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Updated: 57 min 37 sec ago

Focus and priority key to solving regional health problems

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:33

Last week’s first regional coordination meeting in Thimphu to identify bottlenecks and measures to tackle crossborder migration issues relating to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis and malaria in the region, brought to the fore some significant challenges facing the region.

We have done well with our health targets. It has not been easy even with our small population, but the remarkable successes we have had so far is thanks to our concerted effort to address some of the major health issues confronting the people and the nation.

The region has a long way to go to eliminate HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. The target year is 2030. Bhutan has made significant strides when it comes to addressing these pandemics, in terms of getting people tested, treatment, and providing access to preventive measures.

But, regionally, we are not doing enough.

Every year, millions of people die from HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in the region due to inadequate infection control measures, lack of crossborder notification, coordination and information sharing platform, which result in case detection gaps.

Bridging this gap is about each country doing enough individually. Drawing from the lessons, from our own, it is not about lack of resources and capacity. The problem lies in not recognising the problems in the face. This means understanding the greater implications of the diseases and the need to bolster the fight with sustained political will.

In the region, these have been conspicuously missing.

Crossborder migration should not be an issue if all the countries of the region did their best to improve testing and treatment facilities. Preventive measures ought to be made widely available. As was observed at the meeting, an individual country cannot work out population movement and harmonise health programmes in the border areas successfully.

Education and awareness must not take the back seat. But that’s just the beginning; the regional coordination mechanism stands to fail otherwise. Sharing data and disease statistics can go only far and no further.

The burden from the proliferation of communicable diseases can be huge on the societies. Besides the lives of the individuals and families, implications can extend to the economy and productivity of a society. When these dimensions of development are considered, closing the border is inane and impractical at best.

Ten years is not a long time when we bring these serious and growing health burdens in the region into perspective. There are other health issues that demand the attention of modern societies.

Little can be achieved without focus and priority. Meetings and coordination mechanisms are already becoming needlessly expensive.

Mongar DT decides to propose for a housing colony

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:32

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Mongar town, like most towns in the country, has a housing problem. But the cause of the shortage is different.

While many towns, like neighbouring Trashigang, are challenged for space to build houses, Mongar has about 500 vacant plots in its five Local Area Plans (LAP). The problem is the plot owners are not building and local authorities cannot force people to build houses.

At the recently concluded dzongkhag tshogdu, this issue was discussed with local leaders asking government agencies to build housing colonies. They reasoned that with increasing number of government, corporate and private regional offices coming to the town, there is demand for housing. Without enough housing, they said landlords were charging exorbitant rents.

Ngatshang gup, Dorji Leki said that a government housing project could ease the housing crunch and bring down rents.

Mongar town is not a crowded town going by figures shared at the tshogdu. Mongar dzongrab, Jamyang Cheda, shared that the current population of the town is 5,552, which is only a slight increase from 4,452 in 2017 and 3,502 in 2005.

“The population increased by only 950 in a span of 12 years. If you look at the current population pattern, it is estimated to take around 180 years from now to reach to 15,000 people in the town.”

The dzongrab, however, said that two LAPs of Changshingpeg and Jarungkhashore were approved and some have even started construction. “Once they start building, the issue will be resolved,” he said.

However, local leaders were not convinced. They said that it was useless to expect people to build at their own convenience when the housing crunch is a current problem.

“If the plots are available, why can’t concerned authority push them to go ahead with constructions?” a local leader said. Dzongkhag architect Sangay Wangchuk explained that if the vacant plots were developed, a three-storied building in each plot with a minimum of six units could accommodate around 3,000 families.

Dzongkhag officials explained that unlike in other towns, where government plots were allotted for development, the land in Mongar belongs to private individuals and that they couldn’t compel people to develop.

The DT in its previous sessions resolved to approach the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to explore the possibility of developing a housing colony in Mongar. A site was also identified.

However, there was not much follow up done and the identified site, Menchu area, was identified as a park. The DT again resolved for a housing colony and will approach the NHDC.

Green and Clean Northeast summit lauds Bhutan’s conservation efforts

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:31

Choki Wangmo | Guwahati

The education minister of Assam, India, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, commended Bhutan’s model of development, Gross National Happiness (GNH), and said that Northeast India should follow Bhutan and what it has achieved over the years.

“Despite being a small country, Bhutan shaped the world’s perspectives on conservation and GNH, which is a wonderful initiative,” the minister said during the fourth edition of Green Summit at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati.

Conservationists, politicians, government officials, and experts from seven Northeast states in India attended the summit.

Siddhartha Bhattacharya said tourism was one of the top contributors of Bhutan’s gross domestic product. “The country has a positive and thoughtful tourism policy, which brings balanced and sustainable tourism development.”

Themed: ‘Green Northeast, Clean Northeast’, the two-day summit, which concluded yesterday saw discussions on responsible tourism, sustainable consumption, liquid and solid waste management, and the need for green technologies to fight environmental issues in the region.

Taking the example from Bhutan, a participant said that to promote ecotourism and have easy access to visitors exiting Bhutan and entering India, there should be an easy process in entrance and exit of tourists in the country.

The summit also discussed future collaborations with five other countries with which the Northeast states share boundary. Bhutan is one of the countries with the closest collaboration through the Royal Manas Park.

One forestry officials said that trans-boundary collaboration with Bhutan should be strengthened to promote initiatives in conservation. It is reported that officials from both sides collaborate in patrolling as of now.

The chief minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Kongkal Sangma said that in the past, they worked in isolation but it’s time for coordination.

The summit was also a forum to discuss and explore livelihood opportunities for the communities in the Northeast states, considering that the region has a lot of unique potentials.  It falls among one of the top 10 biodiversity hotspots in the Himalayas.

In the past three years, the summit provided a platform to discuss conservation challenges in the Northeast states, while working towards inclusive and bringing in sustainable development in the region.

Clean toilets is the modern story of Laya

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:28

Phub Dem | Laya

Laya is changing.

There is in this highland community little left of the Laya that still reside in the people’s imagination—conical bamboo hat and unique dress made from the sturdy wool of yak.

Even the architecture has changed. There are today only about three houses built the Laya way that still stand. And with all these changes have come a major lifestyle change among the people of Laya.

SATO pan is designed to automatically seal open-pit latrines with an innovative self-closing trapdoor

The most visible change, rather improvement, can be seen in area of sanitation. Once a major problem for the tourists, toilets in Laya are now clean.

The highland communities are no longer secluded. If they’d been living in what can be called self-imposed isolation, they have come out of it. With festivals for the highlanders, exposures have come to them.

National Council representative from Laya, Dorji Khandu, the Royal Highland Festival (RHF) contributed largely to the changes that can be seen among the Layaps today. Once a sparsely populated village, Laya today is a sprawling community.

Every family in Laya is building a house. There is the landscape and the culture. That’s about it that is Laya of the popular imagination.

How did new culture of sanitation and hygiene take root in Laya?

Ahead of RHF, Bhutan Toilet Organisation upgraded 70 pit latrines in Laya with SATO pan toilets. Pit latrines can still be seen in Laya but they are fast disappearing.

Kinley, a homestay owner, said that pit latrine was unhygienic. “I feel uncomfortable when my guests ask for the toilet before.”

She said that SATO pan toilet was convenient to use and portable. “I do not have to worry about my toilets any more now.”

Thinley Rabgay, a teacher of Laya Central School and an ambassador of BTO in Laya, helped upgrade the pit latrines. It wasn’t easy to convince the people to switch to SATO.

Flush toilets are not popular in places like Lingzhi and Soe in Thimphu. Soe Gup Kencho Dorji in an earlier interview with Kuensel said flushing was difficult when temperatures dropped. “There is no running water in the pipes.”

BTO’s executive director, Passang Tshering, said ceramic flush toilets were not the best option in the highlands. And there is the transportation costs to consider, wastage of water besides. “The most viable solution is the SATO.”

SATO pan is designed to automatically seal open-pit latrines with an innovative self-closing trapdoor, minimising odour and the passage of disease-carrying insects. It requires only 500 millilitres of water to flush and the chances of blockage is less.

He said that ceramic flush toilets waste six litres of water with every flush. With that amount of water, 12 SATO toilets could be flushed, Passang Tshering said.

Dorji Khandu said that the government allocated Nu 800,000 for buying materials such as ceramic pots, pipes for septic tank, and cements. This means by next year, every household should have a modern ceramic toilet.

“SATO is used as an interim measure for farm stays,” Dorji Khandu said.

This, Passang Tshering said was not recommended in the highlands considering the shortcomings of ceramic flush toilets. “We can substitute the base with cement but ceramic pots won’t be feasible in the altitudes.”

Counsellors must explore more to help those mentally ill: PM 

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:26

Thinley Namgay 

With reports of mental health cases increasing over the years, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering called on the counsellors to do much more.

He said the counsellors should explore more to carry out the effective counselling. “Just by implementing what you have learnt during the training isn’t enough to understand the real essence of counselling.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering interacted with almost 200 counsellors in the closing session of the fifth biennial Bhutan Counselling Conference held in Thimphu last week.

This year’s theme of the conference was ‘understanding counselling and social work, embracing cross- disciplinary partnership to strengthen child protection, gender-based violence and mental wellbeing in the communities.

Lyonchhen also said that with empathetic mind, one should treat everyone equally. “During the medical checkup, a doctor should treat the first and the last patient equally and he or she should not hurry up. It also applies to counsellors.”

He acknowledged that unlike the job of a surgeon, a counsellor’s job is not easy as they have to deal with the emotionally sick and one has to get into their shoes and understand their problems.

To reduce the growing number of youth consuming alcohol, Lyonchhen said the counsellors should continue to advocate on its harmful effects to the body and consequences in personal and social life.

“We should first identify those who are facing mental health issues and take them to the counselling centres to decrease the suicide rate in the country,” said Lyonchhen.

A former Psychiatrist, Dr Chencho Dorji said parents should impart good values to children during the early five years of their development to make them productive citizens. “When a person is undergoing lots of personal problems, it destroys them. It is the responsibility of every parent to love your children and invest in them.”

A participant said that Bhutan despite focusing on GNH, its happiness ranking is below most of the European countries.  Prime Minister said happiness is not about having more or simply about seeing smiling faces. “Happiness is all about how content you are and it cannot be measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.”

Economic diversification is important as it is one of the components of GNH and he said that the government is working to enhance it. “But it is very difficult.”

Participants also attended various sessions on mental health during the three-day conference, including session on essential skills of supervision and happiness, policies, and case assessment and case procedures, among others.

The conference was organised by Bhutan Board for Certified Counsellor and RENEW in partnership with National Board for Certified Counsellors, USA, National Commission for Women and Children, Bhutan Foundation, Royal Bhutan Police and UNICEF.

Picture story

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 16:25

The recitation of 100,000 Tshigduen Seldoep or the seven-line prayer to Guru Rinpoche presided over by His Eminence Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche ended yesterday at the National Memorial Choeten with an offering of Marmey moenlam.

Picture story

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:27

Commemorating His Majesty The King’s coronation day, Tsirang dzongkhag organised a day-long festival of indigenous games in Tsirang. About 100 participants competed in lesser-known traditional games such as khuru, degor, Pungdo (shot put) and sogsum.

MoE aims for “futuristic and comprehensive” education policy

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:26

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Education ministry is working on the draft national education policy (NEP) again after the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) returned the draft to the ministry seeking further clarification.  

GNHC has also suggested reviewing other relevant policies that were being developed to maintain linkages and consistency. 

Although the draft NEP 2018 was submitted to Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) for the review earlier this year, the policy after failing to meet certain screening criteria was sent back to the ministry. 

As per the policy protocol, after the GNHC reviews the policy, it is then submitted to the Cabinet for approval. 

This is the second time the draft NEP failed to meet the criteria and was sent back to the ministry for revision during the former government. An official from the GNHC said that it was sent back because the ministry had also proposed for the blueprint then but the sector never returned the revised policy. 

The first draft of the current version was initiated sometime in 2008. It was revised and submitted to GNHC in 2014 for further review and approval. 

Education secretary Karma Yeshey said that both the draft policies were put on hold in light of many education reform processes at hand then. He added that the ministry started working on this current draft from 2017 following the policy protocols and presented the final draft to the ministry on August 16 this year. 

Secretary said that the draft NEP with comments from GNHC has since been reviewed following due processes and have put through another round of stakeholder consultation. He said the final is ready for submission to GNHC and would be submitting soon. 

Education Minister JB Rai said the ministry is aiming for a bold, futuristic, comprehensive, strategic and meaningful NEP, which is why it is taking time. 

Education system is still struggling to have the draft NEP 2018 as a tailored policy that would guide the future. The policy, which was drawn based on the constitutional commitment and policy documents of 1976 and 1982, is still a draft. 

Lyonpo said that there are so many components and chapters that need to be included in the policy, which is currently missing in the draft NEP, so the ministry is concerned on formulation of the policy instead of hurrying to get it endorsed. 

As a minister, JB Rai said that he will have to present the policy to Cabinet for approval, but after going through the policy, decided to rework on the policy since it was not satisfactory. 

“I wanted to have a passion or confident about the policy to present to Cabinet for approval and it sounded more like rules and regulations,” Lyonpo said. “The policy is inadequate in many other areas especially a vision that is achievable.

Lyonpo said this is why the ministry would like to take adequate time to revise and prepare.

However, secretary said that the delay in the education policy so far was because policy development and formulation requires a lot of stakeholder consultation to understand and capture the policy vision, scope and intent of the policy. 

“The education having one of the largest and complex structures of stakeholders, it required a thoughtful process and consultations to come up with a policy that is broad, long-term, and forward looking,” the secretary said. “Policy formulation often has to be taken along with other important education reforms, thus considering the human resources, skills and time constraints, this policy has been kept on hold.”

Lyonpo said that although it would take some more time, the ministry would ensure that the policy comes through this time and also ensure such policy is consulted through stakeholders to scale up the efforts. “In light of its scope, impact and the role it can play, I will certainly push for this policy to be approved within my term.” 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said he is aware that the draft policy is still being reviewed.  He has yet to go through the draft document. 

“There are many things that we need to look into, closely and in detail when it comes to relevance of education,” Lyonchhen said. “I’ve told GNHC to ensure that components that would upgrade education system should be incorporated in the policy.”

The draft policy claims to make education more relevant for changing needs and expectations. According to the draft policy, it will inform and guide all forms and levels of education in Bhutan, public and private, to support the aspirations of the government. It includes early childhood, monastic, tertiary, training, non-formal, and continuing education.

The policy states that the curriculum will be designed to develop a sound foundation in literacy, numeracy and language.

The first NEP was drafted in 1976 by the then department of education, as commanded by The Fourth Druk Gyalpo. The Cabinet in 1985 approved an expanded version of the policy which was more focused on the school curriculum.  

Team formed to revamp procurement system

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:25

Dechen Tshomo

In a bid to add value to the procurement system, the government has started working on revamping the procurement system. 

A team, led by the director-general of Department of National Properties, has been formed to work on this, the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said.

Lyonchhen said specialised institutions and hospitals should have specialised procurement system.

He said that institutions like works and human settlement ministry and health ministry that have special system needs to have a specialised procurement system and the rest will fit into the miscellaneous group. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

Lyonchhen said the health ministry should have a different procurement system. Even within the health sector, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) and referral hospitals should have specialised procurement system as their requirements differ. 

“BHU’s requirement and the hospitals’ requirement is different.”

The Prime Minister said that all relevant officers were asked to give recommendations and the focal persons have also been identified which includes the director-general of the Department of National Properties, chief procurement officers and experts. “If possible, we will have Royal Audit Authority representative in the team.”

“This will be the core team that will be working on revamping the system,” Lyonchhen said. “We have sent suggestions to them and they are working on it.”

Officials from various agencies will be consulted during the process. 

Revamping the procurement system also requires amending the rules and regulations. 

“Ultimately, the body will change and value add to the existing system and make it more intelligent. Then, we will have about three to four procurement rules and regulations,” Lyonchhen said. 

Currently, the finance ministry’s procurement rules and regulations 2009 is applied for all government procurement. 

The health ministry is also exploring to reform the medical procurement system. 

Its procurement is technically complex and involves many individuals with different expertise. It is vulnerable to corrupt practices and there were issues in the health procurement because of the inherent challenges like being totally dependent on the suppliers abroad. 

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, during the health ministry’s first high-level committee meeting after reconstituting the committee members earlier last month, asked the Department of Medical Supplies and Health Infrastructure (DoMSHI) to take lead, do a thorough study on the new model of procurement. 

Lyonpo said there are some fundamental issues of procurement and the ministry is trying to solve it.  “I want to have a good system that is effective, efficient and helps the ministry to maximize the utilization and expenditure.”

Minor sentenced to 16 years in prison for statutory rape

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:24

Rinchen Zangmo  | Tsirang

Dagana dzongkhag court last week sentenced a 17-year-old boy to 16 years in prison for statutory rape of a five-year-old girl.

According to the Penal Code of Bhutan, the offence of statutory rape is a first-degree felony. The punishment varies from 15 years to life imprisonment.

According to the court judgment, the defendant was given the highest punishment. However, as the defendant is a minor, his sentencing was reduced to 16 years imprisonment. 

The defendant will be sent to attend a youth rehabilitation centre.

The defendant’s father will have to pay a compensation of Nu 45, 000 to the girl’s family within 10 days, which is equivalent to a year’s daily wage.

The incident took place on September 18 when the stepfather of the girl was in the kitchen preparing lunch. The defendant, who knew the family, had visited them and lured the girl to go out with him to buy a Mimi noodle.

It was learnt that the defendant took the girl into the forest and then raped her.

When the mother returned from duty, she found her daughter crying. The victim had scratch marks all over her face and she was found bleeding.

The principal of the school reported the incident to the police in the evening on the same day. The suspect was caught on the same day.

Meanwhile, police and dzongkhag administration officials, are conducting sensitisation programmes in the schools since October 16.

Students including primary class students were being sensitised on statutory rape and rape of a child above 12 years of age. Besides this, they were also made aware of the good touch and bad touch, child molestation, domestic violence and child abuse, and suicide.

Picture story

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:23

Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai hands over the fund raised during a carnival to Royal Society for Senior Citizens president on November 31  

Delayed winter session to give more time for homework 

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:22

MB Subba

The upcoming winter session of the Parliament is slated to begin in January after about two months of delay, which is expected give more time to ministries and parliamentary committees to come up with properly drafted Bills.

The last session of the National Assembly saw three Bills withdrawn or deferred due to lack of adequate homework on Bills. The committees blame time constraints for research and stakeholder meetings.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that major and important Bills would be introduced in the winter session that will begin from January 15, 2020. The winter session usually begins in November.

“The government will have more time to prepare not only for the winter session, but also the National Day celebrations. Mines and Minerals Bill is a major Bill,” he said.

Other Bills that the parliament failed to pass last session due to lack of adequate homework were the Royal Bhutan Police (amendment) Bill and the Local Government (amendment) Bill. The Bills were deferred after being introduced in the National Assembly.

Chairperson of the economic and finance committee, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the committee had not completed consultations with stakeholders. “This time, we have enough time for consultation,” he said.

The committees are planning to travel to Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel to meet stakeholders.

The government is also planning to introduce major reforms on personal income tax, business income tax and Goods and Service Tax (GST) during the upcoming session, drafting of which requires time.

The National Assembly has also received the Impeachment Bill 2019 that was passed by the National Council last session.

The Council states that the enactment of an impeachment Act would not only hold constitutional post holders accountable, but also insulate constitutional post holders from potential arbitrary impeachment attempts by parliamentarians.

The chairperson of the legislative committee, MP Tshewang Lhamo, said that the impeachment Bill was a major Bill that needed serious discussions.

She said that the National Assembly had forwarded two amendment Bills—Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill 2019—to the Council. She said the Bills were important as they had bearings on day-to-day life of people.

The Parliament spends a significant amount of time pointing out clerical errors and mismatch between Dzongkha and English texts. This, according to observers, is an indication that committees and the parent agencies must invest more time in drafting of Bills and review of issues.

In some cases, the committees do not get the draft Bill on time from the parent ministry.

Chairperson of the Good Governance Committee, MP Ugyen Wangdi, said that he had not recevived the local government amendment Bill yet. The department of local governance is reviewing the Bill for amendment during the upcoming session.

Some MPs say they do not get adequate time to read documents and Bills distributed to them.

A delayed session, however, is likely to affect the summer session as there would not be enough time left for preparation for the next session.

Summer session cannot be delayed as the fiscal year starts in July before which the annual budget is presented.

National Assembly’s secretary-general, Sangay Duba, in an earlier interview said that the winter session of the Parliament was deferred to give the government adequate time to prepare for the National Day celebrations which would be held in the capital thie year.

The first session of the third National Assembly, which was a winter session, was also held in January due to delays in aligning the 12th Plan with the incoming government’s manifesto.

He said that the agenda would be set on a later date. The Parliament has notified agencies to submit their agenda for the session.

Region unites to eliminate HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria by 2030

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:21

Chimi Dema

Global Fund South East Asia (SEA) region constituency conducted its first regional coordination meeting to identify bottlenecks and measures to tackle cross-border migration issues relating to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Tuberculosis and Malaria in the region last week in Thimphu. 

The Global Fund, an international partnership organisation, aims to attract, leverage and invest to eliminate the world’s top three epidemics of HIV/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), TB and Malaria by 2030.

Bhutan has made significant progress against pandemics in terms of getting people tested, treating them, and providing access to preventive measures.

However, challenges remain as the endemics continue to rage every year, millions of people dying of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in SEA region.

Today, inadequate infection control measures, lack of cross border notification, inadequate coordination and information sharing platform, and case detection gaps are some of the challenges confronting the countries in the SEA region.

The Global Fund SEA’s board member Professor Mohammad Abul Faiz (PhD) said the region recognised challenges, particularly in the cross border area due to population movement.

“Several issues like population movement and the harmonisation of health programme in the bordering areas cannot be worked successfully by an individual country,” he said.

The regional coordination mechanism (RCM) secretariat was formed last year to scale up efforts where representatives from country coordinating mechanisms (CCM) could come together to exchange ideas and knowledge to address issues. The members are also expected to share data and statistics of the diseases through this platform.

CCM representatives from 10 countries identified regional activities and formulated strategy and action plan related to the RCM for the following three years.

The meeting also reviewed the RCM governance structure, members’ roles and responsibilities and developed priority strategy.

The members presented the current situation and statistics of the HIV, TB and Malaria in their respective countries.

The outcomes of the meeting would be presented to the Global Fund board meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this month.

Accordingly, resources would be mobilised through international donor agencies and SAARC Development Fund.

Based in New Delhi, India the Global Fund SEA today has 11 countries including Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka. As of now, only two countries of SEA region, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have eliminated malaria.

Bhutan is in pre-elimination phase with only six indigenous cases recorded last year.

Bhutan today has 178 registered cases of Tuberculosis (TB) for every 100,000 population, claiming 16 lives per hundred  thousand.  With an estimated population of 735,000 last year,  about 1,308 persons could be living with TB across the country.

In 2018 alone, 981 cases were reported including 63 cases of multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB and that claimed 17 lives.

Cases of communicable diseases mainly Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB continue to pose grave threats to public health.

In a span of 26 years, Bhutan recorded 663 people living with HIV/AIDS.

Food for thought

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:19

The way school concerts are organised is seeing a change. Yesterday, a private primary school in the capital held its annual concert. It was different from many school concerts.

Students were, not at all, dancing to rigsar, Bollywood or Korean discos. Primary school students performed Alladin, a musical play, based on the Disney animated film of the same name.  It was a musical treat for the spectators, mostly parents.

The more than hour-long play was brilliant. The lines, the music, costumes and even the student choir were par excellence compared with concerts most parents are used to. The concert had almost all the students participating.

Proud parents silently agreed that such initiatives, even if sometimes costly, are good for students. It is an exposure to musicals, play, drama – art- and a totally new experience. The need to remember long lines, the creativity and the eloquence all help in shaping a student.

The only rigsar item was the welcome dance. We can surmise that the students already have a good idea of a different culture, as they danced to Arabic music with headscarves.

Not many schools can afford to have directors, designers, sound system or parents agreeing to stitching expensive custom for just one item, but schools concerts can be better organised and with a purpose.

The most popular concert today is dancing to what is called in Drayangs, “Tape dance.” Music is played on the tape and students dance to it. The only difference is the beat and the dress. Creativity is nil except on the choice of dress or choreography.

The only benefit is parents can see their children dance on the local cable networks, repeatedly. And the cable operators have “content’ for their cable. Good, there is a restriction on it, but we could still see students dancing on local cable network.

For the parents who attended school concerts, the concert or variety shows during their time were quite different. It used to be skits, drama and theme-based competitions. The common costume was wearing the gho inside out or wearing the kira high.

Like a parent said, television, as a powerful medium has taken over school concerts. Even if school concerts are ready content for local cable service providers, it can be improved. It is one of the most watched programmes and can influence viewers.

If we can perform Alladin or Mullan, why not Gasa Lamai Singye or Khandro Drowa Zangmo. We have a rich repository of folklores all with lessons and significant messages. Traditional Bhutanese folklore and plays are not popular today, but it is important to revive them though whatever means we can. Concerts and competition is a good way.

A good example is the singing competitions on our television channels. Besides entertaining people, it has revived our Zhungdras and Boedras. Without them not many will learn to sing Zhungdra. Today, even little children are singing them.

Heritage under threat, DoC calls for legislation

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:18

Phub Dem

Choetens crowded out, lhakhangs disappearing among tall buildings and hillsides cleared for construction, the cultural landscape in the country is changing fast.

It is not in the urban centres alone, as the wings of urbanisation spreads, cultural heritage is under threat. Without a heritage Act, there is not much authorities could do.

These concerns became clear at a discussion on Bhutan Cultural Atlas in Thimphu held on October 30. Participants voiced the need for strong legislation that could preserve such heritage sites.

The heritage site legislation was drafted, almost a decade ago in 2010. But it is still in a draft form.

An architect of the Department of Culture (DoC), Yeshi Samdrup, said since there were several custodians of cultural heritage, it was often at the whims and fancies of powerful individuals or groups’ choice to do whatever they like with the heritage sites.

He said that with emerging socio-cultural patterns, the need for a legislative tool to protect and promote heritage sites have become necessary.

Yeshi Samdrup said DoC was currently facing challenges such as increasing vandalism, illegal transportation of moveable cultural property, demolition or inadequate renovation eliminating historic importance and risk of losing intangible culture.

He said in rural areas, there is an increasing number of gungtongs while concrete buildings were replacing traditional houses in cities.

The draft Bill proposes a number of policy instruments, including a landscape approach to heritage site protection and management; clear formulation of the principles for registration and designation of heritage sites; establishment of a dedicated Heritage Sites Trust Fund; and provisions for adaptive reuse of heritage sites.

While continuing to protect major monuments and archaeological sites, the Bill emphasise on the protection of Bhutan’s breadth of “vernacular heritage sites.”

A study on Poverty and Social Impact Analysis of Bhutan’s Draft Heritage Sites Bill was already done in 2014 to assess the potential impacts and effectiveness of the draft Bill.

The National Council’s Social and Cultural Committee had been pushing for the deliberation of the Bill. NC representative of Punakha, Lhaki Dolma, said the committee has been trying its best to table the Bill.

She expects the Bill would be deliberated in the spring session next year.

Meanwhile, the president of Loden Foundation, Karma Phuntsho (PhD), said that DoC still has the authority to tell thromde and dzongkhag administrations to preserve certain places. “There are no high buildings next to Changangkha lhakhang. Similarly, the city should not allow high buildings near heritage sites.”

Yeshi Samdrup said that DoC has been exercising its duties despite facing many challenges of not having legislative power. He cited the example of the management plans for Punakha dzong restricting developmental activities near the buffer zone.

There are 2,084 monuments listed in the country’s inventory.

LPG prices spike

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:17

Staff Reporter

Three months after the last revision of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), the Department of Trade (DoT) on November 2 issued a notification stating the revision of subsidised, non-subsidised and commercial LPG prices.

The price per cylinder of subsidised LPG on an average increased by Nu 4, which is now Nu 568 in Thimphu. The price per cylinder of non-subsidised LPG also increased to Nu 754, which is an increased of Nu 75.

There is a difference of Nu 186 between subsidised and non-subsidised LPG now.

Commericial LPG saw the highest hike of Nu 108. The new price for commercial LPG is Nu 1,368 in Thimphu.

Meanwhile, the price of petrol and diesel on average was reduced by Nu 0.32 and Nu 0.78 respectively.

The revision, according to DoT, was as per the revision at source and as notified by principal oil companies in India.

Lhakhang in the shadow of Jomolhari

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:16

Chimi Dema | Soe

A two-day hard trek from Shana in Paro takes one to some of Bhutan’s most beautiful Alpine meadows. There are no human settlements here. You’ve come face to face with the raw and untamed vastness, the wild nature.

Around the temple are the places blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, Jetsun Milarepa, and Lama Drukpa Kunley

Jomolhari, 7,326msl, the abode of the protector goddess Jomo, is a true celestial paradise.

Towards the latter part of the 1100s, if one had been looking down this majestic abode of a Tsheringma sister, one would have witnessed a rag-tag monk, silhouetted in the evening light, crossing the little stream. Drukpa Kagyu was gaining unparalleled fame and the yogis of the lineage were taking to the snow-clad mountain and far-off caverns for a deeper realisation of truth.

Lorepa Wangchuk Tsondru, the tired monk settled here for a while, meditating in the caves, following the footsteps of Jetsun Milarepa. A temple stands here even today, believed to have been built by Lorepa. Located at the base of three rocky hills representing the Rigsum Goenpo, the lhakhang could be one of the most far-removed and neglected.

The one-storey temple houses some sacred relics related to Drukpa Kagyu. Among them is a foot-tall statue of Gyalwa Lorepa himself, holy scripture written in gold, six aluminium water bowls and an offering lamp.

Legend has it that the golden scriptures were offered to Gyalwa Lorepa by Aum Jomo, the deity of the Dagala range in Thimphu.

As the sun leaves the mountains, the dark accentuates the isolation. No wonder Gyalwa Lorepa found this place ideal for deeper meditation. Here, one can hear the silence.

All that is there about the history of this secluded hermitage of a renowned Drukpa saint today is oral account. Mystery further adds to the significance of the place.

A flood came, long ago. Date and time are lost to us. Could Lorepa have by then reached Bumthang where he established a small monastery there? The flood destroyed the temple, which was later rebuilt. The sacred relics were not lost—a foot-tall statue of Gyalwa Lorepa himself, holy scriptures written in gold, six aluminium water bowls and an offering lamp.

Locals say that around this temple are the places blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, Jetsun Milarepa, and Lama Drukpa Kunley. There are meditation caves of Guru Padmasambhava and Gyalwa Lorepa and Guru’s holy water, among others.

There are also prints of dungkar and sernya on the rocks beside the lhakhang. The lhakhang’s lam, Namgay, said  they symbolise offerings to the Rigsum Goenpo. An hour’s climb up the alpine shrubs, on the scree, there is the Tsheringma Lhatsho, the spirit lake of Tsheringma.

Not many people visit the lhakhang. In summer, it remains totally cut-off because of the swelling stream, a tributary of Pachhu.

Lam Namgay said that after the annual Jomolhari festival began in 2013, a few started coming to the lhakhang. The lhakhang was taken care of by the Soe community in the past. In 2015, it was surrendered to Zhung Dratsang.

The lhakhang and the lam benefit the community although far-removed from the human settlements.

The lhakhang got electricity in 2016. But without a cellular service, Lam Namgay said it was inconvenient for caretaker.

TashiCell is installing cellular network in the area.

Because the lhakhang is located far from the nearest human settlement and remains closed for the better part of the year, security is the one of the biggest challenges. There have been accounts of destruction even by wild animals.

And, with warming climate, the threat of glacial lake outburst is ever present.

India House golf tournament tees off

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 16:12

Thinley Namgay

The first part of the India House golf tournament kicked off yesterday.

It started with the one-day juniors’ tournament for school going children called ‘Coronation Cup Championship’ at India house golf arena in Jungshina, Thimphu.

It is a full flagged organised championship of its kind for school-going children by the India House Golf Club (IHGC).

The ‘Coronation Cup Championship’ commemorates the auspicious occasion of the coronation anniversary of His Majesty the King.

A total of 30 students aged between seven and 17 years, comprising 24 boys and 6 girls, took part in the tournament. 

Participants were from 10 schools in Thimphu. They have competed for 10 different prizes including the ‘Junior Girls Champion’ and ‘Junior Boys Champion’.

Seven-year-old Jigme Drukdra is the youngest participant. He is a student at the Early Learning Centre.

“I like to play golf and I took coaching earlier in the Royal Thimphu Golf Club. It is my debut in the golf tournament and it was a good experience,” Jigme Drukdra said.

The children were also mentored on the latest golfing rules and regulations.

IHGC’s secretary, Raghav Bhatnagar, said juniors’ tournament was to encourage young golfers, inculcate a healthy lifestyle and to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Bhutan and India through sports.

Ambassador of India to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, graced the tournament. She is the patron of the IHGC.

In addition to this annual championship, the IHGC also promotes golf for children on other occasions by conducting special coaching camps for junior golfers in collaboration with Bhutan Golf Federation.

The second part of the tournament, the senior championship called ‘Birth Anniversary Commemoration Cup’ will be held from November 26 to 30 at India house golf arena in Jungshina, Thimphu.

Almost 200 golfers are expected to participate in it.

The ‘Birth Anniversary Commemoration Cup’ is to commemorate the birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

It is also intended to bring together the civil society and youth through the medium of sports to celebrate the close bonds of friendship between India and Bhutan.

Focus point

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:40

Govt. stops dredging and export of riverbed materials from Toorsa

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:37

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

After much controversy surrounding dredging and export of boulders from Phuentsholing, the government has decided to stop dredging of boulders and riverbed materials from Tooarsa river basin.

The agriculture minister on October 25, through a notification, stated that the decision was taken after reviewing the Phuentsholing Township Development Project (PTDP) and concerns expressed by the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL).

“The government has decided to cease the export of surface collection and river bed dredging materials originating in and around Toorsa river basin,” the notification stated.

Rigsar Construction has stopped exporting on October 21 (File Photo)

All the construction materials collected from Toorsa river basin will be reserved solely for domestic consumption.

PTDP will manage their construction material requirements following the existing rules of the country, the Forest and Nature Conservation Act (FNCA), 1995, Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR), 2017 and Environment Assessment (EA) Act, 2000 and its regulation.

The ban will be strictly monitored with the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) and National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) asked to carry out regular monitoring of the sites to ensure that there will be no surface collection and dredging activities, as well as exports from the area.

Those with dredging and export clearance and permit, both government as well as private, will have to stop their business upon expiry of the validity of the given export deadlines.

The notification had also provided deadline to clear stocks for those operators with stocks.

Kuenchap Export has been allowed to clear their balance stocks by December this year. SSD Ventures have time until December 26. Chukha Construction has time until December end.

Yangkhil Construction (sub-contract of Rigsar Construction) and Rigsar Construction has been stopped exporting from October 21. Export for Dekiling Stone Crushing Unit has also been stopped.

The government has also cleaned up the mess surrounding dredging and surface collection of riverbed materials.

Surface collection of sand and stones for both commercial and non-commercial purpose and exports is put under the control of the DoFPS, in accordance to the FNCRR, 2017.

The notification requested all other authorities to not issue permits, approvals, clearances for the surface collection and dredging of sand and boulders either from riverbeds or elsewhere without consultation with DoFPS.

The decision was taken to safeguard proper management of “scarce natural resources” and ensure proper monitoring of the activities.

“Multi-authority issuance of permits and approvals for such activities has created confusions and misunderstandings in managing surface collection and dredging activities,” stated the notification.

 

Dredging companies decides to appeal

Those in the dredging business have, meanwhile, decided to appeal to the agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor.

One dredging company owner said the decision was not fair. He said that it was decided after the agriculture ministry was briefed by CDCL management.

“Now we would like MoAF to listen to our side of the story and then take the decision,” he said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed and waiting for an appointment with the agriculture minister so that we can place our grievances.”

Sources have confirmed that almost all the dredging companies are having stocks. Without the stocks being allowed to export, it would impact the economy, dredging owners said.

A month before the notification, in September, DoFPS announced three new dredging and surface collection sites at Toorsa. The allotment was floated on a first-come-first-serve bases, which was not received well by interested parties.

The first three contractors that would fulfill the obligatory documents and clearances were supposed to win the sites. More than 100 interested firms had taken administrative approvals from Phuentsholing Thromde. However, the allotment did not happen because clearance from CDCL was also required.

The three sites falls in Zone B of PTDP. As Zone B is located upstream of Zone A, the site that is currently being developed, CDCL objected to the decision to award the three new sites as it felt that dredging upstream of the PTDP project would pose risks on development sites downstream.

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