A good season thus far, say farmers
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
At this time of the year, farmers of Yallang, Ramjar and Khamdang gewog in Trashiyangtse feel their legs go lighter when they are out in the field working.
Rain, sun or wind, farmers are busy in the chilli fields as this is one season where they can mint money. The first green chillies to hit the market come from these places and farmers earn between Nu 100,000 and 150,000.
This year, most farmers are expecting even better income. Kingzang Lhachi, has already made about Nu 100,000 from her first harvest. She could only make Nu 70,000 last year. “I am happy, my hard work paid off,” she said. “I am expecting more this time, as the price is good. Our only worry is insects affecting our chilli.”
As the government encourages farmers and give more importance to agriculture, she said more farmers are growing chilli. “In the past, we cultivate only for self-consumption but it has become our cash cow.”
Choden, 42, from Phuyang said her village was the first to cultivate chilli. “More and more people are growing chilli knowing the income it brings,” she said.
Today, more than 45 households from Yallang gewog are involved in cultivating chilli.
On the complaints on the price of chillies, Tshering Duba of Phuyang village said people in towns will understand only if they come and work in the fields. Chilli is sold at Nu 300 a kg, but the price doubles as it reaches the farmers’ market in Thimphu.
Given the demand for local chillies, about 14 farmers tried cultivating on a commercial scale at Namla in Khamdang. Farmers said they need not worry about the market for their first chilli harvest, as vendors come to their felid to buy it.
It was learnt that people of Khamdang also tried cultivating on a large scale at Namla, about two hours walk from Doksum town.
According to dzongkhag agriculture officials, the total production from Wangringmo in Phuyang village that produces the most chillies was 31.29 metric tonnes (MT) in 2019. However, dzongkhag agriculture officials expects 37.8 MT this season.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer Kuenzang Peldon said that to encourage farmers in agriculture production, the dzongkhag had been increasing the farm gate price of chilli. “With support from agencies, we have also provided both irrigation and drinking water to Wangringmo and Bayphushot villages.”
With fund from the Government of India, the dzongkhag is constructing reservoir tanks to solve the problem of water shortage in Bayphushot. “We train farmers in farm management, diseases control and other related farming training to farmers every year,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, the price of green chilli has reduced to Nu 250 per kg from Nu 350 per kg at Doksum town.
Farmers would have to complete the harvest by June to start paddy cultivation.
Phub Dem | Paro
It was a vacation Wangchuk Lhamo will never forget.
The woman from Phuentsholing was in New Delhi on a family vacation with her family including her two-year-old granddaughter and son earlier this year.
Before the holiday ended, the government of India announced a lockdown.
The family had planned their return on March 31 from Bagdogra airport. However, with the announcement of lockdown in India, their plan was foiled.
“I waited for the Indian government to lift the lockdown so that I can fly to Bagdogra and come home to Phuentsholing. But that never happened,” she said yesterday at the Paro airport after finally returning home. “I never thought the noble coronavirus would affect the region this hard.”
With the extension of lockdown in India, her family registered with the embassy to return home.
Sharing her experience during the lockdown, Wangchuk Lhamo said with a two-year-old child, it was difficult to stay home all day. “I only go outside twice a month to buy groceries. I go to the store as early as 5 am to avoid the crowd.”
Like Wangchuk Lhamo who was stranded in New Delhi, many decided to return home after the extension of the lockdown in India.
Migma, who has been working four years in a five-star hotel in India, decided to return only because of the extension of lockdown. Otherwise, she said that there was no problem.
She said they were allowed to go outside only to buy groceries once in a day. Fortunately for her, a grocery store would remain open in her locality.
Migma had not resigned from her job and hopes to return to India after the situation becomes normal.
Rinchen Phuba, a student, said if the lockdown continued, he would run out of essentials since he had no source of income. “People there do not follow physical distancing properly. Marts are crowded, and it is scary,” he said.
Meanwhile, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines brought back 28 Bhutanese, including seven patient and ten attendants from Kolkata and 115 Bhutanese from Delhi yesterday.
Patients and attendants were sent to quarantine facility in Thimphu and the rest were quarantined in Paro.
Thimphu police have arrested seven men for suspected cattle rustling from various parts of the dzongkhag in two months.
Last week, Desuups on patrolling duty found that a 34-year-old man had lifted a bull from around Yangchenphu HSS in Thimphu. They stopped his bolero pickup truck until police arrived and arrested him.
The bull was returned to his owner yesterday.
The man also confessed to have taken six cattle from Paro and selling them in Tsirang on April 30. The suspect was sent to gather the animals from Tsirang. Police said that the cattle would be kept in the Thimphu Thromde livestock pound until the owner comes to claim them.
Thimphu Police Officer In-charge, Gembo Penjor, said, “We’ve kept the cattle in the pound for now. We’re also examining complaints from other police stations to verify if the cattle he tried to sell were stolen.”
Police seek proper documentation from Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) to rule out cattle raid, but the suspect had no documents.
The case is still under investigation.
In another incident, a 27-year-old man was apprehended on March 2 for stealing two pregnant jersey cows from a cowshed in Babesa, Thimphu.
Police received information that a bolero pickup had left the area with two cows.
Police informed highway checkpoints and traced the suspect who was headed to Tsirang. The offender sold the cows to a slaughterhouse, saying that he needed money and was selling his cattle.
Later, he confessed to his crimes, and the cows were returned to their owner in Thimphu.
On March 22, villagers of Genekha in Thimphu reported 18 cattle missing from their locality. Locals also told police that five men were loitering suspiciously around Khasadrapchu, Thimphu around the same time.
The men stole six cattle from the pasture shed and kept them in their bolero pickup truck.
When police arrested them, they had sold six of them to India via Sarpang border.
Police are looking for the rest of the herd.
As per section 240 of Penal Code of Bhutan, six of them were charged with larceny. The five men who stole the cattle from Genekha are also charged with possession of the stolen property as per section 255 of the Code.
Gembo Penjor said that since meat import is banned, people are trying to exploit the situation.
Phub Dem | Paro
A pregnant cow was stolen from its shed and slaughtered 500metres away at Tsiramna, Uesu gewog in Haa on May 3.
According to Uesu Gup Nima Tshering, the cow was tethered to a pine tree and beheaded. The villagers alerted the police and gup about the incident immediately.
Nima Tshering said that the villagers met two suspects a few meters away from the carcass. He said that the gewog earlier alerted the people to be watchful and immediately report to the gewog administration if they see any new faces in the community.
Officer commanding of Haa Police station alerted the local leaders to inform the residents to keep strict vigilance.
Lungyni and Wangchang gewogs in Paro reported the theft and slaughter of five cattle and 10 missing livestock.
Since the incidents have occurred after the ban on meat import, residents are worried about losing more as the ban continues.
A resident, Tenzin Namgay found his lost ox tethered to a tree. He said people were engaging in cattle theft as the meat fetched a good price.
While some villagers say that this was the first case of cattle lifting, others say they have lost their livestock before too.
Zeko, a farmer from Lungyni gewog, said that he lost two milking cows last year while his neighbour lost a cow.
“We looked everywhere but didn’t find them or their remains.”
Wangchang gup Kuenzang Rinzin said that villagers were worried that the offenders might attack them if they catch them in the act.
He said that they have advised the villagers and neighbouring villages to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities.
The gewogs have reported the cases to the police.
Businesses from tailoring to automobile workshops are affected
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Former drayang employees, Dawa Dema and Chandra Kala said they cried after the first day of their new job. Having to work with city’s sewerage system was such a challenge.
Now, after many days, they look at the job differently. They do not cry anymore. In fact, they are proud of themselves.
Entertainment centres like drayangs and clubs are now closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finding it difficult to pay house rent, Dawa Dema and her friends did not hesitate to take up the odd job. Seven of them, all women, are paid Nu 13,500 per month by thromde.
After the border gate was closed on March 23, service sectors in Phuentsholing started to feel the pinch.
In response to this situation, the labour office in Phuentsholing employed 213 Bhutanese, mostly jobless youth, in various labour intensive jobs.
The mini dry port and FCBL has employed youth to load and unload goods. About 22 former drayang employees are also involved in collecting parking fees. A few have taken haircutting.
Affordability, skills, and attitude are the three primary reasons why employers choose people from across the border.
Regional director with labour office, Sonam Tenzin, said non-Bhutanese were willing to work for smaller salaries.
From January to until today, more than 70 jobseekers have registered with the regional employment office.
According to the recently published Labour Force Survey (LFS) Report, 2019, unemployment is more of an urban phenomenon with 5.3 percent, which is three-times higher than that of rural areas (1.6 percent).
This development, meanwhile, brings about a question, whether the Bhutanese employed amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, would still be in employment after the situation returns to normal.
A businessman, Sonam Tshewang, said that employing Bhutanese would mean the “capital” would remain within the country.
“This means there would be an overall economic benefit for the country.”
The regional secretary of BCCI in Phuentsholing, Sangay Dorji, said that the people ought to understand the importance of giving employment opportunities to Bhutanese, especially at this time.
Sectors that need skilled workers
Construction sector is pretty much in a comatose with skills and labour shortage. The sector needs more than 150 construction workers immediately.
A labour officer, Kelzang Tshechi, said there was more demand for mason and carpenters. “We get the helpers but not the skilled workers.”
A thromde engineer with the infrastructure division, Ashok Sunwar, said there were several projects that could not be continued.
Workshops too are struggling. One of the biggest and busiest workshops, Zimdra Automobile, is running short of more than 70 percent of skilled workers.
Due to the increasing number of clients, Zimdra has started to take prior appointments. The firm’s general manager said that customers were handicapped without their vehicles and demanded immediate services.
“We are trying our best,” he said.
He said that not many Bhutanese preferred working in workshops. Zimdra has employed some VTI graduates.
Wood-based industries are also facing the dearth of skilled labourers. Most shoe repair and tailoring shops are also closed.
It is uncertain when the border would open and if Bhutanese would continue to work or employers turn back to cheap hands from across the border.
… lockdown has left the dzongkhag without vaccines
Phub Dem | Paro
Months after Paro saw the first Canine Distemper case towards the end of 2019, the dzongkhag’s veterinary hospitals today sees at least six cases every day.
Since the outbreak, the dzongkhag veterinary hospital treated around 940 dogs suffering from canine distemper.
Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects canids and felids, including dogs, and the infection is not zoonotic which means it does not transmit to human.
Although the infection was reported from all 10 gewogs in Paro, the number of cases was higher in Shaba, Lungnyi and Wangchang gewogs as of yesterday.
Senior veterinary officer, Dr Sonam Peldon said that due to the lockdown in India, the local pharmacy was not able to supply the vaccine to pet owners.
“Dogs have to get the vaccine every year to prevent the infection.”
The vaccine prevents the disease for a year. Stray dogs often don’t get vaccination since it costs 600 a dose.
The dzongkhag’s measures to fight the outbreak include isolation of sick dogs, giving antibiotic, and proper burial of dead ones.
In the wake of Covid-19, local residents suspicious that the dogs may have contracted the novel coronavirus.
Dr Sonam Peldon said that the canine distemper shows similar symptoms because both the diseases are viral infections. However, she said, canine distemper does not spread to human.
Paro was witnessing many cases of canine distemper due to clustered landscape, she said. “There are cases of canine distemper in Thimphu, Dagana and Haa but not as high as Paro.”
Around 250 pet owners have vaccinated their dogs against the infection so far this year.
Deputy chief dzongkhag livestock officer Loden Jimba said that the dzongkhag administration had notified the local government officials to create awareness on the outbreak and asked the people not to panic.
He said that the virus had a similar symptom like rabies such as fever, muscle twist, limpness, among others.
Although the virus was not infectious to human and other domestic animals, he said that the concern was spreading the virus to endangered species such as snow leopard, tiger and fox.
“We informed people to dump the carcasses properly.”
The dzongkhag administration has also reported the situation to the ministry.
The infections were reported mainly from non-vaccinated, stray dogs during winter. Officials said that vaccinating all pets and stray dogs would reduce the outbreak in the dzongkhag.
A group of farmers from Dechheling Gewog, pemagatshel, have started growing watermelon for the first time on a commercial scale.
The group consist of five people are growing watermelon on about 1-acre land at Telung. The promise is showing already.
One of the members of the group, Thinley Tempa, said watermelon cultivation started in March. He said that when the project was first tried, production was amazing.
The group planted 600 saplings. Farmer said that they were expecting produce harvest worth about three Bolero truck.
Kencho Zangmo, a member of the group, said that the group was worried about the market. The plan is to increase the production if the sell increases.
“I am happy looking at the yield,” Kencho Zangmo said.
Farmers said that ADRC provided technical and other supports. The group is exploring the market in Pemagatsel, Mongar, and Nganglam.
Dechheling Gewog’s agriculture extension officer, Tempa Chorten, said that he had the job to monitor regularly.
Pemagatshel dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tashi Phuntsho said that watermelon plantation is one of the collaboration activities of Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ADRC), Wengkhar and Pemagatshel.
The activities are being taken up in Dungmaed, Yurung, and Chimong gewogs.
Residents of Changjalu in Thimphu woke up to the sound of a massive explosion at around 5:22am yesterday.
The explosion blew the windows and doors of an apartment at the ground floor of a two-storey house.
There was no casualty.
Thimphu Police rushed to the scene with the bomb squad along with sniffing dogs to investigate what caused the explosion.
Senior Superintendent of Thimphu division, Colonel Dorji Khando said that there was no trace of an explosive.
“There were no splinters or a crater, a hole in the ground left when an explosive goes off, anywhere in that apartment,” he said.
They combed every part of the building but found nothing relating to explosives. Experts from various agencies examined the site and ruled out any foul play.
On closer examination, police found that the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder in the kitchen had leaked.
Major Ugyen Wangdi said the cylinder was intact but empty.
The tenant was away at her relative’s place that night. She told police that she last used the stove at around 5pm on the previous day and turned it off. The cylinder was refilled recently.
The officer, who was an expert with the fire department, said that the gas stove pipe had worn out which could have been the point of the leak.
Police officials said that the apartment was small and had no ventilation. “They had sealed even the exhaust holes on the walls with ply boards,” Major Ugyen Wangdi said.
He said that the phenomenon is called a vapour cloud explosion.
“The gas being denser than air hung low in the room and the leak continued to build the pressure with exit points. It reached to the adjacent room and came into contact with the butter lamp which ignited the gas at once and caused the explosion,” he said.
“The resultant pressure from the ignition asserted equally in all directions and the weak parts of the structure, mainly the windows and doors gave way.”
“That is the only probable cause of the explosion.”
Neighbours said there was a loud noise like a clap of thunder and the floor shook.
“I thought it was an earthquake, and when I looked outside the ground floor was completely wrecked. There was no fire or smoke from the house.”
The house was fully damaged, with the single-partition inside the two-bedroom house and window panels wholly blown out. Witness saw shards and bricks lying all over the floor and outside.
The building suffered hairline cracks and window panes of the nearby buildings shattered.
RBP officials said that the public should turn-off regulators of LPG cylinders when not in use and to buy proper gas stove pipe to avoid such accidents.
The police said the case is still under investigation.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
The Gyalpoizhing- Nganglam highway will be closed for around two weeks the entire base of the road was washed away at Kerongtshong in Pemagatshel.
The rockslide on April 26 had washed away about 20 metres of the formation of the road. Kerongchong is about 38km from Nganglam towards Gyapoizhing.
Regional Department of Road’s (DoR) chief engineer, Jigme Choidup, said that the rockslide had taken away about 20 metres of the road last month. DOR had deployed excavators and rock-drill machines, among others at the site immediately.
He said the highway is closed for traffic because they are carrying out the clearing works at the site. They would have to cut out of the road formation.
The chief engineer suspects the failure of the formation could be the cause of the slide. “We cannot say how long will it take to clear the block as it is at the cliff and rocky areas.”
“Landslide frequently occurs at the site, and we have not seen any possibilities to carry out the hillside cutting on the rocky cliff.” He said that falling boulders also threaten the lives of the workers at the site which is also hampering their efforts in clearing the site.
Jigme Choidup said that they are planning to lower the road level and construct a wall. “It would take about two weeks to clear a block if the weather favours but we cannot say as the weather is unpredictable.”
Jomotsangkha is under strict restrictions. The lockdown in India has already affected the drungkhag. There is an informal gag on the media issued by local authorities and there is fear in the town that borders Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Since the news of the shopkeeper suspected of testing positive for coronavirus went viral, the remote town has become more secluded. Even a telephone call to local leaders is rejected with suspicions. Within the town, it is learnt that the family of the suspected case is being stigmatised.
The shopkeeper, who was tested and retested negative on the more reliable PCR, runs a shop that was popular in the town before the incident. Family members are feeling stigmatised and the shop has lost its customers. The social media community is reported to be trolling the family and relatives.
Media breaking the news about the shopkeeper testing positive on the Rapid Test Kit disturbed the community and many more beyond Jomotsangkha. The updates on the retest done on the PCR unfortunately didn’t calm those who got worked up.
There is a growing concern, some even blaming media that the news was fake and that media should not have created the panic. For the record, long before the mainstream media got a whiff of it, it was already on social media. The information shared was going viral on Wechat and Facebook. It was not verified and had no source. The newspapers and the national TV shared the news after verifying with the health ministry, some from the health minister.
It must have created some panic, especially when not read in full, but the news was important not for media, but for the country amid our fight against the coronavirus.
With the imported cases well under control through the mandatory quarantine system, the concern today from His Majesty The King, the government and the health ministry is preventing an infection in the community. We all know the risk of a community infection without travel history.
Jomotsangkha borders Assam where as of yesterday 43 positive cases were confirmed. Bongaigaon, close to Gelephu town is in a red zone and in the west, Alipurduar, not far away from Lhamoizingkha detected four positive cases in a single day recently.
Everybody needs to be concerned. If the result on the Rapid Test Kit was a false alarm, it came as a good warning. Restrictions on movement of people, gathering, closing of business and even a lockdown is the immediate action should there be a single case of community infection.
We can surmise that Jomotsangkha is now more prepared after the scare. Given the porous border it shares with Assam, we cannot take any chance. The recent incident could pass as a good drill for the community and the local leaders.
What we don’t need is branding people as virus carrier just because they were tested for Covid-19. A lot of these must be from ignorance. That’s why we need education and communication. Not talking to media or discouraging people from doing so will not help anyone.
We have people sharing their stories from isolation wards, from quarantine facilities and those who recovered. Our tolerance level is high when we understand that Covid-19 is not associated with race, religion or nationality. It is a disease that is curable when detected at the earliest.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Bumthang is among the few dzongkhags where cordyceps collection takes place. However, waste is fast becoming a major problem in the collection sites.
The dzongkhag administration so has introduced a waste management strategy. Starting this season, cordyceps collectors will have to pay Nu 1,000 security deposit each. They must also bring back from collection sites at least five kilogrammes of waste.
Collectors will have to forfeit security deposit if they fail to bring back the required amount of waste and will be denied collection permit for the coming year.
Bumthang Dzongdag Passang Dorji said that security deposit would be refunded on fulfilling the condition such as attending health screening at the exit point, declaring five kgs of waste, and producing the health screening certificate issued by the health official at the exit points.
As part of Covid-19 preventive measures, all collectors will be required to attend mandatory flu screening when they go to and return from the collection sites.
The collectors from other dzongkhags travelling to the respective cordyceps collection site through Bumthang to drop rations or for the collection should produce a consent letter from the respective gewogs or dzongkhag administration office.
Two checkpoints at Zangtherpo and Thowadrak bridge in Tang have been installed to control illegal collectors. Each year, hundreds of collectors illegally enter Bumthang’s cordyceps collection sites.
“Those who fail to abide by the collection guideline shall be dealt as per the relevant law of the Kingdom,” dzongdag said.
The Cordyceps collection permits for Bumthang will be issued on May 18.
“In the past, we used to create awareness related to cordyceps harvesting in the chiwogs, but this year, due to the Covid-19 situation, we will go to villages,” said Pema Doengyel, Chhoekhor Gup.
The Bumthang court on May 1 sentenced two shopkeepers and a corporate employee in prison for illegal import of cigarettes last December.
The case surfaced after an informer alerted Bumthang police of a suspected tobacco smuggling. While checking passenger buses travelling between Thimphu and Bumthang police came across a parcel containing 4,790 sticks of cigarettes in the name of the women running a Pan shop in Bumthang on December 9.
The 43-year-old woman from Dagana who runs a shop at Bajo town in Wangdue Phodrang was charged for illegally importing 4,790 sticks of cigarettes from Jaigaon in India. She was sentenced to four years and two months in prison.
The 29-year-old man from Pemagatshel, a corporate employee in Wangdue Phodrang, was sentenced to three years and 2 months for solicitation and aiding and abetting the crime.
The Pan shop owner, 33, at Chamkhar town was sentenced to two years and 2 months in prison. She is also fined Nu 380,100, six times the actual amount paid for the cigarettes. The license has been confiscated and cancelled as per regulations.
It was learnt that both shopkeepers are repeat offender. They were convicted for tobacco possession by both Bumthang and Wangle district courts in the past.
The Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) has incurred a loss of more than Nu 500,000 so far due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the sources of revenue for BFF is from hiring out the two football grounds at Changlimithang and Changjiji.
BFF’s finance official, Dawa Dolma Tamang, said the implication was huge.
For every match on either ground, BFF charges a ground fee of Nu 3,000 and Nu 1,000 for light during weekdays. On the weekends, Nu 4,000 is the ground fee and Nu 1,000 is for light.
“BFF earns Nu 25,000 to Nu 35,000 in a week from Changlimithang ground; Nu 15,000 to Nu 25,000 is from Changjiji in a week. On an average, the estimated earning was around Nu 500,000 in a month from both the grounds,” said Dawa Dolma Tamang.
BFF has also been generating income from the clubs that organise their tournaments by hiring BFF grounds. For such tournaments, BFF charges Nu 2,000 per match and Nu 1,000 for light.
With the cancellation of all football leagues and tournaments, it has affected the BFF in terms of sponsorship.
In an earlier interview, BFF’s general secretary, Ugyen Wangchhuk, said that the AFC had stopped some funds meant to support the clubs.
Dawa Dolma Tamang said the BFF was unsure whether to use the funds from the FIFA. “BFF hasn’t got clear instructions from FIFA.”
While coordinating football leagues and tournaments, BFF receives sponsorships from within the country.
“Some of our sponsors have pulled out from sponsoring our tournaments and that has had a major implication on our financial status,” said Dawa Dolma Tamang.
BFF is also one of the federations that receive more budgets from the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC). In the financial year, 2019-2020, BFF received Nu 4,216,811 from BOC. The financial year ends in June.
With Covid-19 stopping all activities, national players and club players are doing self-training at the moment.
Since the Bhutan Super League final match between High Quality United FC and Paro United FC on March 21 at Changlimithang, the grounds have remained empty.
Sections for criminal nuisance and breach of public order imposed
Yangchen C Rinzin
Last Friday, the Phuentsholing drungkhag court sentenced a 28-year-old man to nine years for illicit trafficking of 78 capsules of Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+).
The convict was arrested on April 5 near Chinese Line, which shares an open and porous border with Jaigaon. Police arrested the man around 1pm when his companion, a non-Bhutanese threw the drugs concealed inside a cricket ball over the fence.
Another 30-year-old driver was also sentenced to nine years on same accounts after he was arrested near Rinchending in Phuentsholing in possession of 1,492 SP+ capsules.
The crime according to the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018 would be third degree felony, but with borders sealed and the country fighting to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is applying other relevant laws.
The convicts were also charged for Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and 411 (b) of the Penal Code of Bhutan. The OAG also charged them for Breach of Public Order and Tranquillity (Section 448 and 449) of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
According to Section 410 and 411(b), a defendant is guilty of the offence of criminal nuisance, if the defendant knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition including spreading of a dangerous disease that injures or endangers the safety or health of the public. The offence is graded as fourth degree, which is between three and five years.
Section 448 and 449 states that if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the orders of the government issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity, it will be graded as a petty misdemeanour liable for imprisonment of less than one year and more than three months.
An attorney from the OAG said that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic where borders are sealed, there is an increasing number of people trespassing or sneaking in and out from illegal routes.
“Many of the people who trespassed had the intention to bring in tobacco products especially in the southern borders,” he said. “The borders were sealed on March 23. After that, we started charging additional charges of criminal nuisance and breach of public order and tranquillity.”
The attorney said that given the risk of Covid-19 virus there is every chance of these people going to border town and bring in the virus risking the entire population and the country.
“Even if someone is caught attempting to cross the border without the intention to bring in tobacco products, the person would still be charged for Section 411(b) and 448,” the attorney said. “This is to ensure that the person receives harsher punishment for not abiding by the government’s order in the current situation.”
The OAG also charged another six in Sarpang and Gelephu on same accounts. Some of the cases are yet to be charged to the court. Most of these suspects were caught by patrolling team consisting of police personnel and DeSuups.
One of the cases concerns a driver who trafficked Nu 4,000 worth of tobacco products – 500 sticks of cigarettes and 4,140gms of chewing tobacco. Another case is of a driver who went to Falakatta, India, to get vegetables but lied about his travel history. However, since he had travelled before March 23, he would be charged for criminal nuisance. He was quarantined for 21 days.
One of the suspects would be charged on the same ground for crossing the border to meet his non-Bhutanese friends and keeping three Indian workers without a work permit. He will also be charged against Section 128(c) of Immigration Act 2007, which is a petty misdemeanour.
Another suspect had trafficked Nu 10,000 worth of tobacco products while one of the suspects went to a friend in a border town to have alcohol and returned home. “Although he had just met his friend and returned and didn’t bring in tobacco, he disobeyed the government order.”
Meanwhile, to encourage physical distancing, most of the hearings are done online at the OAG and to avoid travelling during the pandemic.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
With heavy rains completely washing away a portion of the road at the Sonamjha on the Manitar-Lhamoizingkha primary highway on May 2, Lhamoizingkha drungkhag in Dagana is now completely cut-off.
Sonamjha is 14km away from Manitar, towards Lhamoizingkha and 36.1km away from Jumja. Lhamoizingkha is 53km from Manitar.
The Department of Roads (DoR) will now construct a 120-feet bailey (double single reinforcement) bridge.
The executive engineer with DoR, Neten Tshering said work will begin from today.
“We will be collecting bridge materials from Rinchending and Samtse,” he said.
Neten Tshering said it will take two weeks to restore and open the traffic. A team of experts visited the site yesterday.
Sonamjha has always been a problem with erosions washing road portions every year. Landslides had occurred during the 2018 and 2019 monsoons. Although mitigation works were planned this year and a budget of Nu 5.2 million (M) approved, it couldn’t be undertaken considering various problems.
Executive engineer Neten Tshering said that excavation machines have been mobilised on both the sides of the road.
“Formation cutting would be carried out starting today and construction of the wall at both ends will also start,” he said, adding that the bridge will then be installed.
Along with three gewogs of Lhamoizingkha, some places under Darla and Bongo gewogs also depend on this highway that connects Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway.
Lhamoizingkha is also connected with the Indian highway from Barobisha, but with the lockdown in India, no movement of vehicle is allowed. Kumargram, a village in Alipurduar, located between Barobisha and Lhamoizingkha recently reported four Covid-19 positive cases. Kumargram is just three to four km away from Lhamoizingkha.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Shopping at the three-storied vegetable market complex in Phuentsholing has finally become safer with people monitored to keep safe distance.
It took 60 Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS) volunteers to do this. The BRCS coordinator, Choezang Tashi, said it has been about a week since they took the task of controlling crowd at the complex.
“It was difficult to handle the crowd in the first few days,” he said, adding both customers and vendors are now supportive.
The BRCS members work in shift systems. The first shift starts at nine in the morning and continues until 12pm, the second continues until four in the evening, followed by the last until 7pm.
Shopping time has decreased with people having to wait in lines and washing their hands before they enter the stalls and also use the Druk Trace tracing app.
Choezang Tashi said the process, although time-consuming could be shortened if they had another water tank installed.
“We just have one tank right now and all the people queue up to wash from this,” he said. The tank has to be refilled thrice a day. “It would also help if people can contribute hand sanitisers and a tank.”
A vegetable vendor, Namgay Lhamo said the BRCS’ coming has eased the crowd.
“It was risky as there was no one to tell,” she said. “They wouldn’t listen to us. And it was also not good on our part to tell our customers to maintain distance.”
Although the crowding has minimised, some vendors said that it is impossible to totally control the crowd.
There are more than 200 BRCS volunteers in the border town. The volunteers include taxi drivers, officials from different sectors and from the business community.
A Bhutanese shares his near-death experience after getting infected
“The unbearable pain had me begging for death on many occasions.”
After witnessing numerous bodies exiting the hospital in coffins and body bags, 47-year-old Sonam Dendup is steadily recovering from Covid-19 in New York.
The monk from Chumey, Bumthang is the third Bhutanese to have been infected in New York City. He is currently in self-isolation at his residence in Queens, New York.
After spending 18 years in Mysore, the Indian state of Karnataka, Sonam Dendup moved to the United States in 2015. For the last five years, he has been living in New York, teaching at a Buddhist centre in Queens.
Before getting the disease, Sonam Dendup said that he did not have any health-related issues. Unsure of how he contracted the disease, he said that he started feeling ill after Losar celebrations towards the end of February.
“For two weeks, I had a discomfort in my stomach, and slowly I developed a severe headache. No medication helped,” he said. In the following days, his entire body ached. “I had severe joints and muscle pains. Then I started developing a dry cough.”
Given the strict instructions from the state authorities to avoid visiting hospitals unless it was an emergency, Sonam Dendup said that he couldn’t visit a hospital.
However, in the next few days, as he struggled to sleep at night and developed breathing discomfort, he had to call in the health emergency unit.
On March 27, Sonam was admitted at the Elmhurst hospital centre in Queens. “I was half-conscious when I arrived at the hospital. There were hundreds of people crying and shouting for help,” he said. “I was lucky to get a bed when I arrived. A person had just died, so I took his place. 12 more had died that day.”
He said that immediately upon his arrival, he was put on a ventilator. “Doctors said that my chances of recovery were limited and almost 80 percent of people put on ventilators did not make it.”
In a semi-conscious state, he spent 24 hours at the hospital before moving him to another intensive care unit (ICU) facility in Manhattan. “The pain was just unbearable. I couldn’t sleep for almost 20 days,” he said, adding that he spent the days screaming in pain and thinking he could die any moment.
Often, he used to wake up from his half slumber, wondering if he was alive.
“In our religion, we believe in sufferings, we all have to go through when we die. But those sufferings were nothing compared to the ones I was going through,” Sonam Dendup said. “On many occasions, I thought of asking the doctors to put me out of my misery, once and for all.”
However, the thought of his family suffering after his death kept him going. He said that he saw bodies being taken out in coffins and body bags immediately after a person died. “Had I died, my body would have been taken out in a similar way and incinerated somewhere in the absence of my family members.”
Besides the physical torture and insomnia, severe diarrhoea added to the excruciating pain, he said. “With no appetite for food, going to the toilet 20 times a day was challenging. And then there is no one to help you because of the limited hospital staff.”
Road to recovery
Despite the severe loss in appetite, Sonam Dendup said that he forced the food in his mouth with a hope it would help. “I did not even have the energy to chew. I didn’t feel any taste, nor could I smell anything. Still, I ate them all with the hope to recover.”
He said that a Tibetan nurse at the hospital helped in getting some extra food and warm water, which was very rare at the hospital.
Over the days he received calls from his friends and teachers at Mysore and back home who gave him the moral support to fight the disease. “All sorts of prayers and rimdro were being conducted for me, and it was actually helping too.”
After 15 days, he was discharged from the hospital. “Once I reached home, I made sure I ate nutritious food and isolated myself,” he said. “There is no magic trick to overcome this disease. It is a combination of good health facilities, medication, nutritious food, self-care and your believe in protective deities and gods.”
At home and alone in New York, Sonam often wonders why he left Bhutan. “These are the times when you start missing your country and countrymen,” he said. “Had I been in Bhutan, I might not have got the disease, and even if I did, the treatment and care would have been much better.”
He said that when America, the leading country in the world is struggling, Bhutanese have to be extra cautious.
“Led by His Majesty The King, the government has done everything possible to prevent the diseasing from spreading,” he said. “But the efforts should not only come from the government. Every individual has to be responsible for their own safety.”
He added that he remains indebted to the support he received from the Bhutanese community in New York and the permanent mission. “At a time when people are more concerned about personal wellbeing, Bhutanese in New York and especially the task force team has been supportive.”
Shortage of labour and disruption in raw material supply has resulted in slow-down in labour-intensive sectors such as construction and real estate.
Since the borders were sealed in early March, new expatriate labourers from the neighbouring states of India couldn’t be brought in while those who left on break are stranded. The sector is short of skilled and semi-skilled workers while construction materials are running out.
Traders in Thimphu and Phuentsholing have reported a surge in demand for construction materials, but said they are not able to meet the demand.
Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that although the tourist restriction had no direct impact on the construction sector, the restriction imposed on recruitment of foreign workers has highly impacted the domestic requirement of workers in the construction sector.
As of now, there are 28,363 foreign workers in the country.
A landlord in Thimphu, whose construction is on hold, said that when the construction is delayed for a longer period of time, the already built structures such as walls gets destroyed, therefore, incurring extra cost. The technical graduates within the country, another builder said, are engaged in other construction sites. “It is hard to get skilled workers such as plumbers and electricians.”
A construction company, Vajra Builders, announced vacancies for 50 labourers, but only 20 turned up.
As an immediate intervention to help the construction sector continue the affected works, the labour ministry in discussion with the immigration department had facilitated redeployment of the existing foreign worker in the country from one employer to another upon completion of their construction works. This was not allowed in the past.
As most of the Bhutanese don’t want to work in the construction sector due to poor and unsafe working conditions, the ministry has also been encouraging the implementation of pension fund to those working in the private sector and ensuring compensation system. “These are essential to protect the workers,” Lyonpo said.
According to Lyonpo, the ministry was encouraging the provision of high wages and mechanising the ways of doing things – such as using labour-saving equipment, powered tools, and also improving the campsite facilities. It is expected to encourage people to join and continue in the construction sector.
At the Meet the Press last week, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, said that the labour ministry had proposed Nu 300 million to implement a construction stimulus plan.
Meanwhile, a group of unskilled young Bhutanese led by a skilled foreign labourer for the past month has been going around providing plumbing and tiles services to construction sites in Thimphu.
Depending on the size of the infrastructure, their service charge ranges from Nu 4,000 to 30,000.
Lyonpo said, the ministry was also working on a project that caters to the needs of aforementioned initiative. Through the dual training programme, trainees learn skills on the job and at the institute.
However, the organiser said that with a shortage of construction materials, they did not recruit more Bhutanese as most of the works are stopped.
As we fight the pandemic that threatens to spread rapidly, it is important that we do not become complacent.
How long the Covid-19 will last, we do not know. In the face of such a disease, health protocols are our only weapon.
Quarantine has been the most effective way to keep ourselves safe. However, of late, there have been reports of people violating quarantine facility protocols.
We have done well so far but thoughtless actions of a few reckless individuals could put us all in grave danger. We can ill afford to turn a blind eye to such disturbing developments.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo has said that from now on anyone who violates quarantine facility protocol will have to bear the expenses for quarantine—Nu 21,000 for 21 days. He or she will also have to do community service for ten days.
This is a good and sensible decision. The people must realise that the government expends a lot of resources and money on keeping the disease at bay. If the lesson must come the hard way, so be it.
In fact, there is a need for stricter measures. If people are found sneaking in and out of the borders, they should be penalised. In the countries that are failing to deal with the pandemic, the kinds of facilities that we have ensured for the people are few and far between.
The government is stocking up essential items, food reserves among them. In fact, schools’ multipurpose halls are being used as reservoirs. Volunteers are coming forward in great numbers to help the government tackle the disease and its threats.
This is the time when every individual should think about the safety of the people and the nation. Bhutan will not face food shortage. Essential items will be made available. What is important is to not let the country and the government be crippled by the power and the dangerous capriciousness of the pandemic.
Bhutanese from abroad are coming back home. We do not have a single local Covid-19 positive case still because our screening and quarantine systems have been very effective. These systems must be bolstered.
Complacency is the biggest danger yet. We must not let it creep in.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
After battling leprosy for years, Tumpo could no longer work in the fields when he turned 30. Given the desperate conditions of his limbs, it was simply impractical.
Today, he is 67. But by his looks, he seems much older, and the people in the community fondly call him, Memey Tumpo.
From Leyphu, Yangnyer in Trashigang, he can barely walk, even with the help of his walking staff.
Life has been tough on him, thinks Memey Tumpo. He is physically disabled and his sibling is deaf and mute.
“It had never been easy to live after my hands and legs became impaired,” he said.
He depends mainly on neighbours, some are distant relatives, living nearby and in the village who provide him with the essentials and firewood for his earthen stove.
But he is all smiles and happy these days because soon he will have a new home to live.
About 45 individuals, including staff of the Yangner gewog, Community base scouts, teachers, students, civil servant, and desuups, volunteered to construct a house for him.
They built the house on weekends and took more than a month to complete the construction.
Memey has distant relatives in the village and nearby. “But they are busy looking after their children. Moreover, their only source of livelihood is their farm,” said Memey Tumpo.
Tumpo receives His Majesty The King’s monthly destitute allowance. He also received stock of essential items as kidu.
The project coordinator and Yangnyer gewog administrative officer, Needup Gyeltshen said that benefactors donated more than Nu 30,000 as cash and other construction materials for the project.
“Together with the contribution from the dzongdag, business community of Trashigang, contractors and shopkeepers, we’re happy that we managed to build a decent house for him,” said Nedup Gyelteshen.
It was the second such house the group built for the needy in the gewog. The first one was for an older woman.
According to Needup Gyeltshen Memey Tumpo was moving from one empty shelter to another.
“After dzongkhag administration agreed to provide CGI sheet and timber, we started to build the house for him.”
The gewog officials, desuups, community base scouts and volunteers committed their weekend times for the past one month and fifteen days to construct the house.
Although members formed the volunteer group to provide immediate help to Memey Tumpo, they decided to continue to help others in the community.
“We have made sure this time, he can have a home before monsoon, and we will also provide him with mattresses, blankets and kitchen items later.”
Memey Tumpo has already started shifting some of his household items to his new house.
“Now, I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to sleep in others house anymore,” said Meme Tumpo.