Takin City defeated Thimphu Knights by 116 runs to win the Bhutan T20 Smash 2019 at the Pelkhil Oval in Thimphu on October 26. A total of 11 teams took part in the tournament. (Photo: cricketbhutan.org)
With mental health emerging as a major social issue, the interest in mental health services research is increasing.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, at the inaugural of the fifth international conference on Medical and Health Sciences (ICMHS) in Thimphu, yesterday said mental health is not just a clinical or policy matter for the practitioner and the government.
Lyonpo said it is emerging as a key social issue that affects a growing number of individuals and families. “But, public health awareness on this issue has been limited and challenged.”
Themed ‘Mental health matters: Everyone’s responsibility,’ the conference is expected to create awareness and a platform to discuss the various aspects of mental health, challenges and opportunities.
In the last 11 months of its term, Lyonpo said the government had an opportunity to scan what is working and what is not. “It is painful to see that there are limited services when it comes to mental health.”
Citing an example of youth who are dealing with addiction, Lyonpo said the facility at the national referral hospital in Thimphu provides detoxification services.
However, in the end there are no links between these services and rehabilitation services, to link them to the reintegration programme, and reskilling programme so that they become the meaningful productive citizen of the country. “We are seeing a lot of missing link.”
“I hope the gathering of experts here will guide us and continue to guide us in terms of what we should do because it is a big concern for the nation. A nation which is demographically very young. We cannot afford not to address the issue of mental health,” Lyonpo said.
Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMSB) President, Dr KP Tshering, said today no one is spared by this issue. All are stressed out due to the complexity of modern life. “Suicide, alcoholism, substance abuse, depression are emerging as public health issues in the Gross National Happiness country.”
A regional advisor with WHO South-East Asia Regional Office, Dr Nazneen Anwar said mental health does matter and it is the responsibility of not just health personnel but everyone.
Acknowledging the importance of mental health for human capital development, Dr Nazneen Anwar said, “Without mental health, we cannot have complete physical health. It is important from birth to adulthood.”
However, she said mental health did not receive importance and attention that it should have been given. Throughout the region, the allocation of funding support to mental health issues has been negligible with less than one percent of the government’s health budget.
Globally, she said more than 450 million people are suffering from mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders which has led to a treatment gap of almost 90 percent in the lower and middle-income countries. “This means 90 percent of people suffering from mental health conditions do not receive the care that they need.” Even in developed countries, the gap is close to 50 percent.
“We mutually understand that this mental health is not only neglected but also that it is for all of us to come together, talk together and see how we can close this gap,” she said. “Mental health means addressing all the issues and distractions which would lead to costing health and mental wellbeing.”
The conference provides the much-needed platform to the national professionals and experts to share their knowledge and do networking with international colleagues.
Dr KP Tshering said it also provides an opportunity for the national health professionals to update and keep abreast of the developments in medicine and also get the credits for continuing medical education, which is a prerequisite for medical professionals to renew their license to practice.
“We are hopeful that this conference will come out with some good solutions and recommendations for policymakers and the government,” Dr KP Tshering said.
During the next two days of the conference, there will be seven sessions with 27 presentations covering a variety of subthemes, experience sharing, and quiz sessions.
Medical Education Centre for Research, Innovation and Training (MECRIT) and KGUMSB is organising the three-day event.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Here, in Ngawang Dramtoe village in Tading gewog, Samtse, there is an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre.
The centre opened two years ago but it has remained idle ever since. There is an ECCD centre in Lingzhi, Thimphu too. There here never been a facilitator.
Although the ministry of education does not have the record, there are reportedly quite a few ECCD centres in the country that are un-operational. Some remain closed due to lack of facilitators.
This is the reality that needs to be understood in the face of increasing demand for ECCD centres in many villages.
The ministry initiated ECCD programme in 2002, which is generally regarded as important in laying the foundation in the children above three to five years, as an early intervention.
The programme is designed to prepare the children for the formal school.
Although the implementation has been successful over the years, the mobalisation of facilitators has become challenging. The recruitment depends on the Royal Civil Service Commission’s (RCSC) approval.
So, some centres are today forced to close, affecting the equal access to ECCD, particularly in the remote villages.
The ministry, however, is confident that by 2020 there would be enough ECCD centres and facilitators because the RCSC has approved 201 ECCD facilitators for 163 ECCD centres.
Chief programme officer of ECCD and SEN division, Sherab Phuntsho, said that the recruitment of ECCD facilitators would take place on January next year and all the ECCD centres would be operationalised from 2020 academic session.
Realising the impact of ECCD, as revealed in the National ECCD Impact Study 2015 that showed ECCD made a difference in the children’s learning even with a year of intervention, the main thrust of education ministry’s 12th Five-Year Plan is also kept as ECCD programme.
Sherab Phuntsho said that the ministry’s target was to enrol 50 percent of children between three to five years in the ECCD centres by the end of 12th Plan and Annual Performance Agreement.
“It’s strongly believed and has seen that the ECCD interventions could address poor learning outcomes and grade repetitions in the schools,” he said. “This is why we should invest more in the ECCD, as it contributes to strengthening parenting practices and help young children.”
According to the Annual Edcuation Statistics 2019 ECCD studies have also shown that children that attend the programme learn better in school compared with those who have not attended such programme.
Sherab Phuntsho said that the ECCD programme was fairly new and it was only in 2018 when the ECCD facilitators’ position was approved by the government. He added that the ministry also received the formal approval on August 22 2018 for 273 ECCD centres with 530 ECCD facilitators.
“This recruitment was for the year 2017. But with from 2020 we’re confident that with the recruitment of 201 facilitators, no ECCD centres in the dzongkhags would remain without facilitators,” he said.
Education statistics show that on an average there are 11 children per facilitators in the government while six children per teachers in the private.
Sherab Phuntsho said that after a thorough study, the ministry unanimously decided to keep children— facilitator ratio at 1:15—that would be qualified to establish ECCD centre considering the available resources.
“However, now the RCSC realising the importance of ECCD has approved the ratio to be 1:8 in the ECCD centre from 2019,” he said. “This decision would help the ministry to provide services to maximum number of children, especially in the scattered community.”
To meet the demands, the ministry earlier this year introduced mobile facilitator to reach community-based centre to avoid children missing the opportunity to learn. These facilitators move between two neighbouring ECCDs after a few days.
The underutilised infrastructure of the extended classrooms in remote areas were converted to mobile ECCD centres.
As of May 2019, there were 382 ECCD centres (both government, private, NGO and corporation) with 8,788 children in all types of ECCD centres across the country and 672 ECCD facilitators.
People of Chaskar village in Chuzergang gewog and Pemaling village in Serzhong gewog constructed a temporary bridge over the Maokhola river in Gelephu on October 23.
They have constructed the bridge using pakshi (bamboo) and logs to shorten the distance between their villages and Gelephu.
Pemaling Tshogpa, Kinley, said that more than 40 people were involved in the construction work. “We have completed the work within one day and all the materials were donated by the people of the two villages.”
He said that some residents have also donated cash, some have given materials and some turned up for the work.
Kinley also said that people of the two villages would use the temporary bridge for the whole winter.
He said they didn’t seek any support from the gewog administration and the government, as they construct the bridge every winter by themselves. “The bridge benefits us until the monsoon starts and the river swells. The bridge gets washed away every summer.”
Choki Wangmo | Punakha
More than 600 youth and adolescents from five schools and institutions in Punakha met with Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuk and the executive director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr Natalia Kanem yesterday.
The youth brought their challenges in the limelight through a skit presented by the students of Ugyen Academy. The 15-minute storytelling through skit highlighted the challenges facing young people such as teenage pregnancy, divorce, depression, suicide, molestation, harassment, and rape.
The skit revolved around the theme of self-love and confidence, the need for safety, sexual education, while showing solidarity to survivors of abuse and in difficult conditions. The students reiterated on the need to remove stigma so that they can share the problems.
In the last three decades, UNFPA had been advocating towards sexual and reproductive health while supporting survivors of domestic violence, harassment, and abuse which greatly affect the lives of women, children and young people in Bhutan.
The Queen Mother thanked the organisation for their unstinted support and valuable contribution in realising the reproductive health needs of Bhutanese and supporting the lives of women, children and young children across the nation.
Her Majesty shared her concerns affecting the health and well-being of young people in the country, which is an emerging problem. “The lives of young people are in stake today because of problems attributed to rapid development and exposure to social media. Our official records show a rise in substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, crime, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, and unsafe abortion, all of which are preventable.
“We have increasingly witnessed unhealthy trends in the form of suicide and attempted suicide among youth and young adults,” Her Majesty added.
Dr Natalia Kanem talked about the need for dialogue to address challenges faced by young people. She said that youth is like the rising sun, and the world needs their voice, energy and aspirations in the rapidly changing political, social, economic and environmental scenarios.
She thanked the government for establishing adolescent-friendly health services, implementing life-skills education in schools and equipping teachers in these areas. “The government’s commitment to the development and empowerment of young people is also evident in the establishment of the Y-PEER network.”
Her Majesty also called upon young people to seek factual information to make positive choices in life. She encouraged young people to talk to health service providers and other professionals within schools and communities.
“I urge teachers to pay stronger emphasis on life skill education so that children grow up into well-adjusted and confident adults who can contribute to the development of their communities and their nation,’ Her Majesty added.
Her Majesty is the Goodwill Ambassador to UNFPA.
It was important for people to strike a balance between fundamental rights and fundamental duties in the process of demanding their rights, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said at a conference on “Educating for Democracy” in Paro yesterday.
Organiser Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) said the conference was a forum for educators, academics, policymakers, leaders and students to engage in exchange of ideas with international experts and local thought leaders.
The finance minister said that the education system played an important role in shaping democracy and that teachers should play their roles accordingly.
“Our education system is very much aligned with the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH),” he said, adding that Bhutan was doing “fairly well” in terms of democracy.
Lyonpo said it was for Bhutan to decide what was best for the country. A good democracy, he said, must be defined within the national context.
One of the panellists, president of College of Language and Culture Studies, Lopen Lungtaen Gyatso, said that it would indicate a lack of integrity to tell someone whom to vote for in an election. He said that it was people’s responsibility to participate in democratic process and that there was a mechanism for participation.
He said that peoples’ life should be joyful to be able to give their best and to be the best human being.
Another panellist and teacher from Olathang Primary School, Tshewang Ngedup, said that teachers had an important role to play in shaping democracy. He said that teachers should encourage active participation in the democratic process.
Panellist Jasmine Sim (PhD) from Singapore said that democracy involved active participation in the democratic process and expression by citizens.
She is an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Talking about democracy in Singapore, Jasmine Sim said: “We value consensus rather than conflict.” She said that people did with respect when it came to challenging and questioning the government.
Jigme Choden from BCMD said that it was important in a democracy for citizens to ask questions. She said that democracy was an ongoing process and that it was impossible to achieve a perfect one.
She urged the participants to engage in shaping and constructing Bhutanese democracy.
A participant said that one of the positive aspects of Bhutanese democracy was there was no political dynasty in the country.
According to BCMD, to be democratic is a state of being and transcends espousal of ideals to living the principles in our everyday lives. Democratic engagement extends beyond partaking in electoral processes and manifests its values in all aspects of our being. It stated that democracy resided not in books but in how schools are governed and managed, students and faculty are treated, decisions are made and problems are addressed. Democracy is in the character and conduct of everyday affairs in the school, community and the country at large.
The conference was aimed at stimulating interpretation of democratic ideals and to reflect on existing societal and institutional culture with a critical mind to realise the national priority of deepening Bhutan’s democracy.
The forum was also aimed at providing a forum for local thought leaders, educators, policy-makers and others to congregate, share ideas, take cognizance of emerging needs, deliberate on potential solutions and celebrate good practices.
Bhutan is named the best country to visit in 2020, above England and North Macedonia, in the Lonely Planet’s travel guide book, ‘Best in Travel 2020.’
Lonely Planet is an international travel guide book publisher.
Best in Travel is Lonely Planet’s annual publication highlighting the top 10 countries, cities, regions and best value destinations.
The country’s low impact tourism policy, its rich culture and tradition, and sustainable practices are the reasons why Bhutan hit the publisher’s top list.
When it comes to sustainability, being the first carbon-negative country in the world, the country leads the pack, according to Lonely Planet. “Its sustainability efforts are extraordinary. Bhutan is set to become the first fully organic nation.”
Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) director-general, Dorji Dradhul, said Lonely Planet had their criteria to rank the places.
He said it was because of high-value-low-volume tourism policy that the country had specific regulations for the visitors such as requiring the travellers to visit the country through a tour operator and having to pay a minimum daily fee.
TCB’s media spokesperson, Damcho Rinzin, said that Bhutan being recognised as the best country to visit in 2020 out of 195 countries was an honour.
The entry for Bhutan states that Bhutan offers travellers a unique experience of mountain hikes through pine-scented monastery-crowned hills along magnificent trails unspoiled by litter.
“The kingdom prioritises its ancient Buddhist traditions, while still embracing global developments,” it states. “Here, you will find a fascinating blend of the old and the new among kind-hearted people whose time-honoured beliefs, keep them uniquely in tune with their environment.”
Having to pay a daily tariff to set foot in Bhutan, according to the publisher, is also why travellers should visit the country in 2020. “This means it won’t get any more crowded and its natural beauty and reverence remain protected.”
Dorji Dradhul said Bhutan was called the last Shangri-La, an exclusive tourist destination, by those who had visited the country and who knew about Bhutan. “We at the TCB feel it’s long overdue.”
Since the Lonely Planet ranked Bhutan as the best country to visit in 2020, it would further encourage TCB to make Bhutan known internationally, he said.
This year, TCB has set an ambitious vision of taking tourism to the top.
Dorji Dradhul said this meant making Bhutan the number one tourist destination and also making tourism the country’s number one revenue generator. But not at the cost of Gross National Happiness, he added.
While the Lonely Planet’s ranking is important, he said there were other global rankings. “We cannot be complacent. Rather, we should be encouraged to work harder and achieve our vision. We need to aim to be on the list of many other global ranking related to tourism so we will continue to work harder.”
He said the stakeholders, every citizen, must work hard to take tourism to the top.
To further promote Bhutan, Dorji Dradhul said the council was trying to promote Bhutan as a tourist destination at the global level. TCB secretariat is planning to work with the global media outlet like CNN to promote Bhutan.
“We are planning to work with them. It may cost us, but we feel it is worth it as some countries like Malaysia are using the platform,” he said. “We are also trying to participate in global events on tourism, not necessarily travel fairs.”
TCB is also in the process of developing a communication strategy for tourism. “We are working on developing a promotion and marketing strategy.”
Promotion and marketing at a global level by making use of technology, global media and social media are seen as some of the opportunities.
Within the country, he said many things need to be improved.
“We are working on improving and strengthening our services and infrastructures like road site amenities, improving site management and quality of guides, among others,” he said.
Damcho Rinzin said TCB was working on an event to celebrate this achievement and honour.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The grade I Basic Health Unit (BHU) in Dangdung will be ready only by January next year.
Dzongkhag health officials said the dzongkhag administration planned to start providing services by the end of this month. The construction of the BHU began in 2014 and was supposed to be completed by 2017.
Explaining the reasons for the delay, officials said the first contractor failed to complete the work on time. “The contract was terminated and the work was awarded to new contractor,” said an official.
The construction of the main building and a doctor’s quarter along with the four-units of staff quarter are completed.
Another package which includes the construction of two block with four-unit staff quarter with footpath and drainage is still under construction. It is also said to be the failure of the contractor.
The construction of the BHU is funded by Mangdechhu Hydro Power Project (MHPA) with Nu. 57 million to cater to the increasing population in the area.
Dzongkhag health officer Dorji Gyeltshen, said the BHU will have one medical officer with nursing facilities, X-ray, dental, ultrasound and diagnostic lab facilities.
We have proposed staff requisition as per the staffing pattern of BHU-I to the health ministry.
The people are waiting for the new BHU to open so that they can avail better health facilities.
It will benefit the people of more than 400 households, staff of MHPA and the people of Korphu gewog.
Until the new BHU- I is fully established, the public will have to avail the service from the existing BHU at Tongtophey.
Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang
With the rise in dog population and increasing incidences of harm to livestock, public support has become necessary in controlling the stray dog population.
The Community Animal Birth Control (CABC) started in Tsirang from October 21. Over a hundred dogs have been operated so far. The dogs were also vaccinated for anti-rabies.
From tomorrow, a team from the veterinary hospital will move to other gewogs.
Last year, there were about 149 stray dogs in Damphu. Locals said that even with such programmes, the dog population seemed to be growing.
Veterinary officer, Dr Nima, said that the main challenge was catching dogs. Four professional dogcatchers were hired for the programme. “It is difficult as they [dogs] don’t know us. If the people who fed them help, it would be much easier.”
On October 14, a notification seeking support and cooperation was circulated.
Dzongkhag livestock officer, Gyem Tshering, said that without public support it was difficult to fulfil the objective of bringing down the stray dog population. “Even if one dog is left out, 12 puppies can easily be bred.”
Cooperation from people could help achieve effectiveness and efficiency for full coverage, he said.
Besides the annual programme, every Tuesday is marked as “surgery days” and is dedicated to vaccination in the hospital.
There has been almost no cases of rabies in the dzongkhag in about a decade.
The recent dzongkhag tshogdu also raised the issue of stray dogs harming the livestock in the locality.
Kilkhorthang Gup Beda Moni Chamlagai, said that there were complaints from the people in the villages regarding the stray dogs.
“Earlier this year, people complained that a dog had killed a goat and harmed calves.”
He said that as the town fell under the gewog, some incidences were also reported. “Stray dogs usually come to places where there are more people and food. However, I feel that dogs are also transported here.”
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Traffic congestion in Phuentsholing has not improved. The problem aggravates from the mid-autumn and continues until March.
Long vehicle queues have now become a regular scene in the border town.
Currently, the construction of the footpath at Gadoe Lam is one of the reasons for congestion. Two road links are being developed with better drainage system, blocking vehicles passing through.
The contractor still has seven-some months to complete the project.
The growing development activities and the shrinking town space are the leading causes of congestion, officials say.
Although Phuentsholing Thromde has 11 Local Area Plan (LAP) for development activities, many are yet to be taken up. Then there are rapid development activities within the existing town.
Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said SASEC’s northern bypass (NBR), a mega project, was just in the middle of the town.
“Phuentsholing township development project is another important project happening at present,” he said, adding dumper trucks carrying boulders from Toorsa further worsened the problem in the town.
He said that majority of potato harvest from across the country arrived in Phuentsholing bringing in more trucks in the town.
Indian trucks heading to Pasakha industrial estate is another major problem Phuentsholing faces.Between P/ling and Pasakha: Heavily-laden trucks breakdown and cause distress to traffic movement
As per the records maintained by Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI), more than 2,300 trucks enter Phuentsholing and more than 860 trucks leave the town using the same route in the town in a month.
This figure is from just 11 industries in Pasakha, according to ABI report. There are 38 industries in Pasakha.
The main concern with the Indian trucks is that they are mostly old and overloaded, which are often seen stuck on the road, disturbing the traffic.
This year, the Indian trucks have hit the Phuentsholing police post (near the Druk Punjab National Bank) about eight times so far. Instances of trucks hitting and damaging the bank’s wall have also been reported.
The business representative in the town, Losang Tshering, said the traffic congestion was due to the same entry and exit point for heavy vehicles at the main gate.
He said that the location of the customs office and port in the middle of the town also caused congestion. Trailers and trucks always got stuck at one point and caused traffic distress, he added.
However, the traffic disruption in the recent times happened due to the boulder carrying trucks, the business representative said. The mini dry port, which was completed in beginning of this year, is yet to be used, should ease the traffic congestion, he added.
The town’s officer commanding with RBP, Major Gyeltshen, said the growing number of regional tourists added to the traffic distress.
“People don’t use pedestrian crossings and walk in the middle of the roads,” he said.
While the number of vehicles is also increasing every year, Major Gyeltshen said that infrastructure for better traffic was necessary. There is need for wider roads and overpasses.
Conducting seminar, training, and workshops in Phuentsholing during winter increased number of vehicles, which also caused congestion in the town, officials from thromde and RBP said.
Relief and solution
Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said that the trucks exporting boulder should be monitored properly.
“Industrial (Indian) trucks need monitoring too,” he said, adding that only those trucks in good condition should be allowed to enter Phuentsholing to avoid breakdowns.
Thromde is working towards improving pedestrian roads, which according to him would encourage people to keep their cars at home. The SASEC projects, which are meant to ease congestion, should be completed, the thrompon said.
There are several SASEC projects in Phuentsholing. NBR has two packages, the development of a four-lane 2.7km road and construction of a 120-metre bridge over Omchhu. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding Nu 444.5 millions (M) for these projects as grant.
Under Package-I, the four-lane road is currently being constructed from the second gate. It will connect the new bridge over Omchhu. The road runs along the RSTA building and connects the bridge at the RBA curve.
However, both the projects have been delayed by monsoon this year. The four-lane road is expected to complete early next year.
Other three SASEC projects, which are all aimed at easing the congestion, are in Pasakha. A 123-metre pre-stressed concrete connecting girder bridge over Bhalujhora was completed in July. Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) constructed the bridge at Nu 77.2M.
A 50-metre multicellular culvert box bridge over Baunijhora was also completed in May this year. However, the bridge could not stand the monsoon and Pasakha remained cut off on several occasions when flashfloods obstructed the bridge. A gabion wall constructed above this bridge also could not withstand the flashfloods.
All these infrastructures were supposed to connect a land customs station at Allay, Pasakha and divert industrial trucks from Bibarey, India, without having to come to Phuentsholing. However, the station has been deferred after the flood risks.
The mini dry port that was completed in March this year would also accommodate customs bound trucks and ease traffic. But the port would be used only after the completion of NBR.
Although it may take some time, better traffic days was not far, a businessman, Sonam Tshewang said.
He said traffic police in Phuentsholing had done a commendable job. Even people from across the border strictly follow the traffic rules in Phuengtsholing, he added.
It is being shared, but not as much as the last post of an Indian tourist atop a choeten at Dochula.
A group on bikers from the Indian state of Kerala on behalf of their “Indian brother” apologised for his behaviour and offending the sentiments of Bhutanese.
Holding apology notes, the group of five bikers posed in front of the Buddha statue in Kuenselphodrang. “Sorry Bhutan,” says two charts. Another one reads, “You are our neighbour, we are a friendly country and it is our duty and responsibility to respect your heritage and faith and keep it from being tainted.”
The bikers were in Bhutan for five days and left for Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. “We are Indians, we are sorry that another Indian rider has offended your faith. As an Indian traveller, we felt sorry for the wrong done an Indian,” Pranav Viswanath, who shared the picture, told Kuensel yesterday.
The group of bikers are not related or acquainted to the biker who climbed the choeten. “But we are Indian. Indians are our brothers and sisters,” he said. “As an Indian, we apologise to Bhutan.”
Pranav told Kuensel that it was a sad incident and to see all the people blaming the Indian tourist. “
Asked what triggered them to apologise on his behalf, Pranav said they are tourists and we will keep visiting Bhutan. “We need your love and cooperation,” he said.
On the Dochula incident, he said that it was an unfortunate incident and that it was not fair to see all Indian tourists blamed for the wrong done by a single tourist. “We are fond of Buddha and Buddhist stories,” he said.
The group, Pranav said, enjoyed their short stay in Bhutan. “It is very beautiful.”
In the picture holding apology notes are Vishnu Sathya, Umesh Ambaloor, Sumith Mohanan, Vyshak Maina, Anup Sundaresan, Melvin Nerona and Midhun manohar.
Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse
Almost five years of its consecration, renovation works on some parts of the giant Guru statue in Takila, Lhuentse is going on.
The works include changing the stone slabs of the ground area surrounding the statue and tiles and maintaining the slope of the sengthri (the main seat) of the statue.
Takila Ugyen Dongag Yoesel Choeling Shedra’s Khenpo, Dawa Penjor, said the basement floor surrounding the statue was not done properly and no uniformity was maintained besides not being properly fixed. He said all the stone slabs that were extracted from Maedtsho gewog in the district were being floored after cutting them uniformly.
Similarly, he said the projecting slope was not maintained at the sengthri resulting in seepage of water that caused damaged to the floor and some parts of debri (wall painting). “We’re changing the tiles and maintaining slope to avoid major damages in future.”
Khenpo Dawa Penjor said the decision came after the committee members of Druk Odhiyana Foundation and the shedra management body headed by Khoma Lam Namdrol Zangpo held two meetings.
He added that it was also a wish of the late Khenpo Karpo, the founder of the Guru statue who was not content with the flooring and the slope and had expressed his wish to change then. However, it was kept untouched as it was recently completed.
He said the maintenance costs around Nu 11M and the students of late Khenpo from Taiwan and Hongkong along with few others are sponsoring the renovation. The work was awarded in May this year initially for three months and extended later, which is due for completion, next month.
The construction of the 154ft. Guru Nangsi Zilnoen, the largest guru statue in the country was built based on the prophecy, commenced in 2008 and consecrated in 2015. A shedra (Buddhist college) was instituted in the temple and there are currently around 90 monks enrolled and 20 manipas who circumambulate and recite mani around the statue.
The place has also become one of the most visited destinations in the district for both the domestic pilgrims and international tourists.
Khenpo Dawa said pilgrims from as far as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Wangdue spend a few days making 108 rounds while international tourists from Singapore, Hongkong and Germany also visited the statue.
He said around 20,000 domestic pilgrims and 2,000 tourists have visited the statue last year.
In a seven goal thriller, defending champions Transport United FC (TUFC) beat High Quality United FC (HQUFC) 4-3 in the ongoing BOB Bhutan Premier League on October 24.
A good defensive display and the fearless approach from both the teams resulted in the nail biting game.
TUFC striker Dorji scored in the 11th minute to give an early lead. Three minutes later, Dawa Tshering doubled the lead. Buoyed by the two goals lead, TUFC pushed forward.
Their strategy paid off when Kinley Rabgay scored the third for TUFC heading in a perfect cross from Dawa Tshering.
HQUFC missed nine chances in the first 45 minutes. However, they pulled one back in the added time of the first half when Ningthoujam Naresh Singh scored to make it 3-1.
HQUFC picked up from where they left in the first half and exerted pressure.
Three minutes after the second half kickoff, Tenzin Namgyel scored the second for HQUFC, however TUFC’s Chimi Dorji scored the fourth for the team in 54th minute to keep the score 4-2.
Ten minutes later, Ningthoujam Naresh Singh got his brace re-igniting the hope for at least a point. The game became competitive with equal pressure from both the teams.
TUFC resorted to defending with the one-goal cushion. HQUFC, despite pushing forward for an equaliser couldn’t find the net.
The game ended 4-3 in favour of TUFC.
Dawa Tshering of TUFC was declared as the man of the match.
“Today was the important match for us and I am glad we won. In the remaining three matches, we will play well,” said Dawa.
As of yesterday, Paro FC still remains undefeated and leads the table with 39 points. From a total of 14 matches played, Paro FC won 13. TUFC is in second place with 35 points followed by Thimphu City FC with 28 points.
Druk Stars FC, Paro United FC and Phuentsholing United FC are in relegation zone.
Thimphu City FC will play Ugyen Academy FC today at 6pm at Changlimithang Stadium.
Twelve national players from Bhutan Taekwondo Federation (BTF) reached Bangkok on October 24 to participate in the ninth Tirak Taekwondo International Championship, which begins from today in Bangkok, Thailand. According to the BTF, the competition is to prepare for the upcoming South Asian Games (SAG), which will be held in December at Kathmandu, Nepal. It is funded by Olympic Solidarity (OS), under the continental athlete support grant (CASG) through Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC).
The quality of discussions at the local government conferences and fora has undergone change with the elected leaders becoming more vocal and questioning government decisions, as they shoulder greater responsibilities.
One issue that local leaders keep pounding is the entitlements and the expectations from the zhung (government) even as more finance and financial authority is devolved to the local governments.
A repetitive issue local leaders raised, in unison, at the last dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) and gewog tshogde (GT) chairpersons’ conference was on support from government.
From soliciting funds to conduct local tshechus, salaries for lhakhang caretakers and campaign funds, local leaders had a long list.
Gups from Wangduephodrang have raised the need for government fund to conduct annual tshechus in the gewogs. Local festivals like tshechus were conducted by the community so far.
Gups from Lhuentse submitted the need for salaries for community lhakhang caretakers.
While officials from the Department of Culture did not have specific answer to the submissions, official claimed the Culture Bill once enacted, as an Act would resolve most of the issues.
Some gups have also said that supporting annual community tshechus would not be possible, as some gewogs have tshechus for every chiwog.
An observer pointed out that providing support for community events like tshechus would hamper community vitality. “Every household in the community contribute in conducting religious events, but if the government provides funds, people might not take interest in the event,” he said. “As it is, community events are losing charm and vigor.”
Gups also had many submissions to the finance ministry at the conference.
Gups from Paro requested a provision for campaign fund during the third LG elections.
Bumthang gups asked for high-altitude allowance entitlement for local government (LG) leaders like other civil servants, Wangduephodrang gups requested to increase the budget ceiling with the increase of the travel allowance (TA) / daily allowances (DA) entitlements. They also asked to devolve financial authority related to TA/DA for civil servants in the gewogs from dzongkhags to gewogs.
Tsirang gups asked for the possibility of providing financial incentives to chipoens, census and land coordinators, as they provide important public services.
Tsirang and Wangduephodrang gups also raised the need to increase the discretionary fund of gewog to Nu 50,000 from the existing Nu 10,000, justifying that there are lots of guests visiting the gewog and the frequency of meetings have increased manifold.
Gups in Thimphu and Zhemgang raised about not receiving leave and travel concessions (LTC) and leave encashment and need to increase the TA of mangmis at par with the gups. They also claimed that TA for travelling within the gewogs need to be provided for actual travel distance and not as lumpsum.
Dagana gups raised the issue in budget allocation and travel budget deficiency in 2018-2019 fiscal year.
Chukha and Samdrupjongkhar gups raised that the uniform allocation of fuel and maintenance budget for gewog pool vehicle (Bolero) need to be looked at and considered as per the situations of the gewogs.
The director of the Department of National Budget, Loday Tsheten, and chief budget officer, Phuntsho Wangdi explained that most of the entitlements and benefits gup raised would have to be in line with the Local Government Act and LG members’ Entitlement Act.
They said that providing financial incentives to chipoens, census and land coordinators should be routed through the pay commission.
Budget officials also said that LG members would not be entitled for high altitude allowance, as they are residents of high altitudes. “If we provide high altitude allowance to the LG members, all people living in higher altitudes would also ask for allowance,” the director said. “It also has to go through the pay commission.”
Budget officials highlighted the need to use the country’s limited resources judiciously. They explained that Budget and Appropriation Act is enacted by Parliament and that no one has authority except the Parliament to change it.
They also asked the gups if they would be entitled for house rent allowances, as they would reside in their own gewogs.
Some gups explained that many people misunderstand that gups are asking for LG members’ perks and entitlements, but the agenda for the conference was submitted a year ago.
Gups also voiced that all governments that came to power have not been fair to LG members. They claimed that every government gave them a minimum pay and entitlement revision and when they questioned, the pay commission is always used as the excuse.
Kanglung gup Kinzang Dorji said senior officials who have authority should attend LG conference. “When gups raise concerns, officials who attend say they would consult their seniors and get back,” he said.
Meanwhile, it was also revealed, at the conference, that the 205 gewogs officials have appropriated Nu 11M to travel outside, 16M for chadri and a lot of budgets to procure office equipment.
The picturesque Sakteng village has lost its remoteness. With a road right on the doorsteps of the once secluded highlanders in the east, Sakteng is, today, less than a half a day’s journey.
Together with the remoteness, Sakteng also lost its exclusivity. So has Merak. In the west, the distance to Laya is cut short by days. The road has reached Koina, a few hours from Laya. Soe and Lingzhi are no more remote too.
Decades of development has brought dramatic changes and advantages to the highlanders. Electricity and telecommunications are not new. All houses are CGI roofed and many use electric appliances for cooking.
Roads, the latest development, are making lives a lot easier.
Road was high on the priority list of many highlanders. They can transport construction materials, rice, chillies, cooking oil and supplementary cattle feed for their animals on the back of Boleros now, the preferred vehicle. There are no regrets. They are reaping the benefits of development.
Those living outside the mountains and visiting the highlands have a different view. Talks of being able to drive to Sakteng and back in less than a day is not received well. Many agree the highlands have lost the charm of being remote and exclusive. The agreement is that the remote highland communities would benefit more from not having roads.
To be fair on the highlanders, they shouldn’t be treated as a community where curious tourists or urban Bhutanese could visit, take some pictures with them. They want to reap the benefits of development and modernisation.
They are reaping it. Shops are stocked with, not cheese or chugos, but carbonated drinks, junk, fairness creams and hair gel and dyes. Electricity has enabled highlanders to watch television. Some own dish TV and watch the same programme that is beamed to Thimphu residents. They are no different.
There is a downturn however. In Sakteng, local say about 200 horses are suddenly rendered useless. The once beast of burden are freed of the burden. They graze in the open fields. The repercussion is felt, without realizing, by young strong men who suddenly have a lot of free time.
They have enough time to receive and see off officials, Dashos and Lyonpos who are frequenting them. The road makes it easier for them to visit the people. Sakteng in one week received two ministers, a secretary and a director besides other people from the Zhung.
Without the need of horses to transport goods, a good number of men are jobless in Sakteng. Not all highlanders own cattle. Those without cattle depended on porter and pony services. It was the mainstay of the highland economy. Roads have robbed this of them.
A motorable road to Laya or Sakteng, for instance, is a curse than a boon. Given their scenic beauty, unique traditions and customs, the highlanders could benefit more, for example, from tourism if roads are missing.
Places like Laya and Sakteng could offer more opportunities and benefit from the tourism sector. The highlanders could benefit from farmhouse stays, locally made products, porter and pony business.
There is not much to carry up and down when tourists and government officials drive to their doorsteps.
Travel is all about sightseeing but the most important thing is to drive on holidays where I stop and enjoy beautiful landscape to enrich my travel experience. All I got to do is to tie my shoes and sit behind the wheel.
I conquered driving over the Saraighat in the wee hours where even the steep hills of Agyathuri failed to block us. I saw healthy green foliage through my windshield while the wipers swept the incessant rain away. My fellow travellers were worried about treacherous stretch at the land of Druk Yul (thunder dragon). But I trust GPS for navigating to the Himalayan Blue Poppy nation. We’re holidaying to the land of happiness that’s on everyone’s lips.
A high protein-packed breakfast satisfied our appetite all day long. We sipped special tea at Tamulpur. After three hours of driving, we saw amazing views of tea garden to soothe our eyes. The infamous Darangamela is now a place of business hub for eastern Bhutan. A decorative gate caught our attention. The Royal Bhutan Police had politely asked to report for immigration. With utmost respect and generosity, the officer asked a few questions of our arrival. We earned the bragging rights to cross an international border for being Indian. The sign of Indo-Bhutan treaty of friendship made us feel at ease.
Samdrup Jongkhar is the oldest town bustling little settlement of few thousand people. I drove carefully passing red plated cars on a smooth road as I was aware of the strict rules of the road.
Alas! My network had shown no service. There was nobody around over fertile valleys and blue pine forests. Bhutanese tradition of designed gate is the example of exquisite craftsmanship and beautiful wood painting. At the gate of Dzongkhag (District Admin), the security had little help to my queries; rather he kept inside AC check post. I was taken aback while seeing the brightly painted veterinary hospital. The happiest place on earth gives priorities to its society for Gross National Happiness. They preserve natural environment, traditional culture with good governance for socio-economic development.
It’s a Buddhist country. The spectacular Rabdey Dratshang is a place for Buddha’s teachings. The spiritual Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche is worshipped with the founder of Buddhism. The pagoda excavated interiors have probably been influenced by Hindu architecture. The Court is standing lonely. I found the atmosphere peaceful and the chanting was mesmerizing. Walking around the monastery is one of a kind experience. I clicked various snaps but monks in robes didn’t seem to mind it and ignored us.
We began to drive for Tashi Gasel Lodge perched on a hilltop. The landscape is dotted with colourful prayer flags (lung-ta – wind horse) fluttering in the breeze. We enjoyed the gentle wind and saw the mesmeric views of the entire valley at one go. We let out a long sigh of despair for long waiting time at the restaurant. Bhutanese go simple lifestyle. We left with some energy drinks.
We drove down the hills through beautiful Dungsamchu Bridge. People speak a mixture of Hindi-Bhutanese. The sleepy town has no traffic signals but police keep vigil at every intersections. The roads are one way and parking strictly followed.
In every hotel there is a restaurant cum bar. We ventured out for some local cuisine. They are less oily but spicier. Bhutan has embraced the ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first 100% organic nation. The visit isn’t complete without sampling ema datchi (chillies–national dish), hot dumplings (momo) and fermented drinks. We had great experience to have authentic foods. They happily accept INR besides their currency, Ngultrum. The market area was calm and a few buyers around. There were no hawkers and costermongers pushed for sale.
Bhutanese are enjoying life in the slow lane while we’ve never ending to-do-list of things. They don’t probably need medication for stress. Thus it called the happiest country. The prayer wheel at the Mani Dunkhor spread spiritual blessings. There is a picture of the King just about everywhere. People weren’t busy and took relaxing at the street behind the blue signboard.
I carefully took my car back to the street but I landed up in the wrong direction. The traffic police suddenly arrived and stopped us. I heaved a sigh of relief when he allowed me to proceed after I said I was going to India. I followed the right road and promised not to say anything but my country’s name. It was wonderful treat to have very polite people doting policing everywhere. The simplicity of their manners and strong sense of religion preserve their culture.
James Hilton is truly inspired by the magical Shangri-La later turned into a movie Lost Horizon. Bhutan Tourism uses the tag line Happiness is a place, the shortened version of a Finish proverb “Happiness is a place between too much and too little”. I slowed down while stared at mesmerizing monastery and realised, “If happiness is a place, Bhutan will surely fill the tagline”. The drive through remote Himalayan Kingdom was a peep into another world. We wined and dined there and have carried happiness to my native land.
Contributed by Kamal Baruah
A freelance writer based in Guwahati. He is a former Air-warrior with IAF and currently working for SBI.
Yangchen C Rinzin
After almost three months of investigation, Thimphu police forwarded the Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) case related to learn and earn programme (LEP) in Japan to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on October 23.
This was following a petition submitted by the parents’ representatives and youth sent to Japan through LEP to the Chief of Police on June 27. About 100 parents went to the Royal Bhutan Police headquarters to register a criminal complaint against BEO.
After police registered the case, the two owners of BEO, Tenzin Rigden and Jurmey Tshewang, were arrested on August 30. They were released on bail the next day.
The parents’ representative submitted five allegations to the police, which are forgery, deceptive practices, harassment, abandonment of a person in danger, and human trafficking.
Following the investigation, police have charged 19 people in the case including the two owners of the BEO, labour ministry’s director general Sherab Tenzin, 12 former employees and four current employees of BEO.
Investigating officers of RBP said that of the five allegations, human trafficking and abandonment of a person in danger were dropped or ruled out since it did not have any criminal elements.
“To qualify as human trafficking, there should be elements where the students should be taken to Japan without the government, parents and the students’ knowledge. The youth were sent by the government as a part of LEP,” a police officer said.
Police said that the investigation found the two owners were liable for forgery, as BEO had forged the bank statements for 730 students using Bank of Bhutan’s letterhead, logo and fictitious bank manager’s name and signature.
“Students were required to show a bank statement of about Nu 1.8 million to get the visa and we verified from the bank where the banks never issued the bank statement. There was no general manager with that name working with the bank,” an investigating officer said. “One of their staff forged a bank manager’s signature while another staff had forged bank’s round seal.”
Another charge of forgery, according to police, is for creating fictitious income statement or salary slip of students’ guardians forging Bhutan Security Exchange of Bhutan documents. “We verified and it was found they never issued such statement.”
Police said the two were liable for deceptive practice as they promised the students that they would earn certain salary once they reach Japan and start earning but the students did not earn as promised including part-time jobs, which they were supposed to get during the first few days and then in a month.
In terms of contract agreement, police found that BEO had asked the third batch students to sign two different agreements with different clauses deceiving the students.
“Initially, BEO’s principal agent in Japan was Light Path Company, which was supposed to help students go to institute and find a job in Japan. BEO had later changed the principal agent to SND company without informing the labour ministry or parents,” an investigating officer said.
The two owners were charged for harassment through the owners’ deceptive practices.
In the course of investigation, police found that owners were liable for an additional charge. DG Sherab Tenzin was found liable for official misconduct and the employees for aiding and abetting, and failing to report the crime.
Police officials said that director general Sherab Tenzin would be liable for official misconduct for failing to monitor the programme.
“The former labour minister had asked the department to prepare a memorandum of understanding with the BEO but it never happened. The director, as the head of the department, also failed to monitor when BEO changed the principal agent without informing them.”
Police added another charge of larceny by deception on different counts against the two owners.
Police explained that when the students took loan from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited, the loan amount was deposited directly to BEO’s account instead of the students’ account.
“BEO was managing the students’ loan for batch I,” a police official said. “Later when batch II and III took loan from Bhutan Development Bank Limited, it was initially deposited in students’ account, but BEO later took the money from their account,” an official said. “BEO, however, did not manage loans for the rest of the batches because of complaints and ministry’s intervention.”
Investigation also revealed that although the visa fee was Nu 2,400, BEO charged Nu 6,680 to students. BEO had refunded after seven months. Each student was also charged a translation fee of Nu 7,500 but BEO didn’t have any evidence to prove where the translation fees were used.
Police also said BEO charged the translation fee without any approval or informing the ministry.
The BEO had also charged airfare of Nu 50,000 for first two batches when it was only Nu 35,000 each. The amount was, however, refunded to the students later.
BEO had charged loan insurance of Nu 4,000 (actual fee was 2,380) for first batch students and charged Nu 3,000 (actual was 2,779) for second and third batch. Without any approval or issuing money receipt, they also charged documentation fee of Nu 2,665 for the first batch and Nu 2,684 for the second to sixth batch.
Police said that investigation also revealed that BEO had informed the students and parents that they would take care of the requirement of bank statement of Nu 1.8M, which is why students and parents were oblivious of forged documents. “This proves the students were deceived,” an investigating officer said.
Police said BEO had also told the students it would be difficult in Japan and they would require to work hard.
The former and present BEO employees of BEO were charged for aiding and abetting and failure to report a crime.
Meanwhile, of the 730 students (six batches) who went to Japan through BEO, 212 have returned. A total of 490 students and parents had signed the power of attorney to take the owners to the court.
Additional reporting by
The status quo concerning local leaders’ qualification will be maintained, according to the decision of the 10th annual conference of dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) and gewog tshogde (GT) in Bumthang last week.
However, the debate is far from over as the legislative power is vested with the parliament. Unlike in most bicameral parliaments where the ruling party holds a majority in both Houses, the National Council is an apolitical House.
The government has plans to table the Local Government (LG) Act for amendment in the upcoming winter session and the debate on the qualification issue is expected to surface. The National Assembly’s good governance committee’s proposed amendment in the LG Act last session had prescribed a Class X qualification for gups, mangmis and thromde thuemis.
The committee’s chairperson, MP Ugyen Wangdi, said the proposal had received the endorsement of the nine-member committee comprising MPs from both ruling and opposition parties. “But the amendment Bill was deferred and the DLG was supposed to do a comprehensive review of the LG Act,” he said.
Neither the Opposition nor the National Council (NC) has discussed the issues related to local leaders’ qualification. An NC member preferred not to comment when asked about his view.
With more budgetary powers and responsibilities being delegated to elected local governments, the need to upgrade the qualification requirement has been felt widely.
The amendment of LG Act alone is not adequate to prescribe qualification for local leaders as the Election Act 2008 specifies the electoral process. As per the Act, a candidate is eligible to contest a local government if he possesses a FLT certificate except in the case of thrompons.
Two years ahead of the third LG election, local leaders themselves are divided on whether academic criteria should be prescribed for them. Gups who were against setting qualification an eligibility criterion for local leaders made the best of the annual conference to voice their objections.
Gups who are in favour of having qualification said that the government had failed to take a right stand on the issue due to fear of political repercussions.
Local governments carry out both planning and execution of works within its jurisdiction. Local governments will have the authority over 50 percent of the budget in the 12th Plan.
DT chairperson of Samtse, Nima Dukpa, who is for setting qualification criteria for local leaders, said that the administrative system has changed. “The role of gup during my father’s time was different.”
He said some level of academic and general knowledge had become necessary and that the FLT level education was not enough. He said the election rules should be amended.
Discussion about who should have what level of qualification is also taking place. Many youth are for making a university degree necessary for gups.
Trashigang’s Kangpara gup, Sangay Wangdi, said that a certain level of formal qualification had become necessary and that being literate in Dzongkha alone was not adequate for local leaders to carry out their function effectively. “Class X or Class XII qualification is needed.”
Merak gup Lama Rinchen from Trashigang said that some gewogs and chiwogs will not have candidates of qualification was a criterion. “Changes will come slowly. For now, we should maintain the status quo.”
Nubi gup, Ugen Tenzin, who is a former civil servant had earlier called for setting qualification for local leaders at a public forum, said that he would be happy for the majority wisdom to prevail. He will be happy either having or not having the criteria, he said.
Executive Director (ED) of Centre for Local Governance and Research, Tharchen, said that the standards of FLT needed to be upgraded and that ECB should set different levels of questions for gups, mangmis and tshogpas.
Certificates from FLTs conduct in 2004 and 2005 was being accepted today even though the standards of the questions were not satisfactory, he added.
“The ECB must realize that their FLT conducted a decade before is not applicable now with changing roles of our LG members. The present demand for LG functions and roles are far more than their FLT performance,” he said.
Tharchen said that the Department of Local Governance (DLG) is the most appropriate agency for conducting FLT and that election commission should only verify the FLT certificates.
He said that the DLG should focus on capacity building at a higher level than just focus was on educating LG members with basic computer training and bookkeeping.
A plenary of NC in its 2015 winter session had decided to amend the Election Act 2008 to resolve such issues. However, the plan was dropped following a discussion between the then NC Chairperson Sonam Kinga and Speaker Jigme Zangpo.
Limited understanding of the roles of local governments (LGs) at the local level and lack of LG administrations’ capacity to implement decisions have affected the effective functioning of DTs and GTs, a study published recently by the DLG revealed.
The Assessment Study on DT and GT found that there is a poor understanding of the rationale and basis of having DTs and GTs as instruments of decentralised governance and the main institutions of decision-making at the local level.