Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck inaugurated the up gradation of the Eutok Samdrupcholing monastic school in Paro to a college on April 21.
Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother is also the royal patron of the monastery.
The Eutok Samdrupcholing Goen-zyin principal, Tshewang Penjor, said His Holiness the Je Khenpo ordered the up gradation of the monastic school.
“Upgrading it to a Gyen-Zyin means that we now offer monastic studies and also courses on meditation,” he said.
Eutok Samdrupcholing goenpa was established by Terton Rinzin Gatson Nyinpo in the 12th century.
The local community handed over the monastery to the Central Monk Body in 2003 and in 2007 a monastic school was established.
Lam Tshewang Penjor said the 2011 earthquake severely damaged the lhakhang and Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother, upon visiting the lhakhang, granted Nu 2.5 million (M) to reconstruct the lhakhang.
He said the lhakhang’s construction cost about Nu 16.1M. “Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother also cleared the loan of Nu 4.8M incurred in the construction.”
The lam said the dratshang, civil society organisations, paro dzongkhag, private sponsors and local communities also helped in funding the construction. “Forty one open air prisoners helped in the lhakhang construction from 2013 to 2016.”
Lam Tshewang Penjor said the up gradation of the lhakhang was a collective effort.
There are 75 monks studying in the college today.
Lam Tshewang Penjor said Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother sponsors 55 students every month, providing rations and clothes.
He said that most of the monks are from economically deprived families.
About 30 house owners and shopkeepers of Norzin Lam approached the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) yesterday and alleged that the thromde did not consult them nor did they agree to the proposed 15-minute parking limit for vehicles on the street.
The thromde plans to do away with parking spaces along Norzin Lam.
Thrompon Kinley Dorjee in an earlier interview with Kuensel said that the Norzin Lam community agreed with the thromde’s plan to do away with parking spaces as long as the street is not closed to vehicles.
Vehicles would be allowed to park on the roadside with their hazard lights on for about 15 minutes at most.
However, at the meeting with BCCI yesterday, members of the Norzin Lam community alleged they were never consulted and that they came to know about the plan only through the media.
Both shopkeepers and house owners pointed out that the 15-minute parking duration would not be practical and that either the thromde keep the street as it is or the root cause of traffic congestion be studied to find a better solution.
There are about 230 parking spaces along Norzin Lam.
Many pointed out that the 15-minute parking limit would affect their businesses. Shopkeepers said they take more than an hour to load and unload goods. It was also pointed out that the customers would not have enough parking spaces and time to shop, which would lower their sales.
They pointed out that it is not only the customers or traders that congest traffic but also employees of various institutions and offices located along the street who park their vehicles in the slots for the entire day.
A restauranteur, Tashi, said that 15 minutes would not be enough for a customer to order food, for the food to be cooked and then serve, and for the client to eat, which is why there is a need to reconsider the move.
Another shopkeeper said there are many hotels along the street that cater to regional tourists and the 15-minute limit would hamper businesses catering to such tourists.
“The thromde talks like we were informed and consulted but we did not receive any notification or letter from them,” the shopkeeper said. “The representatives also did not receive any kind of information.”
Building owners said that without parking spaces, tenants in the long run might opt for better places and vacate their apartments, which could also include shopkeepers which would decrease their income.
“I used to pay Nu 2,000 for various taxes but this time I had to pay Nu 19,800 with the taxes revised. If shopkeepers vacate, it would affect income generation not only for us but for the thromde as well,” Pemba, a building owner said.
Many of them said that if such a rule is to be implemented then the rule should be imposed on other streets as well.
“If it was, then we would not have made noise against the thromde’s decision. They did not take in the house owners’ concerns before deciding.”
There were also allegations made that there is a possible conflict of interest concerning the thromde’s multi-level car parks because around 70 shops will be allowed in or around the car parks.
“While the 15 minute parking rule would affect our business, the multi-level car park is going to benefit those shops,” said one of the shopkeepers.
BCCI secretary general Phub Tshering said they would take all the points raised by the communities and submit it to the thrompon for discussion. He added there is a need for an independent body to study the causes of traffic congestion and not the thromde. “If this doesn’t come through we may have to approach other relevant authorities.”
The thrompon said he would wait for BCCI officials to discuss the points raised by the community before commenting on the matter.
Yangchen C Rinzin
His Holiness the Je Khenpo performed the Sinoen ritual at a choeten (stupa) that is painted black and stands between Chamkhar town and the bridge yesterday.
Goenpoi Tongtsho was performed in the morning and it concluded with the tshekhu in the evening.
His Holiness will leave for Trongsa to preside over the annual Moenlam Chenmo in Trongsa this afternoon after conducting tshewang to the public in the morning.
Pemagatshel dzongkhag was awarded a certificate for not reporting a single case of locally transmitted malaria in the last four years. The recognition was awarded yesterday in Nganglam where the World Malaria Day, themed “End Malaria for Good,” was observed.
With this Pemagatshel becomes the second dzongkhag after Samtse, to be certified malaria free. Samtse was declared malaria free in 2015. During the event, seven officials were also awarded recognition certificates for their continuous contribution towards the vector control program for more than 30 years. An exhibition on vector control and prevention was also held.
Health secretary Dr Ugyen Dophu, who awarded the certificates said achieving elimination status is not the end and that the challenge is to sustain it.
The day was celebrated with principals, teachers, students and residents of Nganglam town. The representative from the World Health Organisation country office also attended the event.
Dr Ugyen Dophu reminded officials of the need to strengthen cross border ties with the state government in India for joint surveillance. He urged residents living in malaria risk zones to know the basic facts about malaria and malaria prevention.
“Bhutan has made remarkable progress in its fight against malaria with the pledge to eliminate malaria cases by 2018,” the health secretary said. “This will remain one of the major public health achievements in recent years but the onus falls on individuals to protect yourself from mosquito bites.”
He said that as they shift from control to the elimination phase, a vigilant surveillance system should be in place due to the increase in hydropower project construction sites and increasing influx of tourists from malaria endemic countries both within and outside the region.
Of the 11 gewogs in Pemagatshel, three gewogs of Choekhorling, Decheling and Norbugang, which together have a total population of 8,709 in its 17 chiwogs still fall in the malaria risk area because they are located near the border town in Nganglam.
From 39,852 in 1994 to 74 cases in 2017, malaria cases have declined steadily in the country according to records with the health information system. Of the 74 cases, 15 were indigenous cases reported from two dzongkhags of Samdrupjongkhar and Sarpang while the remaining 59 were imported. No deaths from malaria were also reported in the country since 2013.
Meanwhile, if there are no reports of locally transmitted malaria this year, Dagana and Zhemgang will also be certified as malaria free dzongkhags next year.
Yangchen C Rinzin
How hard is it to determine that SP+ is among the controlled substances? The main content of Spasmo Proxyvon (SP) may be dextropropoxyphene and tramadol of SP+. But both contents have the same effect on users. If SP is listed among controlled substances, why is SP+ not?
The debate that we are having is pointless. DRA and BNCA say that SP+ has narcotic contents, one of them being opium, which is addictive. SP+ is a psychotropic drug. Period. Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan 2015 may not include SP+ as controlled substance, but that doesn’t give us reason enough to put things in the right. It must be understood that manufacturers have just given a different name to bypass the law. SP is SP+.
OAG officials have been prosecuting those in illegal possession of SP+ since 2015. We have wasted more than enough time trying to establish where SP+ must belong. In 2016 alone, the office has prosecuted more than 390 cases involving controlled drugs.
What becomes clear is that what the law omitted in the making of it should be included as time demands. The law require updating. Even if we cannot amend the law, we must have mechanisms to control such fabrications from entering our society. Ketamine wasn’t among the controlled drugs in Bhutan until a woman was caught smuggling the drug at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand in 2013.
BNCA says that without a laboratory in the country to test the drug’s content, it is considering sending the drug for testing abroad. We cannot waste time doing that – considering.
Drug abuse is fast becoming a malaise in the country. This societal illness needs to be dealt with carefully, systematically and urgently. Otherwise, we would be exposing our young people to the risk due to allied challenges they face like growing youth unemployment and rising urban poverty.
Courts should treat SP+ no different from SP to curb illegal use of the drug. We need to look into the larger implications of the use of controlled substances. If lower courts are looking for some directives, it is incumbent on the Supreme Court to draw the line.
We can ill afford to prolong the debate.
Haa dzongkhag court sentenced three soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) Demo Company in Haa on April 20 to 18 months compoundable imprisonment for their involvement in an assault and battery case. They can pay in lieu of the prison terms.
Each of the soldiers also have to pay the national wage rate for 18 months or Nu 67,500 as compensation for causing injury to the civilian whom they battered. If they fail to pay within 10 days of the verdict, their imprisonment term will be extended by 18 months.
The civilian, Tshering Dorji is also given a compoundable sentence of three months imprisonment for being the first to physically assault one of the soldiers, Tsagay, who the RBA said suffered a cut above the eye and needed a six-inch long stitch.
Tshering Dorji will have to pay Tsagay the national wage rate for three months amounting to Nu 11,250 for causing injury to the latter. The incident occurred in the wee hours of October 17 last year.
It was at around 2am that the Haa resident visited a musical show at the RBA dining hall, which was turned into a drayang during the IMTRAT Raising Day.
According to Tshering Dorji’s statement to police, he and two men went outside the hall after the two refused to sit down when he asked them to, as he could not see the show from behind. The three went outside the hall to settle the matter. Tshering Dorji punched Tsagay, one of the three soldiers. The soldiers later returned with more soldiers. He confronted the men armed with beer bottles but was beaten with sticks, beer bottles, and chairs.
Tsagay told police that he was on duty and had gone to watch performances in the hall at the IMTRAT fair premises in plainclothes, when Tshering Dorji unnecessarily picked on him and then punched him on the face later. He told police that he informed his friends of the incident, who then asked him to identify the person. The three met Tshering Dorji at the hall and a fight broke out.
The two soldiers, Passang and Nima Dorji, who were patrolling the area that morning, said that when they reached the hall, Tshering Dorji hurled punches and beer bottles at them. In retaliation, they used bottles, chairs, and benches.
Tshering Dorji was taken to the IMTRAT hospital in Haa and later referred to the Thimphu referral hospital. He was sent home on October 24.
According to the medical report, the 32-year-old resident, Tshering Dorji had sustained major injuries in the loin region, laceration of the kidney and scalp. Tsagay’s injuries were found to be less serious.
Both parties registered a case with the Royal Bhutan Police at Haa.
The verdict stated that the statements to the police were complimented by those the parties submitted in the court and were in line with sections 84 and 85 of the Evidence Act.
With the establishment of the Norway visa centre by the Bhutan Visa Application Centre in Thimphu, Bhutanese will not have to visit New Delhi or Kolkata to apply for visas to Norway.
The opening ceremony for the Norway visa centre was attended by the ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, Nils Ragnar Kamsvag, who was accompanied by his first secretary, Ragnhild Vognild.
“I am very optimistic about the future and hopefully more Bhutanese will visit our country and learn about our country for we have common features of great natural sights, not only for academic purposes but even for commercial contact,” he said.
Applying for a Norwegian visa online will cost 60 euros while applying for a visa at the centre will cost Nu 4,350, which includes logistical and courier services.
Bhutan and Norway celebrate 50 years of collaboration this year. This includes collaboration in the fields of renewable energy, health, education, and other institutional contacts.
The ambassador said that he hopes that relations between Bhutan and Norway will be further strengthened with the establishment of the centre.
Till date, the Bhutan Visa Application Centre has been processing visa applications for Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Tashi Chophel | Intern
Academic session begins this July with the MA in English programme
The Yonphula College in Trashigang will start its academic session this July with a Masters in English programme.
However, the college will not be operating as a full-fledged college but as an extended campus of the Sherubtse College in Kanglung. Acting dean of academic affairs for the Yonphula campus, Tshering Thinley, said Sherubtse College would administer and manage the campus at Yonphula for the time being.
“The campus is part of the government’s pledge for one of the three colleges in the east but as of now we are told that the campus will be under Sherubtse and not an independent college,” he said. “However, in future it might become an independent college but we are not sure when that might happen.”
The Masters programme in English will be the first of its kind that Sherubtse will provide since the institution started offering under graduation courses in 1983.
Sherubtse College’s dean of academics affairs, Tenzin Wangchuk, said it took time for the college to start a Masters programme because the main focus after introducing the bachelors programme was on diversifying the courses.
Tenzin Wangchuk said that given the rural location of the college it was challenging to bring in seasoned lecturers, which hindered in offering a Masters programme. “Now we are seriously considering to grow vertically and that is why we are starting this MA programme in our extended campus at Yonphula,” he said.
Sherubtse College today offers 13 under graduation programmes, which leaves little room for further expansion at the college. “Yonphula provides us the opportunity to grow vertically.”
In 2011, the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) decided to launch various Masters programmes in the nine colleges under its umbrella in line with its vertical growth.
Sherubtse College after conducting a needs assessment proposed three Masters programmes – MA in English, MA in Mathematics and MA in Economics – of which only the English programme was approved by the Academic Planning and Resource Committee (APRC) of RUB in 2011.
However, financial challenges delayed the MA programme, which was planned to start in 2013. English programme leader of Sherubtse College, Dr Baburaj, said that last year the education ministry came up with a plan to upgrade the qualification of existing English teachers in the country.
“The ministry suggested RUB and Sherubtse develop a programme as per the needs of school teachers and it was then decided that MA in English would start by July this year at the Yonphula campus and be under Sherubtse,” he said.
To begin with Sherubtse College will take in 30 candidates, which will be provided exclusively to schoolteachers with English backgrounds. To meet the criteria, candidates need to have a B.Ed., BA or a postgraduate diploma in English.
The college will also conduct an aptitude test for the candidates. Dr Baburaj said that the 18-month programme would cover different branches of language and literature modules including environmental, cultural, gender, new literature, modern and critical theories, Shakespeare and other creative writers.
Meanwhile, the remodelling and reconstruction works at the former Centenary Institute of Education under the Royal Education Council in Yonphula campus is ongoing.
Sprawling across 75 acres of government land, the campus has recreational facilities, office buildings and residential quarters, all of which were under-utilised after the armed forces phased out in 2011 and 2012.
About Nu 86.78 million was allotted for the remodelling of infrastructure and procurement of amenities and services for the campus.
Younten Tshedup | Trashigang
Thrashing China by 10 wickets yesterday, the national cricket team registered their first win of the ongoing ICC World Cricket League Qualifier – Asia being held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, yesterday.
Captain Jigme Singye single-handedly took the game away from China as he went on to take eight wickets bundling up China at a mere 58 runs. It took only 31 balls for Bhutan to wrap up the match in which 38 runs came off Jigme Singye’s bat.
Having suffered a 154 run loss to host Thailand in the opening match and by 214 runs to Qatar in the second match, Bhutan will have to win the three remaining matches to keep their hopes alive to qualify for the knockout stage. Bhutan will face tournament favorites Saudi Arabia next on April 28.
The event which is organised by the International Cricket Council is designed for Asian nations as a step to qualify for the ICC cricket world cup in 2023. However, the chances for Bhutan look slim as only the winner of the tournament qualifies for the next stage.
The tournament that began on April 22 will go on till May 1. Seven teams are participating in the tournament: Thailand, Bahrain, China, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Coach DS Gurung said: “We are playing against some better cricketing nations and our aim is to get better results compared to our past tournaments. We are a young team and trying to apply ourselves tactically so that we become better cricketers.”
Contributed by Tandin Wangchuk
Speaker says he cannot allow the govt. to withdraw the agreement
After the government announced that it was withdrawn, the controversial motor vehicle agreement involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) is back on the agenda for deliberation in the upcoming Parliament session.
Preempting that the agreement is likely to be trashed in the joint sitting of the parliament given the lack of support for it, the government had informed the plenary session on April 21 that it had decided to withdraw the agreement for deliberation. The plenary session was held to discuss the agenda for the National Assembly.
However, the legislative rules of procedure do not allow withdrawal of a disputed bill that has received royal assent for deliberations. The government had also written to the Speaker about its intention to withdraw the agreement.
“The government has requested for withdrawal of the agreement but the Parliament has its own rules of procedure to follow,” Speaker Jigme Zangpo said. “I can’t allow the government to withdraw the agreement at this moment when it is in the Parliament’s domain.”
Asked whether the government had withdrawn the agreement Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said: “Technically, legislative procedure has to be followed.”
Some members of Parliament also pointed out that the withdrawal violates the Constitution. Article 13 Section 8 states: “Where the House in which the Bill originated refuses to incorporate such amendments or objections of the other House, it shall submit the Bill to the Druk Gyalpo, who shall then command the Houses to deliberate and vote on the Bill in a joint sitting.”
A joint parliament committee comprising 12 members – five from the Council, four from the ruling party and three from the opposition – was formed to iron out differences on the agreement among the Opposition, the Council and the government.
The Speaker said that the committee chairperson in a joint sitting must present a report on the disputed bill and propose recommendations. The BBIN agreement will become a dead bill if the joint sitting votes against its ratification.
However, he added: “The joint committee’s report will be submitted only by the committee chairman and a motion for withdrawal can be moved if no consensus is reached at the joint committee level.”
He cited the deferment of the European Investment Bank (EIB) framework agreement as the precedent. The EIB agreement, which the National Assembly had passed but was rejected by the Council, was “deferred” for deliberation in a joint sitting in July 2016.
However, opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi, one of the members in the joint committee said a disputed bill as per legislative procedure must be put to vote once it reaches the joint committee. “It was wise on the government’s part to withdraw the agreement,” he said. “As per the rules of procedure, the bill cannot be withdrawn but must be put to vote.”
The government decided to withdraw the agreement after it failed to take into confidence the Council and the opposition. The Council last year voted against ratifying the agreement.
Council’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said the government’s decision to withdraw the agreement was shocking for the Council members. “It’s too late to withdraw the agreement and the whole parliamentary procedure must be completed,” he said.
He said negotiations are being held and that the Council was open to discussions about its reservations. “But the government can’t withdraw it now just like that,” he said.
Speaker Jigme Zangpo said the government had decided to withdraw the agreement as no consensus was reached. “Council members refused to meet with the prime minister, saying that the issue was already with the joint committee,” he said.
The joint committee had met twice before the plenary session to discuss the agreement but the meetings were inconclusive, the Speaker said. “We have received His Majesty’s assent to deliberate the agreement in the upcoming session,” he said.
Chairman of the joint committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the committee would meet soon to discuss the issue. “The government needs 48 votes to pass the agreement and a failure to secure two-thirds majority will be an embarrassment to the government,” he said.
However, many officials suggest that the drug should be treated the same as SP
The Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) is exploring how the contents of the new drug being abused, Spasmo Proxyvon Plus, popularly known as SP+ can be confirmed.
BNCA director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that without a laboratory in the country to test the drug’s content, they are considering sending the drug for testing abroad.
BNCA officials said the director general has assigned the task to the senior pharmacist in the agency.
SP+, a generic form of the Spasmo Proxyvon (SP), a prescription drug used to relieve pain, and is not categorised as a controlled substance in the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan (NDPSSA) 2015.
It has been learnt that while the main content of SP is dextropropoxyphene, the main content of SP+ is tramadol.
The judiciary, since last month, has not passed any judgments on cases involving possession of SP+.
Phuntsho Wangdi said that ideally, the courts should treat SP+ like SP since the ingredients are the same. “Our understanding is that manufacturers have just given a different name to bypass the law since SP is banned in India,” he said.
He added that the courts should ensure that the country does not have to keep amending the NDPSSA 2015. “It is SP+ this time but next time, manufacturers might have a different name.”
Another BNCA official, who did not want to be named, said BNCA has been providing its expert view on controlled substances to courts whenever required.
“Our senior pharmacist goes to court whenever summoned to explain the addiction probability of the drugs and even on SP+,” said the official. Other officials from BNCA and the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) have also given their expert views a few times, the official added.
She explained that officials from DRA and BNCA submitted before the courts that SP+ has narcotic contents, one of them being opium, which is addictive.
Another BNCA official, on the condition of anonymity, said he does not understand why the issue of SP+ has emerged when the courts have passed judgments on SP+ many times before.
“BNCA officials were summoned to court and we explained that although the contents of SP and SP+ are different, it has more effect and thereby should be treated like any other controlled substance.
Supreme Court officials were not available for comment.
Meanwhile, the BNCA director general said that the courts should treat SP+ like SP to curb its illegal use. “Court officials need to look into the larger implication of the controlled substance.”
The residents of Bunorkha in Chukha’s Chapcha gewog say that electric fencing will help protect their fields from wild animals such as deer, wild boars, and monkeys. The village does not have electric fencing today.
Bunorkha also known as Bunakha produces all the agricultural products it needs and is almost a self-reliant village.
However, residents are facing difficulties in guarding their fields from wild animals.
A resident of the village, Dema said that wild animals usually raid their fields during the time of harvest. “We shout at the deer but it does not go away,” she said, adding that it is necessary to install electric fencing.
Another Bunorkha resident, Pema Wangmo also said that electric fencing is needed and would benefit the village.
Farmers have fenced their fields with barbed wire but it is ineffective against monkeys.
As most of the residents of the village own vast amounts of land, that are also scattered, guarding all the fields at once is a challenge.
“This is a place that needs electric fencing,” Chethay said, explaining that their hazelnut trees have also been damaged by animals.
Meanwhile, Chapcha gup, Tobgay said that Bunorkha should submit a proposal to the gewog for electric fencing. “It has to come from their side,” the gup said, so that it can be placed in the plans. “They have not asked for electric fencing so far.”
Bunorkha has a population of around 200 people. It is the least populated village in Chapcha, Chukha.
Rajesh Rai | Chukha
The Mongar dzongkhag court yesterday dismissed the petition of Dema Yangzom, 43, who contested during the recent election for the Mongar thromde ngotshab post.
The court ordered the returning officer (RO) or election commission to settle the dispute as mandated by the Election Act.
Dema Yangzom contested for the post against Namgay Dorji and Damcho Dema, where Namgay Dorji was elected with 41 votes. Dema Yangzom secured 13 votes and Damcho Dema secured three votes.
Dema Yangzom appealed to the Mongar dzongkhag court, stating that she is dissatisfied with the count on poll day, April 18.
She justified that on the Electronic Voting Machine list, Damcho Dema was placed first, she was second and Namgay Dorji was third but when the election officer declared the results, he first declared Damcho Dema’s result, then Namgay Dorji’s and then hers.
“If we go on sequence, the second one secured 41 and it could be mine too,” she said. “A recount of the votes could clear my doubt.”
The dzongkhag election officer, Kunga said that the dzongkhag authorities are investigating following the court’s order. “She signed on the papers after declaring the results.”
Section 432 of the Election Act states that a candidate may within 24 hours of the announcement of the result by the RO, apply in writing to the RO to recount the votes either wholly or in part stating the grounds on which he or she demands the recount.
Tashi Phuntsho | Mongar
19th session of the house will begin on May 11
Speaking at the pre-session press conference in Thimphu yesterday, the deputy chairperson of the National Council, Tshering Dorji, said it is important for Parliament members to interact with the media to disseminate the right information to their constituents.
The Council calls a press conference twice every session – one in the beginning of the session and another at the end. The first session was held in May 2016 and yesterday’s was the fifth.
Tshering Dorji, who is also the Council’s spokesperson, said the press conference was held in recognition of the media’s role in Bhutanese democracy. “It’s important for us to interact with media persons,” he said.
The deputy chairperson also released the agenda for the upcoming 19th session, which will begin on May 11.
The Audit Bill 2017 will be the only new bill to be introduced this time. “The bill will go to the National Assembly if the Council passes it,” he said.
The legislative committee of the house has concluded consultative meetings on the bill with various stakeholders including the Royal Audit Authority. The bill, according to him, attempts to address issues in greater detail that the existing Audit Act does not cover.
The bill seeks to repeal the Audit Act of Bhutan 2006.
The session will begin with deliberations on the follow-up reports on the resolutions of the 18th session. The house will review whether the government has implemented the Council’s recommendations on various issues such as teenage pregnancy.
Other items slated for deliberation are the annual budget 2017-18, the anti-corruption report 2016 and reports on cultural heritage, tax audit on tour operators. The house will review the audited accounts of various taxes imposed on tour operators.
The house is expected to endorse two international agreements – the Paris Agreement on environment protection and conservation and the trade, commerce and transit agreement between Bhutan and India. Both have been endorsed by the National Assembly.
“Besides, the house will also dedicate a session for issues that have come from constituency and dzongkhag tshogdus,” he said. Issues related to human-wildlife conflicts and land, he said are some of the issues that have come from the dzongkhags.
“Many constituency issues come but we scrutinise them. We don’t deliberate all just because they have come from dzongkhags,” he said.
The long awaited Local Area Plan (LAP) for Lhayulkha town in Haa is one step closer to implementation, with the draft almost approved.
On receiving final approval on the LAP from the works and human settlement ministry, municipal officials in Haa will carry out demarcation of the plots, said municipal engineer Sangay Drakpa.
Dzongkhag officials said planning for Lhayulkha town in Haa began sometime between 2005-2006, following which two secondary roads were constructed and several streetlights were installed. Official records of Haa dzongkhag show that the new town was envisioned in 1986 along with the dzongkhag structural plan.
Recently, municipal officials held a public consultation with thram holders of Lhayulkha town to discuss the final LAP draft. Concerns included shifting of roads and drains from the designed plan, municipal officials said. This was because the road in the earlier plans fell on private land.
The municipal engineer, Sangay Drakpa said that while it has not yet been finalised, land pooling is likely to include around 26.2 percent of the total land area from each landowner. Municipal officials said there are more than 22 thram holders in the new town plan. Including government plots, existing structures and private plots, the town will have more than 393 plots in total.
Sangay Drakpa said that verification of the plots is ongoing, after which a report will be submitted to the National Land Commission for approval. Following the National Land Commission’s approval it will be submitted to the ministry of works and human settlement.
If the ministry approves, National Land Commission officials will visit the town area and carry out plotting to issue individual thrams, he said.
Meanwhile, municipal officials said their target is to include the town’s development in the 12th Plan and complete development within the Plan. Although budget is available for local area planning, more money will be required for demarcation work.
Eight months later, victims of last year’s fire accident in Mongar have begun reconstructing their homes.
Reconstruction work began after the victims received structural maps and designs from the works and human settlement ministry.
Kinley Penjor and his wife Karma Choki have been living in a rented apartment since they lost their two-storey building in the fire accident. They lost everything to the fire. They couldn’t start the construction of their building last year because it was considered a bad year.
“It is a big challenge,” Karma Choki said. “We really don’t know when and how to complete the construction.”
Another victim, Sangay Zangmo, said that although the dzongkhag is helping with the foundation work, she is worried how she will be able to start constructing the rest of the building. Sangay Zangmo has six children. She lost her husband six years ago. From the two-storey traditional house, she used to earn Nu 21,000 monthly as rent. She is already burdened with a Nu 100,000 loan and is worried that the banks may not loan her money to construct a new building.
Tashi Phuntsho | Mongar
Lack of technical knowhow and financial implications are deterring farmers from constructing biogas plants
Gallay Wangchuk and his family of seven use only one LPG cylinder a year. Previously, they had to purchase a refilled cylinder almost every month.
The decrease in usage is a result of Gallay Wangchuk constructing a biogas plant in 2014. The plant produces enough energy to sustain his entire family.
Gallay Wangchuk who is the tshogpa of Chazam Pam chiwog, said the initiative to construct biogas plants came as a boon to many of the residents in the chiwog.
“Today almost all households in the chiwog have a running plant which helps reduce the cost of energy consumption,” said the tshogpa. “Biogas energy has complimented electricity usage in our houses.”
Gallay Wangchuk said that although the rural community in the area receives 100 units of free electricity, most of the households use biogas energy in their kitchens. He added that except for some minor challenges in winter, when the rate of decomposition inside the plant is reduced and energy output is decreased, there are no major problems associated with using the plants.
The focal person for biogas with the Department of Livestock in Trashigang, Kinga Dechen, said that although the use of biogas plants in the region has picked up among farmers, the rate of growth is not encouraging.
Biogas was introduced in the country in the late 1980s as a clean and renewable source of energy for cooking. However, most of the biogas technologies were abandoned due to poor technical designs and lack of spare parts and maintenance.
The idea was reintroduced in the east in 2010 under the small grant project of the United Nations Development Programme. Some 30 biogas plants were installed in Radhi in Trashigang and Chaskhar in Mongar. The machinery and raw materials were fully subsidised then.
A few interested individuals took up the idea but it didn’t see much growth. In 2014, the livestock department under the Bhutan Biogas Project (BBP) restarted the biogas programme. Interested farmers are today given a subsidy of Nu 11,700 for the plant along with a collateral-free loan of Nu 20,000 from the Bhutan Development Bank Ltd (BDBL) with 10 percent interest payable in three years.
Kinga Dechen said that despite all measures to encourage farmers to take up biogas, many were reluctant. Last year the department at a meeting decided to provide an additional 15 cement bags and 18 CGI sheets, which amounts to around Nu 19,751 to each farmer who wanted to take up the project for the construction of dairy sheds for better feed.
“After the proposal, we saw more farmers coming forward to build the plants. Almost 100 new plants came up within 2016-2017,” said Kinga Dechen. The project picked up in places like Khapti, Lumang, Thrimshing and Samkhar.
The department has targeted to install 452 biogas plants in the dzongkhag by the end of this year. As of March this year, a total of 413 biogas plants have been successfully completed. Of the 15 gewogs in Trashigang, Samkhar gewog has the highest (154) number of biogas plants followed by Radhi and Shongphu with 64 and 42 respectively.
Kinga Dechen said that although users of biogas plants are growing, the lack of exposure on technical knowhow and financial implications are deterring farmers to take up the project.
“People here get concerned when the plant slightly dysfunctions and come blaming us,” he said. “Unlike in the south where biogas is very popular, here in the east we need to work extra on educating the farmers on the benefits of biogas.”
He added that given the subsidies on electricity and LPG and also because of the easy availability of firewood, people do not take the opportunity to construct biogas plants. “I believe if the subsidy on the plant is further increased to Nu 15,000 people might take more interest in it.”
Meanwhile, the department has also set targets for the 12th Five Year Plan to add more biogas plants across the country. As per the target, Trashigang will have to construct an additional 500 biogas plants by the end of the 12th Plan. Thimphu, on the other hand has to construct the least number of plants with 50 in the Plan.
The target was set considering the cattle and pig populations in the respective dzongkhags. The number of households, population parameters, number of gewogs, prevalence of climatic conditions like altitude and the existing number of biogas plants installed were also considered.
Younten Tshedup | Trashigang
The Bhutan Karate Association (BKA) senior karate championship was held at the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS) from April 22-23. A total of 105 participants took part in the programme that included four other colleges: Sherubtse, the College of Natural Resources, the Paro College of Education and the faculty of nursing and public health. The programme was conducted by the BKA with support from the Bhutan Olympic Committee and hosted by CLCS. The overall championship trophy was taken by CLCS, with Sherubtse college being the runners up. The karate championship is annual event for the colleges and universities in Bhutan.
His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choeda is presiding over a three-day kurim (cleansing ritual) at the public ground in Chamkhar, Bumthang.
On the first day, Rewo Sangchoe (mountain incense smoke offering) was performed whereby different kinds of aromatic woods, resin, and medicinal plants are burnt.
Hundreds of devotees attended the kurim to pay their respects to His Holiness the Je Khenpo and offer prayers for their wellbeing. Rewo Sangcho is a ritual that purifies three obscurations of all beings.
Goenpoi Tongtshog and Sinoen (exorcism) will be performed today and the kurim will end tomorrow with a public blessing.
The kurim is being performed for the wellbeing of Chamkhar town which has experienced repeated fire accidents in the last few years. The business community and the people who live within the thromde are organising the kurim.
Thromde ngotshab, Ugen Sangye said they are organising the kurim following His Majesty The King’s command that was passed during the last fire in Bumthang. “His Majesty The King has Commanded us to conduct a ritual that can subjugate such mishaps in the future,” he said.
Ugen Sangye said shopkeepers, contractors, the proprietors of guesthouses, automobile workshops and saw mills, and other residents of the thromde are involved in the kurim.
Yangchen, a shopkeeper in Chamkhar said she feels relieved as His Holiness is performing the kurim. “While the kurim is being performed people still should also be cautious at the same time,” she said, referring to fire safety.
Chamkhar town suffered four fires since 2010. The first fire occurred on October 26, 2010, and affected 77 families. Two lives were lost. The structures were reconstructed within four months with the help of His Majesty The King’s People’s Project and the armed forces.
Two different rows of buildings were razed during the second and third incidents, which took place in February and May 2011. Owners were granted timber, CGI sheets, and other raw materials as Kidu to help rebuild the structures. There were no casualties in the second and third fires.
The last fire that occurred on the night of December 28, 2016 razed 22 shops housed in the six traditional double-storey buildings.
His Holiness will leave for Trongsa to preside over its annual Moenlam Chenmo on April 26.
Nima Wangdi | Chamkhar
The issue of the elderly being left behind in villages is not new. Yet it remains a worrying trend, nagging policy makers and communities alike, especially when it occurs in hamlets like Bunakha in Chukha where land is fertile and accessibility a non-issue.
Citing rural–urban migration and economic opportunities in urban centres as reasons for such phenomena do not hold water any more. Nor is it right to blame the young for seeking education and employment outside their communities. What appears apparent is that farming as an occupation and a way of life in a country that is identified as an agrarian society is on the wane.
Such a paradox is disturbing when juxtaposed with the findings of GNH survey 2015, which revealed farmers to be the least happy in the country. We have been hearing the same refrain since 2010. It is understood that reaping the benefits of investment in agriculture takes time and that the sector is prone to vagaries of climatic. Where farm mechanisation is initiated to address farm labour shortage, wildlife encroachment has left farmers helpless. Even when efforts are made to address these issues, irrigation becomes an issue. Despite recent efforts, it is clear that the agriculture sector, which provides livelihood to 56.7 percent of the population, has taken a severe beating.
It is perhaps because of all these reasons and more that the elderly get left behind in villages. They may not be abandoned, but farming life is. When residents start buying imported food and the young give up on farming, the bedrock of a village’s culture is fragmented. A village is more than fallow lands, empty homes and few elderly measuring slow steps in the autumn of their days. Like local festivals, farming, the pulse of rural Bhutan’s life is one of the activities that bring and keep the community together.
In a way, we may have already lost this essence of a village. Not paying attention to agriculture risks losing more. The Bunakha story that this newspaper carried had several young people call us to correct that they have not abandoned their home. Such reactions and the fact that they still call their villages home offer hope – a hope that needs to be cultivated.
With right and timely intervention, the agriculture sector could still be salvaged and tapped for its socioeconomic opportunities. The wellbeing of a majority of the country’s people depends on addressing the problems in the agriculture sector.
Tackling this needs urgency and priority beyond what we have given the sector so far. If not, the narrative of agrarian Bhutan will be mere rhetoric.