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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 19 min 44 sec ago

Advocacy and awareness: Must to control cybercrime

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:54

Tashi Dema     

The recent incidents of how obscene videos went viral despite appeals from police and other authorities is evidence of how much control we have over cybercrime and the damages it brings to people.

Police have registered a case against the 74-year-old man, who made the amateur videos without  the consent of the women and circulated it, but the videos that show the women’s face clearly are still circulating.

“We cannot do much unless people take moral responsibility and stop sharing and watching the videos,” a police officer said.

An information and technology (IT) professional, who helped authorities resolve several cybercrime in the past, said once a material, written or videos are posted  online, it is difficult to take it down. “All the videos are circulating via various social media platforms, where our government or authorities do not have any say.”

He explained that  the most authorities could do is to report to the social media site admins and request them to take it down, which would take time. “By then the damage is already done.”

There are laws in place and people have been convicted of cybercrime before. The Information, Communications and Media Act 2018 and Penal Code have provisions that criminalise violators. Technologies are also available to trace the crime and people committing online crimes.

But that is not stopping perpetrators.

While many believe that punishment for such crimes are not severe, as it is graded a misdemeanour with sentences ranging from a month to three years in prison for cybercrimes and distribution of obscene materials, others reason that severity of punishment never served as a deterrence.

According to the IT professional, creating awareness and conducting advocacy on the adversity of social media is a must. “This cannot stop cybercrime but control it.”

He said that citizens, rather netizens, should be informed and educated on why they shouldn’t allow anyone to film their private life and the dangers of putting it on social media. “We have talked enough on this but we never addressed it.”

He said cyber education and advocacy should start in schools rather than just introducing the internet, for instance. “If we are introducing ICT as a third language and mandating students to study it as a third subject, we have to talk about all the online crimes and dangers.”

He also said recent advocacies on cybercrime do not give any solution to what happens after the online scams. “They are just posting what is already there on Youtube and online without a solution for the local problem.”

He questioned the role of civil servants and corporate employees who study cybercrime. “It is time the government create a pool of cybercrime experts to implement what they studied.”

Meanwhile, sources also point out how our law enforcement agency lacks expertise and seriousness to curb cybercrime.

A Thimphu resident, Sonam, said if the businessman was held accountable right after he leaked the first video, he would not have leaked other videos and damaged many lives. “What these people do in their private life as adults is not an issue, but the issue is when someone puts in online.”

Gearing for vegetable cultivation 

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:54

Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha     

With chilli prices soaring in the market amid the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers in Punakha are gearing up to increase production this year.

Today, as many as 80 polytunnels per households have been set up in the paddy fields in Punakha.

The polytunnels help fasten the growth of the chillies, cucumbers, and cyclanthera pedata (olachoto) saplings.

In Yebisa chiwog, Namgay Choden is planning to double her chilli plantation to an acre-land from 50 decimal last year.

Namgay Choden said that with the pandemic and the agriculture officials encouraging vegetable cultivation, villagers were increasing production.

She added that earlier she feared there wouldn’t be demand if she increased production. This year, due to the pandemic, she expects better sale.

All 49 households in Yebisa cultivate chillies. Cucumbers, beans, and olachoto are also commonly grown.

This year, for the first time, the villagers have taken up cultivation of winter crops such as broccoli and cauliflower. Gewog agriculture officials provided seeds to encourage production.

Pemba, 59, already sold broccolis twice this year. He is now piloting a new measure to avoid frost on olachoto using pet bottles.

“Earlier I used tree branches, which I felt were really harmful to the environment as well. And the tree branches easily dries in the sun, thus requiring change now and then,” Pemba said.

He cut pet bottles in half and put over the olachoto sprouting like fences to avoid frost. “If frost forms on the sprouts, then the plant would die easily,” Pemba said.

While farm work is in full swing, farmers also worry that lack of market might affect them in the long run.

In Punakha, chilli harvest season begins by May. Following chilli plantation, farmers are then engaged in paddy cultivation.

Yebisa chiwog tshogpa Thuji Zangmo said that farmers showed huge interest in vegetable cultivation. “It does bring good returns for the farmers.”

The gewog agriculture extension officials have also provided farmers with hybrid chilli seeds, and seeds for cucumber and zucchini. They also support to construct greenhouses, and free pesticides during infestations are provided.

A problem bigger than pandemic?

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:53

A systemic, even systematic, flaws in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in Bhutan have begun to come unravelling. And coming from an “entry point” such as Paro, now, is unsettling.

We have been aware, acutely, that complacency would be the end of it all for a country such as Bhutan that has neither the economic power to deal with full-scale explosion of the pandemic nor the scientific know-how to combat the unrelenting virus. Yet, today, that is exactly what seems to have happened.

And there was also conspicuous lack of clarification from the authorities concerned. These are a lethal combination of ineptitude on display that can throw a spanner in all the efforts and resources we have put in to fight one of the greatest scourges of our time.

A news report pinned an index case on one person in Paro, a driver, who reportedly had nothing to do with the rising Covid-19 positive cases in Thimphu and Paro. Upon a deeper investigation, though, what has come out clearly is that there are systemic gaps that could have engendered the current situation of fear, panic and distrust among people in the red-marked Thimphu and Paro.

The driver himself, who was engaged in picking the passengers from the airport and dropping them off to the quarantine centres, was shocked to learn that he was the source of the infection. From March last year, the driver was involved in ferrying passengers and frontliners from the airport to quarantine facilities. His last day of duty was on December 18. However, according to the record with health officials in Paro, the dzongkhag discontinued the quarantine provision for frontliners since September last year given the huge financial implication and decreased repatriation flights.

What is more worrying is that the incident commander, Paro dzongdag, has been unaware of these changes and much of what has been happening in his dzongkhag in terms of fighting the spread of Covid-19.  

What needs to be understood here is that the bus driver is not in the wrong. He has his logbook as proof. The school authority, he said, even had asked the dzongkhag administration if it was safe for the drivers to be sent directly home after picking up the passenger from the airport.

The fact is that the driver has tested Covid-19 positive. Many other drivers and their families have. The problem is with the report that pins, without sound basis, the fault on a single individual. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo has said: “It is a near impossible for us to establish an individual as the source of the infection…No country in the world can identify a single individual as a source of infection.”

Too little, too late.

Imagine the kind of pressure on certain such cases and individuals resulting from recklessness in the system. Information flow, leak, and lousy redressal are emerging to be formidable problems. If not addressed, as urgently as possible, we have a problem bigger than the pandemic itself to tackle with.

Fear and panic can’t be helped in a situation such as the nation is faced with today but wilful misinformation and the kind of disregard that seems to be accepted, even by the government, is dangerous

Lockdown and movement restrictions impact highlanders

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:50

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa 

Nomads of Laya and Lunana, who come and stay in Punakha every winter to beat the harsh weather, could not do so this year because of the lockdown and inter-dzongkhag movement restriction.

While layaps are waiting for the movement restrictions to be lifted, the route is closed for Lunaps, as the high mountain passes are covered under snow.

Some families from Laya are stuck in Gasa.

The barren paddy field of Dochu-Ritsa chiwog in Punakha is usually filled with the tents of the nomads. But this year, a lone tent is pitched with corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets as a door. Four horses lazily graze in the field.

Two boys, 19-year-old Sangay Tshering and his 6-year-old younger brother stay in the tent.

They had to live by themselves until their grandmother joined on January 6.

“Our mother left home in Laya about three weeks ago to get some cash someone owed to her. It was the first time we lived on our own,” Sangay Tshering said.

After Damcho’s departure to Laya, the second nationwide-lockdown was announced on December 23.

Horses are left free to graze in empty fields

“My initial plan was to be here for three days before returning to Punakha. But the lockdown was announced and I couldn’t do anything. I requested my mother to go to the children and support them,” Damcho said.

Damcho’s mother, 69-year-old Rinchen was in Paro when the lockdown was announced. She was there to sell incense collected from Laya.  “I tested there and with support from dzongkhag officials and my house owner, I was dropped here in Punakha,” she said.

Seki Dorji from Lunana is today at his house in Gum Kamu, Punakha. “We came before the lockdown. Now the roads are also closed due to snow,” he said.

The route to Lunana is blocked by November due to heavy snowfall. The route remains closed until late June.

Today, with at least 70 percent Lunana residents in the villages, they fear they would lose their horses to the harsh weather.

Dengo, 34, said that of around 80 households in Toencho and Thangza, only four families had moved to Gasa and Punakha.

“We usually move to the lower lands as there isn’t enough fodder for horses and buy our rations.”

Wangdue, Punakha and Gasa dzongkhag officials delivered rations to Lunana before the route closed in September last year.

Lunana Gup Kaka said that apart from supply delivered to the individual families, the shop in Lunana had also stored rations for the coming winter.

The highlanders are worried about their horses.

“Horses are an important source of income for us and each horse cost around Nu 100,000 and if the breed is good, the price would go up to Nu 150,000,” Dengo said.

Dengo said that firewood was also scarce in Lunana. “If we start our journey from around 9am to collect firewood, we wouldn’t be home until 5pm.”

Although the villagers use horses to fetch firewood, as winter approaches, they avoid doing so. “The horses are also weak. So we have to go carry it ourselves,” Dengo said. “We think our horses will die here. But we cannot even leave our horses down in Punakha and Wangdue without anyone to look over them.”

There were issues of illegal grazing in the Khotokha and Phobjikha in the past. Because of which, despite the snowfall, Lunaps were called to take their horses back home.

Meanwhile, some highlanders feel it is better to stay in the villages because of the Covid-19 risk in urban areas.

Bhutan’s film industry incurs a loss of Nu 90 million 

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:49

Chhimi Dema

Film industry has incurred loss, as new film releases are postponed, film shootings are halted and theatres are unable to screen movies.

According to a Facebook page created to update on the Bhutanese film industry, 20 films were not released and 10 films were not screened in other dzongkhags. Three film productions were on halt due to the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.

The industry is facing a loss of approximately Nu 90 million (M), according to film producer Dorji Wangchuk.

The loss for films yet to be released was estimated to be about Nu 60M, which includes cost of production amounting to Nu 3M for 20 films).

The loss incurred from not screening films in other dzongkhags apart from Thimphu is about Nu 30M for 30 films, including those that were not released.

Dorji Wangchuk said that in the current situation, most of the production houses find it difficult to sustain and cover monthly expenditure. “With the absence of a proper financing window for producing films, producers resort to private lending and mortgage properties to execute projects.”

He said that even if films cannot be screened in theatres, an opportunity to avail soft loans for those completed projects to repay the investors would benefit the film industry. “Investors pressurise the producers for repayment but we have no source of income without screening our films.”

Officiating president of the Film Association of Bhutan, Nidup Dorji, said the pandemic severely impacted the industry and that many were depending on their savings.

He said even if film shooting were allowed, it would be of no help without screening.

Nidup Dorji said that considering the uncertainties of time, it was important to explore other platforms for screening through cable TV, over-the-top services, or streaming media directly from the internet with reasonable sharing ratio.

The industry appealed to the government to allow screening films about five months ago but they have not received any response.

Meanwhile, as an assistant cameraman, Khandu Wangdi, said that he was unemployed for the last 10 months. “I have no source of income. My friends help me survive.”

A film producer, Kinzang Dema from Jamyang Pictures said that youth lost their employment because the film producers had to halt shooting.  “I ventured into film making expecting to give employment and entertain but the current situation hampered my expectations and income.”

She could not release her new film Jangkho and her first movie Dhunghey Parigam was not screened in other dzongkhags.

The industry was, however, engaged in short films in May last year through the Royal Office of Media (ROM).

Actors are engaging themselves in making advocacies and awareness videos in collaboration with the government agencies without payment.

An actor, Sherub Lhamo, said that even though there was no income, she was doing the little she could to help by making the awareness videos. “I am, also, spending quality time with my son.”

Chikthuen: More than a BBS Show

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:49

The events that unfolded towards the end of Trump’s presidency in the United States of America (USA) was at best ugly and at worst dangerous.  The world’s oldest democracy was the world’s biggest stage where the world watched in awe and disbelief, an unprecedented political drama, and wondered what on earth was happening there.  It was definitely more disconcerting to the few who have friends and families there, and those who have visited the USA (me included).

We have witnessed both the ugly as well as exquisite sides of democracy.  If because of democracy Mr. Trump was elected, it is because of the same that he has been now removed.  One lesson I understood from the events that unfolded in the USA is the criticality of how the mass must be intelligent, educated, informed, and able to filter right from wrong, strengths from weaknesses, in the true sense of patriotism.  Neither the Party-affiliation nor loyalty to an individual.  I remember clearly what His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo commanded during His tours around the country on The Constitution in the early years of 2000.  The purpose of institutionalizing a constitutional democracy was aimed at electing and installing the right people in leadership positions. So, it is all good if the democracy is supported by collective wisdom, not collective ignorance.

For a small country like ours, I find it highly vital to always be united as one.  The importance of unity was made luminously clear as the northern star by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo during His coronation in 1974 when He pronounced that we should all “consider ourselves Bhutanese, and think and act as one”. Similarly, His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo has been repeatedly emphasizing on how important it is to be united towards the common cause of Gross National Happiness and the future of Bhutan.

In March 2020, the pandemic of Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus landed its dark step in Bhutan and as the Royal Government resorted to national lockdown in August 2020, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) started a show titled ‘Chik-thuen’.  It was a show premised on a well-intended objective to keep the people entertained during the lockdown while enabling and encouraging everyone to work towards preventing and containing the spread of the virus.  However, I am afraid that in the future there might be Bhutanese for whom Chikthuen might just mean a BBS show.  If that happens, we will have all failed to a good extent in making ourselves understand one fundamental tenet of a nation, which is UNITY.

Let’s remind ourselves before it is too late that Chikthuen means much more than a show.  It is so much deeper and more profound.  It is the calm depth of the ocean that holds the ocean firm in its place irrespective of the violent and hostile waves on the surface.  It is the strong roots of a tree which are well grounded deep into the earth holding it strongly against the ghastly winds.  It is the vast blue sky maintaining its splendour and high ground no matter how the weather on the earth may try to discolour and dim it.  It is the very precious psyche that binds us all as one, ‘thinking and acting as one’.

There are many ways how we can pursue and abide by that psyche – different ways for those who know and for those who don’t.  First, which is very easy is to listen to His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo and align all our thoughts and actions accordingly.  All our hereditary Monarchs have been insightful, farsighted and have ably and unarguably steered the country towards the right directions.  Each word pronounced by His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo comes out from a most compassionate heart replete with care and concern for the future of the country and people, and directed to a vision of a better and stronger Bhutan. Even by vetting our thoughts and actions through a filter by asking ourselves if what I am thinking and doing would impress His Majesty would contribute to unity without a speck of doubt. Second, especially for those who are educated, knowledgeable and well-read, is to align to the laws and regulations, plans and policies of the Royal Government of Bhutan.  Understanding the guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness and thinking and acting accordingly would be far-reaching.  Such citizens may even help the rest in envisioning a brighter and better future for the country, share ideas and encourage others to also understand it, in the truest sense of selflessness and larger national interest.  Third, which is extremely easy is to remember the basic premise of Buddhism the law of Tha Damtsig Ley Jumdrey, and think and act accordingly.

Exactly as the maxim ‘charity begins at home’ teaches, the Chikthuen must also begin at home.  Parents must responsibly put the right values in children and encourage them to uphold Chikthuen at the highest level of the nation (at least).  When members of such families go out into the worlds of education and learning, friendships and social circles, works and careers, and leadership and positions, the value of Chikthuen along with others would strongly guide each one towards the direction that is in the interest of more than those of individuals or groups.  It is critical at the levels of the government, political parties, agencies and institutions, Dzongkhags and Gewogs, communities and households, and each individual Bhutanese.  In such an environment, we will not have to worry about a bad political party exercising bad governance, corrupt people occupying solemn positions, individuals breaking laws for selfish gains, etc.  Chikthuen has been the very fibre that has held us strongly together as a nation thus far and it is going to be the lynchpin going forward in order to survive and shine as a country.

So, when the pandemic has become a thing of the past and the BBS has stopped airing the show, let us not forget Chikthuen.  If a person is living due to a life-force called soul (sok), let’s not forget the sok of a nation.  The Chikthuen.  Unity.

Contributed by 

Namgay Wangchuk

BoB, Thimphu

Dust particles from PCAL plant affect Gomtu residents

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:48

Nearby areas are covered in the dust from the plant

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing     

Residents of the small Gomtu town in Samtse say dust particles from the Penden Cement Authority Limited (PCAL) plant are causing pollution.

They allege thick dust particles emitted from the plant during the lockdown.

A resident said dust particles emitted during the lockdown were thick and resembled snowflakes.

“It became so dusty here,” he said. “Even vehicles were covered by dust.”

He said dust particles could be harmful to eyes and drinking water.

Another resident, Phurba, said the dust pollution mostly affected the BOD area at the town’s entry point.

“Since it happened during the lockdown, people staying on the upper side of the town didn’t see much.”

He said they lodged a complaint to the PCAL management.”

Another resident said although they lived with such dust particles before, the particles are becoming heavy now.

“Roads, trees and building roofs were covered by the dust flakes.”

He said it is time the issue is resolved. PCAL sprinkles water but it is just on the road and it doesn’t help much, he added.

PCAL’s chief executing officer (CEO), Tenzin, said due to the pandemic and lockdowns, there are several interruptions in the plant operations.

“Frequent shutdown and startups are not recommended for the smooth operation of the plant. The plant and equipment takes time to stabilise and during the process, the emissions are also comparatively higher,” he said.

The CEO said it is not possible to attend to plant emergencies during the pandemic and lockdown like the normal days.

“Dust emissions were observed from ‘kiln inlet’ mainly due to interruptions in the process and it was not possible to immediately attend to the problem.”

He said PCAL managed to shut down the kiln and rectify the problem and thereafter the emission was normal.

“This type of emission happens only whenever there is system or process disturbances, which is rare.”

Tenzin also said the dust particles are “partly calcined raw meal,” which occurred due to process upset. It is in process material for clinker production in the kiln. This kind of emission is not continuous.

“It occurs rarely whenever there are system or process problems,” he said.

He said such emissions are also heavy and easily settle down on the ground rather than suspending in the air.

“As such, there is no direct impact causing serious health hazards.”

He also said if there is continuous excess emission of dust particles, it may impact the respiratory system apart from polluting the surroundings.

“Whenever the excessive dust emission occurs during plant operation due to leakages from the system or emission of dust from the chimney, it is planned and the plant is stopped for rectification and replacement of the damaged components.”

The management justified PCAL also has the Environment, Health and Safety Unit (EHSU) responsible for monitoring the air quality and supervises the implementation of all environmental norms as mandated by the National Environment Commission (NEC).

They claimed a water sprinkler truck is engaged daily for spraying water (from 6am to 5pm) on the roads during the dry season to control the dust throughout Gomtu town, school and hospital roads. Water hydrant points are also provided in some areas to spray water to suppress the dust.

CEO Tenzin said as per NEC norms, stack emission and ambient air quality are measured and submitted to NEC on a quarterly basis. PCAL is also planning to arrange a water mist generator to suppress the dust.

“PCAL is planning to procure a vacuum truck and upgrade the plant into a dust free plant in the future,” he said.

“The dust emission is a problem only during the dry season and whenever there are interruptions in the plant operations. They are being continuously monitored and managed on time.”

Tenants in Trashigang hoping for rent waiver

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:47

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

With Covid-19 positive cases growing in the country on-going restrictions, many residents in Trashigang are hoping for rent waiver.

Economic activities have come to a halt and paying rent has become a major problem for many people.

Tenzin Gonpo, who runs a budget hotel in Trashigang town, has not been able to pay rent for four months. “Income sources have stopped. There is no business opportunity whatsoever,” he said.

Tenzin pays Nu 50,000 rent per month.

A hotelier, Chimi Wangmo, has been behind in rent for some time now. The hotel business has been down. “There’s been no business at all.”

She has to pay a rent of Nu 15,000 for the hotel room and separate rent for the apartment where she and her family live.

Similarly, Pema Wangchuk is adjusting and has been arranging money from his relatives to pay rent.

“If landlords weave even 10 percent of the rent, it will help a lot of people here,” said a shopkeeper, who has even had to apply for Kidu.

Deki Yangzom opened a restaurant in Trashigang March last year. A week later, the nationwide lockdown happened.  This is the second time.

Ugyen Zangmo, who owns a restaurant, said that her landlord was very considerate. “But I am not sure whether I can pay this month’s rent.”

Ney Dorji has weaved 20 percent of the rent for all his tenants since the first nationwide lockdown.“I am a businessman and I know how the pandemic is affecting everybody.

Finding patient zero near impossible: Health Minister

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:46

Shaba driver denies breaching protocols 

Phub Dem and Younten Tshedup 

While the health ministry is readying a report on the source of the current Covid-19 outbreak in the country, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that it was epidemiologically not possible to narrow down the source to a single individual — often known as patient zero.

A patient zero refers to the person identified as the first carrier of a communicable disease in an outbreak of related cases.

However, following a report from one of the local newspapers, many were quick to conclude that the current outbreak of the virus in Thimphu and Paro revolved around a school bus driver in Paro.

Sharing his side of the story, the Shaba school bus driver said that he had not violated any of the Covid-19 protocols as many thought. To begin with, he said that there were no protocols for the frontliners, including testing and isolating themselves before leaving for home.

He said that after picking the passengers from the airport and dropping them off to the quarantine centres, the drivers went directly home, without staying in the quarantine or testing.

Beginning March last year, the driver has been involved in ferrying passengers from the airport to quarantine facilities and carrying frontliners to quarantine centres. His last day on duty was on December 18.

One of the health officials in Paro said that the dzongkhag taskforce discontinued the quarantine provision for frontliner since September last year given the huge financial implication and decreased repatriation flights. The incident commander, Paro dzongdag was not clear about these changes.  

While the driver claimed that he was kept in quarantine or restricted positioning only from August 1 to October 8, health official in Paro said that the drivers were kept in quarantine starting March to September.

The official said that all drivers including city bus drivers from Thimphu deployed to move people at the airport were never placed in quarantine. Three buses of Lamgong, Shaba and Khangkhu schools were identified for transporting passengers at the airport. City buses from Thimphu were also involved as and when required. The Shaba driver said that he was shocked when he learned that he was the source of the infection. “I am not the only driver who tested positive for the virus. A city bus driver from Thimphu engaged at the airport has also tested positive.”

It was learned that the bus drivers were provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) and the buses were disinfected before leaving for the school.

However, the driver said that it would have been safer if they were kept in quarantine and tested.

The health surveillance team claimed that mass testing was conducted at the airport once every two weeks. The driver however, said that there was no test specified for the drivers. “We did not know when the tests were scheduled. The mass testing was only for officials working within the airport.”

He said that he could have contracted the virus from his wife and children who had travelled to Thimphu between December 11 and 12. His wife and children tested positive for the virus on December 22, while he tested positive on December 24.

He added that the school authority had also asked the dzongkhag administration if it was safe for schools when drivers were directly sent home after picking up the passenger from the airport. “But officials were of the view that there were no risks.  If I’ve violated the protocols, I am accountable. But I have a record for every movement in my logbook as a proof.”

Shaba school principal, Karma Tenzin, said that the teachers and staff were disturbed by the news of their driver being the source of the outbreak. “No staff of the school have tested positive so far and none of us have gone out to play archery matches,” he said adding that the interaction between the driver and students and staff was minimal.

Unfair to blame bus driver: health minister 

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that it was unfair to label the driver as the individual responsible for spreading the disease. She said branding one individual as the source of infection was a scientifically baseless accusation. Like all frontliners, she said that the driver was equally contributing in the fight against the pandemic.

The minister explained that Covid-19 was an imported disease and the only source of such disease was via the point of entries (POE) — southern borders or international airport. This also included the quarantine centres in Paro.

Based on the epidemiological assessment of the current outbreak, Lyonpo said that the southern POEs were all clean except for Paro, where the international airport is located.

“However, it is a near impossible task for us to establish an individual as the source of the infection,” she said. “No country in the world can identify a single individual as the source of infection.”

Lyonpo said that the ministry was still assessing the situation and investigating for potential lapses at the POE. “The assessment is done not to finger point on individuals or organisations but to identify our own lapses and bridge the gaps so as to prevent similar issues in the future.”

She said that the country had no experience in dealing with a pandemic before and it was only human to overlook some of the measures.

“We are all learning and no person would intentionally breach the protocol and spread the disease,” she said. “I would also like to request people not to jump to conclusions before understanding the situation clearly.”

NPPF’s pension scheme faced with sustainability risk

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:30

… contributions will no longer be enough to pay benefits

Yangchen C Rinzin 

With about Nu 28.5 billion in accrued liability in the pension scheme as of June 2019, the pension fund scheme of the National Pension and Provident Fund (NPPF) poses a substantial amount of sustainability risk.

This is according to the NPPF’s recently published annual report.

Retirement schemes under the NPPF consists of the pension scheme and the provident fund (PF) made available to civil servants, employees of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and the armed forces.

Factors like changing demography, especially the increasing life expectancy of pensioners, the exclusivity or occupational design of the schemes and elements of cross-subsidisation are identified as the critical factors affecting the pension sustainability.

With timely intervention in reviewing pension policies, officials say, the fund is at sustainability risk.

NPPF’s investment director Leki Wangmo said that as the country’s investment in the health sector has increased life expectancy where people live longer, pension has to be also paid for a longer period, impacting the scheme’s sustainability.

The life expectancy as of 2019 is 71.58 years.

“Although it’s a universal problem of pension schemes globally, it can avert problems through dynamic adjustment mechanisms, which unfortunately is not being done in Bhutan,” Leki Wangmo said. “Globally as life expectancy increase, countries increase their retirement age to reduce the number of years in retirement.”

She added that an increase in the retirement age would not have an immediate impact on pension sustainability, but would have a positive effect on enhancing pension sustainability.

NPPF member pays a different amount due to different salaries based on their career for the scheme. The benefit is drawn based on the last basic pay at the end of their career.

“As per NPPF’s experience, the total accumulated amount together with an investment return of a member is enough to pay only 4-5 years of the pension benefit,” Leki Wangmo said. “After which any pension payment comes from the accumulated fund.”

The NPPF has, today, more contributing members than retired members, which is around 12 percent of the total membership. Today, after adjusting for all payments, balance cash from contribution is invested. “All the past investments also yield returns, which are again reinvested, leading to growth in the total fund size. This has given a very rosy picture of NPPF as a rich organisation,” the director said.

PAYG system

The official explained that the current pension scheme is designed as a Pay As You Go (PAYG) system, which means benefits are mostly paid from the contributions received from members.

With young membership profile, contribution is more than the benefit payable today. “However, as population age and the current young members reach retirement age, the pension fund will start experiencing the opposite where contributions will no longer be enough to pay benefits,” Leki Wangmo said.

NPPF is concerned that without intervention and when the liquidation of investment occurs, the  pension fund will be completely depleted at one point of time.

As per the NPPF, the PAYG system is an intergenerational equity issue mainly resulting from the subsidisation of the older generation by the younger generation.

The director stressed that when the fund is depleted, a group of people will not receive the promised benefits, although they have made their contribution. “This is because their fund has already been used to pay benefits to the older group before them.”

State guarantee

The annual report also stated that generating a sustainable return rate from investments continues to remain a challenge because of lack of investment avenues, the nascency of the financial market, and restrictive investment mandates.

“In the absence of proper legal framework under which NPPF function, there is no clarity on the state guarantee of the pension liability yet,” the report stated.

Elsewhere in the world where occupational pension schemes are in existence, firm regulations require such schemes to maintain funding levels.

This means every pension scheme must assess their pension liabilities and keep assets that correspond with such projected liabilities.

The current pension scheme is an occupational scheme while PAYG scheme is like a national scheme and there is  no clarity on the whole range of issues in the country.

“There is also no clarity on how the contingent liability that will arise from the PAYG scheme will be handled in the absence of any regulatory framework,” Leki Wangmo said.

The official added that an occupational pension scheme that caters to only one section of the population guaranteed by public finance has inherent equity issues, which in the long run will come under public scrutiny.

With no clarity on which policy on NPPF functions and NPPF being regulated as an SOE, the report stated that it poses the challenge of building a pension scheme and fund management.

Although the Pension Act or legal framework would give legal status, Leki Wangmo said that it is crucial to differentiate between the pension fund and NPPF as an organisation. “But more than giving legal status to NPPF, it has become important to explore the legal framework for the pension fund/scheme.”

NPPF was established in July 2002 following an executive order issued by the then Lhengye Zhungtshog, but is regulated like an SOE under the finance ministry.

NPPF received Nu 4,033.47 million as monthly pension and provident fund contribution from about 65,414 members in 2019-2020 financial year.

NPPF paid Nu 605.63M as a monthly pension payment.

Persons with disabilities experience better services this lockdown

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:29

Yangyel Lhaden 

Compared to the first lockdown, the services in the second lockdown have been better, according to persons with disabilities in the capital.

Jigme Namgayl a person with blindness ran out of essentials recently. He called 1009 in the morning hours and essentials were delivered to him in the evening.

He lives with six visually impaired trainees availing musical lessons. He said that he heard about the hotline number through the media and called the number immediately that day.

He was out of essential items in the first lockdown but there was no one to help. His plight was reported in the media and the next day he got the groceries.

Officials operating the 1009 call centre said that from the start of second lockdown till January 7 they delivered essential items and transportation services to 15 disabled persons. The officials also cater to senior citizens.

Pema Dorji, a physically disabled tailor, after struggling with essential items during the first lockdown made sure he stocked up. “I did not expect such services would be made available to us.”

He said that with lockdown extended resources at home were exhausting and was looking forward to avail services from 1009. “I am even short of money and I can buy essentials if I get kidu.”

A person with blindness said that for those disabled persons living alone this service came as a great relief.

Migmar Wangmo, a person with blindness, lives with five other women with blindness. She said that she and her friends were unaware of such services. “Being visually impaired we do not have easy access to news or information.”

She said that she would now contact 1009 for help. “We have one special movement card and I made use of it once.”

The official with 1009 said that for persons with disabilities and senior citizens they provided services as quick as possible.

The official also said that they faced challenges to distinguish if a person was really disabled as few incidences of people trying to outwit them had occurred.

A man claiming to be visually impaired wanted to go to his wife in Babesa. He called 1009. Thromde office arranged a vehicle to drop him.  On the second day, he called the police to go back to his home saying he forgot his medicines. The following day, the official said that he again called 1009 to avail their help.

“We came to know he was not blind as he registered a case with police last year when he was hit by a vehicle,” the official said.

Preventive measures more effective than vaccine: WHO  

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:29

…in combating the pandemic and to contain the spread  

Younten Tshedup 

While the probability of introducing an effective Covid-19 vaccine in the country remains yet to be determined, experts are recommending preventive measures as the most effective option in the fight against the pandemic.

The country today is experiencing an outbreak of Covid-19 in clusters regions of Thimphu and Paro.

Since the detection of the outbreak on December 20 last year, the virus has infected a total of 312 people in the country.

Although the overall tally of people infected by the virus since March 2020 have crossed over 770 cases, less than 0.102 of the population have been infected so far. This means a significant proportion of the population is uninfected. Vaccine could play a major role in protecting the public from the virus.

However, besides uncertainties as to when and how many vaccines doses Bhutan might receive, there is a growing concern with the mutation of the virus.

The new variant (UK variant) of SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, has been rapidly spreading across the world, including neighbouring India.

Bhutanese experts say that the current outbreak in the country could also be due to a different strain.

The rate of transmission of the infection this time is observed to be very high compared to the past infection’s rate and pattern. People of all ages, including infants as young as 2.5 months, have contracted the virus this time.

The concern is that whether the vaccines that have been developed so far would be effective against the new strain of the virus.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, said that viruses by nature tend to mutate and at times the newer strain can be less effective and vise-versa.

“The new strain of virus reported in the media seems to be more infectious. But the WHO is reviewing the data and good thing is, so far there is no indication that the new strain leads to a more severe form of the disease.”

He said that the WHO was monitoring the evolving situation closely and would inform in case of significant findings.

In terms of effectiveness of vaccines against the new strain, Dr Rui said: “While it’s early to make any concrete conclusion, our experience with other vaccines such as the ones for polio, measles and yellow fever, show that vaccines have maintained their high effectiveness over decades despite mutations in the viruses.”

He said that for Bhutan, people should continue to follow the proven public health interventions of washing hands, wearing face masks, and maintaining physical distancing, which would work irrespective of the type of strain of virus.

Dr Rui added that despite the outbreak of the virus in various locations, Bhutan has responded ‘exceptionally well’. “Additional flu clinics have been set up quickly in order to facilitate wide reach of testing,” he said. “Definitely, the first lockdown has provided us the experience to manage it more efficiently and strategically this time.”

Remittance inflow grows despite Covid-19

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:28

MB Subba 

Inward foreign remittance grew significantly last year despite the Covid-19 pandemic effecting the global economy badly.

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) in one of its latest reports revealed that the country received a total USD 159.24 million (approximately Nu 11.7 billion) remittance in 2020.

This, according to the central bank, is an increase by 12.57 percent as compared to 2019.

Of the total inward remittance received through formal channels, 80 percent was from Australia. The remittance from the US and the Middle East constituted 10 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

The remittance inflow increased at a time when the US dollar had appreciated against the ngultrum. A stronger dollar bodes well for the recipients through conversion into the ngultrum.

According to statistics with the RMA, the monthly average exchange rate of the ngultrum jumped to 76.2 per dollar in April 2020 from 71.3 per dollar in January of the same year.

The exchange rate of the dollar against the ngultrum decreased slightly to 73.5 in October last year but the dollar appreciated to 74.3 against the ngultrum in November.

The RMA in the report said that in its effort to support and incentivise remittance during the Covid-19 pandemic, it opened an Australian dollar account with the Reserve Bank of Australia. This move is aimed at minimising the exchange loss remitter through currency conversions.

According to the RMA’s annual report 2019, the South Asia region has been the biggest beneficiary of remittance. However, Bhutan has lagged behind in capitalising the benefits although inward remittance is considered as a stable and reliable source of non-debt financing source for a country.

“Additionally, remittance inflow also helps in building foreign exchange reserves,” it states.

In order to encourage remittance in Bhutan, the government launched RemitBhutan platform in September 2016 to provide a platform for non-resident Bhutanese to remit their savings and earnings to Bhutan through the formal banking channel.

Working from home turns from dream to nightmare

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:28

Chhimi Dema

When offices implemented work from home facility to contain the Covid-19 pandemic last year, many employees enjoyed it.

Many thought they could work and also have more time with families or have time for themselves.

The happiness, however, did not last long for many, who say that it has now turned to a nightmare.

An employee of a private company, Yeshey Choden, said she was not productive while working from home. “I could not meet the targeted goals and it makes me anxious.”

Another private employee, Dorji Dawa, said that as a parent, working from home was a challenge. “Children want me to spend time with them. It is challenging to balance work and personal time.”

A corporate employee, Zangmo, 36, said that working from home was a challenge with many disturbances at home.

She said that her work output was hampered because of distractions and household chores. “At home, I also get the urge to engage myself in other works.”

Others said it is difficult to engage in discussions or get responses from colleagues.

A civil servant, Pema Dema, 26, said that her experience of working from home is bad. “Without official documents at home, it is difficult to complete all the tasks.”

She said public services delivery is hampered.

Disruption in network connectivity is also making working from home difficult. Many attend virtual meetings, which is hampered by the network problem.

Some said they make a daily routine to ensure they don’t overwork or miss works.

People also complained there is no decision-making while working from home, as it takes time to get documents approved and signed by bosses.

Stick after the carrot

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:27

The warning is stern and the punishments spelled out. If Bhutanese are found violating the lockdown protocols and thereby threaten the safety of the community and the country, the law is going to come down hard on them.

This follows several cases of violations where one had contracted the disease and had been visiting places including outside his zone, even if one wonders how he managed to do that. All this happened when more cases are detected everyday with Thimphu averaging 13 new cases a day, including from the community.

The measures are not desperate, unlike many think. They are the need of the hour. Not to generalise, but the people asked for it.

We have, so far, taken the soft approach. The Prime Minister and the Sowai Lyonpo had been pleading, almost on a daily basis, with the people to follow rules. Every press briefing concluded with them requesting people to help them contain the disease by helping themselves.

We have failed to do that even after understanding that the disease is much about human behaviour. There was no protest against the measures put in place, but many chose to ignore and refuse to adopt behavioural public health interventions – of wearing face mask, physical distancing or not crowding. Now we are given what some call the behavioural medicine.

Our complacency stemmed, perhaps from our success in containing the virus. With the right leadership, guidance and the sacrifices of those who are on the frontline, we managed, for a long time, to prevent a full-blown community transmission.

It has happened now and we need to step up our guards. Changing our attitude would be crucial in this fight. The lockdown, as it seems, is going to be in place for a long time, at least in Thimphu and Paro. How long restrictions would last is partially in our hands. Our attitude and behaviour or the non-pharmacological measures is key  in fighting Covid-19.

From the  current situation, we cannot expect returning to normal anytime soon. In fact, what we call the new normal would be the normal for a long time, at least not before all of us are protected through a vaccine.

Those who breach lockdown regulations knowingly and create conditions including spreading a dangerous disease, in this case, Covid-19, and endangers the safety or health of the public, could be booked for criminal nuisance and other provisions with prison terms ranging from three and five years.

Given the complications related to the virus, the chances of getting booked with fourth degree felony is high as one could spread the disease unknowingly or without testing positive. It had happened.

The best way to not come into conflict with the law is being law-abiding citizens.

Consistency and adherence to the rule of law

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:27

This pandemic has defied the fundamental principles of the rule of law, democratic principles of the separation of power guaranteed under Article 1 of our Constitution.  The Executive is vested with enormous authority including legislative prerogatives. Almost every civic rights and liberties in the country are suspended by mere press releases setting an unprecedented authority of the Executive in a democracy. With such restrictions and prohibitions, public also suffer from lockdown fatigue including anger, tiredness and feeling groggy because many lost their jobs, livelihoods, and some in constant worry of next meal. Thus, the state must exercise due caution particularly in imposing harsh punitive sanctions.

Yesterday, Kuensel quoted the Attorney General that those who breach the lockdown protocols will be charged with Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and Breach of Public Order and Tranquillity Section 448 of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB). According to media reports, however,  not all defaulters are treated same thus far.

For example, Kuensel on December 9 reported that police arrested 19 business operators for violating government directives the “police charged” under Section 448.   However, another report revealed that police arrested a 36-year-old antique items dealer who sneaked into Phuentsholing from across the border without Covid-19 protocols was charged under both Section 410 and 448.

Kuensel also reported “Umling drungkhag court sentenced four men to more than ten years, one man and two women for more than six years” under Section 410 besides other laws as they were also charged other offences.  In most recent news, on  January 5, Kuensel reported that “13 people who breached the zone protocol, eight were sent on surety agreement and five, who are repeated offenders were detained and would be charged under Section 448.”

These are clear signs of inconsistencies and unequal treatment of defaulters. Those who are charged under Section 410, faces a minimum of one year to a maximum of less than five years imprisonment and those charged under Section 448 faces a minimum of one month to a maximum of less than one year and are eligible for Thrimthue.

Further, there are no laws that authorise police to grant bail once arrested. The authority to grant bail solely rest with the judiciary under the existing laws. Such inconsistencies give discretion to law enforcement agencies including the Office of the Attorney General and are vulnerable to corruption, abuse, unfair treatment, and possibly contravene the right to equality before the law and effective protection of the law guaranteed by our Constitution.

We must support the government in this difficult time because as AG said: “the situation is becoming quite severe, and we can’t take the risk because the protocol breach would endanger lives of people.” But equally important is that state actions must be fair and equal and within the boundaries of the rule of law.

His Majesty once said, “democracy can only flourish if all Bhutanese uphold the rule of law” and the “failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation.” The judiciary as the fountain of justice, guardian of the Constitution and media as the fourth estate must not remain spectator or collaborator but must act as effective checks and balances particularly in unprecedented times like this. At this hour people should not live in fear of punitive sanctions but need reassurance to overcome the challenges.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Many returned to Phuentsholing without quarantine

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:27

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The government yesterday changed the Covid-19 travel protocol and declared that people stranded in red zones have to stay in quarantine for seven days before returning to their respective places.

However, many people have come to Phuentsholing without undergoing the quarantine period, prior to this notification, and worry the residents.

Residents say that considering the government declaring Thimphu and Paro community transmission was 10 times bigger than the one in Phuentsholing in August 2020, letting people enter Phuentsholing without staying in quarantine posed serious threats.

They feared people could breach home-quarantine protocols after taking the RT-PCR sample for tests, which will not be detected within the next few days.

“It poses risk of transmission even if RT-PCR comes negative at the time of test,” a resident said.

People also stressed the RT-PCR result will be misleading during early incubation of Covid-19.

Although the incubation period, the time between exposure to the virus and symptom onset, of the coronavirus as per the WHO is five to six days, it can also go as long as 14 days.

“There have also been instances of cases being detected between 10 to 13 days of exposure from the quarantine centres,” a resident said.

“And if a returnee is exposed, he or she will also risk other family members.”

A resident, Namgay, said the government increased the risk of Covid-19 spread by sending people without staying in quarantine, assuming lockdown as quarantine.

“They can’t put us to risk. People never follow home quarantine.”

On January 7, about 12 people stranded in Thimphu came to Phuentsholing and three from Paro. They are under home quarantine today.

Between January 3 to January 7, a total of 37 people have come to Phuentsholing from Thimphu without undergoing the quarantine period and 10 from Paro.

People stranded in other places such as Wangdue, Punakha, Dagapela have also come to Phuentsholing during this period.

On December 27, 2020, the National Covid-19 task force stated that travellers from high-risk areas needn’t undergo facility quarantine till further order as they have been placed under lockdown since December 23, 2020.

“All travellers from high risk areas will have to test negative to RT-PCR before travelling to other places.”

Meanwhile, the families of the returnees are also not allowed to come out. They also have to undergo the home quarantine.

A resident, Ranjan Kumar Mongar, who returned to Phuentsholing on January 7 said he will be under home quarantine until January 14.

“Although I didn’t have to undergo mandatory quarantine in Thimphu, I was allowed to come from Thimphu only after testing negative on RT-PCR.”

In his Phuentsholing residence, the man said DeSuups kept an eye on him and came to check him time and again. He also signed an agreement stating he would not breach the home quarantine rules.

A health official said these returnees under home quarantine are monitored by police, DeSuups, and officials from thromde and health. All their family members are also put under home quarantine after signing the undertakings.

On the eighth day of their return, they will be tested for RT-PCR.

Meanwhile, people stranded in red zones have also travelled Samtse.

Between January 3 and January 7, about 14 have come to Samtse from Thimphu, while three from Paro.

A resident of Norgaygang, Shyam Gurung, said home quarantine in rural places is not practical and not possible at all.

“The Covid-19 is spreading in Thimphu and Paro and the people stranded must undergo seven days’ quarantine before coming to their respective villages,” he said.

“People will not stay put in a rural place, as they have to work in the fields and look after their cattle.”

16 archers in Mongar violate lockdown rules

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:26

Tshering Namgyal |Mongar

Ngatshang gewog in Mongar has identified 16 villagers who were reportedly playing archery on Nyilo when the nationwide lockdown was still in effect.

Mongar dzongdag who is also the incident commander of the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce wrote to the Ngatshang gewog taskforce to investigate a complaint about villagers breaching lockdown protocol. The dzongkhag taskforce received a complaint that villagers were playing archery on the day.

The gewog taskforce found that three groups of people played archery that day. Six players in Pelshuphu chiwog, another six in Roptangkhar village, and four players in Shingtha Aring village under Ngatshang chiwog played archery on Nyilo, January 2.

The archers in their statement to the gewog taskforce admitted the complaint was true.

Ngatshang gewog Covid-19 taskforce was asked to take action against the villagers and submit a report to the dzongkhag taskforce. However, the gewog taskforce could not find a basis for punishment and the degree of penalty.

So it forwarded the case to the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce asking for further directives on actions to be taken.

Ngatshang Gup Dorji Leki said the gewog did not come across any guideline or legal document to take appropriate action against those who breached the lockdown rules.

“Therefore, we forwarded it to the dzongkhag for advice.”

The case is currently with the Dzongkhag Covid-19 TaskForce.

Significance of Bhairab Kunda Temple in Bhutan

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:26

The monasteries and temples that dot the cultural landscape of Bhutan are woven with inspiring religious stories and mythologies find physical and metaphysical evidence in their holy sites. The small but sacred Bhairab Kunda Shiva temple in Jomotshangkha town, located at the tri-junction of Bhutan and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, is no different.

Religious  significance

According to Hindu mythology from the Sosthani Vratakatha and the Shiv Mahapuran, Lord Shiva wandered the earth upon the bereavement of his beloved Satti Devi. Lord Shiva was inconsolable and was unconsciously wandering, carrying the corpse of Satti Devi on his shoulder. This worried other Gods and Goddesses because without Lord Shiva’s attention, the whole world would suffer. Therefore, Lord Vishnu created flies to carry germs to disintegrate the lifeless body of Sati Devi. The flies carried germs and they started disintegrating her body. Part-by-part, her body decayed and fell off in different places on earth as Lord Shiva wandered. Wherever her body parts fell, the place assumed supernatural energy known in Hindu mythology as the Shakti Peeth.  The folklore says that parts of the Satti Devi fell on 51 locations. Many sites are identified in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and China. However, one such Shakti Peeth is identified and referenced in the Shiva Maha Puran and the Sosthani Varat Katha as the Bhairab Kunda.

These two prominent references further state that The King of the Gods, Lord Indra descended on his Airavat, the celestial White Elephant and came to the Shakti Peeth. Lord Indra offered his respect to the place and meditated there for many years. He conducted many fire rituals to seek first blessings from the place. Lord Shiva pleased with the devotion of Indra blessed with the place with rain.  Therefore, Indra is regarded as the God of lightning, thunder, storms, rains, streams, and rivers. Thus, it’s said that even today, upon the conduct of a fire ritual, immediate rainfall is experienced in Bhairab Kunda.

Another myth specific to the site states that Lord Shiva meditated at a cave located just below the present temple and a lake (Kunda) was formed at the site of meditation. Years later, Bhairab Nath, a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva was meditating at the same place he discovered a Shiva Ling, an abstract representation of Shiva and the place got its name “Bhairab-Kunda (Lake)”.

 

Architectural style and relics

It is difficult to trace the original form of the temple but a visit to the place reinforces the mythology with enough physical and material evidence to reveal the sanctity of the place. Oral history also says that the original lake burst during an 8.6 magnitude Assam earthquake in 1950 leaving the Shiv Linga on the bed of the lake. The remains of the lake can still be seen at the site today. Devotees relocated the sacred relics to the present site where a wooden temple was built to house the Shiv Linga.

History and heritage of the place were diluting with the place itself due to lack of resources before the community came together to start crowdfunding for the construction of a permanent temple in 2002. Devotees from all over Bhutan made voluntary contributions to fund that helped in the construction of the present temple, completed in 2005. Today, the temple is one of the major religious monuments and a pilgrimage site in the drungkhag and in the region.

Bhairab Kunda Temple combines elements of Hindu temple and traditional Bhutanese architecture. Picture.

The temple is located at the easternmost corner of the town and is accessed via a footpath from the road leading to the NHDCL housing colony. A large banyan tree forms the foreground of the temple complex almost hiding the temple completely until the visitor reaches in front of it. The main temple is a single-story structure with a unique architectural style combining the elements of a Hindu temple on the top and traditional Bhutanese architecture at its base columns. The main temple is a 6-metre square and has a 1.5-metre corridor all around and an inner shrine. The inner sanctum has the self-originated Sila which is a naturally formed rock. A recently constructed lake with a statue of Shiva is located on the eastern part of the complex beside the round rock which is worshipped as Ganesh deity. The are many statues of Hindu Goddesses and Gods inside the shrine including a pair of Radha-Krishna Statue that was gifted by His Majesty The King.

Maha Shivaratri is the most important festival celebrated at the temple each year. Prayers from Vedas, Rudri, Chandi, Shrimad Bhagawat, Shiva Maha Puran are offered during the festival for the well-being of the local community and the country. Thousands of devotees from the neighbouring Indian state of Assam also attend the events at the temple. Popular Hindu festivals like Makar Sankranti, Dashain, Deepawali, Janam Ashtami, Ram Navami, are also celebrated with great enthusiasm by both local and the pilgrims.

 

Significance for Bhutan

The location of the temple at the trijunction of Bhutan and two Indian states provides an opportunity to weave the significance of the temple with that of the region and promote the town as a tourist destination, complement other destinations like the Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as promote people-to-people contacts and Bhutan India Friendship. It is hoped that the Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan will initiate prayers to seek blessings from the spiritual power of the temple to end the current pandemic and the power of Lord Indra to bring rain to the Bhutanese settlements experiencing water shortage.

 

Contributed byDhrubaraj Sharma

QUT Design Lab

Number and professionalism: shortages facing Bhutan’s construction sector

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 01:25

Choki Wangmo 

Foreign workers left the country in huge numbers due to Covid-19. Subsequently, the construction sector is left without adequate workers—skilled and unskilled. This gap is becoming bigger by the day.

An engineer with a construction company, Phub Dorji, said that with Bhutanese demanding higher wage, filling the gap was challenging.  “And the Bhutanese jobseekers lack the required skills, the work outcome is poor.”

The few remaining Indian workers so are paid more to complete the projects. And the workers, taking advantage of the situation are demanding more. Construction companies have increased the daily wage rate to Nu 600 from Nu 400.

Construction companies do not prefer Bhutanese workers for obvious reasons. They don’t want to work but get paid, and paid high.

“They don’t listen to instructions. Although we pay them higher wages, they make excuses and leave the job as and when they want,” said a manager of a construction company in Thimphu. Brawl and disagreements are common between employers and employees.

Phub Dorji said that due to shortage of labour in the market, the company had no choice but to hire the ones available even at higher rates. His company applied for 15 workers from the Build Bhutan Project (BBP) but did not get any.

BBP’s aim is to engage 7,000 Bhutanese workers over a period of two years, of which 2,000 will be provided with skilling, reskilling and upskilling opportunities in construction trades leading to national certification.

As of August last year, the project engaged 354 job seekers and, in November, Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that the workers enrolled in the project would be given a raise.

BBP was launched on July 2019 with a budget of Nu 1,040 million to address the shortage of workers in the construction sector.

Bhutanese jobseekers, Phub Dorji said, were not willing to work at the construction site even at the wage rate of Nu 800 a day.

Managing Director of Deyjung Construction said that the rates had to be increased drastically. A mason, today, is paid more than Nu 1,000.

The company has five construction sites with 40 Bhutanese workers.

Green Mountain Construction employed 40-50 Bhutanese workers for unskilled jobs. The company has been paying a minimum of Nu 1,000 a day for Bhutanese workers.

General Manager of Vajra Builders Private Limited, Sherab Chojay, however, said that the quality of work and workers’ efficiency depended on the company’s care and monitoring.

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