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Updated: 1 hour 45 min ago

Subsidised rural timber allotment begins

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:26

Choki Wangmo | Dagana  

The inspection team for subsidised rural timber composed of gewog administrative officer, forest officer, and chiwog representatives in Tashiding gewog, Dagana has started verification of construction and renovation sites of 15 applicants.

The allotment of timber for the construction and renovation of houses in rural areas is based on the Forest and Nature Conservation (amendment) Rules and Regulations 2020 (FNCRR) approved last year.

Tashiding Mangmi Rajman Blon said that by month-end, the inspection team was expected to recommend to the gup about approval or rejection of applications for construction or renovation of houses in the gewog.

According to records, out of 15 applicants, nine applied for renovation and six for new construction. 

The agriculture ministry’s notification issued last month stating that the amended FNCRR comes into effect beginning this month. It says that the amendment of certain provisions was carried out to resolve challenges faced by the implementers in the field. “It would facilitate the smooth and effective implementation of the provisions of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.”

According to the new FNCRR the applicants for construction of two-storey house can avail a maximum of 4,000cft in logs from Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited’s (NRDCL) depot or 18 standing trees once in 25 years.

Applicants for construction for one-storey house can avail 2,000cft from NRDCL depot or nine standing trees once in 25 years.

For repair, renovation, and extension, the maximum quantity of subsidised rural timber for rural houses are 700cft or three standing trees once every 12 years. For other constructions such as livestock shed, storehouse, farm guard or watchtower, and toilet, an applicant is entitled to timber allotment once in five years.

Compared with FNCRR 2017, FNCRR 2020 has amended six rules and one annexure, inserted a new provision under two sections and deleted three provisions.

However, applicants are unaware of the rules while others feel that the physical inspection of the house alone is not enough to verify whether the house requires renovation or not.

An applicant for rural timber in Tashiding said that his application for house repair was not approved, stating that his house condition was comparatively better than others. “It might look good from the outside but in warm areas, houses are affected by woodworms.”

“If it is the rule, I need to respect that,” he added.

One of the eligibility criteria to access rural timber is that the applicants should be thram holders in the gewog, said senior forest officer of Tashiding gewog Dhan Bahadhur Golay.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:25

His Holiness the Je Khenpo conferred trashi lekdhar and appointed Lhawang Dorji Tamang (right) from Samdrup Jongkhar as the new Lam of Tsholingkhar Lhakhang in Tsirang on September 11 in Thimphu. 

The 34-year-old has a BA in English and Environment Science from Sherubtse College. After graduating in 2011, he then pursued Buddhist studies in Kanglung Shedra and Tago Dorden Tashithang Buddhist University in Thimphu. 

His Holiness also appointed Sonam Tobgay, 30, from Wangduephodrang as the new Principal of Dolung Sherab Yoesel Choling Goenzin Dratshang in Khotokha. He started his monastic education at the age of eight at Wangdue rabdey. 

Youth and Sports

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:24

Many Bhutanese supported a young teenage girl appearing in a gymnastics competition in Western Australia for her talent and lauded her as a future Olympic gold medalist for Bhutan. While most of them were encouraging her, what stood out through that episode was that our children can excel provided they are given the platform. 

Therefore, it is painful to hear that our only public swimming pool in the country remains closed since 2016 for the sole reason that it could have given colour to the dreams of many aspiring Bhutanese swimmers.  

Because for some parents, these things matter more than making money, fame or prestige. They want to see their children do better in life and not necessarily in academic education alone. So not all those who leave the country to work abroad do so to make easy money, own mansion-like homes or luxurious cars.  

It was also for the same reasons that the opening of a swimming pool in Tsirang was celebrated with much fanfare. Many of the residents in Tsirang are excited to learn to swim or teach their children. 

The biggest life skill that swimming teaches children is the skill of safety. It is a life skill that children will retain for most of their life. It’s one sport that has the potential to be a true lifesaver.  

Without a public pool, swimming is an expensive hobby. To swim in a hotel pool for an hour is beyond the means of many. 

As families try to survive in the urban atmosphere, under pressure from the increasing cost of living and changing lifestyle, we are finding it difficult to hold families together. We are finding it difficult to keep our youth at home and to keep them occupied with healthy activities. We have nowhere to channel the energy and vitality of youth. 

That is also partly why we have rising youth issues. That is why we need to encourage sports among youth. Apart from physical talent, it is an activity that builds personality and character.  

We have already thought of youth clubs, sports clubs, camps, libraries, and other activities for them. We are finding it difficult to deliver because of a lack of funds and, to an extent, a lack of commitment. Perhaps it does not work because we have left it entirely to the government to deal with the problem. 

Some estimates show that we will have to create around 80,000 jobs for the youth in the next five years. Of that, a small fraction might go to the Royal Institute of Management to join the civil service. A few hundred will be absorbed into the corporations and our small private sector. Where will the rest go? 

Sports have the answer. Over the years, we have seen football, in particular, grow into a major sport in the country even beating archery, our national sport. Investment in modern facilities was a huge boost to its success. However, the turfs remain out of reach for many who cannot pay to play.

No pool at the Swimming Pool Complex  

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:23

Thinley Namgay 

The swimming pool that catered to many Bhutanese interested in swimming at the Swimming Pool Complex in Thimphu has remained closed since 2016.

The Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) under the Ministry of Education managed the swimming pool before 2016 and opened to swimmers six days a week. However, based on the consensus between the education ministry and the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC), BOC took over the ownership of the area from the DYS in 2016 to renovate the swimming hall.

Chief programme officer with the DYS, Rinzin Wangdi, said that BOC came up with the proposal to build a multi-sports complex. “Thinking that it is for the youth, DYS handed the swimming hall and land to the BOC.”

According to BOC officials, the pool’s filtration, heating and piping system were not working.

They also claimed the size of the pool was small.

An official working in BOC, Tshering Zangmo, said that a feasibility study was carried out to change the whole structure of the swimming pool and renovation started.

She said that the size of the pool was way smaller than the one prescribed by the international swimming federation, FINA.  “FINA prescribed a swimming pool sized 25m by 20m.”

Tshering Zangmo said BOC planned to construct a new swimming pool at Babena. “FINA agreed to support us with the condition that the size is a minimum of 25m by 20m. We will be able to host regional tournaments.”

She said a Spanish company would be involved to carry out the technical works.

At the Swimming Pool Complex, the swimming pool room has been under locks for years.

BOC officials said they do not have any plans and are not sure whether they would close the old swimming pool or used it for other recreational purposes in the future.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Focus point

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:44

Senior teachers say criteria for principal selection unfair

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:44

… More than 100 schools are without principals 

Yangchen C Rinzin  

Local leaders in Dagana recently called on the education ministry to place principals in its seven primary schools that were without principals for years. They proposed the ministry revise its policy on selecting principals which hindered many from qualifying for the post. 

However, many teachers said that similar issues existed across the country and where at least three or five schools in a dzongkhag do not have principals.    

Teachers said that this was because of one eligibility criteria the education ministry has set discouraged teachers from either applying for the post of principal or most teachers did not qualify. 

An applicant must have a Masters Degree, which is different from the criteria set for open competitive selection in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations. 

The ministry’s human resource committee approved the eligibility requirement. The RCSC allows agencies to include additional eligibility criteria as desired. 

The applicant should also be currently serving as a principal, vice-principal, or education officer, and have served two years in the current position. 

Education ministry record shows that there are 119 schools without principals across dzongkhags today. Most of them are primary schools. There are 369 schools with full-fledged principals. 

Most of these schools are managed either by vice principals or teachers as officiating principals, who are identified and appointed by the dzongkhag administration as an interim measure. 

Many teachers said that without a full-fledged principal, it often created issues and gaps in implementing school activities and hampered decision-making.

A teacher in Chukha said that this criterion, the need for a MA degree, has done more harm than good because they could not apply for the position, even if they were interested. “Which is not required in other agencies even if one wants to apply for the position of a chief,” he said. 

Teachers said that the eligibility criterion was unfair and that with changing times the ministry should review and scrap it. 

A teacher from Pemgatshel said that more than the MA degree, the leadership quality of the person was more important. 

In the ministry’s recent announcement of vacancies for principals in 28 schools, only 10 were recruited. There were no applicants at all despite the posts were renounced. 

The ministry is going to announce the vacancies soon to recruit for the next academic year. 

Another teacher from Trashigang who has served as a teacher in charge for more than five years said that they have to manage the class as well as administrative tasks, which sometimes disrupts teaching. 

“Sometimes we can’t even make a decision even when we want to because we’re not full-fledged principal,” he said. 

Some schools with less than 100 students, according to the ministry’s interim policy guideline, don’t qualify for a principal. Such schools are managed by officiating principals or teachers in charge.   

Some teachers said that those teachers in charge or officiating principals have performed better than full-fledged principals. “They should be recognised and give various incentives to retain them.”

“This shows they’ve leadership quality and the system should invest in retaining them,” a dzongkhag education officer said. 

Some teachers said that the MA degree criterion was important since some teachers choose a principal position as a stepping stone to pursue Masters. “This creates a vacuum again,” a teacher in Zhemgang said. “It’s better to go for the MA degree before they become principal and not once they assume the post.” 

Meanwhile, the education ministry’s chief human resource officer, Dhendup Tshering said that inadequate applicants in the recent announcement were not because of the criteria. 

“The location of schools is one of the main reasons that the applicants consider in submitting their applications,” he said. “Almost all the applicants prefer their placement in urban schools.” 

Dhendup Tshering said that the criterion was important since the ministry initiated the introduction of M.Ed in Educational Leadership and Management at Paro College of Education. 

“The government continues to support the funding for this programme recognising the importance of education leaders to upgrade their qualification and become a dynamic leader,” he said. 

He said currently, principals are not appointed in schools that have less than 100 students because the ministry was of the view that these are small schools and can be managed by one of the competent teachers.

However, the ministry is currently reviewing the need for a full-fledged principal in all schools irrespective of the student number vis-à-vis school policy to provide strategic direction and desired leadership in the schools.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Political parties divided on govt’s plan on plan model 

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:43

Staff Reporter

Not long after the People’s Democratic Party criticised the government for implementing the new academic assessment criteria midway this year, the Opposition Party raised its concerns over the ruling party’s decision to ‘discontinue drafting the Five-Year Plan’.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) president and Opposition leader Dorji Wangdi, in a press release, stated that the ‘abrupt’ decision to discontinue the ‘time-tested’ development planning tradition of preparing a draft Five-Year Plan would have huge implications, seriously disrupting the socio-economic development and overall governance of the country.

The Opposition Leader said that the immediate impact of the absence of a draft Five-Year Plan would include — affecting equity in planning and resource allocation, regional balanced development, independence of local governments and professionalism of civil service, among others.

“Dangerously, it will lead to highly arbitrary and politicised planning and resource allocation, undermining the functions of different institutions of governance, local governments, for example,” he stated in the press release.

The Opposition Party further went on to say that a draft plan would be critical to both domestic and external resource planning and mobilisation. “Thus, it will be a big blunder on the part of the present government to do away with the practice of preparing a draft Five-Year Plan.”

The press release stated: “With just two years left to end the present plan and the tenure of the present government, it will be time to start the preparatory works. Further, new local governments will be in place by early 2022.”

Meanwhile, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party’s (BKP) president in-charge, Sonam Tobgay supported the government’s decision. “I fully support the DNT government if what I am hearing is true about their plans to discontinue the Five-Year Plan process,” he wrote on BKP’s official Facebook page.

Sonam Tobgay said that the development model had served its purpose, and now needed a ‘paradigm shift’ to a more dynamic and versatile platform where long-awaited priority sectors of the economy are smartly harnessed for collective gains.

“In a world of scarcity, it serves a rare purpose to spread resources thinly for the sake of equitable regional distribution with no foreseeable returns. Centralised decision-making under the Five-Year Plans has not always been the most efficient way to run the economy leaving the dzongkhags and gewogs short of capacity in all facets,” he said.

He said that capacity outside the capital was infrequently built with the entire planning process templated from Thimphu. “That said, rural development and concerns for vulnerable groups must continue along with measured investments in health and education.”

He said: “Rather than focusing on what results will be achieved by the end of five years, it is time we deep dive on the five jewels identified since time immemorial and act on it now. Working backwards by setting targets (economic and social), and accordingly charting an implementation strategy might be worthy.”

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Ruling party members unhappy with labour minister selection

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:43

MB Subba 

The Prime Minister’s decision to pick the newly elected Nganglam’s Member of Parliament (MP) Karma Dorji as the labour minister has caused disgruntlement among many ruling party MPs.

One of the disgruntled MPs said that Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering should have chosen from the MPs who were serving from 2018 and that it was a blunder on the part of the Prime Minister for ignoring other strong aspirants.

The message, it was said, was communicated to the Prime Minister prior to the appointment.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that DNT supporters from six constituencies had approached, requesting him to nominate their MP. He said he had discussed the issue with the Cabinet and MPs and that they had entrusted him with the responsibility to pick a minister.

The Constitution empowers the Prime Minister to pick a minister as his prerogative.

“All the aspirants are capable of taking the responsibility but I had only one seat to fill,” he said.

However, he added that the newly appointed labour minister had made contributions in keeping the party going after the 2013 election and that he had fulfilled the criteria to take the responsibility.

He said one of the reasons for choosing him was that he was a founding member of the party.

Dr Lotay Tshering said that the Nganglam MP had expressed his interest to serve as the labour minister and that the former labour minister Ugyen Dorji was transferred to the home ministry.

There are also questions being asked about the Prime Minister’s decision to transfer the former labour minister to the home ministry.

The Prime Minister justified that although the new home minister was relatively younger, all the ministers were equal in terms of their position levels irrespective of the ministry they were given.

However, an MP said that the transfer of the former labour minister reflected his poor performance. “There would be no reason to transfer the former minister if his performance was strong,” he said, adding that the job in the home ministry was much easier than in the rest of the ministries.

A voice clip in which a person claiming to be a DNT supporter from Athang-Thedtsho constituency says he would not support the ruling party in the upcoming election after the appointment of the new minister.

The man also claims that the DNT leadership had promised a minister for the constituency in case of a vacancy.

However, the Prime Minister denied having made any such commitments. “The expectation of people is taken positively,” he said.

The labour minister was appointed on September 8 at the Tashichhodzong in Thimphu.

He won the bye-election in June after the demise of the former MP Choida Jamtsho.

Lyonpo Karma Dorji holds a Masters degree in Information Technology from Curtin University of Technology in Australia and Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering, Major in Telecommunications, SIIT, Thammasat University in Thailand.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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JICA gifts PPEs

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:42

Staff Reporter

To combat the Covid-19 pandemic, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) donated 4,000 face masks and 1,000 face shields for frontline workers of Department of Air Transport and Road Safety and Transport Authority.

JICA Bhutan Office Chief Representative, Kozo Watanabe, handed the consignment to Information and Communications Minister Karma Donnen Wangdi in Thimphu yesterday.

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) handed yesterday was a part of the project for the development of a business continuity plan (BCP) for disaster control.  

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi thanked the JICA for consignments and said that Japan has always been one of the important development partners of Bhutan. Kozo Watanabe said that JICA appreciated the contribution of the frontline workers amid the pandemic. 

Lyonpo and Kozo Watanabe also discussed a project proposal for ‘health data

analytics’ to set up a health data bank, medical data bank, and bio data bank. 

Edited by Tshering Palden

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There is nothing called “Herd Immunity” in this fight

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:41

The success that Bhutan has so far had with and in controlling the Covid-19 cases in the country is in danger of being a monumental waste. This must not happen and every agency responsible—from the task force to health officials and de-suups—should prevent this from happening.

If this sounds like a serious statement, it is.

With the arrival of the Covid-19, we are acquainted with many new medical and scientific terms. The problem is that we do not fully understand them still. Many think that because we have had a successful vaccination programme, we have achieved “herd immunity”.

According to WHO, herd immunity, also known as “’population immunity”, is indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity is developed through previous infection.

But what we know is that Covid-19 is a fast-mutating virus. One or two jabs will not be enough. The fact is that new vaccines will have to be discovered to fight new and evolving virus.

Why is this important to know? It is important because Bhutanese people are becoming increasingly complacent.

There is an urgent need to step up monitoring and surveillance system, now more than ever. Are our shops demanding shoppers to scan Druk Trace, for example? Do we now have requirement for physical distancing, particularly in towns? Once ubiquitous, the washing stands are few and far between.

What we must understand is that to fight this unrelenting virus, vaccines are not the ultimate answer—forget “herd immunity”. If there is anything that can do us any good in this long-drawn-out fight, it is in achieving “herd immunity” in the sense that every individual takes his or her responsibility to curb the virus from spreading.

How do we do that?

It is very simple. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and maintain physical distance. There are measures that have worked, not just in Bhutan but everywhere. That’s why adhering to these simple protocols is absolutely necessary.

The problem is that we seem to not regard these measures as very important in our scheme of things. “Heard immunity” is just a temporary protection. Forgetting or omitting the basic health protocols that have so far saved millions of lives across the world will be costly. For Bhutan, all the more.

Individual rights can’t be deprived unless authorised by law

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:41

Recent reports indicate that Bhutanese has been one of the most obedient and cooperative countries in fighting against Covid-19.  This includes staying under lockdown for months, mass vaccination programme, maintaining physical distance, and following other health protocols.

 Unlike Bhutan, many nations have faced anti-mask, anti-lockdown protests and litigations for imposing similar preventive measures. Bhutan got united so well in one spirit, especially after His Majesty travelled in many highly risky places at the expense of his safety and health. 

Going by recent news, people are punished for not wearing the mask. The “police escorted the defaulters from the spot directly to the nearest police station” and they were “only released with a warning after submitting their details, thumb impression to the police for future records” and some defaulters even got fined and were handed over to the police thereafter.

Mask wearing is one of the most effective preventive measures to fight this pandemic. The strict implementation of mask-wearing in these districts are praiseworthy and their intentions remain at best. However, actions of handing over to police or forcing the people to provide thumb impressions need a careful analysis as it may amount to a violation of Constitutional and legal rights.

Article 7 Section 1 of our Constitution states that a person’s right to life, liberty and security can be deprived only as per the due process of law established by parliament. Further, both the Constitution and Civil and Criminal Procedure Code prohibits the state from any form of arbitrary arrest and detention.

An arrest may be defined as when a state authority such as police “restrains the freedom of a person to walk away freely.”  Arrests can be made only if a person has committed or is being committed or is about to commit a crime. In most instances, arrest warrants are required and CCPC provides detailed lists on arrest without warrant and arrest by warrant.   

The moment a person is arrested, it affects the person’s free movement, security and right to privacy. It triggers the right to consult a jabmi, the right to be informed of grounds for the arrest.  To arrest any person or hand over a person to the police, there must exist an element of criminal offence. Otherwise, any such action may amount to arbitrary arrest and detention.  Thus, irrespective of the intentions, good objectives, or reasonableness, no one can be arrested for not wearing a mask. Any evidence so obtained can’t be admitted in the court under the principle of the fruit of the poisonous tree.

For now, wearing a mask remains the duty of every individual to fight this pandemic. The state can enforce duties only through laws made by parliament or the executive.  Further, if such constitutional requirements are not adhered to, future governments can use current practice as precedent or reason to fulfil their political interest to silent the dissents.

Therefore, though the best intentions exist currently to fight this disease, such state actions cannot be contrary to provisions within the limits of the law. The rule of law is fundamental to democracy, as His Majesty said: “failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation. Rule of law begets discipline, which in turn begets order, and peace, which leads to trust and stability.”

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

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Do not take Covid-19 lightly: Experts 

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:41

Younten Tshedup

More than 99 percent of the total Covid-19 cases in the country have recovered so far. Most of these cases, according to doctors, experienced little or no signs of severe illness.

However, a few experienced severe symptoms from the infection including three deaths as of yesterday. With no specific treatment outlined for Covid-19 infection, how do people recover?

According to Dr Guru P Dhakal, a gastroenterologist with the national referral hospital, for Covid-19 the individual’s immune system takes care of the infection. “However, it is also this immune system that kills an infected individual.”

Dr Dhakal said that during the first week after a person is exposed to the infection, he or she experiences flu-like symptoms specifically because of the virus. “They have fever, cough, runny nose and in some people loss of smell and taste. Most of these symptoms disappear as the person recovers with the help of the body’s immune system over a week.”

He added: “After one week, the body’s immune system starts reacting with the virus or viral particles that remain in the body. It is at this time when an event called cytokine storm occurs. This process is the one that kills a patient and not the virus itself.”

During a cytokine storm, various inflammatory cytokines (proteins) are produced at a much higher rate than normal. This overproduction of cytokines causes positive feedback on other immune cells to occur, which allows for more immune cells to be recruited to the site of injury that can lead to organ damage.

Cytokines are small proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. When released, they signal the immune system to do its job — trigger immune response.

Dr Dhakal, who have been actively managing Covid-19 patients since March last year, said that for Covid-19 patients whose oxygen demand is increasing and who fails to maintain more than 93 percent oxygen saturation, they are provided with steroids to suppress the immunity so that they don’t develop cytokine storm. “This is one life-saving drug we are currently using besides some antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies for Covid-19 patients.”

However, he added that not all positive patients require these drugs. Symptomatic treatment or therapies addressing a particular pain or illness is practised in most cases.


Covid is serious 

Although the majority of the infected individuals including children in the past outbreaks have not displayed any severe disease from the infection, Dr Dhakal said that the emerging variants have the potential to cause severe diseases.

“Yes, most of our cases have recovered without having suffered severe disease. But this does not mean Covid is like any other flu,” said the gastroenterologist.  “People should take Covid very seriously because you never know who would develop a cytokine storm.”

He said that a major difference between Covid-19 and common flu is that flu did not cause cytokine storm. “Your immunity doesn’t overreact to a flu virus or viral particles, but Covid has this character.”

Dr Dhakal said that the receptor cells that the SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks were found in multiple organs in the human body. “This is why Covid-19 not only affects the respiratory tract but also can damage various other organs.”

He added: “It is important for people to know that despite the high recovery rate, many of our Covid patients had markers for severe disease. They could have become very sick but luckily, they didn’t. This is why we cannot take Covid for granted.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Youth centre trains young jobseekers

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:40

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

The youth centre in Bajo, Wangdue, conducted training for 21 youth aged between 15 and 28 years on basic skills required for employment and exploring loans from financial institutions to venture into business.

The five-day training that ended yesterday was targeted for youth who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Kinley Namgay, 28, who participated in the training, remained unemployed since last year after working in a construction company for a year.

Although offered a job, he said he could not take it because of the bitter experience of working in the private sector, where he was not paid on time. “But I understand the legal issues now. I will discuss it with the employer before taking up the job.”

Kinley Namgay said that officials from the labour ministry emphasised on agreement signing between an employer and an employee.

The training also targeted to develop the capacity of jobseeker and introduce them to potential employers from private and government sectors.

Khuruthang’s youth centre manager Sonam Dorji said that they allocated a day of the five-day training session for the  labour ministry as the ministry had more jobs and training opportunities.

He said that officials from financial institutions and private sectors were invited to talk to the job seekers.

The participants were also introduced to Job-a-Job-a platform to connect jobseekers with employers.

The platform was initiated by Royal Officer for Media (ROM) and has more than 5,000 registered members.

Meanwhile, such training was introduced first in 2017 following a survey done in 2015 by the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS).

According to UNICEF Bhutan’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer Sonam Wangchuk, the survey interviewed around 3,000 youth.

He said that the training was one of the many recommendations from the survey.

“Once they are out of the system, they have limited information about what is available in the market and the opportunities given by different ministries.”

Amidst the pandemic, Bhutan’s youth unemployment rate of 11.9 percent in 2019 had also increased to 22.6 percent according to the Labour Force Survey Report (LFS).

The five-day training was conducted by Bajo Youth Center in collaboration with the Youth Center Division. The session is supported by UNICEF.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Villagers in Sarpang unhappy with housing insurance scheme

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:39

Nima | Sarpang

In June this year, five households in Singye gewog, Sarpang reported damage to their houses after windstorms blew off rooftops, damaged areca nut trees, and other public structures in nine gewogs.

Gyembo Tshering from Lapsakha was the only person to receive a sum of Nu 5,000 through the Rural Housing Insurance (RHI) scheme from the gewog after the assessment.

He said that the support received through the insurance scheme helped but the amount was not enough for repair works.

“I could have done better with my repair works if I got around Nu 10,000 from the scheme. Repairing works actually could cost close to Nu 100,000,” said Gyembo Tshering.

Many residents and local government officials in the dzongkhag said that the scheme pays too little.

The issue was also discussed in the recent dzongkhag tshogdu in Sarpang in August.

Singye Gup Lachu Man Rai said that the people in the gewogs did not understand the RHI scheme properly and how the insurance scheme works.

“People expect the whole damaged parts of a structure to be compensated but the compensation is given after the assessment, which is done as per the guideline. The damage is calculated in percentage,” he said.

He added that there was no major damages reported in the gewog this year but repairing minor damages was costly for the rural folks.

“There is a need to increase the premium. It would help the rural households if the government and the bank come up with a better sum,” said Lachu Man Rai.

Suk Bdr Subba from Yarpheling, Singye gewog, said that the scheme did not help in times of disasters.

“Some houses with small damage get compensation but others don’t,” said Suk Bdr Subba.

The 68-year-old farmer claimed that a lightning last summer destroyed power line and water tank. He had to do the repairs himself.

The general manager with the General Insurance department, Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB), Kinga Thinley, said that the claim must be intimidated to the gewog administration or the nearest RICB office within one month from the date of loss.

“Any claims after one month will not be admitted unless a client has a genuine reason. Normal cracking of walls due to setting of cement, aging, and structural deterioration is not covered by the scheme,” he said.

The official added that RICB has standard guidelines developed in consultation with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, which covers both underwriting and claims procedures.

“Claims could be either partial or total loss. In the case of a total loss, the maximum compensation is the sum insured. In case of partial loss, the assessment is done as per the RHI’s partial loss assessment guideline,” said Kinga.

RHI scheme is divided into four different categories depending on the type of construction and number of floors. The sum insured ranges from Nu 300,000 to Nu 60,0000.

Officials from RICB, Gelephu, said that they physically inspect the damaged houses to ensure proper assessment of the loss. The claims are transferred to the clients online to make it more convenient.

According to the record with RICB, over Nu 780,000 was collected in 2020 as a premium amount and Nu 805,000 in 2021. More than Nu 179,000 was given to eight households in 2020 and Nu 69,500 to seven households in 2021 in the dzongkhag as part of the RHI scheme.

“This scheme is a government-subsidised scheme with limited sum insured and minimum premium. The owner of the house pays a certain amount of the premium while the government pays the rest as subsidy,” he said.

The official urges the people to give correct description of houses to the gewog administration while they collect insurance premiums to avoid incorrect categorisation.

“To get better compensation we also offer commercial insurance scheme for rural houses. Another solution to this could be to revise the sum insured and compensation limit. But, the instruction for revision must come from the government based on people’s requirement and affordability to pay the premium,” said Kinga Thinley.

The scheme was revised several times to cater to the needs of rural people in line with the instruction of the government. The latest revision was done in 2012.

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Producing clean seeds through aeroponic

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:38

Phub Dem | Paro

Is soil-free farming the future? All the sweat and toil to grow food is already becoming a thing of past. In Bhutan, especially, where average landholding is small, vertical farming (a way to grow and harvest crops on vertical shelves or towers rather than traditional, horizontal farming) makes all the more sense.

Augmenting technology, glass farming at the hilltop in National Seed Centre (NSC) in Paro does not involve dirt and requires very little water. It all takes place indoors, in a glasshouse and laboratory. There’s no soil beneath and the plants’ roots are sprayed with nutrient-rich mist.

Aeroponics is an indoor gardening practice where plants are grown and nourished by suspending their root structures in the air. The process requires regular spraying of nutrients in a water solution.

Aeroponics offers an efficient means to grow plants, including fruits and vegetables, without potting the plants to nutrient-rich soil. However, at the NSC, the technology is used to grow micro potato tubers, multiplied and inoculated using tissue culture.

According to the Programme Director of NSC, Sonam, this method is successfully producing potato mini-tubers.

Tissue culture is a process of crop breeding in a test tube under controlled and hygienic conditions

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He said that disease-free potato tubers are produced through aeroponics and they are multiplied at the centre’s farm in Phobjikha. “After three generations, the tubers are disease-free and distributed to the farmers.”

Besides, he said that mass multiplication through tissue culture reduces the price of the tubers significantly, adding that the technique has a high multiplication rate.

Tissue culture is a process of crop breeding in a flask or test tube under controlled and hygienic conditions, exposing plant cells to nutrients, hormones and light.

As part of tissue culture initiation, tissue portion of a bud from a mother plant is sterilised and inoculated through nutrient media.

In a controlled environment, a single initiated tissue can be multiplied to several folds. Plants in indoor-farming facilities are grown in cells stacked for space savings and efficiency. Instead of the sun, LED lights are used to facilitate growth.

According to the Senior Laboratory officer of NSC, Yeshi Dorji, the seeds and plants produced through tissue culture are almost disease and pest resistant, helping farmers enjoy more quality yields.

He said that the laboratory could produce seeds and multiply them any time, adding that a single plant can produce thousands of seeds. “As it is difficult to obtain enough seedlings from the mother plant in fields, tissue culture is used.”

For instance, a banana mother plant can produce around five sucker plants in a year, but tissue culture can produce millions of suckers in limited space and time.

Cardamom seedlings are produced at the laboratory to address viral diseases. He said that tissue culture could eliminate viral issues in mother plants, adding that the plants are healthier.

In the absence of a reliable quality seed source, many growers reuse their farm-saved seeds or source from the local market. Such practice reduces the yield due to seed degeneration caused by viruses and diseases.


Micro potato tubers are grown into mini-tubers using aeroponics test tube

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Yeshi Dorji said that disease-free and quality potato seeds are grown using tissue culture and aeroponic. Through tissue culture, micro tubers are produced, which are expanded into mini-tubers using aeroponics. “Tissue culture laboratory, which produces seedlings, is mandatory for aeroponic to function.”

The tissue culture laboratory at the centre currently produces tissue culture bananas, potatoes and cardamom. Banana and cardamom seedlings are directly transported to regional centres for hardening, whereas micro tubers of potatoes go aeroponic.

The officials at the seed centre are trying to do tissue culture of commercial fruit plants such as Kiwi, Avocado, Cardamom and Apple rootstock.  However, without experts, the centre has not been able to do much.

Officials at the centre say that aeroponic is an effective and efficient way to grow plants as it requires less water and minimal space compared to traditional farming techniques.

While it has advantage over traditional farming, officials said no one was willing to take up aeroponic due to considerable investment.

But many believe that it could offer a solution for future crop production as climate change and soil erosion limit farmers’ farm productivity.

The aeroponic facility at NSC was constructed in 2014 with support from World Bank’s Decentralised Rural Development project. The National Potato Programme started aeroponic farming in 2011.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Burglary cases increasing in Thimphu this year

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:36

Chhimi Dema 

In the past eight months, police in Thimphu arrested 17 men for burglary, cattle rustling, and smuggling controlled substances.

Police said that the burglary cases were on the rise this year. There were 70 cases between January and August last year and police registered 75 cases within the same period this year.

On August 25, police caught a man for slaughtering three cattle. The next day the police caught another suspect from his home.

In the past month, police caught seven suspects aged between 25 and 35 years, involved in cattle rustling cases from earlier years. One suspect caught was involved in the August 25 incident.

The police said that the seven suspects in total confessed to killing 28 cattle from 40 missing cattle.

Meanwhile, police also arrested six suspects involved in stealing cash and pieces of jewellery worth Nu 15 million from a house near the Centenary Farmers’ Market in Thimphu on the night of July 26.

The suspects were arrested after a month and a half after the incident.

One suspect was caught in Thimphu, one from Dorokha in Samtse and four suspects from Samtse who were on the run trying to cross the border.

When the police caught them, the suspects misled the police claiming that they lost the dzis (cat’s eye). “Upon x-ray, we found that one swallowed two dzis and two swallowed one dzi each,” a police officer said.

Police also said the burglary was planned and the suspects succeeded only during the fourth attempt.

They said that the suspects were aware of the location and valuables in the safe. “The suspects fetched information from people who worked with the businesswoman.”

Police also arrested a 27-year-old man from Mongar on August 19 for his involvement in 13 burglary cases in Thimphu.

He was also convicted for a similar crime in Trashiyangtse and Pemagatshel four years ago.

A police officer said the suspect turned the camera away before he broke into the houses and offices wherever there was a CCTV camera installed.

Police arrested a 25-year-old man on July 24 and a 31 and a 32-year-old man on July 26 for smuggling controlled substances in the country.

The controlled substance in both the cases was sent by the same Indian merchant as consignments.

The police found that the Bhutanese dealers asked taxi drivers to pick the parcel.

In total, 66,693 SP plus capsules; 7,260 Navy Cut cigarette packets and 2,467 chewing tobacco were smuggled in the country.

Police urged the public to install CCTV cameras, be wary while sharing personal information, and take note of vehicles seen at odd hours in their locality.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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NHDCL liable to pay Nu 4.23M in criminal nuisance case: OAG

Sat, 09/11/2021 - 12:35

Thinley Namgay

In a first-of-its-kind case, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the National Housing Development Corporation Limited (NHDCL) for criminal nuisance after a rusted electric pole in Changjiji housing colony collapsed injuring a woman in April this year.

In the charges submitted to Thimphu dzongkhag court on September 8, OAG also asked the Court to make NHDCL pay Nu 4.23 million (M) as compensation to the 58-year-old victim.

Although there were no details, OAG submitted that it was not the first case in Changjiji.

Of the Nu 4.23M compensation, OAG submitted that Nu 450,000 was for making the woman incapable of working. The amount was calculated as 10 years of national wage rate.

According to OAG, Nu 180,879 was for medical expenses incurred for her after the incident. “Nu 3.6M was for the loss of her earning capacity,” the charges stated. “As per the National Statistics Bureau, the life expectancy of women is 73 years.”

It also stated the 58-year-old victim earned about Nu 240,000 in a year through weaving. She is now on a wheel chair as her head and leg were severely injured in the accident.

As per the OAG, NHDCL has to be accountable for not carrying out timely maintenance of electric poles and lacking concrete foundation for the poles despite their mandate.

The OAG stated that the poles have become rustic.

Meanwhile, OAG’s charges come at a time when the National Council has proposed a Civil Liability or Torts Act.

NC stated that about 16 mishaps occurred in the recent past but no accountability was held.

In the woman’s case, a video clip of the accident went viral on social media a week after the incident. Police investigated the case and forwarded it to OAG for prosecution.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Goods and services dearer by 12.78 percent since July 2019 

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:39

Thukten Zangpo      

Goods and services have become costlier by 12.78 percent since the pay revision of civil servants in July 2019.

This means consumers today pay 12.8 percent more on the purchase of the same basket of goods and services.

The average inflation rate measured in Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 8.24 percent as of July this year, 5.63 percent in 2020 and 2.73 percent in 2019, according to the National Statistics Bureau (NSB).

CPI is a measure of average price changes in the basket of goods and services purchased by households over time.

NSB’s Statistical Officer Penjor Gyeltshen said, “Increase in the prices of goods and services was primarily driven by Covid-19 situation and the restrictions that lead to a shortage of supply of goods and services.”

The Pay Revision Act 2019 entitled civil servants 2 percent lump sum annual increment as an adjustment to the rising cost of goods and services.

With two times annual increment for civil servants at the rate of four percent, the costs of goods and services increased by 8.78 percent.

On the other hand, most of the private employees did not get their salary increment at that time. About 50,000 people lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

The goods and services in July this year were 5.14 percent more expensive compared to July last year, according to NSB.

Similarly, the price of goods and services rose 7.56 percent in July last year compared to July 2019.

The rise in the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 3.52 percent was the main contributor with a 20.2 percent increase in the price of oils and fats and cereals and bread by 6.77 percent in July this year.

The alcohol and beverages became costlier by 16.96 percent due to an increase in betel nuts by 26.74 percent.

According to NSB, the price of rice has become costlier by 5 percent, meat by 6.9 percent, fish by 3 percent, cheese, and eggs by 3.12 percent. Additionally, fruits become 6 percent costlier, however, the vegetable price dropped by 6 percent and alcohol and beverages by 8.05 percent.

Penjor Gyeltshen said the change in the price of rice would have more impact as it is consumed daily.

Additionally, he said the price of the vegetables fluctuates and the price goes up in the month of April and it gradually decreases and goes up again during the off-season.

The clothing and footwear became costlier by 9.86 percent while housing, electricity and gas (LPG) prices increased by 6.49 percent.

Transport (cost of vehicles, fuel prices, and maintenance) increased by 7.62 percent mainly due to a 33 percent rise in fuel prices.

Penjor Gyeltshen said the price of the fuel was low last year in July at Nu 54.71 per litre because of the low demand and travel restrictions. The current price is Nu 74.65. However, the cost of communications dropped by 10.92 percent in the past year, due to a reduction in call and data charges.

“The price of goods and services will drop if the situation becomes normal,” said Penjor Gyeltshen.

An importer said that the rise in the price of goods was due to price increases at factories, which could not operate at their full capacity.

He attributed the price hike to the increase in transportation and labour costs at the mini-dry port in Phuentsholing. “If the labour costs come down and we can import regularly, the costs of the goods would come down by 2 percent to 3 percent.”

According to the Bhutan Living Standard Survey 2017, the average monthly household expenditure is Nu 33, 542 (Nu 45, 508 in the urban areas, and Nu 26, 937 in the rural areas).

The average monthly per capita household expenditure is Nu 7,939 and the monthly per capita household expenditure of Nu 11, 452 in the urban areas is 85 percent higher than that in rural areas (Nu 6, 174).

More than 65 percent of households live in rental units in urban areas where the majority of available rental housing costs more than 30 percent of household income, according to National Housing Policy 2020.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Helicopter landing to be easy at Lingzhi 

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:38

Thinley Namgay 

Without road connectivity, highlanders of Lingzhi transport essentials through helicopter from Paro and Thimphu.  However, helicopter landing does not occur inside the Lingzhi’s villages, causing inconveniences to the people.

Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) has said that it received a letter from the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited (RBHSL) to look into the matter.

The reasons cited by the residents are due to the electric poles in the surrounding which hinder helicopter from landing inside the villages.

“To remove electric poles, one has to pay. But regarding Lingzhi, it is for the benefit of the community, and BPC has decided not to charge,” a BPC official said.

Lingzhi Gup Wangdi said: “Currently, landing takes place almost 5km away from the villages. After unloading, people have to carry the goods upward from the landing site.”

“The only solution is to remove a few poles to give way to the landing,” Wangdi said.

According to the residents, people have to pay more than Nu 42,000 while transporting goods from Thimphu and Paro.

However, BPC official cited challenges to address the issue.

He said transporting materials was difficult and requested RBHSL to help them carry the required materials.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Picture story

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:37

The De-Suung National Service Water Project completed the rehabilitation of water supply worth Nu 5 million for 17 households in Tshaphel village and Tshaphel LSS in Haa. It was handed over to the dzongkhag on September 8. Sixty de-suups, army personnel, officials from the works and human settlement ministry, and the dzongkhag administration constructed a water intake tank, two reservoirs, and installed water distribution lines.