Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The problem of parking space for trucks, both Bhutanese and Indian, ferrying boulders and minerals from Bhutan to Bangladesh via Changrabandha-Burimari border has been solved.
A designated parking space with a capacity to accommodate more than 600 trucks was opened yesterday at Changrabandha in India.
The seven-acre parking space is located just about a kilometre away from Burimari, Bangladesh and it provides added advantage to the drivers and exporters.
In a simple ceremony, officials from Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), along with locals and transporters from Changrabandha, inaugurated the parking space yesterday.
Changrabandha is about 100km away from Phuentsholing.
The general secretary of BEA, Tshering Yeshi, said such space was not a requirement before.
“The trucks would return the same day,” he said. “But now the export trend has changed. It has tripled.”
He said it had become necessary for Bhutanese truckers to have a designated parking.
The general secretary explained that exporters and drivers faced numerous problems parking their trucks along the highway, which was against the traffic laws.
“Exporters were often penalised,” Tshering Yeshi said.
About 350 to 400 Bangladesh-bound trucks ferrying boulders and minerals reach Changrabandha daily from Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Gomtu.
The parking space was approved by the district magistrate of Cooch Behar.
“We recently visited the counterpart officials and all had agreed,” Tshering Yeshi said, adding the space was identified accordingly then. “It took about a month’s time to come to this point.”
Tshering Yeshi said that another eight acres of space would also be added subsequently, depending on the increase of vehicles.
People from Changrabandha and local transporters present at the inauguration yesterday also shared their views on the designated parking space. They said transporters and drivers from Bhutan would benefit from the parking lot. It would ease the traffic in their locality. They also said that such people-to-people cooperation in trade and transport would further boost the Bhutan-India ties.
Changrabandha border allows 500 trucks, 250 each from Bhutan and India to enter Burimari. Trucks are allowed to enter Bangladesh port from 8am to 6pm.
BEA is also negotiating to extend this timing from 8am to 10pm.
Yangchen C Rinzin
About 83 percent of the schools in Bhutan have adequate drinking water, 78 percent have adequate water for handwashing, 61 percent have adequate water for sanitation, and 52 percent have adequate water for bathing purpose.
This is according to the Annual Education Statistics 2019.
“Proper water facilities or even the presence of water supply in school can have a positive impact on children’s health and education attendance,” the report says.
Of the total, 67.5 percent of the water sources in schools are piped water and 17.5 percent is protected spring. Rest of the water sources include protected dug well, unprotected spring (7.0%), rainwater (0.6%), drilled water (0.3%), and stored water (7.0%).
In terms of functionality of the water supply, 54 percent to 80.3 percent of the supply ranges from 5-7 days per week in extended classrooms and higher secondary schools.
When it comes to the national standard student-tap ratio, it is 1:50 and the reports claim that all schools except for lower secondary have met the standard.
With the access to improved sanitation facilities in schools related to the hygiene education that reduce the incidence of waterborne diseases, today, most toilets in schools in the country have flush toilets (58%) while aqua-privy toilets constitute 16.6 percent.
It was found that 80.1 percent of the toilets for male students and 70.6 percent for female were functional. In some schools (22.2%) still use pit latrine toilets. However, only 1.7 percent schools do not have toilet facilities.
In public schools, high schools have the highest proportion of trained health coordinators. All private lower secondary and middle secondary schools have health coordinators.
When it comes to computer facilities in the schools, the report stated that 253 publics and 279 private schools have computers. This, the report claimed, has increased over the years, which is an increase of 48 computers in public schools compared to 2018 and an increase of 46 in private schools.
However, in terms of student-computer ratio, on an average, 23 students share one computer in public schools, while 16 students share a computer in private schools. The education ministry has targeted to achieve a student-computer ratio of 1:10 for secondary schools and 1:30 for primary schools.
While the ministry aims to enhance I-Sherig in the schools, the report found that more than 35 percent of both the public and private schools (5.3%) in the country do not have Internet connectivity.
To ensure that the supply of goods, teaching and learning materials and facilities, the movement of teachers and students are effective, the ministry has ensured that most of the schools have an access to motor roads.
Today, only 18.1 percent of public schools do not have access to motor roads according to the report. However, all private schools have access. In terms of electricity, only about 10.6 percent of public schools are still without electricity supply.
Total of 41,950 female students and 44,963 male students are today benefitting from the school feeding programme in schools under the ministry as of May 2019. Of which, 41,737 students avail three meals, 25,940 students avail two meals, and 19,236 avails one meal.
“The rapid expansion of the education system in terms of school enrolment can be attributed to the provision of free meals and boarding facilities,” the report says. “Such facilities are important to provide quality of education and is important to keep up to date.”
Come December, every tourist guide renewing their licence will have to sit for a mandatory drug test. The guides are required to renew their licence between December and February each year.
The drug-free certificate will be a mandatory document for issuance and renewal of the license.
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) submitted its standard operating procedure (SoP) for drug testing of tourism service providers to the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) for endorsement last week.
TCB officials said this was to ensure a healthier, safer and productive tourism industry free of drug abuse. Last year, over 4,000 tourist guides renewed their licenses.
TCB would issue a notification on the drug test once BNCA endorses the SoP. It will collaborate with BNCA to carry out the drug tests.
Tourism officer with the quality assurance division, Karma Tenzin said the drug test is not to punish those with controlled substance use issues but to help them in getting appropriate treatment services.
“If they are found to have abused any controlled substance they would be given more than one chance to correct themselves,” he said.
Those who test positive will be referred to the treatment assessment panel (TAP) of BNCA for treatment. Their license, which will be suspended during the time of the treatment will be issued after completing the treatment.
However, those who test positive once will undergo tests frequently.
According to Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018, the offence of substance abuse for the first time is liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than three months if the TAP assessed the person as addicted. Otherwise, the individual will undergo counselling for a month.
Repeat offenders, as per the Act, have to serve counselling and treatment for longer period.
Karma Tenzin said it is not possible to carry out the drug test for all tourism service providers together at once which is why they are starting with the tourist guides including the rafting guides.
This, he said, was because the guides are crucial players in the tourism industry. “Moreover, if we look at the nature of their job, they are more vulnerable.”
There are over 20,000 tourism service providers and the drug test for other service providers will be initiated depending on the readiness for such mass drug testing.
To set an example, all other TCB officials would be tested for controlled substances before the guides.
“We will have a system or criteria for the random drug testing,” he said. The council would test guides who are suspected of abusing the controlled substances.
Individual guides have to pay for the testing kit which would cost around Nu 300.
TCB officials said the initiative is to help the nation curb the drug abuse issues.
“Tourism is an important sector and next to hydropower in revenue generation so we want quality guides. In fact, by starting with the tourist guides, it shows how important our guides are for the tourism sector.”
Lack of a proper mechanism for management of human resource between local governments (LGs) and its administrations have been an obstacle to the effective functioning of LGs, a study has found.
Published by the Department of Local Governance (DLG) recently, the assessment study on dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) and gewog tshogde (GT) states that civil servants in LG administrations are functionally associated with DT and GT.
However, the civil servants are directly under the control of the dzongdag. “Accordingly they report to the dzongdag and respective agencies at the central level and not to the local government.”
A gup told Kuensel that LGs depend on the sector heads for deployment of civil servants, including engineers.
He said the gups are being given more power in terms of management of human resource within the gewog. “The absence of accountability mechanism at the LG level has also rendered LGs ineffective.”
The impeding factors are aggravated by the lack of capacity and facilitation skills of DT and GT members to pro-actively liaise with sectors that provide technical support and vice versa.
The study also found that the absence of a clear working modality between LGs, its administrations and other regional offices and no clear accountability among stakeholders also impede the functioning of LGs.
LGs do not possess a legal tooth to take actions for non-compliance notices and directives of DT and GT. It was reported that sectors and regional offices do not heed to the notices and directives of the DT and GT.
The study found that most of both elected and non-elected staff at the local level are unable to comprehend provisions of legal and regulatory tools such as the Constitution, LG Act and the assignment of functional and financial responsibilities.
When the elected LG functionaries change, they do not necessarily get sensitised or trained on time, especially on their functional roles in local governance as representatives of the people, it was found.
The study also calls for a comprehensive decentralisation policy. “The functional working relation between LGs and LG administration and effective functioning of DTs and GTs are impeded by a lack of a clear decentralisation policy framework.”
According to the study, in the absence of a clear decentralisation policy and framework, decentralised local governance is understood differently by different people at different levels.
The non-elected LG functionaries understand the roles and functions of LGs and LG administration from the context of territorial decentralisation and deconcentration, in which administrative power and authorities are transferred to the local level merely to take the functions closer to the people.
The mode of implementing the decentralisation process is still not clearly and fully devolved as envisioned in the Constitution, according to the study.
“There is a need to develop a national decentralisation policy that will guide the future direction of decentralisation and provide clarity,” it states.
Meanwhile, the DLG has drafted a decentralisation policy, which outlines the roles and responsibilities for LGs.
The policy aims to facilitate gradual devolution of power, functions, and authority from the central government to LGs. According to the draft policy, the central government will perform only those functions that cannot be undertaken effectively at the LG level.
LG can set their own priorities. However, the draft policy allows the central government to intervene in cases where national priorities are more important than LG priorities.
“The central government shall not undermine or surpass LGs, except in cases where national priorities should take precedence over local government priorities. Dzongkhag administrations shall not undermine or surpass the thromde and gewog administrations,” it states.
Accountability of LGs has been given due consideration. LGs are required to be accountable not only to the central government but also to citizens equally, according to the policy.
The policy requires the central government to ensure that there is matching human resources capacity at the LG level to manage the devolved functions.
Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck graced the textile presentation ‘Khadi –Thagzo’ at the Royal Textile Academy yesterday evening. Four Bhutanese and three Indian designers exhibited their designs made from Khadi and traditional Bhutanese fabric followed by pure vegetarian cuisine Benarsi Satvik Bhojan.
It is the time of the year when the mountain passes are treaded the most. Tourists, government officials and our people in the mountains are making the most of the season. Soon it will be closed by snow and the highlanders will move down to warmer places.
It has been unusually busy this year in the mountains. From Sakteng in the east to Soe in the west, the highlanders of Bhutan are seeing a lot of activities. In the last few days, highlanders in the west celebrated the Jomolhari festival. Yesterday, about 900 highlanders celebrated the World Food Day in Sakteng. Above Sakteng, remote Merak will host officials from the agriculture ministry today. In Laya, the Layaps are busy preparing for the Highland Festival next week.
The highlanders are getting a lot of attention. They should.
Always brushed aside as simple yak herders living among the mountains, the highlanders were never given importance, except using them as bait for attracting dollar-paying tourists. They were popular only on tourism brochures or websites.
Our highlands are the bastion of our rich and unique culture. The yak-based livelihood, their unique culture and simple lives are few things that are left intact when the wind of change is getting swifter.
With development, even our highlanders are not spared. Any given time, they are ready to follow the rest of the Bhutanese, to come to the towns in search of better lives and opportunities. The settlements, once isolated, are now open to an influx of visitors. Roads have cut distance. We can drive into the heart of Sakteng today, can be so is Laya. The World Food Day celebrated with the people of Sakteng focused on healthy diets and non- communicable diseases, not highland products or yak rearing.
The traditional attire like the Chupa or the conical hat is becoming occasional wear among the young. Internet and mobile technology have brought them close to the outside world and their temptations.
The highlanders play an important role besides preserving a unique culture and traditions. The highland communities are critical in our territorial integrity. Their dependence on the cattle and tsamdro, which they had claimed for generations, play a critical role in securing our territorial integrity.
Unfortunately, not many will understand this. We always look at them as unique mountain people. In a way, the livelihood of those in the lowlands depends on their livelihood in the mountains. Such is their importance.
The challenge today is keeping our highlanders up there. They are no more isolated. Roads have cut distance, electricity has improved their conditions and mobile connections have brought them closer. Yet, there is a change. The young have ambitions like any other young Bhutanese. They don’t want to go after yaks in the mountains. Like any other youth, they want a government job, live in the towns and live comfortable lives. How do we balance this is a challenge?
We have special highland programmes, but like an elderly Sakteng man who has his three children studying outside Sakteng said, the wind of change is getting stronger. How we deal with it should be a priority.
Rajesh Rai | Lhamoizingkha
The first motorable bridge in Nichula gewog, Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag that was completed about 18 months ago still remains idle.
The 120-feet motorable bailey bridge over Nichulachhu in Bararay, Nichula gewog, has no approach road. Approach road construction had commenced but it stopped and never resumed.
Today, villagers use the old suspension bridge, which is located just above the new bridge.
Residents of Nichula village said the approach road has to resume as soon as possible.
Garjaman Karki from Dangreybu village said it was unfortunate that the public has not yet been able to benefit from the bridge.
“The bridge construction was under the department of roads (DoR) before but now they say it would be under the gewog,” he said, adding that the handing-taking is not yet done.
“It should be completed at the earliest and handed over to the gewog administration.”
A roads department chief engineer in the region, CB Mongar said the approach road that was initially identified did not materialise.
“Approach road was surveyed but the public did not approve of it,” he said. “We had to take another route which is a bit longer.”
Although the new approach road is at a difficult gradient, it can still be managed, the engineer said.
CB Mongar said an excavator was deployed at the site and that they would try to complete it at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the bailey bridge connects three chiwogs of Nichula to the gewog office that is located at Dangreybu. These chiwogs have about 58 households with more than 600 people, including those away from these villages.
The Bararay bailey bridge was constructed at Nu 16.09 million (M) with the Government of India (GoI) funding.
CB Mongar also said that the transportation cost had increased. The DoR had to route transport of materials through Barobisha, a neighbouring Indian town since there is no internal route connecting Nichula and Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag. There has to be a motorable bridge over the Sunkosh river to connect the two with motorable road.
The long wait for a bridge over Sunkosh
Many residents in Nichula said the need for a bridge over the Sunkosh river has become urgent. They said it could bring about economic benefits to the secluded gewog, which is connected with a lone suspension bridge.
Bhakta Mongar, a resident, said, “Although there are not many economic opportunities here it will give people the much-needed connectivity.”
“It will connect the gewog to the entire drungkhag and beyond.”
Bhakta Mongar also said that motorable bridges have been constructed in the most difficult places and that bringing one over Sunkosh was possible. It has become necessary today than ever, he added.
Another resident, Garjaman Karki said that Nichula has waited for the bridge since 2007 when Lhamoidzingkha was under Sarpang dzongkhag.
“The suspension bridge helps but we still need to carry everything over the suspension bridge and beyond,” he said.
Garjaman said that they have been hearing that a bridge would come with the coming of Sunkosh hydropower project. But nothing has come officially.
A motorable bridge over Sunkosh would solve issues of rural-urban migration, which leads to gungtongs today, and human-wildlife conflict.
“Resettlement would become possible,” he said. “It would also boost agricultural activities.”
Migration: As cold sets in the highlands of Bumthang, cattle herders migrate to the warmer parts of Mongar crossing the Phrumsengla, 3,780metres above the sea level.
When the economic affairs ministry encouraged residents to surrender their subsidised liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders earlier this year, officials assured that there will be an adequate supply of non-subsidised cylinders.
Depots in Thimphu, however, ran short of non-subsidised green LPG cylinders for a few days since last week.
Thimphu’s biggest LPG depot at Mothithang ran short of both subsidised and non-subsidised LPG since last week, sources said.
Customers expressed frustrations from the inconvenience.
Samdrup, a corporate employee said that he went to every depot in Thimphu to switch his subsidised LPG to non-subsidised, however, none of the depots had non-subsidised LPG.
Some office goers said that they had been carrying their empty cylinders in cars, “As and when the stock arrives, we are going to fill it up.”
Trade director Sonam Tenzin said that the issue was solved after trade officials met with Indian Oil Corporation officials, Indian Customs Authorities and Bhutanese dealers on October 15.
“By today evening or midnight, the refilled LPG will be available. There will be a seamless supply of LPG from now on,” he said yesterday.
“Local dealers are already in Gelephu and Phuentsholing to ensure an adequate number of stocks to be supplied.”
He clarified that the brief shortage at the Mothithang depot was due to transportation problems and customs related issues faced by Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) at their bottling plants in Siliguri last week.
Trade director Sonam Tenzin said that the department took up the issue immediately with Indian Oil Corporation officials, Indian Customs Authorities and Bhutanese dealers. He claimed that the issue of shortage had been addressed.
“While we are regularly monitoring, sometimes shortages are caused by external factors such as strikes and natural calamities like flood and road blockage.”
The LPG cylinders were made transferable between the dealers. For instance, if refill services are not available at Motithang depot, customers can avail the services from Damchen Petroleum Distributor located at Chamzamtog and Druk Petroleum Corporation at Chubachu near Tarayana Building complex.
Numerous reforms were initiated to ensure sufficient supply of LPG cylinders such as Gyenkhu programme, lifting subsidised LPG cylinders from the four thromdes, and the additional 300MT of subsidised LPG from India.
The trade department issued a notification stating that it would lift subsidised LPG cylinders from Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu and Thimphu thromdes from 2020.
The third edition of the Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel national open tennis tournament began at the national tennis centre at Changlimithang in Thimphu yesterday.
Organised by the Bhutan Tennis Federation (BTF), 58 participants (42 men and 16 women) from across the country are taking part in the four-day tournament.
The participants will compete in four categories – men’s single, women’s single, veteran single and mixed lucky doubles.
As of yesterday, 12 matches have been played in different categories.
BTF’s vice president, Tshewang Jurme, said that sports could help contribute in addressing the country’s growing youth unemployment. “Our youth lack skill-based education and government should invest in the future of our youth.”
The tournament is being organised to promote healthy lifestyle and encourage youth in sports.