Three years after Dechen Yangzom, 22, from Jakar village in Bumthang left school, she sees some scope in her life.
Undergoing a tailoring training in Bumthang that started yesterday by Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW), she said she can now open a tailoring shop in Chamkhar town.
Dechen had to drop out of school in 2014 after she could not qualify for higher studies. She stayed at home with her parents.
She said she could join the training after her former women teachers, who are members of the community based support service (CBSS) of RENEW, recommended her.
Dechen Zangmo said she could not help her parents since she was unemployed for a few years. She is optimistic that she can open a tailoring shop in Chamkhar or work at home.
She expects that with so many festivals in Bumthang, the tailoring shop will do well. She said the training would impart the most necessary skill.
There are five tailoring shops in Bumthang today.
Like Dechen, there are 15 other women from different dzongkhags who are currently undergoing the second batch of skills development training.
Lemo, 36, from Chapcha is another trainee.
She said tailoring doesn’t require much money to start with.
She also said that the benefit of the training should be measured in terms of monetary income. “If we could stich our house members clothes, it will benefit us.
Lemo said she is also committed to impart the skill to others interested.
Another trainee, Choki Dema, 35, from Bumthang said she plans to stitch tegos, kiras and wonjus since there is more demand today. “I can keep working at home if I cannot not open a tailoring shop,” the mother of three said.
The three-month training, coordinated by the multi-sectoral task force and CBSS, is conducted in a house belonging to the dzongkhag administration. Fida International is funding the training.
Bumthang dzongdag Phub Tshering, during the inaugural address, told the participants that they should make the most of the opportunity. “RENEW is conducting the training with the aim to make women self-reliant. If women benefit, society benefits too.”
CBSS coordinator, Pema Choki said RENEW trained 22 women in the first batch of which 16 have formed a cooperative and started working. “They work in turns due to inadequate space.”
She said the second training was initiated based on the results of the first batch.
Pema Choki said there were many who actually registered for the training but a committee conducted a selection. “The training would continue in the future depending upon the availability of fund and the need felt among the people,” she said.
She also said training is aimed at empowering and enhancing livelihood skills of women in the community
Meanwhile, Bumthang dzongkhag officials also pledged to support women empowerment activities in the dzongkhag.
Nima Wangdi | Chamkhar
The Bhutan Power Corporation office (BPC) in Wangdue restored electricity in Daga by the afternoon of March 21 after the gewog suffered power blackout since the night of March 18.
This, according to the residents, was the second power blackout they faced within this month, with the latest one on March 11. Power was restored on March 13.
Beginning a few years ago the power blackouts became frequent, locals said sometimes they even had to approach higher authorities to get the power restored.
Daga gewog officials said they only wanted BPC to improve the situation, and not complain about their work. “When there is a blackout, it affects the villages in the gewog, Taksha primary school and the gewog office,” said a gewog official.
Gewog officials said Taksha school has boarding facilities and when the power goes off, it affects the students and teaching staff.
Officials also said the school authority always calls the gewog whenever there is a blackout.
Gewog officials pointed out that such blackouts also hamper the gewog office in providing required services to the people. “Without power, the office can’t even send a single official letter or make phone calls,” an official said.
Wangdue’s BPC manager, Dilli Ram Adhikari, said the power blackout this time was caused by falling trees on the power transmission lines near the Punatsanghhu II dam construction site in the forest.
“We immediately deployed our people to clear the trees and restore the power but since it was a huge tree it took some time,” the manager said. “The power cut happened at around 11pm.”
He said they took several days to restore the power the last time, as two transmission poles were damaged due to falling trees caused by a heavy windstorm. “The frequent blackout in and around Daga gewog is mostly caused due to falling trees on transmission poles and lines.”
The manager said more human resources are needed and more time to restore the power in the area, as most of these problems occur in the forests. “Most problems were also caused because the trees were taller than the transmission poles, he said. “We are trying our best to restore the power back whenever there is blackout.”
Gewog officials also said another transformer will be installed at Kamichu which should help to address the blackouts.
Meanwhile, gewog officials said despite requesting BPC and raising the issue during dzongkhag tshogdus, Wogay chiwog is yet to be electrified. The chiwog with just 14 households is one of the remotest areas in Wangdue.
Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue
The 2016 Human Development Report entitled ‘Human Development for Everyone’, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), calls for stronger focus on those excluded and on actions to dismantle the barriers urgently needed to ensure sustainable human development for all.
On the 2016 Human Development Report (HDR) entitled Human Development for Everyone, of the UNDP, Bhutan has been ranked 132 out of 188 countries positioning the country in the medium human development category along with India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and 41 other countries.
According to a press release from UNDP, Bhutan’s Human Development Index (HDI) has increased by six percent anchored by a 17.4 percent increase in life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling by 0.8 years and expected years of schooling by 7.1 years. The Gross National Income per capita also increased by about 236.2 percent between 1990 and 2015.
The HDI is a summary measure for assessing progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.
The 2016 HDR, which was launched by the UNDP administrator, Helen Clark, and Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, in Stockholm on March 21, focuses on how human development can be ensured for every one – now and in future, states the press release.
The report explores who has been left behind in human development progress and why. “Human development progress over the past 25 years has been impressive on many fronts. But the gains have not been universal,” states the press release, adding that the report makes clear that progress in the Asia and Pacific region has not benefited everyone.
Despite a steep drop in poverty between 1990 and 2013 – in East Asia, the proportion of people living on less than USD 1.90 a day fell from 60 percent to under four percent, and in South Asia from 45 percent to 15 percent – some 54 percent of the world’s multidimensional poor live in South Asia, as measured by the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).
According to the press release, although Bhutan’s HDI for 2015 stood at 0.607, the index spirals down by 29.4 percent due to inequality in the distribution of the dimension indices to 0.428. “This is fuelled by Bhutan’s inequality coefficient which is equal to 28.4 percent as compared to 27.7 percent in South Asia and 25.7 percent for other medium HDI countries.”
“But those gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge, to ensure the benefits of global progress reach everyone,” said Helen Clark.
Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Haoliang Xu, said: “This report uncovers a deeper story behind the statistics,” adding that, “Even in a region that has made such remarkable progress, pockets of exclusion continue to prevent millions of people from fulfilling their true potential.”
The report shows that the disparities disproportionally impact women, ethnic minorities and people living in remote areas and can suffer deprivations both overt and hidden, according to the press release.
In Bhutan, 29.4 percent of the population are multidimensionally poor while an additional 18.0 percent live near multidimensional poverty. The breadth of deprivation (intensity) in Bhutan, which is the average deprivation score experienced by people in multidimensional poverty, is 43.5 percent, states the press release.
The MPI, which is the share of the population that is multi-dimensionally poor, adjusted by the intensity of the deprivations, is 0.128. Maldives and Nepal have MPIs of 0.008 and 0.116 respectively.
“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s lives,” stated Selim Jahan, the director of the Human Development Report Office. “In order to advance we need to examine more closely not just what has been achieved, but who has been excluded and why?”
According to the report, Asia-Pacific has the largest gender gap of all developing regions. The report shows that gender-based inequalities linked to patriarchal social norms afflict women over their entire lives.
The press release stated that such disparities, manifests in higher malnourishment, morbidity and mortality for women; lower labour force participation rates for women, but higher workloads and less rest among many more.
Country-wise, Bhutan has a Gender Inequality Index (GII) value of 0.477, ranking it 110th out of 159 countries. Women hold 8.3 percent parliamentary seats and 5.8 percent adult women have reached at least secondary level education compared to 13.4 percent men.
For every 100,000 live births, 148 Bhutanese women die from pregnancy related causes and adolescent birth rate is 21.4 births per 1,000 women between the age of 15 and 19 years. Female participation in the labour market is 58.7 percent to that of 72.8 for men, according to the press release.
Over 241 students from schools in Thimphu, Paro and Wangdue are undergoing medical treatment for chilblain.
These include students of Wangbama Central and Genekha Lower Secondary School (GLSS) in Thimphu, Betekha Middle Secondary School of Paro, and Phobjikha Central School in Wangdue.
Medical teams from respective dzongkhags and Basic Health Units have confirmed that the students are suffering from chilblain, which is a medical condition that cuases painful swelling of the skin that occurs in response to repeated exposure to cold weather.
Thimphu district health officer, Gyembo Dorji said that the outbreak was reported on March 17 from Wangbama Central School (WCS). However both school and health officials claim that the outbreak need not cause concern. “Students affected with chilblain are already being treated with symptomatic treatment since the report of the outbreak,” Gyembo Dorji said.
This is the first report of a chilblain outbreak in Thimphu schools.
The dzongkhag health officer said that no case of complication has been reported yet. “It is a non-communicable disease and should be cured through proper medication and keeping the body warm,” the dzongkhag health officer said, adding that the school authority and the health officials are monitoring the situation in the schools.
However, as of yesterday WCS still had few students suffering from chilblain.
Health officials attributed the outbreak to the cold weather, which became harsher with the recent snowfall.
WCS principal, Dorji Wangchuk said that there is nothing to worry about. “Everything is under control now,” he said.
As a preventive measure, the school has started providing heaters and water boilers in its classrooms. “We have also allowed students to wear jackets, mufflers and gloves, and for boys the school has even encouraged them to carry blankets to the classrooms to cover their limbs,” Dorji Wangchuk said.
The school is also conducting the morning, evening and night studies in the hostels instead of in classrooms.
Of the total 83 students suffering from mild chilblain in WCS and GLSS, 83 percent of them are girls. Betekha Middle Secondary School also reported an outbreak on March 17 with 72 students reportedly suffering from swollen hands and feet and rashes, all symptoms of chilblain.
Paro dzongkhag health officer Choki Wangmo said that the high altitude, snowfall, wind and extreme weather conditions led to the outbreak. “We have provided the affected students with treatment and educated them on the importance of keeping themselves warm,” she said.
A medical official said that the school was advised to ask the children to refrain from using cold water and playing in the snow. “We also asked the school to immediately provide heating systems, which was one of the reasons for the outbreak,” the health official said.
In Betekha, 90 percent of the 108 students suffering from chilblain were boarder students. “Boarder students were affected since there were no proper heating system,” the health official added.
As an interim measure, the school has been advised to allow students to wear jackets to keep themselves warm. In Betekha six new cases were reported yesterday and 30 on March 20.
In Wangdue, at least 50 students from Phobjikha Central School (PCS) were also reportedly suffering from chilblain. But in Phobjikha, the outbreak unlike Thimphu is not a new occurrence.
“At the moment we do not know the exact number since the medical officials are still examining the students,” a teacher from PCS who wished not to be named said.
But he said that the outbreak is not unusual since students have been suffering from chilblain for the past few years.
He said that at least 100 students suffered from chilblain in 2015 and 2016. “But nothing severe has happened to any of the infected students with timely medication and prevention measures,” he said.
Health officials were treating the infected students yesterday. In PCS, the school is providing students with salted hot water in the mornings and evenings for students to immerse their feet and hands. “We also advise children to wear socks and gloves to keep their feet and hands warm,” the teacher said.
The school also provides open fires to the children in the evenings since it does not have a proper heating system. “Some of the affected children and whose parents can afford to drop and pick up their children have been allowed to travel to school from home,” the teacher said.
Standardising the usage of construction safety gear by workers in Phuentsholing could take a few more years.
Construction workers in most construction sites in the commercial hub can be observed working without any of the required safety gear.
At a government construction site yesterday, construction workers had hung their safety gear and equipment on window bars. Not a single worker had on a construction hard hat or safety helmet.
Only after this newspaper asked why no one was wearing their safety gear, the workers hurried to put on their hard hats which had been discarded all over the construction site.
Similarly, in other private construction sites, construction workers were seen standing on bamboo scaffolding without helmets or safety harnesses.
On March 8, an expatriate worker died after falling off a building he was working on. The contractor of the building has not reported to the labour office yet.
A site engineer on a construction site in Phuentsholing, Purnima Tamang said that they provide safety gear such as gumboots, helmets, gloves, and jackets.
“We told our labourers to use the gear,” she said, adding that labour officials had also briefed the labourers about safety and the penalties for not using the safety gear.
However, the site engineer said that the labourers are not used to using safety gear. The engineer pointed out that the labourers argue that they are not comfortable wearing safety gear.
Ensuring worker safety in construction areas is one of the major challenges the regional labour office is facing in Phuentsholing.
Labour’s regional director in Phuentsholing, Sonam Tenzin, said that most labourers are not willing to use safety gear. “But there are some employers who think of the direct cost in procuring safety equipment,” he said.
“They do not think about the future consequences.”
Sonam Tenzin also said that it is better to invest on safety equipment than to later pay penalties or risk a fatal accident.
The labour office also carries out awareness programmes in Phuentsholing. Construction sites and workplaces have safety signs in place. At present the labour office team is assessing occupational health standards in Chukha.
Sharing his experience, a private contractor Anand Pradhan said that although construction firms provide safety gear and advise employees to use it, the advice is ignored and the gear remains unused.
The contractor said workers complain that the hot temperature is not suitable for using hard hats and gloves.
From 2016 until now, about 11 accidents have been reported in the Phuentsholing (including Samtse) region.
In Phuentsholing, two deaths have been reported in the past year with the most recent occurring on March 8.
According to the Labour Act 2007, an employer shall provide and maintain a working environment for employees that is safe and without risk to health. An employer shall provide accident compensation for all the employees.
As per the Act, an employer shall immediately notify the chief labour officer in the event of death of an employee due to an accident at work. If the employer fails, the employer will be liable to pay a fine of a maximum of one year’s daily national minimum wage rate.
Further, if an employee dies, compensation has to be provided. The employer has to pay the national wage rate for 1,080 days and 70 percent of one year’s basic salary.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Chaos runs extreme the moment one enters the periphery of the Lungtenzampa taxi stand in Thimphu. Taxi drives rush for customers; the hunt is almost anarchic.
More than the rush for passengers, taxi divers at the stand are now struggling for parking space. While some drivers spend more than six hours finding passengers during off-seasons, those with quick reflexes take less than an hour to fill their vehicles. The faster a taxi exits, it creates space for those waiting in the queue.
The taxis at the parking are those coming from places other than Thimphu. Cabbies are seen circling in the area hunting for a space to park their vehicle. Recently, taxi tshogpas from five dzongkhags gathered to discuss the issue of space crunch at the parking.
Paro taxi tshogpa, Namgay, said that with the limited number of parking spaces allocated for the taxies at the stand, drivers are finding it difficult to operate. “Before this new rule came in, at least 200 vehicles could easily adjust in the parking,” said Namgay. “Now hardly 26 taxies can be accommodated in the space allocated to us.”
The problem started about two months ago when the parking space was redesigned to accommodate a limited number of taxies. The challenges of the limited space were taken to the traffic division of the Royal Bhutan Police and the thromde for further discussion.
However, Nidup Tshering of the Phuentsholing taxi tshogpa said that neither of the two parties formally acknowledged their involvement in the new design. “We are confused on who is responsible for this new design and whom should we approach to discuss the matter with,” he said.
Previously, taxies from other dzongkhags were allowed to park in the parking space below Yangchenphug and Lungtenzampa schools. However, the practise has also been stopped said Kinley from Wangdue.
“There are at least two traffic police deployed at the YHSS parking. If our vehicles are seen parked in those areas, we are straight away issued a transport infringement notice (TIN),” said Nidup Tshering. “If they allow, there is enough space for us to park our taxies at the stand.”
The tshogpas said that having to circle around the parking area until a space is created becomes an expensive affair for the drivers. “Some drivers have even started to sell the spaces, thereby, making an income without having to drive around,” said Namgay.
More than 200 taxies from Wangdue and Punakha alone come to Thimphu daily.
Meanwhile, traffic officials said that the new design was being implemented with an objective to decongest traffic in the area. It was also done in order to keep the area clean since the area was polluted with garbage and human excrement.
The official said that since most of the regional and international tourists visit the place, keeping the area clean is a social responsibility of all. “The area was congested before and for the safety of both the drivers and passengers we had to make space for smooth traffic flow,” he said, adding that the traffic division is just there to enforce the law and they don’t have the jurisdiction to address the issues raised.
Thimphu Thromde’s executive secretary, Passang Dorji, said that since a choeten is located near the taxi stand, the growing garbage issue in the area was destroying the sanctity of the choeten.
Therefore, an area near the choeten was identified for plantation of flowers. In order to keep the area clean, Passang Dorji said that the thromde will soon start the plantation in the area, which will discourage the public from littering there.
Unlike in the past, the people of Korphu gewog in Trongsa no longer have to go to Zhemgang and Gelephu to buy household necessities.
This is because a Sanam Tshongkhang or farm shop was opened in the gewog a few months ago.
People of the three villages of Korphu, Nabji and Nimshong benefit from the Sanam Tshongkhang.
Villagers are happy that they have the Sanam Tshongkhang from where they get most of what they need in their day-to-day lives.
Civil servants working in these villages also buy their necessities from the shop. More people come to the shop especially during functions and public meetings at the gewog centre.
Chimi Dorji, 61, from Korphu said the farm shop has eased their lives. Villagers can buy everything here including sickles, knives, hammers, spades and seeds besides grocery items like milk powder, salt, rice and sugar.
Chimi Dorji, who usually bought grocery and other items from Gelephu and Zhemgang said the prices of the goods at Sonam Tshongkhang are the same as the price in Gelephu. “Some items like milk powder are sold at an even cheaper rate here,” he said.
Karma, 40, who was looking at the vegetable seed packets on the shelf of the farm shop said the benefit is huge especially as it sells agricultural tools and seeds.
“It was a problem as we had to go to Zhemgang to buy things,” she said. People do not get vehicles when they have to travel to Zhemgang and even walk to Zhemgang sometimes. Zhemgang is a day’s walk from the villages.
Villagers said they could not afford to travel by taxis.
Karma also said the gewog usually remains cut off from Zhemgang for weeks due to landslides during the summer and rations had to be stocked. “We don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
There are two women operating the farm shop today. They open the shop at any time when there are people coming to purchase commodities.
Damcho Zangmo, one of the two women, said it is convenient for them to open the shop any time as they live in the same apartment. “We even open the shop during the weekends,” she said.
Damcho said it is spring and most of the villagers are buying seeds and agricultural tools today.
During the recent visit, Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay urged the villagers to sell their products to the shop besides buying imported items from the shop.
Nima Wangdi | Trongsa
The ongoing work of installing sewer pipes in Changangkha and Motithang in Thimphu is causing inconveniences to residents and motorists.
A resident in Motithang, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that the digging is causing a lot of inconveniences especially in the morning during peak hours. “The traffic moves at a snail’s pace and it takes 30 minutes for a distance that usually takes only five minutes.”
He said that the trenches are not levelled evenly after the pipes are laid and that cars are getting damaged as a result.
The digging work along the roads in the area is also causing inconveniences to pedestrians due to dust and traffic congestion. “I feel that it would have been much better if the work is carried out in phases,” he said.
The thromde’s executive secretary, Passang Dorji, said that the office is aware of the inconveniences caused to the people especially during peak hours.
“We have asked the contractors to stop the work for a few hours during the peak hours,” Passang Dorji said. The contractors were also asked to level the excavated area as soon as the sewer pipes are laid so that vehicles can use the full width of the road.
Passang Dorji said that installing a sewerage system is difficult and it requires repetition of the work. He pointed out that most of the time, the alignment and gradation of the pipes require correction.
He added that continuous water seepage into the trenches is another problem being faced. In some areas, the pipes had to be laid in narrow spaces where there is no place to keep the excavated soil.
“All these delay the completion of the work but we are trying our best to complete the work,” Passang Dorji said.
Thimphu Thromde started installing a sewerage system in the area last month to improve sanitation in the area. A total of 4km of sewer pipes are being laid and will collect all wastewater except roof water in the area.
Passang Dorji said that the thromde frequently receives complaints related to sewage from residents in Changangkha and Motithang.
He said that old septic tanks, over the period of time leak causing seepage of wastewater into neighbouring property, creating misunderstandings among neighbours. However, there is nothing much that can be done to curb the issue because of the gradient of the area, he explained.
“All complaints are genuine because one cannot control the flow of water from a higher gradient to the lower. There is also no measures to collect the leaked waste water,” he said.
According to the thromde, the new sewerage system will curb all the problems related to sewage in the area.
Passang Dorji said that potholes on the resurfaced roads are created when there is water seepage underneath and vehicles ply above. “We have been asking the contractors to fill the dents on the resurfaced road with soil.”
The thromde’s sewerage division head, Samten Lhendup, said that the work is divided into two packages and contracted out to two contractors so that the works are completed before the monsoon.
Samten Lhendup said that the thromde officials are working on the estimates to resurface and blacktop the roads.
A Changangkha resident, Kunzang Choden, said that while the work is being carried out for the benefit of the community, the thromde should expedite the blacktopping of the roads given the inconveniences caused.
Samten Lhendup said that if the roads are blacktopped immediately after it is covered then there would be depressions in parts of road because the filled soil will not have set properly.
The work is costing a total of Nu 15 million for the two packages, excluding the road resurfacing and blacktopping.
The work is expected to be completed by May.
Bhutan observed International Day of Happiness (IDH) yesterday with the lighting of a thousand butter lamps at the National Memorial choeten, according to a press release from the foreign affair ministry.
Foreign minister Damcho Dorji led the commemoration. The event was attended by senior officials of the Royal Government, representatives of the diplomatic community, international organisations, and civil society.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 20 as the International Day of Happiness in June 2012. The occasion is observed internationally, including through educational and public awareness raising activities.
Based on the GNH approach to development, a resolution entitled, “Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development”, was introduced by Bhutan at the United Nations in 2011. The resolution recognises the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal as well as the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the wellbeing of all people.
In his keynote address at the Global Dialogue on Happiness in Dubai on February 11, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay affirmed that governments should recognise happiness as a public good, rather than relegating it as an individual pursuit.
Health ministers of 11 WHO Southeast Asian region (SEAR) member states including health minister, Tandin Wangchuk signed the “Call for Action” on March 16 in New Delhi, India.
The member states committed to scale up efforts and end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030 with innovative, multi-sectoral and comprehensive measures.
TB is the leading cause of death in the region, reportedly claiming around 800,000 lives in 2015 from the productive age group of 15-49 years. The Southeast Asian region bears nearly half the global TB burden of the total 10.4 million estimated cases of TB in the world. Around 4.7 million cases (45.6 percent) of the TB cases are from the Southeast Asian region.
Though the member countries are making constant efforts to reduce the annual TB incidence, which currently has fallen by 1.5-2 percent, it is insufficient.
According to WHO SEAR, the decline in the incidence rate needs to be scaled up to at least 10-15 percent for the member countries and the region to meet the End TB targets of reducing TB mortality by 90 percent and incidence by 80 percent by 2030.
During the meeting, WHO SEAR called for exceptional action and high-impact interventions in the region to lead implementation of national TB responses in the member countries. The meeting called for setting up of regional innovation to implementation fund to accelerate sharing of knowledge, intellectual resources and innovations to reach out to treat all cases.
The meeting also talked about emulating best practices in taking up comprehensive TB treatment and prevention programmes while improving quality and making facilities people-centred. The need to accelerate progress with rapid adoption of advanced diagnostics and treatment were also discussed in the meeting.
The WHO SEAR highlighted that investments in ending TB are expected to give huge returns, with more than 11 million lives expected to be saved. By 2035, nearly 60 million infections could be prevented in the region. This will also translate to social and economic growth by averting nearly 300 million Disability Adjusted Life Years.
19 families affected
A fire razed 14 temporary sheds to the ground leaving 19 families homeless in Tsenkari, in Nganglam, Pemagatshel early yesterday morning. A Bolero pick-up and an Alto car parked in front of the shops were also destroyed by the fire.
An infant and an elderly man suffered minor burns. They were discharged from hospital after treatment. There were no casualties.
The fire is suspected to have broken out after an electric short circuit at around 2:30am.
Army and police personnel, Desuups, shopkeepers, and volunteers from the Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd and nearby villages managed to control the fire in about two hours.
Fifteen students from the households could not go to school yesterday as most of their belongings were destroyed by the fire. The Nganglam dungpa, Karma Jurme, said that the children will resume their classes today. “They will be admitted as boarders in the Nganglam Central School and we’ll buy them their uniforms and other necessary items,” he said.
The dungkhag administration served meals to victims of the fire yesterday. RBA personnel built temporary sheds out of tarpaulin and corrugated iron sheets with the help of volunteers near the razed town.
The dungkhag disaster office distributed emergency kits, consisting of basic household items, to all the victims.
This is the second fire incident in the area. The first one occurred a few kilometres away at Kangziri.
Agriculture minister encouraging farmers to kill wild boars is a picture of a desperate situation of human-wildlife conflict in the remote villages. However, this measure should not be seen and adopted as a long-term solution.
More than 60 percent of our people are in the agriculture sector, depending directly or indirectly on livestock and crop production for their livelihood. And, we also have some of the most stringent conservation laws on earth. What we must understand is that most of Bhutan’s vulnerable farming communities reside close to protected areas.
This reality has not been very advantageous to the farmers. Probably this is the reason why more and more Bhutanese are leaving their farmlands and moving to the city centres. Finding balance between economic development and conservation is, therefore, of critical importance.
While as a conservationist society we must consider protection and growth of wide-ranging habits of plants and animals, we cannot forget that loss of crops and livestock in the rural pockets of the country can have a devastating impact on the farming households.
Retaliatory killing of wildlife, as seen as option by agriculture minister, is at the best, a short-term measure. Long-term conservation and maintenance of national biodiversity and growth of the sector that supports more than half the population requires more.
Cash compensation has not worked with farmers for obvious reasons. Equity is the issue. Culling of one group of crop predators, on the other hand, can cause serious imbalance in the ecosystem. We have our own example from the past to refer to. Killing wild dogs led to the proliferation of wild boar population. Nemesis has returned.
The simple lesson is: food chain disturbance can have far-reaching impact on the agriculture. That’s why there is today the need to look at long-term, all-inclusive and sustainable agricultural practices, rather than going straight to killing crop predators.
We need a management approach that involves making people, wildlife, livestock and habitat, safe. What about mitigation measures that have proved successful, such as sound and light repellent and electric fencing? How about encouraging farmers to take up crop rotation, for instance?
Culling is a short-term measure. We need to look beyond because agriculture is Bhutan’s mainstay. Agriculture minister’s approach has great potential to disbalance a lot of other elements in the society. Unemployment fuelled by rural to urban migration is already a serious problem.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay met the people of Samkhar gewog in Trashigang yesterday evening. Lyonchoen told the gathering that he is impressed with the 146 households who have invested in the bio-gas venture and added that others who are interested will also receive support from the government. Lyonchoen highlighted that roads are essential for development and that Samkhar gewog has constructed more than 70km of farm roads which paves the way for Samkhar’s development. Lyonchoen however added that the community should maintain the roads without fully depending on the government. Lyonchoen also commended the people for maintaining the five irrigation channels, having 257 dairy farms and 55 poultry farms. The dairy products from Samkhar are sold in the markets of Trashigang town, Kanglung and Rangjung. Lyonchoen added that the gewog has received only one power tiller from the government till now and promised to provide two more power tillers immediately.
Lyonchoen is accompanied by the education minister and cabinet secretary. (Source: Prime Minister’s Office)
The Langchenphug gewog administration in Jomotsangkha is still waiting for a response regarding the army colony in Jomotsangkha not paying taxes for the last three years.
The issue was raised during the last Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT).
Stating the importance of the Land Act of Bhutan 2007, Gup Gumu Singh Gayal said that the land, which the gewog administration owns, has not received land taxes for the past three years despite several reminders to do so.
“We’re just raising the issue just to make sure the Act is followed, which spells out that all registered land is subject to land tax,” he said. “Prior to the last three years, the tax was paid annually and on time.”
Gumu Singh said the colony occupies about 50 decimals of dry land and that Nu 12 per decimal should be paid, which comes to about Nu 2,800 in a year.
“Although the amount is minimal, it is revenue for the gewog and an Act is an Act, we need to follow it,” he said.
The gup informed tshogdu members that the gewog administration felt it is important to raise the issue and seek clarification if the army is liable for the land tax and also to uphold the land rules and regulations of the country.
He said the gewog still receives land tax from other institutions like the Royal Bhutan Police, forest department, financial institutions and individual landowners, except from the army.
“We’re just waiting for a response because we haven’t received any letter or notification whether to discontinue collecting the tax,” the gup said.
“They might have their own reasons but they should clarify.”
According to the Land Act, if land tax for both private and government land is not paid for three consecutive years, the local authority shall serve a notice to the landowner and levy the tax with arrears.
Section 396 of the Land Rules and Regulations state that failure to comply with the Act, the gup should submit the report to the secretariat on the non-payment of tax along with the relevant documents.
Dzongkhag land record officer, Sangay D Zam, said that although there is no specific clause that states the army is exempted from tax, they have not received any complaint on the issue. “If we receive a complaint, we would first forward it to the National Land Commission to seek guidance on how to deal with the issue as well as seek further directives.”
The DT resolved that they would further look into the issue.
However, an army official said that as per the “user right certificate” the army camp is not liable for land tax and there are no records of it paying tax to the gewog office. “We confirmed from the land and property division that an army camp anywhere is not liable for land tax,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the gup added the same issue was also put up during the last gups conference, but it did not make it to the agenda.
Yangchen C Rinzin | Samdrupjongkhar
Tarphel village is a five-day walk from the Bumdeling gewog centre in Trashiyangtse. The remote village in the mountains bordering India has 80 households and a population of around 600.
Villagers say life is tough. A family has to travel all the way to Bumdeling to deliver a baby or in case of serious injury admit the patient in the Basic Health Unit, which is also located there.
So when Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited their gewog last week, the villagers seized the opportunity to ask for a farm road to their village.
A villager from Tarphel, Leki, said: “If the government could provide us with a farm road, it would uplift our lives.”
Another villager at the meeting with Lyonchoen, Karma, said: “When they come to buy basic food and other items from Yangtse town, it takes them a week or more to get back home.”
Like many farmers in rural parts of the country, the villagers of Tarphel like Thukten , depend on farming for their livelihood. Their main crop is maize.
Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said that the government will look into the feasibility of constructing the road.
Thukten also requested the government for more budget to blacktop the 8.5km gewog centre road that began from Yangtse town this year. He added that Lyonchoen intervene so that enough budget is available for the blacktopping. Lyonchoen said the budget could be adjusted from the dzongkhag development grant or from the ministry.
Villagers also raised other issues during Lyonchoen’s routine gewog visit. Villagers asked if the government could upgrade Bumdeling Middle Secondary School to a Central School.
“The school today has 300 students and if it is upgraded to a Central School it would benefit the gewog,” a villager said.
Lyonchoen said that in the 12th Plan, there will be many Central Schools in the country where thousands of children will be accommodated in boarding facilities.
A college graduate from Bumdeling, Phurpa Dorji, said that there are many pilot projects underway in other dzongkhags. If the government could provide or implement such projects in the dzongkhag, it could help the youth there.
Lyonchoen said such projects could materialise in the future.
Tashi Phuntsho | Bumdeling
But only if the animal is severely damaging their crops
In a recent visit to the gewogs in Tsirang, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji, encouraged farmers to kill wild boars if they damage crops.
The minister assured the people that they will not be penalised.
Crop damage by wild animals, mostly wild boars was one of the top issues the people raised with the minister.
Karma Yangzom, 44, of Mendrelgang said that last year she planted paddy on almost an acre of land but she could not even harvest half the crop.
Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that while people may kill the wild boars, it should be done only if the animal have severely damaged crops. “I’ve no objection if you kill them and tell me if anyone penalises you,” he said.
However the minister cautioned that people should not kill the animal for meat consumption.
Tsirang is one of the dzongkhags that has the least electric fencing coverage.
Many people were not aware of the facility to protect their crops from wild animals.
Farmers who are aware of electric fencing said that if fencing is provided, the entire village must be fenced.
Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji told the people that electric fencing is an old solution to protect crops from wild animals. “Electric fencing has helped many farmers across the country in safeguarding their crops,” he said. “It has kept animals as big as elephants away from crops.”
The minister encouraged farmers to put up proposals to the dzongkhag for electric fencing. “The government will provide material for whatever distance you require but you have to fence it,” he said.
In the past three years, gewogs in Tsirang has received 79.60km of electric fencing covering 784 acres of fields and has benefited 359 households.
Among the twelve gewogs, Doonglagang has the maximum amount of electric fencing at 11.2km, followed by Gosarling and Rangthaling.
Meanwhile, the chief dzongkhag agriculture officer, Pema Chofil, said that the dzongkhag has materials to cover at least 31km and they are waiting for gewogs to propose for the electric fencing.
Recently Tsholingkhar gewog proposed for eight kilometres of electric fencing and Sergithang had proposed for 17km.
While the dzongkahg agriculture sector will cover all eight kilometres in Tsholingkhar, only seven kilometres will be fenced in Sergithang.
Pema Chofil said as directed by the minister, the remaining 10km required in Sergithang will be forwarded to the ministry.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang
Not many agencies have opened crèches, which are nurseries where babies and young children are cared for during the working day, despite the Cabinet’s 2015 directive to all government agencies to do so as part of a move to improve the efficiency of working women.
The Cabinet issued the directive following a study by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) identifying the lack of childcare support as one of the factors constraining women’s participation in governance and the civil service.
Setting up of crèches is also included as a mandatory requirement in the annual performance agreement.
A crèche differs from an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre, which is a space for children above the age of three. In an ECCD centre, children are prepared for school.
NCWC established the first crèche in the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) in 2014.
Since then, records with NCWC show that only a handful of agencies like the economic affairs ministry, Druk Green Power Corporation, health ministry, works and human settlement ministry and a small number of corporations have set up crèches in their office premises. There are more than 50 agencies, autonomous bodies and corporations located in Thimphu city.
NCWC director Kunzang Lhamu said that setting up of crèches has been challenging. “Opening a crèche hasn’t been easy though several agencies have set up some on their own,” she said.
While NCWC helps out with providing some equipment like televisions, toys, and refrigerators, finding space has been the major constraint for the agencies. “While in principle every agency agrees on the need of a crèche, space and money have been a major problem,” an official from NCWC said.
Another pertinent issue is on how a crèche can be constructed for large agencies, which will require big spaces and infrastructure. There are also issues as to whether agencies should construct individual childcare facilities or should a large crèche be constructed to cater to these agencies.
While the commission is planning to establish crèches in dzongkhags outside Thimphu, NCWC has not received any proposal from dzongkhags so far. No crèche has been set up in any private agency.
Lack of caregivers is another problem being faced.
Currently, the crèche in MoIC has hired its two women sweepers to look after the babies. “We have started paying Nu 1,500 after pooling some fees since we could not afford a professional caregiver,” MoIC personal assistant, Dawa Zangmo said.
Sustainability of crèche is also another issue of concern. But the commission hopes for the situation to improve with review of the guideline for childcare centres at the workplace. “With the review of the guideline, all these existing issues of resources, sustainability and quality should be resolved,” Kunzang Lhamu said.
However she added that it has been heartening to see a number of agencies including ministries setting up crèches. “It is not so bad and the commission would like to continue extending help to set up even bigger crèches,” the director said.
Irrespective of these issues, opening of crèches has in fact benefited working women. “The creche has made feeding convenient and improved breastfeeding since I can feed at least three-four times while I used to get to only twice before,” Dawa Zangmo said.
According to mothers, the crèche has also improved their contribution at the workplace. “Since we do not have to take off like before, feeding hasn’t affected our work,” MoIC assistant human resource officer, Lhamchu said.
Having crossed the thresholds on GNI per capita and human asset index, Bhutan was found eligible for graduation to the middle income country category in the 2015 triennial review by the UN. Bhutan would possibly be recommended for graduation at the 2018 triennial review. This means, considering the three-year transition period, Bhutan would be graduating by the end of 2021.
We have come a long way, and cannot afford to reverse our efforts.
This is why for Bhutan the 12th Five-Year Plan is so important. It is in fact the most significant Plan in history, if the country is to reap the fruits of the hard labour of our forefathers and the innovation of The Fourth Druk Gyalpo-Gross National Happiness.
For a country to become eligible for graduation, it must reach the threshold levels in at least two of the three criteria in two successive triennial reviews.
What we must remember, though, is that there still is a criterion – economic vulnerability index – that the country is yet to achieve. The 12th Plan must deliver this because economic vulnerability has the tendency to pull the country back to poverty.
Once we graduate, the country will lose access to multilateral LDC-specific funds. This, however, should not be the concern as long as the broad objectives of the 12th Plan are achieved.
We commend the government and relevant agencies for formulating the 12th Plan guideline that maximises GNH and, most importantly, prioritising the triple Cs – coordination, consolidation and collaboration. Among these three Cs, coordination is what we lacked. We appreciate that this issue is well addressed in the 12th Plan.
The guideline is holistic; objectives are ambitious, and donors are committed.
We must then ensure that our final 12th Plan and programmes, which will be endorsed towards the end of this year, must ensure that national aspirations are not overlooked.
This is why we feel that the role and capacity of our local governments and decision makers at the LG level are more important in the 12th Plan than ever before. Should the 12th Plan not deliver what is planned the central government must educate the local leaders on the risks and the stakes.
It is the local governments that identify and prioritise development plans. We cannot waste time in studying who benefits from what and where. Political parties must set aside their agendas because the fate of the 12th Plan is at the discretion of the next government to either continue with what is planned or to modify it or to completely replace it. Whatever the case, national goals should not be put at stake.
A vigorous and rigorous consultation is deemed crucial at all levels, including all the political parties. That way, the 12th Plan will be a milestone in our endeavour towards achieving an inclusive growth that is GNH based.
His Majesty The King has reminded the nation that we are good planners but not-so-good implementers. If the 12th Plan is about delivering success, achieving the international goals and materialising GNH, it is incumbent on us to work towards a graduation that is sustainable.
A successful 12th Plan will prove that the GNH-based development paradigm is not only successful, but also inclusive.
The mass plantation is one of the government’s interventions aimed at meeting local demand through local production
A mass commercial chilli plantation was carried out at Chimipang in Lobesa, Punakha, on March 18.
The mass plantation, according to agriculture officials, is to encourage farmers to produce more chillies.
Department of Agriculture (DoA) director Kinlay Tshering, said the mass plantation is one of the interventions of the agriculture ministry to address the chilli shortage in the country.
Hundreds of volunteers from all agencies under the ministry participated in the mass plantation that was led by the agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji and health minister Tandin Wangchuk.
Members of Parliament, dzongdags and officials of Punakha and Wangdue, and students of the College of Natural Resources (CNR) also participated in the mass chilli plantation.
Kinlay Tshering said the activity is also a demonstration of planting chillies using technologies. “The campaign is to encourage farmers to grow more so that our chilli requirement is met from the domestic production,” she said.
She added that although 75-80 percent of chillies required in Bhutan are produced locally, the remaining has to be imported.
She pointed out that the country imported 10,777 metric tones (MT) of chillies so far.
“The overall production is around 7,000 to 8,000MT a year and the usual import requirement is around 2,000MT a year.” This includes the chilli requirement in winter and some special chillies imported during the summer.
Kinlay Tshering said that through such interventions, the ministry is hoping to achieve 100 percent self-sufficiency in chillies, for which the ministry is coming up with various interventions.
“For summer cultivation we are promoting good quality chilli varieties and the ministry is enhancing the capacity of farmers through trainings and promoting improved production technologies,” she said.
For winter cultivation, the ministry is promoting use of green houses to increase winter production and also investing in improving irrigation facilities especially in the low lands. The ministry is also promoting efficient water use technologies for areas facing limited water availability.
Agriculture officials said that 80 percent of the chilli saplings were grown at Chimipang and rest was mobilised from villages in Punakha. There were at least three varieties of chillies.
“The area is expected to produce around 20MT of chilies,” said the director. The marketing for the chillies will be facilitated through the Food Corporation of Bhutan and the marketing department of the agriculture ministry.
Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue
Thimphu Thromde last week replaced the two rubber bumpers in Langjophakha in Thimphu with the bitumen speed breakers.
The two new bumpers cost the thromde about Nu 50,000.
The thromde fixed the rubber bumpers measuring eight metres in length and three inches high each in Langjophakha on February 14, on a pilot basis.
A few days after the rubber bumpers were fixed, people complained on social media. Motorists criticised the new bumper for causing traffic congestion and inconvenience.
The thromde’s executive secretary, Passang Dorji, clarified that the thromde did not remove the rubber bumpers because of the complaints. He said that the bumpers were fixed in Langjophakha as trial and it proved effective in controlling speeding vehicles.
“There is no traffic congestion and not much pedestrians in the area so we replaced the rubber speed breakers,” he said. “We will relocate the rubber bumpers in strategic locations in the city like school areas.”
Passang Dorji said that compared with other speed breakers on our roads, rubber bumpers are effective in controlling speeding vehicles, cost effective and can be reused. “We have tested vehicles with low clearance on the rubber bumper. It doesn’t damage vehicles unless you drive recklessly.”
A metre of the rubber bumper costs about Nu 3,000.