years which would be in phases. The first phase will cover about 1,400km costing close to Nu 2.3B. 

Online education is a new priority in the education sector, for the ICT sector priority is given to increasing the bandwidth and making the internet affordable.

He said the Department of Roads and Project DANTAK have agreed to make the road at least pliable. 

The amount for the local governments in the Plan remains the same, he said.

He said that the GNHC had told the local governments to prioritise health and food security activities, but it was up to them to decide.

The secretary briefly updated the media during the Meet the Press session yesterday where he fielded questions from the press. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the degree of implementation of the prioritised Plan activities would depend on how long the Covid-19 situation continue.

He said that the topography of rural settlements and limited interaction with others from outside the community served as a natural barrier to the spread of Covid-19 in those areas, so the prioritised activities seemed feasible. 

The local governments have to prioritise farm roads that connect villages away from the gewog centre, benefit the most number of households, and those that can help promote agriculture.

“Based on the criteria, each gewog choose a road for the government to begin base course work immediately,” Lyonchhen said. 

He said improving the roads has been prioritised as the activity is doable by local contractors and materials are readily available locally.

He said that it would also help farmers in accessing markets for their farm produce and boosting agriculture in general.

The 12th Plan has a total budget outlay of Nu 310B of which Nu 193B is the current budget, and Nu 116B is the capital budget. “There is no change in the overall budget.”

Of the 17 national key result areas (NKRAs), Thinley Namgay said there are some concerns in the case of four key result areas. 

The first two NKRAs is on economic diversity and gross domestic product growth (GDP). “While we are still at an early stage, when we look at the present situation, there are some concerns whether we would achieve our economic growth target,” he said. 

The GDP growth target for the 12th Plan is 6-7 percent on an average annually. “Based on today’s situation, the forecast average GDP growth is 4.7 percent. So there are some concerns whether we would achieve the GDP target if the situation continues,” the GNHC secretary said. 

There are also concerns whether those NKRAs related to health, education, and employment would be achieved owing to the Covid-19 situation as schools remain closed and plan activities reprioritised. 

“Hopefully, if things improve, then we may be able to do.”

India committed Nu 45B for the 12th Plan. 

India’s ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj said that India’s assistance to Bhutan had always been shaped by the priorities of the government of Bhutan.

“As we understand this, the Government of Bhutan is formulating plans to fast-track the implementation of 12th Five Year Plan activities and wherever possible, frontload investments. To this end, we have been consulted, and we are in close touch with your side.”

She assured that India would stand in solidarity with Bhutan as it re-calibrates its development pathways in the wake of Covid-19.

During Lyonchhen’s latest conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian PM agreed to the reprioritisation of activities and projects supported by the government of India. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Lyonchhen said such adjustments would make it convenient for the government to align with the Covid-19 situation.

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