Thimphu Thromde has decided that school students in Thimphu will not be allowed to wear tracksuits during assemblies and in classes. The decision comes from a desire to promote or maintain the country’s national identity.
The move has received mixed reactions. Some have lauded the decision. Some are flabbergasted by it.
One question that has arisen from the debate that the move has flamed is whether the wearing of a tracksuit on one school day out of six, dilutes our national identity. Any answer would be subjective and depend on one’s understanding or interpretation of culture.
Aesthetics is an important aspect of our culture and being appropriately attired during assemblies and classes at all times would be a priority for many. Some may argue against concentrating too much on aesthetics and rather on inner values and practises. This perennial debate will never end and it would be unwise to expect an answer.
However, what we can question is whether the decision was made taking into account the difficulties some schools may face in implementing the new rule, especially as the thromde requires immediate compliance.
Another question is whether the thromde consulted with the schools or with parents on what the possible implications of such a move might be.
One of the first possibilities that may arise is that students will have to carry heavier bags to school. Studies are finding that students who carry heavy bags suffer physical ailments later in life. Our students are already burdened with heavy bags and many have to walk long distances to get an education, even in Thimphu.
One way of addressing the heavy bag problem is to have lockers in our schools, which we don’t. Until we do have such facilities in place, we would encourage the education sector to explore ways to reduce the load our students carry.
However, even if our students are able to comfortably carry their uniforms to school, other problems arise. One is where do they change. It would either have to be in their classrooms or changing rooms, the latter of which may be lacking in the majority of schools. When it comes to younger students in the lower grades like pre-primary, will there be enough teachers to help students change back into their uniforms once their health and physical education classes are completed.
One of the possible solutions suggested by the thromde is to designate Saturdays for health and physical education, during which the students can don their tracksuits for the entire school session. Some schools have already adopted such a strategy from the start of the academic year.
However, some schools will face challenges. If the entire school is having their health and physical education class together, there may not be enough physical education instructors or equipment to ensure all students receive enough attention and activity. Concerns have also been raised that there may not even be enough space in some schools for all students to be undergoing their physical education class at one go.
Clearly there is a need for more careful thought on how the tracksuit rule is implemented. It may have to be done gradually and in close consultation with the schools.
Reconstruction of the Mangdezam in Rendibi, Zhemgang, has finally resumed from December 2016.
Known as the Mangdezam, the bridge will help people of remote Langdurbi and Digala villages to cross over the Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu. People are using a temporary suspension bridge for now. Some even used the incomplete bridge, risking their lives.
The Mangdezam construction, which began in 2011, was stalled after there was a disagreement on the construction rate between the Department of Roads (DoR) and the contractor, Santalal and Brothers Construction, which is based in Siliguri, India.
The work resumed after DoR officials and the contractor finally came to a consensus.
Project engineer, Bhim Bahadur Karki, said they completed concreting the trestle base and fabrication of all four trestles as of now. “We have even constructed a 7.5m high trestle on the right bank already,” he said.
Explaining the progress till now, he said the main towers measuring a height of 32m are being fabricated in Jaigaon, India, due to space constraints at the site. “It’s 50 percent complete by now and we will bring it to the site soon,” he said.
As of today, they are carrying out civil works for the anchorage of the main tower on either side. Labourers are seen carrying rods over the suspension bridge that stands right below the incomplete bridge.
Labourers are also busy transporting heavy materials from the right bank to the left bank deploying a boat that was hired from Assam, India, along with an operator.
Officials said they have to finish transporting materials to the other bank before the monsoon.
Bhim Bahadur Karki said after the ongoing works are completed, they would start with the construction of the main tower. He said the bridge would be ready by June 2018.
Explaining the reasons of how the work got delayed, the project engineer said they encountered a crack on the foundation while digging on the left bank abutment. “After discussion with the DoR, the department took up the job of shifting the foundation by four metres upstream, which also required an additional nine-meter depth, which was completed and handed over to the contractor in March 2016.”
The engineer said they could not resume the work immediately after DoR handed over the work, as DoR could not agree on the revised cost they proposed taking inflation into account until December.
The Mangdezam will connect the Digala farm road that is underused today to the Gomphu-Panbang road. Rendibi is some five kilometres before reaching Pantang from Gongphu towards Panbang.
Nima Wangdi | Rendhibi
To help achieve the adult literacy rate target of 70 percent by the end of the 11th Plan, the education ministry is attempting to rope in local leaders to encourage more learners in the rural communities.
A two-day sensitisation workshop on Non-Formation Education (NFE) for local leaders of around 30 gewogs of Gasa, Wangdue and Punakha began yesterday.
NFE’s continuity division chief programme officer, Norbu Gyeltshen, said that local leaders can play a pivotal role in enhancing adult literacy in the rural areas as they have direct access to communities and therefore the need for the sensitisation programme.
“We have accessibility problems, as most adults reside in far flung rural villages,” he said. “If we can work hand in hand with the local leaders, we would be able to achieve the set target of 70 percent towards the end of the 11th Plan,” Norbu Gyeltshen said. “We are optimistic that we will be able to achieve the set target.”
According to the National Statistic Bureau’s (NSB) Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2012, the adult literacy rate stands at 55.3 percent. The NSB is scheduled to conduct another BLSS survey this year and it is hoped that the rate has increased beyond 70 percent, said the chief programme officer.
Norbu Gyeltshen explained that even those at the dzongkhag level face challenges in reaching people living in remote communities.
During the tenure of first local government, the division attempted reaching out to local leaders through awareness raising campaigns during dzongkhag tshogdus, but it was found ineffective, he said.
Norbu Gyeltshen said that the two-year NFE course focuses on basic literacy and post literacy. To maintain their literacy, the ministry is creating a forum where self-learning or life-long learning becomes possible through community learning centres.
The programme is organised by the NFE continuity division, Department of Adult and Higher Education of the education ministry, and is a government-funded programme.
Within the two-day programme, local leaders will come up with gewog-level strategies for NFE, said education officials. The local leaders will also be made accountable for the NFE programme in their respective gewogs.
Presenting the current status of NFE in the dzongkhag, Gasa’s education officer, Sherab Gyeltshen said that while the programme has a two year duration, in places like Laya it may take up to four to five years to complete. He attributed this to frequent leave taken by the learners especially during the cordycep collection season, sang collection time and migration during the winter months, said the education officer.
He added that not having proper NFE centres, lack of facilities like electricity, extreme weather conditions and not getting the required support from the gewog were other issues that hampered the programme.
Of the nine NFE centres in Gasa dzongkhag, five are in Laya, three in Khamoed and one in Khatoed gewog. Lunana does not have an NFE centre. Despite having a good number of centres for a small dzongkhag, most centres have limited learners with some operating with only five.
Punakha’s education officer Tshering Dorji said despite having 11 gewogs, the dzongkhag has only 45 NFE learners in eight centres as of now. There is a need to conduct a survey on the adult literacy rate in the dzongkhag, to form committees at the dzongkhag, gewog and chiwog levels, and to also establish new centres in all gewogs, said Tshering Dorji. The other way forward is to also conduct advocacy programmes at all three levels, he said.
In Wangdue, the number of NFE centres has decreased to 29 from 44 in 2015, and the number of learners has declined from 522 in 2015 to 346 currently, said Wangdue’s education officer, Kencho Wangdi. He said the decline would also mean that more people are literate now, and that it could be taken positively.
However, Wangdue dzongdag, Sonam Jigme, said it is not wise to assume that the declining number of NFE centres means more people are literate today, as it is not possible that all people are literate in the villages. Local leaders should focus on finding out why the number of learners in their gewogs are declining, he said.
He asked local leaders to come up with plans to encourage learners and advocate the importance of literacy, he said.
Meanwhile, Norbu Gyeltshen said that the NFE programme has received much positive feedback from the public.
Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue
Thormde’s sweepers to be reassigned to other jobs
With the launch of the first road sweeping machine in the country yesterday, people will now see a mechanised sweeper on the roads of Thimphu city.
The thromde procured the sweeping machine at a cost of Nu 6.5 million.
Thimphu thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee, said that the road-sweeping machine will improve cleanliness of the city.
He said that the sweeping machine will be more efficient than people sweeping the roads. The machine is expected to clean at least 10km of road an hour.
The thromde will reassign their road cleaning employees to other thromde works like maintenance of plantations.
The sweeping machine, a Roots RSR 6000, has dual brooms and a suction head. The suction nozzle will be used to vacuum waste from the drains.
The thrompon said that if the city drains are kept clean then there wouldn’t be problems of runoff rainwater on the roads, one of the main causes of potholes.
The thrompon said that people should be aware of the new sweeping machine so that motorists and pedestrians understand and support the thromde’s effort to have a clean city.
The thromde is yet to decide on the cleaning time. The thrompon said that to ensure that the machine doesn’t congest the traffic, the machine will be put to work on busy roads like Norzin and Chang Lam either during the early morning or late at night.
“In other roads like along the expressway, we will clean the road during the daytime,” the thrompon said.
Thromde’s executive secretary, Passang Dorji, said fuel consumption of the sweeping machine is same like that of a normal truck’s.
Two men from the sweeping machine’s company in India will train two local drivers for a week on operating the machine.
The thromde is planning on procuring another similar road sweeping machine.
To mark World Water Day on March 22, members of at least 22 organisations and communities located along the Chubachu stream, along with Desuups and armed forces personnel, cleaned the stream and adopted sections of it to ensure that it remains clean. The event was organised by the Bhutan Red Cross Society, in partnership with the National Environment Commission, Thimphu Thromde, Royal Society for Protection of Nature and Clean Bhutan. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also attended the event.
The inland water route, stretching from Indian territory through the Brahmaputra river till Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh, will soon be accessible to Bhutan.
The economic affairs secretary, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the two countries will complete the process and finalise the protocol, to be readied for signing during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Bhutan in April this year.
While Bangladesh gave the green signal for Bhutan to use its inland water transport routes for cargo back in 2012, the two countries were sharing and working on the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and protocol thus far. The agreement was actually expected to be signed in 2012.
Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the two countries have been working on the draft MoU and the protocol for the past few years.
Till date, Bhutan has been using the Kolkata seaport for export and import of goods to third countries. The materialisation of this agreement would provide Bhutan with alternative sea routes.
However, the ports in Chittagong and Mongla is seen as feasible given the inland water connectivity thus reducing the time and cost of transportation.
The secretarial level meeting between Bhutan and Bangladesh held yesterday also decided to work on the MoU between the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) to recognise each other’s standards and classifications.
The meeting, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said, also decided to come up with an MoU between the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and the agriculture ministry of Bangladesh to accept each other’s testing and certification. “It is a move to remove non-tariff barriers,” Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said.
The secretary in-charge of the Bangladesh commerce ministry, Shubashish Bose said that the two countries have immense potential in trade but not much has been explored. For instance, he said the two countries could make use of Bhutan’s hydropower potential.
Likewise private sectors in both Bhutan and Bangladesh are not able to explore the markets in each other’s territories.
To this effect Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the delegation from the governments of the two countries decided to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in the areas of tourism and those that require private sector engagement.
On the 16 additional products that Bhutan requested for duty free access for export, the Bangladeshi delegates asked the government to explore the possibility of entering into a preferential trade agreement.
The Harmonised System Code (HSC) for limestone products and calcium carbide were changed in 2016, removing those items from the list of duty free products. One of the agendas in the meeting was to change the HSC for these products, in order to avail duty-free access.
The bilateral trade agreement between the two countries was first signed in 1980. Bangladesh is the only country with which Bhutan has a trade surplus. Total trade between the two countries has grown from Nu 1.98 billion in 2015 to 2.62 billion last year.
School students in Thimphu will no longer be allowed to wear tracksuits during the morning assembly and in classes, the thromde has decided.
The decision is a resolution of the 11th Thimphu Thromde education conference held on March 8 at Paro.
The March 16 notice states that in keeping with government policy to promote the country’s national identity, directives are issued to the schools for immediate compliance. The notification states that students will have to wear either gho or kira while in school, and also while going and returning from school.
Students will be permitted to wear tracksuits only during health and physical education (HPE) periods and annual sports days. Schools are asked to arrange their health and physical education classes on Saturdays and tracksuits should be worn uniformly only on that day.
“School principals will ensure that students carry tracksuits separately for HPE classes and also make arrangements with HPE teachers/instructors to adjust time of about 5-10 minutes for changing the dress,” the notice states.
While the notice was issued on March 16, some schools received it only yesterday morning.
The notice has elicited mixed reactions from secondary schools. However, primary schools have expressed concerns over the decision.
Secondary schools like Nima and Pelkhil stopped allowing students to attend assembly and classes in tracksuit from the start of the academic year. “Though we received the notice only yesterday morning, the school has refrained from allowing students to come in tracksuits in the morning assembly and classes,” Pelkhil High School principal, Umesh Kumar said.
Nima Higher Secondary School principal, Wangchuk Namgyel said that his school didn’t wait for the notice. “We informed the students from last year that HPE classes will be conducted on Saturdays,” he said.
Both schools also hold their HPE classes only on Saturdays. “No parents have objected to the school’s decision to disallow tracksuits for the morning assembly and in classes,” Wangchuk Namgyel said.
Some secondary schools like Lungtenzampa, Dechencholing, and Yangchenphug have been holding their HPE classes on Saturdays for a few years now. “But since it was difficult to cover over 1,864 students on Saturday, HPE classes for preprimary to III were conducted in periods during the weekdays,” Dechencholing Higher Secondary School vice principal, Kuenga said.
In the three schools, students are allowed to wear tracksuits only on Saturdays. “As for classes PP-III, we allow the children to wear tracksuits until the afternoon,” Kuenga said.
Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School has its HPE day on Friday since the school is closed on Saturdays.
But Pelkhil’s principal Umesh Kumar said that conducting HPE classes for over 570 students on the same day within a span of two-three hours is difficult and ensuring quality is a challenge. “It’s difficult to engage every student and give each an equal opportunity for activities on the same day,” he said.
Principals from other higher secondary schools had no issues with the new rule. Principals from these schools in fact lauded the directives to do away with tracksuits during the morning assembly and classes.
However, the new rule has worried primary school principals. Most feel that it will be difficult to conduct HPE classes on Saturdays. “Firstly, the school has only one physical education instructor who cannot cover over 348 students on the same day,” Jungshina Primary School principal, Sangay Dorji said, adding that even resources like space and sport equipment would not be enough.
Zilukha Milddle Secondary School principal, Dawa Tshering said that the school has only limited resources to be able to conduct HPE classes on Saturday for all of the school’s 29 classes. “The school is discussing on how to conduct the HPE class,” Dawa Tshering said.
He added that changing rooms would also be required if students have to change in the school. “While students from the higher classes won’t have any issue, children from the lower classes especially the primary level would have problems since they would not know how to wear their uniforms,” Dawa Tshering said.
Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority’s (BICMA) attorney insisted that Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) violated the law and that it should be penalised.
The media regulator claimed that BBS failed to pay the fines and penalties it imposed for airing a story on the movie Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait on December 21 last year. It is also alleged that BBS broadcast clippings of the film that was not certified by BICMA, disseminating incorrect information and for misinforming and misleading the public.
BICMA imposed on BBS a fine of Nu 224,625 for failing to abide by its directives to pay penalties and for misinforming and instigating the public by providing incorrect information and broadcasting a one-sided story.
BBS refused to pay the fines stating it shall seek the intervention of an independent authority for arbitration if the issue is not resolved.
The corporation’s legal officer had requested the court to dismiss the case as there is no legal standing for BICMA to take BBSC to court.
BICMA’s attorney, Chencho Wangmo, maintained that the corporation had neither responded nor presented itself before the authority despite a summons order being issued. Further, it continued to misinform the public by broadcasting the news on its radio and uploading the news to its website.
The attorney alleged that BBSC responded only after issuing a show cause notice. Instead of clarifying the issue, the corporation challenged the accusation that it had misled the public by misinforming them.
“BBSC is media organisation and even though it is a national broadcaster, it can’t be treated separately from other media houses,” the attorney said.
BBS had requested the court to issue an order to BICMA to refrain from unnecessarily impeding BBS from carrying out its duty saying that BICMA is being biased by imposing fines only on BBS when other media houses, particularly newspapers, also covered the film extensively.
The corporation holds the view that BICMA, by being both the complainant and arbitrator, violates the principle of natural justice, as no man can be a judge in his own cause.
Chencho Wangmo refuted the charges of conflict of interest stating that the authority is acting for the sake of the country’s interest and implementing section 27 (3) of the BICMA Act 2006 and the code of ethics for journalists.
“The fines imposed go to the national coffer and BICMA doesn’t derive any financial benefits,” said Chencho Wangmo.
The authority said that BBSC broadcast a one-sided story with detailed quotes from the producer of the movie without BICMA’s voice alongside. The reporter had not consulted BICMA officials, including the director general, who had been in office on both the days the BBSC reporter claimed she tried to contact the authority’s office.
While the film was under review, BICMA said that BBSC’s report indicated that the review was complete and, so, misinformed the public.
Showing of the movie clips also violated the agreement between the authority and BBSC on September 2, 2016, that it would not broadcast any uncertified film, the legal officer said.
BICMA also claimed that using clips from the movie is advertising it as per the rules of content.
BICMA had issued the directive and the show cause notice to BBSC as per section 45 (7) of the BICMA Act 2006.
The authority asked the court to make BBSC pay the fines and compensation for tarnishing the reputation of the organisation and its officials.
BBS refuted all the charges made by BICMA and will submit its rebuttal on April 13.
More than a thousand people from the 15 gewogs of Samtse attended a high-level advocacy programme at the dzongkhag’s public ground yesterday.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, who is undertaking the advocacy tour to Samtse and Chukha from March 20-29, expressed concerns about the increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases despite awareness campaigns being carried out.
“Some spread it because they do not know they have HIV,” Her Majesty said, adding that there are also some people who spread HIV despite being aware that they have the disease.
Today, there are 515 HIV positive cases in the country, which is a cause of major concern, Her Majesty said.
“We need to put in extra effort and work more,” Her Majesty said. “We have to join hands to work together against HIV.”
Her Majesty pointed out that it is not only the government’s responsibility to stop HIV/AIDS but everyone’s.
Her Majesty encouraged the people to undergo tests and pointed out that there are treatment facilities in all hospitals in the country to help HIV/AIDS patients.
A Lhak-Sam member, Tshering Choden, who is HIV positive, also addressed those gathered about the disease.
She encouraged voluntary testing. “People should not shy away,” Tshering Choden said, adding that it would only save lives.
Tshering Choden, who tested positive a decade ago, said she has four healthy children today. Despite the stigma she and her family faced after publicly announcing their status, Tshering Choden said she is doing well today.
Currently, there are 171 HIV patients in Lhak-Sam, of which 22 are children.
Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck also spoke about the increasing number of suicides in the country. Based on police records, more than 70 suicide cases are reported in the country annually.
“Most cases reported are youth related,” Her Majesty said, pointing out that parents have a responsibility to understand their growing children, as they are young and vulnerable.
Health officials also raised awareness on non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases during the programme.
Although no case of malaria has been reported from Samtse for the past few years, people were advised not to be complacent as there were other diseases caused by mosquito bites such as dengue.
RENEW’s director for its outreach programme, Dr Meenakshi Rai, spoke about the organisation’s role and domestic violence. She explained that domestic violence is not limited to only physical abuse. Emotional, sexual, and other kinds of abuse related to a family’s economic status are equally serious and needs to be curbed, she said.
“There are laws to deal with these abuses,” Dr Meenakshi Rai said. She encouraged women to report incidents to the police, village tshogpas, the local government, the National Commission for Women and Children, and RENEW.
Dr Meenakshi Rai also clarified that RENEW does not limit its support to only women.
Villagers who attended the advocacy programme welcomed the effort.
Padam Prasad Sharma, 63, from Tendu, said that awareness about HIV/AIDS had been raised. He said that he had not been aware that an HIV/AIDS infected mother could still have healthy and HIV/AIDS-free children. He added that he is now aware how important the public’s role is in preventing the disease from spreading.
Tambar Bahadur Biswa, 73, from Samtse gewog, said that he would be more mindful of what he eats and how children are treated by elders, he said.
Sabitra Rai, 35, who is married and has three children, said that she would not tolerate abuse from her husband. “Although fights happen between husband and wife, it should not cross certain boundaries,” she said.
Following the advocacy programme’s conclusion, Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck visited the Samtse hospital and interacted with patients.
Her Majesty will visit Samtse Higher Secondary School today.
During the advocacy programme, Her Majesty will also visit the Samtse College of Education. Her Majesty will continue the advocacy programme in Phuentsholing after Samtse.
The tour is a continuation of Her Majesty’s advocacy efforts to promote awareness on priority public health and social issues.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), over the past month, dropped a number of alleged corruption cases, including a high profile case involving foreign minister Damcho Dorji due to lack of evidence.
Recently the ACC dropped a cased that allegedly involved illegal talc mining in Samtse. It was alleged that the company, which mined talc under the guise of constructing a school, exported talc worth more than Nu 20 million (M).
The ministry of education approved the construction of a private higher secondary school at a closed talc mine site at Sukreti, Samtse on January 13, 2010. However, a year later, the ACC received an anonymous complaint informing the office that the contractor was illegally mining talc and that the proponent was digging more than 100m into the earth, deploying four to five excavators and 12 trucks daily.
The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) also confirmed the allegation when they were auditing the leasing of government land and mines in 2013. The audit report stated that the joint team was constituted to verify the complaints as directed by the ACC, comprising of officials from the education ministry, the department of geology and mines and Samtse dzongkhag. It was concluded that the proponent had deviated from the original construction proposal and was mining talc.
The joint team also reportedly found that the authority concerned, geology and mines department of the economic affairs ministry, had not taken any action against the proponent.
The commission began investigating the illegal mining of talc at Sukreti in April 2015 along with alleged customs mal-administration and entrenched corruption in the fraudulent export and import businesses in the country’s commercial hub, Phuentsholing.
However, the commission withdrew the Samtse team to help the ongoing investigation in Phuentsholing, which took almost one and half years. ACC then sent its team to Samtse and found the case didn’t merit prosecution.
“We found it was an administrative issue,” an ACC official said. “However, the commission will write to the geology and mines department to restitute about Nu 17M from the proponent for exporting talc.”
ACC also dropped a similar case forwarded to the commission by RAA. The case concerns suspected collusion between the labour ministry’s tender committee members, engineers and contractor in connection to tendering of the Nu 20 million Dolungang VTI construction in Sarpang.
The commission found no elements of corruption and dropped the case. It was alleged that the ministry had made payment of cost escalation against contract terms and conditions.
The other cases that ACC dropped are the alleged irregularisation of excess land in Hongtsho and suspected collusion involving two former land commission officials in the fraudulent regularisation of excess land in Phuentsholing.
In this particular case involving former land record officials, ACC officials said that it was presented to drangpons at a meeting as a case study. The judges said that there was no case legally, but only morally. Based on this, the commission had dropped the case.
Allegation of mismanagement of school funds by a principal in Trongsa was also dropped.
The commission, meanwhile, has forwarded its findings of alleged embezzlement of Nu 1.6M by the officer-in-charge at the telecom exchange office in Wamrong, Trashigang to the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution.
The March 20 fire accident in Tsenkari, Nganglam came as a rude reminder to all of us. If we are a little more careful, disasters that destroy properties and lives and cause untold pains can be prevented.
In the recent times we have witnessed many towns and settlements destroyed by dangerous fire. We haven’t forgotten fire disasters in Gasa Dzong, Wangdue Dzong, Wamrong town in Trashigang, Sarpang town, and the repeated fire accidents in Chamkhar town in Bumthang. People are still struggling to rebuild their homes and lives.
The fire in Tsenkari razed 14 temporary sheds to the ground and left 19 families homeless. Although no major casualties were reported, shops were destroyed and school-going children were affected. The affected families had to put up in temporary sheds that the Royal Bhutan Army and the volunteers help build. Immediate help came from drungkhag administration by way of providing meals and emergency kits, among others.
While we appreciate the efforts of the volunteers, we need to ask what caused the fire? It is suspected that an electric short circuit, as always, caused the fire. Most fire accidents in Bhutanese houses start from electric short circuit. This could be because most Bhutanese homes have unsafe wiring. If electric short circuit is the major cause of fire accidents, it is time we explored ways to make sure our settlements, homes and office and lhakhangs in the remote corners have safe wiring. Spending a little more money on safety aspects of wiring can greatly minimise the risks.
Homeowners and communities at large should take the responsibility, because one bad wiring somewhere can cause damage to all, especially in clustered settlements like in Tsenkari, Wamrong and Chamkhar. In the bigger towns like Thimphu and Phuentsholing, people living on the fringes take power through unsafe wiring. In the labourer’s camps, the picture is the same. Wires can be seen in tangled lumps, dangling ominously overhead. These can spark off major disaster anytime.
We can have stringent routine of monitoring power lines in homes. Regular advocacy and education will go a long way in minimising the risk of fire disasters. How expensive are these measures, really?
From the shushing librarians to the subtle musty smell of books filling the room, libraries were once considered the gateway to the world of knowledge.
With the beginning of each academic session, it was a homecoming for bookworms, as it would signal the opening of school libraries. The walk down the aisle, through the mountains of books delighted and empowered individuals.
However, with growing technology, traditional libraries in the country today are confronted by several challenges. With almost all information now available online, books are being pushed aside for digital learning centres.
In an effort to improve the library system in the country, a five-day library symposium is underway in Thimphu with the theme, Good Libraries for a Strong Society. The seminar is also being held to standardise library procedures among the various libraries in the country.
One of the senior most librarians in the country today, Yeshey Dorji, said that Bhutanese always had a strong sense of reading and the concept of libraries started along with the introduction of the modern education system in the country.
A small room and or for that matter a small closet would function as a rudimentary form of a library in the past. Every school had its own library. Yeshey Dorji said that when he became a full-fledged librarian in 1991, everything was done manually with no computerised system in place.
“There were limited number of collections and the facilities were rudimentary,” said the 57-year-old. “There was no librarians back then and library periods in schools were looked after by teachers.”
With the advent of the Internet, Yeshey Dorji said that things have become much easier but at the same time, libraries around the country have lost their customers. “With multiple sources of information now available online, people have turned towards technology for knowledge.”
However, Yeshey Dorji is optimistic about the future of libraries in the country. He said change is inevitable and libraries cannot afford to remain static with the changing time and technology. “Printed books will remain and there will be people who would always prefer the books over technological knowledge-based systems.”
One of the participants, Namgay Dorji, said that assistant librarians across the country are facing several challenges in providing better services. The assistant librarian of Punakha Central School said that lack of qualified human resources and technology in terms of cataloguing remains one of the biggest challenges.
Namgay Dorji has been serving as an assistant librarian for the past 30 years. “Most of the assistant librarians like us are either class X or XII pass-outs. There is no upgradation option for us and we are stagnated in this position for the rest of our lives,” he said.
Yeshey Dorji said that the Samtse College of Education in 2016 started a three-year diploma in library and information management for the in-service librarians to upgrade the knowledge of the librarians.
The programme, however, came under scrutiny by the Royal Civil Service Commission. Yeshey Dorji said that the college was asked to drop the programme since it violated certain sections of the Bhutan Civil Service Rule 2012, where in-service civil servants cannot undergo diploma programmes.
Currently, 16 assistant librarians are undergoing the programme.
The seminar yesterday at the National Library discussed the role of libraries in the United Nation’s 2030 agenda. Participants said that libraries have huge potential to support and compliment in achieving all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
A total of 70 assistant librarians from schools, colleges, NGOs and autonomous agencies are undergoing the seminar.
This is the first seminar organised for librarians by the National Library in Thimphu. The programme will be an annual event.
The National Library in Thimphu houses the largest book in the world; A visual Odyssey across the last Himalayan Kingdom. The library has a collection of over 10,000 foreign language books and about 338,000 Choekey books.
The Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan, representing at least 22 senior pundits in the country, recently wrote to the Sarpang dzongkhag administration to bar a pundit from conducting a seven-day puran or prayer ceremony in Jigmecholing gewog.
This was done following numerous instances where the pundit was found violating the code and conduct of pundits as prescribed in the traditional Hindu religious scriptures and norms followed by the HDSB, states the letter.
Senior pundits have expressed their concerns that if he is allowed to continue his activities it will not only undermine the principles and sanctity of the Sanatan Hindu Dharma as practiced in Bhutan but that it may irreparably tarnish the image of other Hindu pundits in the country.
Senior pundits pointed out that one of the 10 areas that the pundit violated was by presiding over a Vishnu puran during Shivaratri on February 24. Moreover the puran was conducted without approval from HDSB and the dzongkhag administration, it is stated.
The senior pundits alleged that donations were collected during the puran without approval from either the dzongkhag or the HDSB. In a similar incident, the same pundit had allegedly collected donations during a private puran. It is also alleged that he rejected all old notes and that he compulsorily asked people to offer only new and fresh notes.
“Keeping this in mind the HDSB has decided to bar him from conducting any religious functions within Bhutan in the near future unless he fulfils the time-tested norms of a hindu priest,” the letter states. “He is already boycotted by the Bhutanese pundit fraternity.”
One of the senior pundits, Tulasiram Bhandari, said that for the betterment of the Hindu community the pundit be stopped from conducting any religious programmes and rituals.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang
Thimphu police have detained six people for their alleged involvement in auto-stripping cases.
Police said of the 41 auto-stripping cases that are reported to Thimphu police as of yesterday, they have managed to detain six people.
The latest arrest, police said, was made in February where a 42-year-old taxi driver was arrested. “His accomplice, who is also a taxi driver, is still at large,” a police officer said.
The police officer said any information leading to the arrest of the suspect at large will be rewarded.
“We suspect him to have been involved in many other auto stripping cases,” the official said. “If he is arrested, many reported auto-stripping cases could be solved.”
The official said breaking into parked vehicles and stealing the belongings are graded as auto-stripping and larceny. “Some stolen items including vehicle tyres and wheel drums have been recovered.”
The official said that the police alone can’t stop auto-stripping cases, as it’s a shared responsibility.
“People should be responsible and should not leave any of their belongings like laptops and bags in their cars,” he said.
The official also pointed out that lack of parking spaces could be one of the reasons for the increase in auto stripping cases in the city. “In most of the reported cases, the miscreants break into vehicles parked along the road,” the official said.
Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck graced the groundbreaking ceremony of the Gyalyum Kesang Choeden Wangchuck National Eye Centre in Thimphu, yesterday.
HRH Princess Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck accompanied Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother.
The health ministry’s director general, Dr Pandup Tshering, said that Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother and HRH Princess Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck’s support and contribution to the health sector have contributed greatly to the improvement of the health of the Bhutanese people.
The centre will have 16 beds in four aseptic wards, specialised out-patient departments and in-patient eye services, three operation theatres and other amenities necessary to provide effective eye care services.
The centre is also expected to build capacity of health professionals in the country.
“The groundbreaking ceremony of the national eye centre is a milestone in the history of health services of Bhutan,” Dr Pandup Tshering said.
He added that the hospital being the first national eye centre in the country would further improve the quality of eye care services and develop sub specialisation in ophthalmology in the country. At the same time, it will help provide quality training for health professionals and contribute towards further strengthening the health system in the country, he added.
The centre, named in honour of Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother, will be a state-of-the-art eye care centre.
“It will be a seat of excellence that will provide the best eye care services to the Bhutanese people,” a health ministry press release states.
The establishment of the centre is technically and financially supported by the Himalayan Cataract Project, led by Dr Sanduk Ruit and the Wen Giving Foundation, an organisation based in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to improve the quality of life of those in need.
Dr Sanduk Ruit said that the hospital built should act as a clinical, training and research hospital for Bhutan. “It has to have a fantastic community master plan to reach every corner of Bhutan. I think this is a country where we can show the world that we can prevent and eradicate avoidable blindness much earlier than other countries.”
He added: “We are already talking about building up a five-year master plan for the prevention of blindness programme in Bhutan. Let’s all work together, increase the quality and the reach, and make sure that the hospital is utilised properly.”
The Office of Attorney General charged Tenzin Dorji, 24, for voluntary manslaughter, and three others for their involvement in a gang fight to the Thimphu dzongkhag court on March 17.
Following the gang fight near the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu on January 28, Maniraj Subba, 22, from Karmaling gewog, Dagana succumbed to a head injury at the national referral hospital the next day.
The deceased, a freelance assistant cook was allegedly stabbed in the head by Tenzin Dorji who is a class XI student from Bumthang. The deceased was rushed to the national referral hospital by his friends. The hospital informed the police about the incident at 8.15pm.
The dagger had penetrated the victim’s skull and left an 11cm cut. There were also numerous cuts on the left thigh of the deceased. Police arrested the suspect on January 29.
According statements given to the police, the deceased’s younger brother, Bagiraj Subba had some issues with Sangay Namgyal, a friend of the suspect. Bagiraj along with a cousin went to settle the conflict with him. When confronted, Sangay Namgay who was with a friend shouted abuse at the two, following which the cousin and his friend Dechen Sangay physically assaulted him.
The incident escalated and more people got involved as Sangay Namgay’s friends including the suspect, Tenzin Dorji heard about the physical confrontation.
They gathered together and went around looking for the duo, who belonged to a gang calling itself the ADA Boys group. They found the cousin with the deceased and two other friends. The groups clashed near the Cloud Nine Karaoke and began throwing stones at each other.
In the melee, Tenzin Dorji hit the deceased. The suspect in his statement to police said that it was an act of self defence. According to the suspect, the deceased tried to hit him when he reached the scene and that he stabbed the deceased in retaliation.
The OAG charged Tenzin Dorji under the Penal Code section 140 on voluntary manslaughter and is liable for a second degree felony conviction for which the imprisonment term ranges from nine to 15 years.
Sangay Namgyal, 16, is charged for aiding and abetting the crime, which is classified as a fourth degree crime, and is liable for prison term ranging from three to five years.
The cousin of the deceased, Bikash Subba, 20, and his friend, Dechen Sangay, 16, are charged for getting involved in the fight and are liable for prison terms ranging between one month and a year.
Except for Bikash Subba, the three are students.
Of a total of 163 lhakhangs interested to install CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras, only nine lhakhangs in Bumthang have installed the cameras as of yesterday.
Of about 1,800 registered lhakhangs in the country, only 163 lhakhang owners and caretakers volunteered to bear the installation costs of the cameras in their lhakhangs. A total of 321 CCTV cameras are required by these lhakhangs.
Owners and caretakers of 11 lhakhangs in Bumthang had deposited the money to the Royal Bhutan Police’s bank account to install CCTV cameras in their lhakhangs. Two lhakhangs are yet to install the cameras because they are currently being renovated.
The former chief of police Kipchu Namgyel initiated the work to install CCTV cameras in lhakhangs in the country as one of the crime prevention measures.
The RBP has been sensitising caretakers and owners of lhakhangs in the country about the benefit of having CCTV cameras in lhakhangs since 2015.
The former police chief, during a press conference held in May last year said that individual and respective lhakhangs have to bear the cost of installing CCTV cameras while the RBP will collaborate to float tenders to install the CCTV cameras.
A police official said that the RBP is collaborating with the lhakhang owners to float tenders to ensure that the cameras are of high quality and have good resolution. “We want to help the lhakhangs have the right CCTV cameras in them,” the official said.
However, none of the lhakhang owners in Punakha, Gasa, Chukha, Sarpang, Dagana, Mongar and Trashiyangtse volunteered to bear the costs of installing the cameras.
The official said that some lhakhang owners in these dzongkhags said that they couldn’t afford it.
It cost about Nu 50,700 to install two cameras, a dome camera and a fixed camera in a lhakhang, including the accessories.
The official said that the company who got the work to install the cameras in the lhakhangs doesn’t charge an installation fee.
Thimphu police detained nine school students on March 17 for an alleged burglary.
A shopkeeper in Simtokha lodged a complaint with the police after his friends had apprehended a suspect who was caught while breaking into his shop on March 17 at around 1:30pm.
The suspect was identified as a 15-year-old boy from Samtse and currently studying in Thimphu with his parents.
After an interrogation, police found that eight other boys were also involved in the crime.
All the suspects are under 18 years and are from low income backgrounds.
Police said further investigation revealed that the boys were also involved in three other burglary cases in Simtokha in February and March this year.
Police said the number of youth getting into conflict with the law is increasing every year.
A police official said he personally feels that with development, the needs and wants of children are increasing and when parents cannot afford to provide them their wants, they resort to such crimes.
He also said with people becoming more ambitious and when parents are busy with work, the children are neglected and come into conflict with the law.
The official also said that they can’t blame the children for committing such crimes, as they lack guidance. “We don’t know whose responsibilities it is to take care and give necessary advice to children; parents or teachers.”
However, children who come into conflict with the law are sent to the Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC) at Tsimasham after a court convicts them. They also have the opportunity to continue education.
As of now there are two girls and 28 boys at the YRDC.
The plot owners of new Doksum town in Trashiyangtse are running out of time to construct houses that the Kholungchhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (KHPA) would require for its employees and workers.
The plot owners have just about a week to decide to begin construction.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay met with the residents on March 19 and said that not everything can be done by the government. Land, design, wood and water were given free.
However, plot owners are not happy with the house designs provided by the KHPA.
With the integrated housing colony at Khetsang town, KHPA will rent 200 housing units during its construction phase.
KHPA officials presented the project and work plans to Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay. The officials also highlight edcorporate social responsibility initiatives undertaken on health, community vitality, the environment, organisation of social events, education, farm road connectivity and water supply at the Doksum township area.
There are 40 commercial and 150 residential plots in the new town area. The town development works began in 2013 to relocate the existing Doksum town.
Tashi Phuntsho | Trashiyangtse
An expatriate worker died after falling off a building that he had been working on in Phuentsholing earlier this month.
Perhaps, the unfortunate incident could have been prevented if the worker had on a safety harness, or if other safety requirements were followed.
However, construction safety requirements are blatantly ignored nation wide, even on government construction sites. This is especially true of building construction sites.
It is the spring season when most building constructions begin and already you can see workers, mostly expatriate, working without any safety gear on.
Construction sites are dangerous areas, not only for the workers on site, but the public as well.
If safety requirements are ignored, there are risks to both workers and the public.
The rules are already in place and monitoring on compliance is carried out periodically. However, safety remains an issue.
The problem here is mindset. Most expatriate workers do not want to use safety gear and complain it is uncomfortable and hampers their work, among others. Another problem is that construction foremen, site managers and owners do not strictly enforce the rules. This is likely compounded by lack of more stringent monitoring by the agencies concerned.
There is clearly a need to change mindsets at all levels.
This could perhaps be achieved by having expatriate workers go through a crash course on personal and site safety. This must be then followed by safety briefings every morning by the site in-charge. It must also become the responsibility of the site in-charge to ensure that safety requirements are followed throughout the day.
Expatriate and local workers must realise that to work in Bhutan, their safety along with the public’s is not taken lightly. This message must be made clear with the concerned agencies conducting more regular inspections of construction sites. These inspections must not only assess if workers are using personal safety gear but also whether their employer has ensured that the construction site is safe for the workers, in terms of providing them with the essential necessities like hygienic toilets, clean water, and acceptable hygiene.
Inspection teams could also begin rating contractors on their safety compliance, and use these scores to determine the award of contracts later on. It is also important that employers who fail to ensure safety of their workers on site, of fail to convince their workers to use protective gear are penalised.
It is evident that safety is lacking in the construction sector. It is time we begin changing that and provide a model of safety in the region.