Kuensel Feed

Subscribe to Kuensel Feed feed
Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
ཡུ་ཨར་ཨེལ: http://kuenselonline.com
དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 2 hours 49 min གི་ཧེ་མ།

Agriculture ministry trying to bridge the chilli gap

18 hours 23 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

… consumers say not good enough

Choki Wangmo 

Given local chilli shortage, import ban, and hiked prices, frustration among consumers is growing and some are even questioning the government policies on production and imports.

Some said that agriculture ministry should have a long-term plan and policy to ensure support to farmers and ensure swift supply of chillies in winters at an affordable rate.

“Import ban on chillies should be lifted as there is no scientific evidence that they are toxic as claimed. If chill from Falakata is unfit for consumption, there are other options to import from other Indian states to address the shortage in Bhutan,” another said.

While the government implemented the ban to encourage domestic production the consumers were gravely affected. “But the problem with local production is that the farmers are not ready.”

Since last month, the local green chillies were supplied in the market but still remains unavailable in many parts of the community.

Chief Agriculture Officer Namgay Thinley said that the incessant rain in September and October had damaged most of the chilli nurseries and hampered production.

As of January 15, 27,990 kilograms (kg) of chillies were supplied of which about 5,000kg were marketed within the Thimphu thromde.

Chillies were procured from Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang, Samtse, Pemagatshel, Zhemgang, Samdrupjongkhar. Low land settlements of Mongar,   Wangduephodrang and Trongsa also cultivated chillies in small quantities.

“The production is expected to increase to 294 metric tonnes (MT) in February and 500MT by March,” Namgay Thinley said.

According to the agriculture ministry’s fixed price, a kg of chilli costs Nu 300 at the farmer’s field and Nu 401 in retail shops in Thimphu. But the consumers said that it was 600 per kg.

Last week, in an eight-minute video, Namgay Thinley, on the agriculture production department’s social media page, appealed to the consumers to bear with the chilli shortage and said that the officials were working to ensure a steady supply.

“A decade ago, we imported winter vegetables but since 2011, we had bridged the gap through local production. In winter, we now produce 13 kinds of vegetables and continue to do so,” he said, adding that the country faces chilli shortage for only one and half months.

If we lift the ban, farmers would be discouraged to work. By two years, we would be able to bridge the gaps so that chillies are available at all times, he added.

In response, consumers said that the ministry could have carried out research studies to promote local produce and could have controlled the import instead of imposing a ban. 

“Green chilli which costs Nu 50-60 a kg in Jaigaon is smuggled and then sold at Nu 500-600, robbing the innocent,” he said.

This month, four cases of smuggled chilles  were intercepted by BAFRA inspectors.

Agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji, said that dry chillies are available in the market in various forms.

He said that for this winter, 535 acres in the warmer southern dzongkhags were being cultivated with chilli and the production from these areas is expected to meet the market demand. “These chilli growing areas are provided with inputs such as seeds, fencing, plastic mulching technology and drip irrigation technology.”

Bhutan temporarily banned the import of chilli from nearby areas across the border in June 2016 following the detection of residues of different types of pesticides in quantities above the maximum residue level.

He said the toxicity of the imported chillies were proved by the human health experts from the World Health Organisation and then the decisions to ban the import was made in consultation with the highest authorities.

The latest tests conducted on chillies from the nearby neighbouring states in the first and second weeks of this month still showed the presence of residues of pesticides from five major pesticide groups.

“Importing from long distances will not only increase the cost but aggravate our dependency on imports,” he said.

If imported green chillies contain toxic chemicals, a consumer said that imported dry chillies and chilli powders won’t be fit for consumption as suggested by the officials.

Rinzin Dorji also said that policy shifts, if any, are warranted by circumstances and changing times. “The ministry is guided by the Food and Nutrition Policy of 2014. The policy not only talks about food but takes into consideration the importance of nutrition for health of the people.”

He said that, recently, the ministry had initiated drafting the RNR Strategy 2040 that makes an analysis of the current situation and charts a way forward with well-defined key performance indicators, learning from the situations created by Covid-19 about food self-sufficiency in the country. 

Currently, 31 different types of vegetables are grown across the country. Of these, 17 vegetables are prioritised for commercial cultivation. The total area under production is about 16,150 acres with 47,080MT of production.

Police arrests elderly man for sharing videos

18 hours 24 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Staff reporter 

Thimphu police arrested the 74-year-old man, whose videos with young women went viral on social media during the lockdown, on January 18.

A woman, who was in one of the videos, lodged the case against the man on December 31 but police could not arrest the man, as he resided in a ‘red building’ in Changzamtok.

Police arrested him on January 18 after they got clearance from the health ministry that the building is no more a Covid-19 hotspot.

Police, however, said they would not comment until the lockdown was completely lifted.

It was learnt that there are four cases registered against the man for sharing such videos.

A woman, whose private videos with the man went viral since May last year, had already registered a harassment case against the man. She is waiting for police to charge the case to court.

Schools to re-open in February as scheduled 

18 hours 25 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Guidelines in place to ensure schools’ preparedness to re-open 

Yangchen C Rinzin  

Both public and private schools will open for Classes Pre-Primary (PP) to VIII  for the 2021 academic session from February 1 as scheduled, the education ministry confirmed.

Classes PP-VIII have remained closed since March last year owing to Covid-19 pandemic.

Students of classes IV to VIII will report to school on February 3, while those in PP-III will report on February 15. Teachers have to report to their respective schools on February 1.

But students of Thinleygang and Wangdue PS, Shengana and Dorokha LSS, and Khuruthang MSS will report on April 1. Teachers will report on March 22.

These schools have been hosting students from Phuentsholing Thromde after Phuentsholing was declared red zone during the first lockdown.

Department of School and Education’s director general, Karma Galay, said that schools were told to re-open as per the plan unless there is local transmission again.

“With guidelines in place, we’ll re-open schools as per the directives,” he said. “All schools would adopt strict health safety measures like wearing facemasks inside premises, washing hands and maintain distance.”

The director general added that schools could come up with the ideas to ensure implementaton of safety protocols.

“We’ve even been trying to advise schools to see the possibility to explore if schools could arrange stationery and uniforms in the schools. This would ensure parents and students do not have to look in the market and avoid crowds,” he said.

However, middle and higher secondary schools will re-open in April given that Classes X and XII will have their board examinations in March.

Students of Classes IX, X and XII, have to report on April 1, and class XI students report on April 15. Teachers of these schools are required to report on March 22.

The re-opening decision will also apply for Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), Non-Formal Education (NFE), and Community Learning Centre (CLC).

An education ministry official said public ECCD, NFE and CLC could likely open from March, as the proposal to re-open has been submitted to the government.

Private ECCDs were given an option to re-open since last year.

“Same guidelines designed for the schools would be followed while re-opening. We’re just waiting for specific directives,” he said.

As per the guidelines issued yesterday, all schools are to resume by adopting strict health safety measures like establishing hand washing stations with 24 hours running water, maintaining physical distance, wearing facemask compulsory in the school, and using Druk Trace App.

Compulsory thermal screening to check both students and teachers’ temperature before entering school campus is also required. Schools should have separate sick room and provide psychosocial support.

The guidelines designed for both day and boarding schools also require schools to plan for staggered reporting and dispersing of students, including staggered timing for the use of washing facilities and breaks.

The guidelines also require schools to create a compartment between the driver and passengers’ area, properly separated with a plastic sheet; drivers to use facemask all times and check the temperature before entering school premises.

“After on Covid-19 or off-campus special duty with external offices, drivers would be required to follow proper health protocol before joining school duty,” the guidelines.

The education ministry has also asked all dzongkhags and thromdes to have alternative provisions if schools are used for managing the pandemic so that teaching and learning of children can occur.

Many school administrations said that preparation were in place as per guidelines. Some schools are also ensuring that they do not mix day scholar students with boarder students although it is difficult to maintain with lack of teaching staff.

Schools like Sarpang Central School had to send some students from Class IX and X to other school, as there was shortage of classrooms.

Nangkor Central School is also exploring with Pemagatshel dzongkhag administration to let shopkeepers bring school uniforms and stationery.

Meanwhile, many parents are anxious with re-opening of schools. Some parents shared that the protocol requires maintaining physical distance, which would not be possible given at least one class has more than 20 students.

“Without enough infrastructures and teachers, how can a school manage to teach in a shift or have additional classrooms,” Dawa Tenzin, a parent, said. “It also requires students to wear facemask all times, how feasible it would be with small children?”

Given the risk of community transmission and second nationwide lockdown, many parents felt it would not be wise to re-open schools. “Schools were shut down when we didn’t have local transmission. Now we’re re-opening when local cases are emerging from every corner,” said one.

Youth find employment at Wangdue Dzong reconstruction project

18 hours 27 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

When the Wangdue Dzong reconstruction project management announced 30 vacancies for casual workers on September 17, last year it came as a relief to 21-year-old Kinley Wangchuk.

From Thinleygang, Punakha, Kinley Wangchuk had then been unemployed for four months.

“I worked with Construction Development Corporation (CDCL) for four years,” said Kinley Wangchuk. After that, he found himself looking for a job.

With around 10 youth working with the dzong reconstruction project, the project witnessed a good turnout of youth for the first time since reconstruction began after the fortress was completely destroyed by a fire in June 2012.

Project engineer, Dorji, said that prior to the pandemic, there were just three youth at site.

Among the new workers are youth as young as 19. Most are school dropouts.

Twenty-two-year-old Kharka Nath Rai said that he was waiting for the technical training institutes to reopen (TTI) and wished to join one of the institutes. “I completed class XII from Gelephu last year. Rather than staying home, it is better to work somewhere.”

Dawa, 20, joined work with six other friends (mostly young girls) after learning about vacancies in September. “Parents also supported my decision,” Dawa said.

“For women, work includes carrying mud and stones,” said Yeshi Wangmo, 23.

Workers report to the site at 7:15am and leave for home and their camps at 5pm.

Kinley Wangchuk, who earns Nu 8,000 monthly, said: “I save around Nu 3,000 and rest goes for expenditure.”

Project engineer Dorji said that the management had plans to give the youth promotion from February.

This is because, the workers have been performinv well at work.

Today, casual workers earn Nu 280 a day. Promotion to category four means their daily wage would increase to Nu 421 (more than Nu 12,000 monthly).

Most Tsirang and Dagana chilli to hit market next month 

18 hours 28 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Chimi Dema | Tsirang  

With more than 250 farmers from five gewogs growing chilli on about 125 acres, Dagana is expected to produce about 165 metric tonnes (MT) of green chilli this winter.

While the gewogs have been producing about 700kg of chilli fortnightly, major production is expected beginning next month.

Agriculture officials said that farmers couldn’t produce more chillies this time around as seedlings planted and initial transplantation in September and October, last year were damaged by the prolonged monsoon.

Dagana Assistant Agriculture Officer Kinley Namgay said, “Our initial expectation was to produce 900kgs a week. But we couldn’t.”

He said that each gewog used to produce about 200kg of chillies a week in previous years.

The dzongkhag has supplied over 1.5MT of chillies to Thimphu since the nationwide lockdown on December 23. Dagana would begin chilli supply to Paro this week.

The produce from high risk areas of Karmling, Lhamoidzingkha and Nichula under Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag is being transshipped through Dagapela to the other parts of the dzongkhag and Thimphu.

About 265kg of chillies harvested from Samarchhu chiwog in Tsendagang gewog were distributed in the local market in the dzongkhag yesterday. 

Tsirang has been able to produce only about 200kg of chillies this winter.

Assistant Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer, Sonam said that with winter cold affecting fruiting and resulting in physiological disorder in plants, chilli production suffered. “We are expecting more production by end of this month or early February.”

Tsirang has grown winter chillies on more than 50 acres in seven gewogs. Currently, Sergithang and Barshong gewogs are the major producers.

Sergithang-based farmer, Sanman Subba said that he used to sell at least 1.5MT of chillies every winter. “However, this winter, I’d be able to produce only a few hundred kgs as most of the seedlings were damaged by a heavy monsoon,” he said.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of chilli shortages in local markets.

The Damphu vegetable market has also run short of green chillies as of last Friday. Vendors said that it was difficult to get the produce.

Although the dzongkhag agriculture sector has been trying to meet the local demand in the dzongkhag first, officials said that the production has dropped at the source these days.

Sonam said that farmers are able to sell other vegetables to vendors only if they supply chillies.

Agriculture officials said that chilli shortages in the market could also be due to poor supply from other southern dzongkhags.

A resident in Wangdue said that she couldn’t get chillies even after placing orders at source in Tsirang. “The produce exhausted even before I could go to collect.”

There is no need to rush

18 hours 29 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

The stars are aligned with what many would want in the next few weeks and months concerning protecting all, Bhutanese and foreigners in the country against Covid-19.

After consultation with the central monastic body for an auspicious date to roll out the now all-important programme in decades, the prime minister on Monday announced that mass vaccination could start only after March 13, when the inauspicious month ends.

It might sound strange to some, but the clergy is an indispensable part of the many big decisions we take as individuals and as a country. Even as Bhutan fought, at all fronts, to keep at bay the invisible enemy of Covid-19, we resorted to the omnipotent force. The energy, the confidence and the beliefs had played a crucial role in managing the pandemic, with or without faults. Today, even a four-year-old can recite the “Om Bekha zey” prayer to the medicinal god in seeking help to prevent us from getting infected.

Bhutan could wait. There are several reasons why we can even if some are panicky. Vaccination programmes have rolled out in many countries, including in neighbouring India, the likely source of our vaccine. There are sceptics including health workers who are not willing to take the jab. The vaccine hesitancy arises from the fact that the vaccines rolled out have not completed full trials. Many feel it is better to wait and see if there are adverse events following the vaccination.

The vaccine against Covid-19 is seen as the ultimate solution as many countries, near and far, start vaccinating the entire population starting with health workers and frontliners. However, what we need to understand is that it is not a race. We have all the reasons to wait and see the impact of the vaccine.

Many countries that have resorted to the vaccine even if it is only authorised for emergency use did so because they are overwhelmed with positive cases and deaths. We are not going through it. We are in a lockdown or have community transmissions, but a lot is under control and the situation has improved, which is evident from the relaxation in the red dzongkhags.

Waiting, like the Lyonchhen said, could give us valuable time to learn lessons from the experiences of other countries including the impact of the vaccines. Many countries that have cases, hundred times more than us are also patiently waiting.

The time could also be used to address the vaccine hesitancy both through learning from experiences and resolving controversies or doubts surrounding the vaccine. The health ministry has started a survey on the vaccination programme, which includes questions if people would want to delay receiving the vaccine.

The large rural population would not doubt the Zhung’s programme, but if the government could convince all through hard evidence and build confidence in the vaccines planned in a transparent way, it would help the entire population get vaccinated.

In announcing the plans surrounding the vaccination plan, Lyonchhen asked people not to get scared of the vaccine. Building confidence of the masses is crucial in achieving the vaccination programme.

The Zakar is in our favour and gives us enough time to study, prepare and build confidence. It is the perfect timing. The health ministry must do whatever it takes to make the vaccination programme another national achievement.

Livestock officials investigate Dorokha pig deaths

18 hours 29 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Joint inspection: Veterinarians and livestock officials at the affected farm in Dorokha C village

… initially suspected swine flu but it was later ruled out 

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Livestock officials are still investigating the cause of the disease that recently killed some pigs in Dorokha and Dumtoe villages of Samtse.

After the death of three pigs at Dorokha C village, on January 18 and 19, following high fever and shivering, officials suspected they died of swine flu. However, on closer examination, they ruled out the flu.

Similarly, a farm of four pigs in neighbouring Dumtoe lost two of its pigs. The other two survived the illness.

As per the livestock report, the disease is found to be fatal and officials as of now could not draw any conclusions.

The livestock officer in Dorokha drungkhag, Khemnath Rizal said the joint team of veterinary officials from Phuentsholing and drungkhag livestock office have ruled out swine flu.

“They also collected samples to investigate the actual disease,” he said, adding that it is not sure what caused the high fever at this moment.

Khemnath Rizal said the farm affected had 21 pigs out of which five were showing high fever symptoms. Two have recovered.

“Everything is under control,” he said.

The livestock officer also said that the infected farm will be kept under observation for 21 days and monitored strictly, as per the expert advise.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) in Darla, Chukha has also been contained.

Chukha’s chief livestock officer, Sherab Tenzin, said a second investigation was field recently which showed the situation has improved.

The 260 birds died initially but following the interventions from the livestock officials only a few birds died.

“Those birds that died recently were in bad condition,” he said.

Sherab Tenzin said veterinary doctors from the Regional Livestock Development Centre in Chukha are helping the livestock team continuously.

“All measures are in place,” he said.

Fewer calls for mental health aid during the second lockdown

18 hours 30 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Chhimi Dema  

The psychiatry department of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital has recorded fewer cases this time compared with the first lockdown.

The department received more than 200 calls related to mental health during the second lockdown. During the first lockdown, the case number was about 300.

Head of the department, Dr Damber K Nirola, said that the cases this time mostly involved old patients seeking clarification about medications. Others suffered panic attacks, insomnia, and drug and alcohol-related problems.

“It appears that people have come to terms with lockdown situations and have learnt well to adjust staying and working from home,” said Dr Nirola.

The department recorded 1,152 till August 2020. The number was 1,055 in 2019. The compilation of the data for 2020 is underway.

Dr Nirola said that stress during the pandemic times was causing mental disorders. “People feel trapped; they may feel helpless and hopeless. Those who have  higher vulnerability to suffering from a mental disorder due to biological factors will succumb to it.”

Dr Nirola said that although there was acceptance of mental health issues today, “we still have a long way to go.”

The national mental health response team’s webinars had increased education and awareness on mental health, he said.

“Mental health services have come a long way from one psychiatrist way back in 1999 to four today, dedicated nurses, mental health focal persons and clinical counsellors.”

Not all stress is bad

Stress is not always a bad thing, according to Dr Nirola. “In daily life, we often use the term ‘stress’ to describe negative situations. This leads many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true.”

Dr Nirola said that there was a difference between eustress (positive stress) and distress (negative stress).

Eustress produces feelings of excitement, motivation and improves performance. It is often perceived within the coping abilities of an individual.

Distress is negative stress that causes anxiety or concern, unpleasantness, decreased performance, which can lead to mental and physical problems.

Stress management is important to keeps one going even at the worst-case scenario.

“Do not be over-focused on the outcome should you ever be infected. Not everyone who gets infected, die. Remaining positive about the outcome can boost our immunity to fight diseases,” he said.

He said that one should maintain a healthy lifestyle with adequate rest and exercise, healthy diet and limit the consumption of alcoholic drinks and tobacco products.

Staying safe and resilient is our only defense as we wait for Covid-19 vaccine

18 hours 31 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

India launched one of the world’s biggest Covid vaccination drive on January 16 with the aim to inoculate 30 million health and frontline workers. By mid this year, India plans to vaccinate 300 million more people. India is home to 1.3 billion people and the vaccination drive to cover the entire population is going to be anything but easy. Yet, the Modi government has taken on this challenge as an opportunity to showcase India’s capabilities as an emerging superpower.

For a small neighbour watching developments in India, the historic roll out of the Covid vaccination programme offers a reason to be optimistic during this long period of humanitarian crisis. In fact, following the approval of the vaccines developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, many developed countries, including the United States, the UK, and other European nations have also launched Covid vaccination programmes. More Covid vaccines are being developed and are in different stages of trial. All these provide new hopes for humanity.

Yet, as the world grapples with the dire consequences of the health and economic crisis unleashed by the Coronavirus pandemic, every country in the world is scrambling to get Covid vaccines for its people. The entire world is pinning its hope on Covid vaccines to fight the lethal virus and restore normalcy.  The pandemic has already taken around two million lives and the death toll is likely to increase with the second wave of the pandemic hitting many countries and the resurgence of new variants of the Coronavirus.

Powerful countries with economic might and financial resources are obviously on the forefront of this global rush to access the vaccines for its own people. This ‘my nation first’ vaccine politics is fuelling and spreading a vicious brand of ‘vaccine nationalism’ across the world, which will certainly have a lasting impact on the way the world fights this pandemic and eventually comes out of it.

Low-income, developing countries such as Bhutan will be left behind in this global race, further heightening our vulnerabilities to the multifaceted impacts of Covid-19. Inequitable supply and distribution of vaccines – driven by competing priorities of developed and powerful countries – will have far-reaching impacts on poorer nations. The delay in supply of vaccines will only worsen the cumulating impacts of the virus on social institutions, healthcare systems, and the economy of poor, developing nations – triggering mass poverty, income loss, and unemployment – and reverse all the development gains that we have made thus far.

While the government is already in talks with global agencies responsible for supply and distribution of Vivid vaccines such as WHO, it appears that getting the vaccine is going to take much longer than expected considering the current global realities. The government has also requested the Indian government for one million doses of Covid vaccine. While the response from the Indian government has been positive and reassuring – thanks to the deep friendship and bilateral ties between the two countries – there is no clear indication when Bhutan will actually receive the vaccines.

What is crystal clear is the fact that we will have to wait. For how long? We really don’t know. No information has been shared as to when Bhutan will be able to get the vaccines. All that we have been told is that the process to acquire the vaccines has begun in earnest, so rest assured!

What can possibly happen during the intervening period between now and the time Bhutan gets the Covid vaccine? If we are conscientious in our response to preventing and managing Covid-19 cases in the country, there will be little to worry about. And for that, we will have to leverage the advantages provided by our small population, a strong healthcare system, an agile Covid-19 response mechanism, stringent application of Covid protocols, and our collective aspiration to combat the virus.

Despite the stringent measures taken, there have been lapses and loopholes and it is imperative that we address those issues. A lesson that we need to draw from this pandemic is that we are in it together. We must understand our unique vulnerabilities and challenges as a nation. That is exactly why from day one His Majesty The King has repeatedly emphasised on why we must be extra-careful and remain vigilant all the time and why we cannot afford to let our guards down ever.

What we have experienced during the two national lockdowns should provide sufficient lessons to avert, if not smartly tackle, local transmissions in the future. Until a time the government is able to procure Covid vaccines, our best bet is to work towards preventing community transmission and future lockdowns that have a crippling effect on the health, the economy and the livelihoods of the people.

Contributed by  Kinley Tshering

A former newspaper editor, the writer is a multi-media professional, screenwriter and filmmaker

Dana helps Bhutan to prepare for vaccination programme

18 hours 31 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Favourable time to explore more evidences on Covid-19 vaccines

Younten Tshedup 

While the government has devised a new strategy to vaccinate the entire eligible population in the country, the campaign will not start before mid-March.

As the plan is to begin the programme on an auspicious day, the Dana (inauspicious month) that starts from February 14 until March 13 gives the government and the people to observe the potential adverse effects of the Covid-19 vaccine.

This comes at a time when there are numerous reports of countries reporting severe side effects including some deaths following the inoculation.

Despite the hesitancy, many countries have stepped up their vaccination efforts. But there are also countries who are taking a relatively slower pace in the race, for the need of more evidence and data.

The government has almost closed the deal with India in procuring the vaccines, with the first batch of the vaccine arriving “soon” according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

However, the country won’t immediately start vaccinating the population even if the first consignment arrives, explained Lyonchhen. The government would roll out the vaccination only once it receives enough doses to vaccinate all the 533,000 eligible people at once.

Is waiting  advisable? 

Yes, say health experts. This is also because the pandemic situation in Bhutan was not as grave as in some other countries.   

The country has seen two notable outbreaks of Covid-19 so far, and both have been effectively contained, said an official on the condition of anonymity. He said that the patients infected by the virus in Bhutan have been relatively mild without any major complication.

“We know that the health preventive measures have worked out well for us. So technically, we can afford to wait for some time,” he said, adding that as the country waits, more evidence would be available on the vaccine.

On a similar note, Lyonchhen on Monday also said that while the country waits for the inauspicious month to end, it would provide an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other countries including possible side effects.

 

What is an EUA  vaccine? 

Most of the uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines today is because of the fact that the vaccines have been developed within months after the discovery of a new virus. This otherwise would take at least a decade.

Speaking to Kuensel, World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, said that for any medical product including a vaccine, it takes several years to study the data before it gets the formal approval for public usage.

However, he said that in an emergency situation like the current pandemic, global bodies like the WHO and regulatory authorities in respective countries give the emergency use authorisation (EUA) or an emergency use listing (EUL) to a drug or vaccine.

Dr Rui said that on December 31 last year, the WHO granted an EUL to Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. “WHO is in the process of reviewing the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.”

He said that although there were ‘good evidences’ that showed the EUA vaccines which are in use had proven effective in reducing the severity among those infected, there still was no information on the effectiveness of the vaccine in terms of preventing a person from getting the infection.

Lyonchhen had also said that the reason some groups in the population were not eligible for the vaccine was due to the limited knowledge and studies done of the effectiveness of the vaccine in these groups.

 

Adverse effects 

Countries across the world have been recording adverse effects after the inoculation like fever, nausea, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction to venom, food, or medication).

Some countries including Norway and Germany have reported deaths after the inoculation of the Pfizer vaccine. However, it has not been conclusively established that the deaths were due to the vaccine.

Both the countries recorded death among the elderly population (75 years plus) and all them had underlying health conditions.

Lyonchhen said that because the vaccines were EUA approved, it would be wrong to say there would be no side or adverse effects following the vaccination. However, he said that they don’t see a life-threatening situation from the vaccine.

He said that the health ministry had trained and prepared health workers to respond to any possible side effects including anaphylaxis following the vaccination.

Led by the health ministry and WHO Bhutan, a training to monitor the adverse effects following the inoculation was held last week.

Dr Rui said that the government has come up with a good initiative for rolling out the vaccine and that a simulation on how to execute the plan in the field would be now critical. “In order to successfully start the campaign, we need to prepare and the WHO is ready to support the government in implementing its plans.”

He added that while the government was doing everything possible to get the vaccines, it was important to practice the proven health measures such as handwashing, wearing facemasks and practicing physical distancing. “Vaccine is not the silver bullet to fight this pandemic.”

A worrying trend 

Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus said that as countries across the world joined the race to secure the Covid-19 vaccines, a great deal of inequality among countries has surfaced.

He said that over 40 million doses of different Covid-19 vaccines had been administered as of yesterday across the world. “The issue, however, is that most of these vaccines have been administered in the rich and developed countries.”

The COVAX Facility, of which Bhutan is also a member, was established to ensure equal distribution of the vaccines. However, Dr Rui said that countries that had agreements with the manufacturers of the vaccines have gone ahead and procured the vaccines for themselves. “What we are witnessing today is the nationalisation of the vaccines.”

He added, “Although we understand that every government wants to protect their own citizens, some countries have given the vaccines to the relatively lower-risk population, while many high-risk populations in developing countries have not received any. This is a big concern for the WHO.”

WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Monday had said that the world was on the brink of a ‘catastrophic moral failure’. “And the price of this failure will be paid with the lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest counties.”

He said that over 39 million vaccine doses had been given in more than 45 richer countries, but one poor nation had only 25 doses.

Traffic in Thimphu

18 hours 31 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

The new found time and the empty Thimphu roads due to the national lockdown have spurred these thoughts. Traffic in Thimphu is a minor annoyance during rush hours so I am questioning myself whether these thoughts are worth having.

The ongoing construction of a 4-lane road from Chubachhu till Dechenchholing will complete a 4-lane road starting from Taba ending at the Memorial Choeten. I am not sure of the thromde’s plans for the Chubachhu roundabout and the roundabout above the Royal Textile Academy (RTA), but I think that without some modifications to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic, the addition of lanes will be ineffective in reducing traffic.

What will improve the Chubachhu roundabout is difficult to imagine but the obvious improvement to the roundabout above the RTA is a flyover. From my limited perspective, the flyover idea will have resistance on the hounds of tradition, aesthetics and budget. However, the traditional problem of our nangtens passing under bridges during the annual soelthap seems to already be solved since a pedestrian overpass is being constructed at Olakha. The nice road across the river constructed by CDCL for thromde has provided a scenic route for the nangtens which will not be hampered by overpasses. On the aesthetics front, if done properly, the flyover can be constructed beautifully with traditional features. There is also the superstition factor, members of my family still cover their heads when passing under Lungtenzampa. The major issue is whether it is worth the budget to construct expensive flyovers to deal with a minor annoyance. I think since the government has already spent so much to widen the roads it may be worth spending more to make the traffic flow smoother. Of course we will have to wait and see what happens after the road works are complete to see how the traffic behaves.

To get back to the flyover at the RTA roundabout, cars approaching on Desi Lam (from Telecom Office going towards town) can get onto the flyover which will take off before the RTA. Once on the flyover they can get off either on the Doeboom Lam (Swimming pool road) or the Thori Lam (Going to Motithang). This will enable cars coming out from town along the Norzin Lam and cars coming from Doeboom Lam to head straight onto the Desi Lam without needing to wait for traffic to clear. If space permits a flyover for traffic coming on Thori Lam from Motithang to join the Norzin Lam going into town can be made. Another consideration is what the thromde will do once the craft bazaar stalls are shifted to their new location at the expressway. The flyovers once completed will definitely help with the flow of traffic.

Another location that will benefit from a flyover is the entrance to the JDWNR Hospital. The flyover can takeoff from the near the Royal Bhutan Police helipad entrance and can land near where the taxis park. The present gate can be used as an exit and as the entrance for vehicles heading towards the Memorial Choeten. When the Lungtenzampa is remodeled, hopefully the bottleneck that happens when vehicles leave town can be addressed by the new design.

In conclusion, traffic in the capital is presently not much of an issue, however, if the vehicle numbers keep increasing, traffic may get worse.

Contributed by 

Kesang Chophel

Last two mega zones turn yellow

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:19

… PM admits lapses and takes responsibility

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Residents in the remaining two mega zones of Thimphu thromde can venture out of their homes as unlocking phase one begins in Central mega zones 1 and 2 from today.

The C-1 zone covers Zilukha, Motithang, Changangkha, Norzin Wog, Norzin Tag, and Yangchenphu area. The C-2 includes Changzamtog, Changbangdu, and Lungtenphu super zones.

Of the four mega zones in Thimphu thromde, the national Covid-19 taskforce declared unlocking of the North and South mega zones on January 18.

Residents in these two zones are allowed to move within the mega zone without the movement cards but on foot between 5am and 5pm.

Only shops selling essential items including pharmacy would be allowed to operate. While driving is restricted, people can jog, walk, and go cycling within the zone. 

Announcing the unlocking of the two mega zones, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said about 21,000 residents tested negative to Covid-19 during the mass screening testing conducted in the two zones.

Results for about 3,000 samples are expected soon. However, Lyonchhen said that it would mostly likely be negative. Even if there are any positive cases, the area will be cordoned off and the rest of the zones will see relaxations beginning today.

“Except for a woman who tested positive from the Changbangdu zone yesterday, none tested positive and she appears to be already in the recovery stage,” he said.

He cautioned that the residents should remain within their mega zones.

After a week another round of testing will be done and if the results are negative the entire thromde will turn into a green zone. Schools and offices can then open.

Lyonchhen said that the residents have to adhere to the Covid-19 safety protocol to ensure that the virus does not return.

He highlighted the difficulties people faced during the lockdown and thanked them for their understanding and cooperation. “Together we successfully ended the virus, something even the advanced countries world over are struggling to do,” lyonchhen said.

He appealed to the landlords to make an exception and reduce or waive the rent for those who are adversely impacted by the pandemic situation and are unable to pay rent.

Lyonchhen said that despite the best efforts, he admitted there could have been some lapses in dealing with the pandemic.

While the government reviewed the lapses, he said it was difficult to place the blame and responsibility on one individual.

“I alone take all the blame and responsibility for the lapses. How can I blame the frontliners who have worked hard day in day out?” he said.

Gas price increases amid lockdown 

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:18

Thinley Namgay    

If soaring prices of commodities are impacting Thimphu residents during the lockdown, increased price of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) is hitting them hard.

Subsidised gas cost Nu 719 and non-subsidised gas cost Nu 788 at the Bhutan Oil Distributor (BOD) depot at Lungtenzampa.

An official from the BOD said that the price increased recently from Nu 688 for subsidised and Nu 775 for non-subsidised LPG  but by the time the LPG cylinders reach homes, distributors charge about Nu 800 to Nu 900 a cylinder.

A Changzamtog resident, Tshering Dema, said that before the lockdown, the subsidised gas cost about Nu 600 while delivering to her home. “The price increased drastically during the lockdown.”

She said she paid Nu 950 to change her subsidised LPG on January 15. “It is impacting economically disadvantaged people like us.”

A resident from Babesa said that he paid Nu 820 for the subsidised LPG during home delivery yesterday. “The price has increased, but the gas is a necessity, and we had no choice rather than to buy.”

Another Babesa resident had to pay Nu 900 to change her subsidised LPG a week ago.

There are about 20 LPG distributors facilitating door-to-door service amid the lockdown and the delivery charges vary from distributor to distributor.

The BOD official said distributors might be charging depending on the distance. “Our actual price is based on the directive from the Department of Trade.”

At the Damchen petroleum distributors at Changzamtog, the price for subsidised LPG is Nu 720, and non-subsidised LPG cost Nu 775.

A Damchen LPG distributor, Parash Kumar Chettri, said that he had been delivering gas to Olakha, Babesa and Changjiji and business was going well. “About 40 individuals asked me for LPG cylinder yesterday. We are supplying the gas depending upon the name list given by the de-suups and individuals.”

Tashi Rabten Gas Delivery proprietor, Rabten, said that distributors were instructed to charge only Nu 100 as per the trade officials. “But for the places such as Kabesa, Begana, Tango, Namseling, Khasadrapchu and Jimena, we are charging Nu 150 owing to the distance.”

Opposition recommends improvement in Covid-19 management

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:18

MB Subba

To avoid situations stranded people faced, the Opposition Party has recommended the government to develop better and standard protocols and procedures for facilitating both emergency and normal travels.

“It is understood that the lack of clear protocol and procedures, rather uncertain protocols, have caused more confusion and frustration than the lack of willingness to support them at all,” it states.

This is one of the party’s nine recommendations submitted to the government on January 16 through the Prime Minister’s Office to improve the management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown.

On the issue of daily wage workers who face the problem of livelihood during lockdowns, the Opposition recommended that a mechanism should be developed to extend basic support to them, if they are not covered under any scheme currently.

The Opposition states that given that around 204,369 people live in Thimphu and Paro combined, it has been feared that the prolonged lockdown, apart from seriously impacting the livelihood of a sizable segment of low and daily wage income people, could aggravate the livelihood of some marginal middle income people.

To improve accessibility of essential items during the lockdown, especially for those scheduled for shopping in afternoons and evenings, the Opposition has recommended that more shops should be opened. It also states that the issue of high prices should be addressed through a proper study of the problem.

Stating that vaccine procurement has become an issue of public apprehension due to lack of clarity and transparency on procurement plans, the party has recommended the government to earnestly work on “smart vaccine procurement plan” bearing in mind the importance of uniformity and equity in vaccine and vaccination coverage.

The Opposition has also recommended the government to revisit the agencies to be involved in the logistics at the Paro International airport and frame clear delineation and delegation of responsibilities to improve the transportation and quarantine protocol.

It has asked the government to develop synchronised and efficient systems and protocols for inter-dzongkhag as well as intra-dzongkhag disease surveillance to prevent future community transmission. “A comprehensive mechanism and protocols for efficient inter-dzongkhags transportation of agriculture produce, particularly to urban centres have to be developed.”

According to the Opposition, with the enforcement of Covid-19 protocols recently, home cooked food are disallowed for in-patients while hospital food are still reportedly of poor quality. It recommends revisiting the SOP and improving the quality of in-patient food.

The strength of monitoring officials at mineral export sites should be enhanced to increase export of minerals, the Opposition said. “Given that this sector is one of the only few sectors sustaining domestic revenue, we should do everything possible to support and augment export by providing adequate monitoring officials and escort facilities at the borders.”

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, who is a member of the National Covid-19 Task Force, said that all the Covid-19 protocals will be reviewed and amended wherever necessary. He said that most of issues are addressed.

On the issue of stranded people, the foreign minister said that the normal protocol, which involves a 7-day quarantine period, was being followed. He said that no shortages of monitoring officials were faced at export sites and that exports of mines and minerals in fact had increased.

The Opposition Party had come up with the recommendations at a two-day virtual meeting held recently.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said that the party would continue to provide recommendations and alternative views to the government on issues concerning the management of the pandemic.

The move comes amid questions about the Opposition’s alleged silence on the problems that emerged with the enforcement of the second nationwide lockdown since December 22 last year.

It was learnt that the party wanted to refrain from criticising the government although it was not unhappy with the government’s handling of the situation.

The Opposition had failed to find its role in the management of the Covid-19 situation as decisions were taken by the National Covid-19 Task Force, which is chaired by the prime minister.

Gender-based violence during second lockdown cross 200 mark

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:17

Yangyel Lhaden 

Thimphu police, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and RENEW recorded 223 gender-based violence cases during the second lockdown from December 20 to January 15.

RENEW recorded 130 cases of which 92 victims are female, 16 are male, and 22 children. The cases included physical, emotional and economic violence. Some women and children were in difficult circumstances, and some suffered sexual abuse.

Records with RENEW showed that Wangduephodrang recorded the highest with 19 cases.

NCWC received 86 phone calls related to gender-based violence, which included domestic violence, intimate partner violence and non-partner violence, of which 22 are male.

NCWC also attended a case of a child under difficult circumstances resulting from child abuse, neglect, and destitute.

The commission also received 10 calls from women in difficult circumstances, a child in conflict with the law and a man in difficult circumstances.

Out of 86 calls, 31 cases needed immediate interventions, where the victims were rescued to emergency shelter homes.  The officials visited the scene and escorted victims to a place of safety. They also referred the cases to police and other service providers.

NCWC received a total of 196 calls and 99 calls were related to person in distress which required psychological support such as counselling, information, and advice.

Meanwhile, Thimphu police station recorded seven domestic violence cases, of which four cases would be charged to court while three cases were compromised and withdrawn.

Under the Royal command of Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, emergency shelter homes are established in dzongkhags. It is coordinated by the His Majesty’s Secretariat, de-suups, NCWC, RENEW and dzongkhags.

About 30 women along with their children sought emergency shelter in the dzongkhags. Four men were also separated from their partner and kept in shelter home in Thimphu.

An official from Royal Office for  Media  said that the team in collaboration with RENEW and NCWC was  working on ways to empower the women and self-resilient programmes for life outside the shelter after the lockdown.

Uniform application of laws necessary

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:17

Besides impacting livelihood and battering the economy, the Covid-19 pandemic had sent many Bhutanese behind bars for coming into conflict with the rules and laws put in place to control the spread of the disease. Some unfortunate ones even received 15 years imprisonment term. Many are yet to be sentenced and some will be taken to court soon.  

Law practitioners have already questioned the legality and lack of uniformity in the application of laws related to the breach of Covid-19 protocols. What is happening in Gelephu is only aggravating the existing anomalies in the law to the extent that people are questioning the lack of seriousness and the double standard in the application of laws.

With many people questioning the need for the seven-day quarantine when they have to travel to low-risk areas, the Gelephu incident exposed how people ‘with connections’ could bypass the mandatory quarantine. Without any accountability fixed on officials who helped the businesswoman avail the travel documents without staying in quarantine, is only making matters worse.

Lack of transparency on whether lapses were corrected forced people to doubt if the dzongkhag taskforce is serious in its fight against the pandemic.

The incident commander of Sarpang dzongkhag and superintendent of police in Gelephu cannot shy away from the responsibility to inform the people who are waiting and watching. People deserve to know why no one is being held accountable and how the lapses are fixed.

In times of crisis like this, suspicion should be the last thing in people’s mind. It is important that citizens know how officials ensure such things do not happen again.

Fixing accountability has been our biggest weakness and it will cost the nation dear in times of pandemic. Accountability here would mean holding officials who misused authorities liable for their action.

The Prime Minister last night acknowledged that there were lapses and apologized to the nation. However, the apology was on how systems had failed or couldn’t keep up with the needs demanded by the pandemic. The general public are likely forget or forgive when it is not known who to blame or who had faltered in their duties. But questions would remain when they know who is accountable and who had failed to do their duty.

This is because people will not forget how some were being penalised for walking to their homes when they did not have anyone to stay with in Thimphu during the lockdown or for trying to help a thirsty son and returning home to not miss school.

It has also come to light how section 410 and 448 of the Penal Code are applied inconsistently to those who breached the Covid-19 protocols, as some people are just charged for breaching one section while others are charged for both although the offences are similar in nature.

It was made known that rules should not differentiate during a pandemic. But as we relax the lockdown, there are talks of how many had managed to get around rules, with or without permission.

Aspiring entrepreneurs attend virtual training 

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:16

Choki Wangmo 

Since mid-December last year, 82 aspiring entrepreneurs attended virtual training during lockdown which ended last week. 

Trainer and the founder of iHub Tashi Wangdi said that its training needs assessment among 100 existing and new entrepreneurs to determine interest showed that 70 percent of the respondents wanted to start a business but lacked skills to develop a business plan and support organise.  “Training modules are developed as per the participant’s requirement.”

He said that the persisting Covid-19 pandemic had aggravated the issue of unemployment in the country and repatriation of young Bhutanese had added to the national issue.

Although fiscal measures were put in place, containment measures such as travel restrictions and border closures, he said, led to various resource and infrastructure disputes along with the shrinking market.

He said that despite the lockdown, conducting virtual training had tools to make the classes interactive from breakout session to recording each and every session. “We’d technical glitches and internet hiccups but we had to adjust.”

An entrepreneur himself, Tashi Wangdi said that opportunities for startups were fewer and most of the entrepreneurship training were focused on numbers alone, in which the socio-economic and sustainability aspects were not considered.

“Even if the training is good, what really matters is the support given after the training,” he said.

He also said that virtual training and platforms were the new normal and it was time to reinvent the ways to conduct businesses.

An official from Japan International Cooperation Agency said that after the training is completed, another survey will be conducted and necessary support provided to guide and help prospective entrepreneurs to launch and sustain their businesses.

After the training, there are plans to provide entrepreneurs with free workstation for two months where they will learn to develop business plan from mentors at iHub. The agency funded the training programme.

A participant said: “It gave me an in-depth insight into business design thinking, ideation, problem-solving, analogy thinking, and concept of business.”

“I learnt the importance of customer segmentation and process of marketing,” another said.

Internet slows as more remain online

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:16

Chhimi Dema  

Online engagement for work and entertainment have caused frequent internet network congestion.

TashiCell’s data traffic increased by about 25-30 percent and Bhutan Telecom Limited’s increased by 5-10 percent during the second lockdown.

Dechen Wangmo, a corporate employee in Thimphu, said that while video conferencing she experienced glitches. “The network issues hamper communication and halt the progress of the work,” Dechen Wangmo said.

Another netizen said that even downloading short videos took a long time. Some frustrated users vented their frustrations on the social media calling for faster internet.

TashiCell’s General Manager Namgay Wangchuk said that such issues were due to the lack of speed because large numbers of subscribers were using the service at the same time mainly during the peak hours between 6pm to 11pm.

Namgay Wangchuk said that from the total international bandwidth the speed allocation for various internet services was based on their requirements and without speed limit. “The speed for the Internet Lease Line users depends on the Mbps subscribed. And, the speed for mobile users depends on the number of users on the mobile network, time of day, distance from site and base station resource availability.”

The increase in the congestion was predominantly from customers subscribing to high volume plans or unlimited data plans, Namgay Wangchuk said.

He said: “During the lockdown, there was a further increase in the number of users using data for video calls using over-the-top (OTT) applications which adds to the network congestion and degradation in the internet speed.”

An OTT application streams the video content on phones, TVs and tablets using the internet.

To enhance the network performance in Thimphu, Namgay Wangchuk said that TashiCell optimised and expanded capacity of all their 4G base stations- the transmission and reception stations in a fixed location.

The arrival of data from the source called throughout capacity of the core network was increased as well. 

With the huge demand of mobile internet it was difficult to cater to the needs of the subscribers due to system limitations in the technology, Namgay Wangchuk said.

TashiCell plans the expansion of the network in other dzongkhags once the lockdown eases.

An official from BTL said that the BTL received fewer complaints from the subscribers.

“BTL was continuously densifying the network–adding more equipment to receive and transmit radio signals for cellular voice and data transmission– before the

lockdown and this helped ease the network congestions,” he said.

Both officials from the telcos said that there were no plans to provide incentives to subscribers.

The telecom operators provided free data of more than one giga-byte in August and revised the internet packages twice last year.

Cost escalation and skilled labour shortage impede construction

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:15

Nima | Gelephu  

Cost of construction materials increased by 30 to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB).

The industry is also impacted by lack of skilled labourers, as many left the country in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. The available skilled workers, both local and expatriate, are not only limited, but charge a high wage rate.

Owners of construction companies that won tenders just before the pandemic started say they are impacted the most. They say they are incurring huge losses because the rates were analysed during the normal time.

A Gelephu-based contractor, Karma Nidup, said projects that started before the pandemic are facing a tough time.

He said they were not aware if the rate was increased from the source in India but hardware shops in the locality have increased rates for all materials, claiming transportation charges have gone up.

He said he wrote to authorities and procuring agencies regarding the cost escalation. “It would be difficult for us to get back to normal with the current situation.”

Karma Nidup is executing a project worth Nu 230 million to construct walls and blacktop roads, all awarded before the pandemic. “The amount would have been comfortable to complete the project before the pandemic but not now.”

CAB’s executive director, Younten Tshering, said the association asked contractors not to bid low, as the pandemic hiked the cost of construction materials. “They might have to compromise the quality and progress.”

He, however, said government agencies do not agree to that and warn them that contractors would not get work, as the budget is limited.

According to Younten Tshering, contractors executing petty works bid almost 30 percent lower than the estimated cost before the pandemic, medium contractors bid almost 20 percent less, and large contractors quote 10 percent below or equal to the estimated cost.

Contractors have, however, started quoting higher than normal times.

A medium construction company executing a mitigation wall at Mao Chhu in Gelephu quoted three percent below the estimated cost.

The supervising official at the site said that the company bids 10 to 20 percent less during the normal times. “The main hike is on labour charge. Other projects are on halt because of the lockdown.”

According to CAB, large construction companies now quote above the estimated cost while the medium-size company quotes about 10 percent less, and small contractors quote 15 or 10 percent less.

The ministry of finance in April granted a hindrance period to the construction activities and supplies affected by the pandemic as force majeure from March 2020.

The notification stated that no penalty would be imposed on the affected activities.

However, contractors have to submit an application to the procuring agency and request a time extension. The committee of the procuring agency granted the extension if the committee is satisfied with the application after verification.

The contractors could not produce the documents because it’s hard to prove, according to the officials from CAB. “Few contractors were imposed a 10 percent penalty and some were warned of termination.”

Younten Tshering said the association requested the government to do away with the penalty, as the projects did not get time to work in 2020.

He added that the time extension and support were not required for the projects awarded during the pandemic situation.

“They knew the situation. Those awarded before the pandemic are affected. We requested for supports more than eight months back but nothing was done so far.”

The construction industry employs over 9,000 people, including skilled and unskilled workers in various construction projects in the country today, according to CAB.

Meanwhile, chief engineer with Gelephu thromde, Ugyen Dorji, said there are still contractors bidding below 31 percent below the estimated cost but the number of people taking part in the tendering process has decreased.

There are only three or four bidders for a tender now. More than 10 bidders competed to win the bid before the pandemic, according to the official.

He said for projects under the thromde, completion time was extended but contractors will have to continue their projects. “There was not much escalation as per our analysis. Even if there was, procuring agencies have no authority.”

He said some projects were not executed using the pandemic as an excuse. “But, after the inspection, works started.” There are more than 14 construction activities that are executed currently under Gelephu Thromde.

A contractor based in Mongar, Karma, said the cost of transporting construction materials from Phuentsholing till Mongar has doubled.

“Earlier a truck of consignments cost Nu 25,000 but we have to pay more than 60,000 today. It takes weeks to reach the site and further delays the work ,” he said.

He also said that he was not given any time extension. “Although works continued during the lockdown,  several restrictions hampered.”

Karma said they need time extension or a facilitation for swift transport of construction material.

Samdrupjongkhar thromde grappling with green chilli shortage

ལྷག, 01/19/2021 - 01:14

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar    

With chilli growing scarce in Samdrupjongkhar thromde, residents say they are making do with less spicy meals. Vendors at the vegetable market are running out of fresh chillies.

Residents said it became difficult to fetch green chillies since mid of December last year as vendors could not get it from anywhere.

A resident, Sangay Dorji, said he has been to the vegetable market looking for green chillies since last week, but could not get it. Like many residents in the town, his family is consuming dry red chillies.

“My neighbours also keep asking me to buy some for them if I find any. We are used to consuming spicy fresh green chillies, and we miss it,” Sangay Dorji said.

Ugyen Zangmo, 41, said there shouldn’t be a shortage of green chillies because the agriculture department had carried out mass winter chilli cultivation in the gewogs.

A vegetable vendor, Karma Yangzom, said it had been more than a month since they were running out of green chillies. “I have ordered green chillies from Samdrupcholing because everyone prefers green chillies than dry chillies.”

Another vendor, Tshewang Dema, said farmers bring green chillies but do not reach Samdrupjongkhar town as they sell at Dewathang town, adding that she contacted her dealers in the gewogs, but they also don’t have much.

“Green chillies are one of the most sold products in the market, and when we are out of stock, our business is also affected,” she said.

Assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer (ADAO), Chorten Tshering, said there is a shortage of green chillies in the market because they are less productive as the idle temperature for the production is above 25-degree Celsius. “And the temperature in the dzongkhag today is at an average of 15-degree Celsius.”

He said the vegetable farmer groups sold more than 3,000 metric tonnes (MT) of green chillies between October and mid-December last year. Green chillies are available in the two drungkhags of Samdrupjongkhar. “However, green chillies would be available in the market by the first week of February.”

Meanwhile, about 961 households take up the winter chilli cultivation on 134.83 acres which expected to produce 126.532MT.

Of the 134.83 acres, farmers have cultivated winter chill in more than 50 acres while some are still under cultivation because chilli season continues until May.

ཤོག་ལེབ་ཚུ།