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Fire in one of the apartments in Changbangdu

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:30

Jigme Choden & Sonam Chukey

Residents in Changbangdu contained a fire in one of the apartments before it could spread to the rest of the building yesterday morning.  Tenants of the apartment left to Phuentsholing to perform their annual ritual three days ago.

Neighbours residing in the building barged into the unit breaking the main door and put out the fire. They found the apartment filled with smoke. “The bed in the master bedroom was on fire and the floor beneath the bed was burned and damaged. The walls of the room were jet black due to excessive smoke caused,” a resident said.

Neighbours said they smelled something burning from the apartment on the second floor since yesterday. One of the latches of the balcony door was broken. People could enter from the balcony. The resident of the house also claimed to have kept the kitchen and children’s room window open. The cause of the fire is suspected to be arson. Police are still investigating.

A physiotherapist of a different sort

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:28

Dechen Tshomo

In 2016, when Loday Phuntsho joined Gidakom hospital in Thimphu as a Physiotherapist a pile of broken wheelchairs at the Physiotherapy unit caught his attention.

Soon after he felt the need to do something with the scrape as the hospital struggled with an increasing demand for wheelchairs.

The hospital received less than 10 wheelchairs a year but it was not enough for increasing patients requiring the service. A wheelchair costs about Nu 12,000.

The hospital hosting the only prosthetic centre in the country, most of the patients it treated needed wheelchairs. “We need to provide them with the assistive device until we provide them with prosthetic and orthotic devices,” Loday Phuntsho said.

The hospitals then had only one type of wheelchairs for all patients.

As the situation called for a solution, instead of surrendering the non-functional wheelchairs to the government, Loday Phuntsho started repairing them.

“We received many people who needed a wheelchair and we could not provide each of them a new one so I thought we could repair some and continue providing the services.”

Many of the malfunctioning wheelchairs had their main frames in good condition. He repaired about eight wheelchairs using the parts of 18 non-functional wheelchairs that were surrendered to the hospital in 2016 and 2017.

“We used the repaired wheelchairs to transfer patients and the new ones that we received from the government were provided to the people with disability,” he said.

A few weeks of basic training on wheelchair assembling to Physiotherapists in 2017, funded by WHO helped Loday Phuntsho in his effort to help the wheelchair users. “The toolset that I received during the training came in handy. I also got some tools from the prosthetic centres.”

In 2018, the hospital received another type of wheelchair. “The basic wheelchair has different structure for different purposes,” he said. It is provided to people living with a disability. “It has to be used daily so the structure has to be stronger.”

The national referral hospital in Thimphu today has three types of wheelchair including the intermediate wheelchair.

While those who can afford, use a motorised wheelchair, the government now provides the three types of wheelchairs for free.

With the advancement in technology different types of wheelchairs became available which are also more durable, Loday Phuntsho said.

“We don’t get many transfer wheelchairs to repair now. For the past two years, I just carried out minor repairing works.”

Some people recently returned two wheelchairs to the hospital after learning that they were being repaired and given to those who need them.

He pointed out that some patients don’t return the assistive device even when they don’t require it anymore. Some don’t take care of it and return it with rusted frames which cannot be reused.

“If people return the wheelchairs to the hospital, we can use the accessories or other parts to repair and provide it to those who require it,” he said.

Prosthetic and orthotic devices are manufactured at the prosthetic centre and are provided to patients. The physiotherapy unit with a physiotherapist and three technicians provide rehabilitation services to the patients.

On average, the unit receives about 10 to 15 patients every day in summer and about five to 10 during winter months.

Revised sports excellence awards to encourage athletes 

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:27

Thinley Namgay 

The medalists of the 13th South Asian Games and the coaches will soon receive the Sports Excellence Awards (SEA) as per the revised SEA approved by the government on December 10.

SEA will be only given to the medal winners and record breakers at the Olympic, Asian and South Asian Games.

Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) officials said that only winners of the BOC recognised competitions will be awarded the incentives as per the revised rate.

“If the federations initiate and take their athletes to the international competitions, the medalist will be awarded incentives by their own federation.”

BOC officials said that athletes from different federations went for competitions which were not recognised by BOC and asked for incentives. “BOC cannot provide incentives for every competition due to budget constraint.”

BOC said that they have been giving incentives for the medalists since 1980s.

According to the BOC, SEA will be given to the athletes and not the respective federations and if the athletes break the games record, an additional 25 percent of the applicable award amount will be given.

The award-winning athletes have the mandate to pay all the liable taxes in accordance with the existing income tax rules and regulations.  “The award for the coaches will be provided to the concerned accompanying head coach exclusive of the award amount received by the medal winners,” the BOC notification on SEA stated.

It also stated that, if an athlete won more than a medal, he or she would be provided medal incentive for the highest amount received. “The additional medals won by the same athlete will be eligible for receiving awards in percentage as per the order of the medal.”

In the individual Olympics, a gold medalist will get an incentive of Nu 5 million (M) followed by silver medalist and bronze medalist with Nu 4M and Nu 3M respectively. The coach will get Nu 750,000 for gold and Nu 600,000 for silver and Nu 450,000 for bronze.

For team Olympics, the gold medalist will be awarded Nu 3M and the silver and bronze medalist with Nu 1.5M and Nu 1M individually. The reward for coaches is the same as that given to individual Olympics.

Those who win in individual categories at the Asian Games, Youth Olympic Games, and World Beach Games will get Nu 3M for gold, Nu 2M for silver and Nu 1M for bronze. The coach is entitled to avail Nu 450,000 for gold, Nu 300,000 for silver and Nu 150,000 for bronze.

In the team Asian Games, Youth Olympic Games, and World Beach Games, Nu 1.25M, Nu 1M and Nu 750,000 will be given individually to the medalists. The coach’s reward remains the same as that of individual Asian Games.

In the individual South Asian Games, Asian Youth Games, Asian Beach Games, South Asian Beach Games, Asian Indoor Martial Art Games and Children of Asian Games ( Summer and winter), the incentive of Nu 500,000 for gold followed by silver medalist and bronze medalist with Nu 300,000 and Nu 100,000 will be given.  Coaches will get Nu 75,000 for gold and Nu 45,000 for silver and Nu 15,000 for bronze.

In the team South Asian Games, Asian Youth Games, Asian Beach Games, South Asian Beach Games, Asian Indoor Martial Art Games and Children of Asian Games, the medalists will be awarded Nu 200,000 for gold,  Nu 100,000  for silver and Nu 50,000 for bronze individually. Coaches will get Nu 75,000 for gold and Nu 45,000 for silver and Nu 15,000 for bronze.

Custodian of northern borders are leaving their homes 

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:26

Younten Tshedup  | Gelephu

Every year people from the mountains descend to the plains for warmth and comfort. But for some this is no more a seasonal migration.

People of Laya and Lunana have bought houses and settled in places like Punakha and Wangdue. In the east, natives of Merak and Sakteng are seen running shops in Mongar and Trashiyangtse. And, latterly, in places such as Gelephu and Zhemgang.

What is causing the movement?

Once their forte, the culture of herding yak is decreasing rapidly in the mountains. And so, the highlanders are looking beyond. 

Officials from the Department of Livestock (DoL) disagree. They maintain that the number of yaks in the highlands have remained almost constant over the past three decades. Since the documentation of the yak population began in 1987, the numbers have remained consistent, which is about 42,000 in the country.

So, what is encouraging highlander to come down to the plains?

There has, though, been a remarkable decline in the ownership of yaks among the mountain households. According to DoL officials, between 1996 and 2016, there was about 30 percent decline. And the highlanders are losing interest in the yak raring practice. There are elsewhere to look for better economic prospects.

National highland development programme  

A three-day workshop on National Highland Development Programme (NHDP) is underway in Gelephu to encourage highlanders to live in the mountains.

Programme director with the National Highland Development Centre (NHDC) in Bumthang, Dr Raika, said that recognising the importance of highlanders and the role they play, intervention and activities to improve their livelihood was felt necessary.

Highland development was conceived as a flagship programme initially, which included multi-sectorial involvement and several initiatives in the fields of education, agriculture, communication and health, among others.

Dr Raika said that the government dropped the flagship idea and NHDC was then asked to focus interventions based on livestock in the highlands.

“This was mainly done with the view that there were other flagship programmes in areas such as tourism, education and communications,” he said.

The activities under the NHDP were then narrowed down and made livestock-based, which included product diversification, disease control and improving the health facilities for the yaks raring.

The budget for the project was also pared down by more than 60 percent. “Another way to look at the current NHDP is that flagship programmes are time-bound but we now have a programme that will run beyond the 12th Plan,” Dr Raika said.

DoL’s chief livestock officer with the research and extension division, Tawchu Rabgay, said that the highland programme was formulated to enhance the livelihood prospects of the highlanders based on income-generating opportunities from yak rearing.

It was also to preserve and promote the unique and rich cultural assets of the highlanders that are at the brink of extinction, he said. Conserving the species within the highland ecosystem and upholding the border security in the north were the driving factors that shaped the programme.

 

Revamping yak rearing culture 

Tawchu Rabgay said that yaks are the primary source of income and livelihood for the highlanders. “With the declining yak population and households rearing the animals, it was important we brought in some major interventions.”

The main reason highlanders left the practice of rearing was because of the depleting of rangeland and tsamdro. The outbreak of diseases such as GID deterred farmers to continue with the practice.

To address the issues of depleting rangeland and tsamdro, DoL and NHDC in consultation with relevant stakeholders would soon be mapping tsamdro and distribute to farmers on a user right thram basis.

Improvement of nutrition for the yaks, elimination of GID and measures to prevent and control zoonotic disease would also be included in the programme.  Besides putting in measures to enable farmers to take up yak rearing, yak herders would be encouraged to form groups and cooperatives.

Unlike other livestock cooperatives, Tawchu Rabgay said that full ownership and responsibility would be given to the herders. “DoL and NHDC will be at the back providing technical supports whenever required.”

Herders would form village groups at a gewog level, which would grow into a cooperative at a dzongkhag level. A national-level federation of yak herders would also be developed under the programme.

Dr Raika said that a larger group at the national level would not only address the issue of supplying mass products for commercial enterprises, but also enable farmers to collaborate with each other. “So far herders have only functioned on their own. This networking will provided them with multiple opportunities.”

The yak federation, according to officials, would be an apex body formed with more than five cooperatives of yak herders with an objective to preserve, promote and protect yaks in the highlands.

Meanwhile, the use of artificial insemination to promote good breeding practice in yaks would also be initiated. Due to inbreeding practice, Dr Raika said that a lot of dilution in the yak breeds was happening. “We also want to start processing yak semen so that we can conserve and upgrade the genetic material of our yaks. This will go a long way in the conservation of the breed of yaks we have.”

Like the polar bear and penguin in the north and south poles, yaks are an important species found only in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, also know as the Third Pole, he said.

“Besides serving as the main source of income and livelihood for our highlanders, these animals are crucial for the ecosystem, which is why it is important to preserve these animals before it’s late.” 

Trongsa police request court to issue an injunction order

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:04

… and to cancel the defendant’s bail

Nim Dorji  | Trongsa

Trongsa police requested the dzongkhag court to issue an injunction order to stop the distribution of a book titled ‘Turning point’, which was written by a former lecturer of the College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS) in Taktse, Trongsa.

The lecturer is one of the defendants police charged to court for sexual molestation of students in the college.

Police stated that the 128 paged book, which was launched on December 29, is the defendant’s version of the ongoing case with distorted facts and that it would impact public opinion.

Police also stated that since the case is still ongoing, writing the book and distributing it should be considered sub-judice and a contempt of court should be issued. Police requested court to take suo moto action as deemed necessary.

According to police, the defendant is on conditional bail that he is not allowed to write about the case undermining other parties involved but by writing and publishing the book related to the ongoing case, he breached section 102. 1 A and 199.4 C of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan.

Police, therefore, requested the court to cancel the defendant’s bail.

While Section 102.1 A states that a person may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction in accordance with the laws of contempt for interfering with a case, either orally or in writing, section 199.4. C states a person released on bail shall be required to abstain from making any inducement, threat or promise, directly or indirectly to a person acquainted with the facts of the case so as to dissuade the person from disclosing such facts to the court or police.

Police stated that the defendant, by writing about the case and publishing the book when the case is ongoing, proves that he has no respect for the law.

Police also submitted to the court that although the author has mentioned that the book is based on true facts, the book’s content is about how police mistreated him while investigating, which are not true. “It misleads public opinion and also defames police.”

According to police submission, the injunction order should be issued until the judgment of the case is rendered as per the provisions of CCPC.

Meanwhile, the court has asked police to file a defamation case against the defendant if the book has defamed police.

The defendant will submit his clarification today.

Youth groups struggle to survive

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:02

… members worried about proliferation of the groups

Yangchen C Rinzin 

A group of 15 youth, who call themselves ‘Bloom Network’, are spending their winter vacation making handmade products and selling as many as possible.

Students from different colleges came together to form the group, intending to serve the communities instead of wasting their holidays staying home watching movies or fiddling mobile phones.

The group is working to introduce a community library, ‘Little Free Library’ that is dedicated to connect the communities and promote reading. The members meet during the vacations to make products like wall arts, painting, flower vase, frames and home decors. The products are sold through social media (bloom-network) at prices ranging from Nu 100 to Nu 1,500.

The members say they are doing this after failing to receive any support from the community.

Co-founder of the group, Sonam Rinchen, who is a 2nd-year student, said the group was formed in May 2019 and they wanted to bring ‘Little Free Library’ to Bhutan. He said ‘Little Free Library’ is spread in more than 80 countries and the group aims to include Bhutan in the list.

Little Free Library is a non-profit organisation based in USA that promotes neighbourhood book exchanges. 

“But we faced financial challenges to bring the library, as we have to register by purchasing a charter sign for the library,” he said. “The charter costs almost USD 38 each and the group aims to have such library in community areas like parks, hospital and town square.”

Sonam Rinchen said they went to banks, organisations and non-government organisations looking for financial support but in vain. “But nobody wanted to invest because of the fear of the group’s sustainability. This is why we decided to make products and sell.”

Another co-founder of the group, Karma Yangchen Tsho, who is a first-year student at the College of Science and Technology, said they are saving every penny from the sale of handmade products to buy charter one day and also save the money to do other community services.

“We get only about Nu 2,500 in a month and we’re doing everything for the group’s survival.”

She said most of the groups dissolve even when the youth starts with good intention because of lack of support and lots of paper works. “All we get to hear is how can you all sustain, they should at least trust the youth first.”

Other youth groups also shared similar experiences.

There are more than 12 groups affiliated with a group association called ‘Young Bhutan Network’, a platform for youth groups to network and collaborate.

Many members questioned the youth policy, stating it doesn’t mention about forming a youth group, objectives of forming the group, its sustainability including the guidance and support.

Some of the members said that they expect to see a component on the youth group in the policy to address the issue on the increasing number of youth group, which is currently being revised.

A member, Amrid Bahadhur Limbu, from Bhutan Sharing and Loving Youth, said that increase in the groups has led to duplication of services.

He also said sustainability of the group depends on the hard work of the group. “It is time to reflect and have one group instead of having many independent groups.”

Some youth expressed the need to have an association.

A member of Nazhoen Chiphen said youth policy should also look into auditing of the independent groups. “They should look into which groups are genuinely working for social service and what kind of youth are forming the group for transparency.”

He said it is not only organisations that do not trust youth but also parents.

New Changjiji bazaam to use modern materials 

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:50

Jigme Choden & Sonam Chukey

After remaining closed for over 18 months, the reconstruction of the Changjiji cantilever bridge has begun a fortnight ago.

The bridge which connects Changjiji to the Expressway was built in 2007.

The cantilever on one side of the bridge had moved and compelled the thromde to close it in June 2018 for safety of the commuters.

Thromde’s engineer Dendup Lhamo said the initial plan was to reconstruct only the side that was sagged. “Since there were cracks on the abutments, it was decided to reconstruct the whole bridge,” she said.

Why the bridge failed?

Thromde officials said that the bridge was repaired in 2016 due to bulging of abutment and parts of counterweight on the beams on the side next to the Expressway were removed. A study into the collapse of the bridge stated that this might have been for the ease of work or appears to have been removed to facilitate maintenance work. The counterweight comprises of soil and pebbles.

During an inspection last year, the inspectors found big space left where they could move around the area freely as the volume of counterweight was much less which supposedly to be compact.

The secondary beams of the cantilever had rotten. This is attributed to moisture during monsoon. Mud mortar and cross beams deteriorated from rain and resulted in cracks on the wall of the abutment.

The contractor carrying out the reconstruction, Jigme Namgyel said the new bridge will have glued laminated timber which is more durable and moisture resistant compared to the heavy timbers used then. “We’ll use concrete mortar in place of mud mortar for the abutments. The old materials are carefully inspected during dismantling and would be reused.”

Jigme Namgyel and his 18-member team of construction workers called Dash Group based in Thimphu started dismantling the bridge on December 27, 2019.

The bridge designed is changed and it would be bigger. The budget for the construction is estimated to be around Nu 9.4 million. “It could be lower if more materials from the old bridge could be reused,” said Dendup Lhamo.

The bridge was supposed to open by the academic year 2019.  It was suspended because the works and human settlement ministry released the bridge design only in 2019. Other factors were budget constraints and the risk to workers from the swollen monsoon river.

The bridge is expected to open to the commuters in the six months.

Harnessing economic opportunity

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:45

Jobs creation in Bhutan is poor and so unemployment, particularly among the young, is high and rising. Unless meaningful structural and systemic changes are brought to bear, there will not be a significant change in the country’s economy. And that is bad news.

The once fluid and efficient Bhutanese bureaucracy is fast becoming ossified. It is not hard to trace the source of the problem—duplication of responsibilities has effectively rendered more than half of our government agencies comatose. The longer so we run, the deeper we risk running into a quagmire.

The major problem we are facing today is economic development in the real sense. We are still a country that borrows heavily from international banks and donors. Investment is lagging behind, however. And that means we are always faced with the risk of heavy debt cleansing.

There are some problems that are endemic to our society. We have plans myriad but not the tools to support them. We have industrial estates cleared for investors but nothing pretty much happening there. Ten years have gone by since the plan of industrial estates was first conceived. Entrepreneurs and investors say that they are obstructed from all ways and sides to start a business. Regulators are least bothered on the other side. Officials of National Environment Commission do not even feel it is important that they attend a meeting with prime minister and entrepreneurs who want to set up strong economic bases in the country’s four industrial areas.

What Bhutan needs today is a government that can bring all the agencies and government officials together and show them the door if they cannot work for the interest of the nation’s long-term future. That means it has the responsibility of clearing duplications among the many offices and organisations. Forget big industries, even small but promising startups are facing a serious challenge today because offices and organisations do not appreciate the bigness and the true value of national dream. That’s why joblessness is increasing. If this goes on for a few more years, it will be the most humiliating slap on the face of Bhutan and the Bhutanese of gross national happiness.

What the prime minister has promised the nation is just the beginning. But we can ill afford to lose the direction along the way. Bhutan is small and so economic development difficult. We are landlocked and so we have the advantages of sound economic policies and financial disciple. Make use of our industrial estates by inviting entrepreneurs. Do not make jobs creation difficult because therein lies the biggest of Bhutan’s opportunities of becoming a strong and independent economy.

Engaging residents to curb dog population   

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:43

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

After more than a decade of discussing stray dog problems in the country, authorities are still looking for a viable solution.

With uncontrolled stray dog population and increasing dog bite cases, man’s best friend is viewed as a cause of national concern today.

This scenario, however, could change should the new approach adopted during the four-day coordination workshop in Gelephu materialise.

Department of Livestock’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Karma Rinzin, said that the fourth phase of the Dog Population Management (DPM) project, which is currently underway, aims to engage the community in the project through behavioural changes.

Realising the gravity of the problem, the issue has been included under the government’s waste management flagship programme in the 12th Plan.

With support from the Human Support International, the DPM project began in 2009 that involved mass sterilisation programme for dogs to control the unchecked population growth.

Under the programme, DoL has sterilised more than 105,000 dogs so far.

However, participants said that lack of participation from the community and the misplaced compassion of Bhutanese towards the dogs are the major challenges today.

One of the workshop participants said that while residents wanted to raise dogs, they do not take ownership of the animal. “There are many who claim to own dogs but they are not doing anything for the animal except for feeding them from time to time.”

Officials said that as per the rules, a pet animal should not be allowed to wander freely. “People claim ownership of the dogs but they do not have a proper shelter for them and are let loose to wander. This is the main reason why there is unchecked breeding among stray dogs.”

It was also learnt that residents did not cooperate during the mass sterilisation programmes and went out of their way to protect or hide the animals.

Dr Karma Rinzin said that under the new approach, communities and individuals would be facilitated to adopt stray dogs and make them take full ownership of the animal.

In Haa, he said that the Dzongkhag Tshogdu resolved that every household would adopt a dog each. “This has not yet materialised yet and it is a very difficult thing to do,” he said. “We would be going to the dzongkhag and see how feasible it is. We want to support them with some incentives.”

Likewise in Trongsa, Dr Karma Rinzin said that they are exploring means to facilitate communities to adopt the dogs that are residing in their vicinity. “The community will build shelters for the dogs and feed them on time so that the dogs do not leave the area. The whole community will take the responsibility to look after the group of dogs in their own area.”

He said that the community should also make sure that all the dogs are sterilised. “So far only the DoL and the municipal authorities have engaged in addressing this issue. Now, we want the community to take part in it because if they don’t, this problem will never end.”

For this, technological assistance using microchips in the animals and QR scan codes and mobile tracking applications would also be used.

Should this approach work, the rest of the dzongkhags would also start implementing the same strategy.

He added that one of the major challenges remain in catching the dogs in the present approach. “By nature, dogs are very friendly which is why we are training our people to handle them in a more decent way without the use of nets and sticks,” he said. “We have about six professionally trained dogcatchers today.”

Meanwhile, the workshop that ended on January 12 also sensitised the participants on animal health policies, strategies, plans, and projects, to strengthen collaboration with the relevant stakeholders including means to share field and technical experiences.

Participants also said that while the veterinarians are equally involved in preventing an outbreak of disease from animals to human, they do not receive an equal amount of recognition from the government.

One of the participants said that about 75 per cent of the emerging infectious diseases affecting human originates from animals. “We are at the forefront during outbreaks like rabies, bird flues and other animal-borne diseases that affect people. However, recognition and benefits are given only to human health workers.”

GNHC and UNDP sign USD 25.3M GCF project 

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:37

Staff Reporter

The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) and UNDP signed a project for which USD 25.3 million through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) on January 10 at GNHC office.

The project ‘Supporting Climate Resilience and Transformational Changes in the Agriculture Sector in Bhutan’ is expected to help Bhutan prepare and adapt to climate change.

The Chief of the Development Corporation Division of the GNHC, Wangchuk Namgay, said the project will help bridge the resource gap of the 12th Plan. It will also help address climate change adaptation challenges facing the country, particularly in the agriculture sector. 

The project will focus on enhancing the climate resilience of the rural population by supporting climate-resilient irrigation, sustainable land management practices, stabilisation of critical landslide-prone areas and providing climate information to the farmers to help enable better planning of farming activities.

“With a long history of strong partnership with the GNHC, both at the policy and community levels, UNDP is pleased to support this project and contribute to the government’s top priority and Sustainable Development Goals,” UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said.

“With this project, there is a huge responsibility to shoulder in order to showcase Bhutan’s efforts in climate action and elevate the fruits of our efforts on a global level,” she said.

The GNHC and UNDP will provide strategic and oversight roles to the project while the Local Governments will implement the project with technical support from the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Roads.

Art camp at Drametse Central School to engage youth

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:36

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

About 100 students from eastern dzongkhags attended a weeklong winter youth art camp in Drametse Central School in Mongar from January 6.

Themed ‘Engaging youth creatively’, the students were introduced to contemporary arts like pencil sketching, watercolour, traditional Bhutanese arts, English poetry (haiku writing) and making paper and hardboard crafts.

The camp intends to enhance artistic expression of the participants

The participants were not served any meat items for the week but given locally grown organic vegetables and dairy products. They were also briefed the benefits of being vegetarian.

The participants were also distributed free handmade bag as part of a green initiative ‘Say no to plastic carry bags’.

A participant, Thinley Namgay, 18, of Yadhi CS, said he learnt how to express his feelings and emotions through arts. “I also got opportunity to make new friends and enjoyed a lot.”

A class X student of Drametse CS, Nidup Pelmo, said she learnt many new things in the camp and she would share her knowledge to her friends.

The camp coordinator, Jigme Dorji, said that the programme is designed to inspire children achieve excellence in their creative life. “It aims to explore and promote contemporary art, to promote social responsibilities and life skills through art and to enhance artistic expression and appreciation.”

He also said it intends to provide opportunities to the young school children to participate and develop their talents through artistic and socially productive activities during their winter vacation.

VAST-Yangtse organised the programme with financial supports from the Royal Office for Media, His Majesty’s Secretariat, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan – a UK-based Charity, Travel DrukAsia and Bhutan Natural.

Students Drametse CS, Narang PS, Waichure extended classroom, Trashiyangtse LSS, Tsenkharla CS, Bumdeling LSS, Tsangphugchen PS, Yadhi CS, Tshaling PS and Draktsho East of Kanglung participated in the camp.

Amidewahri dungdrup at Kurizampa 

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:34

Over 700 devotees took part in the recitation of a hundred million mantras of Lord Buddha Yoepagmaed (Buddha of limitless light) at Ngagdra Dorji Choegar at Kurizampa, Mongar that concluded on January 11. Gyaltshen Trulku presided over the week-long event.

Khenpo Sonam Dorji of Ngagdra said the recitation would be an annual event with the unfurling of thongdroel to the public from next year. Established in 2007, Ngagdra is the only tantric learning institute in the country.

Buddhist Arts wins trophy in weird final

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:33

Thinley Namgay

Had it not been for the live telecast, team Radhi gewog players would have gone home with the Druk Wangyel National Traditional Archery tournament trophy on January 12.

Radhi won the first set 25- 24 on January 11 and was leading the second set 12-10 at the end of the day. The next morning, Radhi gewog needed only three points to win the trophy whereas opponents Buddhist Arts had only 14.

Spectators started cheering for team Radhi as they were on the verge of claiming the title with just short of three points.

But everything changed when the police arrived. Radhi had a shocking incident during the deciding match on January 12 as one of the players was arrested by the police.

Kuensel learnt that the archer owed money to someone who had seen him on television playing archery. There was an arrest warrant issued in his name and the police were informed. The archer was sent to Gelephu court yesterday.

The archer was one of the main players for team Radhi.

His removal also cost the team five precious points. The score became 17-14. Buddhist Arts  won the second set 25-17 before lunch.

Radhi fought back in the deciding set, but could not recover its capability and Buddhist Arts won the set with 25- 23 in a highly contested match.

Radhi’s team captain, Yonten, said, “He was arrested by the RBP around 9:30 am and we were discouraged by the incident. He is the main player as he shot seven karey (hits on target) on the first day and a karey before his arrest.”

Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) rules say five points would be deducted if players discontinue in the middle of the game.

BIGSA’s Coordinator, Tshewang Namgay said that the rules were framed after the request from the team captains during the pre-match meeting.

Buddhist Arts sponsor, Kinzang Chojay said the two teams had celebrated the victory together. “Both the teams came together for a dance after the match at the archery range.  Moreover, we also had dinner together.”

The annual traditional archery tournament that began on November 25 saw a total of 39 teams from across the country.

Delays frustrate applicants at industrial parks

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:31

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Lengthy approval procedures, incompetent project appraisal officials at the banks, delay in issuance of environment clearances and land lease certificate are some of the reasons establishment of industries is delayed.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering met with 45 applicants along with the officials from Department of Industry yesterday to discuss and understand the status of industry establishment at the four identified industrial estates.

The meeting followed after the prime minister’s meeting with the department of industry and Gross National Happiness Commission’s officials last week to discuss why the establishment of the industrial estates was delayed.

Lyonchhen asked the applicants to work together to solve the hurdles that are affecting the establishment. “This is also an opportunity to give us suggestions and discuss a way forward instead of only complaining. Let us know what kind of workers you all need so that we could work and train the youth to be employed by you all.”

More than 150 applications to set up industries have been kept pending because of incomplete infrastructure at the industrial estates. Although the department of industry wrote and called almost all the applicants, some did not respond while others could not be reached. Many could not make it to the meeting because of time constraints.

Dhamdum Industrial Park in Samtse, Bondeyma Industrial Park in Mongar, Motanga Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar, and Jigmeling Industrial Estate in Gelephu were identified since the first government’s term.

The applicants expressed that although they had the business proposals ready, there are many sectors involved delaying the business establishment.

One of the applicants who wanted to start a handloom business in Jigmeling said that they followed all the due processes but approvals led to delay.

“It is tiring having to route right from gewog tshogde to dzongkhag tshogdu to ministry to agencies. And still nothing gets done in the end,” another applicant said. “Ours is an FDI and if we take time they will withdraw, which would affect the country’s economy only.”

Many shared similar issues with the issuance of a clearance from the National Environment Commission (NEC) where the applicants never got a straight response from them on why it was rejected or prolonging the approval.

Majority of the applicants have been waiting for the clearance for more than a year to start the business.

An applicant who wanted to establish a ferroalloy unit asked what was the logic behind for asking another environment assessment when the particular industrial park was identified and approved for the said industries.

“They keep asking for additional information every time we go to follow up on the clearance,” she said. “There is no expertise in the NEC but only acts based on the Acts and does everything in piecemeal.”

One said NEC asks for additional information and delays the approval even when it is for the same business that is already established. Some suggested government intervention to ask NEC to give evidence-based rejection.

The applicants also questioned the competency of project appraisal officials at the banks who rejected the business proposals based on the documents submitted to them.

It was shared that without even understanding the business proposal or making an effort to research by visiting the place, the official rejected the loan application because a similar businesses had failed in the past.

“The banks only look at their profit and not at the country’s economy. These officials should move out of their chair to study the proposal because even when we’ve everything ready, it gets delayed only because of their incompetence,” one of the applicants said.

They suggested Lyonchhen to also look into bank interest rates, modes of loan and have new ideas to give the loan.

Another reason for the delay was because of the delay in the issuance of lease certificates by the National Land Commission. Although the department of trade submits the applications to the land commission for the land certificate, it takes time to get the approval.

They shared that even if it is approved the commission did not issue the certificate directly to the applicants. Certificates are sent to the dzongkhag, furthering delaying the whole process.

Some applicants who want to start the business at Bjeima, Thimphu also met the prime minister and shared similar stories about the land allotment by the land commission.

Lyonchhen said he would look into all these issues with the agencies concerned and get back to the applicants. Lyonchhen also informed that the government was already looking into having a common centre to ease the procedures. “It’s the system that has made the officials like that. Clearance is important but too many hands are involved and we must minimise this.”

The planning for industrial estates began in the 10th Plan but the economic affairs ministry received budget only in the middle of the 11th Plan. Projects such as providing electricity, temporary water supply and access roads began from 2016.

Sunkosh: Lhamoidzingka’s wait for the mega dream 

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:57

Rajesh Rai  | Lhamoidzingkha

Residents of Karmaling (Kerabari) gewog were curious when an unusual light sparked on a bank of Sunkosh river a night three decades ago.

Khadka Prasad Basnet was among those who sneaked to see what was going on.

“Tents were pitched and government officials camped on the bank. A generator had lit the area.”

In his 30s then, he went to inquire why the officials were there.

“We were told a team had come to conduct a survey for the Sunkosh Hydroelectric Reservoir Project (SHRP),” adding they were told about the benefits the hydropower plant could bring.

“I am 64 today and the project is still a dream.”

The 2,585 megawatt (MW) SHRP would be the largest hydroelectric project in the country and expected to boost the economy with an estimated yearly revenue of about Nu 30 billion (B) but it is just another project today that has been deferred for so long that residents of Lhamoidzingkha have almost given up on it.

Residents also claim that waiting for the project cost them heavily, as development activities in the three gewogs of Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag have been deferred in the name of the power project.

Residents say political parties campaign for the project during election time and forget it after the election. They say the present government also promised but nothing new happened.

A villager, Passang Sherpa, said when they asked the government to upgrade the school, they were told that the project would upgrade the school. “We ask for a basic health unit and we were told the project would bring a hospital.”

He said there are four important locations where bridges have to be constructed but it was never constructed in the name of SHRP.

“Every summer, the streams swell and cut off Karmaling from the rest of Lhamoidzingkha.”

Construction of houses are also not allowed within those locations demarcated for the project. Land transactions within the demarcated areas have also been stopped.

In Nichula gewog, CB Gurung said that he heard about the SHRP as a young boy in school.

“We were told a mega hydroelectric project would come,” he said. “Elders would even scare us with the stories of head hunters.”

CB Gurung said there were positive stories about the project everywhere in Lhamoidzingkha but it never happened. “People are still waiting.”

Nichula residents also need a bridge over Sunkosh. Residents say government officials told them a bridge would come with the project.

In Lhamoidzingkha gewog, residents said they would have benefitted if the project started.

A resident, Bomjan Tamang, said business would have thrived and employment opportunities would have been created. “We need the project but would it really come?”

Another resident, Hari Gurung said he heard about the project when he was in the sixth standard. “People took loans to construct big houses hoping for rentals and some have remained empty.”

Residents say only land prices have inflated exorbitantly with the news of the project.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the project has been held because of project’s modality between Bhutan and India. While Bhutan was pushing for inter-governmental (IG) model, India wanted it as a joint venture (JV). However, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, said that SHRP would be an IG model last year.

SHRP would need about 11,000 acres of land and more than 9,000 acres is state reserved forest land, while 2,000 acres is private land.

Communities say not much benefit from mining 

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:56

… National Assembly held the first televised public hearing on January 10

MB Subba 

Communities affected by mining operations say that they have little to benefit from mining in their localities, while the impacts threaten their livelihood and health. Mine operators disagree.

Representatives of the mining companies and affected communities came face-to-face in the first televised public hearing on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 on January 10.  

The public hearing was organised in the build-up to the upcoming Parliament session where the Bill will be tabled.

A representative from Samdrupjongkhar’s Phuntshothang village said that excavation work had affected their water sources and dust from the site had affected crop yields. He said that farmers were able to harvest only about 50kg of paddy from the field which used to produce about 300kg.

“We are concerned about dust-induced health hazards and possible landslides. People haven’t benefited much in the form of corporate social responsibility in my community,” he said.

A representative of the affected community in Pugli, Samtse shared similar concerns. He said that heavy vehicles were a major problem for the roads and that they generated dust. “There should be more tankers to sprinkle water on the road to reduce the dust problem.”

He also expressed concerns about water sources drying up in the community.

The representative from Pugli said that only about 10 per cent of the job opportunities were being given to the local residents. “But those jobs are mostly blue-collar. People from the community do not get jobs at the supervisory levels,” he said.

The community representative from Phuntshothang said that people in the community would be unaware of when the job opportunities in the mining sites open. “The community do not get information on the availability of jobs.”

However, a representative from the SD Eastern Bhutan Coal Company stated that mining and minerals businesses benefit the country in the form of job opportunities and businesses the operators give to various quarters of the population.

He said that the corporate social responsibility carried out by the company had directly benefited the community and shareholders benefited from returns on their investments. “We provide employment to the people and temporary jobs to students and hire excavators,” he said.

The miners were also quizzed if the business was profitable. A representative from Druk Satair said that it was not true that only a handful was becoming rich in the mining sector. He justified that 30 per cent of the shares were allotted to the public and that a significant number of people were employed in the sector.

“As the mining companies make a profit, the government draws benefits in the form of taxes and employment generation among other benefits, which is a positive thing,” he said.

Among the witnesses was the deputy Dzongkhag Tshogdu chairperson Ugyen Tshering from Pemagatshel, who was asked to testify in what ways the community was affected by mining operations.

“We don’t want to stop the operation of mining in our communities, but the problem is that the community is losing out,” Ugyen Tshering said. He called for proper rules and regulations and that they should be implemented strictly.

National Environment Commission (NEC) secretary Sonam P Wangdi said about 120 environment clearances were issued out of which 46 were in operation. The rest, he said, are either not operational or are being closed.

One of the NA committee members, Dorji Wangdi, said that there were 66 mines and quarry operators in the country. He asked the director general of the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) if the perception that only a handful reap the direct benefits from the sector was true.

“Mines and minerals are national wealth. But various data and figures on the mining sector seem to justify the statement that only a handful are reaping the benefits from the mining business,” he said.

DRC DG Wangchuk Thayey said that there were 37 registered mining enterprises but only 18 were paying taxes to the government. “This means that only 18 are making profits from the business.”

He was of the view that there weren’t many operators due to the capital-intensive nature of the business. He said that the country was benefiting in the form of taxes.

The committee is hoping to make sure that the Bill would enable the mining sector to create thousands of jobs and ease the business operation in the mining sector. One of the witnesses admitted that today it takes about two years to acquire a mining license.

Economic and Finance Committee chairperson, Kinley Wangchuk said that the public hearing was conducted as it was important for the public to know about such issues. He said the Mines and Minerals Management Act of 1995 has never been amended although several changes and related issues have emerged during the last 24 years.

“The public hearings were conducted before, but this is the first time we are doing it in such a manner,” he said. The hearing was broadcast live on BBS TV.

Witnesses included officials from the Department of Geology and Mines as the owner of the bill, local governments, NEC, forest and park services department, private miners, state mining corporation and affected people, among others.

Minerals are among the top 10 exports of the country. Seven mine-based industries (MBIs) in the country paid a total of Nu 455.8 million (M) in 2017 and Nu 601.2M in 2018 as Corporate Income Tax (CIT), according to reports available with the committee.

The net profit earned by the seven MBIs was Nu 1.1 billion (B) in 2017 and Nu 1.3B in 2018. According to the reports, the total royalty and mineral rents levied was less due to the application of incentivised royalty system.

One of the questions was on whether the Bill would be able to solve the problems facing the mining sector. There were no concrete answers from the DGM.

The prevailing perception, DGM Director General Choiten Wangchuk said was that there were not many direct benefits to the community.

Nangkhar Goenpa in need of ECCD 

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:55

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Three-year-old Rigden is ready to join children of his age at an early childhood care and development (ECCD) center. However, there is no such facility in Nangkhar Goenpa, Trashiyangtse.

The nearest ECCD in Teotsho gewog is three kilometers away, in Tshangpuchen village. Picking and dropping him to the nearest ECCD meant abandoning the farm work for his parents.

The three-year-old spends his time playing with other children of his age in the dusty fields, often chasing each other.

With about 15 children, who have come of age to go to ECCD, Nangkhar goenpa is in dire need of an ECCD centre in the village.

Today, parents are either forced to carry their children to the field or leave them to play with others in the dust.

“We do not understand why we are not getting the ECCD centre while others already have. We don’t have a choice but to leave our kids in dusty fields,” a mother of one, Karma Yangki said.

She said that an ECCD centre in the village would benefit mothers in all the three villages. “It would also benefit the development of the child at an early age because the children get quality care and learning at the centre,” Karma said.

Karma Drupchu, a father of one, said that ECCD in Tshangpuchen is too far and that establishment of an ECCD centre at Nangkhar Goenpa would also benefit the Pangthang Goenpa and Nangkhar villages.

“Lack of such services and facilities in the villages could be one reason why people are migrating from their villages because they could give quality and better education to their children in the towns,” he said.

Most parents said there is a stark difference in children who attend ECCD and those who don’t. “By the time they are ready for the school, they already know the basic and are more confident,” Sonam Tashi, a father of three said.

Villagers have also raised the issue with gewog administration through their tshogpa but haven’t heard from the gewog. “Had there been a centre, parents could not only focus more on  their  farms  but  also  give  early education to their child,” one of the parents said.

Teotsho gup, Dechen Wangdi, said the gewog administration had informed all the chiwog tshogpas to submit the list of the children aged between three and five. Except for Jangphu chiwog, others have not submitted a list until now.

For a chiwog to be eligible to get an ECCD, he said there should be at least 15 children. He added that the gewog administration would render full support if any of the chiwogs qualifies. “We will write to the dzongkhag education department and we hope they would also support us.”

The gup said ECCD centres would be established in all the chiwogs in the 12th Plan. Two chiwogs of Tshangpuchen and Kheni already have an ECCD each, one in Jangphutse would be established soon as the budget is approved.

DoR to maintain Bajo-Khuruthang road

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:53

Chimi Dema | Wangdue

The Department of Roads would maintain the Bajo-Khurthang road soon, as the works and human settlement ministry is in the process of tendering the work.

Officials say the tendering work would complete the process within a month and the project would be carried out in two packages.

“We would begin one package from Khuruthang and another from Bajo to complete work in time,” an official said. “The road would be widened and blacktopped.”

It was learnt that the issue was raised several times during the dzongkhag tshogdu of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang.

A Thedtsho gewog representative, Chencho said the decision to maintain the road was prolonged, as it had to involve landlords who own land along the roadside. “As road widening work would encroach their land, concerned agencies had to get consent from landlords.”

Another constraint, he said was a lack of budget.

The road falls in a secondary national highway category and government of India would fund Nu 172 million for the cost of maintenance under  current plan projects.

The 9kms stretch of the road connects the two districts of Punakha and Wangdue and it was initially constructed as feeder road. A decade ago, the road was blacktopped.

However, in recent years, road quality deteriorated, as bitumens peeled off and it was filled with potholes.

The road is narrow and also prone to accident.

A motorist, Sangay Dorji, said if the highway is restored and widened, it could reduce accidents.

Taxi drivers said that restoring the road could help them cut down expenses, which are spent to maintain their vehicles.“It would be convenient for both drivers and travellers if the road is maintained,” a taxi driver, Sonam Gyeltshen, said.

City and residents

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:51

There is a need to understand each other’s responsibility well. Many problems  will naturally go away.

Thimphu Thromde is home to more than 100,000 people. With land area of about 26km2, it has the highest population density in the country with 4,389 persons per km2. And the city is growing what with the country’s growing population (although now we are beginning to worry about the country’s steadily declining fertility rate) and unimpeded rural to urban migration which, over the years, has manifested in the form of rising unemployment, particularly among the country’s young. However, these are not the only indicators that tell us that Thimphu is a city that is growing rapidly. How the thromde is increasingly falling short in providing the residents with basic services is beginning to give us a clearer picture of how fast the city is growing and what could potentially be the result a few years down the line if clearheaded and urgent actions are now not taken.

Take water, for example. Almost every part of Thimphu is facing water shortage today, although in varying degrees. What transpires after the water flagship programme is another thing. Anyway, the project isn’t coming until 2021. Bringing enough water to the city has been a continuous process—every now and then we hear about heavy projects to channel the water to the city from perennial sources. But when the taps run dry in the households still, it is comfortably blamed on distribution. That is a serious dereliction of duty. It is not for no reason that there are thromde offices and the people elect their representatives every five years. If distribution is the problem, fixing it and ensuring that the city residents do not face water shortage is one of the thromde’s main responsibilities.

And there is waste to talk about. At this rate, Thimphu’s solid waste production will have increased to 124 metric tonnes a day by 2027. Rather than focusing on efficient collection, we have long been floundering with ineffective bans and dumping which goes mostly directly in some of the pristine parts of our neighbourhood. Urbanisation is not just growth, as it is often misunderstood. More important, it is the ability of cities and towns to provide infrastructure services such as sewage, clean water, roads and housing, among others, to support the basic livelihood of the people and businesses. In all these areas and more, Thimphu Thromde has fallen far too short. What is apparent is that in our system of local or city government, heads have little or no power. If they had, provision of basic services would not be a problem even if that meant doing so by relying on increased property tax revenue and fees from waste and sewer collection, among others.

Thimphu as the biggest city in the country is grappling with these problems today but other Bhutanese towns are growing and expanding fast. But people must also understand their roles better and play their part so that city governments can serve them better. Bridging this gap between provider and receivers of services is critically important. How best to address the issues related to urbanisation should be thrashed out now rather than later.

Youth on a meaningful vacation 

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 15:51

Younten Tshedup | Panbang

Children participating in a winter youth camp run around as they play hide-and-seek in Panbang, Zhemgang.

At a distance, Jigme Wangmo and her six friends sell snacks and tea by the roadside below Panbang town.

“Why should they have all the fun? We are having fun, too, in our own ways,” mutters Jigme Wangmo, 12, while returning change to a customer.

Every winter for the past two years, the seven students of Sonamthang Central School in Panbang have been doing this to while away time during vacation.

The grade VII student said, “I would prefer selling tea and momo over any other activity. This is our fun thing to do during vacation. We enjoy doing this.”

Braving the chilly winter mornings, the group arrives at their spot near 152m Panbang bridge over Drangmechhu every day.

Individually, the group earns about Nu 1,000 each day. While the rest of the vendors hand over the full earning to their parents, Jigme Wangmo said that her mother allows her to keep half of the earnings.

“I buy things and cloths that I like with the money I save. My mother helps me with the stationery items when the school opens,” she said. “I don’t like staying home doing nothing during the vacation, which is why I prefer coming here.”

Of the seven vendors, the lone male seller, Kelzang Jigme, however, feels otherwise.

“My mother wants me to be here because she has other works at home,” said the 14-year-old. “Given the opportunity I would stay at home or go out to play with my friends. But since I’m the eldest son, I need to help my mother.”

Kelzang Jigme said that many of his friends ask him if he was ashamed of doing such business while the rest of them freely spent their holidays.

“There is no shame in making money legally. I’m not begging or stealing from anyone,” he said. “But sometimes it makes me sad because I don’t get to go to other places like some of my friends.”

He said that his father, a truck driver is mostly away with work and his mother faces a difficult time doing all the chores at home. “My two younger sisters are too small to do this, which is why I have to come.”

He said that some of his teachers who visit their stalls are pleased to see them do the work. “It encourages us to do more when teachers use us as a good example during the lessons in school.”

One of the parents, Tharzom, said that it was important to engage children in such activities because children were simply lazing around at homes without any other recreational activities in the area.

“It was an opportunity for them to make some money when they returned to school and also taught them how to socialise with people,” she said. “Moreover, when children are left idle for too long, they indulge in anti-social activities.”

The youth from Mongar 

Away from the bustling stalls, a few kilometres from the fuel depot in Panbang are a group of young men engaged in a futsal game. Using crudely rolled plastics as a ball, the game is being played to celebrate Nyilo, Winter Solstice, which is also observed as the new year in the western parts of the country.

Empty pots and plates lie scattered outside their blue tarpaulin makeshift cabin beside the dusty Tingtibi-Panbang highway. They had just finished their Nyilo meal – rice with Masala pork curry.

The boys from Thangrong in Mongar are here to ferry materials to erect a tower for TashiCell.

Every winter, led by the two seniors, Namgay Lhendup and Neten, students in Thangrong village go to work in different places across the country.

Kezang Dorji, 18, said that he had worked in numerous construction sites over the years during his winter holidays. “I want to become an engineer. The reason I work at construction sites is to acquire experience on the field,” he said. “Besides, I make some money from the work which helps me when school restarts.”

With almost half the work at the present location completed, the group has another similar project near Goshing.

“Sometimes we get lots of contract work at the same time and it becomes difficult to find time and workers,” said Namgay Lhendup. “I try to involve all the youth in our village whenever I get a contract. Besides the individuals, it helps the community.”

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