The two-day state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the country not only reinforced the strong and unique relationship but also India’s continued support to Bhutan’s development aspirations.
As one of the closest friends and recipient of support, Bhutan assured India her unwavering support to the nation’s leadership role in the regional as well as global affairs.
In his press statement in Simtokha Dzong on August 17, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering commended Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “strong and dynamic leadership”. He said that India’s stature and influence had grown in the international arena and was fast emerging as a global leader.
For India, Bhutan’s support comes at a time when the country is vying for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
“Your leadership has a rare combination of courage, compassion, and calibre. We see you taking bold steps for greater interest of your nation and people. I offer my admiration and sincere appreciation,” Lyonchhen said. He added that politically and economically stable and successful India would translate into a more prosperous region.
Bhutan and India signed nine MoUs in various fields, including education and space technology.
The visiting prime minister also assured India’s cooperation in Bhutan’s five-year plans. “It is a privilege for India that we are a major partner in the development of Bhutan,” he said.
At a time when Bhutan is facing the shortage of subsidised LPG, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would increase the supply of subsidised LPG from 700 to 1,000 MT per month. This, he said, would help bring clean fuel to the villages.
One of the main highlights of the visit besides the inauguration of the Mangdechhu project was the inauguration of the earth station of South Asia satellite, which the visiting prime minister said would help accelerate Bhutan’s development with the help of space technology. The RuPay card, which was also launched jointly by the prime ministers of two countries, is expected to further enhance the relationship between the two countries in areas of digital payments, and trade, and tourism.
He also announced that India had agreed to extend the presence of unique statue Zhabdrung (which India loaned to Bhutan) for five more years.
“The history of India-Bhutan relations is as glorious as it has a promising future. I believe that India and Bhutan will remain a unique model of relations between two countries in the world,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hotel Taj Tashi in Thimphu yesterday.
The two leaders discussed various issues of mutual interest ranging from renewable energy, environmental conservation and tourism to thriving bilateral relations and cooperation between the two nations.
Pema Gyamtsho said that India’s leadership was crucial for the protection and conservation of iconic species like tiger and snow leopard and iconic landscape like the Himalayas. He also emphasised that irrespective of whichever political party came to power in Bhutan, the special relationship with India would always remain the cornerstone of Bhutan’s foreign policy.
He said that Bhutan as a small country challenged by geographical, topographical, and economic limitations, would always like to see that the rules of engagements did not seek equal reciprocity both in scale and scope, and added that India always recognised and appreciated the special needs of Bhutan and requested the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to continue with this special consideration.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that India would always remain a true and trusted friend for Bhutan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the opposition party, led by an able and experienced politician like Pema Gyamtsho, augured well for Bhutan’s democracy and invited opposition leader to lead a delegation of parliamentarians to India.
Pema Gyamtsho congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his decisive electoral victory and for assuming office for his second term.
“India, as the largest democracy needs a farsighted and strong leader like you. Your leadership is good for the region and the world beyond for tackling current challenges such as climate change-induced disasters and depletion of natural resources, among others,” said Pema Gyamtsho.
The much-awaited visit of the Indian Prime Minister is over. It was, as expected, a successful visit. Projects were launched or signed, new areas of cooperation were identified. Bhutan and the Bhutanese left a lasting impression on PM Modi.
Besides renewed sense of cooperation and bilateral agreements, there was something Prime Minister Modi left behind. It was not sack loads of Indian Rupees or promises of more aid, but inspiring messages to the Bhutanese youth.
Addressing a packed hall at the Royal University of Bhutan, the Indian PM talked about the opportunities for youth. Like a fatherly figure, he told Bhutanese youth to work hard and take the country to greater heights. It was not a father taunting his son or daughter to work hard, the PM was telling the youth to take opportunities of the shifting paradigm. There is no better time, PM Modi said, to be young than now.
The PM even challenged Bhutanese youth, through his address, broadcast live and watched by thousands of parents at home, to contribute to finding solutions to the problems of the world today. “Yes, we have challenges. But for every challenge, we have young minds to find innovative solutions to overcome them,” he said, urging youth to pursue their calling with full passion.
PM Modi stressing on the importance of youth and their potential echoes the wisdom of our Kings who for long has realised the importance of the youth. For decades, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has been saying that the destiny of the country lies in the hands of the youth.
His Majesty The King has been stressing on the importance of our youth. In His Majesty’s words, the youth are “our most important citizens.” The potential of the youth, their importance in nation building and the future of the country was highlighted long time ago. In a special message to youth, His Majesty even said that he would not rest until “I have given you (youth) the inspiration, knowledge and skills so that you not only fulfill your own aspirations but be of immense worth to the nation.”
With a growing young population in the country, tapping their potential is heading in the right direction. A take-away from the visit of the Indian PM is that there will be more areas of cooperation beyond hydropower and trade.
Among the signings at the historic Semtokha dzong on Saturday, a good number were in the fields of learning. Four were particularly on enhancement of academic exchanges and STEM subjects between the RUB and renowned institutions in India.
The visit also signals the beginning of cooperation beyond the traditional sectors of cooperation. The new frontiers includes schools to research and even space science that is gaining momentum at home which will have direct impact on the young.
For many observers who were keen on sound bites on Doklam or Bhutan-India relation vis a vis China, there was not much. But for many Bhutanese, PM Modi recognising the importance of connecting scholars and academics, to share creativity and talent of students, and to bring them at par with the best in the world, is reassuring.
As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering inaugurated the 720 megawatt (MW) Mangdechu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) in Semtokha dzong, residents of Trongsa and MHPA staff watched it live in the powerhouse.
Residents of Drakteng and Langthel gewog, the business community and civil servants of the dzongkhag, staff of MHPA and local leaders from Bumthang and Zhemgang watched the live inauguration of the project on screen in the powerhouse on August 17.
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With about 600 meters of an alternate road constructed between Zawakha and Kamichu, the Tsirang-Wangdue highway has opened to traffic since the evening of August 16.
The road remained closed to traffic for almost 10 days after a flash flood from Phangdurongchu in Jarigang created an artificial lake in Punatsangchhu and submerged the road on the night of August 6.
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India and Bhutan may vary in size, but our beliefs, our values, our motivations are all common, says prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering after the meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this afternoon.
Lyonchhen thanked the Indian PM for accepting his invitation to visit Bhutan. “Actually, it was on your first visit back in 2014, you have touched the hearts of Bhutanese people. And I clearly remember your Excellency saying that Bhutan and India are close, not because we have open borders but because we have opened our hearts to each other. So your visit this time shows how much you meant it,” said Lyonchhen.
In his press statement released from Semtokha Dzong, Lyonchhen said that adding to the significance of this special visit is the venue. Most of the events were held at the Semtokha Dzong, the first dzong built by the founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, almost 400 years ago.
PM Modi announced that Bhutan could keep the statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel that was borrowed to Bhutan for two years for another five years. “Today, I have here, received the blessing of the Zhabdrung. I am very pleased to announce that India has agreed to extend the presence of the unique statue in Bhutan by another five year,” PM Modi announced.
Lyonchhen said that it was very symbolic that in his spiritual presence (Zhabdrung’s statue), Bhutan and India celebrate yet another milestone in Indo-Bhutan relations. “Bilateral event at this venue is a first of its kind but I personally feel it is well deserved. I thank my King for allowing us to use this sacred and auspicious hall today,” said Lyonchhen.
Lyonchhen also commended Prime Minister Modi for his strong and dynamic leadership. “India’s stature and influence have grown in the international arena and it has emerged as a global leader,” he said.
“Your leadership has a rare combination of courage, compassion and caliber. We see you taking bold steps for greater interest of your nation and its people. I offer my admiration and sincere appreciation.”
Lyonchhen also assured Prime Minister Modi of Bhutan’s unwavering support to India’s leadership role in the regional as well as global affairs. “A politically and economically stable and successful India translates to a more prosperous region that also benefits Bhutan.”
His Majesty The King granted an Audience to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at the Throne Room of the Tashichhodzong. The Prime Minister of India is on a two-day State Visit to Bhutan.
Prime Minister Modi was escorted into the Tashichhdzong in a traditional Chipdrel Ceremony, and a Guard of Honour was presented at the courtyard of the dzong.
Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess Akishino of Japan have arrived in Bhutan on a 10-day private visit, along with their son, His Imperial Highness Prince Hisahito.
The Imperial Family were received by Their Royal Highnesses Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck, and Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck at the Paro Airport.
The Imperial Family will receive an Audience with His Majesty The King during the visit, which also includes visits to monasteries and places of cultural importance in Bhutan.
The Imperial Family is in Bhutan on the invitation of His Majesty The King.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is reviewing a separate gold smuggling case involving 11 men and 19 kilogrammes (kg) of gold worth Nu 57 million.
Nine farmers from Paro, Wangduephodrang and Chukha, one businessman from Thimphu and an unemployed man based in Phuentsholing are accused in the case.
Following a tip-off, police in Paro arrested all the 11 men from different places between June 21 and July 22. All the suspects were detained for further investigation.
Police’s investigation established that they played the role of owners, dealers, carriers, planners and robbers.
Of the 11 arrested, Tobgay and Sonam Jamtsho were the owners of 19kg gold, Lam Penjor and Gembo were carriers, and other seven acted as robbers.
In October 2018, Sonam Jamtsho met an Indian man called Singh in Jaigoan. They decided to smuggle gold from Bhutan-Tibet border. Singh promised Sonam Jamtsho a carrying charge of Nu 20,000 a kg of gold.
After a month, Sonam Jamtsho met Tobgay, discussed the business and agreed to pay him Nu 15,000 as carrying charges. Tobgay then discussed the plan with his brother-in-law, Gembo who also agreed to the plan.
In November, Sonam Jamtsho contacted Tobgay to go to the northern border and collect 19kg of gold from a Tibetan. Since Tobgay was engaged with some work, he asked Gembo and his younger brother Lam Penjor to bring in from the border. Tobgay and Gembo agreed to divide the carrying charges equally and pay Nu 40,000 to Lam Penjor as carrier charge.
Before leaving to the border, Lam Penjor shared the plan with Pema Wangchuk and Kinley Tshering without the knowledge of Gembo and Tobgay. They planned that Pema Wangchuk and Kinley Tshering would send some robbers to rob off the gold from Lam Penjor and Gembo on their return journey and divide the gold later.
Kinley Tshering agreed to look for few robbers and Pema Wangchuk agreed to send his son Sonam Wangchuk who knew the smuggling routes. Kinley Tshering arranged four men- Changzey, Phub Dorji, Kinga and Tshering Dorji.
Carriers and robbers
After contacting the Tibetans, Lam Penjor carried 10kg and Gembo carried 9-kg of gold. Lam Penjor wrapped 5-kg around his body and put the other 5-kg in a bag while Gembo wrapped 5-kg around his body and 4-kg in his bag.
Then Lam Penjor texted Sonam Wangchuk about the receipt of the gold without Gembo’s knowledge and also told him that they would hold a night at Gyepthongchey. Lam Penjor informed him that they should start coming and rob them at Haap Dagay. After spending a night at Gyepthongchey, Gembo suggested to take the route from Lemdo. However, Lam Penjor, as planned with his accomplices suggested the Chunjeyphug route.
Meanwhile, Kinley Tshering dropped five robbers above Balakha from where they walked towards the border. They carried some rations. Changzey got sick after walking about three hours and he returned home.
The other four robbers spent a night on the way. On reaching Haap Dagay, Sonam Wangchuk made Tshering Dorji, Kinga and Phub Dorji to wait there, as planned and he stayed away from them as he is known to Gembo.
When they reached Haap Dagay around 3pm, Lam Penjor cleared his throat to signal their arrival. The three robbers, from a distant, told the carriers to stop. However, the duo ran in different directions. Tshering Dorji chased Lam Penjor and caught him hiding in a bush.
After Gembo disappeared, the trio went back to Lam Penjor, who gave them 3-kg gold. Lam Penjor told the robbers to tear apart his bag to make the incident look real.
After robbers left the scene, Lam Penjor made a phone call to Gembo and asked about his whereabouts. He told Gembo that he left his bag containing 5-kg gold and managed to escape with 5-kg wrapped around his body. Gembo also told him that he dropped his bag with the gold while he was being chased.
Before they met, Lam Penjor followed the footprints and found Gembo’s bag containing 4-kg gold. He took the gold and threw the bag in the bushes.
Lam Penjor was now in possession of 11kg. He hid 6-kg under a tree and carried only 5-kg around his body. Gembo also told him that he has only 4-kg and didn’t mention about 1-kg gold. Later, the investigation team found that Gembo had hidden 1-kg gold in his house in Drukgyal.
The duo informed Tobgay about the incident and how they managed to escape with only 9-kg gold. The 9-kg gold was handed over to Tobgay.
Transaction of gold
Tobgay after receiving 9-kg gold informed the same to Sonam Jamtsho. He called the carriers to come to his hotel in Paro to explain and account for the missing 10kg gold. Tobgay handed over 9-kg gold to Sonam Jamtsho.
Sonam Jamtsho was asked by the Tibetan owner to pack 9-kg gold in a rice bag and send it in a taxi to Phuentsholing. As instructed, Sonam Jamtsho sent the gold in an Indian taxi from Thimphu vegetable market. The driver handed over the consignment to the Indian owner in Phuentsholing.
Pressurised by both Tibetans and Indians, Sonam Jamtsho called Gembo and Tobgay in Drukgyal after 20 days to discuss the missing gold. The owners suspected the carriers of keeping the consignments and they decided to meet and narrow down the real suspects.
Tshering Dorji, Kinga and Phub Dorji along with Sonam Wangchuk on their way back from the scene after robbing the gold met Pema Wangchuk at Charizam, Tsento. They handed over 3-kg gold consignments to Pema Wangchuk who then handed over to Kinley Tshering and told him to pay commission to robbers after selling the gold.
Lam Penjor and Sonam Wangchuk went back to Haap Dagay next day to get the 6-kg gold that was hidden. After returning home, the 6-kg gold was divided between Lam Penjor and Pema Wanchuk. Both sold 2-kg gold each to an Indian man in Jaigoan at Nu 5M each and cleared their debts.
The investigation team seized 1kg gold each from Lam Penjor, Pema Wangchuk and Gembo from their respective houses on June 28 and handed it over to the Royal Monetary Authority on July 10.
3-kg gold and sanderwood
Kinley Tshering, Tshering Dorji, Kinga and Phub Dorji headed to Phuentsholing after receiving 3-kg gold. Tshering Dorji and his father Kinley Tshering checked in a hotel in Jaigoan while other two stayed in Phuentsholing.
Kinley Tshering met his Indian friend Robin in Hashimara and told him about the gold he had in possession. He knew Robin through sanderwood business for which he had about Nu 2M balance to be paid to him.
He sold 1-kg gold to Robin for Nu 2.8M and Robin deducted Nu 2M that Kinley Tshering owed him. From Nu 0.8M he received from Robin, Kinley Tshering gave Nu 100,000 to Kinga, Nu 50,000 to his son and about Nu 0.3 to 0.4M to Phub Dorji.
After the gold transaction, Robin told him that he would supply sanderwood worth Nu 4M at the cost of Nu 3,000 per kg. After a few days, Kinley Tshering collected sanderwood from Hashimara and gave remaining 2-kg of gold to Robin who then paid him Nu 1.6M as top up.
He transported about 1,000kg of sanderwood to Paro from where Sonam Wangchuk collected it. However, the Royal Bhutan Army seized the sanderwood on June 19 from above Balakha in Paro.
Samdrupjongkhar court sentenced a 20-year-old man to one year and six months in prison for criminal attempt to rape of a married person.
Tashi Penjor from Rantsam in Dewathang followed a woman on the night of December 30 last year on her way home from a restaurant and tried to rape her.
In the judgment rendered earlier this month, the defendant was also imprisoned for one month for battery, as he battered the victim when she resisted.
The court also ordered Tashi Penjor to pay a compensation of Nu 3,750 to the victim. The compensation should be paid within 10 days after the judgment was given.
He cannot pay thrimthue in lieu of the prison term.
With acute housing shortage in Nganglam, Pemagatshel, civil servants, corporate and private employees are forced to rent hotel rooms.
While it is bringing good business to the hoteliers, it is costing heavy and causing inconveniences to the tenants.
It is mostly teachers, who occupy the hotel rooms and they say they feel suffocated to do all works from a small room.
A teacher, Phuntsho Lhamo, said she was happy when she was placed to Nganglam to start her career as a teacher.
She said it has been more than four months staying in the hotel and paying Nu 5,000 a month for a single room. “The room stinks as we cook in the same room.”
She said it is difficult when they have relatives visiting them.
According to Phuntsho Lhamo, a friend resigned as she could not afford the rent. “It would help if housing companies like National Housing Development Corporation Limited (NHDCL) could come up with housing facilities.”
Another teacher of Nganglam Lower Secondary School, Sushma Chhetri, said it is mostly the teachers who stay in hotels as the other civil servants have staff quarters.
“The house rent in Nganlam is also high as I pay Nu 4,500 a month for a single room,” she said. “It would help if education ministry could construct enough staff quarters.”
Sushma said they were told the drungkhag administration had allocated land to the NHDCL two years ago but they do not understand why it is taking so long to come with the housing projects in Nganglam.
Another teacher, Sonam Yeshi, said he shared house with friends but shifted to the hotel and pays Nu 6,000 a month.
He said they would be able to give more time to students if there are enough staff quarters in the schools. “We cannot do lesson plannings properly.”
It was learnt that Nganglam LSS has plans to construct the staff quarters in Nganglam LSS in the 12th Plan.
Drungkhag officials said they allocated 2.5 acres land to NHDCL two years ago, adding that they wrote twice to NHDCL as they have also issued thram. “They informed us they will prioritise Nganglam and come up with the projects like in Phuentsholing but nothing is done until now.”
NHDCL’s chief executive officer, Thinley Dorji, said they have now completed the projects in Phuentsholing and got another four to five projects, adding that they are working on those projects. “We will start the projects by the end of this year in Nganglam if it works as planned.”
Kelzang Wangchuk | Nganglam
In the last day of Dzongkhag Tshogdu(DT) in Trashigang yesterday, local leaders formed four committees as per the Local Government Act of Bhutan 2009.
At a time when the government has begun initiating greater decentralisation progress with increased development and financial power to the local governments, the committee is expected to solve the problems at gewog level and monitor and evaluate the development progress in the gewogs and the dzongkhag.
Deputy chairperson of DT, Phongmey Gup Pelden Dorji said this was the first time the tshogdu decided on forming a committee.
He said that terms of reference were developed for the functioning of the committees.
However, some local leader said that it was important to have experienced and competent members for the committees to function well.
Yangner Gup Dupthop said there was no awareness of social responsibility to the public. “People are too dependent on the government and there is no ownership of the infrastructures. The committees will help ensure infrastructure developments are in place.”
Dzongkhag Tshogdu Chairperson, Kinzang Dorji, said that it had taken a long time for the tshogdu to form committees. “It is critically important to form committees to solve problems facing the local leader.”
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Overturning the ruling of High Court’s bench III on August 15, the larger bench ruled that Jatan Lal Prasad, the owner of Jatan Prasad Lal Prasad (JPLP) enterprise in Phuentsholing, is liable to pay Nu 14.487 million (M) for evasion of tax amounting Nu 3.937M.
The figure was worked out after calculating the 24 percent penal interest and 200 percent fines.
The larger bench upheld the Phuentsholing drungkhag court’s judgment passed in July 2017. The lower court ruled that JPLP has to pay Nu 14.487M against the evaded tax worth Nu 184M in four years from 2011 to 2014.
Both the larger bench and lower court considered purchase cost deductions of Nu 118.651M for the income of four years.
However, the bench III of HC had altered the lower court’s judgment and increased JPLP’s tax liability from Nu 14.487 to Nu 126.897M by including purchase cost after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) appealed against the lower court ruling.
The Bench III on January 30 this year ruled that the purchase/direct cost deduction is allowed only during normal course of filing the tax returns given in the Income Tax Act of Bhutan (ITA) 2001. The HC also ruled that once the tax evasion is established, deductions are disallowed under general provision of the ITA.
Aggrieved by the Bench III ruling, which had erred in interpreting section 35.2 of chapter 5 of the general provisions of the ITA by considering purchase as non-deductable and sentencing JPLP to an imprisonment of five years, legal counsel appealed to the larger bench on February 4 seeking the interpretation of taxation law.
Expenses related to income
The controversy surrounding the current case is whether the purchase cost is to be considered as “expenses related to income” under section 35.2 of the general provisions of ITA.
The court stated that taxpayers are mandated to pay just, fair, and equitable taxes as determined by the specific tax laws, whether it is direct or indirect tax. Such taxes are levied on the basis of net profit earned from the operation of a business.
The ruling also stated that for the purpose of earning profit or income, there has to be an investment. “If there was any tax evasion like in the current case, tax evasion can be possible only after the operation of a business.”
It means that the very purpose of tax law is to tax on income and enforce it by taxing businesses. In case of evasion, the enforcement is to impose fines and penalties. “For these reasons and, also having cited the relevant provisions of the ITA 2001, we adjudge that the basic essence of Income Tax Law is that the taxable income is the net profit of a business and not the total sales amount or turn over,” the ruling stated.
Value based sentencing
The bench also directed the defendant/appellant to pay additional fine amounting to Nu 213,500 as per ITA and Anti-Corruption Act (ACA) in lieu of five years imprisonment after deducting 92 days the appellant spent under custody.
The bench III after altering the decision of the lower court had sentenced Jatan Lal Prasad to five years in prison (non-compoundable). The lower court, in addition to the fine and penalties provided under ITA, imposed an additional penalty of Nu 7.875M on appellant as fine in lieu of imprisonment.
JPLP’s legal counsel argued that appellant was gravely aggrieved by the both decisions as he was punished twice for one and the same offence. He submitted that under the principle of double jeopardy, one cannot be vexed twice for the same offence.
Earlier decisions on tax case besides fines and penalties were neither sentenced on value based nor awarded fines as prescribed by ITA and ACA. Both prosecutor and defense counsel cited two past varying cases – OAG vs Yeshey Choden Scrap Dealer and Dawa Tshering vs OAG – which went up to the Supreme Court but with varying interpretations.
The larger bench ruled that the value of the tax amount evaded and its punishment must be pitched upon the principle of proportionality keeping in view of the prevailing norms of our justice delivery system. “For the current case, the defendant admitted the charges of tax evasion and is adjudged to be liable as per the provisions ITA and ACA,” the ruling stated. “However, any such criminal liability must be decided based on the established doctrine that law must be applied based on principle of justice, equity and good conscience.”
While assessing and deciding on the quantum of fine, the court considered the general principle of assessing the value under the Penal Code of Bhutan so that the principle of fairness, just and equitable levy of fines are calculated and imposed.
Since the defendant has no prior criminal record, the court directed JPLP to pay an additional fine in lieu of imprisonment.
Lal Chand Prasad was released on bail amount of Nu 80M by OAG on September 16, 2015 after the ACC detained him for three months and two days and denied his bail as nobody was willing to come forward as his guarantor and pay Nu 184M for tax evasion.
Meanwhile, JPLP’s lawyer Younten Dorji said that he greatly respected the wisdom of the larger bench of High Court. Other legal practitioners also described it as “landmark decision” which will go a long way in the standardisation of tax evasion cases and prosecution under the ITA.
Amid several issues in the mining sector requiring immediate redressal, efforts by the economic and finance committee of National Assembly to table the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 as urgent Bill in the upcoming winter session has failed, mainly due to objections from the National Council (NC).
The Speaker and the NC Chairperson on August 2 met to discuss the issue. But the meeting could not declare the Bill as urgent citing the Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP).
The Bill could not fulfill the criteria of an urgent Bill, a press release from the National Assembly stated. The National Assembly added that the parliament needed adequate time for an exhaustive discussion on the Bill.
Both Houses must agree on an urgent Bill, which shall be passed in the same session.
Economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said that he had requested the parliament for the bill to be tabled as urgent Bill given the issues that needed to be addressed soon by a new Act. “It would have been better if it were introduced as an urgent Bill.”
He said that the existing mining contracts are expiring towards the end of 2019 and in the middle of 2020. If the Bill is tabled as normal, the parliament will pass it in the summer of 2020. It would take even longer if the Bill goes to a joint sitting.
On what would happen to the existing mining contracts, minister said the ministry would go by the existing Act and rules and regulations. “My concern is that there are so many issues to be addressed with a new Act.”
He said the existing Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 is outdated and does not address all existing issues. He said that the Bill was introduced in the last session and that he was of the belief that it was possible to table it as an urgent Bill.
However, an amendment in the Legislative Rules and Procedures (LRoP) 2017 may be required if the government still wants to push it as urgent because a Bill, according to the LROP, shall be declared “urgent” when it is required to prevent or address threats to the security and sovereignty of the country.
An “urgent Bill” may also be declared when the government is required to respond instantly to the effects and impacts of unforeseen natural or manmade calamities.
The mines and minerals sector has been recognised as one of the five economic jewels because of its potential for revenue and job creation. But the government has not issued new mining and quarrying licenses since 2013 for want of a new Act.
The economic and finance committee chair, MP Kinley Wangchuk, said the National Assembly was willing to table it as an urgent Bill, but the NC did not agree. “Mining companies will benefit if it is introduced as urgent Bill.”
The NC has reviewed the mining issues several times and called for a new Mines and Minerals Act.
Had the last National Assembly session passed the Bill, there were scopes for the NC to pass the Bill in the upcoming winter session. But the House did not saying that it was important to be rushed through.
The committee chair said that the ongoing consultation with stakeholders would take about two more months to complete.
What NC said
The NC provided justification on why the Bill did not qualify as an urgent Bill. The government had proposed that the Speaker declare it as urgent through a letter on July 15.
According to the NC, the government provided seven justifications for declaring the Bill as urgent.
“Briefly, the Bill is expected to reform the mining law for the long-term development of the mining sector, building a mineral value chain, ensuring a broad-based ownership, achieving economy of scale of mines, enhancing transparency and accountability, and ensuring scientific, environment-friendly and socially responsible mining.”
The Bill is also expected to bring many reforms to address the challenges facing the mining sector, including those related to sand dredging and surface collection of stones, the government stated in the letter.
However, the NC stated that the issue is whether the Bill is urgent under the Legislative Rules of Procedure.
The NC cited two precedents. In the case of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism Bill, the parliament concluded that there was no threat to economic security despite some international pressure and absence of a specific and comprehensive legislation.
With respect to the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse (amendment) Bill 2017, it was tabled as an urgent Bill to tackle drug-related problems because the most commonly used drug was omitted from the list of prohibited drugs and psychotropic substances, which had the potential to pose threat to social security.
“In the present case, the government proposes to declare the Bill as urgent for promoting economic development, good governance, environmental protection, and international best practices etc. There is no indication that the Bill is required to prevent or address threats to the security and sovereignty of the country,” the NC stated in its justification.
According to the NC, there are no risks of social instability, militarisation or human rights violations. There are no threats to Bhutan’s ability to follow its choice of policies to develop the national economy in the desired manner, it adds.
“Just like in the case of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism Bill where it was held that there was no threat to economic security despite international pressure and absence of specific, comprehensive legislation; there is no threat to security, be it political, economic or social though it’s required to bring reforms in the mining sector.”
The NC states that there is no indication that the Bill is required to respond instantly to the effects and impacts of unforeseen natural or manmade calamities.
“Therefore, the Bill is not urgent under the LRoP, and Parliament cannot table it as urgent Bill.”
According to the NC, the need to amend the MMMA1995 was expressed years ago. “Following the National Council (June 2016) resolution at its 17th session, the Ministry of Economic Affairs commenced drafting the Bill in 2016.
The NC states that if the Bill were to be fast tracked by declaring it urgent, it compromises effective parliamentary scrutiny and the technical quality of the Bill due to inadequate time.
The existing Act, according to the NC, did not specify the lease period and leave it to the respective lease agreements.
“If the government as one of the parties to lease agreements assumed the obligation to renew the lease by certain period of time, such obligation needs to be respected, otherwise there have been many cases where leases have been renewed for a short period of time.”
On a clear morning, the sharp tip of Jichu Drakay is a crystal dagger piercing the sky. The ancient ruins of Jangothang are dark and crumbling against the shiny face of rugged Jomolhari. An imposing rocky mountain rising sharply from the banks of the Pachu is the citadel of Ap Chundu, the guardian deity of Haa. Down in the valley bestrewn with colourful flowers, the Pachu is a noisy band of silver stretching across the length of the valley. At a cursory glance, nothing seems to stir among the giant monuments of nature.
But by the Pachu are small, ancient hamlets of Soe populated by sturdy nomadic people. It is home to Ap Chonyi Dorji, the composer and singer of celebrated song Yak Lebi Lhadar Gaw. The haunting song dedicated to a handsome yak identified for slaughter touches a special chord in the mountains of Soe. Far removed from the towns characterised by concrete cubicles and noisy arguments, Soe is among the last villages yet to catch up with a modernising country.
Home to 200 people living in 28 households, Soe is the smallest gewog in the country. Two days’ hard trek from Shana in Paro, Soe is among the villages farthest from a roadhead. It has no access to television, radio, and newspapers. Most people have not seen any form of traditional media. Village leaders and horsemen who occasionally travel to Paro and Thimphu bring them some news from the rest of the country.
Yet, things are changing, albeit slowly. Electricity reached the gewog in 2016. The gewog was connected to B-Mobile’s 3G three months back. TashiCell is transporting cellular equipment to Soe for installation. Some of the 14 rickety log bridges between Shana and Soe have been replaced by Bailey bridges. Every year in October, Soe attracts around 400 people, including some 60 government officials, to its Mountain Festival which has been running for six years. Bhutan’s most popular trekking routes – Snowman Trek, Laya-Lingzhi Trek, Jomolhari Trek, and Soe-Yaksa Trek – pass through the gewog.
Among the new arrivals in Soe, 3G cellular service has caught the imagination of the villagers. Most of them are already on WeChat touching base and forming groups to discuss community issues. Forty-three-year-old Gup Kencho Dorji, who has been Soe’s gup for 20 years, says WeChat has brought the community together. The yak herders use the voice messaging app to bring missing yaks home collaboratively. Thirty-two-year-old Wangmo from Dangojang hamlet says WeChat has made yak herding much easier. The whole community of herders is now on WeChat sharing real time information on the whereabouts of the gewog’s 1,461 yaks.
The most endearing feature of Soe’s changing landscape is its only school, romantically named School Among Snow Leopards. The Soe area is home to eight elusive snow leopards and many other endangered animals such as the tiger, musk deer, takin, Asiatic wild dog, Asiatic black bear, and sambar. Established in 2009 by Bhutan Foundation, the school – some people call it the ‘cutest’ school – has eight children, six girls and two boys, studying in classes ranging from PP to IV taught by two teachers. They saw a newspaper for the first time when a media team from Thimphu visited the gewog last week for a media literacy workshop.
Six-year-old Tandin Lham is one of the two class PP children. She walks two hours between home and school every day. Principal Tshering Dorji, 38, an affectionate figure to the children, volunteered to teach in the school three years ago. Among a few civil servants and gewog officials in Soe, he is known as the Bear Grylls of Soe for his dogged endurance to swim in a glacial lake at 4,300 metres at least once every weekend. The school goes unnoticed to most visiting officials but gewog officials more than make up for it with the attention they shower on the children. Gewog Administrative Officer Galay Phuntsho, 48, a jovial man with a receding hairline, regularly goes to the school to exchange high fives and high tens with the children which keep them feeling loved and buoyed.
The horizons of knowledge and exposure are expanding in Soe as reflected in the ambitions of its school children. Children of remote schools in Bhutan would typically want to become teachers, the only profession they can relate to. But the eight children of School Among Snow Leopards have different ambitions. Four of them want to become teachers, three of them, doctors, and six-year-old classmate of Tandin Lham, Jigme Tenzin, wants to be a pilot because he has seen a helicopter land near his school. Jigme Tenzin wishes to fly beyond Soe. His grandfather thinks it is better than beautiful Soe.
In the meantime, Jigme is seeing hundreds of tourists and their Bhutanese guides pass through his village. They bring horse loads of foodstuff, including packaged food, appreciate the mountains, and some unscrupulous ones leave behind waste along the trails. Gup Kencho Dorji says regulations against waste are unequivocal but waste remains a mounting challenge. PET bottles and other plastic waste can be seen along the trails.
The villagers have heard that the media is a powerful tool of empowerment. They hope that WeChat, the only form of media they can use, not only brings home their missing yaks but also drive home their message against waste.
Contributed by Needrup Zangpo,
Tsirang dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) decided not to introduce parking fees in Damphu town as of now.
In the DT held yesterday, local leaders decided there has to be more consultation with people in the dzongkhag.
With an increasing number of vehicles and residents and shopkeepers parking their vehicles in the core town area, the town is experiencing parking crunch.
Thromde representative, Kunzang Tenzin, said that on August 3, the residents met to discuss the issue and they voted but more people had voted against the fee introduction.
Tsirang police officer-in-command, Chhaten, said the parking fee of Nu 10 has to be specified. “For instance in Thimphu, drivers pay Nu 10 for every 30 minutes. As the highway is not private property, public has the right to park.”
He said that there was no parking space problem in the town. “If people park their vehicle violating the parking laws, they will be fined accordingly.”
Kilkorthang gup, Beda Moni Chamlagai, said they will first discuss the matter with people. “We cannot decide this right away without consulting the people. Otherwise, it might cause a problem in the future.”
Dzongkhag officials, however, said a parking fee has to be introduced.
Dzongkhag’s chief engineer, Kintu, said that there would be reluctance and unwillingness whenever it is something to do with spending money. “However, parking fee would benefit the town in the long run. Many people lived nearby the core town area and sometimes it was very difficult to find a place to park.”
He said most of the vehicles are permanently parked. “The parking fee would help visitors and people staying outside the core town.”
Dzongrab Namgay Dorji said it is important to introduce the parking fee for the safety of the people and increasing number of vehicles.
He said that it could also open job opportunities and help people in the dzongkhag.
Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang
Despite various initiatives in place to improve Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), it is still considered the last option for many.
A majority of the Technical Training Institutes (TTIs) this year saw a decline in enrolment applications.
Some principals of TTI attributed the drop because of the change in Class X cut-off point. Other said the fluctuations in the enrolment applications could be due to the preference of location. This year’s enrolment application, however, was comparatively lower.
Most of the slots floated by the TTIs for various courses are yet to be filled. Only 30 per cent of the total slots were filled according to the principals. Some courses did not get even a single application.
The government this year did away with the Class X cut-off point and allowed all the students to go to Class XI on both public and private sponsorships. This means a majority of this year’s class X students graduates are now in class XI who would otherwise have opted for courses in TTIs.
The admission to TTIs is carried out in two phases.
Normally TTIs used to receive fresh class X graduates. However, this time, a majority of the applications were from class X graduates who had been looking for a job for a year or more. Some TTIs had to hunt for new trainees.
For instance, Thimphu TTI that used to get an overwhelming number of applications has still not been able to fill the capacity of courses. Principal Sonam Wangmo said that applications dropped more than 100 to less than 40 this year.
“We tried to engage staff and look for trainees but there were no students at all. We got only two fresh class X graduates. We used to get a good mix of old and fresh class X students,” Sonam Wangmo said.
Khuruthang TTI’s principal, Yonten Pelzang, said that the drop in the admission might not be due to the removal of cut-off point for class X.
“Fluctuation in admission has been there. However, there has been marked drop this year, especially in the mechanic course,” he said.
Jigme Wangchuk Power Training Institute’s principal said about 24 slots could not be filled. “But because a majority of the students who applied are graduates of 2018 or earlier, it could be because of the cut-off policy.”
The principal of Chumey TTI, Pema Tshering, said the institute had to headhunt for trainees. The wielding programme is yet to begin due to lack of students.
However, it is different for TTI in Rangjung where all the slots have been filled.
Admission drop in TTIs comes at a time when the government is trying to revamp the entire TVET system to attract youth to opt for TVET and to take in trainees after completion of Class XII. There are also plans to offer TVET as an optional subject.
Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that it would be too premature to assume that the cut-off policy affected the admission because the admission process was still underway. An in-depth and detailed analysis was required, he added.
“I would agree that the policy indirectly affected the admission if the applications were not from the fresh class X graduates because they’re now in Class XI,” Lyonpo said. “But the fact is that anyone who completed class X and XII in the previous year could also apply and is not only for fresh graduates means policy did not play any role.”
Lyonpo added that from the information available, admission had not dropped critically and that the enrolment in TTIs has always been a problem. “We’re trying to re-work on the strategies and see how best we can, or rather optimise, the use of the facilities and substitutes in the TTIs. Admission may have been an issue but it is not because of the policy.”
Yangchen C Rinzin
A 13-year-old monk of Dechenphodrang lhakhang in Thimphu, who went missing since August 2 was found yesterday in Trashigang.
A relative found the monk, who is from Yalang in Trashiyangtse, sitting on a concrete step below the BoB in Trashigang alone at 10am.
Sources said the boy doesn’t remember how he reached Trashigang.
The monk was taken to the Trashigang dratshang by a relative to receive kago (empowerment) yesterday.
His mother, who stays in Thimphu, said that she talked to him over the phone and she is glad that he is in good health condition. “I will go to Trashigang to bring him back so that he could continue his studies.”
The mother reported about the missing monk to police only on August 14.
Police said that after receiving the complaint, they circulated the monk’s photo to the police patrol team and other relevant officials. “The actual reason why he went missing is still not known,” a police official said.
According to mother, they didn’t report the matter to police immediately with the hope of finding him. “We started searching him from the day he went missing but after searching for 13 days, he was not found and finally informed the police.”
It was learnt that monks in Dechenphodrang lhakhang have performed religious activities to appease the local deities to find the missing monk.
Meanwhile, according to statistics maintained by police, 162 incidents related to missing of person were reported in 2018.
Thimphu is the highest with 73 cases followed by Paro and Wangduephodrang with 15 and 12 respectively. Tsirang is the lowest with only one incident.