Triggered by the novel coronavirus outbreak in the beginning of this year, there was a panic buying of rice and other essential items, as well as health products; The Office of Consumer Protection will need to continue to enforce the Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan 2012 rigorously. Particularly, monitoring the supply and prices of essential commodities, disseminating accurate information to the public in a timely manner, as well as sanctioning rogue traders. It needs also to call on importers and retailers to stabilize their supply and price.
The Kuensel newspaper reported recently that the price of some of the essential commodities like rice and potato, among others have increased in most Dzongkhags even as most markets have seen fewer customers each day in the past few weeks.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic the United Nations is calling for a focus on the protection and empowerment of individuals in the marketplace based on consumer rights, and for co-ordinated strategies across nations and intergovernmental bodies to build fair, safe, resilient and sustainable economies through consumer protection. The areas that need immediate attention, which are directly relevant to the circumstances of Bhutan include, inter-alia:
Vulnerable Consumers in Bhutan
They face the biggest risks in terms of the immediate impact on health and mortality, and the economic downturn that will follow. Covid – 19 pandemic will disproportionately affect people living with non – communicable diseases, in areas with poor air quality, in informal jobs, with no internet connectivity, with inadequate housing or with limited savings.
The right to health is a priority for consumer protection:
This is one of the UN Consumer rights. Health services, education, awareness and implementation of preventive measures should be resourced as a matter of urgency to ensure access for all. Products that help consumers protect themselves from Covid – 19 should be affordable and readily available. Markets for essential products such as disinfectants, masks and gels should be closely monitored to ensure their availability, and if necessary temporary price caps introduced to protect the health of consumers during the pandemic.
Food and essential commodities
Consumers can face shortages and exponential price rises for food and other essential commodities which may cause major detriment as supply chains are facing disruption because of panic buying and a fall in production capacity. Consumers, especially the most vulnerable, must continue to be able to access safe and healthy food. Local markets and livelihoods must be protected and shifts to sustainable practices that align with Gross National Happiness development philosophy should be encouraged.
Excessive pricing and profiteering
The enforcing agencies must enforce legislation, sanction those who charge excessive prices or cause artificial shortages; promote transparency in pricing; introduce limits on pricing of essential goods; act against secondary seller and traders that take advantage of the current situation.
Prioritise stopping the spread of misinformation
Removing content, accounts and groups that spread misinformation and verify and promote trusted content, warn consumers against Covid-19 related scams, and advise consumers how to protect themselves.
Offer financial security
Protection from financial losses from unforeseen changes to circumstances with appropriate refunds or alternatives offered; respect legally guaranteed refunds; and make dispute resolution services work more effectively.
Access to trusted online services and information
Access to trusted services and information becomes more important than ever when the usual access routes to essential goods and services are suddenly disrupted. Internet access for more people could be secured through subsidised devices and data, and increasing data allowances.
The current Covid-19 pandemic will pass. Under His Majesty’s enlightened leadership and the government’s prudent management, our country will emerge stronger and united society if we build on the strong foundations of our culture and values – Values of solidarity, interdependence, mutual assistance and respect for our nature based on the teaching of Lord Buddha.
Contributed by Dophu Tshering
Former Chief Trade Officer
Dept. of Trade, MoEA
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are authors own.
MoE launches SIM for students without TV, internet and e-learning facilities
There were no children. Nor were there cards or hugging teachers as a group of teachers celebrated the Teacher’s Day on May 2.
The teachers of VTOB (Teachers of Bhutan Volunteers) dedicated the day to His Majesty The King with the theme “My King My Greatest Teacher” at Motithang Higher Secondary School.
Commemorating the day, VTOB also launched a five-minute VTOB YouTube channel. It is one of VTOB’s five future projects.
In this project, teachers and students can contribute a five-minute video on themes such as inspirations, academics, life skills, values, music, and awareness. Teachers or students portraying in the video should be in national dress and VTOB committee will verify the video before uploading.
Other future projects VTOB presented were Druk Lopens, Bhutan Children’s Writeshop, Lopen Lobthru Zhibtshoel, and the Lobthru Lamtoen.
Druk Lopens programme will help to create a VTOB magazine either in print or online. Bhutan Children’s writeshop aims to build writing habits in children both in Dzongkha and English.
Lopen-Lobthru Zhibtshoel is a teacher-student collaborative research project to enhance knowledge for students beyond classroom learning. Lobthru Lamtoen is a programme that will inculcate values, competencies, skills and attitudes for the students.
A Teacher’s Day musical video dedicated to His Majesty The King was also launched. Besides lyrics and the tune, singers are all from VTOB.
VTOB Lozey was also presented which highlights the journey of VTOB and collaborative effort at this time to prevent Covid-19.
A press release from VTOB stated, “There is no greater opportunity than now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, to honour the greatness of leadership beyond the self and earth, to His Majesty, our beloved King, for his unwavering love and support to our people.”
The day also marked the parinirvana of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and the birth anniversary of the Third Druk Gyalpo.
VTOB coordinator, Sonam Norbu, said that the day was unique. “In schools, students celebrate Teacher’s Day, but this year VTOB teachers are celebrating the day on behalf of all the teachers in the country to pay tribute to His Majesty The King.”
Another teacher, Kinley Tenzin, said that His Majesty is an extraordinary teacher. “VTOB celebrates the day with pride and respect.”
Since the Covid-19 apprehension, the VTOB group has been preparing video lessons to engage students meaningfully. More than 400 video lessons were completed so far.
Currently, there are 4,404 VTOB teachers in the country, and around 500 are in Thimphu preparing video lessons.
Chief guest and the officiating Secretary with the Ministry of Education, Karma Tshering said that teachers must work hard to fulfill the aspirations of His Majesty The King and the society.
“Understanding the importance of teachers, the government has increased the teaching allowance. Teachers have to work towards producing nationally rooted and internationally competent youth,” said Karma Tshering.
Meanwhile, the education ministry launched the Self –Instructional Materials (SIM) on May 2. The printed form of SIM is aligned with the video lessons which were broadcast on BBS television channels.
The activity-based SIM would benefit approximately about 17,000 students in the country who are staying at far-flung villages without access to internet, television, and e-learning facilities.
Materials are divided into five packages or volumes for classes PP to XII.
A total of 85 video lessons made into SIM were already delivered to 20 dzongkhags from April 25-28. It is a part of 238 video lessons to be converted into SIM in the package one and two.
The package one lessons began from May 2, and it will end on May 8. Package two materials are in the printing process.
Phuntsho Lhamo, an education specialist and advisor to the department of the school education said that a pilot testing of the SIM had been carried out for 66 students of Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, and Dagana.
“MoE got feedback from those students in terms of illustrations, concept, clarity of the language, and instructions being not clear. MoE would fix these issues in the second package,” said Phuntsho Lhamo.
For the convenience of classes PP to III, the ministry also launched the recorded radio lessons of the SIM. The lessons will be aired daily on Kuzu FM from 10:30pm to 12pm and BBS radio from 2pm to 5pm.
Entrepreneurs calling for rent waiver and extension to stay at centre
Yangchen C Rinzin
With uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and many Bhutanese working overseas returning home, one of the priorities of the government is looking into creating job opportunity for the returnees.
At a press briefing on Friday, foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that recognising that it could take few more months to a year for the workers to return, the government is already planning and according importance to job creation.
Lyonpo said the government is looking in the areas of start-ups, agricultural entrepreneurship, CSI flagship programmes, and that the labour ministry is already working on the Build Bhutan project.
“We’re keeping records of the returnees and their skills so that we can create opportunity based on these,” Lyonpo said. “We’re doing everything possible, but we are not rushing and taking time to plan properly,” Lyonpo said. “The government would announce as and when concrete plans are finalised.”
However, while the government is planning to create opportunities, many entrepreneurs at home are facing several challenges in the face of the pandemic.
Some existing 30 entrepreneurs at the Start-up Centre at Changzamtog are already struggling, especially because of the lack of market and raw materials.
The entrepreneurs expressed that entrepreneurship is not easy in Bhutan given the business atmosphere.
They blame almost everything from layers of bureaucracy to lack of customers and preference for imported goods or services.
“If entrepreneurs have to succeed, we’ll first have to change people’s mentality to start opting for Bhutanese products,” an entrepreneur in Thimphu said. “Where there is an international market opportunity, such businesses are usually taken up by established big businesses.”
Whether at the start-up centre or home-based businesses, many entrepreneurs shared that some of the challenges that hinder many are product diversification, innovation, and transportation, lack of raw materials, and rigid rules and regulations.
Some said that even with a market, lack of human resources and capital has made it difficult to grow. “These challenges have hindered us from going beyond one product design,” an entrepreneur said. “People hardly trust local products and always compare with imported goods.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled its businesses. Many said they had zero products since the lockdown in India, as raw materials are stuck across the border. Majority of their customers were tourists.
The 30 entrepreneurs were provided space for two years at minimal fees at the Startup Centre, after which they would have to leave and give away to other upcoming entrepreneurs.
Constructed at the cost of Nu 67.5 million, business ideas are nurtured and developed, at the centre, through support programmes such as training, marketing, product designing and development, linkages to financial institutions and other business development services.
However, these entrepreneurs are expected to start their own business after completing their tenure in June. But many entrepreneurs are worried and are not prepared to go out and establish a business.
One entrepreneur said that although they have tested the market and products, they have not earned enough cash to roll out and continue business.
“Before or after the Covid-19 pandemic, situation has been the same. How are we supposed to leave the centre, it’s difficult?” an entrepreneur said.
Majority of the entrepreneurs want to appeal to the department of cottage and small industries (DCSI) to waive rents for six months. They are also appealing for extension of the tenure.
“Even if we produce good with raw materials available, there are no customers. The restriction on the movement has also affected,” one said.
Some of the entrepreneurs whose raw materials are available in the country said that just as their business was picking up, Covid-19 disrupted the market. “Sometimes, we feel that the whole concentration is on the big business and small entrepreneurs are forgotten.”
Although they are on the lookout for space to move their business, high rent discouraged them. Some employ more than 10 employees who are mostly youth and housewives. Although many have managed to pay the full salary, they are worried if the situation worsens.
Many have also applied for the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu.
Meanwhile, DCSI director general Tandin Tshering said that it would be unfair to extend the tenure because this would deprive of about 77 who have applied and are waiting to occupy the space for the last two years.
“We’ve helped them in every possible way and if they want, we can help them get places in the industrial parks to start their business,” the director general said. “We’re not chasing them, but we must ensure we create equal opportunities for other start-ups too.”
The director general said that they would also help the entrepreneurs get raw materials if they approach through soft working capital loan and bilateral arrangements.
Number of unemployed people surpasses the foreign workforce requirement
The new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has forced about 11,235 people out of jobs in the domestic market, according to the labour ministry.
This (11,235) is about 25 percent of all regular and contract employees in the private sector. Most of the businesses that laid off their employees are in the tourism and allied sectors.
The labour ministry also estimates that about 3,424 of those employed abroad have returned home. This takes the number of people rendered jobless by the pandemic in the domestic market and abroad to 14,659.
Labour and Human Resources Minister, Ugyen Dorji, presented the situational report on employment to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Covid-19 preparedness on April 29.
Highlighting the government’s initiatives to address the challenge, labour minister officials said that skills development programmes towards IT and home-based industries would be prioratised.
Even before the pandemic had hit the economy, the total number of unemployed people was 8,756. This means that the total number of people without regular jobs at the moment could be around 23,415, but some of those rendered jobless by the pandemic are said to have found alternative sources of income.
The figure is expected to increase in the coming days as the government expects another 1,000 Bhutanese working abroad to return.
The committee felt that much more effort was needed to deal with the situation effectively. Members expressed their appreciation on various programmes the government was initiating to create jobs, especially in construction, tourism and agriculture.
The committee chair, Dorji Wangdi, said that the Gyalsung project alone is expected to require around 15,000 workers. The tourism sector is also expected to engage some people in creation of more tourism amenities and skills development programmes. However, the committee feels that much more works need to be done to deal more effectively with the current employment woes.
Dorji Wangdi said, “The committee’s considered opinion was that while a lot of things are being reported to be planned and done by the government, we are apprehensive of how much detailed planning is being done.”
He added that it would have been better if the government had carried out a detailed mapping of sector-wise loss of jobs, based on which programmes on skilling and re-employment could be done.
The labour ministry also reported that the restriction on labour import has led to a shortage 11,817 foreign workers in the country.
The labour ministry is coming up with “Build Bhutan” project, through which the government aims to mobilise, create and manage a pool of skilled workforce to meet the requirement in the construction sector.
The labour minister said that the construction sector would be promoted as an attractive avenue for employment by designing and developing incentives to attract and retain workforce in the sector.
Under the Build Bhutan project, the government plans to offer attractive wages and allowances mechanisation and professionalisation of the construction industry.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo made it clear yesterday that hereon anyone who violates quarantine facility protocol will have to bear the expenses for quarantine—Nu 21,000 for 21 days.
Also, the violators will have to do community service for ten days.
“We have been requesting people to follow the quarantine dos and don’ts and they are briefed before sending to quarantine centre,” the health minister said. “However, despite requesting them not to come out of the centre, many do not follow and violate the protocol.”
She added that recently there was an incident where a group of people at the quarantine centre had gathered and partied late into the night. The officials visited the centre as soon as the incident was reported.
“We tested all those gathered and also police personnel, DeSuups, and health officials stationed at the centre,” lyonpo said. “This is why we had to come up with such penalties and it will be imposed on this group of people.”
Lyonpo added that penalty was also made because despite the closure of borders, people still sneaked in and out. “Earlier when found, they were quarantined for 21 days. Now they will be quarantined and make them bear the expenses.”
This will also be imposed on those who visit restricted areas, including people who come to handover the packages at the quarantine centres without permission.
“We’ll also immediately quarantine them and they will pay on their own,” Lyonpo said.
According to the protocol, the packages shall be handed over to security personnel at the facilities, which would then be handed over to health officials after inspection and deliver to the person only during mealtime. Outsiders are not allowed to meet individuals in the quarantine.
A total of 5,590 people have been quarantined so far, of which 3,425 were discharged as of April 30.
Lyonpo added that 75 percent of those who were quarantined were students aged between 18 and 25 years old.
Two Bhutanese patients from India are quarantined in Phuentsholing with five attendants. Nine more patients, mostly cancer patients, are being quarantined in Thimphu with 13 attendants. Twelve quarantined women are expecting mothers.
Lyonpo said that the health ministry had amassed enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to last for at least six months as of now.
“A CSO, in coordination with health ministry, will be producing about 2,500 PPE, and 80 pieces have already been produced and used,” Lyonpo said. “It has committed to produce about 200,000 masks, however, it will not be used for health officials at the frontline.”
The health ministry has so far spent Nu 49 million to buy PPE and have ordered additional PPE from abroad.
“I would like to request the people to not gather in large numbers or visit crowded places as today is Zhabdrung Kuchoe. When we say picnic is allowed we do not mean office picnic,” Lyonpo said.
Pema Wangchuk lost his job when the government banned all sporting events in March. His roommate managed their rent for the month. Last week when it was time to pay the rent, he was worried. The football referee had no money.
On the last day of the month on Thursday, he received a message on his phone. He was one of the 13,006 recipients of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu for three months. “It came as a lifeline,” said Pema Wangchuk.
In less than 30 minutes, the 25-year-old from Lunyi gewog, Paro paid off the rent for two months. He had received much more than he expected from the Kidu.
For Bhumika Monger of Lhamoidzingkha, the needs were much more urgent. When she received the relief kidu of Nu 12,000, she headed to the market and brought some vegetables and some essential for the family.
Since the borders closed, Bhumika has been living with her husband and daughter at his brother’s place in Phuentsholing. Eight of them squeeze in a two-bedroom apartment at Chumithang.
“I couldn’t get a temporary job since all the offices are closed,” the 33-year-old said. Bhumika has been helping her seven-year-old daughter with her lessons broadcast on television.
She owes the landlord in Jaigaon, where her family still has a rented apartment and said that the landlord has been after the rent for two months.
Bhumika was a dispatcher at one of the customs clearing agents and earned a monthly salary of Nu 10,500. With the job gone after the border closed, she was out of job suddenly. Her family solely depended on her husband’s income from working at a factory in Pasakha.
“Our relatives are kind and go out of their way to make us feel at home but how long can we rely on them,” she said.
Sangay Choden, who is visually impaired was on the verge of giving up. She had decided to return home to Lauri, Samdrupjongkhar. She was a housekeeper at the Namseling Boutique hotel in Thimphu, but was sent on unpaid leave since April 1. She had completed class 8 from the Muenseling Institute, a school for the blind in Khaling.
She has been looking after her 24-year-old elder sister, who is a kidney patient, and their mother. Every three days, her sister has to visit the national referral hospital for treatment, and each visit costs her Nu 150 in taxi fare.
“The little that I could save from my 15 months on the job was exhausting. So we thought it would be best for me to return home and do something productive,” the 21-year-old said.
Sangay applied for the kidu hoping to be able to pay rent of Nu 4,500 on time.
“Now I can remain here and look after them without worry,” she said. “It’s such a relief.”
The Relief Kidu recipients said that they remained confined at home without work or money, hoping each day that everything would return to normal the next day.
Bhumika Monger said while the future ahead is still bleak in terms of getting a job, she felt reassured with the relief kidu. “One thing has become clear to me that no matter how worse the situation turns out to be, I can always count on His Majesty’s compassion.”
Bhumika’s friends, who are in a similar situation, have also received the relief kidu.
Of the 18,880 applications that were assessed, 13,006 were identified as beneficiaries. Others are under further review.
The beneficiaries assessed for the full amount get Nu 12,000, and others get a partial amount Nu 8,000. There were 9,716 recipients of the full amount. Additionally, each child of the affected family would get Nu 800 a month.
Those employees of affected businesses who have been laid off, or placed on unpaid leave or reduced pay were assessed for the full amount. Self-employed individuals in the tourism sector who have lost their earnings, and Bhutanese workers who have returned home from abroad because of the pandemic and have no other sources of income are also assessed for the relief kidu.
After 26 years of service, Tashi Norbu retired as a senior sonographer to join a private clinic. When the borders closed as precaution to Covid-19, Indian patients stopped coming to the private diagnostic centre where he worked in Phuentsholing. He was once again unemployed.
He is the sole bread earner for his wife and his daughter, who had graduated out of the university recently. His monthly pension of Nu 5,000 fell short of meeting their necessary expenses. His rent alone is Nu 10,000.
But luckily, his landlord waived off half the monthly rent for three months.
Tashi, 55, from Pemagatshel had volunteered and enlisted with the health ministry as reserve frontline responder should the situation escalate.
“Whatever I do will not be able to repay the debt I owe my King, and the country for the free education, healthcare and now the relief kidu during this most difficult time of my life,” he said.
“Every day, I pray for the good health and long life our King for all that our King has done and continues to do,” he said. “Because of him, every night I can look forward to the next morning.”
A sizeable proportion of the Bhutanese population – extremely distraught by collapsed businesses, debilitating loans, and loss of personal livelihood because of the Covid-19 crisis were profoundly relieved and comforted this week, their distress lifted by the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu.
In addition to the thousands of people weighed down by all types of loans and nearly 20,000 people holding “non performing” loans, more than 13,000 individual citizens were granted the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu. More applications will be processed in the coming days and weeks.
The tension suffered by the applicants is understandable, given that their lives and livelihood have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and their daily routines replaced by distress. At the same time, we must also keep in mind that the entire world has been affected by this crisis. In fact, none of us has been spared, one way or another.
What strikes us, therefore, is that Bhutan and the Bhutanese are better off than many others. This unique Relief Kidu granted by His Majesty The King comes as a blessing in times of desperate need. It comes even as our daily lives have been wrenched from normalcy.
It is critical that such a compassionate sanction is implemented with sincerity and fairness. Thus a need for the team of specialists and professionals processing the Kidu, supported by the rest of us, to do everything possible to ensure transparency, accessibility, and sustenance in the process.
We learn that the applications came in the thousands, through the given hotlines and walk-in facilities in Thimphu and all the dzongkhags. The circumstances of these applicants are varied and sometimes convoluted. So the dedicated team has a major task to fulfill.
It is also amazing that the age-old tradition of kidu is delivered with modern efficacy. Bhutan has automated formal agencies and institutions and the homegrown tech system used by the reviewers of the applicants has enabled them to screen tax papers, employment records, citizenship information, and other information with instant results.
Yes, we are all affected by this global crisis and many of us feel that we are also deserving. So it is comforting that many people are making considerate decisions, like opting not to apply in the interest of more deserving fellow citizens in more difficult situations.
It is at such a time that we realise the Covid-19 crisis is a test of the values and resilience of our society. Ultimately the duty that falls on all of us is that we are fair to all citizens. We will all suffer the implications if we go wrong but will all feel hopeful and reassured if this works because kidu is the ultimate social security safety net for all Bhutanese.
This is a precious soelra entrusted by His Majesty The King in his concern for his 750,000-member family. Never had we imagined that normalcy could be so precious. But, even as we appreciate this reprieve, we have the larger obligation to get back on our feet and be a part of the process of nation building so that we can continue to be proud of the Bhutanese system.
Written contracts are increasingly becoming important with the rise in the complexity of agreements. The Annual Judicial Report 2019 indicated that more than half of the civil disputes were linked to agreements.
Section 19 of the Contract Act of Bhutan recognises that it is not mandatory to have any format but if there are other laws requiring prescribed format, then such requirement must be followed. For example, the Tenancy Act of Bhutan 2015 requires that the tenancy agreement must be in writing, “signed by parties with two independent witnesses, legal stamp affixed.” This means, if these requirements are not fulfilled, the tenancy agreement becomes invalid.
Interestingly, the ultimate deciding factor in determining the validity of the written agreements in Bhutan is governed by the Evidence Act and not the Contract Act. Section 35 of the Evidence Act, the agreement becomes admissible evidence if it is made in the presence of one witness of each party, signed by all parties or authorised persons and legally executed with a legal stamp. Section 36 makes a written agreement (invalid) inadmissible evidence if the agreement has erased word, defective seal or signature, does not have the legal stamp, illegal or against the law, and where the agreement was entered by a mentally unsound person or minor and entered under duress, or if the agreement is objected within ten days any party after it was executed.”
Thus, Section 35 of the Evidence Act impacts every written agreement as it nullifies if the three requirements are not fulfilled in the case of written agreements. This section defeats every other law pertaining to written agreements if that other law does not require these three conditions such as consumer contracts or e-commerce transactions or other standard form contracts. This is further aggravated by Section 36 where parties have the right to challenge the written agreement “in a Court within 10 days.” In Short, if the written agreement becomes inadmissible evidence under this Section, such agreement holds no value or becomes useless.
As a result, there are confusions and contradictions between the Contract Act and Evidence Act. Section 32 and 33 of the Contract Act states that agreement without free consent shall be voidable which is “caused by coercion, undue influence, fraud or misrepresentation.” But Section 36 (f) of the Evidence Act declares if the contract was “entered into while a party was under duress” as invalid.
Section 16 of the Contract Act states that “an agreement shall amount to a contract and shall be enforceable at law if it is not declared to be void or illegal by this Act or by any other law.” This means Section 36(f) declaring contract obtained under duress is valid under Section 16 of the Contract but contradicts Section 32 and 33 of the Contract Act.
Further, Section 3 of the Contract Act states: “…if any other law in force is, in any way, inconsistent with this Act, the provisions of this Act shall prevail.” This means Section 32 and 33 of Contract Act, 2013 overrides Section 36(f) of the Evidence Act. If that is the case, then every written agreement becomes admissible in the court if it is in line with Section 16 and 19 of the Contract Act. Such contradicting provision creates a dilemma for both the courts and the public.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Phub Dem | Paro
The government will arrange four relief flights to the Middle East from May 9 to 16 to bring back Bhutanese stranded there.
Two flights to Kuwait will bring home 280 Bhutanese along with 118 from Dubai and 137 from Doha, Qatar, according to foreign minister Tandi Dorji.
With the extension of lockdown in the Middle East, Lyonpo said that Bhutanese working there was showing interest to return home as they were asked to resign.
Lyonpo said that the government would send flights according to the number of Bhutanese willing to return and had registered with the embassy. “If those willing to return home exceeds 100, we can reduce the airfare.”
At a press briefing yesterday, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said that about 3,000 Bhutanese are still outside and the government was planning to send flights to bring them back.
According to Lyonpo, the government had planned to bring back 649 Bhutanese that includes 97 residing in India from Delhi on March 5. “We are sending another flight to Kolkata on May 5 to bring back 17 Bhutanese left there.”
He said that if India allowed internal flights, Bhutanese residing in remote areas could fly to Bagdogra. “From there they can travel via buses. We will send buses to transport them.”
Until the airport reopens, Bhutanese residing in Canada and Australia were asked to restrain from travelling.
However, he said that it was not viable for the government to send flights to isolated places where a few Bhutanese resides. “We won’t be able to send separate flights considering the huge financial burden to the government and individuals.”
For students, the government provided subsidy on airfare. The government also pays the airfare for patients returning home.
“If enough people are willing to return home, we can arrange the flights,” lyonpo said.
To bring home stranded Bhutanese from abroad, the government has organised 17 relief flights that has so far brought home 1,904 including students and those working outside.
Not many are following directives, say officials
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
When washing hands with soap and water is not a habit and maintaining physical distance, a new concept, people visiting Trashigang town are having a difficult time to adjust to the measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Officials are monitoring the town ensuring people wash their hands before entering a shop or a restaurant and keep distance when inside.
Having mostly to deal with villagers, an official said it is difficult to convince the villagers who greet us with blank faces when told about the new rule. “I was accused of being rude while telling them to wash their hands.”
He said there were also people who were aware of the safety measures, but not following it at public places. “Forget villagers, even educated people hardly follow the preventive measures despite repetitive advocacy in the media,” he added.
Shopkeepers have marked lines to indicate safe distance and installed temporary wash stations.
Tenzin Wangmo, a hotelier said, she had made safe distance marks with red lines and kept chairs one meter apart at her restaurant. “Customers mostly villagers are not aware, but when told, they follow the preventive measures.”
Town resident said villagers are easier to deal with than the so-called educated one. “While farmers follow instructions of officials on duty, some civil servants are making fun of it,” she said. “Sometimes, they are forming group and officials on duty also join them.”
Loday, 38 from Udzorong said he keeps forgetting the instructions even though he understands why officials are telling them to keep distance or wash hands. “Our old habits is the biggest challenge,” he said.
Meanwhile, the old debate of private vehicles carrying passengers have resurfaced with taxis following the two-passenger rule strictly and taxi drivers accusing private of not following the rule.
Taxi drivers in Trashigang claimed that with private vehicles carrying more than two, the rule has affected them. “It is not fair to allow private vehicles to carry more people and restrict taxi drivers,” said a taxi driver, Ugyen Phuntsho.
Another taxi driver said there are no clear directives from the government. “When we ask officials, they say taxis are public transport, but private vehicles also run as public carrier charging fares,” he said.
Meanwhile, Trashigang dzongkhag administration has notified all civil servants in the dzongkhag to lead by example in their effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“We are receiving complaints that our civil servants are roaming in the town in groups and violating the preventive measures of Covid-19,” states a notification, signed by Senior Dzongrab.
It also states that, as educated people, dzongkhag administration is expected to do more than the public by practising handwashing and taking other precautionary measures.
The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has hit the vegetable vendors along the Thimphu-Wangdue highway hard.
At Mendaygang, of around 13 vegetable stalls, five have been closed.
Choki Pemo, a vendor, said that the business was slowing down. Many, including her daughter, decided to close their shop immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The risk of contacting the disease is ever-present,” she said. “My daughter chose to take vegetables to Wangdue on Sunday and at Punakha on Saturday.”
Before Covid-19 scare, the vendors would make about Nu 7,000 daily. Now, it has been decreased to around Nu 2,500 a day.
For Namgay Dem, who sells dried fruits, zow, and chips along the highway at Tongchakha, income has decreased to mere Nu 1000 a day. “I came back to the stall after to find that travellers had used shed as toilet.”
Due to lack of customers, vegetables fiddlehead ferns and spinach have to be thrown away every day. “These vegetables go bad quickly. If Covid-19 lingers for long, it would be difficult for most of us,” said Choki Pemo.
Grocery stores along the highway are also affected by the pandemic.
Pema Lhazom, who owns a grocery store and also sells vegetables, said that she lost around two third of her income.
“There aren’t many travellers. Restocking grocery is difficult,” she said.
They are all affected but none of the vendors, who depend solely on vegetable sale, have applied for kidu.
“His Majesty The King and the Lyonchhen worry so much about the country and the people. I did not apply for kidu fund. There are people such as drayang workers who are really in need of help,” said Namgay Dem, 50.
A 23-year-old villager from Parmer committed suicide on March 29.
The victim, along with three friends, was caught by forest officials while on a fishing trip. They were, according to sources, made to write statements and sent home.
On the day the man decided to kill himself, he reported to the forest office at 8.30am. Present there were also his three friends. They were told to pay a fine of Nu 3,000.
Towards evening when the victim’s wife went looking for him, he was found about 2000 metres away from Bumdeling BHU.
The victim’s wife called the police around 2:40pm.
The police ruled out foul play.
After six years
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The wait was long, but it was worth. The new grade I Basic Health Unit (BHU) inaugurated yesterday in Dangdung is equipped with X-ray, dental, ultrasound and diagnostic lab facilities.
For the people of Langthel, it means saving time and money from not having to travel to Trongsa hospital with the completion of the BHU that will start providing service from May 4. The new BHU has a medical officer and around 14 technical staffs.
The inauguration ceremony was simple with gathering discouraged in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Lead by the dzongdag Tenzin Dorji, few sector heads, some staff of MHPA, local government leaders attended the consecration ceremony.
Dzongkhag health officer Dorji Gyeltshen said that the BHU would benefit people of 460 households in Langthel gewog and the residents of Drakteng.
Langthel gup Sonam Lhendup said that the new BHU with all the facilities would help the people as they need not travel to other places to avail the services.
“In the past, those patients who need to be referred to Trongsa got stranded in road blocks,” he said. “Now with a doctor and all the facilities in one place the people can save both time and expenditure.”
Locals shared that the BHU opened at the right time when people are advised not to travel because of Covid-19.
Funded by the Mangdechhu Hydro Power Project (MHPA) with a budget of Nu 57 million, the BHU was to cater to the increasing population in the area including staffs of MHPA and Korphu gewog residents.
Construction of the BHU began in 2014 with an aim to complete it by 2017. However, it took more than six years to complete the BHU.
It missed several deadlines and the health official attributed the failure to the contractors.
It was learnt that the delay was caused because the first contractor failed to complete the work on time. The contract was terminated and the work was awarded to a new contractor.
Bhutan used to barter rice for salt with Tibet. Rice from East Bhutan was exported mainly through Bumthang and bartered with salt in trade marts in the highest plains in the world. However, the trade practice ceased in 1955. Our Government banned the export of the cereal grain and the official reason cited was that rice was required to meet the domestic demand. As a result of the embargo, the Tibetans retaliated by banning the export of salt.
Details of the ban and its consequences are recorded in Nari K. Rustomji’s book, Bhutan Venture, A Guest at the Royal Court. Rustomji was the Dewan of Sikkim. As a close friend of Bhutan, he was fondly known as Uncle Rustomji. At the time of the salt crises, he was in the country invited for a royal wedding.
On his way back home, after attending the royal wedding in Bumthang, Uncle Rustomji writes a letter to Shri Apa B Pant who was the Political Officer in Sikkim. This 25-point letter, dated 15 August and written from camp Ridha in Wangdue Phodrang has insights of the Bumthang salt crisis.
Point 16 of the letter reads, “The Tibetans have retaliated by banning the export of salt to Bhutan. This has created something of a crisis, as salt is an absolute essential in Bhutanese diet.”
To resolve the crises, our Government studied few options but settled for air dropping of 5,000 maunds in the Bumthang valley in October. One maund is 37.32 kilograms so the target was to air drop 186,600 kgs of salt.
By Uncle Rustomji’s calculation, if salt had to be transported by land from India to Bumthang, it would cost nearly Rs. 40 per maund. At the time, a senior secretary of the government was paid Rs. 200 a month and one could buy a cow for Rs.75.
It seems that Uncle Rustomji was the one who proposed the idea of airdropping to His Late Majesty.
As per His Late Majesty’s command, Late Lyonchen Jigme Palden Dorji (1919-1964) arranging the air drops. “I rushed off to Calcutta to make arrangements and drop salt in Bumthang where, as you yourself know, there is very little salt; as a matter of fact, there is no salt there now.” Lyonchen’s letter to Uncle Rustomji, dated 21 October 1955 from Dechencholing.
From the letter, we learn that the air drops were negotiated with three air transport firms; I.A.C, Indamere and Jamair. At the time I.A.C was busy with flood relief operations and showed no interest. After much persuasion Jamair which was privately owned and based in Calcutta showed interest. They felt competent to do the salt dropping and even offered a complimentary survey flight but was not able secure the necessary permits.
Interestingly, by then I.A.C had already conducted two survey flights in Bhutan. They found the air dropping areas not suitable and suggested change in the area. The two identified spots for airdropping were the meadow of the Wangduechhoeling Palace before reaching Kurjey Lhakhang and the flat land on the bank of Chamkarchu near the Palace.
With the salt crises in Bumthang, the late Lyonchen was in a hurry but his counterparts in India were not. His letter to Uncle Rustomji states,“Apa Sahib has sent me a wireless message to say to be patient and have faith. Goodness knows why I have to have patience and have faith in Apa Sahib for I have had letters from Bumthang and to quote from it, “The people here are praying and blessing you for having promised to drop salt to them and every time there is a loud roar, the whole valley gets excited and says here comes Jigme’s salt. “If I should fail them now in their life time of need and after my loud promises, do you honestly think that they will ever trust me again, for to go around saying it is not my fault would be absolutely puerile to vindicate myself.”
Finally, on 6 November, the much-awaited salt dropping started. The details of this operation are in Late Dasho Ugen Dorji (1932-2006) letter to Uncle Rustomji. The letter is written from Wangduechhoeling on 17 November, “As you must have known from Jigs, the salt air-dropping has begun from 6th November.”
From Dasho’s letter, we learn that the first and the second days of air dropping were disastrous. The plane was flying too high and the dropping was inaccurate. Fourteen bags of salt were lost; Eight bags landed in the river and six hit against the rocks and were shattered and ruined. The remaining bags were either damaged or torn. Dasho writes, “Now the dropping has improved a great deal. They are only concentrating dropping at one place (Jampa Lhakhang). The damages are much less.”
From the letter we learn that. I.A.C did three sorties daily. On each sortie, 82 bags of salt were dropped. From the 246 bags, four or five bags were damaged. From each bag seven to eight pounds of salt were ruined. While rest of details are yet to be discovered, we known in 11 days, 2,706 kgs. of salt were airdropped against the target of 186,000 kgs.
In his letter to Uncle Rustomji, Dasho Ugen Dorji writes, “I have not yet started selling the salt, as I have not received any fixed orders from His Highness [His Majesty ] at what price, I should sell the salt to the people here.”
The Trade Marts
During his stay in Bumthang, Uncle Rustomji quickly figured out that Bhutan’s ban on rice export originated from considerations other than of merely local demand. He was able to sense the Bhutanese displeasure about the Tibetan’s unfair trade practice.
Bhutanese traders got the raw end of the deal. For example, our traders were only allowed to sell rice in prescribed Tsongdhue or marts in Tibet. They had to first sell a big portion of their wares to the Tibetan government depots for a bargain. Only then, were they allowed to sell their produce in the open market.
The Tshongdue of Tsona was held annually in the 5th month. At the trade mart prices were negotiated on the first day after the merchant had greeted each other and exchanged gifts. Usually, one dre of salt was exchanged for one dre of rice. The salt was measured leveled to the rim of the dre while the rice had to be measured heaped above the rim.
While the exchange was in progress, a lump of salt, called a drang doh or counting stone was kept aside as a marker for every 20 dres of salt measured. The counting stones were claimed by the person who did the tedious task of measuring dre after dre of salt.
In 1953, during the Tsongdhue held on the fifth month, rice was fetching Rs.45/- or 100 Betangs per load of rice. At the time, one Rupee coin or note could fetch three Betangs.
In 1955, His Late Majesty wanted to break the long-established unhealthy trade trend. So, decided to ban the export of rice until the Tibetan’s agreed to lift the unfair restrictions on Bhutan trade.
In his letter, Uncle Rustomji wrote, “I understand the matter will shortly be taken up officially and the Bhutan Government expect the government of India to have it suitable represented with the Chinese authorities at Peking.”
The 1955 ban of export of rice to Tibet resulted in a ban of salt from Tibet. This created a brief salt crisis in Bumthang but was overcome with the help of India. Five years, in 1960 Bhutan imposed a total ban on trade with its northern neighbour.
Covid-19 came to save us, not to destroy us. It came to save the humanity, the Mother Earth and all sentient beings.
To understand what is happening now, we need to understand how our life and this universe work. We need to understand that everything in this universe operates within a certain balance. The balance is going way off and it needs an urgent reset.
We, humans, have become too greedy, too arrogant, too selfish, and too unethical. This planet does not belong to only humans—it belongs to all sentient beings, seen and unseen. For decades, scientists, environmentalists and environmental organizations have been warning us about global warming, climate change, environmental degradation, and air and water pollution. They have been begging the world leaders to do something about it, before it gets too late. But no one is listening.
Covid-19 is telling us to urgently reset the balance on two critical lifelines: water and air. No creature can exist without them. With no vaccine and treatment for coronavirus, washing hands has become the most effective ways to protect our selves. This reminds us of the value of clean water and the urgent need for its protection. In severe cases, people infected with coronavirus are dying of breathing difficulty and lack of oxygen in their blood. Those who survive are recovering with the help of ventilators. This reminds us of the value of clean air and the critical need to control air pollution. If we go on polluting the air the way we do now, soon we may have to carry personal ventilators with us all the time.
Covid-19 has compelled us to stay home and work from home. It has also compelled every country to slow down on travel and tourism. This cuts down on all modes of transport that contribute to air pollution and fossil fuel consumption. Environmental degradation, air pollution, and fossil fuel consumption contribute to global warming that leads to glacial lake outbursts and floods. This will eventually dry up all our rivers and water sources.
Covid-19 is telling us to slow down. It is telling us to stop being too busy, wasting our precious time on things that do not really matter. It came to help us reprioritize, reorganize and reset our work-life balance. It came to make us take better care of our parents and grandparents, giving them the care, affection and love they need and deserve. Covid-19 is telling us to take better care of our children—help them learn at home and online, and teach them important values. It is also telling us to take better care of ourselves—read books, learn new skills, do regular exercise, eat healthy, and connect with our inner and higher selves, through meditation, prayers and spiritual practices.
Covid-19 came to help us reset the balance on governance. It came to expose the shortcomings of leaders who do not take their job seriously. It came to test their courage, skills, wisdom and character. It came to reset our misplaced priorities. Every nation is reorganizing their budget, giving priority to healthcare and other social welfare programs. Every nation is also emphasizing on self-sufficiency in agriculture, foods and other essential products.
Covid-19 came to reset the balance on people’s greed. It is reminding us of the need to give, share and help the less fortunate among us, and to contribute to the common good. With stock prices falling and global economic recession setting in, people’s savings and wealth can quickly disappear. It is the insatiable human greed that is causing all the ills—environmental degradation, global warming, corruption, injustice, inequality, violence and other human sufferings. We need to keep in mind the words of Alanis Obomsawin: “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”
Covid-19 is telling us to reset the balance on our faith and spirituality. It is reminding us of the power of prayer, compassion, and empathy. This crisis is bringing people together, in a spirit of unity and solidarity, to work and overcome challenges together. People are coming forward to help each other—supporting the government, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and healthcare experts dealing with the pandemic. People are donating to emergency response funds, volunteering to serve on the frontlines, supporting those who have lost their jobs and incomes, and offering free meals and free accommodations to those undergoing quarantine. Financial institutes are deferring loan repayments and forgoing interest on all loans for a few months. Farmers are distributing free vegetables and other farm products, house owners are reducing rents, and spiritual leaders and religious communities are offering prayers for protection and wellbeing of all sentient beings.
Covid-19 is reminding us of the ultimate reality of life. The reality of impermanence and uncertainty—the fact that we do not live forever and that change is the only constant. The reality of interdependence and interconnectedness, the fact that we are all connected, that we depend on each other for our individual and collective wellbeing and survival.
Our country, under the enlightened leadership of our Kings, has been doing our part. Following a balanced, holistic and human centered development approach, we have taken good care of our environment. We have more than 72% of our land area under forest cover and our constitution mandates that we maintain at least 60% of our land area under forest cover for all time. We are perhaps the only carbon negative country in this world and we have committed to remain carbon neutral for all time. We have perhaps the highest per capita fresh water and have been identified as one of the ten most important bio-diversity hot spots in the world. Under the same development approach, we have also preserved our rich culture, values and spirituality.
But unfortunately, on global stage, we are too small and our voice too soft to generate large scale impact and change.
This crisis too shall pass. Hopefully, the end will come sooner than later. Hopefully, it’ll not destroy too many lives. Hopefully, it will not leave behind an irreparable economic crisis. When it ends, every individual, every family and every nation will face an important choice. Do we go back to the old normal or, learning from the lessons of Covid-19, choose the new normal. Hopefully, most countries will choose the latter—and start taking serious care of the environment. Hopefully, most countries will start taking better care of the common people, investing more in healthcare and other social welfare programs. Hopefully, most people will start spending more time with their family and loved ones—and take better care of them.
Covid-19 came to show us the middle path. It came to save us, not to destroy us. It came to stop us from destroying the Mother Earth and ourselves.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
To cope with the coronavirus pandemic, taxi driver Sonam of Trashiyangtse has changed his job. He has stopped driving and has become a farmer, sometimes working at construction sites.
For two months, he has not carried a single passenger. “Without movement of people in the locality, I thought of changing my work for the time being,” he said. “We have lost the business,” he said. His taxi is parked in front of his house.
Taxi drivers of Trashigang said with the government urging to reduce movements and people staying at home, towns are virtually empty and taxi drivers are forced to park their vehicles.
There are more than 100 taxi drivers in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse. Karchung, a taxi driver, said earlier he used to earn between Nu 30,000 and 40,000 a month. “But since the movement of people reduced, my earnings have plunged to Nu 10,000 a month.”
Long-distance travels have almost come to a halt. Another taxi driver, Tshering Phuntsho said, earlier he used to get two to six times trips from Trashigang to other dzongkhags. He had been plying between home In Kanglung and Trashigang town for the past three weeks, except some occasional trips to nearby dzongkhags. “I usually shell out Nu 1,000 daily on fuel. But in the past three weeks, I have spent around Nu 1,000 and that too I couldn’t recover from the occasional trips,” he said.
The situation is worrying, he said. “We have seen our revenue drop by 70 percent to 80 percent.”
A local bus plying between Monger and Trashigang is seen most of time with empty seats. “My monthly income has reduced from Nu 21,000 to Nu 5,000,” said bus driver, Sonam Wangdi. “Without passenger, it is a loss for me travelling from Monger to Trashigang. I don’t earn enough to refuel.”
Taxi drivers are looking forward for alternative income source for time being. Some look for construction work, while others are planning to take up agriculture work and stay back home.
“It is better to earn some income, instead of staying idle in the town,” said Pema Wangchuk. “If the situation improves, we can resume our regular work.”
Every family is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Families whose mothers are working hard at the frontlines to combat Covid-19 and to keep us safe are affected beyond what many of us can even imagine.
All loans, including non-performing loan (NPL) would now benefit from the interest waiver facility under the monetary measures in response to Covid-19 pandemic.
The interest waiver facility was extended to 19,126 NPL accounts for three months starting April.
Initially, the monetary measure amounting to around Nu 3.37 billion (B) did not include the NPL accounts.
According to a press release from the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), on the command of His Majesty The King, RMA was directed to discuss with the government and financial institutions (FIs) to explore the feasibility of extending monetary measures to those who fall under NPL category.
Subsequently, His Majesty commanded that the interest waiver facility also be extended to NPL accounts from April until June.
The interest waiver would be subjected to the same terms and conditions specified under Part A of the monetary measures issued last month. The government and banks will share the cost of the interest waiver.
The interest waiver shall be based on the loan outstanding (for term loan overdrafts/working capital/bullet loans) as of April 10, 2020.
Making the announcement yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the kidu would provide immense relief to not just business people, but also to many others who struggle to pay loans they sought for agriculture, education, and other personal reasons.
Lyonchhen said that people who had defaulted on their loans would not have done so intentionally, and so this measure should bring them some ease in troubled times.
He said that the monetary measures would hit the FIs hard as majority of them depended on interest to make profits. For three months, there will be no profits for the banks and, consequently, the shareholders would also have to take the financial brunt, he added.
“The government would like to thank people working in the banks and all its shareholders for shouldering this responsibility together,” Lyonchhen said.
On April 10, in the address to the nation, His Majesty The King stated that one of the biggest concerns for people and businesses was the difficulty in meeting their loan repayment obligations due to economic uncertainties resulting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response to the challenges, His Majesty The King commended the RMA and FIs to consider deferment of loan repayments and to waive off interest payments for three months starting April.
As of January 2020, the country’s total NPL stood at Nu 21.5B.
As per RMA figures, hotel and construction sector together account for 30 percent NPL of its portfolios.
Finance minister had earlier said that as of June 2019 the eight financial institutions had lent about Nu 143B of which major share was in the housing, tourism and hospitality, and trade and commerce sectors, which also has the highest NPL currently.
With the increased loan applicants over the years, defaulters have also increased, thereby increasing the NPL.
The government, in collaboration with RMA and FIs, has devised several strategies to address the NPL issues. One of them is to promote loan specialisation by different financial institutions.
Phub Dem | Haa
The dzongkhag administration of Haa has prepared Prevention, Preparedness, Management and Recovery Measures (PPMRM) handbook to effectively prevent, contain, manage and recover Covid-19 cases.
Measures such as restriction of contact sports, reduction of travel, and promotion of social distancing have already been put in place.
In case the country enters an orange situation—with local transmission in the country but not in Haa—the dzongkhag will establish screen points at three entry points.
The points are Paro for Haa Chelela pass, drungkhag entry point for Samtse-Haa, and Haa gate for Chudzom-Haa. The dzongkhag administration will mobilise health professionals from a pool of Health Assistants from primary health centres and alert three retired health officials in Haa.
Similarly, the handbook has a comprehensive preparedness plan for situation red and red plus.
The dzongkhag administration has formed a logistic team to monitor the price of goods. The Food Corporation of Bhutan has stockpiled essentials that would last for three months.
Hospital management, logistic and transportation management, and security management contingency plans have been developed.
As per the preparedness plan, the dzongkhag is accessible by multiple routes (Paro, Chuzom, and Samtse) which makes the district vulnerable from outsiders. Haa also faces risks from illegal traders operating at night through the border passes and the presence of yak herders on both sides of the border poses a risk of cross-border infection.
Haa has 565 residents above the age of 70 years. In case of Covid-19 positive cases in Haa, infrastructural limitation would be the biggest challenge.
However, due to its geographical location, these challenges, according to dzongdag could be resolved.
Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that there was significant potential in the agriculture and livestock sectors. He said that youth and parents now understood that jobs in urban centres are dependent on global factors.
Emphasising food self-sufficiency, every household is encouraged to have a kitchen garden. Technical support and quality seeds are being provided to youth interested in taking up farming. There are also plans to support livestock sectors through packaging, increasing shelves life of diary product, and production.
Dzongdag said that the dzongkhag administration was planning to establish a labour contract firm to supply the required workforce to construction and manufacturing companies.
The handbook contains contact details of the dzongkhag task force for Covid-19, details of people above 60 years in each gewog, retired and private health officials, volunteers, and business groups.
Haa has identified five hotels to be used as quarantine facilities and two isolation facilities. Three schools are being considered for back-up quarantine facilities.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
The policeman who was alleged to have stabbed a 22-year-old man in Samdrupjongkhar was detained at the quarter guard (a confinement cell for military personnel) yesterday.
The incident occurred near the Food Corporation of Bhutan’s (FCB) office around 8 pm on April 27 when the victim and his friend were returning home after dropping their friend.
According to sources, the suspect and his friend were sent to attend a battery case near the FCB office after receiving a complaint from a man who claimed that he was hit by another man on his head around 8pm.
Upon reaching the scene, the suspect and his friend found that a group of men were fighting. They also learned that one of the group members had hit the complainant on his head with an empty beer bottle.
The policeman saw two men walking along a footpath and asked them to stop as he suspected them to be involved in the battery case and were trying to abscond the scene.
The victim and his friend told the suspect that they went to drop their friend and were returning home when he questioned them. The suspect had suspected the duo had taken drugs and tried to frisk them.
Sources said the suspect tried to threaten the duo with a knife as they tried to attack him when he was trying to frisk them. “The duo were also under influence of alcohol,” said the source.
“It was an accident. The policeman hit the victim’s head because the victim and his friends tried to snatch the knife. The suspect did not hit the victim intentionally and used the knife for self-defence,” the source said. “The policeman was carrying a knife because he attended the case straight after doing some work in his garden.”
However, police would initiate a court of inquiry, with a tribunal appointed to investigate the matter and decide whether a court-martial is warranted.
Meanwhile, the victim’s relatives formally compromised and withdrew the case yesterday.