…residents are more hopeful this time
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
People of Mangdephu village, Nubi gewog in Trongsa have been waiting for electricity for the last four years.
Three different surveys were conducted in the past and discussions were held with people of Jongthang village to erect poles in their land. “Despite getting all the approvals, electricity never came,” Jamyang Lhendup, a villager said. “The villagers were given solar panels but as it aged, it seldom functioned,” he said.
Without electricity, he said, there is a stark difference in lifestyle of people in Mangdephu and other villages.
The people use solar batteries to charge their electronic devices like mobile phones.
Villagers patiently waited for electricity and years passed by.
The villagers had heard about electrification many a times, but never received power.
The wait seems to be over finally. Villagers are more hopeful this time because they said that this time officials from Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) and the agriculture minister visited their village and assured them.
Officials from the BPC said that most of the equipment for the electrification of Mangdephu have been procured and some yet to be received.
It was learnt that the electrification of Mangdephu was approved last June which delayed the procurement works.
Lhendup, another villager said that they are happy to hear the news. “We can now use the electronic devices in our kitchen and also light our homes,” he added.
The village has four households and is one the farthest village in Nubi gewog.
It is among the four other villages in Trongsa, without electricity connection. Phumzur, Rewtal and Ngada are other three villages in Langthel gewog waiting for grid electricity connection.
Neten Dorji | Bumdeling
After the first pair arrived on November 5, 74 cranes have arrived in Bumdeling, Trashiyangtse, as of January 7.
Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) officials are expecting more cranes to arrive by the end of February this year. They, however, say the number of cranes visiting Bumdeling is declining since they first started counting it since 1987.
Officials said more than 200 cranes had arrived in 1987 and it decreased to 160 the following year. The highest number of 203 cranes was recorded in 1994. With only 91 cranes, the least number of cranes was recorded in 2017.
Even local residents agree with officials that the number of cranes is declining.
Kuenga Tshering, 67, said hundreds of cranes fed in their paddy fields decades ago. “The cranes and people mingled together in the fields.”
He claimed a pair of crane used to first fly to Bumdeling to check if farmers were done with paddy harvesting. “But we don’t see that now.”
Local residents believe that the cranes bring them luck.
Meanwhile, cranes migrate to its winter habitat by October till mid-February and leave by March.
BWS park manager, Karma Tempa, said disturbances of feeding grounds could have resulted in the decreasing number of cranes, as floods washed away many feeding and roosting grounds.
He said that as per the studies they conducted, most fields were left unattended, which lead to a decrease in number of feeding grounds. “Cranes fed on the fallen grains and leftovers in fields.”
He also said the alnus species trees that grew after floods could have affected the crane flight.
Official from the park also said that the expansion of Yangtse town has also indirectly contributed to decreasing feeding ground for the cranes.
They said although dzongkhag and local government had been supportive in crane conservation efforts, there was pressure from growing structures.
They also said livestock grazing and stray dogs also affected the cranes.
The park manager said to attract more cranes, the park, with the help of Royal Society for Protection of Nature and other organisations have retained the roosting area and provided farm machineries and electric fencing to encourage farming activities.
“We can draw more cranes if farmers could revive farming activities in Bumdeling gewog,” Karma Tempa said.
He also said BWS is conducting conservation awareness campaign on a timely basis. “Starting from this year, instead of welcoming cranes like in Phobjikha, we are planning to give farewell to the cranes to create awareness to the community.”
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
For many students, who are from economically disadvantaged families, winter vacation is an opportunity to earn some cash to meet their school expenses.
Students from the eastern dzongkhags of Trashiyangtse and Trashigang are taking up temporary jobs to maintain roads and construct houses.
Pema Thinley, 18, completed his class XII last year. He said he always worked at construction sites during winter vacations. “I will have to work more this time, as I need more money if I go to college.”
Pema Thinley from Khaling is helping in carpentry and masonry work. “I learn various skills.”
Another student, Thinley Norbu, said this is his temporary job. “I usually stay at home herding cattle and watching television.”
He carries cement and works with mixture machines. “Working with cement and stone is hard but I need the money.”
About 10 to 15 group of students are working along the Doksum-Trashiyangtse road with their parents. Three groups are engaged in Kholongchu Hydropower Project colony above Doksum town.
The students earn Nu 600 to Nu 1,000 a day. They start their day at 6am.
A student, Samten Wangchuk, said he spends all the money for his stationery items, uniforms, and other necessities. “I learn different skills related to construction activities.”
Some students say they came in search of temporary jobs after the government announced that it would do away with central school facilities.
Parents in the east claim that there are fewer activities such as games and educational activities in the region to keep their children engaged during vacation. “Most of the students remain idle. Only a few children use their vacation meaningfully,” a parent said.
His Majesty The King granted an audience to 63 girls and 62 boys who participated in the three-week long 13th Scouts Leadership training programme, which started on December 23.
The scouts are class 10 students selected from their various dzongkhags across the country. The programme includes physical training, rescue, aid, and disaster management skills training, and lectures and classes on values, team work, among others.
His Majesty The King congratulated the participants for being selected and expressed His appreciation for choosing to spend their vacation in the programme.
The Scouts Leadership Programme, including the one in summer for class 12 students, was initiated as part of an overall exercise to revitalise and strengthen Scouting in Bhutan. The Department of Youth and Sports, following Royal Command initiated the programme to create opportunity to equip and empower children to strengthen themselves and serve their communities and the country besides invoking a spirit of volunteerism.
The top 5 Class 12 scouts, who participated in the summer leadership programme are recipients of His Majesty’s Scholarships. So far, 25 students, who received scholarships are pursuing their tertiary education in various colleges overseas.
Dissatisfied with Trashigang dzongkhag tshogdu’s (DT) decision to black top the gewog centre road from Chaling, a group of villagers from Merak met the Prime Minister yesterday.
Merak gewog is connected with three farm roads: one from Phongmey, another from Khardung in Phongmey, and the third one from Chaling.
Trashigang DT resolved to blacktop the gewog centre (GC) road from Chaling last month.
The villagers decided to appeal to the government after the dzongkhag said that the administration had no say on the DT’s decision.
The residents submitted their grievances both to Minister of Work and Human Settlement and the Prime Minister’s Office requesting them to intervene.
The villagers submitted six reasons on why Merak GC road has to be black-topped from Khardung.
Unsatisfied by the seventh DT decision—to blacktop the GC road from Chaling, chiwog tshogpa and residents of Merak appealed to Trashigang dzongkhag administration.
Dzongkhag officials sent a team to Merak after the residents complained against the DT decision taken in September last year.
The villagers said that consultation with people before the gewog tshogde showed that almost everyone in the gewog supported blacktopping the Khardung route.
Tashigang Dzongrab also visited the gewog. It was then decided that the decision to blacktop the GC road should route through chiwog and then gewog tshogde (GT) and choose between Chaling and Khardung routes. Accordingly, the eighth GT passed the resolution to blacktop the GC road from Khardung.
However, withholding the GT’s decision, Merak Khamey tshogpa Tenzin Dorji said that Merak gup submitted a different resolution to the DT chairperson.
The villagers alleged the gup of having a vested interest, as he would personally benefit from blacktopping the Chaling route.
According to tshogpa Tenzin Dorji, blacktopping GC road from Chaling would waste government resources because it has to invest in laying base course, build drains and widen the road.
He said that GC road from Khardung was all set for the black-topping with base course, and drains.
“The base course was already laid from Khardung during the former government’s tenure. But the black-topping of the GC road was held because the road was not stable then.”
According to the petition to Lyonchhem, the residents of the gewog said they mostly use the Khardung road.
It also stated that the officials from the Department of Roads had even drawn out the budget to blacktop the Khardung road. “The budget was already approved in the Plan,” a villager said.
Tenzin Dorji said: “The estimated budget for GC road black-topping would be insufficient if it is done from Chaling.”
Of the 15 gewogs in Trashigang, 13 gewogs have black-topped GC roads. The petition questioned if the decisions to blacktop the 13 GC roads were routed through DT.
Meanwhile, Work and Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said that he told the residents to make their choice carefully. Other than that, Lyonpo did not want to comment.
It took five days for the highlanders to reach Thimphu with the high passes blocked with snow. After changing their route towards Nganglam, their vehicle was stranded in Chukha delaying their arrival by a few more days.
Chiwog Tshogpa, Tenzin Dorji said, he was in Thimphu for the past four days. “I stay with my relatives, but some of my friends are staying in hotels. It is a struggle.”
“I took leave to come here and resolve this issue. The gup wants me to report back to the office.”
Also recommends the Phuentsholing Thromde management to take disciplinary action against the tender committee members
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has implicated the executive director (ED) of Rigsar Construction Private Limited (RCPL) and the former executive secretary (ES) of Phuentsholing Thromde in connection with the construction of gabion wall at Amochhu, Phuentsholing in 2017.
In its investigation report forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) last week for probable prosecution, ACC has recommended the OAG to charge RCPL’s ED for active bribery of public servant and former executive secretary for passive bribery for receiving Nu 0.25 million.
The former ES is also implicated for abuse of function. He allegedly did not follow due process in re-appropriating additional budget from the budget allocated to the construction of Khariphu road.
How the case came to ACC?
In 2017, Phuentsholing Thromde awarded the construction of gabion wall at Amochhu, popularly known as Toorsa, to RCPL at a cost of Nu 11.9M. There were controversial issues pertaining to the award of the work directly to RCPL, including the fund arrangement by the Phuentsholing Thromde.
Based on the intelligence report, the commission pursued the investigation which revealed that sometime in January 2017 soon after RCPL was awarded the dredging work, the former ES had improperly used his position of authority and influence to seek approval of Nu 4.502M for the construction of 250m long gabion wall at Amochhu to be awarded directly to RCPL.
In his personal effort to solicit the budget as well as steer the work to RCPL, the report stated that ES initiated on his own and took this proposal to higher authorities like secretary of Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) and former home minister without prior knowledge and discussion at the thromde. The MoWHS only recommended the proposal.
On February 9, a committee presided by ES decided to award the work to RCPL using “Urgency” clause in the Procurement Rules and Regulations, 2009. “The commission did not find any tenable circumstances to justify the application of the clause,” the report stated.
On March 7, RCPL proposed to increase the length of the gabion wall from 250m to 450m with an understanding that the additional cost incurred shall be compensated by allowing the contractor to own the stacked materials behind the wall.
However, ACC found that in contradiction to and without any reference to the earlier decision, on March 14, an overriding decision was made to construct a full stretch of 450m gabion wall with the additional funds to be met from the budget allocated for the river protection work at Omchhu.
The contractor executed the project for the full stretch of 423.2m gabion wall and was eventually paid Nu 11.232M out of which Nu 7M was appropriated from road construction to Khariphu. The report stated that Phuentsholing thrompon was not aware of such re-appropriation.
The investigation learned that, in the first place, the proposal to construct gabion wall as well as the technical design, including its cost estimates all came from RCPL.
“Without analyzing the rates and arranging the fund, the Thromde awarded the work based on the contractor’s submitted rate which included the cost of the boulders, the primary material, despite the fact that the boulders were readily available at the site,” ACC report stated.
The commission assessed the build-up rate and if the material coefficient of boulders is excluded. RCPL had been advantaged by Nu 3.252M and requested the OAG to reinstate the amount to the state from RCPL.
In his earlier interview, the Rigsar Construction ED said that in addition to the 423m gabion wall awarded by Thromde, Rigsar had constructed 1,550m which cost the company Nu 44.28M.
The investigation also revealed that between January 11 and 13, 2017 while pursuing his personal endeavor to steer the work in favour of RCPL, ES had allegedly solicited and received Nu 250,000 from the ED which he needed to purchase a piece of land in Gelephu. During ACC’s investigation, both accused gave false and misleading statements surrounding the payment.
The ED told Kuensel that he submitted a text message to ACC as evidence that the former ES was asking for cash loan. “Had it been bribed, we are not foolish to deposit the money in his account,” he said.
The ES sent sms to the ED stating that “Boss… I need financial assistance of 2.5 lakhs for three months as I owe to pay to one of my friends for having purchased a plot at Pekarshing recently. I will pay you with applicable interest after three months. Is it possible wai?” He further stated “you can transfer to my account. I will sms to you.”
The commission however concluded that after considering the relevant facts, the former ES had abused his official position and influence to unduly favour RCPL in directing the contract without tenable grounds, extending the scope of the work and reappropriating funds.
In return, ACC stated that he solicited and accepted pecuniary advantage from RCPL.
“Thus, in the light of these persuasive evidence, the commission has reached its opinion that consideration should be given by the OAG to prosecute the former ES and the private construction firm’s ED under offence of bribery and commission amounting to abuse of function.”
Developments in the grassroots going wrong could become a serious problem, now more than ever because of budget increase that the government has approved to expedite decentralisation process. Some wily ones could use it as a tool to enhance personal gains. Political affiliations could make the matter worse. In the end, it is the people who will lose.
Trashigang Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) decision to blacktop the gewog centre (GC) road from Chaling is the beginning of the problem, let’s say. There are allegations and cross-allegations. Many are of the view that the road to the gewog centre from Khardung is most viable.
Led by two tshogpas, a five-member team so has arrived in the capital to approach the prime minister and their elected representative. They took five days to come to Thimphu because of bad road conditions. There was a block at Yotongla. From Nganglam they came then and met with another block. All in all, they have been in the capital four days already.
What’s the real problem?
It all started with road connectivity to the gewog centre. There could be vested interest between and among the parties involved, of course. But pragmatically, the road to the gewog centre from Khardung makes the most economic sense. It is shorter first. Second, it can connect all the surrounding villages.
So how did the road from Chaling get approved, first in Gewog Tshogde and latterly in Dzongkhag Tshogdu? People of Trashigang are of the view that one or two local leaders bulldozed the decision for their personal gains. It is now upon them, the local leaders, to prove otherwise. It must be done.
Resource is at the heart of the issue. People think that given the limited resources, development of road from Khardung would be by much cheaper because it will not entail building roadside drains, cutting, and landscaping. Not only that, it would shorten the distance to the gewog centre from all the surrounding villages. That’s the argument. The answers the people getting are political, however, have not been so far helpful.
The people should get, if they haven’t from the local governments, a fair hearing from the prime minister and their elected representative in Thimphu and ensure that such things do not happen beyond Khardung and Chaling. If it means strengthening institutional arrangements to curb possible manipulations in the future, so be it.
If this does not happen—which is not to say that the decision has to be in favour of the people or complainants—the people could lose faith in their local governments. And that will be destructive to Bhutan’s democracy.
A Kuensel headline this week stated “Authorities’ inaction worrying resident more than cracks” in Trongsa and another headline reads “Poor drainage system spoils the winter charm in S’jonkhar”. Similarly, an alarming headline in 2018 reported “24 babies infected in NICU, 15 survive, 9 die in JDWNRH” and list goes on. There are numerous reports of wall collapses, potholes, unsafe construction sites, hydropower projects affecting residents including loss of houses due to falling of boulders. While common people continue to suffer or fall victim to the failures of various state machineries or those who are parties to state machinery, the protection of these common people remain either nothing or so minimal. For example, though 9 infants died under the custody of the hospital, there are no records of any form of compensation and similarly there are no accountabilities to anyone for their carelessness or storing the construction materials without any safety measures or private cars getting accidents due to poor quality roads, dangers caused by poor quality of constructions. In short, state machineries, private or public entities, corporate, local governments, contractors, authorities who are supposed to serve common people have remained impunity. Such impunity for their own failures are not only worrisome but also contravenes the fundamental principles democracy. Accountability and welfare are primary functions of the state and must be held accountable and liable for their own failures. However, even after a decade into democracy, the state machinery in particular, those who are supposed to provide public service remains not only poor but also not accountable for thus far.
Therefore, it is high time that, the legislature must explore the possibilities of enacting a new social welfare legislation for common good. Such social welfare legislation could should include provisions on state’s responsibility to take care of old aged people who have no one to take care of them or economically disadvantaged people or if a breadwinner is serving a prison term for many years in the family. Further, such legislation must include torts as a major component to ensure adequate damages in cases of tortious acts of the state machineries as well as private entities. Bhutan currently has hardly any laws on torts. But reports of negligence including medical malpractice, public nuisance or defamation are common but existing laws can hardly address these kind of civil wrongs. This law may also consider including responsibilities of state entities and NGOs to ensure legal mechanism and protections to victims of domestic violence, vulnerable groups of people or economically disadvantaged people. The essence of democracy is not to build powerful governments but to ensure transparency and hold accountable for their failures.
Bringing in such a legislation would help fulfil the objectives of these democratic principles. Article 9 of our Constitution enshrines mandates of state and in particular promoting conditions “that will enable the pursuit of GNH” and “secure adequate livelihood”, help create “compassionate society” and “universal human values” or “provide security in the event of lack of adequate means of livelihood for reasons beyond one’s control.” The proposed Social Welfare legislation will contribute greatly to fulfil the core objectives of Article 9 of the Constitution and help set up a unique and true democratic set up in Bhutan as nation of Gross National Happiness. Enactment of such law is, if not late, it is definitely not early.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
…regeneration takes five years depending on various conditions
In less than a decade, Bhutan recorded a total of 1,403 forest fire incidents. About 99 percent of fires were anthropogenic in nature and occurred in winter. These man-made disasters are further intensified by extreme climatic events.
The highest numbers of fire incidents were recorded in Thimphu—104 incidents and Wangduephodrang recorded the highest areas burnt—40,923 acres.
The officials from forest department said the causes of the fires were either accidental or intentional. The major causes were burning of agriculture debris, carless smokers, campers and picnickers, roadside bitumen burning, spark due to electrical short circuit from power transmission lines in forests, among others.
A total of 70.77 percent of land area is under forest cover, according to Land-use and Land Cover Assessment 2016. Most were primary forests originating from natural regeneration.
Chief of Forest Protection and Enforcement Division with Forest Department Kinley Tshering said that 25 percent of Bhutanese forests were coniferous forests, hence, prone to fire.
Regeneration of trees on fire burnt area depends on the species. Conifer species takes about five years. The regeneration success also depends on the intensity of fire, local geology and prevailing weather conditions, Kinley Tshering said. It takes 90-120 years for conifer species to mature.
In the last two years, mega fires were reported from across the world. Australia lost millions of hectares of forest areas in the recent bushfire. Although the fires were started by humans, the World Meteorological Organisation stated that other factors like temperatures above 40°C, prolonged lack of rain and gusty winds elevated the situation.
Last year, Bhutan experienced delayed monsoon and recorded the highest temperature in decades. Country’s geographical landscapes make it more challenging to contain fire.
Kinley Tshering said that Bhutan should learn from fire incident in other countries such as USA, Greece and Australia. These countries, he said had complete fire ban policies since the late 18th century, resulting in accumulation of forest fuel load. “When fires burn in such areas, they are often mega and catastrophic in nature, completely destroying huge tracts of forests.”
Annual Forestry Facts and Figures for the year 2018 reported that Bhutan’s forest store 709.27 million tonnes of carbon in the form of biomass, dead organic matter, debris and soil organic matter.
Kinley Tshering said that in the past there was less fuel buildup as people used forest for fodder, leaf mould and as pastures. With ban on these practices, there is huge fuel buildup, increasing the risk of large scale fires.
With urban settlement encroaching into the forest land, forest-urban fire interface is narrowing, increasing the risk of fire disasters.
The Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 prohibits any fire in government forests, irrespective of forest type and vegetation sensitivite to fire. The National Forest Policy of Bhutan 2011 prohibits fire in fire-sensitive ecosystems while allowing use of fire as a management toll in fire-adapted ecosystems.
The National Forest Fire Management Strategy 2013 strategises various approaches to both scientific management of fire as well as a coercive scheme to engage communities and public in fire prevention, suppression and management through group formation and volunteerism.
In 2017, under Royal Command, the first interagency SOP was formulated and implemented for Thimphu. Under this arrangement, Interagency Forest Fire Coordinating Group (IFFCG) was formed for Thimphu consisting of members from authorities concerned. In the last two years, IFFCG was implemented in forest fire prone districts of Paro, Wangdue, Bumthang, Mongar and Trashigang.
If the disaster is intense, despite IFFCG members, Desuung, local public and other volunteers are deployed. In difficult terrain conditions, service of the Bhutan Helicopter Service is availed.
“As per the latest SOP, the concerned Dzongkhag administration and the Department of Disaster Management provide logistics and food during mega fire events,” Kinley Tshering said.
According to the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations 2017, defaulters are fined depending on the violation of forest fire rules.
Tshering Choden and Kezang Dema
Residents of Changzamtog in Thimphu are facing acute shortage of water with supply limited to few hours a day.
Most residents said that their complains fell to the deaf ears.
“It has been over a month since we didn’t get enough water,” said one of the restaurant owners in the area. With increasing number of dwellers in the area, he said, the amount of water they get is not sufficient.
One of the residents, above the Changzamtog School said that it has been around 4 months without sufficient water supply. “When we complain to the landlord, they ask us to vacant the house.” She said. She said that she has to fetch water from her relatives and neighbours.
Owner of Hotel Kulagangri, Suresh said that he bought a bolero to fetch water from Jungshina and transplant it into his tanks.
With eight members in the family, Mithey Drukpa shared his difficulties. “We try to store water in every container that we have at our house,” he said.
However, Changzamtog Thuemi, Phub Dem said that the thromde did not receive any serious complains till date. Actions have been taken on minor complaints.
She said that she gets a minimum of five complain calls a day and that plumbers are dispatched immediately. Sometimes calls are made directly to the Plumbers, instead of calling the authorities. “People complain to the Plumbers directly and they accuse Thromde of not taking actions,” she added.
Thromde’s plumber, Sangay Tshering said that water in the areas below the Changzamtog Middle Secondary School is being supplied for one and half hour, twice a day from three water sources. He denied that there is an acute shortage.
However, people residing above the school has been facing consistent water shortage since there is only one source at Motithang with a tank capacity of 1,000 Litres. The supply in these area is restricted to about 45 minutes a day.
Thromde’s assistant water engineer, Kinley Norbu said that the Thromde has recently constructed a new tank at Kuensel Phodrang, which can hold up to 2,300 Litres. Thromde is hopeful that this will minimise the instances of water shortage in the area.
Sonam Pem Tshoki
Four months after the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Satsam Choeten, Paro, the mother is still waiting for justice.
She doesn’t have an update of the case but said she heard people talking that police are still investigating and questioning people. “I am hopeful police will be able to apprehend those responsible for my daughter’s death.”
Remembering her daughter as a helpful and responsible girl, she said her daughter cleaned the house, washed the dishes and fed her younger brother when she returned from the fields. “ I am a farmer and I come home late from the fields.
It was learnt that after the case surfaced in September last year, police arrested many people and questioned them. More than 980 DNA samples were collected. The DNA samples were sent to UK.
Police initially arrested the husband of the mother’s friend, who had criminal records with a history of incest, illicit trafficking of controlled substance and cattle lifting. He also had videos of child pornographies on his phone.
Police then detained a chef, who was amongst the group of people who went to search the girl on the night she went missing and saw her body on December 19, after finding his DNA fingerprints in one of the string that strangled the girl’s neck.
But it is not an isolated case.
The case of a 10-year-old girl, who went missing in broad daylight in Dechencholing, Thimphu, on December 9 but found two days later, dead and parts of the body eaten by animal remains unsolved.
The girl’s parents, Geeta Maya Adhikari, 33, and Yaga Nidhi Koirala, 33, said they are still waiting for justice and police to resolve the case.
According to the mother, when she reported that her daughter was missing, the community police and many people told her she must have gone to a friend’s place. “But I knew that was not the case because my daughter was a responsible and sensible girl and she would not go anywhere.”
Police initially ruled animal attack as a probable cause of the minor’s death and also ruled out sexual assault claiming there was no seminal discharge on her body or clothes. But many people didn’t buy the statement.
A Thimphu resident said it will not be possible for an animal to attack and cause death in Thimphu. “If the perpetrator uses precaution, there will not be seminal discharges.”
Then the forensic medicine and toxicology report concluded the probable cause of the girl’s death as strangulation ligature constriction of the neck. A forensic official, in an earlier interview with Kuensel, also said the genital area was partially mutilated especially on the right side including the hymenal area due to post mortem ‘animal attack’ so it could not be examined to confirm sexual assault.
The victim’s father also said there are many loopholes in the animal attack story. “I grew up in a village and I know that when a wild animal like a leopard attacks a prey, it would thrash and toss its prey around before eating the victim but Dena’s body was intact with injuries in only some places”.
He also said he and his wife gave the name of the possible suspect to Thimphu police but they did not hear anything from police. “But we are hopeful that police would be able to solve the case.”
The parents said they would not be able to come back to Thimphu after what happened but would now settle in Tsirang.
The Chief of police, Brigadier Chimi Dorji, cancelled the call when requested for an update on the case.
…as it prepares to host the sixth edition of RBFE
As Haa gears for the sixth edition of Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition later this year, the Dzongkhag Tshogdu has decided to introduce an annual beautification audit starting this year.
This is to ensure that every investment made for the celebration would remain and be sustained.
“The celebration is a start of the long journey and would not be an end in itself,” Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said.
The Dzongdad said that RBFE celebration in Haa will be something that could be sustained and not just for one time exhibition. “For that, accountability must be fixed.”
For an event such as RBFE, the dzongkhag and agencies put in both human and capital resources. However, the accountability to maintain these infrastructure in the long-term is not there.
To this effect, the dzongkhag administration has submitted a proposal to the 8th DT for institution of a beautification audit, which was endorsed.
The dzongkhag will pilot a beautification audit to begin with. The dzongkhag administration will come up with guidelines specific for the dzongkhag.
“The ultimate aim is that this system should put in place a value for the beautification works as it entails cost both in terms of human and financial. So accountability must be fixed on the concerned people in maintaining it,” he said.
The Royal vision, he added is not to celebrate the flower exhibition one time and then finish it.
The government has posted a Dzongkhag Beautification Officer in every dzongkhag and their primary mandate is to develop a long term plan for beautification of the dzongkhag and to ensure long term sustainability. The beautification officer in Haa will also be tasked with the responsibility to audit the beautification works.
The dzongkhag will carry out the beautification valuation of areas in each institution and then accountability would be fixed on the head.
The head of the agencies and institutions is at the least mandated to maintain whatever value was added in their premises during the course RBFE. However, it is also expected of the heads to further add value. This will be subject to audit every year by the Dzongkhag Beautification Officer just like any other financial audit.
Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that the preparation of Haa RBFE will be done on a permanent basis and nothing will be removed after the event, except for some in the main event site. These developed sites will be an asset for the dzongkhag and it will be treated like any other asset during handing and taking over, subject to full accountability.
The audit will cover the entire dzongkhag including dzongkhag administration office, religious institutions, community lhakhangs, main event site, dungkhag administration, gewogs offices, schools, hospital and BHUs, RNR centers, regional offices such as forestry and park, riverine project, telecom, BPC and Financial Institutions.
The RBFE which is scheduled to begin from June 4 in Haa will showcase the dzongkhags commitment to portray Haa as Beautiful, Unique and Sustainable (BUS).
The dzongkhag, in a press note, pointed out that the flowers will be only one of the components since making beautiful also includes, planting trees by the road, constructing parks and benches at public places, landscaping near important monuments and public places, and maintaining clean surroundings.
The RBFE exhibitions were held in a designated place. However, celebration in Haa will cover all six gewogs, the town, drungkhag, and institutional areas such as schools, monasteries, BHUs, regional offices and all residents.
All residents in the dzongkhag are asked to participate in the celebration by cleaning their homes, and planting flowers and trees in their surrounding with emphasis on maintaining their own kitchen garden.
Let me start by putting Australian bush fires into perspective. The 2019 Amazon rainforest fires burned more than 900,000 hectares. California in the USA lost 100,000 hectares in 2019 to fires. Australian bushfire has already burnt over 6 million hectares, which is almost twice the size of Bhutan, and there are still no signs of fires slowing down.
Bush fires are common throughout Australia and the indigenous Australians have long used fire as a land management tool. Thus, bushfires are an intrinsic part of Australia’s environment and the natural ecosystems have evolved with fire. However, at present, Australia is being ravaged by the worst bush fires in decades with large swathes of the country devastated since September 2019.
It has intensified over the past week with a number of towns evacuated and some of the cities pounded by smoke and walls of flame. Over a thousand homes have been destroyed, forcing hundreds and thousands of people to evacuate. Since the start of the bushfire season, at least 18 people have died and ecologists at the University of Sydney estimated that about half a billion animals have perished, which they say is a conservative estimate.
Some of the common causes of bushfires include lightning, arcing from overhead power lines, arson, accidental ignition in the course of agricultural clearing, and controlled burn escapes. The basic factors which determine a bushfire include the presence of fuel, oxygen and an ignition source. The fire intensity and speed at which a bushfire spreads depends on ambient temperature, fuel load, fuel moisture, wind speed, and slope angle. All of which are seemingly present in the Australian landscape with an extended drought period coupled with current summer temperature.
Forest fires in Bhutan
Bhutan too has been witnessing forest fires but now it seems to be getting bigger and increasing in frequency of occurrences. According to the Forestry Facts and Figures, Bhutan witnessed 31 and 39, recorded, forest fire incidences in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The most forest fires we witnessed in the last decade was in 2016 with the recorded fire incidences of 72. This translates to one forest fire every fifth day and this is serious for the small and resource constraint country like ours.
Though a trend of forest fire incidences can’t be deduced from three years data, 2017 Forestry Facts and Figures stated that “forest fire poses a major threat to the sustainability of the forests and is one of the major drivers of deforestation and degradation in Bhutan.” Well, we may now want to think beyond the deforestation and degradation as we have been talking about this for the longest time and explore the innovative solutions to either prevent forest fires or to reduce the intensity of forest fires – and it may be achieved either through extracting resources or through controlled burning.
What should Bhutan do?
Several scholars have argued that removing small logs through thinning operations results in the removal of ladder fuels that support crown fires. Crown fires are the most destructive kind of forest fires. A study from northern Arizona, USA, demonstrated that thinning treatment in ponderosa pine forests resulted in stand structural changes making the stand less likely to support a crown fire. However, there exists another group of literature that is not in agreement with this argument. They argue that logging operations not only alter micro-climatic conditions but also can change stocking densities and other forest attributes such as plant species composition influencing the fire regimes. For example, logging in moist forests in southeastern Australia shifted the vegetation composition towards characteristic of drier forests that tend to be more fire-prone. Similarly, studies from western North America and Asian rain forests indicated that logging related alterations in stand structure increase both the risk of occurrence and severity of subsequent wildfires through changes in fuel types and conditions.
Placing these arguments of two poles in one place, it is only time for Bhutan to invest in finding the best way for Bhutan to reduce the occurrences of devastating forest fires. While we may be proud of having 1001 million cubic meters of growing stock in our forests, it is also equally important for us to assess the fuel build-up in our forests. It is important for us to know our forest structures well in relation to the fire behavior and also to understand the structural changes it might bring by either ‘over-stocking’ our forests or by removing fuel build-up from our forests. It is about time for Bhutan to invest in such localized and specialized studies to understand our natural resources better before jumping on the conclusion of how it is being practiced elsewhere. All we need to understand is ‘one size doesn’t fit all.’
As I write this, state and federal authorities of Australia are struggling to contain the massive blazes, even with firefighting assistance from other countries like the USA, Canada, and New Zealand. Some of Australia’s largest cities have also been affected. Earlier in December, the smoke was so bad in Sydney that air quality measured was reported to be 11 times the “hazardous” level. Canberra was also in the same category during the New Year’s Eve when the Air Quality Index (AQI) peaked at 7700 and remained at over 3000 when the readings of AQI below 200 is considered safe.
Australia broke its all-time temperature record in December 2019, when an average maximum temperature hit 42C, however on January 4, Lavington in New South Wales recorded 44C. Hot, dry weather combined with prolonged drought and strong winds have created perfect conditions for the fire to spread rapidly.
Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming frequent and more intense. Australian bush fires, Amazon forest fires, and California fires may be treated as a strong message on what’s in store for us in Bhutan with the present climate change scenario.
Himalaya is at the forefront of climate change and Bhutan cannot afford to silently watch what’s happening elsewhere. We have become vulnerable to many aftermaths of climate change and the noticeable change is how our monsoon is increasingly becoming unpredictable.
Bhutan should seriously consider investing in localized state-of-the-art research to understand the changing dynamics and invest in having a road map should such a disaster strike. We don’t have the luxury of resources, so it will only be beneficial if our National Assembly and National Council could witness debates in such front rather than ‘protocols’ and mu-slinging.
Meanwhile, out here in Australia, the country is, unfortunately, just entering its summer season. Normally, temperatures peak in January and February, meaning the country could be months away from finding relief.
Researcher at UWICER and currently studying at Charles Sturt University, Australia.
Yongla Goenpa or Yongla Riwo Pelbar Dargeychholing Goenpa in Pemagatshel was reconstructed under the Command of His Majesty The King after the 2009 earthquake caused major damage to the goenpa. It is believed that Yongla Goenpa guards Bhutan’s sovereignty from South and Rigsum Goenpa in Trashiyangtse from North. Historical significance of the two goenpas is so immense.
Yongla Goenpa sits majestically on a mountaintop resembling phurba or a ritual dagger, overlooking the valleys of Samdrupjongkhar and the plains of Assam. It is prominently visible from Tshelingkhor on the Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway. However, the goenpa’s historical significance was never recorded until Lam Sonam Zangpo who was the goenpa’s lam between 1969 and1970 asked Lopon Dozang from Yurung to record the goenpa’s history.
This piece is taken from Lopon Dozang’s132-page history of the goenpa written in classical chokey.
Based on the prophesy of Rinzin Jigme Lingpa, the monastery was founded in the 18th century by Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel from Darlukha, Thimphu. While in Tibet, Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel met the First Petseling Trulku Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup whose tshawai lam or root teacher was Rinzin Jigme Lingpa. The two Bhutanese lams became close friends and Rinzin Jigme Lingpa’s pre-eminent students.
Later, Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup’s patron, the first Dungsam Jadrung Norbu Pelkar, also became patron of Jigme Kuendrel. During the time of 17th Druk Desi Kuenga Rinchen (1774-1776) there arose border disputes with British India, and under the instructions of Druk Desi, Norbu Pelkar left for Calcutta with Bhutanese delegates and resolved the disputes with a treaty. Because of successful outcome, Norbu Pelkar, through Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup, requested Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel and initiated the Yongla Mendrub Drubchen. Norbu Pelkar became the first disciple of Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel and was given religious name Jangchub Gyeltshen.
The second Dungsam Jadrung Lhendup, the third Dungsam Jadrung Khangma Namgyal, and the people of Dungsam Dogsum continued to be the patrons of the goenpa. Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel passed away on February 5, 1807.
Second lam, Dorji Jamtsho (1807-1855)
Lam Dorji Jamtsho was born to Shumar Khochi Sheesha and Tashi Wangmo from Changjiji, Thimphu. They are believed to have met when Sheesha was serving the Druk Desi as Zimgarp.
Lam Dorji Jamtsho’s ailing mother, before passing away, had asked her son to go to Dungsam with traders who can be met at Chokhorthang in Wangdue. Thus, the young boy along with Dungsam traders, following his mother’s instructions, journeyed for months to meet his father at Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel. While on their way to Gudama (present day Darranga) Lam Dorji Jamtsho pressed upon his father that be enrolled as Lam Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel’s student. The ordination of Lam Dorji Jamtsho as a monk was greeted good omen and miracles. He later became the most prominent and revered Yongla Lam.
Lam Dorji Jamtsho founded and had consecrated the nunnery of Jashar Anim Goenpa in Pemagatshel, located at the base of Yongla Goenpa. He presided as the Yongla Lam for about 48 years.
Third lam, Tharpa Gyeltshen (1856-1885)
Lam Tharpa Gyeltshen was born to Kheydrup Kuenga Wangpo’s religious lineage of Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel. Form young age, he learnt Buddhist scripts from his father Ven. Yongba who was the Kheri Goenpa Lam and under Lam Dorji Jamtsho. Tharpa Gyeltshen later joined Trongsa Dratshang, became an accomplished master in Ked-dzog, and also received Wang, Lung and Thri from Second Petsheling Trulku Jigmi Tempai Gyeltshen.
After successful campaign against British India, Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel issued Royal Kasho on September 30,1856, whereby the people of five villages of Dungsam Pangkhar, Pangthang Daza, Khaeri Goenpa, Tshelingor, and Rimung were to be relieved from labour contribution to the government but must serve to Yongla Goenpa.
Fourth lam, Jampel (1886-1894)
Lam Jampel was the eldest son of Third Yongla Lam Tharpa Gyeltshen. The government appointed him as the fourth Yongla Lam in 1886 after the death of his father.
Fifth lam, Sangay Chophel (1894-1920)
Lam Sangay Chophel was the younger brother of Lam Jampel. He was appointed as the goenpa’s Lam by government after the resignation of his brother in 1894. Lam Chophel served as monk in Zhung Dratshang and became accomplished master in Driglam Choesum and in Gar Thig Yang Sum and severed as Kudrung in the central monk body before his appointment as fifth Yongla Lam.
Sixth lam, Thongley (1920-1923)
Lam Thongley was the son of Lam Sangay Chophel and became an accomplished master under his father. He succeeded his father as the goenpa’s lam and retired in 1923.
Seventh lam, Sangay Wangdi (1924-1943)
Lam Sangay Wangdi was born in Yurung, in Khominang village in Pemagatshel. He joined Trongsa Dratshang at the age of 8 and became an accomplished master in Yang Thig Gar Sum and all the qualities of spiritual master and Ked-dzog. He was appointed by government in 1924 as the 7th Yongla Lam. During Lam Sangay Wangdi’s tenure, His Majesty the Second King commanded Gyeshey Pema Tshering (whose reincarnation is none other than the current Je Khenpo Truelku Jigme Choedra, His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo) to join Yongla Goenpa to propagate Buddha Dharma. The two lams together further strengthened the goenpa and conducted numerous religious activities for peace, security and sovereignty of the country.
Eight lam, Gyeshey Pema Tshering (1944-1949)
Lam Gyeshey Pema Tshering was born to Yab Chador from Bidung in Trashigang and Yum Gyalmo from Norbugang in Pemagatshel in 1904.
He was enrolled as a young monk under Trongsa Rabdey. Under the Royal Command of His Majesty the First King to select six most intelligent monks from Pung-Thim and Trongsa Dratshang, Pema Tshering was selected along with 5 other monks and was sent to Tibet for higher Buddhist studies. Lam Pema Tshering became the most accomplished master of all time. He resigned from Yongla in 1949 and left to heavenly abode in 1952. The purjang ceremony was conducted by Risum Goenpai Lam Gyeshey Namgyal Pelzang. The two Duel-Jag choetens built by his disciples and religious patrons can still be seen at Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel and Bangtsho in Samdrupjongkhar.
Ninth lam, Tshewang Tenzin (1950-59)
Lam Tshewang Tenzin was from Drepung in Mongar and became the 9th Yongla Lam. He joined Trongsa Dratshang at a young age and became an accomplished religious master.
Tenth Lam, Nado (1960-1965)
Lam Nado was from Bjee, Trongsa. He joined the Trongsa Rabdey from his early childhood and was appointed by the government as Yongla Lam in 1960. Lam was an accomplished religious master. He resigned in 1965.
Eleventh lam, Sonam Zangpo (1966-1979) and Latshab Norbu (mid 1979-1983)
Drupwang Dampa Lam Sonam Zangpo was born to Lhuentse Dzongpon Phuntso Namgyel and Sonam Drolma in 1892.
He was ordained as monk at a young age in Lhuentse Dratshang, went to Tibet at the age of 12 and became accomplished master under Togden Shacha Sheri, Khyentse Choki Lodro and Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji.
Lam Sonam Zangpo was appointed as the 11th Yongla Lam by the government in 1966 and so remained until mid 1979. He left to Thimphu to shoulder various religious responsibilities by passing on the responsibility to Latshab Norbu from Bartsiri, Pemagatshel. He was also one of the most revered Latshab in the history of Yongla.
Lam Sonam Zangpo constructed kuuten, choeten, and personally carried out the paintings inside the walls of Yongla Goenpa in 1968. In 1969, Lam enrolled 25 monks and introduced Annual Drupchhen and Masked Dances for the first time.
In 1970, Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji, Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and Nyonshi Khenpo Jamyang Dorji were invited to Bhutan from Kalimpong, India. Besides the consecration of newly renovated Yongla Goenpa, the rinpoches performed many religious ceremonies in Yongla Goenpa for days.
Twelfth lam, Dodrupchen Rinpoche (1984-1993)
Lam Dodrupchen Rinpoche Jigme Thubten Thinley Pelzang was born in 1927 in Tibet. Rinpoche became the 12th Yongla Lam in 1984 and established Pemagatshel Dratshang in 1988.
From 1993 until 1995, Yongla Goenpa was looked after by Latshab Lam Sangay and Lopon Jigme Dorji from Redengla in Pemagatshel.
Thirteenth lam, Sonam Tashi (1996-2007)
Lam Sonam Tashi was born in Tshebar Thonphu Goenpa in Pemagatshel. He became an accomplished master under Dodrupchen Rinpoche. In 1996, he was appointed by 70th Je Khenpo as the Lam Neten of Pemagatshel Rabdey and became the 13th Yongla Lam. He expanded the Rabdey.
Fourteenth lam, Jampel Sangay (2007-)
Lam Jampel Sangay was born in Paam, Trashigang, in 1969. He joined Trashigang Rabdey and later Phajoding and Tango Buddhist College and became an accomplished master. He was appointed as the Lam Neten of Pemagatshel in 2007.
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
Trashiyangtse, is known for hewing Dapa(wooden bowl). However, only few people in the dzongkhag can narrate the history of its origin.
The art is long associated with people of two gewogs in Bumdeling and Yangtse.
Today, there are more than 40 artisans in Trashiyangtse. But not all are known to be skilled artisan. The master artisan, Shagzop, made their livelihood through wood turning over four generation.
Most of the Shagzops are descendants of renowned master artisan Pema Norbu, who died around 1968. Today, his seven grandsons, Tenzin Jamtsho and Jangchub, are said to revered artisan in the Dzongkhag.
Tenzin Jamtsho, 66 and his brother Jangchu, who inherited the skills from their ancestors are the fourth-generation artisans.
Tenzin Jamtsho was busy making Dapa at his workshop above Trashiyangte town. He completed making coarse bowl to give a rough shape. “This is what my father did after inheriting the skill from my grandfather Pema Norbu. My grandfather learned from his father Lobzang,” he added.
He claimed that Shagzo become popular after his father exported both skills and products to other dzongkhags.
What makes the product more expensive is the pattern, locally called Dzab that is decorates the burr. Tenzin Jamtsho knows the names of all the patterns that comes with the burr.
Tasochenma or the pattern of Horse teeth is considered the most expensive, followed by Woogthra or the pattern of Owl feathers. Likewise, the Meri chenma(flame patterned), Phozab (Large stripes), Mozab(Small Stripes) are considered as common Dzab.
Seven to eight-inch diameter of highly figured wood burrs or Dzab, fetch enough money to buy a decent car costing approximately Nu 700,000. “We don’t see much highly featured Dzabs today, it is rare now,” he said.
Lacquer gives the appealing finish to the product and makes the patterns elegant. The lacquering process have to wait until the end of June and there is a window until September. It requires enough humidity and temperature to dry.
In the past, Jangchu said they used to harvest milky sap from a tree (seyshing) and store in containers. Today most in the business use imported Japanese lacquer.
For Dzab or patterned burrs, a minimum of 12-13 coatings of lacquer has to applied. Normal burrs require about seven coatings.
With dwindling source of wood burrs, today, Shagzops employ burr hunters in places like Wangduephograng, Chukkha, Dagana and Haa. According to Shazogpa, theailing outgrowths of woods are also bought from Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang, and West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, India.
One of the Shagzops said that, to prevent over harvesting of burrs, forestry division allow cutting only two matured trees per year by a Shagzop with trade license. “Getting trade license is long process,” Jangchu said.
He said that people extract the materials to make Dapas from Rhododendron arboretum, Eaglewood (Aquaria malaccenisis), Walnut, Oak, Lyonia Ovalifolia, Myrica esculent, wild Avocado, Maples and Alders.
Meanwhile, the local products in the showroom in Trashiyangtse range from traditional bowls such as Geylong Zheycha and Draphor (both used by monks), Gophor (small bowls with lid), Bayphor (Tibetan bowl), Pa-Dapa (large Dapa used as meat containers), Phob (cup), Tsamder(used for serving snacks), Lhungzedand Karma-Lhungzed (begging bowls), Nyey shan phob(Silver hatched cup) to modern wine cup and beer mug.
Working conditions, according to many artisans have however improved with modern electric motors, sand paper and imported lacquer replacing traditional tools.
Forty one students from 10 schools in Paro dzongkhag attended a three youth camp at Nemjo, Paro last week.
Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies alumni in Paro organised the camp to help instill a sense of responsibility for independent learning, impart age-old values and practices, and introduce students to analytical skills and problem solving.
The participants brainstormed on critical thinking, entrepreneurial mindset, thought model and Bhutanese culture and values. In order to facilitate experiential learning, a field visit to Drugyel Dzong was organised so as to complement theoretical learning they have had under culture and tradition.
The camp was part of the Supporting Holistic Education and Reflective Action and Behaviour (SHERAB) project formulated by 30 cohort of Foundation Leadership Program-2. Volunteers from Singapore and some members of the cohort facilitated the programme.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The education ministry’s notification for online admission for class XI on January 8 confused many students, who appeared Bhutan Certificate of Secondary Education and Examination (BCSE) in 2019 and their parents.
More than 12,745 students appeared the BCSE.
The notification has asked students to register with the ministry online for government scholarship to apply in any of the private schools of their choice before January 15.
Students panicked and were confused with the notification as the result is not yet declared.
Many questioned how the education ministry could ask students to register when they are not even aware about their results.
Some of them were not sure if it was compulsory to register and others wondered whether they would get scholarships if they don’t. Few said what if they choose private school now and later obtain good marks to study in government schools.
A student studying in an eastern dzongkhag, Ugyen Lhaden, said that while she wants to take opportunity to study in a good private school, she is sceptic to register because of the fear she might be asked to pay additional fees.
“I come from a poor family and I can’t afford. It was not clear if the private schools would take an additional fee on what education ministry will pay,” she said.
A student from Trongsa, Sonam Zam, asked if the government could send them in the same private schools they choose without even knowing the result. “What if we don’t register now to study in government school but later is asked to go to private schoo?”
An official from the education ministry clarified that the registration for admission right now is only for the students who wishes to study in private schools.
“The registration is definitely not compulsory and if they wish to study in government school then they don’t have to register. The registration is only with the education ministry and not with the private schools.”
The official said students, irrespective of the percentages they obtain, could register if they prefer to study in any of the 21 private higher secondary schools.
The registration is restricted to only for the class X students who appeared 2019 BCSE.
The google document for registration also mentions that the purpose of this online registration is to collect information of BCSE-X 2019 students who are interested to study class XI in private schools through government scholarship.
The notification claims that information will help the ministry to plan better in the allocation of government scholarship in the most efficient manner.
The notification stated that students who are awarded pass certificate would be eligible for admission in class XI in public or private schools without merit ranking.
However, a teacher in Thimphu said although the purpose of the notification is to collect information of students interested to study in private schools, there might be situations where students register assuming it is compulsory to study in private and the number would exceed 2,700. “Then how will the ministry solve this and ask the students to go back to government school.”
Officials said registration to public schools would open once the result is declared.
If the registration is lesser than 2,700 then the government would absorb students in government schools first and then allocate students to private schools based on rankings.
The number might change based on the number of failure and dropouts.
Meanwhile, admission for students, who register for a private school of their choice, will begin from January 20.
In December last year, the ministry and private schools with the Prime Minister decided to allow the students to choose between private or public schools without having to follow the ranking system in 2020 academic session.
With the condition to increase the monthly salary of the teachers, the ministry also revised the government scholarship fee to Nu 40,000 for day scholars and Nu 70,000 for boarders. The revised 70,000 for boarders will be limited to needy students identified by the respective schools.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Three died and another person was critically injured when the Nanong BHU ambulance fell 170 metres off the road at Kenadrang, Pemagatshel at around 10.20am yesterday.
The incident occurred when the ambulance was taking a nine-year-old boy to Pemagatshel hospital from the BHU.
The patient, and the 33-year-old driver were died on the spot while a woman patient attendant died on the way to Pemagatshel hospital. They succumbed to severe head injury and excessive bleeding.
The only survivor, a 51-year-old man, has sustained severe head injury and was referred to Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) yesterday. Pemagatshel police is investigating the case.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Twelve years after the construction of a 55ms ‘through-type bridge’ over Singeychhu in Pasakha began, people are still waiting for it to open for traffic.
At the bridge site, it looks as if it is completed. Colourful flags are also hung on the bridge. There are some metal parts nearby and grasses have sprouted from underneath.
People and vehicles, however, have to use the old bailey bridge right beside it to cross over. The old bailey bridge that had 24 metric tonnes (MT) load capacity is also wearing out. Mining trucks now face problem, as it only allows 20MT load.
Undertaken by Project DANTAK in 2007, the Nu 39.4 million (M) bridge would benefit about 300 households of three villages of Rangaytoong, Dhungena, and Pakchina in Sampheling (Pasakha) and also three mining companies.
A Rangaytoong resident, Budhiman Rai, said that with the old bridge wearing out every year, the completion of the new bridge has become important. “The new bridge would benefit us in many ways.”
He said the bridge would bring economic benefits with more vehicle movement. There is also a school and a basic health unit that the bridge would provide access. “We don’t know what happened to this bridge but it is taking a long time to complete.”
In 2015, the bridge construction was completed by 80 percent. By then the construction had stopped for two years. Project DANTAK officials then said the construction was halted because they were waiting for a “proof check” of the portion that was already executed.
Officials then claimed the proof check had to be completed because they said there were unexpected flash floods.
It was also learnt that the contractor, an Indian firm, M/s Lakhanpal Fabricators of Jammu, had faced financial problems and left the works unattended. Later that year, works reinstated but it was never completed and inaugurated.
Meanwhile, the incomplete bridge is affecting the truckers.
A trucker, Dawa Zangpo, who ferries boulders and cross Singeychhu on a daily basis, said trucks have been carrying below given load capacity due to the existing bridge’s problem.
“Loan repayment has become a big problem for us,” he said, adding a tipper truck just carried 12-13MT of stones.
Dawa Zangpo said ferrying mining boulders fetches them Nu 220 per MT. “Considering the maintenance and loan repayment of more than Nu 20,000 per month, business has deteriorated immensely.”
He also said it has been a year since they were carrying below the standard carrying capacity. “There is a genuine need for the bridge.”
Three mining companies use Singeychhu bridge from Pasakha.
Truckers and drivers say the new bridge should be completed. They said 12 years is too long for a bridge construction. “Both project DANTAK and government failed here,” a trucker said.
Another truck owner and a driver, Purna Bahadur Rai, said their business is dying. “The DANTAK bridge, if functional, would help a lot. We normally carried 24MT.”
Another driver from a mining company, RP Pradhan, showed his truck with nine MT load, which could fill only half of the truck’s carrier. His truck has the capacity to carry 20MT load. “But I cannot carry the load even within the limit because of the bridge problem.”
He said he was stopped from carrying loads within the limits twice. “I was fined once.”
Meanwhile, once complete, this bridge will connect the Paskaha alternative route that serves as a national highway between Phuentsholing and Thimphu.
Department of Roads officials in Phuentsholing said DANTAK has not handed over the bridge to them.
A Project DANTAK official in Thimphu explained that although work was completed earlier, it could not be opened for traffic, as the bridge did not meet the desired design criteria for a class AA/70 bridge. “As a result, the entire work had to be frozen,” he said. “After protracted efforts and time given to the contractor to rectify the same, Project DANTAK had to cancel the original work in December 2017.”
He said Project DANTAK in consultation with DoR has finalised a fresh tender and is in the process of obtaining sanction from the government of India (GoI) to recommence the work. “The process is in advance stage and DANTAK is looking to be able to recommence the work before the end of this winter.”
He also said they are optimistic to complete the work in approximately 12 months from recommencing. “We are strengthening the bailey bridge to ease the difficulties faced by industries.”