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Updated: 50 min 39 sec ago

Flagship programmes expected to drive growth

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:33

Tshering Dorji

If the level of economic activities and growth in the country is driven by government consumption, investment and spending on capital works, the first year of the government began on a slower note.

This, however, is reflected in the  economic growth trend since democratic governance took place.

Economists say that for a developing country, capital expenditure should be on a higher side compared with the current expenditure since development entails building infrastructure and instituting new system, among others. This in turn drives private investment.

However, in the current Plan about 72 percent of the budget has been earmarked for current expenditure, which has to be met from domestic revenue, a constitutional mandate.

In absolute terms, the capital expense is bigger than the last Plan because the total Plan outlay is about Nu 100B more.

However, the finance ministry has projected an increase in government consumption by 6 percent and private consumption by 10.3 percent in the 2019-20 fiscal year (FY). 

In the medium term, government consumption will be driven by increased spending with the full implementation of 12 FYP and private consumption by credit growth.

The ministry has also found that investment trend remains volatile in the economy. Government investments dropped by 9.5 percent in the FY 2017-18 and by 25.7 percent during FY 2018-19. This is because the period coincided with the transition of the Five Year plans, lower investment due to change in governments and near completion of the hydropower projects.

From FY 2019-20, government investment is projected to increase by 5.8 percent and by 14.2 percent in the 2020-21 fiscal year. However, government investment is projected to decline by 10.4 percent in FY 2021-22. The private investment is projected to grow at lower rate during the same period.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that in the first fiscal year, the government is going slow on the spending with 18 percent utilization of the Plan budget. “Yet, if compared in absolute numbers, it is bigger than the first fiscal year of the last Plan,” he said.

Once all the flagship projects, with huge allocated budget commence, he said it would create ample opportunities for the private sector, especially the construction sector. Even without this, he said government spending on the capital works is on-going.

Lyonchhen said that the government will maximize its spending in the second and third year fiscal year and thereafter gradually decrease. “We have no political agenda. If we had one, we can spend the maximum at the end of tenure and lobby for a second term,” he said.

 

Declining dependence on aid

The effort to reduce the country’s reliance on grant and move toward self-sufficiency is vivid if the assistance from the government of India is any indication.

The GoI has fully funded the first (1961-1966) and the second Five Year Plan (1966-1971), which amounted to Nu 107M and Nu 202M respectively.

In the third Plan, of the Nu 475M, the GoI financed 90 of the outlay. This declined to 77 percent even though the outlay increased to Nu 1.1B in the next Plan. A drastic decline was observed in the Fifth Plan (1981-1987), when the GOI’s contribution declined to 30 percent of the outlay amounting to Nu 1.3B of the total Nu 4.4B outlay.

The share of GOI’s contribution to the Plan outlay gradually declined to 21 percent (Nu 45B) in the 11th Plan. While the amount in the 12th Plan still remains the same, the contribution is down to 16 percent since the outlay increased to Nu 310B.

These figures exclude the grant for hydropower projects.

The country’s domestic revenue not only increased by manifolds since the first Plan but also its coverage of expenditure increased. For instance, in 2017-18 the country garnered a domestic revenue of about Nu 36B, covering more than 64 percent of the total expenditure.

Domestic revenue is projected to increase to Nu 43B, covering more than 70 percent, in the 2019-20 fiscal year. 

A call from central Bhutan

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:30

Younten Tshedup

Zhemgang dzongkhag dominated headlines over the government’s tourism flagship programme recently.

The debate, however, has been tactfully put to rest for now with the government and Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) deciding to remove the focus groups from the flagship programme.

While TCB claims that all the dzongkhags would receive equal priorities depending on the capacity and feasibility, Zhemgang is going for a head start.

The dzongkhag administration on October 17 has written to different ministers and agencies requesting them to conduct seminars, trainings and workshops in Zhemgang.

 

The current trend 

A common observation is that every winter, several of the workshops and seminars that are usually focused in Thimphu and Paro, starts migrating to the south in places like Phuentsholing and Gelephu.

The arrival of multiple government and corporate officials for meetings come with their own challenges for the southern dzongkhags. Traffic congestion, pressure on hoteliers and overcrowding among others are some of the evident results of the migration.

“Winter season is good for business,” said a hotelier in Gelephu. “But it is worrisome at the same time as the traffic increase and risk of accidents grows.”

Thromde officials in Phuentsholing said that conducting seminar, and workshops during winter increased the number of vehicles, which added to the traffic congestion issue of the town.

 

Zhemgang’s offer 

With open arms, Zhemgang dzongkhag has invited ministries and agencies to conduct their meetings, seminars and workshops in the dzongkhag.

As a personal initiative of dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji, the idea is to officially reach out to the authorities and attract local visitors to the dzongkhag.

According to dzongrab, Kinzang Dorjee, given the less number of international tourists visiting the place, the dzongkhag administration is exploring measures to attract domestic tourist to the dzongkhag.

Zhemgang is a potential eco-tourist destination with several untapped and unexplored resources and places, he said. “The dzongkhag is home to several globally endangered flora and fauna. People visiting Zhemgang can experience the rich wilderness that we are popular for.”

With improved road networks, telecommunications and other basic infrastructures, Kinzang Dorjee said that participants could explore the rich cultural experience of the Khengrig Namsum (three agro-ecological zones – upper, middle and lower Kheng) besides their seminars.

With ‘state-of-the-art’ lodging facilities including home-stays, the dzongrab said, it is also an opportunity for the local people of Zhemgang to generate some income.

It was learnt that some of the central agencies in the past had organised their annual conferences in Panbang, lower Zhemgang. “However, not many people visit the dzongkhag as frequently as they do in the rest of the country.”

Dzongrab Kinzang Dorjee said that the dzongkhag has submitted a community based tourism development action plan to the TCB and hopes to promote eco-tourism in the communities.

“While we have the facilities – natural forests, landscape and modern infrastructures, lack of human resources and capacity has hindered the growth so far,” he said. “Once the action plan is approved, we expect to train our people especially the youth.”

The business community, according to the dzongrab has also supported the dzongkhag’s decision to call in more visitors. “Zhemgang has always been ready for such opportunities,” he said. “We would like to request the public to support this movement and help develop Zhemgang together.”

Meanwhile, the three-day annual bird festival will be organised from November 11 in Tingtibi. The festival according to dzongkhag officials is one of the biggest events that attract national and international tourists to the dzongkhag.

YE-banking camp for financial inclusion of children 

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:29

Younten Tshedup

To facilitate interaction and real time financial transactions between banks and school children, the Royal Monitory Authority (RMA) organised a two-day Youth Ethics (YE) banking incentive camp at Goshing primary school in Zhemgang on October 30.

YE-banking is an incentive-based school-banking programme, which recognises and rewards schools for their collective efforts put in together by teachers and students during the yearlong academic session in the fields of academics, co-curricular, behavioural ethics and financial values.

During the incentive day, the bank points (merits) earned and accumulated throughout the year by children of various schools get converted to cash incentives that are further deposited into children’s YE-banking accounts.

During the two-day programme about Nu 800,000 was credited to the 16 participating schools. Jigme Losel primary school in Thimphu received the highest amount of about Nu 120,000.

RMA officials said that the camp also provides hands on experience and inclusive opportunities to connect ethics, values and learning to banking practicalities.

The initiative was first preconceived by Tshering Yangchen, a Class VI student of Jigme Losel primary school during the Global Money Week game challenge in 2017.

“I am privileged and honoured beyond words to Dasho Governor and RMA for recognising my simple idea and formalising it into such big programme that is benefiting children across the country,” said Tshering Yangchen.

Besides the financial benefits, the YE-banking camp remains a much-awaited programme for schools and students for various opportunities.  

“Our children woke up as early as 3am, excited to attend the camp,” said the officiating principal of Lauri principal school. “This is the first time our children got such opportunity to travel out of Lauri.”

The principal of Wangsel Institute in Paro, Dechen Tshering, said that despite being physically challenged, the children are grateful for the opportunity to take part in the programme.   “It was a great opportunity for our children to make new friends from other schools.”

Zhemgang dzongrab, Kinzang Dorjee, said that it is more likely that Bhutanese children and people in the rural pockets would face critical challenges of keeping pace with the emerging financial technology developments.

“It is of utmost importance and duty of policy makers, teachers and financial institutions to nurture and educate our children on the inevitable financial life skills and equip every child with updated knowledge, skills and experiences of keeping pace with the financial digital transformations,” he said.

RMA with support of the Saving Bank Foundation for International Cooperation in Germany have conducted the YE-banking camp for 16 schools so far.

Participants from Sakteng, Goshing, Zangkhar, Umling, Tabadramtoe, Dechenling, Wangduechholing lower secondary schools, Laya and Phobjikha central schools, Tshangkha and Arekha middle secondary school, Wangsel Institute in Paro, Khaling Muenselling Institute and Y-VIA Gelephu took part in the camp.

Promoting EVs as Bhutan’s transport future

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:27

Information and communications ministry launched green number plates for electric vehicles (EV) on Thursday. The initiative, we are told, is to maintain the country’s carbon neutral status for all times to come and distinguish EVs as environment friendly vehicles.

What we must understand, however, is that if we are to truly encourage the people to go for EVs, merely painting the number plates green will not do.

We have tried in our many ways to popularise EVs for a long time now; there is a need to understand why success continues to elude us.

Most of the 100-something EVs in the country are in Thimphu. Why they are not popular outside the capital is because of lack of conducive environment for the proliferation of EVs.

First, the attempt to popularise EVs failed because the vehicles brought into the country were second-hand. Second, due to the lack of quick-charging stations investing in EVs made little sense to Bhutanese drivers. And third, EVs were expensive and the attempts at incentivising EV owners have not worked.

These factors have not changed significantly, which means popularising EVs could only take another beating. So, how the painting of number plates for the EVs green can help promote the use of EVs among the people remains debatable.

New incentives such as free parking for the EVs and free entry in the congested zones sound interesting. However, they do not promise the popularity of EVs among the people.

Sustainable low emission urban transport system is a wonderful idea all right. Without the requirements such as enough quick-charging stations at reasonable distances, the promotion of EVs in the country could meet the same fate that it has in the past.

Why can’t our ministers and senior government officials, for example, surrender their Prados and switch to EVs? Why is there no serious attempt at keeping the vehicles run by fossil fuels at bay?

The idea of promoting EVs is good, of course, and there’s been remarkable support for EVs among the people. With global warming and the world becoming ever more environment conscious, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly shifting to EVs.

If the EVs are Bhutan’s transport future, investing in them now is critically important. For the EVs to succeed in Bhutan, however, we need to get the fundamentals right.

Promoting EVs without enough quick-charging stations on the roads is pulling the cart before the horse. Building infrastructure is key. Equally important is leading by example.

Court-annexed mediation: bringing justice closer to people

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:26

Mediation and litigation generally are considered completely different in any legal system and do not co-exist as one. They operate independently and are never recognised as part of formal adjudication within the court system.

Mediation is often considered informal and its decisions are not binding, while litigation is formal and decisions are binding. However, under the dynamic leadership and wise wisdom of our monarchs, the opportunity for mediation was embedded within the judicial system as a part of formal adjudication process. The institutionalisation of court-annexed mediation in all courts is nothing short of re-enforcement of this age-old customary law to bring the justice nearer to people.

In fact, this tradition was incorporated in Thrimzhung Chhenmo and later in the Civil in the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC), 2001.  Section 150 of CCPC provides “At any stage of the proceedings, it shall be open to the parties to take the help of the members of the concerned Local Government or Barmi as mediators for mutual settlement of a civil case in accordance with the requirements of this Code.” This is completely a unique to Bhutanese legal system.

Therefore, the public must know the conditions in exercising the right to mediation even after filing a suit. Sections 150.1 – 150.8 of the CCPC provides details on this right. In Bhutan, there are number of stages in litigation, such as preliminary, opening, rebuttal, evidence, closing and judgment. Therefore, at any stage of the litigation, but before the judgement, parties to the litigation may “request the Court for an adjournment” to go for mediation. The general practice in Bhutan is, courts mandatorily order the parties to mediate before actual proceeding and give ten days to help the litigants to exercise this right because not many are aware of this right. Second, CCPC requires that, the outcome of the mediation must be in writing and must be “voluntary consent, legal stamped and signed by the parties” in the presence of mediators and decisions are lawful.  CCPC also empowers the parties to “raise any objections to the validity of the” mediation outcome within 10 days of the settlement and if there are more than one settlement, the most recent one will prevail over others. The Court is empowered to declare any settlement null and void and ask the parties for full adjudication process when the settlement is not conformity with the laws. The CCPC also allows modifications to the settlement but must be signed by all parties, witnesses and attested within ten days of the agreement.

Although the Section 151 of CCPC does not state that summary judgment is provided when the case is mediated, it seems to be final recourse from the court. The more appropriate legal provision would be introduction of the concept of Consent Judgment as the settlement occurred as result of consent settlements of parties. The advantages of court-annexed mediation over formal proceedings are multifaceted. For example, it will protect the rights of individual parties, reduce the time and cost of litigation, provide avenue for a win-win outcome, ensure peace and harmony among the parties and communities, and reduce the burden on public expenditure. Therefore, every litigant must take advantage such legal rights.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not reflect those of Kuensel.

It’s diamond year for Yurung

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:26

Rinzin Wangchuk

Sixty years ago, Dasho Babu Tashi handpicked Tshewang Norbu, Sherub, and Dorji Wangchuk to run one of the first schools in eastern Bhutan, Yurung School in Pemagatshel. Tshewang Norbu, who is now 92, headed the school as the teacher-in-charge.

That was in April 1959. Academic session began with these three teachers and 138 students, all boys.

Hindi and Chokyed (classical Tibetan script) were the media of instruction in the school for the first five years. Lopon Tshewang Norbu from Chongshing and Lopon Sherub, 89, from Dewathang taught Hindi. Late Lopon Dorji Wangchuk from Tsebar Thongphu taught Chokyed.

English as a medium of instruction was introduced only in 1964.

As the alumni of Yurung School celebrated its diamond jubilee yesterday, coinciding with the Coronation Day of His Majesty The King, two founding teachers were honored with Ku-Sung-Thukten for their long life.

Two founding teachers- From left: Lopon Tshewang Norbu and Lopon Sherub

How the school started?

Trashigang School and Yurung School are considered as one of the oldest schools in the eastern region, followed by the establishment of Mongar School in May 1959.

These schools were the products of the vision of the First King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. His Majesty, in 1914, sent 46 Bhutanese to the Scottish Universities’ Mission Institution (SUMI) in Kalimpong, India, to study and later participate in shaping the nation’s future. Pemagatshel had the second highest number of candidates, including Babu Tashi (former chief justice Sonam Tobgye’s father), Babu Pema, Babu Mepala, Babu Lawang, Babu Dho Thinley, and Babu Karma Wangdi.

On the command of the Third King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to construct two schools in Zhongar, one in Mongar and other in Shumar drungkhag, the then Shumar Dungpa, Babu Tashi started to build Yurung Primary School in 1957. It took about two years to complete a two-storey building with six rooms.

In his message to the diamond jubilee magazine, the former Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye stated that he remembered his late father planning the school and enrolling scores of students.

“My late father recorded in his diary about the trials and tribulations to start the school,” he stated.

According to Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, the school started on the “bright morning” of April 12, 1959 at the auspicious of “Nyn-droe” as recorded in his father diary. The wailing children were herded into the school building, their emotional parents watched them tearfully.

“My father wrote in his diary: ‘Most of the parents of the chosen school children do not like to admit their children to school.’ Most probably due to the poverty for they are not in a position to make arrangement of food for their children. Poor fellows, when will their condition be better materially?’” the former chief justice stated.

Both Lopon Tshewang Norbu and Sherab attended the school’s golden jubilee celebration in 2009.

Memories to cherish

Recalling the old days, Lopon Tshewang Norbu said that in the first year, they took in about 200 boys but could not take any girls.

He said that due to lack of boarding facilities, boys from far-flung places from Dungsam Dewathang, Orong, Zobel, Shalli, Shumar, Mikuri, and Dungmin used to carry and stock ration for weeks and months. “Dormitories were makeshifts made up of locally improvised materials, constructed and put up near school building,” he said.

Lopon Tshewang Norbu, who served for 25 years as teacher and headmaster, studied in Scottish University Mission Institute (SUMI). He taught the children of Dasho Zhongarpa, the Monggar Dzongpon at Chungkhar, Pemagatshel, for two years and tutored the son of Shumar Drungpa, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, for two months before he taught at Yurung.

Lopon Sherub also recalls how he was sent as a teacher to Yurung School along with two other handpicked teachers by Dasho Babu Tashi. Each of them received five Rupees as soelra on March 4, 1959. He said that many challenges and problems were faced by the students, parents and the teachers.

“We started using different techniques to let the students stay in class by letting the parents to be seated with the kids and sometimes they were given sweets,” Lopon Sherub recalls. “With time the students were accustomed with the new school system.”

The teachers were paid a monthly salary of Nu 65, which had to be collected from Mongar Dzong every three to four months. “Dasho Babu Tashi being the Mongar Dzongpon, he used to collect our salary from Mongar Dzong. So we did not have to travel to collect our salary from Mongar Dzong instead it was collected from Nangkhor, which was Dasho’s residence at that time,” Lopon Sherub said.

However, Lopon Sherub had to resign in1961 as he had to go as an interpreter for the local labourers and Indian contractors who were constructing roads in Dewathang.

He studied Hindi in Pakizuli, Assam and then studied under the tutorage of Dasho Babu Tashi in Nangkor.

“For four years I was serving Dasho and his family where Dasho had given me a hand written book by Dasho himself to be studied,” Lopon Sherub recalls. “The book contained words in Hindi which had meanings in English and Tsangla which made easier for me to understand and learn.”

Sonam Tshewang was among the first group of students from their generation to study in formal education system. “The parents were not sure of the correct date of birth of their children so probably our teacher hypothetically entered our date of birth which is not our biological date of birth,” he recalls. “It was the first experience of such kind therefore there were lot of hue and cry amongst the parents themselves.”

He said that their first lesson began learning Hindi alphabets. The books were full of Indian pictures. “I am not sure whether there was proper syllabus and curriculum to be followed. We were provided Hindi and Tibetan books. Hindi easier than the Tibetan,” Sonam Tshewang, who is enjoying a retired life, said.

He said  two young teachers, Sangay and Thinley from Tashigang joined Yurung School as Hindi teachers later. “They were fresh, energetic and strict teachers. There was no restriction like today in using cane in the classroom,” he said. “Psychologically, a happy teacher influences better than a strict teacher, but traditionally strict discipline was appreciated. We were to learn two foreign languages blindly at a time without any aims or ambition.”

“Lopon Tshewang Norbu and Lopon Sherub’s students from Yurung School have played an important role in nation building and I am confident that the successive generations will also play an important role individually and nationally with unwavering faith,” the former chief justice Sonam Tobgye said.

The diamond jubilee celebration saw the people of 11 gewogs bringing varieties of agriculture produces for display.

Man gets 23 years jail term for rape and incest

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:22

Rinchen Zangmo | Dagana

Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag court sentenced a 35-year-old man from Pemagatshel to 23 years in prison for rape, incest, and battery this week.

The judgment passed on October 25, gave the man 20 years imprisonment term for raping his two daughters, 17 and 14. He was given an additional three year imprisonment term for incest and battery.

The first incidence of rape occurred in 2015 when the elder daughter (first victim) was studying in class VIII in Lhamoidzingkha. Around June that year, the defendant came to her bed at about 9pm and raped the victim.

The following year, when the victim reached class IX, she was raped several times. The defendant provided contraceptive pills to avoid pregnancy.

It was found that the defendant had raped the victim on several occasions. The defendant communicated with the victim through social media applications about her health. The defendant took the victim for medical checkups regularly.

The first daughter is from the defendant’s first wife.

The second daughter is from the present wife. The defendant had raped the younger daughter around April last year.

The victim couldn’t disclose the incident to anyone. Three days after the incident, the defendant came to her bed and started raping her whenever he willed.

It was found that the defendant raped the victim two or three times a month. The defendant asked the victim to leave the door open for him.

The defendant also took her for checkups in hospital.

This went on for about a year with the second daughter. However, on April 21 this year, the victim tried to share about the incidences to her boyfriend. When the defendant knew about it, he beat her.

The victim tried running away from home. However, she was brought back home.

The next day, when the victim and her mother was drinking tea in the evening, the defendant came home and beat the victim. The mother was also battered when she tried to stop the defendant.

The victim, then reported the incident to a RENEW member and provided statement to the police.

In both the cases, the defendant had denied committing such crime. However, medical reports confirmed the case.

The defendant was in police custody since April 24 this year.

According to section 184 of Penal Code of Bhutan, the rape of a child between 12 and 18 years of age is a second-degree felony.

Consider us: People with disabilities tell planners

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:20

Yangchen C Rinzin | Paro

Disability can happen to anyone anytime and not necessarily at birth, which is why planners, engineers, developers and architects must be considerate to persons with disabilities (PWDs) before designing any infrastructure.

This was the key message conveyed by PWDs during the sensitisation workshop on guidelines for differently-abled friendly construction held in Paro.

Sharing his experiences, Pema, 54, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 2004, said planners should think about PWDs to make them independent.

Pema needs two assistants if he visits the town, use public toilets or public places.  The helping hand is needed to carry him and his wheelchair. The toilets, he said, are either too small or its flush and taps unreachable.

“Even if an elevator is installed, the buttons are too far to reach. We can’t move the wheelchair freely in public places and there is no transportation designed for us,” Pema said. “You see I wasn’t born like this that is why it has become important to keep provisions for the PWDs in future.”

They also pointed out that although there are few footpaths and ramps designed, some footpaths have manholes, which is risky for blinds.

Pema, who teaches tailoring to PWDs and live in Babesa, said he has seen how Babesa has changed over the years with lots of constructions and roads coming, but has never seen anyone considering PWDs.

“If the government starts taking care of all these, we might get to live independently.”

Talking on social inclusion, Ability Bhutan Society executive director Ugyen Wangchuk said that it was time planners and designers think about creating facilities for PWDs.

“When you are careful of the height, the colour of the building, roof, kind of floors, why can’t you think about the PWDs needs?” Ugyen Wangchuk asked. “Now that we’ve a policy for persons with disabilities, we hope that it would be implemented strictly.”

Ugyen Wangchuk added that most of the dzongkhags are given certificates for 100 percent toilet coverage. “However, nobody considered PWDs.”

The Executive Director said it has become important to consider social inclusion. “Planners and engineers must start talking with PWDs to know what they desire and their priorities.”

Some participants shared that dzongs, lhakhangs and choetens should also have easier access to PWDs including toilets.

A few local government leaders said that the government should also look into the provisions to allow such designs in traditional infrastructures.

Tsamdros ready to be leased to farmers

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:19

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

The agriculture ministry has prepared a tsamdro (pastureland) management plan with a guideline of easing tsamdro in place.

This means farmers who are interested in leasing tsamdro can start applying for the lease. The management plan was readied in July, according to Mongar dzongkhag officials.

Dzongkhag officials informed this to the Mongar dzongkhag tshogdu  on Tuesday when local leaders raised the issue.

Dzongkhag officials said that going by the rules and regulation, priority would be given to the previous tsamdro owner if they still own cattle.

Sharing problems related to pastureland, the Thangrong gup, Chenga, said people from a chiwog in his gewog complained of the adjoining chiwog in Chaskhar gewog of releasing their cattle freely in their pastureland.

He said the people were disappointed to see all the cattle in their pastureland. “The people in Chaskhar believed their cattle were grazing in the pastureland that once belonged to them, which now became government land after they received compensation,” said the gup.

Gup Chenga added that the issue surfaced after the government paid compensation about four years are after taking over the ownership and assured leasing of pasturland.

The gups of Sheri Muhung and Ngatshang gewogs also raised  similar issues.

Shelri Muhung gup, Ugyen, said there was a dispute between the people of Sershong in his chiwog and the herders of Chaskhar gewog over grazing rights.

“It’s been over four years after the government sensitized of leasing, but nothing has been done. The issue could be addressed if the tshamdo could be leased out soon,” he said.

Chaskhar gup, Pema Dorji, said the tshamdro has become a bone of contention among three gewogs, and the issue was also raised in the previous session.

Ngatshang gup, Dorji Leki, said people in his gewog also complained of unseasonal rainfall in their locality after the herders of Thangrong and Chaskhar grazed in restricted areas along the Korila pass.

“Many people came to stop, but I cannot do anything because it’s a government land.”

Local leaders also raised similar concerns related to sokshing.

Meanwhile, the house asked local leaders to inform the farmers and process for leasing the tsamdros.

Challenges for democracy in contemporary world

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:16

What is your impression of Bhutanese political parties and democracy after interacting with Bhutanese politicians for five days?

Troels Stru Schmidt: I am impressed by the level of democracy in Bhutan and the politicians’ understanding of democracy. Bhutan and Denmark will learn from each other. I am very confident that Bhutanese democracy will continue to develop in a very positive way, perhaps much more than some of the democracies in the neighbourhood.

Troels Stru Schmidt

What similarities and differences did you find between the two democracies (Bhutan and Denmark)?

Troels Stru Schmidt: In Denmark parties are much more confident in speaking out their differences, not in a way of insulting each other or using a bad language and mudslinging. They are simply stating that there are different political positions, which I believe is an important part of democracy. In Bhutan, they have a clear ideological identity and that is required for voters to see the differences so that they can vote according to the visions for the society.

Denmark has been a democracy since 1849 AD and Danish democracy has been working well in many ways. It’s not the case that Bhutan should do as Denmark. And also, there are a lot of troubles in Danish democracy, which perhaps are not here in Bhutan yet. Some political parties today do not want to engage in democratic dialogues. Instead they come with assumptions that “we and we alone” represent the whole people. That is a very serious and challenging phenomenon.

I am happy that you do not have such tendencies here in Bhutan yet. I believe that is something you should be vigilant of. Having a democratic dialogue is good, but not having any parties saying, “we are the only true representatives of people” is important. Once people start saying that, no one will engage in a true democratic dialogue of seeing different viewpoints.

 

Is social media boon or a bane in a democracy?

Troels Stru Schmidt: I don’t know the level of the social media problem in Bhutan, but it’s a very big challenge in Denmark and European countries. Social media is a good thing and a bad thing for democracy. On the good side, it broadens out conversation and everybody can take part in it. On the other hand, it brings a lot of challenges. Many of the politicians (here) have expressed they are weary of anonymous accounts, hate speeches, non-constructive feeds on social media.

My message has been that we will never be free of that. What you can do to counter that problem is to educate your population so that they distinguish between anonymous accounts and persons speaking their true minds. Media literacy is important to counter such trends. People should read newspapers and be aware of the dialogues going on. It’s just a question of having better educated voters.

 

The ruling party in Bhutan is often accused of not taking on board the rest of the political parties. How can Bhutanese government be more inclusive?

Troels Stru Schmidt: Those issues stem very much from the fact that there are only two parties in parliament and only one party can be the governing party. The system is obviously different in Denmark. It is better to work inside the system instead of criticising it. In many western countries, you see exclusiveness instead of inclusiveness. The parties are simply not used to collaborating.

We did talk about collaborations across political parties. Again it will be up to the political parties on how they want to do that. It is perfectly okay for political parties to have different opinions so long they also engage in compromises. If all the parties have more fluent positions on issues then it’s more difficult to make a compromise.

 

One of the most discussed issues currently in Bhutan is qualification of local leaders. What is you view on the issue?

Troels Stru Schmidt: In Denmark we have municipalities called kommuner. They operate to a large extent quite independently of the central government. Again, Bhutanese democracy is new. Everyone will have troubles in the start. I am sure that once the democracy has had a longer tradition in future, it will be fine and people will also develop more qualifications. In Denmark, we don’t have a rule where you have to have a certain level of education. It is also important to take in the people with experiences in the community. We want to include everyone in our democracy, not only the well-educated people.

The Bhutanese Spirit of “Service”

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 13:14

Last week, as a humble partner, UNDP Bhutan had the honor to participate in the 4th Edition of the Royal Highland Festival, held in Laya. This festival was started by His Majesty The King in 2016 to celebrate and preserve the rich cultural tradition of the highland communities in Bhutan. 

Apart from my obvious interest in the colorful display of beautiful performing arts and heritage, I was eager to learn more about highland livelihood as well as the challenges and opportunities that have arisen after decades of rapid social, environmental, and economic change in the country. 

My visit to Laya coincided with the United Nations (UN) Day. As I reminded myself of the UN Charter and responsibilities bestowed upon me as an international civil servant, my interactions with people at the festival helped me understand the Bhutanese spirit of service. 

Laya is situated at an altitude of 3,800 to 4,200 metres above sea level and has historical significance as the first village where Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal arrived after crossing into Bhutan from Tibet. Reaching Laya takes almost a full day of walking from the nearest vehicle road-head. In the capital city of Thimphu, we were starting to feel the beginning of winter. In Laya, I felt much colder and imagined how cold it could be during the winter.  

I have heard many say that the highland communities are well to do, thanks to harvesting of cordyceps. While it has brought economic benefits, I was struck by the high cost of essential products in shops in Laya.  With the arrival of the cold weather, the supply of fresh vegetables and fruits diminishes. Living in the highlands requires resilience and ability to adapt to harsh conditions, often with limited means and without the comforts of modern life. 

Yak Herders and Livestock Professionals 

During my visit, I was hosted by an elderly yak herder. He owns more than 150 yaks and is very proud to serve His Majesty by preserving this traditional lifestyle. 

It’s hard work. Another yak herder told me about her surprise encounter with a bear. She was mauled but escaped by punching the bear in its nose. This, she explained factually, was a bear’s sensitive spot and hitting it presented the only possibility of defense. Her courageous act notwithstanding, she was severely injured but had to walk a whole day to get back to Laya for help. Despite this life-threatening experience, she continues to be a herder. 

Many people help to preserve the yak herding tradition. Veterinarians from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests explained to me that one third of yaks in the affected communities suffer a disease called Gid. Livestock officials walk days to visit herders to check on their yaks’ health and to administer necessary treatment. All these services are provided for free by the Government.  

Let us not forget the climate risks and vulnerabilities confronting highland communities. Water sources are drying up, and the availability of firewood is dwindling. A herder whom I spoke with travels four hours on foot to find the firewood that her family needs throughout the year for cooking and heating. Life in Laya has changed substantially with the arrival of electricity some five years ago. She added that, with the electricity, nights now feel like days. Apparently electric lights have also reduced the frequency of nightly intrusions into houses by bears rummaging for food. 

Despite the availability of electricity, electronic heating is rarely available or used, and poorly insulated houses mean the heat generated by bukharis is often inadequate. Along with the introduction of energy-efficient heating options, more efficient insulation techniques, using traditional methods and materials, should be actively pursued.  

The yak herding tradition plays an important role in balancing the eco-system. In some areas, with decreasing yak herds, under-grazing is becoming a problem, disturbing the eco-systems and allowing intrusive species to thrive. All of this underlines the importance of supporting the preservation of the yak herding tradition, which requires innovation and targeted policy interventions, including promoting income generating options from yak milk. For the time-being, the products seem to be limited to cheese and butter. But the exceptionally high protein content of yak milk present great opportunities. Why not produce protein rich yak milk powder and delicious protein snacks at a time when high protein diet is the latest fad among health-conscious consumers all over the world? 

Educators and Health Professionals

Committed educators continue to work hard to ensure access to education for the children of the herding communities. The principal and two women teachers of Laya’s only school told me that the remoteness and hardships in the highlands make it difficult to attract teachers to serve in this community. The school in Lunana, which is an eight-day walk from Laya, has not had a principal for several years. These three educators come from other dzongkhags, leaving their families behind, and I asked them what drew them to Laya. I was humbled to learn that it was their commitment and motivation to serve the young population in this remote community – “I was born in this country and I want to stay here to serve my country”. Eighty-nine of the 154 students, aged 5 to 18 years, are boarders, living away from their herding parents during the school year, from mid-March to the end of November. Some parents choose not to send children to school. With the recent pay raise of teachers, coupled with monetized hardship and high altitude allowances they already receive, more of them might be persuaded to serve in remote communities. I feel teachers deserve due recognition for their services and commitments. 

One of the key challenges of the remote highland communities is the limited access to medical services. Previously, the Honorable Prime Minister served members of the community in His Majesty’s Kidu mobile clinic. Laya’s Basic Health Unit (BHU) is manned by a lone Health Assistant with support from the caretaker. Around 15 to 20 people visit the BHU every day. For major illnesses, the patients are referred to the Gasa District Hospital. Besides treating people of four nearby chiwogs, the Health Assistant walks for six hours, return trip, to the Outreach Clinic in Galza-Lungo Chiwog once a month to provide health services. 

Volunteering

The festival would not have been possible without people who volunteered their time and services. Throughout the festival, I saw orange-uniformed DeSuups (literally translated as “peace-keepers”) from other parts of the country, serving as information officers, security coordinators, guides and cooks. The DeSuung Programme started on His Majesty’s command in February 2011, and the current Member of Parliament of Khatoed Laya Constituency in Gasa, Hon. Tenzin is the first DeSuup from Laya. The participants of the festival thoroughly enjoyed live performances of dances, songs, and comedy shows by more than 50 volunteers from the Film Association of Bhutan. The faces of Layap girls and boys lit up with big smiles when they recognised faces from TV programmes and films. I also saw school students, as members of the Youth Development Fund’s volunteer network, and Scouts distributing drinking water to guests, serving lunches and picking up waste. The Royal Thimphu College students, who participated from Thimphu, also collected bags of waste along the path on their way back from Laya to Gasa. 

UNDP

So, what is UNDP’s service to the community? Through the GEF-UNDP small grants programme with partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan, we have supported several community-based micro-projects in Gasa including organic-farming, eco-tourism, and community schools in Laya and Lunana in the past. Currently, we are working with the Royal Government of Bhutan, with technical support from the Gasa District officials and Korean Gudeul masters, to introduce a floor-heating technology from Korea – Gudeul- in the Laya Central School. The smoke generated from the oven travels through channels under the floor and heats up the room. Six to seven pieces of wood can heat the room for 24 hours. This fuel-efficient technology can have a positive impact on students’ learning, health and hygiene, and enhance the overall quality of education.

Retrofitting is expensive. I hope, therefore, that this technology can be adopted in the design and construction stage of new school buildings in the community. Upfront investments seem high, but the long-term savings in terms of the firewood and environmental degradation outweigh the costs. 

The Bhutanese Spirit of “Service”  

During my two and a half days in Laya, I repeatedly encountered the Bhutanese spirit of serving the community and the nation. I thought this truly reflects the words of His Majesty – “putting common good above oneself”. It is about us, not about me.  This is the spirit which builds the nation and makes traditions and cultures come alive and thrive, no matter how remote the communities are and how challenging the conditions might be.  

In closing, I would like to congratulate His Majesty’s Office, the Dzongda and his team and the people of Laya, and the Tourism Council of Bhutan on a successful Royal Highland Festival. I sincerely thank you all for the wonderful hospitality extended to us. 

Contributed by   Azusa Kubota

UNDP Resident  Representative

350 trucks stranded in Changrabandha

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:54

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

About 350 trucks carrying boulders and minerals from Bhutan to Bangladesh have been stranded at Changrabandha, an Indian town that borders with Bangladeshi town of Burimari for the last two weeks.

Changrabandha is about 100kms away from Phuentsholing.

The problem, according to sources, started after a new parking space was identified at Changrabandha. Truckers could not use the seven-acre space, which was inaugurated on October 16, as problems surfaced.

The new space is just about one kms away from Changrabandha-Burimari border and truckers had added advantage.

Sources alleged that people involved in the old parking space at Rajahaat, which is about 18kms away from the border started the problem and stopped the new parking space from being used.

The Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) office in Phuentsholing has written a letter to Phuentsholing drungkhag for assistance.

A drungkhag official said that they are already in touch with officials of the Cooch Bihar district. “People associated with the earlier parking space at Rajahaat are creating the problem, as they lost business to the new parking space.”

The drungkhag official said that the parking lot was identified after consultation with officials from Cooch Bihar, such as the district magistrate, superintendent of police, and sub-divisional officer and sub-divisional police officer of Methliganj sub-division.

Prior to the identification of the new space, Bhutanese trucks and trucks from across the border ferrying Bhutanese goods to Bangladesh often faced traffic problems and were penalised by local authorities.

The drungkhag official said that a team comprising officials from the drungkhag, police and Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) had visited the counterpart officials to start a new designated parking space near the border area.    

“We thought the parking issue was solved,” he said, adding another problem had started now. “The ultimate solution would be an intervention from the Cooch Bihar local government.”

The drungkhag official said that the counterpart officials are already aware of the situation and working on resolving the issue as soon as possible.

BEA general secretary, Tshering Yeshi, said the intention was to provide a designated parking space to facilitate the truckers. “But the group with vested interest form Changrabandha are creating problems now.”

He said they have already reported the matter to the local authority and to Phuentsholing drungkhag.

Tshering Yeshi said that these are never-ending problem created often at both Fulbari and Changrabandha. “Unless there is an intervention from the government, the problem would continue.”

Trucks ferrying boulders from Fulbari, another Indian town that borders Bangladeshi town of Banglabandha, had experienced similar problems for several occasions this year. Locals stopped Bhutanese trucks citing overloading as the main reason.

On the night of September 23, about 37 Bhutanese dumper trucks ferrying boulders were attacked by a mob at Fulbari when a Bhutanese truck hit a man on a cycle along the roadside. The trucks were damaged and some Bhutanese drivers were also physically assaulted.

Later in the same month, a motorcycle hit a Bhutanese driver in Fulbari. He was admitted to a nearby hospital.

Although Fulbari locals stopped Bhutanese trucks citing overloading as an issue, sources have pointed out that the problem started since more boulders from Bhutan were entering into Bangladesh, which adversely affected the boulder business in their locality.

BICMA refuses to register Dasho Sonam Kinga’s book

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:53

Tshering Palden

The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has refused to register Dasho Sonam Kinga’s book, “Democratic Transition in Bhutan – Political contests as moral battles.”

Kuensel confirmed that the decision was taken when the present works and human settlement secretary was the director general of the authority.

A source told Kuensel that BICMA’s foremost consideration was if the book would have any adverse impact on the harmony in  the country.

“The management concluded that it could possibly create disharmony in the community and division among political parties,” the source said.

BICMA issues registration number for books which are meant to be made available for sale or distribution to public in Bhutan, whether published within Bhutan or otherwise. This means the book cannot be distributed physically in the country.

Dasho Sonam Kinga (PhD) posted a summary of the book on his Facebook page on August 31, 2018. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa complained to the Election Commission of Bhutan about the intent and timing of the post, as the parties were contesting the primary round of the 2018 parliamentary elections.   

The commission ruled that the author has violated the election rules and ordered him to remove the post. Dasho denied any wrong-doing but complied with the ECB order.

As the book is not approved for distribution in the country, Kuensel cannot reveal the content of the book. However, the publisher, Routledge, a top-notch international academic publisher in London,  states that the book studies how a modern monarchy transformed Bhutan into a parliamentary democracy.

“A political ethnography, it focuses on the historic elections of 2007–2008, and studies democracy and its transformational processes from the ground up. It draws on historical as well as contemporary theories about kingship and regime change to analyse Bhutan’s nascent democratic process and reflect on the direction of political change, both at the state and local levels in the aftermath of the elections.”

The book, according to the publisher, also presents insights into the electoral and political process by giving a first-hand account of the author’s own participation in the elections and ponders on the larger political implications of this election for the region.

The international print and eBook editions of the 306-page book were released in October. The South Asian edition of the book is expected to be early next year. The author said that he will comment only after the launch of the South Asian edition.

The international printed edition costs around 115 UK pounds and the eBook can be bought for 18.5 UK Pounds.

Questions remain on implementation of the restriction on distribution of the book as the book is available online.

BICMA officials couldn’t comment on Kuensel inquiries as of yesterday.

Tsenkari residents complain of dust pollution from DCCL  

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:51

Kelzang Wangchuk | Nganglam

It’s dusty and almost inhabitable at Tsenkari.

Residents of Tsenkari in Nganglam, Pemagatshel have been living in this dust-covered town for several years now.

Roofs, vehicles, tress, and anything that is visible in Tsenkari remains covered in thick dust. No resident in this town own a vegetable garden.

People allege that they could not cultivate any agricultural products because of the dust released from the Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd (DCCL).

“We cannot even dry our clothes outside. We need a garage for our vehicles because we cannot keep them in the open,” said Thinley, a resident.

A shopkeeper, Tshering Samdrup have been living in Tsenkari even before the establishment of the DCCL. He said that with no alternatives, people had to endure and keep living in the dust-ridden place. “We cannot have gardens and we are not allowed to construct garages because authorities claim that it is illegal to construct structures along the roadside.”

“We have been told that the corporation is trying to address the dust issue for years. Nothing has happened so far,” he said, adding that it was the responsibility of DCCL to put in measures to control the pollution.

Business committee representative  in Tsenkari, Namkha Dorji, said that they welcomed the project when it was first identified in their area. “We had high hopes on business development, but now we are dealing with pollution,” he said.

The business group decided to lodge an official complaint to DCCL. “We cannot insist them to shut down the project, but it would help if the DCCL could put in pollution control measures.”

Residents claim that many people face respiration problems.  Residents also claim that project officials had falsely informed them that dust and any other pollution would be removed from beneath the ground. Acres of orange trees in the community have been damaged due to excessive dust from the project today, according to residents. “Who will compensate for these losses,” asked a resident.

“There is no record of health related issues that can be directly attributed to the pollution so far,” said a resident. “But we cannot guarantee our safety in the future if the DCCL do not take any immediate measures to control pollution.”

DCCL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Sonam Jigme, said cement industry is a dusty business and the highway located near the plant is also another cause of the pollution.

“But DCCL is better than other cement industries when it comes to pollution in the country,” he said.

He said that the company has pollution control measures like back-house filter consisting 2,840 bags, adding that they shut down the machines once every six months and change the bags in the back-house to carry out maintenance works.

The dusts are extracted in the bags at the back-house filter and dustless smoke released.

DCCL spent about Nu 10 million to change the 1,420 bags during the recent shut down.

They also spray water during winter.

“Since the plant is not stable, thick smoke is released when there is disturbance in the machines, but it does not last for long,” Sonam Jigme said.

He added that they change the filter bags whenever required and the pollution produced is within the National Environment Commission’s (NEC) limits. NEC officials also monitor the plant twice every year. “We will however, try any possible measures in our capacity to control the pollution.”

Addressing climate-induced risks along Thimchhu and Pachhu basins

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:50

Choki Wangmo

The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) and the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) signed a project agreement yesterday in Thimphu on forecasting and flood warning systems.

This is expected to prepare and save communities along Thimphu and Paro river basins from climate-induced disasters.

The technical cooperation project (TCP) under Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded the project and will be implemented at the beginning of next year.

The three-year project is expected to enhance capacity in meteorological observation, forecasting and flood warning for disaster preparedness and response through technical support and hands-on training.

Nine technical experts from Japan will train Bhutanese officials from relevant agencies in various capacities such as hydrological aspect, GIS and flood assessments, meteorological observation and calibration, and modelling.

Chief engineer with hydromet division in NCHM, Phuntsho Namgyel, said the project will also support quality assured equipment for accurate, timely and reliable data, which has been one of the challenges faced by the centre. “It would also improve analysis in flood management and disaster preparedness, as we had no equipment, calibration and accuracy experts in the past.”

The project is also aimed at creating disaster-resilient society against weather-induced disasters through improvement in NCHM’s observation and forecasting using the data provided by DDM and target dzongkhags.

“Through accurate forecasting, the centre will be able to give flood advisory as well,” Phuntsho Namgyel said.

The target dzongkhags are socio-economic hub of the country, which makes the installation of early warning systems, control rooms, detection and communication systems the more necessary.

Director general of DDM, Thinley Namgyel, said the project is timely, considering the rising extreme weather and climate change impacts faced by the country in recent years. “It makes Bhutan a safer country in the face of disasters like glacial lake outburst flood,” he said.

Chief of JICA, Watanabe Kozo said that he was optimistic about the success of the project.

The upcoming project is the follow-up of the earlier JICA TCP project implemented by NCHM in collaboration with DDM and local government in the Chamkharchhu and Mangdechhu basins in the past years.

Only locals can promote local produce

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:49

Phub Dem

Local rice instead of the variety of scented imported rice at government conferences, local dried fruits instead of Bangkok sweets as desert or even chuggo instead of candies inside the aircraft.

Will substituting imported goods with local produce help promote and develop local cottage and small-scale industries?

At least the government is trying to promote CSI through various initiatives.

Despite initiatives to promote local produce, the limited locally produced goods cannot compete with imported goods that have already flooded the market.

During the launch of the sixth edition of Decentralised Hands-on Programme Exhibition (D-HOPE) catalogue yesterday, economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said that the Cottage and Small Industry (CSI) produce received lukewarm support from the public as of today.

He said that the ministry aspires to build a digital platform to make easier access to all local products. Besides harnessing the benefit of technology, a digital catalogue for CSI products will benefit both producer and consumer. “A Memorandum of Understanding should be signed with Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) to urges the companies to use local products especially during festivals and special occasions.”

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that rather than importing packaged food from other countries for the airplanes, DrukAir and Bhutan Airlines could use local products.  “It is high time Bhutan shift to local products and help local entrepreneurs.”

Although multiple programmes are carried out in the cottage and small sector, Lyonpo said the events are mostly happening in silos and in tit-bits. “It is important for Bhutanese entrepreneurs to work collectively and receive the recognition and certification accordingly,” Lyonpo said.

CSIs play a critical role in diversifying the economy and building national economy base besides women empowerment, improving living standards and enhancing rural income and generating jobs.

Acknowledging the importance of CSI, Lyonpo said that small-scale production has the potential to reverse economic basket and platform from urban to rural base.

The Chief Industry Officer of Department of Cottage and Small Industry, Singye Dorji, said goods and services produced by entrepreneurs could never contribute to the economic growth if they cannot find a good market.

Through D-HOPE, the department aims to enhance product visibility of new entrepreneurs and to encourage the existing entrepreneurs.

About 17,000 copies of D-HOPE catalogue will be distributed around the country to familiarise local consumer about the CSI products. The catalogue presents information on different business types and location of the cottage and small industry entrepreneurs.

The idea of the festival was to offer everyone, tourist or Bhutanese, the opportunity to learn about the traditional cottage industry and experience the process first-hand.

The event is called Gakyed Gatoen-the festival of happiness.

D-HOPE is an initiation of DCSI and JICA Bhutan to stimulate rural enterprise development by introducing concept and practices initiated in Japan.

More than 200 CSI entrepreneurs were trained on the concept of D-HOPE.

Communication breakdown?

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:48

Access is all that is important.

Education and health have seen remarkable improvement over the years. As a nation that is fast becoming more independent, we look at the other departments of our social lives. Development has been impressive. But there we do not stop.

Bhutan is a nation that can dare to look ahead and high. This uniquely Bhutanese trait may have brought us where we are today, but the demands of the changing times are beginning to bring in new challenges.

All-important as it is, access, the need for it, is becoming more pronounced by the day. Let’s talk roads. In the rural parts of Bhutan, roads are a trouble more than doors to the world beyond.

There is information to talk about, also. Communication has improved, yes. But how many of us do really understand what is true communication? The many information Apps and the proliferation of disinformation, is, rising.

In this sense, how do we really understand access to vital social services?

Our schools, hospitals, bus terminal, taxi stands, banks and sports complexes, even parking spaces, are becoming more posh by the day. And, expensive, too.

The show besides, how many of us are able to avail ourselves of the services?

The promotion of healthy lifestyles has taken a bad blow. Our roads do not have space for cyclists. For the growing cities like Thimphu and Phuentsholing, we have far too less recreational spaces than bars and fast-food restaurants. To say nothing about drayangs and discotheques where even children are admitted without a small concern.

Let’s talk about our people with certain difficulties. What access do they have in our schools, hospitals, bus terminal, taxi stands, banks and sports complexes, even parking spaces?

There is growth all around, but our growth does not reflect inclusiveness. A growth that does not reflect inclusiveness in its heart, at the best, is meaningless. In other words this is called communication breakdown.

And why are we repeatedly talking about guidelines and plans when nothing seems to happen to ease the mobility of our people so that access to services becomes easy.

And only then we have the right to talk about the rights.

Works to resurface the Sunkosh-Damphu highway to begin soon 

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:47

Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang

In what would come as a relief to commuters along the Sunkosh-Damphu highway, about Nu 20 million (M) has been approved for blacktopping of the road.

The Sunkosh-Damphu highway had been a cause of annoyance to commuters, especially after enjoying a smooth ride till Sunkosh from Wangdue.

The 15kms stretch has been filled with potholes while some portions of the road are either sinking or developing cracks.

Even with the budget, it was learnt that  about 10kms of the highway would still remain as it is because of lack of budget.

Last year, about Nu 12.7M was approved for blacktopping the stretch. The department tendered the contract and about 3.7kms of road was blacktopped from Damphu till the Tsholingkhar gewog office.

One of the residents, Pema Dorji, said that the difference was stark. “After the bumpy ride, the 3km blacktopped road feels great.”

He said that it was good news for the people as the highway was one of the most travelled roads.

Executive engineer with the DoR’s Damphu sub-division, Cheten Tshering said blacktopping would continue from the Tsholingkhar geowog office.

DoR officials said cost estimations have already been submitted. “The works to blacktop the road will begin soon. The contract is being tendered at the moment.”

Cheten Tshering said that about five kilometres of the road is estimated to be blacktopped starting from the Tsholingkhar gewog administration office along the Sunkosh-Damphu highway.

“Whenever we receive budget, the road will be maintained and worked on.”

He said that about Nu 5M is estimated for every kilometer of blacktopping. “However, we are expecting at least 5kms of the road would be blacktopped.”

Before the blacktopping last year, it was learnt that the highway didn’t see resurfacing works for over five years.

The need to maintain the stretch was also discussed at numerous dzongkhag tshogdu sessions.

Winter Parliament session deferred 

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:46

Staff Reporter

The third session of the third Parliament will commence on January 15 next year.

The National Assembly secretary Sangay Duba said that the winter session of the Parliament has to be deferred to give the government adequate time to prepare for the National Day celebrations that would be held in the capital.

“That’s why we have decided to delay it a little bit but there is no compromise made with the Constitutional provision,” he said.

He said the next session would be close but it would still be held.

The winter session of the Parliament last year began on January 1-24 this year after the third National Parliamentary Elections.

The secretary said that the agenda would be set on a later date. “We have notified all agencies to submit their agenda for the session and close to the date of the beginning of the session the agenda would be finalised.”

The Constitution mandates that the National Assembly should sit at least two times every year.

Green number plate for green cars

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 15:44

Thinley Namgay

Electric vehicles (EV) will carry green number plates hereon. The government vehicles will have yellow font, private vehicles will bear white font and taxis numbers would be written in black. 

The information and communications ministry launched the number plates yesterday at its office compound.                                                                                                     

The main objective of this initiative is to help maintain the status of carbon neutral country for all times to come and to distinguish EV as an environment-friendly vehicle. 

The ministry intends to provide certain recognition and incentivise the electric vehicle drivers like free parking, free entry in congested zones, and other proposed benefits in the future. 

An electric taxi driver, Kinley Dorji, said, “This initiative will encourage more people to buy EV. As of now, my vehicle can travel 165km in a single charge and so far it’s going well.” 

EV initiative was first launched in 2014 with the aim to reduce carbon emission and also to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. As of yesterday, there were 103 registered EVs most of which are in Thimphu. 

The ministry has initiated a EV project called ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport Systems’ with the budget support from the Global Environment Facility and technical support from the United Nations Development Programme. 

The three-year project which began this year intends to facilitate transition to low emission vehicles particularly the use of EV and aims to roll out 300 more EV as taxi within Thimphu. 

The project will facilitate to create a conducive environment by adopting EV as a preferred mode of urban transport through review of policies, building infrastructure and capacity building.

Project Manager, Phub Gyeltshen, said the project provides 20 percent subsidy for every EV taxi buyers with maximum cap of USD 5,500 and in support of the EV promotion, the Royal Monetary Authority has endorsed 70 percent loan from the financial institutions to all the EV buyers. 

Including Thimphu and Paro, there are five charging stations at present and by the end of April next year, the project will add another 15-18 charging stations across Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Haa, and Phuentsholing. 

The official said that focusing on EV could increase the revenue of the country. “One of the greatest threats to fiscal deficit is the import of fossil fuel. We export clean energy and earn revenue, but at the same time, we expend huge budget for fossil fuel which is ironic.”  

Phub Gyeltshen said that this is a timely initiative given the current trend of 15 percent imports of vehicles annually. “If we don’t act on transport sector now, it will be difficult to maintain the status of carbon neutral as in the next 10 years, the pollution from the vehicles will be more if the trend continues.”

“All the conventional fossil fuel car manufacturers are now shifting to electric vehicles and it is assured that the future mode of transport would be e-mobility and it is obvious that we should work on promoting EV,” he said. 

As it is an emerging technology, lack of awareness, confidence and trust are major challenges. 

“People still have the preconceived that electric vehicles cannot travel longer distance. Now with improved technologies, we’ve EV that can travel 400-500kms in a single charge. We want all the government agencies to use electric vehicles and set an example to the public,” he added. 

More than 200 taxi drivers attended awareness programme on EV this year and the ministry plans to conduct such programmes across the country. 

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