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Civil Engineering in Bhutan – As I think

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:53

Maybe isolation during the age of baby boomers was inevitable for us, for we were surrounded by mountains, rivers, forests and ridges. While it makes a foreigner to scratch his or her hair, when we flaunt the fact that majority of us are polyglots.

If you mention Bhutan today, you would hear about her stories of being the Last Shangrila, the first country to ban tobacco, or the country which formulated Gross National Happiness, a country thriving to be a hydro-power nation, a country nestled and nested between the two super powers of Asia, a country which deems to have high regard to their culture and tradition. One of the youngest democratic nations in the world, Bhutan has more to offer to the world than it meets the eye.

Today, our construction industries struggle and are solely dependent upon workers from India. Although developing, there might not be one single firm whose turnover, upon a year would cross Nu 1 billion per year. However, batching plants and transit mixers happen to be a sign of improvement and progress for a firm. Not many firms own it. Two tower cranes and skyscrapers in Bhutan seems like a distant dream.

In terms of technology, we are shrugged and disdained to be one of the late bloomers. However, many won’t know the stories behind, and our citizens, although they see those structures everyday, not many would see it through the eyes of curiosity and appreciation.

The answers, however, lie in those structures, their existence speak of tales which is beyond spirituality and being holy places.

History taught us who built what and when, and today many folks visit these sites, but let’s see it through an engineering point of view.

Bhutan has many dzongs, which were build during the era of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and no nails were used then. No cement mortars nor lime mortars were used. These are all load bearing structures built with mud mortar, stones and woods. The locations are modern engineers’ nightmares. Who would have thought it would be possible to build those structures at odd locations? Paro Takshang, for instance, was built on a cliff cave. The building doesn’t have proper foundation.

Punakha dzong was built on a delta of Pho-Chu and Mo-Chu. If you ask today’s engineers, they would firstly deny taking up the project. The reasons are obvious. Dzong as the structure is big, there will be settlement and consolidation, and a carriage bridge needs to be built before we do it. But during those days, how could they do it? Today’s engineers would as well tell you that a proper treatment of that site is required and they would find their solace in pile foundations, grouting and anything that’s new in the market.

A pride for Bhutanese is that Punakha dzong stands upon the delta, withstanding earthquakes, and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF).

Here’s a little history about cast iron. The earliest artifacts of cast iron dates back to 5th century found in China. The western world could only use them in 15th century, and Henry the VIII also used cast iron as cannon balls. What a malice from a menace of a Tudor?

The most famous iron bridge over River Severn, which spanned 30.63m, was open in 1781. Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of America patented his design of iron bridge, which was opened in 1787, built across the Schuylkill river. These stories are glorifying ones for the western world, who tamed the irons and experimented upon innovations and innovative folks.

Somewhere in their shadows of glories and triumphs, the stories about iron cage bridges of Thangthong Gyalpo never surfaced. Thangthong Gyalpo had built Chakzam bridge, a suspension bridge, which spanned 137m in Tibet in 1430 and the world got its first suspension bridge then.

Still today, one can witness his bridge in Bhutan, and his iron chains withstanding rust and corrosion.

In terms of hydropower plants, expats take great credits for getting involved with Chukha or Tala Hydro power plants. It’s a modern day engineering marvels. The tunnels were dug in one the most youngest mountains of the world, where the strata is still unstable and is a learning, discovering and shocking playground for any geologist. These two projects are one of the most successful ones in Himalayan range, and all we care about is its budget and how much we have earned from them.

Engineering in Bhutan had touched pinnacle in olden days, just that historians didn’t glorify her stories of engineering marvels. Today, we buy equipment and machineries, which the western world thinks to be the most efficient, and we don’t brace our age-old techniques.

With time, not many structures whose windows and trusses have absence of nails, and we think we are on the road to modernisation.

Next time you go visit a lhakhang or a holy site, just put yourself into the shoes of those builders, who made these magnificent structures exist, just imagine, how was it possible then to built those?

So, if a Bhutanese is to understand civil engineering well, one doesn’t have to look upon other nations, the answer lies within.

Contributed by  Dawa Tamang


Bhutan is becoming Greece of South Asia: DNT

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:11

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has said the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest in South Asia.

According to the World Economic Outlook Database of April 2017, published by the International Monetary Fund, Bhutan’s public debt is 112.87 percent of its GDP.

Presenting the annual budget report to National Assembly on May 8, Finance Minister Namgay Dorji said the external debt stock is estimated at Nu 178.672 billion (B) by the end of FY 2017-18. This would be about 99.2 percent of GDP.

DNT said that it is deeply concerned for the people of Bhutan that the government has put Bhutan in ‘danger zone’ with 113 percent debt.

The party stated the Bhutan is the worst country in the SAARC region in terms of debt management, to the extent that it said Bhutan is almost becoming a Greece in South Asia.

“This is especially disheartening as the current government blamed the past government on poor debt management and campaigned on the promise of improving debt in 2013. But the reality is we are now much worse than we were four years ago,” said DNT.


The government’s inability to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio, according to DNT, it will widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

“Imagine a Prado for a government secretary bought by the government on debt that must be paid equally by every Bhutanese. Benefit is accrued to one, but debt has to be paid by all in the future,” DNT said. “This will only perpetuate social inequality and widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”

The government, DNT said, must wake up to the “harsh reality of debt crisis before acting unrealistically benevolent with political handouts of sheep, shoes, and sleek Prados”.

“It may be easy for the government to put the country in danger zone carelessly and irresponsibly but it is not easy for the people to save the country carefully and responsibly `from the danger zone. But the people must, before it is too late like Greece,” said DNT.

However, the government says that the high percentage of Bhutan’s debt is because of the ongoing hydropower projects.

The finance minister reported to National Assembly that the external debt stock is projected to increase by 7.6 percent on account of expected disbursements for the ongoing hydropower projects – Punatsangchu I and II, Mangdechhu, Nikachhu and Kholongchhu.

He reported that of the total external debt, Nu 146B, which is 81.1 percent of GDP, is on account of hydropower projects. The rest Nu 32.662B, 18.1 percent of GDP, is non-hydro debt.

According to the budget report, the domestic debt stock is estimated at Nu 47.43 million by the end of the financial year 2017-18. It was availed from National Pension and Provident Fund for construction of staff quarters at Phuentsholing hospital, which will be liquidated April 2022.

For the financial year 2017-18, the debt service is estimated at Nu 4.909B. Principal repayment for hydropower loans is Nu 1.342B, which is about 47.6 percent of the total principal repayment.

MB Subba 

Man involved in foreign minister’s case imprisoned to life again

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:10

Although the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) dropped the alleged bribery case against foreign minister Damcho Dorji for reducing life sentence of Rido to 10 years for choeten vandalism case in Mongar in 2002, Mongar district court sentenced Rido to life on May 8.

It was learnt that the Mongar district court enforced Rido’s sentencing after 15 years after the Supreme Court sent an order on March 10.

A source, who chose anonymity, said that the ACC had written to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on March 10 regarding the discrepancy in the enforcement of judgment.

ACC then asked the judiciary to take an appropriate course of action regarding the enforcement of the judgment for Rido.

The source said that ACC’s investigation found that Rido’s life sentence for vandalising two choetens in lhakhang Dogorba and Hongri in Chaskhar gewog in 1996 was changed to 10 years when foreign minister, as the then Mongar drangpon, communicated the court verdict enforcement order to police.

It was also learnt that Mongar court ordered the police to arrest Rido by March 30 and produce him before court.

Rido, who is in his 50s, was brought to court on May 8 for the sentencing.

Sources who know about the case said Rido’s life sentence was enforced as per the November 29, 2002 court verdict.

Rido, who completed his 10 years conviction, stayed at home from 2012 and he appealed to the court to sentence three friends, alleging that they were involved with him while vandalising the choetens.

Rido then alleged that his friends Daza, Ugyen Dorji and Pema Rinzin, were with him when he vandalised the choetens but the court did not convict them.

The court did not entertain Rido’s appeal stating that there was no evidence and eyewitness to his claims.

Sources from Chaskhar said that Rido was constructing house for his two daughters when police arrested him. “His family live in a shed,” a Chaskhar resident said.

Tashi Phuntsho | Mongar

Cleaning camp in the alpine meadows

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:09

Thirty-six people from Sephu Gewog in Wangdue, along with eight forestry officials of Wangchuck Centennial National Park’s (WNCP) western range office, collected more than 600 kilogrammes of wastes along the Snowmen Trek.

The six-day cleaning initiative, which began on May 3, started from Umta Tsho till Lubzur village of the gewog.

People collected both non-degradable and degradable waste. It included plastics, papers, shoes, glasses and bottles.

WCNP’s chief forest officer, Tshering Dhendup, said Snowmen Trek is one of the most popular and well-known trekking routes in the country. “More than half of this route falls within the WCNP,” he said. “Travellers including nomads, cordyceps collectors and tourists walk this route and they litter it.”

He said the people carry junk foods and leave the wrappers. “These wastes remained along this route for many years defying the beauty of nature.”

Tshering Dhendup said the villagers have rendered immense support and cooperation in carrying out the cleaning initiatives.

“We intend to make the trekking route the cleanest route,” he said.

The chief forest officer said the cleaning campaign was organised with the objective to make the alpine meadows clean and verdant ecosystems for all prey and predators. “It is also to sensitise locals and trekkers on impacts of wastes, to address the impact on climate change through waste and species generations in the alpine region.”

It is also aimed at educating the people on the waste prevention and management regulation 2012.

A press release from WCNP stated that the Department of Forests and Park Services is one of the leading government organisation that strives for the waste management besides guarding natural resources. “Parks and sanctuaries under this department are supposed to be well protected but has been always challenging.”

The cleaning campaign was carried out with the financial support from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Bhutan Programme of Asia High Mountain Project in collaboration with the people of Sephu Gewog, Wangdue, and park officials.

Nima Wangdi 

Going beyond the ranking

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:07

Happiness has become synonymous to Bhutan, at least to the world outside. At home, the concept is both subjective and debatable even if we may not deny happiness being identified with the country. Happiness is conveniently linked with everything that happens in the country and at one’s convenience; it is both ridiculed and praised.

Such conversations add to the on-going discourse on what Bhutan must do to create an environment that is conducive for its people to pursue happiness. And it is in this discourse that findings of the world happiness report 2017 find a place. Bhutan ranked 97 this year, dropping 13 places from last year’s 84th position. It ranked 79 in 2015. Since its first report in 2012, the world happiness reports have discussed Bhutan and its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The Centre for Bhutan Studies was involved in the past.

In this global process of measuring happiness, rejecting the ranking and questioning the credibility of these reports becomes problematic. But like happiness, there is something about international reports on Bhutan that is either rejected or accepted whenever we find it convenient.  The government tells us that the happiness report could not be trusted because there is no evidence of survey being conducted in the country. But the same government was surprised when journalists questioned the improved press freedom ranking released a week ago. How do we then understand the government’s quest to make Bhutan rank among the top 100 in doing business? Who are we making Bhutan good for doing business when policies are choking small and medium hoteliers at home from doing business?

Such selective stands of the government are at best confusing. Seeking gratification from reports that rank Bhutan better and criticising those that do not, help little in addressing problems that affect our people. We must go beyond the rankings, learn, unlearn, and understand such perspectives and take action.

According to the happiness report, Bhutan tops the happiness equality index, but the GNH survey 2015 found our farmers, the elderly and women to be among the unhappy nine percent. If we believe in the national surveys and findings, we should see actions being taken. Our farmers are giving up farming and irrigation cannels are running dry. We have the data on the issue of controlled substances but we are yet to see access being tightened.

These are the issues that confront our people. The rankings will be taken care when we address the concerns of the people.

Special loan for youth to study abroad

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:06

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the government and banks agreed to offer special loan without a mortgage for youth who intend to pursue studies abroad.

This was revealed during the ‘question answer session’ of the National Assembly on May 9.

Lyonchoen also said that there  will be  tax exemption for banks on the revenue earned from the loan they offer. “We even introduced Remit Bhutan saving account where about 600 account holders save their earnings today,” he said. “People have so far saved one million US dollars.”

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said that while people leaving the country to work outside is a concern for the government, it should not be considered as people abandoning the country since they are going out to avail work opportunities.

Panbang’s Member of Parliament Dorji Wangdi, who asked the government’s stand on many people going overseas, said that in two years, about 900 civil servants have resigned and there are about 5,000 visa applications pending.

The MP said that the government had pledged 100 percent employment in the country but people leaving the country to find work overseas is contradictory and a concern.

The Prime Minister said that while the country needs people for agriculture, construction, civil service and private sectors, people leaving the country is also an advantage for the country.

“They would return with skills, experience and knowledge and contribute to the nation, which would benefit the country’s economy.”

Lyonchoen, however, said that even if 3,000 people leave the country, not even one percent of the population has left and it is not a serious concern.

Wangduephodrang’s Nyishog Sephu MP Kuenga said that the current overseas scenario indicates that there are no enough jobs in the country and questioned Lyonchoen on what are the measures taken by the government.

In response, Lyonchoen said that although there are enough jobs at all levels provided equally, a lot of people do not take up the job or are not interested.

Prime Minister said that the government had sent 3,700 unemployed to India, Middle East, Thailand and Japan so far. “We’re also discussing on the reintegration program for Bhutanese when they return to Bhutan.”

Yangchen C Rinzin

The nine-day Phurpai Drupchen concludes

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:05

The nine-day Phurpai Drupchen concluded the day before yesterday with blessings from Khoma Lama Namdrol Zangpo. The drupchen was presided by Lama Namdrol Zangpo and Lama Karma Wangdi, along with Khenpo and 60 tshampas. Gaypai Jinseg was performed for the prosperity of Tsawa-sum.

Duetul Namgyalgang choeten to be restored soon

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:04

The serto (Golden pinnacle) of Duetul Namgyalgang Choeten  in Zhemgang, which was damaged by a lightening on May 5, will soon be restored.

Lightning has also caused cracks on the Chuzum Khorlo (thirteen rings), which is the ring like structure that is placed between the dzartsha, pema and the drey above the bumpa.

The red bricks that were used for the choeten construction can be seen scattered around the choeten, while concrete dzartsha still lies on the ground.

Sonam Tenzin, 68, who lives near the choeten reciting prayers said he was awake for morning prayers when lightning hit the choeten.

“I heard a strange crumbling sound with lightning sparks,” he said.

He said that when he came out of his hut at dawn, he saw the serto on the ground. “We immediately informed the authorities and they came for investigation.”

Zhemgang Lam Neten Karma Gelay said the dratshang will soon conduct Zhiwai Jinseg ritual and Lhamoi Soelkha before the restoration work.

The dratshang has wrapped the choeten’s upper part with a blue plastic and  the lam neten said it was to prevent water from seeping into the choeten.

He also said the serto was not damaged much but the dzartsha was totally damaged. “We took the brass wrapped around the dzartsha thinking if it could be used later,” he said. “It is the biggest and the tallest Jangchub choeten in Zhemgang.”

The lam neten said the choeten was constructed in 2005 on His Holiness the Je khenpo Trulku Jigme Chhoeda’s advise and Polo khenpo’s prophecy. “It was prophesised that peace and prosperity would prevail in the country and the Kheng region if a choeten was constructed here.”

Locals say the place was considered haunted and prone to paranormal sightings, for which the choeten was built.

The choeten is located at some eight kilometres from Zhemgang town towards Dakphel.

Nima Wangdi | Zhemgang

15 awarded certificate in explosives training

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:03

Of the 28 people who participated in the eight-day explosives handling training in Phuentsholing, only 15 were awarded certificates on May 9.

The 13 people, who did not get a certificate at the end of the training, could not score 66 percent and above in the test conducted.

Participants were from companies such as Kholongchhu Hydropower Project (KHP), Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited (DCCL), Rabdhuen Private Limited, STCBL, and other companies that deal with explosives.

The Department of Law and Order (DLO), in collaboration with the stakeholders, organised the training.

During the closing ceremony, DLO director Tashi Penjor said that the usage of explosives in the country is increasing every year with increasing development activities.

He said that certain skills are needed to transport explosives from one place to another and storing them in a proper place. “This training would help you.”

The director also said that accidents could be avoided if explosives are used cautiously. “Explosives should be used only for the right and authorised reasons.”

A participant, Namgyel, who is a supervisor with DCCL, said this training would be of immense help. “Through this training, I will be able to do blasting works in emergencies.”

DCCL and Kholongchhu supported the fund for the training.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Picture story

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:02

Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Euphelma Choden Wangchuck with the RENEW staff members at RENEW Founder’s Day which was held at the Tara Zhingkham Lhadron Lhakhang, Parigzampa, yesterday.

Innovating irrigation for food security

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 17:01

Going by the records maintained by the agriculture ministry, farmers in most parts of the country still face acute shortage of irrigation canals despite numerous irrigation schemes the government initiated.

A survey conducted by local experts in 2016 for Asian Development Bank study found that about 29 percent of the existing irrigation canals have a shortage or inadequate water supply.

Records available with the Department of Agriculture (DoA) show that there are 962 irrigation canals providing water for more than 61,747 acres paddy fields in the country. On an average, an irrigation scheme covers 60 acres today.

An engineer with the DoA’s irrigation division, Kelzang Tenzin, said that the ministry is switching to modern irrigation methods from the conventional wooden flumes and earthen canals.

“We’re trying to completely replace the earthen irrigation canals with pressurised or conduit irrigation,” he said. “Earthen irrigation canal has adverse environmental impacts and is not efficient.”

He said land development is critical for effective use of irrigation.

“Today, the fields are fragmented in small pockets far from the water sources, making irrigation expensive and difficult,” the engineer said.

He said that the agriculture department has been trying sprinkler and drip irrigation schemes to improve the efficiency of the schemes.

Kelzang Tenzin, however, said given the temporal and spatial variation of rainfall building water reservoirs would not be feasible as the returns will be low.

He said that the country receives most rainfall between May and September so the reservoirs will be useless most of the time.

Citing numerous constraints, Kelzang Tenzin presented how irrigation water is important for food security at the ongoing national water symposium yesterday.

Water resources professionals and officials from the agencies with water resources mandates have gathered to have better coordination and efficient management, and identify priority areas of cooperation of water resources management and development in the 12th Plan.

The government had a target of 108 major schemes to be implemented by the ministry with an estimated budget of Nu 2 billion. Only about Nu 600 million has been mobilised so far.

Four major irrigation schemes were implemented through the World Bank’s Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme last year.

The ministry has allotted Nu 25 million government of India (GoI) aid to micro irrigation schemes such drip irrigation, and sprinklers for 300 hectares.

The division has received and spent Nu 174 million GoI grant as of December last year.

During the mid-term review in 2015, agriculture ministry proposed for reduction of the target of increased paddy field area under improved irrigation system from 79,040 acres to 61,447 acres. It also floated an option to pre-finance some of the projects.

Kelzang Tenzin said mountainous terrain, insufficient suitable land for agriculture development, most agriculture lands are located at a higher elevation than the water source and porous soil in most areas pose challenges.

Tshering Palden

Marriage Bill deferred again

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:06

National Assembly deferred the deliberations on the Marriage Bill 2017 and decided to refer it to the National Law Review Taskforce (NLRT) during the third reading of the bill yesterday.

Of the 11 chapters in the Bill, the deliberation could not continue beyond the second chapter.

This is the fifth time the NA members deferred the Bill. Works on the amendment of the Marriage Act began since the fifth session.

The Bill met a similar fate in November last year. To the surprise of many, NA decided to repeal the 16 clauses proposed by the women, children and youth committee (WCYC) for inclusion in the Marriage Amendment Act 2016.

The WCYC was asked to propose a new Marriage Bill for the summer session this year.

The Bill will now be tabled as a government bill after the National Law Review Taskforce (NLRT) reviews it.

Most of the Members of Parliament (MP) expressed concerns including the need to use appropriate terms and words. They said that the Bill need to be further reviewed by the committee before proceeding with deliberations in the house.

The WCYC chairperson, Bumthang’s Chumey-Ura MP, Tshewang Jurme, who presented the Bill said that it has been extensively reviewed and deliberated not only in committee meetings but also with various stakeholders.

The committee chairperson said that while he supports the submission of the Members to defer the deliberations, he said that the Bill has already gone through a lot of consultations and review. “So the Bill should be referred to the National Law Review Taskforce for further review.”

Tshewang Jurme said that it had become necessary to pass a new law on marriage, as the existing law has not only become outdated but subsequent amendments have not been consolidated.

He said that the Bill has been posted on the National Assembly website for more than three months for feedback but there was not a single comment. “The speaker instructed the MPs to consult the Bill with people during their constituency tours but the committee did not receive any feedback.”

All MPs agreed that it is important to frame a new Marriage Act in view of changing times.

Members deliberated at length on the need for sureties, whether it should be pronounced in the Act that the bridegroom should have a man for surety and his bride a woman.

“This is discriminatory,” economics affairs minister Lekey Dorji said.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that the responsibilities of the surety have to be mentioned elaborately.

“Today most of those couples ask whoever is available at the court, including strangers, to be their surety,” he said. “This practice was defeating the purpose of having to produce surety.”

He said the surety was needed to ensure that they are not related by blood or that they are not married to any other person.

The committee had actually proposed to amend clauses on child support allowance, separation cost to be paid by the spouse who commits cruelty, and the responsibility in upbringing children born out of wedlock when the mother dies.

After the session yesterday, the committee chairperson posted his regrets on his Facebook page. “RIP marriage bill 2017, National Assembly today resolved to defer marriage bill 2017, my deepest sympathy to my colleagues of WCYC, committee secretaries and legal officers who worked tirelessly towards the development of this new Bill,” he wrote. “My hope remains alive still.”

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister presented the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Bill 2017 in the House yesterday morning. The Bill has been referred to the good governance committee for review and will be tabled on May 26.

Tshering Palden

NC introduces Audit Bill

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:05

National Council (NC) introduced the Audit Bill 2017 yesterday.

It is the only new legislative Bill the house will pass this session.

Introducing the Bill to the house, the chairman of the legislative committee, Tashi Phuntsho, said the existing Audit Act has been very effective.

“However, limitations are impeding effective functioning of the Royal Audit Authority of Bhutan,” he said.

The Bill, according to NC members, will address issues in greater detail that the existing Audit Act does not cover.

The Bill will go to the National Assembly for deliberations. It seeks to repeal the Audit Act of Bhutan 2006.

The principal objective of this Bill is promotion of accountability, transparency, integrity and value for money in public operations. The Bill confers on the audit authority adequate powers necessary to carry out the audits without fear, favour, or prejudice.

According to the Bill, the audit authority should be an independent and non-partisan institution headed by Auditor General.

The Bill says that the state should make adequate financial provisions for the independent administration of the authority.

The authority will have power to appeal to Parliament if it considers that fund provided to the authority is not adequate to carry out its functions effectively.

In case of Parliament’s decision on national budgets is delayed, the authority will be provided with interim funds.

“Such funds shall be not less than the previous year’s budget for the authority,” the report states.

Except for the auditor general, service conditions of the employees will be governed by the Civil Service Act. All employees, including the auditor general, will be entitled to receive 30 percent migsel soelra granted under a royal decree in addition to the normal pay and allowances for the civil servants.

The authority may seal, search and seize documents and other related records and keep those under proper custody and control wherever it is considered necessary.

According to the Bill, decisions and actions of the auditor general should be transparent and he shall give reasons for his decisions.

An official equal to the rank of a deputy auditor general shall head regional offices of the authority. RAA will enjoy full functional independence in planning and programming, investigation and reporting of its findings.

Except for the auditor general, the authority will be empowered to regulate appointment, management, and dismissal of its employees in accordance with the Civil Service Act.

MB Subba

PM answers OL’s happiness question

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:04

Bhutan’s happiness ranking has dropped to 97th out of 157 countries this year from 84th place out of 150 countries in 2016.

This is according to the World Happiness Report 2017.

At question hour session of the National Assembly yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho asked the Prime Minister what could have contributed to the drop in Bhutan’s happiness ranking and what are the government’s plan to improve the ranking.

“We are deeply concerned about the drastic drop as a country that promotes happiness as an ultimate goal of development,” the Opposition Leader said. “The drop is significant because the survey was based on 3,000 people in each country on a common set of indicators, which is why the result can not be considered bias.”

In response, Prime Minister said that an agency called Gallup Poll had conducted the assessment of happiness.

“Gallup Poll had interviewed about 1,020 people in Bhutan. Neither Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research (CBS), nor the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) was aware of the assessment,” Prime Minister said. “This is why the findings of the report cannot be trusted. It is worrying.”

Prime Minister further added that the drop in Bhutan’s happiness ranking had the CBS worried. The centre later enquired Gallup Poll how the assessment was done.

“The Gallup Poll said that the agency interviewed about 1,020 people from 20 dzongkhags face to face and now the Opposition Leader says about 3,000 people were interviewed. If these many people were actually interviewed, we would have come across at least one of them,” Prime Minister said. “The CBS has also not seen a single question. When CBS questioned Gallup Poll, it was told that the questionnaire was confidential and later stopped responding altogether.”

Prime Minister said that the agency had not even sought approval from the NSB. Approval from the bureau is required for any kind of survey. “Even if it was approved, the government did not come across any assessment question.”

Prime Minister added that the people should consider the findings of CBS and NSB as the true picture of the country’s happiness level.

The Opposition Leader said that if the country does not compare the findings from abroad with the findings from inside, internal report would always be considered best. “We’ve to give credit to external agency’s report as well because the methodologies and questionnaires are similar. It appears like we accept external report only when the happiness level increases.”

Prime Minister said that because there was no evidence of a survey conducted or of people from the Gallup Poll having come to Bhutan to do the assessment, the report could not be trusted.

Yangchen C Rinzin

NA discusses questions related to media and law enforcement

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:03

Questioning about the recent Bhutan Broadcasting Service’s coverage on water shortage in Trashiyangtse, Boomdeling-Jamkhar MP Dupthob asked the minister of Information and Communications why the interviewees’ identity was not disclosed.

Duptho said that the faces of the interviewees were blurred and their voices changed when the issue they raised was simply shortage of water.

“Was it because the people feared retribution from government? Or they do not have the right to speak about their problem?” asked Dupthob. “We’re all citizens with equal rights.”

Lyonpo D N Dhungyel said that their identity was concealed not because of fear of retribution, but because the BBS did it as per their code of ethics.

He added that in any interview the identity of the interviewee is not revealed if the interviewee wishes not to reveal his or her identity. “And journalists have to respect that.”

Cultural monuments

Although persons guilty of choeten vandalism are imprisoned for life, choeten vandalism cases have been on the rise. This either indicates that the people do not fear the law, or they are not aware of the law.

Drametse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi asked home minister if the law enforcing agencies are failing to implement the provisions of the law and their mandate: “What are the measures taken?”

Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said that the law enforcing agencies are strictly following the Penal Code. “At present there are 128 people serving prison term for vandalism.” The minister also said that of the 9,602 choetens in the country, 6,000 choetens have been renovated.

“Various measures have been put in place. CCTV cameras and burglary alarms in the important lhakhangs have been installed,” said Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen. “Installation costs about Nu 100,000, which is expensive, and some of the choetens are located in remote places and there is no advantage installing such appliances.  If the communities can install CCTV on such important cultural and religious monuments, it would be better.”

Government has proposed that each lhakhang should have a caretaker with a possibility of providing them some incentives.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Symposium on managing, supplying and conserving water

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:02

Providing continuous safe drinking water to every household in the country has been identified as one of the important activities in the 12th Plan, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, said during the opening of the national water symposium at Ariya Hotel in Thimphu yesterday.

He also said that managing water resources is one of the important flagship projects identified in the 12th Plan.

Lyonchoen said that despite having abundant of water in the country, it cause disputes between villages and neighbors  “To ensure such things don’t happen, it is important that there are proper measures to efficiently supply the available water to every household in the country,” he said. “To have proper measures in place, we have to discuss with the stakeholders including the experts.”

He said that of about 200 countries in the world, Greenland has the most fresh water, followed by Iceland, Guyana, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. “Bhutan stands sixth.”

Prime Minister said that Bhutan has a population of 750,000 and fresh water consumption per capita is 102,000 cubic metres. “Compared to other countries in the region, Bhutan has adequate fresh water.”

He said that there are six big rivers in the country and Thimphu alone has 17 streams. “Still then, we are not able to supply enough water to all the residents in the city.”

Lyonchoen said that in some areas in the city, there is a continuous flow of water and people tend to waste water because of excess water, while in some areas, people have a difficult time not having enough water.

He said that it could be clearly seen from the top of the Thimphu valley how many water sources are there. “There are more than 17 streams but we also see many water pipes connected to these water sources.”

“If a person is to have a water pipe each then we will never have enough water for everyone,” Lyonchoen said. “If this is the situation in Thimphu, what will be the situation in rural areas? This could be the reason for the disputes in the rural areas.”

Lyonchoen said that the government had provided enough budgets for both rural and urban areas. “However, there are many agencies and departments influencing those responsible for managing water resources, because of which drinking safe water is not supplied equally to all the people.”

Besides providing continuous safe drinking water to all households, Lyonchoen stressed the importance of irrigation water in the agriculture sector on which about 60 percent of the country’s population depends and in hydropower projects.

“If there is no enough water then no matter how big a hydropower project is, the project will not be efficient,” he said.

Prime Minister said that the symposium should focus on how to supply adequate water to the households and how to conserve water.

He urged the participants to come up with a proper measure to manage water resources in the country.

An official with National Environment Commission (NEC), Tenzin Wangmo, said that symposium is organised at a national level to discuss issues and challenges of water and water management.

“With the mandate of water management being spread across many sectors, coordination has been the greatest challenge for NEC as the national coordinating agency,” she said. “We see this symposium as an opportunity to collaborate, identify synergies and areas of cooperation to ensure that our water resources are protected, conserved and managed in an economically efficient socially equitable and environmentally sustainable manner.”

She said that the symposium is timely as 12th Plan is being prepared and the output from the symposium will directly fit into it.

NEC Secretariat and Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, Department of Forests and Park Services is organising the three-day symposium with support from WWF and USAIDS.

Dechen Tshomo

Shetikharey river protection works in full swing

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:01

Going by the kind of river protection works carried along the banks of Shetikharey stream in Gelephu, locals hope that monsoon might not cause damages in the locality like last year.

The Shetikharey stream, which swells every monsoon, causes destruction and cuts off the area from Gelephu, affecting students and travellers. The damage was worst last year.

To avoid such destruction, Gelephu dungkhag and gewog administration is scooping out sands and boulders from the riverbed, making a deep passage for the stream to flow in one course.

Six contractors are executing the work.

Local residents say that the river changes its course every year, intensifying its destruction. “A bridge was constructed over its initial course and inaugurated last year. But two months later, the swollen stream changed its course and flowed through Pelrithang Khatoed village,” a resident said. “There was no river under the bridge.”

Gelephu gup Ugyen Wangchuk said that constructing walls and deepening the riverbed is the best solution to control the huge volume of water spreading into the villages. “I don’t see any other way to stop the stream from spreading into the village,” he said.

He said that to prevent disaster and flooding again, long stretches of protection walls are being constructed.

In the four-kilometer stretch, at least nine walls will be constructed from the source at Zomlingthang to the Gelephu-Zhemgang highway. Each wall will be having a length of 25 to 50 meters.

The gup said that protecting the adjacent villages, lives and properties of the public was his top priority.

Gup Ugyen Wangchuk said they are speeding up works to complete it before monsoon.

He said that if the protection work cannot complete before monsoon, Zomlingthang village will be at threat of flooding. There is also a huge water tank supplying water to villages of Zomlingthang, Pemathang and Lekithang.

“If the water tank bursts entire Gelephu town could flood,” the gup said.

The sand extracted after dredging is being transported to the Gelephu thromde. It is used at the ongoing works on constructing internal roads of the local area plans of the throm.

However, a bottleneck for the ongoing works is a bridge at the Zhemgang-Gelephu highway. “This bridge was one obstruction that led to water overflow on the highway and spread into the village below the highway,” a resident said.

The gewog administration appealed to the Department of Road (DoR) to dismantle the bridge and construct a new one, which will allow huge water passage from underneath. The issue was also raised during the recent dzongkhag tshogdu.  “Our effort in controlling and channeling water into one will be a waste if a new bridge is not constructed here,” the gup said.

DoR officials, however, said that the department does understand the necessity of a larger bridge over the highway and that they fear dismantling the existing one will cause even bigger disaster this monsoon.

Chief executive engineer, CB Mongar, explained that constructing a new bridge would require several months, which is not possible before this monsoon. “If the existing concrete bridge is dismantled, the traffic flow will be totally disrupted,” he said.

He added that the DoR would begin works on constructing the bridge early next year so that it is complete before monsoon.

Meanwhile, the ongoing river protection works are being carried out at the cost of Nu 47.5 million.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu

Need to look beyond

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:00

Our highlanders need more than just our sympathy and munificence. They need our true attention.

This paper’s May 10 editorial brought highlanders’ challenges to the fore. As much as we want them to stay where they are, we need to take modern facilities to their doorstep. That’s the real challenge we are facing today.

But, really, it’s a small challenge. In an age of increased mobility, service delivery should not be a problem. Yet it is. What ought we to read from this?

We have made efforts towards decentralisation of power; it’s been sometime now. But centralised development is still our challenge that is encouraging rural to urban migration in large scale. As an agrarian country, googtong should not be our problem. Yet it is. What must we understand from this fact?

Our highlanders are our future, in sense more than one. If we understood that, our highlanders today would not be so vulnerable that they should wait in rice distribution queue.

We now know the government has made efforts to distribute 5,400kgs of rice stock to 149 households in Laya, 23,275kgs of rice stock for 389 households in Sakteng, and 2,000kgs of rice stock for 155 households in Lunana. While such initiatives are laudable, we do not see the long-term sustainability of the effort.

This demands a clear-cut approach from the government. Our people high up in the mountains need more than our largesse and occasional help. Our development plans cannot leave some of our own on the fringes. We can do more than what have done so far.

Dispensation of any kind is good. We need to put things in the right perspective. How could we not encourage our people to grow crops that can fight and flourish in harsh mountain conditions? We could take roads to the distant communities, but we must have services along the way. That’s real people-centric development.

We are taking about sovereignty and the future of this our homeland we call Drukyul.

Lawyers welcome establishment of Bar Council

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:00

Fourteen years after the Jabmi Act was enacted by the Parliament, one of the most critical elements of the Act has been constituted with the establishment of the Bar Council of Bhutan (Jabmi tshogdey) yesterday.

The Jabmi Act remained on paper until the amendment by the Parliament last year. It was amended to suit the changing needs and circumstances in the field of law.

The Bar Council constitutes seven members with an independent representative. Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck is the president and former Supreme Court justice Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen is the vice president.

Seven members of the Bar Council were constituted as per the Section 3 of the Jabmi (Amendment) Act 2016, comprising of Attorney General Shera Lhendup as ex-officio member, Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen and former High Court justice Sithar Namgye, Cheda of UC Associates (Bhutan Law Office), Jamyang Sherab of Garuda Legal Services, and Ugyen Dorji of UD & Partners.

The term for the Council members is three years.

Attorney General Shera Lhendup said that the independent representative has to be a person of high standing in the society as per the provision of Jabmi Act.

“Accordingly, the six members of the Bar Council invited HRH Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck to be the independent representative,” he said.

Attorney General said that as mandated by the Act, nominees from the Bar Council members filed their vote for the election of the president and the six members unanimously elected independent representative as the maiden president of the Bar Council in December last year.

Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen has been elected as the vice president of the council to assist the president.

While inaugurating the Bar Council, HRH Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, who is also the president of the Bhutan National Legal Institute, said that since the Bar Council is an important body  for rule of law, jabmi (legal counsel) is an integral part of the justice system.

“Therefore, the institution of the council is just and timely to uphold, promote and support jabmi’s profession,” she said.

The main functions of the Bar Council, among many, are to encourage and promote integrity, efficiency and responsibility of the private practicing lawyers; to determine cases of misconduct against private practicing lawyers; to promote legal education; to provide pro bono legal aid to indigent person; and to conduct selection examination for and maintain a role of private practicing lawyers.

Attorney General said that these functions aim to strengthen and promote the legal services in the private sector through a regulated Bar Association, whose members are the private practicing lawyers. Bar Council, he added, will facilitate the formation of Bar Association.

Jabmi tshogdey will regulate the practice of law by a lawyer or a paralegal and other practitioners.

Jabmi is a Bhutanese legal counsel who has been licensed to practice, including those who have been issued a licence before the enactment of the Jabmi Act.  A jabmi can hold a Bachelor of Laws degree from a recognised university and can enrol himself or herself with the jabmi tshogdey after passing the bar examination.

Many lawyers practicing privately, who attended the inaugural ceremony, welcomed the Bar Council.

“In absence of regulatory body, the private lawyers have to approach the High Court and seek approval for power of attorney to appear before the court as client’s legal representatives for every case,” private lawyer Tashi Delek said. “This is a time consuming and a waste of resources,” he said.

The Bar Council secretariat is temporary housed at the Office of Attorney General in Changangkha.

Rinzin Wangchuk

BAAF takes kid’s athletics programme to Sakteng

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 17:00

Pema Thinley, a Class-two student of Sakteng Lower Seconday School, is excited. A team from Bhutan Amateur Athletics Federation (BAAF) is in the gewog to conduct the kid’s athletics festival.

Pema Thinley and the students were informed about the programme during the morning assembly on May 8. Like many, Pema Thinley thought that it would be like a regular games period. The BAAF team entered the school ground with some fancy equipment and gears. It was love at first sight for Pema Thinley when he laid eyes on the rocket-like toy, a customised javelin for kids.

He could not wait to get his hands on the toy. However, it was too early for the festival to begin. The BAAF team began to train the teachers on the usage of the equipment for almost half the day. Pema Thinley and the rest of the students waited for the programme to begin, growing impatient.

Towards afternoon, Pema Thinley got a chance lay his hands on javelin. He picked up the toy and ran quickly towards one of the teachers and handed over the toy. He could finally sit in peace.

The kids could not wait to get their hands on the toys

The much-awaited programme finally began. Pema Thinley joined some 180 students to be the first ones to play with the equipment. “I’m very happy today. I didn’t know that there were such games also,” said the 10-year-old. “I could play these games over and over again and not get tired.”

Until now Pema Thinley had known only five sports – marbles, football, archery, khuru and volleyball. He said that he wants to become a professional javelin thrower. A nudge from behind and he changed his thought swiftly:  “I want to become a doctor.”

This was the first time that such a sports programme was held in the gewog. BAAF’s general secretary, Dorji Tenzin, said that the programme was brought to Sakteng mainly to hunt for potential middle-distance runners from the highland. “We are here to give children in remote places a chance to showcase their talents in athletics and to make a difference in their educational pathways with athletics as the main sporting event.”

About 180 students took part in the festival

The programme was also in line with the federation’s vision: Kid’s athletics for all kids by 2020. Dorji Tenzin said that it was also to kick start the federation’s Athletics at School project, which was initiated in 2013.

BAAF has distributed the kid’s athletics kits to all the 20 dzongkhags and have trained all the school coaches. “The pristine climate and altitude in places like Sakteng provide an ideal environment for potential athletes to grow,” said Dorji Tenzin. “Compared with the urban setting, the kids here have so much determination. If these kids are trained at the right age, they can achieve great successes in the future.”

Similar programme will be conducted in places like Merak and other highland communities in the future.

The festival came to an end with the awarding of medals and certificates to the participants. Goody bags were given to the underprivileged students of the school.

On their way home, students were seen imitating some of the moves from the event using the local facilities at their disposal.

Younten Tshedup | Sakteng