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Updated: 1 hour 5 min ago

Call for investment in agriculture sector is welcome

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 16:01

The news that the agriculture ministry will now subsidise barbed-wire fencing materials on cost sharing model (50:50) on priority basis to all rural households is welcome. Some good should come out of it; our farmers have suffered enough.

We are an agrarian society, but we have failed to invest in the development of the sector. With rapid economic development that we continue to witness, agriculture has been taking the back seat. When agriculture fails, we need to think about two important things in the life of our nation—sovereignty and prosperity.

Let’s talk about prosperity first. We spend millions every day to buy or bring in things from abroad that we could easily produce at home. The fact is that we have not invested in agricultre as much as we should have already. The Plan budget for the sector has been decreasing since 1965. What this neglect has led to is the rise in phenomena like youth unemployment and increasing rural to urban migration. When a bulk of our population is going through hard times  because of misplaced government policies, prosperity is a far-off thing to talk about.

Now, let’s talk about sovereignty.  When we are dependent on every little thing on our neighbouring countries, our economy is not doing well. When our economy is not doing well, we are not creating enough job opportunities in the country. The fact that joblessness is increasing in the country by the day is telling sign that our governments have failed to look to the future.

There have been small interventions in the recent times. But low investment in the sector has resulted in low growth. Plan budget for agriculture sector has been falling since the first five-year Plan. In the fourth plan period, agriculture sector was allocated 44 percent of the total budget, which decreased to 33 percent in the fifth plan.  Since then, budget share for agriculture sector has been declining to the extent that in the 10th plan, the sector was allotted only 5.5 percent of the total budget, which further dropped to 2.3 percent in the 11th. 

But we have seen too much duplication of efforts which is not helping the growth of agriculture in the country that has so much potential to address the many problems facing the country today. In Development Studies there is nothing called financial loss. Investment has to be made in the right places. In our case, the refereces points are rising youth unemployment and rural to urban migration.

A recent study found that decline in the hectarage of cultivated land resulted in Bhutan losing more than 31,300 tonnes of rice in the last two decades, which could have fed one-fifth of her population for at least twelve months. Agriculture sector today contributes only about 14 percent to the country’s economy. Reports might tell us that we are today about 80 percent food self-sufficient, but this fact must be read against the backdrop of rising food imports. While we are not even 50 percent rice (staple diet) self-sufficient, rising import of meat and dairy products, among others, contribute greatly to the trade deficit. 

If we are to reduce rural poverty and, more importantly, improve food insecurity, mere promises are not enough. There has to be real investment in the sector.

Bamboo stumps planted in Tsirang

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:58

To boost the bamboo plantation in the dzongkhag, about 1,107 bamboo saplings and stumps were planted across the gewogs in the dzongkhag on Social Forestry Day, yesterday.

The main plantation took place at Lungsigang Community Forest at Daldaley in Tsholingkhar gewog, where 300 bamboo saplings were planted in about five acres of land.

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Increased minimum wage rate to be applied in Pvt. sector

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:55

Raising a concern that is on the minds of those working in the private sector, the Khar-Yurung member of the Parliament (MP) Tshering Chhoden, on Friday, questioned if the proposed civil servant salary revision would widen the gap between civil servants and private sector employees.

MP Tshering Chhoden asked if there are any plans for the private employees because there is no equal pay for equal work in the private sector.

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Fruit and tree saplings planted to mark Social Forestry Day

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:53

Twenty-six schools and the Technical Training Institute, Samthang in Wangdue planted over 1,100 fruit and tree saplings in their surrounding to mark the Social Forestry day yesterday in Wangdue. 

The tree and fruit saplings were provided by Bhutan Ecological Society (BES), Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project I and II, Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC) in Bajo and the territorial division in Lobesa.

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The Oriental Tiger in South Asia is roaring 

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:50

If Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka is a busy city, it is getting busier.

Dhaka is still being built. The city with a population about 20 million(M) is gripped in construction frenzy. New roads are being built and old ones are expanded. There are housing projects to accommodate the ever-increasing population.

The Padma Bridge is a multipurpose road-rail bridge across the Padma River being constructed in Bangladesh. When completed it will connect Louhajong, Munshiganj to Shariatpur and Madaripur, linking the south-west of the country, to northern and eastern regions. (Photo: www.padmabridge.gov.bd)

The latest addition is a metro rail system in the heart of the city to ease the notorious traffic congestion.

The activity has not disrupted life like it did to the traffic. There is excitement in the air. Bangladesh is developing and developing fast.

The country is well on its way to graduate from a least developed category.

The UN’s graduation threshold mandates a GNI per capita of a country to be $1,230 or above. Bangladesh’s is $1,909. The country’s Human Asset Indicator (HAI) score at 72.8 is well above the UN threshold of 66. The HAI is an indicator of nutrition, health, adult literacy and secondary school enrolment rate. Its economic vulnerability index score is 25 well below the 32 or below set by the UN.

According to the International Monetary fund, Bangladesh is the second fastest growing economy in the world. It has recorded an average growth of above 7 percent in the last three years. The projection is 7.3 for 2019. Bangladesh is called the Oriental Tiger in South Asia.

The mood is reflected in the corridors of power.

Information minister Dr Hasan Mahmud is brimming with confidence when addressing a group of journalist from about 22 countries. “Bangladesh, which former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dubbed a “bottomless basket”, is today a vibrant economy. It is among the top few in terms of the rate of GDP growth which is now 7.86 percent,” he said.

The minister attributed this to “women power and the dynamic leadership” of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh elected Sheikh Hasina for the third time in 2018 with a thumping victory. Those in the government attribute the victory as an endorsement of the leader who has overseen the booming economic growth in the last many years.

Dr Mahmud is eager to share the success story of Bangladesh. The figures are impressive too.

Population living below the poverty line has been reduced from 50 percent in 1991 to 21 percent today. “There is no magic. It is because of pragmatic and dynamic leadership, making the right decision like empowering women and developing rural economy,” he said.

“We were a food deficit country until the 1950s,” he added. “Today we are a food exporting country.”

Predominantly an agriculture country, the agriculture sector contributed the highest to the GDP until a decade ago. Manufacturing and service sectors have taken over. Although Bangladesh is a small country, it is the second biggest exporter of ready-made garments (RMG) today. “We will take over China as the number one soon,” said the minister.

A lifeline of the booming economy is the huge number of Bangladeshis working around the world. The information minister said that about 10M Bangladeshis are working outside Bangladesh. “The remittance they send home is a lifeline of the economy,” he said.

Bangladeshi expatriate workers remitted USD 15.5 Billion in 2018. It was an increase of 15 percent from 2017 making 12 percent of the country’s GDP.

If the RMG industry is the top export, it is empowering women through job creations. Majority of employees working in the garment and ceramic industries are women. Women’s participation in the labour force, according to Dr Mahmud has increased from 4 percent in 1974, to 35.6 percent in 2016.

Another area that cannot escape the eyes of visitors to Bangladesh is the burgeoning pharmaceutical industries. Despite meeting almost all the domestic demand, Bangladesh is the only country in South Asia that exports pharmaceutical products to about 199 countries, including to Europe and the USA. Turnover last year, according to the Dhaka Tribune, an English daily, was about USD1M last year.

Square Pharmaceuticals, which a group of journalists visited holds, 17.73 percent of market share. It is the largest pharmaceutical company in the country. It exports products to about 42 countries including tiny markets like Bhutan.

From the construction frenzy, it appears like Bangladesh is not looking back. While critics are cautioning the debt trap related to the One Belt One Road Initiative of China, Bangladesh has embraced it seeing the bright side of the initiative. On the possibility of Bangladesh getting into the trap, Dr Mahmud said the country is wary of the risks. “China only help build infrastructure. The only problem is we need soft loans,” he said.

If Bangladesh is the Oriental Tiger in South Asia, it is roaring the loudest today.

Contributed by

Ugyen Penjor

Bhalujhora bridge collapses

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:44

The bridge over Bhalujhora river in Pasakha collapsed in the afternoon of June 1 when a 14-wheeler truck travelling to the industrial estate was crossing it.

The truck was still stuck on the bridge yesterday, as it was getting unloaded.

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No doping cases detected so far

Mon, 06/03/2019 - 15:42

The Bhutan Anti-Doping Committee (BADC) conducts doping test for 16 athletes on average every year.

It, however, did not find any doping incidences or violation of anti-doping rules until now.

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NA discusses minimum qualification for LG members

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 13:03

After discussing for more than an hour, the National Assembly (NA) members yesterday decided to defer the deliberation of Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to the winter session.

The decision was made with a show of hands.

Deputy speaker Tshencho Wangdi said the home ministry should review the Act and submit the report to the members in the third session.

During the second reading yesterday, most members said they support setting a qualification for local government members but not immediately, as the 2021 local government election is nearing.

The good governance committee chairperson, Drametse-Ngatshang’s MP Ugyen Wangdi said the committee’s proposal on the seven sections for amendment are based on recommendations made by the national law review taskforce and the Supreme Court.

He explained that during the 2016 local government elections, the Supreme Court issued a writ, reasoning that there are contradictory provisions.

Ugyen Wangdi said the main objective of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill is mainly because the local government election 2021 is nearing and it is important to amend the Act now.

He said that of the two main principles in the Bill, the Supreme Court recommendation stated that thromde tshogde shall consist of not less than seven and not more than 10 elected members, excluding the thrompon. “However, the members should remember that it is difficult to have seven demkhongs. The other principle of the Bill is the inclusion of the qualification of local government members to Class X.”

Finance minister Namgay Tshering, however, said the qualification of LG members should be retained as it is as of now. “There are no restrictions imposed for university, class XII or class X graduates as long as their age qualifies.”

He also said there are gewog administrative officers and once the gewog grants are disbursed, there will be accountants. “Except for the thrompon, being functionally literate and possessing adequate skills should suffice for other members.”

Khamey-Lunana MP Yeshey Dema said that while she supports the need for qualification of LG members, in small gewog like Lunana, there is only one university graduate, three undergraduate students and two who completed class X.

She said that with Local Government elections nearing in 2021, there will no people to contest as gup and mangmi and less choice for people. “The qualification should be retained as it is for the time being.”

Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said if the objective of the amendment is for 2021 elections, there is no support, as there are problems in Local Government Act already. “There are many provisions that need amendment in the LG Act.”

He explained there are problems between dzongkhag and thromde. “According to LG Act, all local governments should be under home ministry but some are under works and human settlement ministry. Many issues need to be clarified.”

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who is also a committee member, said the sections proposed for amendment are based on Supreme Court order and national law review taskforce. “But if the members want a comprehensive amendment, it could be done if everyone supports it.”

On the qualification, he explained that the committee met with election commission officials, who expressed the need for a qualification. “The committee also met with Department of Local Governance (DLG) officials, who also said that local government officials have raised the need for qualification.”

Dorji Wangdi said youth expressed the need for qualification during constituency visits and at the democracy forum; gups raised the need for qualification of LG members. “But the members can decide in the third reading.”

He also said when the committee met with Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar thrompons, they found that thrompons do not deal with dzongkhag tshogdue.

Home minister Sherub Gyeltshen, however, said local government officials told him that the committee met them but only stressed the committee’s point and did not allow them to speak.

Khatoed-Laya MP, Tenzin, who is also a member of the committee, said while they met with the local government officials, they couldn’t discuss comprehensively.

Emphasising the importance of local government, he said qualification is important for the members and he supports it but not for 2021.

Tenzin reasoned that even if the qualification were changed in Local Government Act but not in the election Act, there would be problems. “There is an immediate need for an accountant and engineer in the gewogs but it is not there, which is hampering the quality of construction in the gewogs.”

Bji-Katso-Eusu MP Ugyen Tenzin said MPs are hesitant to discuss Local Government Act, as they need support during elections from the local leaders. “MPs only discuss their personal benefit in elections.”

He said the Act needs comprehensive amendment and the discussion should be deferred.

Labour minister Ugyen Dorji said he researched the need for qualification since 2006 and felt the need for it.

He, however, said it is not necessary to have qualification as the Constitution mandates university graduates for Parliament but functionally literate and adequate skills for local governments. Lyonpo said he doesn’t support the need for qualification now.

“There is no definition of functional literacy. Instead of Class X, ECB conducts the test but only in Dzongkha and could add English and Accounts,” the minister said. “Going by the responsibility of local government, there is need for university graduate but setting qualification will open room for associated problems.”

Khamdang-Ramjar MP Karma Thinley said it is important to amend the Act comprehensively, as the committee members do not get adequate time to conduct research.

Drujeygang-Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk accused the committee of not conducting proper research and said he doesn’t support comprehensive amendment of the bill.

He said he suggested for the withdrawal of the Bill but committee members did not adhere.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering said the Act should be amended comprehensively, as 60 percent of Bhutanese would live in towns by the next 15 years.

He said a working committee should be formed between the home and human settlement ministry. “The third reading should be in winter session.”

Ugyen Wangdi said relevant agencies should review the Act and propose for comprehensive amendment. He said there is no immediate benefit or loss in amending and not amending the Act.

Tashi Dema

Discussions on withdrawal of Bills turn ugly

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:59

The decision to withdraw the amendment Royal Bhutan Police Act in the National Assembly yesterday saw members resorting to personal attacks, which went viral on social media.

The issue surfaced when the Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi expressed his discontentment on the conduct of question hour and the resolution to withdraw two Bills put up for amendment.

He said that the Deputy Speaker, Tshencho Wangdi mismanaged the time during the question hour. Dorji Wangdi said that the Opposition Party was unhappy because two questions had to be left out in the interest of time and in keeping with the rules of procedure.

Due to time mismanagement, he said, all questions could not be raised. The house chose not to take two questions relating to the shortage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and export of boulders to Bangladesh.

“LPG is a problem, which every household in the country faces, and it needs to be clarified,” Dorji Wangdi said.

“We are all people’s representative who must work together and there are many more sessions to come,” he said adding that the Opposition Party have conducted meetings for days and prepared their questions.

The Deputy Speaker explained that the rules of procedure limits the question time to 90 minutes and that the two questions could not be considered. He stated that the rules of procedure only allow three minutes to raise a question and seven minutes for answer. Any supplementary questions, if any, the rules of procedure states, shall be completed within two minutes and answer for the supplementary question is allowed for five minutes.

The Deputy Speaker said that each question took 17 minutes and that five question took 85 minutes. Despite that, he said that he managed to take seven questions, which were all important. “But I must have made some mistakes,” he said adding that the concerns raised by MP Dorji Wangdi would be taken positively. “Hereafter, we will keep that in mind.”

Dorji Wangdi raised another concern regarding the withdrawal of amendment of RBP Act. The amendment, he said, was put up as an agenda with the consent of all 47 members including the Prime Minister. “While few members requested to postpone the amendment since it would not be ready by this session, majority wanted the Bill in this session,” he said.

Now, he said that the amendment is put on the table. Upon recommendations of a few members to withdraw, the House felt that the whole Act needs a thorough review to suit the need of the hour.

Dorji Wangdi particularly pointed out that the Speaker, Home Minister and the chair of Human Rights committee submitted and endorsed to withdraw. “This is not fair,” he said. “The state has incurred millions of Ngultrum to elect us and if this is the kind of work we portray, it’s  a child’s play. We must work to our full potential,” he said apologizing the speaker to not take it personally.

The Home Minister responded by asking the Panbang MP to prove the accusations that a resolution has been bulldozed by them.

He said that the trio:-Speaker, the chair of the human rights committee and himself- must clarify as the session is broadcast live. On his part, he said that he has been on the receiving end since the beginning of the session and on the BBS shows. “He (Dorji Wangdi) should prove the accusations, if not stop insulting,” he said.

The Chair of the Human Rights Committee and Drujegang-Tseza MP, Jurmi Wangchuk said that the committee had informed the members of the Bill withdrawal a day before. “I have also informed the Pangbang MP in person,” he said.

By then the discussion has delved into the LG amendment Bill. The Deputy Speaker tried to intervene to bring the discussion back on track. But Jurmi Wangchuk said, etiquette, if it didn’t apply to Panbang MP, should not be applied to him.

Taking a personal tone, he said that he was more experienced than Dorji Wangdi. “Choe Za Zaw wa, Nga bo bow mang,” he said to the surprise of many in the house and those watching on the national TV. The speaker tried to intervene four times, but all in vain.

He went on to say that the Human Rights Committee is comprised of five DPT members and four DNT members and that the Assembly is not meant for Pangbang MP alone. “I don’t know what grudge he holds against me,” he added.

The Deputy Speaker ended the discussion requesting the Drujegang-Tseza MP to not to take it personally and that things might erupt out of the discussion, not out of grudge.

 

What the ROP says

As per the rules of procedure (ROP), if the issue is with regard to the question hour, a member may by notice in writing withdraw the question or postpone it to a later day. However, the question postponed shall be placed on the list after all the other questions of that later day.

It also states that a member wishing to ask a question shall submit a notice to the Secretary General prior to 48 hours. If the question is not received prior to 48 hours, it will not be acknowledged. In this case, the questions were already drafted and distributed in the daily order of business.

If the issue is relating to the withdrawal of Bills, a member who has moved a motion may move without notice that it be withdrawn.

“A Bill being discussed in a House may be withdrawn at any stage if leave is granted by the House upon the member in charge moving a motion to withdraw the Bill.” However, if leave is not granted by the other House for withdrawal of the Bill, the Bill shall then follow the procedures outlined for disputed Bills.

On the code of conduct of members, which in this case is a concern among social media users, the rules of procedure states that members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Speaker. In particular, members shall not speak or stand when the Speaker is speaking.

The procedure also states that every member shall subscribe to maintaining the decorum and dignity of the House and shall desist from acts of defamation and use of physical force.

“If the Speaker is of the opinion that a member is deliberately contravening a provision of this procedure or that a member is in contempt of or is disregarding the authority of the Speaker or that a member’s conduct is grossly disorderly, the member shall be made to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of the day’s sitting,” it states.

Meanwhile, serious concern has been raised with regard to the Durjegang-Tseza MP’s comments with some even noting such incidence in the Parliament as ‘first time in history.’ Social media users started comparing the two MPS in question while some demanded bye-election in Dagana.

Tshering Dorji

PM attends Indian PM’s swearing – in ceremony

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:51

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House yesterday in New Delhi and conveyed the warm greetings and felicitations of His Majesty The King, the Royal Government and people of Bhutan.

At the invitation of the Government of India to all Heads of State and Government of BIMSTEC member countries and to Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius, Lyonchhen visited India from May 30 to June 1 for the Swearing-in-Ceremony of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India for a second term.

Lyonchhen expressed gratitude for the invitation to attend the most auspicious occasion and for the warm reception accorded to him and his delegation, a press release from the Royal Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi, states. This is Lyonchhen’s second visit to India after assuming office in November 2018.

During the meeting at the Hyderabad House, the two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction at the excellent state of bilateral ties of friendship and cooperation, which are marked by utmost trust, mutual understanding, goodwill and respect for each other’s interests.  They reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen co-operation in all areas of mutual interest and to take the bilateral partnership to newer heights.

Lyonchhen reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Bhutan at the earliest convenience. Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation to visit Bhutan on mutually convenient date.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Ram Nath Kovind at a special ceremony at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 30.  He was sworn in along with 24 Union Ministers, 24 Ministers of State and 9 Ministers of State with Independent Charge.

Lyonchhen was accompanied by his spouse, Dr Ugyen Dem, Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Secretary and senior officials from the Royal Government of Bhutan including the Ambassador of Bhutan in India.

Following the Swearing-in-Ceremony, Lyonchhen and Aum along with other foreign leaders attended a banquet dinner hosted by the President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in honour of the Prime Minister of India.

During the visit, several groups of eminent friends of India called on Lyonchhen.

Staff Reporter

Boulder trucks remain parked despite revised load capacity

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:47

Exporters and transporters in Gelephu have not received the government’s revised loading capacity for commercial trucks well.

The revision that came into effect from May 30 has increased the gross vehicle weight (GVW) of a 10-wheeler truck from 25 metric tonnes (MT) to 28MT. This means a 10-wheeler can now legally carry 18MT load, an increase of 3MT. A six-wheeler is allowed to carry an addition of 2MT.

However, the revision has done little to kickstart the export business that has come to a standstill since May 20 in Gelephu.

“From what we heard during the National Assembly deliberation, the information and communications minister said that they would allow things to operate as in the past until the Act is amended,” said a transporter. “This revision doesn’t even come close to what the minister said.”

Transporters claimed that the business was not feasible even with the revised load capacity. Taking into consideration the minimal cost involved, it was learnt that if a 10-wheeler carried 18MT of boulder to Bangladesh, the exporter would incur a loss of about 30 percent for every MT.

According to sources, even if a truck is allowed to carry 25MT, it would still incur a loss of about Nu 200 per MT. Before the export business came to a halt, exporters used to buy boulders at Nu 350 per MT from Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL).

The transportation cost and other incidental charges such as extortion fees stood at about Nu 1,700 and Nu 200 per MT respectively. There are other expenses from processing documents.

The market value of boulders in Bangladesh was about Nu 2,000 (USD 29-USD 31) for every MT. The net loss incurred was about Nu 250 per MT.

Sources said that allowing 30MT load for a 10-wheeler provided a break-even point. “For the export business to pick up, the preferable weight should be 35MT and above.”

One of the transporters, Tshering, said that the GVW did not necessarily mean that the vehicle could not carry more than the specified weight. “While it is safe to carry the specified weight, we have been carrying more than that,” he said. “As the rightful owner of the vehicle, no one would want to compromise with their properties.”

While many involved in the business expressed their resentment against the revised loading capacity, some exporters said that the swift action taken by the government was commendable.

The secretary of Gelephu Stones and Aggregates (GSA) exporters group, Ugyen Rabten, said that the government did its part and made an instant decision within its capacity. “We thought that this issue would take more time to find a solution but the government has acted promptly and has come to a decision.”

Some exporters said that although majority of the people involved are unhappy with the decision, it was important to read between the lines of the cabinet decision. “The increase in GVW was made in line with the changes adopted by India last year. And while the Indian vehicles can carry more than 35 to 40MT, there is a room for us to do the same,” said one transporter who did not want to be named.

He said that so long as the Bhutanese rightfully declared the full load, things should be allowed to operate as it always had. “What happened in the past few months in Gelephu was a mistake and we all are suffering because of that now,” he said. “Now we have to do the business legally and everything must be declared as it is. Only then things will start to work again.”

Kuensel learnt that a group of exporters from Gelephu would be leaving for Bangladesh today to negotiate the price of the boulders. It was learnt that the proposed rate on the letter of credit (LC) would be increased to USD 30 per MT of boulder. So far, the LC rate was set at USD 18 while the boulders were sold at around USD 29.

It was also learnt that the group would discuss that the vehicles coming from Gelephu would declare full load, doing away with the under-table-money, which had been the practice initially.

Meanwhile, the forest department in Gelephu has stopped issuing permits on exports. One of the truckers, Tashi Dorji, said that he was not provided the export permit from the department although he was carrying the specified capacity of 15MT.

“A few days ago, I was sent back from the border gate to reduce the weight of my consignment as I was carrying overload,” he said. “I went to the dump yard and unloaded the excess weight. I was carrying the new weight document from the contractor but was not given the permit.”

Forest officials said that in absence of a weighbridge, there were no other documents to authenticate the weight on the vehicles. “As long as they produce a weight receipt using the weighbridge, we have no problem issuing the export permit.”

The defunct weighbridge near the border gate is yet to be repaired. It was learnt that technical experts from India had inspected the machine earlier this week and returned to get the required parts.

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

Bhutan attends 87th Session of World Animal Health Assembly

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:45

A three member Bhutanese delegation led by the Director General of Department of Livestock, Dr Tashi Samdup attended the 87th session of World Animal Health Assembly (OIE) from May 26-31 in Paris, France.

Every year the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) brings together 182 member countries and representatives from its global network of experts and partners to address the challenges in accelerating more resilient animal health and production systems.

During the six-day event, the Assembly deliberates and adopts new international standards on animal health and welfare, a press release from the ministry of agriculture and forests states. Among others, it provides an update and an opportunity to discuss current and future global animal health challenges at the regional and global level.

Dr Tashi Samdup, the OIE delegate of Bhutan also chaired the OIE Regional Commission meeting on May 26. The delegation also attended the side events with other development partners, international organisations and member countries on animal health and livestock related activities. The Assembly is held in the last week of May in Paris, the head quarters of OIE.

Staff Reporter

Where sobriety is expected

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:43

There was a time when our elected representatives to the Assembly hid behind pillars to dodge eye contact with the Speaker. They would forget what they memorised, forget raising questions.

Times have changed and issues have changed. So have the nature of deliberations in the august hall. Parliamentarians today represent two political parties with different ideas, if not ideologies. The difference can be expected. In fact, it should be welcomed for we say that there is beauty in disagreement.

The debate now is public and witnessed around the country with a lot of expectations. In the hall, there are students observing the sessions, whose teachers felt should get exposed to how democracy is at work.

The expectations are that the open debate and disagreements would give us an insight and understanding of how national policies and decisions are made. And how we strengthen our legislations and mature as a small society.

There should be disagreement. Healthy disagreements shape good policies and legislation. That is expected from our political parties and leaders. However, when debates and disagreements go out of control, along party lines or are personalised, we lose the essence of parliamentary discourse to the extent that we display immaturity to the thousands listening or watching with keen interest.

As elected representatives who promised to lead with example and discuss issues affecting people, the conduct yesterday at the National Assembly is being criticized. It has to be.

There is a rule of procedure for parliamentarians. It states that members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Speaker. In particular, members shall not speak or stand when the Speaker is speaking.

We have seen disagreements in the past even along political lines, but when we cross the line and forget to respect the procedures, we are not  or leading by example. Not many will remember what was discussed and endorsed yesterday at the National Assembly, but not many will forget the scene, which has now gone viral on social media.

From the disagreements yesterday, there are also lapses in members following the procedures. The motion to withdraw Bills put up for amendment, even as they were introduced to the Assembly, sends wrong messages. The first question is why even submit it for amendment if enough research or work has to be done. Members are asking for time to consult, discuss or review Bills already submitted for reading or discussions.  Even the question hour procedures with clear written procedures are being questioned.

The conduct of our parliament is far better than many. But we cannot compare ourselves with chair-hurling or fist fighting parliamentarians, which some are already doing. We have the Golden Throne behind the Speaker’s seat to remind us of our conduct and decorum.

The debates and discussions in the Parliament have bearing on all of us. People will not only listen. They would, as concerned Bhutanese, want to take part. Therefore, we expect our leaders to demonstrate a healthy deliberative Assembly session.

Revised load capacity makes no difference to boulder business

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:40

The government’s decision to revise the load capacity of trucks across the country on May 30 has not been received well by truckers and exporters in the boulders business.

Not a single truckload of boulders left the Phuentsholing gate yesterday.

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Assembly instructs MoAF to subsidise electric fencing

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:37

The agriculture ministry henceforth will subsidise barbed wire fencing materials on cost sharing model (50:50) on priority basis as a subsidy to all rural households troubled by wild animal crop predation.

The National Assembly on May 30 through a majority vote passed Bardo-Trong MP Gyembo Tshering’s motion calling for the subsidy.

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Impeachment Bill gets underway

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:35

The Impeachment Procedure Bill, which is being discussed in the National Council (NC), is expected not only to hold the constitutional post holders accountable, but also to insulate them from potential arbitrary impeachment.

Article 32 of the Constitution provides for removal of the Holders of the Constitutional Offices only by way of impeachment by Parliament, the committee reported. However, NC members feel that there was no basis to impose accountability on the Holders of the Constitutional Offices.

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Police Act Amendment in the fourth session

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:33

The National Assembly members yesterday withdrew the discussion on the amendment of Police Act and decided to deliberate it in fourth session of the Parliament.

This decision was made after the human rights committee chairperson, Drujeygang-Tseza’s member of parliament (MP) Jurmi Wangchuk said the committee found out that there were many sections in the Act that needs to be amended while deliberating with relevant agencies.

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Guidelines to ensure education needs of children with disabilities

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:31

Recognising that the needs of students with disabilities vary, the education ministry recently put in place the Guidelines on Assessment, Examination, Promotion and Transition for Students with Disabilities.

The guidelines were approved during the education conference last year. It is to ensure equality and equity, integrity, and equitable access to curriculum for students with disabilities with adequate adaptation, accommodation and flexibility.

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Bio-bins lead to better waste management in Dagana

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:26

Last year, the dzongkhag administration of Dagana provided about more than 20 bio-bins to help initiate and support the culture of waste segregation at source.

The bins, worth about Nu 4,500 each, were distributed to schools, housing colonies, and gewogs across the dzongkhag.

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Buddha’s place of enlightenment is getting a lighting facelift

Sat, 06/01/2019 - 12:22

BY 2019 end, Buddhist pilgrims to the iconic Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya are likely to see it illuminated by a better, softer and warmer glow in place of the present harsh and inadequate illumination thanks to a major lighting project underway at the temple for the first time.

The new nighttime illumination promises to transform this defining landmark into an even more beautiful and tranquil place to go on a pilgrimage to.

It will make circumambulating, praying and meditating around the Mahabodhi Temple complex safer and stress free, helping you focus on your spiritual affairs. A cause for a major sigh of relief will be the vastly reduced presence of nighttime aerial pests.

Called ‘Lighting the Mahabodhi’, it is initiated by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the Bhutanese/Tibetan lama (who is also a filmmaker and writer), and supported by his teaching arms in India Siddhartha’s Intent India and Vana Foundation, and by his own Khyentse Foundation in Bir. And executed in the spirit of the quintessential undertaking of a practicing Buddhist— offering lights. Together, the team aims to make it one of the “largest and most lasting light offerings” in Buddhist history.

The extraordinary project has galvanized thousands of Buddhists around the world to chip in for the cost, motivated by the profound aspiration of the project and the fact that it is implemented at the Mahabodhi Temple complex in Bodhgaya, the cradle of Buddhism.

More than 30 percent of the total cost of the project, estimated at US$ 1.4 million, has poured in since it was launched two months ago. And counting.

 

Balance, elegance and harmony

The matter of light offerings at the Mahabodhi Temple complex had become something of an issue ever since the use of butter lamps and candles was banned throughout most of its area years ago. Hardcore devotees would resort to battery-operated lamps or candles.

But that too became a sticky matter after the security was tightened around the complex in the aftermath of the 2013 terrorist bomb attack. A house was eventually built within the complex, away from the main edifices, where devotees were given the option to pay to light real butter lamps.

It wasn’t, however, just the issue of light offerings that bothered people. The present lighting system while useful doesn’t cover the whole area and most of the edifices are either unlighted or only crudely illuminated with big, high-heat, insect-embracing floodlights that shine directly onto the facades. Lights for staircases, walkways and prostrations areas are either non-existent or insufficient.

All these will change, said Prashant Varma, the coordinator of the Mahabodhi lighting project, via email, who is the head of Siddhartha’s Intent India, and also a close student of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

The idea, he added, was to create an atmosphere, an ambiance— of “balance, elegance and harmony,” akin to what one saw at places of spiritual and cultural significance around the world.

Once completed, the new lighting will bathe the entire Mahabodhi Temple complex in a soft, enveloping glow that will reflect the sublime esthetics and holiness of the place and will not, Prashant Varma was quick to add, be anything like the garish multicolored edifice lighting one saw in the West. Every surface will glow with the softness of moonlight.

The project will employ top-shelf LED light technology including softwares to control and automate a myriad of high-efficiency, low-heat, non-insect-embracing, LED bulbs and fixtures.

Despite the color possibilities opened up by halogen lights, the color range at the Mahabodhi will be primarily white through a warm yellow to gold, a palette that is considered more refined in the world of subtle lighting design. One of the highlights of the new lighting will be the creation of automated light scenes for Buddhist festivals and auspicious days.

It was not easy when they started. There were no archaeological or architectural drawings present of the Mahabodhi Temple complex indicating that no such surveys were ever carried out. Producing the maps alone took more than a year.

Given obvious conservation and archeological concerns, climbing the edifices was a no-no. Bricks and stones could not be moved or adjusted, walls could not be drilled or cut.

So laser distometers and mathematical formulae were used, for instance, to measure the elevation of the structures and motifs on the surface of the temples. A host of creative rigs and housings were also crafted so that LED light fixtures could be installed onto the natural ledges and cornices of the ornately decorated structures.

“We are making absolutely sure not to disturb the integrity of the facades and other features of the Temple,” Prashant Varma said.

 

A unifying force

It was in the winter of 2015, on one of his spiritual retreats at the Mahabodhi Temple complex, that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is said to have come upon the idea of giving the Buddha’s place of enlightenment a lighting facelift that would benefit generations of Buddhists.

The idea quickly metamorphosed into a full on, all encompassing project proposal with different stakeholders in India, including his close Indian students, stepping on board.

By 2017, the proposal had sailed through review processes and won approvals from the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee and the Gaya District Magistrate, who were happy to hand over the job without any financial or organizational investment required of them. The former will own both the new lighting system and the maps once the project is completed.

To Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche who, Prashant Varma point out, is involved in “every step of the project”, the Mahabodhi lighting holds deep personal and spiritual significance.

As the guardian of the Rime, a non-sectarian movement championed by his previous incarnation Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, known in the Buddhist pantheon as the father of the Rime, the Mahabodhi lighting is in many ways a personal project employed in the service of bringing together the many different schools and lineages of Buddhism.

Thousands of Buddhist masters, students and followers visit the Mahabodhi Temple each year, from Theravada to Mahayana to Vajrayana, from Gelug to Kagyu to Nyingma to Sakya, from countries Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand to Japan and China to Bhutan, Russia and the Americas.

By lighting the Mahabodhi Temple complex and presenting it as a symbolic offering of light at the very place where the father of all Buddhist schools and lineages, the Buddha, attained enlightenment— the project is aimed as a spiritual catalyst to unify Buddhists of all practices and views, no matter their differences.

It is no accident that the lighting project was launched on the anniversary of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, on March 26, 2019, who embodied the Rime movement in Tibet in the 19th century.

“If there is one thing in the world that resembles our minds, it is light,” Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said via email. “As Buddhists in the Rime tradition, our aim is to illuminate our minds free from judgment, prejudice or pride. And so, it is to symbolize that realization and to appreciate the Buddha’s infinite compassion and skillful means in guiding us towards it, that we are now offering light at the very place of the Buddha’s enlightenment.”

The lighting project also represents Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s well established desire to bring back “authentic Buddhadharma” to India, the country of its origin, said Prashant Varma, who added that it was also the “dream and aspiration” of his direct incarnation Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro who died in 1959, a staunch promoter of the Rime movement himself.

It is no secret that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, be it in his writing or talks, laments greatly about the near disappearance of Buddhism from India, likening it often to the sad and painful separation of a mother from her child, or worse. Buddhists form less than one percent of India’s population. A popular refrain is that India is the land where Buddha gained enlightenment and taught, but China has the largest population of Buddhists today.

“I wish that understanding prevailed in India itself,” Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said. “But it may be too late for that, as Indians for centuries seem to appreciate western culture over their own. Nevertheless, I believe there must be a few pockets of Indians who can still appreciate, understand and even make use of India’s great wisdom traditions taught by its realized masters like the Buddha. I hope these Indians may draw inspiration from this offering of light in their homeland.”

 

The center of the universe

To the 600 million or so Buddhists in the world, the Mahabodhi Temple complex in Bodhgaya is the center of the universe— the last place to be destroyed in the end of time and the first place to be reborn in the new world.

To go on a pilgrimage there is to enter a heightened place where emotions soar. Where the power of the place, even by inference, is said to be so palpable that it has transformed many who have visited it, including the skeptics.

As a follower of the Buddha, it is inherently beholden upon of every able-bodied Buddhists who can afford to do so to travel to Bodhgaya at least once in his or her lifetime.

It was at this place 2,500 years ago (531 B.C.) one evening when the 35-year-old prince-turned-ascetic Siddhartha Gautama settled himself under the spreading branches of a fig (Bodhi) tree.

For weeks, the young prince sat, meditating on the reality of samsara and the suffering of sentient beings, and finding, in his contemplations, the path to liberation.

In the course of his meditations, Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.

The most remarkable feature about the complex is the 50-meter pyramid temple—the Mahabodhi Mahavihara—that dominates the 10-acre complex both in size and aura.

It is said that around 200 B.C., about 250 years, after the Buddha passed into parinirvana (nirvana-after-death), Emperor Ashoka, the ruler of much of the Indian subcontinent in the third century and one of Buddhism’s most devout and famous converts, visited Bodhgaya and built a temple to honor Buddha.

Thus it came to be that the first Mahabodhi Mahavihara was built by Emperor Ashoka. But the temple, history records, fell into ruins after his death.

It was one of the Gupta kings of India, many decades later, who would build the present pyramid temple in the seventh century. A jewel of the Gupta architecture, the temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples to be built entirely in brick, and one of the few still standing today.

The legacy of Emperor Ashoka’s work at the site, however, did not vanish entirely and remains to this day in the striking, awe-stirring form of the Diamond Throne, or Vajrasana, which he built on the exact same spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

The Mahabodhi Temple complex would endure withering disrepair and neglect during the defining political and social upheavals in India in the 11th and 12th century, and as Islamic interests devastated Buddhism in the country.

It wasn’t until in the 19th century that the Mahabodhi Temple complex was restored to its former grandeur, largely due to the efforts of the Burmese Buddhist rulers and the then-British colonial government of India.

The Mahabodhi Temple complex is today a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses, beside the Mahabodhi Mahavihara, a total of seven other sacred sites, including the Bodhi tree, each one related to the events of the seven succeeding weeks after the Buddha reached enlightenment. The Buddha is said to have spent a week each on these spots meditating on his findings.

 

Accumulation of merit

Like with most Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche projects, support in the way of organizational services and time come as voluntary contributions from his students. It is also why the bulk of the cost of the project is going into buying light fittings, light automation software and other infrastructure including for maintenance and payment to consultants.

B-Lit, the light design company from Bangkok, Thailand, which is designing the entire lighting system for the Mahabodhi Temple complex, is providing their services free of cost— as an offering of devotion.

It is said in Buddhism that the offering of lights to the Buddha or the representations of the Buddha helps you accumulate merit and along with it wisdom, two crucial ingredients to a Buddhist practitioner’s growth toward enlightenment.

In its most basic concept, merit is a favourable and protective force, which accumulates as a result of one’s good deeds, acts, or thoughts.

Merit-making is fundamental to Buddhist practice. It is said that every second of a person’s life is conditioned by merits that he has accumulated in his past or present life.

Even as seemingly independent and voluntary act as taking time off to attend the teachings given by a Buddhist master, or getting the itch to learn Buddhism, or possessing the capacity to grasp what Buddha said— or simply being lucky in the things one does, it is said, depend on one’s merit.

For the thousands of Buddhists partaking in the ongoing Mahabodhi Temple lighting project as workforces and sponsors, it is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime chance to accumulate merits and honor the Buddha.

“We hope to have part of phase one, the core of the Temple lighting, ready by the end of this year,” Prashant Varma said. “We shall then steadily work towards completing all other areas of the Temple Complex, other than the Sarovar lake and the new Meditation Park, by the end of 2020.”

 

Contributed by

Kencho Wangdi (Bonz)

The writer is a former editor of Kuensel.

He can be reached at kw2229@gmail.com

 

P.S: In case some of you feel moved to contribute to the project, here is the info: Account name: SI – Lighting The Mahabodhi. Account no: 5000061946003 (BNB). Or call 17119779.

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