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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

Building sector consumes  41.6 percent of energy 

Fri, 04/09/2021 - 11:39

Hitting the highest power consumption levels since 2014

Choki Wangmo

The building sector in Bhutan consumes 41.6 percent of electricity, with the residential sector alone accounting for 33 percent of total energy consumption, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Records show that the sector’s energy consumption was 42 percent in 2014.

If such trends continue, Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon negative could be jeopardised.

According to experts, the sector needs right guidance to meet energy requirements through energy efficiency practices.

Findings of the Energy Efficient Roadmap prepared by the Department of Renewable Energy (DRE) suggest that the government could bring in additional revenue of Nu 336 million annually by improving energy efficiency and standards in four major sectors: building, appliances, transport, and industry.

In Bhutan, modern constructions are found to be ill-suited for the local environment. “The lack of relevant smart designs, construction methods, and materials have created a current building stock with sub-standard indoor quality of life, as homes are uncomfortably cold during winter months.”

Poor quality homes drive up energy consumption, leading to significant economic, environmental and social costs.

Expected savings from energy-efficient practices amount to 17,033.51 metric tonnes (MT) of oil equivalent (TOE) with emission reduction potential of 87,384MT of CO2 equivalent over a period of 15 years with the selected energy efficient interventions.

 

What is an energy-efficient building?

DRE’s director, Phuntsho Namgyel, said that the building within the economic affairs ministry housing DRE and National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology was the first energy efficient building in Bhutan.

The building, he said, had double glazing windows, rock wool insulation for decreasing heat leakage and increased thermal performance of the built space.

Some of the features include window frames covered with weather-stripping materials to reduce heat loss, centralised radiant hydronic floor heating system, which is one of the most efficient systems for space heating, solarium to trap natural heat for warming the building, and making use of natural sunlight to reduce artificial lighting needs of corridors and staircase.

“The roof also has 100mm thick rock wool insulation for controlling heat loss, and lighting in some common areas is powered through a solar rooftop system,” he said.

Phuntsho Namgyel said that energy consumption in the building sector could be reduced or managed easily but the lack of awareness among people is hindering the process.

He said that energy efficient interventions were comparatively costly in the beginning but the payback period is short.

 

What is being done?

Phuntsho Namgyel said that the department was exploring smart designs for an energy-efficient building sector.  Solar passive architecture is one among many.  The design takes advantage of the benefits of the local environment like sunlight, while minimising the adverse impacts of climate such as cold nighttime temperature on the comfort level of the building. “It’s a simple measure and doesn’t need huge investments.”

DRE has future plans to install 45 solar water heating technology in selected public institutions, commercial and residential establishments through deployment of a subsidy scheme.

The initiative is expected to enhance diversification of energy sources, save electricity, generate employment, promote entrepreneurship, and contribute towards greenhouse gas reductions.

With the support of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the department has plans to develop an affordable and clean energy roadmap for Bhutan.

“This will enable policymakers to make informed decisions to support the achievement of goal 7 of the sustainable development goals: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” according to the department’s social media page.

In collaboration with World Wildlife Fund Bhutan (WWF) and Bank of Bhutan, the department has promoted energy efficiency in buildings with bank’s corporate head office becoming WWF’s latest recruit in its international iconic building programme.

Last year, the department developed the Energy Auditing and Reporting Guidelines for Buildings and Industries to promote energy-efficient measures within the country.

According to WWF, to reduce the environmental impact of Bhutan’s building sector, individuals can understand electricity consumption by installing a data logger that provides data to monitor consumption. “Energy efficiency interventions in the building sectors alone have potential annual energy savings of 132 gigawatt hours of electricity.”

Globally, buildings and construction sectors consume close to 36 percent of all energy use and generate nearly 39 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, research studies reported.

RMA proposes amendment of private money lending rules and regulations

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 12:08

Raising question if the rules, intended to curb illegal private money lending, have served their purpose

Tashi Dema  

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has proposed amending and inserting 17 clauses in its Private Money Lending Rules and Regulations 2020 (PMLRR 2020).

The rules, initially framed in 2016 to regulate private money lending business, came into effect from April 1, 2017.

The draft proposal uploaded on the RMA website, proposes to amend seven clauses and include nine new clauses, along with the rationale for the amendment.  It also defines private money lenders, who could be registered or unregistered with RMA.

The first amendment is section 7.1, where it states that courts can now admit and register all private money recovery suits if there is a prima facie case of lending, irrespective of agreements made after or before April 1, 2017 by registered or unregistered lenders.  The maximum amount or ceiling of money for lending has been done away with.

The initial PMLRR does not allow unregistered or illegal money lenders to file recovery suits before the court.

RMA’s rationale for the amendment stated that courts have been dismissing monetary cases of private money lenders, who are not registered with RMA, putting money lenders at a disadvantage and borrowers taking advantage of the lacuna in the legal provisions.

It also proposed amending section 3.2 and 3.5 to specify the amount a private money lender could lend without registering with RMA and after registering with the authority.

The proposal to amend section 6.3 states courts would forfeit 25 percent of the principal amount if it finds private money lenders charge more than 15 percent per year interest; section 5.1 specifies the duties of borrowers and also states that, if borrowers fail to abide by the terms and conditions of the agreement, it would be considered an offence and punishable under the PMLRR.

The other proposed amendment is a penalty on lenders, both registered and unregistered.  It states that if courts find any lender guilty of making fraudulent agreements in collusion with borrowers, the court shall consider the offence a violation, petty misdemeanour or misdemeanour.

The rationale for the amendment, according to RMA, is to deter lenders from violating rules and regulations.

The nine clauses to be inserted include case settlements by gups and mangmis, mandating lenders to file monetary cases within three years from the date of breach of the agreement, prohibiting private money lenders, both registered and unregistered, from making and signing fraudulent agreements and lending money beyond the ceiling prescribed by RMA, prohibiting borrowers from making and signing fraudulent agreements, and also borrowers should not accept interest rates above 15 per year and those failing to abide by it punishable under the provisions of PMLRR.

A new insertion also states borrowers would not issue a pre-dated as mode of loan payment and lenders should not solicit it.  In the rationale, RMA stated that fraudulent cheque writing has become a common mode of repayment, where borrowers claim it was issued under duress. “Henceforth, borrowers will be penalised as per the provisions of PMLRR in accordance with the provisions of the Negotiable Instrument Act of Bhutan 2000 and as per the amendment 2021.”

On its website, RMA stated they are in process of amending and inserting new provisions in the existing PMLRR to strengthen existing provisions and bring more clarity on the obligations of lenders, borrowers and middle persons.

It was learnt the proposal for amendment and insertion was made in consultation with the judiciary.

 

Is PMLRR making any difference?

With only two registered private money lenders in the country today, many believe that the PMLRR did not serve its intended purpose of curbing private money lending at exorbitant interest, causing social problems and impacting families.

Going by the number of monetary cases in the court, which sources say is mostly through unregistered private money lending, putting in place the rules and regulations never deterred those in the business.

When first introduced, RMA officials said, with the rules in place, there will be no informal private money lending market and that RMA will take onus of monitoring the private money lenders.

But today, there are only two registered private money lenders.  Private moneylenders said the PMLRR was restrictive and not practical, thereby discouraging people to register and do legal lending.

They said that instead of serving as a deterrence, the rules and regulations are encouraging people to do it illegally. “If PMLRR served its purpose, there should be many registered money lenders,” a source said.

They said the rules mandate them to report quarterly, have an office, telephone line and signboard when the interest rate and loan ceiling of Nu 500,000 is low.

“The only advantage we had was access to credit information and seeking judicial support to recover the loan,” a registered money lender, Chimi Dorji, said. “With this amendment, there’s no difference between registered and unregistered money lenders if courts would accept all cases. There is no preference for registering with RMA.”

He said his family registered, as they wanted to be law-abiding. “But the rules and regulations don’t provide a conducive environment.”

He said they even submitted their grievances to the RMA but none of it was addressed.  He and his wife receive more than 30 to 40 calls a day from borrowers. “We don’t entertain loan request for smaller amounts because of the hassles and people genuinely in need of money are impacted.”

Speaking on behalf of the other registered money lender, Seldon, said many young people approached them with proposals but they cannot support, because of the loan ceiling. “Even the micro-financing institutions have better interest than us.”

Meanwhile, some of the legal practitioners have also raised issue with the draft proposal for amendment and insertion.

A judge questioned if RMA has the authority to add penal provisions in the rules and regulations. “No rules can prescribe penal provisions.”

The judge said grading of the offences could only come from the Parliament.

Another said there are many inconsistencies with the draft proposal itself.

A judge said involving judiciary officials to frame the rules and regulations is a direct conflict of interest, as it is the judiciary who will rule judgment on the cases.

According to judiciary report 2020, of the 3,657 civil cases registered last year, monetary cases top the list with 1,674 cases.   

Porter-pony rates increased for Lingzhi highlanders 

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 12:03

Highlanders in Lingzhi, in the absence of a motorable road, depend on yaks and horses for their livelihood

Horses descend from Lingzhi to collect goods from Thimphu

Thinley Namgay   

Thimphu dzongkhag tshogdu approved higher rates for porter pony services for the highland communities of Lingzhi, Soe, and Naro on April 6.

The old porter rate was Nu 300 a day and the daily pony was Nu 450.

The DT raised daily porter charges to Nu 600, and Nu 900 for pony services.

Soe Gup Kencho Dorji said: “Considering the price of fodder for horses and other necessities, the expenses are more than the income earned from such services.”

Local leaders said that the raise would have a huge positive impact on the residents in the highlands. People in these communities depend on yaks and horses for their livelihood. Dzongkhag Tshogdu members said that the matter was deliberated in the past sessions, but nothing was decided.

“The government revised salary and the allowances for civil and public servants, but the porter pony rates remained unchanged for us,” said Kencho Dorji.

Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s Thrizin, Gado, said that he discussed the porter pony charges with the finance minister Namgay Tshering in Paro. “Lyonpo said that the time has reached to increase the porter pony charges. He said that dzongkhag could decide the new rate.  For instance, in Laya, people are paid Nu 800 for a horse in a day.”

Meanwhile, the issue of firewood rates in Lingzhi also surfaced in the dzongkhag tshogdu.

Despite having electricity, parents of children studying in Lingzhi Primary School have to contribute 10 horse loads of firewood annually to the school for each student.

Lingzhi Gup Wangdi said that the school paid Lingzhi residents Nu 200 for a horse load of firewood.

“Due to lack of manpower and fewer horses in the communities, horse owners charge as high as Nu 400 per horse,” said Wangdi. “The payment from the school is too less.”

He proposed to revise the rate.

The dzongkhag tshogdu decided to increase the rate to Nu 300. “The new rate would help people although it’s a small change,” said Wangdi.

Residents have been collecting firewood near Jigme Dorji National Park. “Foresters are now asking people not to gather firewood close to the park area,” he said.

He said that the school could use electricity for cooking meals instead of cooking only rice. The extended classrooms at Soe and Barshong use electricity for cooking.

Lingzhi has five teachers, including the principal, and 54 students from class PP- VI.

First journalist to test positive for Covid-19 

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:59

Infected by the virus while in the line of duty

Younten Tshedup

A Bhutanese journalist tested positive for Covid-19 on April 6 while in the quarantine facility in Thimphu.  This marks the first journalist in the country to test positive for the virus in the line of duty.

The reporter was a member of Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s entourage to Bangladesh last month.  He tested positive during the routine test conducted on April 5 at the quarantine facility.

Along with the reporter, another member from the entourage, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office, also tested positive on the same day.  Both the official and the reporter are in stable condition and have been moved to an isolation facility where the rest of the positive cases from the recent Bangladesh trip have been kept.

Sources confirmed that a cook at the Bhutan Embassy’s guesthouse in Dhaka, where the media team was kept, had recently tested positive for Covid-19.  The cook is currently in a hospital in Dhaka. 

The cook, sources said, could be a possible source of infection.  They also suspect journalists interacting with foreign officials at an event on March 24 in Dhaka, or the Dhaka airport as another possible source of infection.

Given the pandemic protocols, the members of Bhutanese delegation did not go anywhere outside while in Dhaka, the source said. “Moreover, it was risky to move around given the high number of positive cases there.”

The entourage, along with Lyonchhen, returned on March 25.  None of them tested positive during the first routine test conducted on March 31.  The 13-member entourage returned by a Drukair flight that took more than an hour to land at the Paro international airport.

Except for Lyonchhen, the rest of the members were placed in the same quarantine facility in Thimphu.

Meanwhile, 15 Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) artistes have also tested positive for Covid-19 until recently.  The artistes, 22 of them, were a part of Lyonchhen’s delegation to Dhaka as a cultural troupe for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence last month. 

15 households in Bartsham to revive paddy cultivation after two decades

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:56

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

After leaving paddy fields in Yomdey fallow for almost 22 years, farmers of 15 households in Bartsham, Trashigang, will cultivate paddy this year.

Farmers said the fields located near the Gamrichu, about 7km from Trashigang town, were fertile, but they were forced to leave them fallow as floods damaged their irrigation canal.

Yomdey was once popular for paddy cultivation

With Trashigang dzongkhag administration repairing the irrigation canal, developing the land, constructing farm roads and providing electric fencing, farmers have already cleared their fields and are cultivating hybrid maize.

Dzongkhag officials said pipes for irrigation canal would be laid before paddy cultivation season.

A farmer, Sonam Phuntsho, said they would grow chili after harvesting paddy.  There are 14 acres of dry and wetland in the area.

Assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer (ADAO), Suraj Gurung, said the dzongkhag initiated the activities after farmers proposed it. “Dzongkhag is providing materials and farmers are contributing labour to install electric fencing and other facilities.”

He said they expect farmers to grow maize, followed by paddy cultivation, and then onion and chili in winter.

He said the project targets to produce 20 metric tonnes (MT) of hybrid maize.

Although rice will be for self-consumption, agriculture officials will link the farmers with schools to supply vegetables.

What good AFIS can bring us

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:54

Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) is not new but its use is becoming even more complex and necessary. By increasing the potential for successful identification of a suspect noticeably, for example, these systems have changed how authorities approach the investigation of a wide range of crimes and criminal activities.

The Department of Civil Registration and Census is initiating a programme to capture biometric data (fingerprints, iris, palm, rolled fingerprint, and facial recognition) of the legal residents in the country. More than 40,000 fingerprints have been recorded in AFIS already. The date will grow because criminals, suspects, people going abroad for studies or work, volunteers and private firearm’s license holders, among others, will have to get into the system.

The idea is that we will have a system from where we can trace and identify every citizen’s activities. In difficult and complicated situations, biometric samples such as physical or behavioural human characteristics that can be used to digitally identify a person to grant access to systems, devices or data, can come most handy.

The system’s usefulness can be established from the fact that since 2016, the Royal Bhutan Police received 252 cases of fingerprint identification, out of which 81 matched their database; 72 fingerprints were unfit for comparison.

But there are questions from the people—“Why AFIS, as if we are all criminals?” 

Such questions are only to be expected.

AFIS are not just for criminals. It is about the information of a person which can be used in many situations. A fire disaster, for example; an accident somewhere…AFIS are an efficient and effective tools, capable of scrutinising vast databases that can provide potential fingerprint matches in a matter of minutes.

Traditional crime besides, the new challenges, such as global terrorism and illegal immigration have only heightened the need for authorities to identify individuals that could pose a threat to people and the country. But this is just one aspect of AFIS’s usefulness.

Biometric identification system is based on the principle that each individual can have recognisable and verifiable data unique and specific to him or her. Scientifically, the probability of finding two identical prints is one in 64 billion, even with twins.

Building AFIS is good but because these systems must continue to develop through more in-depth research, what we need is trained individuals and highly sophisticated labs to do the job. Failure can be monumental otherwise. We cannot make such missteps.

AFIS are not just about crime and criminal activities; it is about efficient service delivery. Both the system and citizens stand to gain immensely.

Lingzhi Dzong reconstruction to complete utse soon

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:53

Thinley Namgay

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the reconstruction of Lingzhi Dzong is on schedule to complete by June 2023.

Workers are gearing up to finish reconstruction of the three-storey utse (central tower), which will be completed in June.

Lingzhi drungpa and project manager, Mani Sangye, said that 90 percent of the utse was completed. “I’m sure that the project will complete on time.”

Dismantling the old utse began on August 20, 2019, and the foundation for the new utse was laid on April 12 last year.

Thirty-five percent of the ongoing Lingzhi Dzong Conservation Project (LDCP) has been completed so far.

Lingzhi Dzong is located at about 4,300 metres (m) above sea level.  Also known as the Lingzhi Yugyal Dzong, the third Druk Desi Chogyal Minjur Tenpa built the dzong to commemorate the victory over a Tibetan invasion in 1668.

The dzong used to house both the drungkhag administration and monastic body until it was damaged in an earthquake in September 2011.  Before that, the dzong was first destroyed in an earthquake in 1867, rebuilt in the 1950s, and partly renovated in 2005.

Due to the lack of a motorable road, project materials and essential food items are transported by yaks and horses from the nearest road.  For instance, it takes five days to bring materials from Shana, Paro. 

LDCP has 164 workers consisting of 15 carpenters, 25 masons, an electrician, and 123 helpers.  Construction campsites are located at Tshebgang, Zhodhu, Lingzhi, Soe and Shana.

“Number of working hours gets reduced during bad weather,” Mani Sangye said.

Timber for the construction is transported from Zhodhu to Lingzhi crossing Yarli (4,942m above sea level), which takes a minimum of two days by the workers.  Yaks and horses are being used to transport timber to expedite the collection of materials.

LDCP worth Nu 400 million is a Government of India project.  However, only 13.29 percent (Nu 53.17M) of the total budget has been utilised so far. 

Inconsistent LG Act and LG Rules suffer implementation

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 11:52

MB Subba

Contradictions between provisions of the Local Government Rules and Regulations (LGRR) 2012 and the Local Government (LG) Act have led to problems in implementation, according to local leaders.

The issue was pointed out by the Centre for Local Governance and Research (CLG) at a recently held meeting in Trongsa.

For instance, Section 189 of LG Act states that the chairperson of a monitoring and evaluation committee shall be elected from amongst members of the committee.  But the LGRR states that the chairperson of the local government (DT chairperson at the dzongkhag level and GT chairperson at the gewog level) will be ex-officio chairperson of the committee.

More interestingly, most of the dzongdags chair the monitoring and evaluation committees in most dzongkhags in contradiction to both LG Act and LGRR.

Executive director of CLG, Tharchen, said that such contradictions could not only become a source of conflicts between local leaders and dzongkhag administration officials but also lead to dilution of the essence of LG Act and local governance.  The issues could also lead to confusion among local leaders and dzongkhag administrations, he said.

“LG members, who are aware of the Act, will follow it. Civil servants, who may not be aware of the Act, would go by the rules, which will be null and void if they are not consistent with the Act,” he said.

The monitoring and evaluation committee is empowered to take action against the contractor if the work is not executed as per the specification.

The dzongkhag monitoring committee of Dagana chaired by the dzongdag in January asked two contractors to dismantle and rebuild the partition wall of a six-unit classroom building of Tsangkha middle secondary school on the grounds of compromising the quality.

But close observers say that such decisions taken by a committee that is formed as per the rules but not in conformity with the Act would be challenged as the awareness level of local leaders increases.

Dzongkhags have tender committees to award and monitor work.  But the LG Act does not recognise committees that are not established by the local government.

Section 188 of the LG Act states that committees shall be established by local governments for purpose of specific functions, in accordance with the provisions of the Act. 

However, a local leader said that the dzongkhag tender committees are formed by the dzongkhag administration and headed by the dzongdag. “The dzongkhag tendering committee involves the local leader if the budget is the gewog’s,” he said.

Dzongdags said that the rules and regulations are framed by the government and that they do not have the power to amend them.  But they said that they execute work as per the Act and LGRR.

Sarpang Dzongdag Lobzang Dorji said that local leaders are sensitised on the relevant Acts and rules after their election. “Local governments are generally aware of their roles and responsibilities,” he said.

The monitoring committees at the gewog level are assisted by civil servants with technical knowledge, he said.  At the dzongkhag level, he said that the dzongkhag involves local leaders in the committee. “We don’t do alone,” he said.

Lhuentse Dzongdag Jambay Wangchuk said that there was no monitoring and evaluation committee as such in the dzongkhag, but that the awarding and monitoring of work are carried out by the dzongkhag tendering committee. “We refer rules and Act while carrying out our works,” he said.

A dzongdag said that they also follow procurement rules, besides the LGRR, to evaluate and monitor the work. “We have to do the monitoring and evaluation of work as we’re answerable to the audit,” he said.

A local leader said that the rules and regulations were not consistent with the Act, but that it was in the government’s hand to streamline them.

Kazhi gup Wangdi from Wangdue said that the work related to tendering, monitoring and evaluation of activities is carried out under the chairpersonship of the gup and the dzongdag at the gewog and dzongkhag levels respectively.  The gup, he said, will participate as a committee member at the dzongkhag level.

A gup from Tsirang said that large projects within the gewog are awarded by the dzongkhag tendering committee but executed by the gewog.

“Even the monitoring works are carried out by the gewog level committee. But the works at the dzongkhag level are carried out by the dzongkhag tendering committee headed by the dzongdag,” he said.

A gup from Samdrupjongkhar said that all the provisions of neither the Act nor the LGRR have been implemented due to inconsistencies and practical problems.  He said that that the committee need co-opted members for technical expertise.

“It’s not possible to implement all the provisions of law and rules due to resources constraints and inconsistencies in provisions,” he said.

A gup said that it was better to leave the monitoring work to the dzongkhag administration. “The dzongkhag monitoring team is more effective and they also have the required technical expertise,” he said.

A monitoring and evaluation committee may have co-opted members, who can be appointed under the authority of the chairperson, based on the recommendation of the committee based on relevancy and need to the committee.  But the LG rules state that the dzongdag may invite sector heads and officials from relevant agencies in committee meetings.

In another similar contradiction, the Act states that the committee shall work under the direction of the local government chairperson.  But LGRR states that the local governments shall conduct monitoring and evaluation of development policies, plans and projects as per the procedures formulated by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC).

The CLG has pointed out this as a source of conflict between monitoring and evaluation committees of the dzongkhag administration and DT.

The Act mandates LG chairpersons to submit an annual report of the implementation status of planned activities to the sessions of the local government.  However, the LG rules state that the dzongdag shall table the progress report before the dzongkhag monitoring and evaluation committee.

The CLG also points out that there is no mention of drungpas in the LG Act and that there is no legal basis for drawing terms of reference (ToR) for a drungkhag committee.

As per the LG rules and regulations, the drungpa shall be accountable to the dzongdag and responsible for the development programmes and projects implemented in the gewogs under his or her jurisdiction.

Director Kado Zangpo of the Department of Local Governance (DLG) said that it would be better for the rules once the LG Act is amended.

DLG has been appraised about the inconsistencies between the Act and the rules, it was learnt.

However, Tharchen said that the amendment of LG Act could take about 18 months and that new rules should be readied for the new local government that will be elected towards the end of the year.  The confusion, he said, should be cleared at the earliest.

He said that such issues used to be thrashed out at the annual gups’ conference. “They don’t have a proper platform to raise the issues as the’ conferences didn’t happened for a last few years,” he said.

ACC seizes Nu 1.2M from prime suspect, returns Nu 1.7M to a transporter

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:31

SMCL office in Samdrupjongkhar

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) seized  Nu 2.9 million (M) in cash from a prime suspect and transport agency based in Samdrupjongkhar as it launched an investigation into alleged corruption in exporting and transportation of gypsum from Bhutan to Nepal.

Of the Nu 2.9M, Nu 1.2M was reportedly seized from the house of Kumar Pradhan, marketing specialist of the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) and Nu 1.7M from the transport company, East Bhutan Private Limited (EBPL). However, ACC has returned Nu 1.7M to EBPL as the cash was reportedly withdrawn for the payment of salary to its employees.

ACC’s investigation team in Samdrupjongkhar sought a search warrant from the dzongkhag court on March 15 and raided  SMCL, EBPL offices, and homes of SMCL general manager and the marketing specialist. The team seized documents, computers of SMCL and EBPL, and laptops and cell phones.

In his letter to the court seeking a search warrant, ACC’s lawyer Sonam Tshering stated that the commission has grounds to suspect Kumar Pradhan’s involvement in corrupt practices.

Sonam Tshering stated that the suspect is a shareholder of EBPL when exporting gypsum to Nepal and the same company is also a transporter. “There is a direct conflict of interest which he failed to declare,” he stated in the letter.

ACC also alleged that both transport and export of gypsum were done directly violating procurement rules and regulations.

The letter also stated that since the suspect is the marketing expert of minerals, the commission suspected that he abused his authority in fixing rates for gypsum. There were also allegations that the gypsum was sold at Nu 1,970 per metric tonne from Bhutan and then exported to Nepal at Nu 5,000  incurring loss to the government. “There is no transparency with these two different rates,” the ACC letter to the court stated. “That is why there were many allegations  that public properties are being misused by one or two individuals.”

Given these suspicions and allegations against the suspect,  the commission concluded that there was a prima facie case of corruption that requires a search and seizure warrant from the court as per the Anti-Corruption Act.  The letter stated that the suspect has not only failed to declare the “conflict of interest” but is also suspected of committing offences involving commission amounting to an abuse of functions, embezzlement of property by public servant, active and passive bribery of public servant and tax evasion.

Based on the appeal for search and seizure by ACC, the court issued a search warrant to conduct a search at Kumar Pradhan’s residence, SMCL office, EBPL office, and his son’s residence.

The Anti-Corruption Act grants the commission power to search and seize.

The ACC began an investigation after the anonymous complainant addressed a three-page letter to the commission’s chairperson and uploaded it on Facebook on March 1.

It detailed allegations of how the director and manager are exporting minerals to Nepal, deflating the gypsum price to Nu 1,970 from the actual market rate of Nu 5,500 and sharing the profit. “Accountability has to be fixed and ACC has to intervene and proceed for spot quotation of the minerals from the stockyard by fixing rates at auctions,” the letter stated.

SMCL officials, however, in an earlier interview with Kuensel refuted corruption allegations and said the complaint was “bogus”. They said the complaint was made by an individual, who wanted to transport gypsum but did not win the tender. “SMCL doesn’t look after transport,” an official said.

The official had said the person lodged a similar complaint to ACC in September last year and ACC officials, who were in Samdrupjongkhar for a different case, visited the SMCL office.

He said that ACC forwarded the complaints to Druk Holdings and Investment (DHI) because there was no corruption element to the case and that they had written to DHI about how they were making a seamless transfer.

The official also said the SMCL board fixes the rate for gypsum and that the director and manager do not have authority to fix the price as claimed in the article. “Everything is transparent here, as all transactions are online. Payments are made upfront.”

Rinzin Wangchuk 

Thimphu Structural Plan being reviewed after 18 years

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:31

Following shortcomings and lack of coordination between agencies in the implementation of Thimphu Structural Plan (TSP), the plan is now being reviewed, 18 years after its implementation.

The TSP 2002-2027 is a long-term project spanning a period of 25 years and considered a ‘living document’ to ensure proper and efficient implementation of the plan.  The plan, according to the document, was prepared based on the principles of intelligent urbanism (PIU).

However, the reality of settlements that have come up in Thimphu as a result of the plan has often raised questions over what went wrong with the visions or the structural plan.

Despite the plan requiring timely review and updating, the TSP has not been reviewed even once since its implementation.  Without the review, the planning has led to deviations from the original intent of the plan.

The performance audit report on urban planning and development in Thimphu throm (2019) pointed out that there was a lack of clarity and disagreements as per correspondence between the agencies, for which agency (works and human settlement ministry or Thimphu Thromde) is responsible for carrying out the review. “In the process, it never happened.”

However, a member from the review team said that MoWHS and thromde started the review last year.  The review will be for two years in two phases.

The review was initially planned to complete in June next year, but given the lockdown due to the pandemic, the review period was disrupted.

“The review wants to make sure and find what went wrong, so we might have to extend the completion,” an official said. “It may not change what has already gone wrong, but it might be able to do something to stop further damages to the plan.”

It was realised that the concepts in the TSP were conceived on inadequate data and land records since some of the major challenges while implementing TSP were land record updating, changes in plan, legal litigations on certain methods of planning and development, disagreement with landowners, and funding issues.

The official said that the ministry’s Strategic Environment Review 2017 had also strongly suggested the review of TSP and this review would help understand the real issues that are prevalent.

The team will collect issues and geodata like population density, kind of people living in a particular area, landscape, social amenities needed, and traffic patterns in the first phase.

“While doing the review, we realised that there was a lack of data and the data collected when TSP was first made were sketchy. So, it’s important we first have detailed and robust data that will guide any agencies in the planning especially in terms of how settlements come out,” the team member said.

The official added that the ongoing review also showed that lack of data was one of the issues that lacked proper implementation of TSP over the years. “With lack of coordination among agencies, the review and data will bring in all agencies to come together before implementing any plans.”

For instance, if one of the ministries has a strategy to enhance transportation, the ministry must work with relevant agencies to come up with the plan, which is absent currently.

Without the review, the audit report had also pointed out that it has a significant impact on the whole implementation process of TSP. “This oversight has made a review of the implementation process now more difficult with lack of clarity between changes that were necessary and changes that worked against the sanctity of the whole plan.”

In the second phase of the review, all data will be analysed that would reveal what and where interventions are required, engage people to know their perspectives to get views and specific needs in the area, and plans would be made accordingly.

The team has already talked with about 60 agencies to know about different policies in place and such involvement is expected to help the team incorporate details with TSP.  Analysing data will also help agencies to ensure that any plans, henceforth, match the TSP.

One of the findings from the audit report had also pointed out that having too many legislations and policy documents, which were adopted over the years and are not consolidated, was learnt to be one of the reasons for creating confusion and hindering the implementation of the TSP.

Once the review completes, the draft would be presented to the Thromde tshogde and after which a committee within the ministry will approve the review. Thimphu will then have a new TSP to implement.

Although moratorium is necessary while such review takes place, an official said that pandemic came as a blessing, whereby many constructions are on halt and a moratorium was not needed. “Moreover, if we issue a moratorium, it would disturb the already affected economy of the country.”

The review has also realised that there is a need for a body where representatives from different agencies would coordinate to develop and implement TSP.

The last planning audit was carried out in 2008 in Thimphu City Corporation.  In the last 11 years, the ministry conducted no planning audit in Thimphu Thromde.

The TSP covers an area of 26sqkm with a 25-year implementation period and has 15 sectors (urban village) that are further broken up into 22 local areas each around 1km2 with 100- 400 plots.

With the review, the area would now increase to 35sqkm.

“A major issue appears to be a weak institutional capacity of Thimphu Thromde in terms of human resource capacity against the huge task of implementing the TSP besides carrying out its other mandates,” the audit report.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Only 12 attend common forum at Jampeling in Gelephu

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:30

The two thrompon candidates for the upcoming thromde elections in Gelephu were unhappy by the poor turnout at the first common forum held in Jampeling demkhong yesterday.

Only 12 people attended the forum in the demkhong that has the third-highest eligible voters in Gelephu thromde.

Jampeling has 279 eligible voters.

The two candidates, Tikaram Kafley from Jampeling demkhong and Tshering Norbu from Trashiling demkhong, said common fora are important for people to listen to their manifestos on a shared platform and make an informed choice.

They also said the purpose of the common forum was defeated without people attending the forum.

The former thrompon, Tikaram Kafley, said it was important for people to participate in the forum whether they liked the candidates or not. “I’m not happy with the turnout but they might be engaged with work. Some might have decided not to attend because they’ve heard the candidates during the door-to-door campaign.”

Candidate Tshering Norbu from Trashiling demkhong said it was important for people to attend the common forums, as they would hear from candidates together.

“In the door-to-door campaign, pledges are shared on a personal level although it’s an opportunity to explain it to the people well. The common forum is an opportunity for the people to know the competency and capability of the candidates,” he said.

The former businessman, who was also an ICT officer, said there was no official to inform people about the common forum. “There are no tshogpas to share the information. Appointing a temporary representative would improve the attendance.”

At the common forum held at the fishery office yesterday, there were almost an equal number of people attending the common forum and officials coordinating and observing the forum.

A voter from Jampeling, Aruna Mukhia Chhetri, said that her neighbours and relatives were not aware and did not receive any information regarding the common forum.

“I called some relatives. They weren’t informed. They’d left for work when I asked them to come for the forum,” she said.

She also agreed that it was important to attend the forum because the people should know the pledges.

The returning officer, Needup, said the dzongkhag issued public notification and the thromde administration informed the people about the common forum.

“There are challenges once the tenure of tshogpas ended. They aren’t active anymore and there are no officials on the ground in demkhong to inform the voters,” he said.

Needup also said the thromde administration made arrangement and asked former tshogpas and civil servants to inform them.

“People chose not to come. There is no authority to compel voters or make it mandatory for the people to attend the forum. That’s not the essence of democracy,” he said.

Sources said not having a proper logistic facility at the Jampeling could also have discouraged the people.

Meanwhile, common forums for the remaining demkhongs in Gelephu are scheduled for this week.

The common forum for Namkhaling demkhong will be held at 9:30am in the CDCL office today.

Nima | Gelephu

Thrompon candidates woo Thimphu voters 

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:29

Round-the-clock water supply, easing traffic congestion, sewage connections are some of the top pledges of the three thrompon candidates of Thimphu.

The election campaign officially started on April 2.

Former Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee, the candidate from Babesa Demkhong, and Sonam Dorji from Dechencholing-Taba Demkhong started their campaign on April 2 from Taba. The other candidate, Ugyen Dorji from Jungshina-Kawajangsa Demkhong chose to begin his campaign on April 6 consideration the zakar or tendrel (auspicious beginning).

With 10 years of experience under his belt,  Kinlay Dorjee said, “If I get elected again, I will carry forth the plans laid during my two terms.”

Kinlay Dorjee said that the most challenging issue today was traffic congestion. He said that the priority of the new thrompon has to be easing the congestion.

He said that along with the development activities, there would be a focus on creating community vitality and inclusiveness. “I have been doing this so far.”

Sonam Dorji, 31, pledged to supply free drinking water to the residents of the thromde.

He said that for more than a decade residents in many parts of the city faced water shortage. “Drinking water is a human right. This election is not about me but water as people’s fundamental right.”

He said that his focus is a vision of “New Thimphu” that is more liveable, sustainable and inclusive.

Sonam Dorji pledged on installing solar streetlights and sewerage line and improving the roads.

Ugyen Dorji, during the campaign, said that he hoped people would trust his experience. “If I were to take the responsibilities of the Thrompon half-heartedly, then I would have come out as a candidate years ago.”

He pledged on improving the thromde service delivery through digital connectivity.

He said: “If I get the opportunity, I will establish community offices in demkhongs so that people can avail services and use facilities in it.”

He promised to improve road and water distribution networks, minimise the water shortage and provide a continuous water supply.

Some voters are of the view that it would be better to support the candidate that had experience as a thrompon.  A voter said that if someone new gets elected then they would have to start from scratch while the experienced candidate can achieve much more. 

Other voters look forward to a change. A voter from Jungshina, who requested anonymity, said, “We have had no new thrompon in the last two terms. A new thrompon might bring innovative ideas to transform the city.”

The candidates were accompanied by their parents, spouses and relatives. To ensure that the meetings with voters strictly comply with the Covid-19 safety protocols a desuup follows each of the candidates throughout the day.

The former thrompon knows the residents from experience, Ugyen Dorji uses the geological positioning system (GPS) printouts to locate voters’ homes, and Sonam Dorji has his parents to help him identify voters in the locality.

The candidates’ campaigning ends on April 26.

Chhimi Dema 

A wake-up call!

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:27

Being in the young Himalayan mountains, Bhutan sits on one of the most seismically active zones in the world. Earthquakes are just one of the natural calamities among the many that we ought to be worried about.

Natural disasters are beyond human control. That’s the fact. But there are ways to prepare so that consequences are minimal. That, too, is a fact. So where are we today in relation to these facts and reality?

An earthquake of magnitude 5.4 struck near the Sikkim-Bhutan border Monday at 8:50pm. Going by the earthquake magnitude scale, 5.4 on Richter scale (M) is a minor event; tremors can be felt, of course, but the extent of damage, if at all, will be small.

Because it is difficult to predict earthquakes, there is no way to find out or even come close to conjecturing the magnitude of disasters awaiting us.

The way we are building disaster preparedness, there is a need to think and plan ahead, urgently.

A new study, EquiP-Bhutan, gives us a worst-case earthquake scenario in Bhutan. In the event there is a powerful shake at night, there could be at least 9,000 fatalities; 10,000 serious injuries; some 45,000 people could be displaced. Wangdue, Punakha, Thimphu, and Paro where 33 percent of the population reside, the risks are high. 

Bhutan has experienced some powerful earthquakes. The 1897 earthquake which measured M 8.7 was perhaps the biggest and most destructive in history. More recently, the M 6.1 September 2009 and M 6.9 September 2011 earthquakes claimed lives and caused untold damage to property. Together, the earthquakes damaged 11,927 rural homes, 67 health facilities, 1,086 heritage sites and 56 RNR centres.

Climate change is a reality and we need to more resilient. Being in the mountains, not least on the seismically active zone, Bhutan’s vulnerability to natural disasters will only grow. Past climate data are hard to come by but that is not even necessary. The 1994 GLOF and windstorms of 2011, 2013 and 2014 stand testimony to the effects of changing climatic conditions. Flash floods and forest fires are becoming increasingly common.

Because research on earthquake risks in Bhutan is few and far between, the significance of the study cannot be undermined. EquiP-Bhutan has modelled a range of different earthquakes between M 7.0 and M 8.5 and it found that of 65 big earthquakes, at least five could cause more than 5,000 fatalities.

The Monday earthquake along the Sikkim-Bhutan border is a wake-up call. There is a need to develop and prop up response and coordination through periodic simulation exercises to identify gaps and improve preparedness. We need to improve and solidify communication linkages.

It is time we gave disaster management a special priority and that means building an institution with the capability to study dangers and respond. We can and should do much more than training volunteers.

Born different but strong and determined

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:27

Suk Raj Sherpa, 26, from Lhamoidzingkha in Dagana was born with tri-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by the absence of three limbs.  He has only a left arm.

Despite being born different, Suk Raj is able to do most things able-bodied persons can do.

Today, he operates a small print shop inside his brother in-law’s general shop in Geserling, providing printing and lamination services to students and officials.  He also helps at the shop.

Suk Raj can also cook his own meals.

Suk Raj was adopted and raised by his brother-in-law, whom he calls uncle.

He completed class XII from Tendruk Central School in Samtse in 2019.  Special Education Programme supported his higher secondary education.

Suk Raj (front left) and his friends during their trip to Bumthang, last year

He is the eldest of five siblings and his parents live in Thimphu.

One of the things he missed out on as a child, he said, was not being able to play sports. “It used to make me sad seeing other boys in the school play football. Walking to school was challenging, especially during the monsoon. I’d be drenched to the bone.”

Suk Raj failed twice in class IX.  “But I was determined to complete class XII at least,” he said. “It would have been difficult for me to fit in the society otherwise.”

Pema Thinley, gewog administrative officer of Geserling, is Suk Raj’ friend.  When he first met Suk Raj he didn’t know his friend could do so much independently.

“I saw only his disability in the beginning. I was wrong. I don’t see him that way anymore. In fact, he can do a lot of things that we can’t. He can communicate with people better than I can, for example,” said Pema Thinley.

What amazes Pema Thinley is that Suk Raj never complains about his life and the hardships he has to undergo. “And he’s very passionate about new things.”

Many of the gewog officials are Suk Raj’s friends.  They like him.  On holidays, they go for picnics and trips to different places together.

Last year, Suk Raj visited Bumthang with his friends.  He said he had never in his life imagined that he would make it to Bumthang one day.

“It was my dreamland. Thanks to my friends I could visit many interesting and culturally and religiously significant places in Bumthang,” Suk Raj said.

While his uncle takes care of all necessities for him at the moment, one of his biggest concerns his uncle has is what would happen to Suk Raj when he is gone.

“A decent and permanent job would be good,” Suk Raj said. “That way, I can take care of my own needs.”

What kind of job?

“An office assistant, for example. I believe I can handle the job pretty well.”

Suk Raj’s current net income is Nu 2,000 a month from his printing business.

Royal Thimphu College provided him with a printer and laminator in 2019.

“Being an optimist is very important in life,” said Suk Raj. “Worse could happen. I never imagined that I could come so far,” he said. “I have my uncle to count on now. As to the future, I must take what’s in store for me.”

Chimi Dema | Dagana

Covid-19 vaccination to continue until April end

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:25

Covid-19 vaccination will continue until the end of this month for those who could not avail the services during the weeklong campaign that ended on April 2.

The service will be available at all health facilities in 20 dzongkhags.

However, people are advised to seek prior appointments before visiting the health centres.  Those who cannot visit the hospitals could contact the health officials for home-based services.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk of the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) said that, considering the wastage, hospitals would first collect an adequate number of people (10 people for one vial) and then vaccinate accordingly.

This is because a vial (the small glass container where the vaccine is stored) of Covishield vaccine contains 10 doses of the vaccine.  Once the rubber cap of the vial is punctured by a needle, the vaccine should be used within six hours.

Meaning, if a new vial is opened for five people on the first day, the remaining vaccine cannot be used the next day.

Meanwhile, 469,664 people have received the Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccination in the last 11 days, which is more than 85 percent of the eligible population and 62 percent of Bhutan’s total population (projected as of 2021).

This means that, of the 100 people, 38 individuals did not receive the vaccine.  This includes children below the age of 18, some pregnant and lactating mothers, seriously ill patients, and those whose cases have been deferred due to certain medical conditions during the vaccine campaign.

NI-TAG member, Dr GP Dhakal, said that, although 62 percent of the total population has been vaccinated, the first dose, also known as a priming dose, doesn’t guarantee 100 percent protection against the virus.

He explained that the priming dose will trigger an immune response and signal the body to produce chemicals to fight the virus known as antibodies after about two weeks following the vaccination.

“Two weeks after the first dose, you may be 50 percent protected which is why, to have full protection, you’ll need to get the second or booster dose. Similarly, adequate antibodies will be produced two weeks after the booster dose,” he said. “That is why until we’re fully protected, we all need to follow preventive measures, such as wearing face masks, practising physical distancing and regularly washing hands.”

He added that, since almost 38 percent of the population remained unvaccinated due to their ineligibility to get the vaccine, they would be severely impacted if there is an outbreak of Covid-19. “So, let us all follow the preventive measures and not become complacent. Our neighbouring countries made this mistake and the virus is now rampantly spreading there. We’re not yet safe from the pandemic.”

 

Lessons learnt 

Bhutan’s vaccination drive has been considered a global success.  As of yesterday, the country was behind Israel just by 0.3 percent in terms of the share of people who received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.  Israel currently has the highest vaccination score in the world.

However, the success did not come without challenges.  Three people accidentally received a double dose of the vaccine during the initial days of the campaign.  There was a last-minute change in the vaccination plan (from online registration to movement card) and the people were constantly confused with their eligibility to receive the vaccine.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that it was not the perfect campaign but, at the end of the period, the turnout was impressive.

He said that going by the social media posts, people were hesitant initially. “At that rate, we thought that not many would not turn up for the vaccination. However, despite the hesitancy, many people came forward, which was very positive.”

He said that all of Bhutan’s vaccination programmes so far have received “very good” coverage including the flu and other routine vaccination programmes. “It was no different this time with the Covid-19 vaccine. We request people to come forward in the same spirit during the second dose.”

He added that information on all aspects of vaccines needed to be frequently shared with the public for better understanding. “The ministry did a lot in disseminating information but I think we can do better,” he said. “Apps like WeChat need to be used more, I think, as many have access to these platforms. Information will have to be sent in local dialects so that it reaches the mass.”

He said that the issue of administering a double dose of vaccine, which was triggered by miscommunication, and challenges at different vaccination facilities would be addressed during the second dose campaign. “All in all, we had a successful campaign. Things should only improve during the second.”

Meanwhile, he said that many people were calling up health officials requesting the Pfizer vaccine. “We haven’t received any Pfizer vaccine so far. And the health ministry isn’t hiding anything.”

He said that Bhutan would receive about 6,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX Facility of which Bhutan is a member.

“We’re yet to receive the vaccines. But our plan is clear; once we get Pfizer, it would be used to vaccinate only those aged 16 and 17 years to cover enough population to achieve herd immunity.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one given emergency-use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration for 16- and 17-year olds.

Younten Tshedup

Experts say chronically ill persons must be vaccinated 

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 11:35

More than 72 hours after receiving the Covishield vaccine, a 44-year old man died in Gelephu last week.  Health officials said his death was not triggered by the vaccine.

The man received his first dose of the vaccine on March 30.  Dr Sonam Wangchuk of the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) said the man did not report any adverse reaction following the vaccination.

However, three days later on April 2, the man complained of shortness of breath and was brought to the hospital.  Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the man had pre-existing medical conditions including an alcoholic liver disease.

“He was in distress and was disoriented when he was brought to the hospital. It was also quite late when he reached there which is why the doctors couldn’t do much,” he said.

NI-TAG member, Dr GP Dhakal said that, considering the symptoms, the cause of the death was the complication of his cirrhosis and not the vaccine.  Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease marked by degeneration of cells, inflammation, and fibrous thickening of tissue.  It is typically a result of alcoholism or hepatitis.

This marks the third death reported to the NI-TAG following the nationwide vaccination campaign.  NI-TAG’s investigation established that none of the deaths was related to the vaccine.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that any severe adverse reaction triggered by the vaccine should manifest immediately after the vaccination.  

He said that, even without the vaccine, people, especially with comorbidities, are likely to die due to their own deteriorating health conditions.

To put it into context, the 2020 annual health bulletin records the death of 1,108 people in 2019 due to their pre-existing medical conditions.  Every year, more than 1,000 people died in the country due to one or more medical conditions.  The national referral hospital, on average, records over 600 deaths annually.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, given that majority of the population was now vaccinated, it would be wrong to associate every death hereafter to the vaccine. “However, any case reported to us, NI-TAG would be investigating it thoroughly.”

 

Why give the vaccine?

Following the two earlier incidences in Pemagatshel and Bumthang, many have raised issues about why vaccinate those chronically ill patients.

Dr Dhakal said that the Covishield vaccine guideline, the health ministry and NI-TAG follow, approves the vaccine’s use on these comorbid individuals explicitly.

“The guideline says that these categories of people — those with lung, kidney, or heart disease — have been studied during the phase three clinical trials of the vaccine,” he said. “Meaning, there was no adverse effect or contraindication found in these groups of people during the phase three trials.”

Also, initially, the AstraZeneca vaccine was not recommended for pregnant and lactating mothers.  It was done mainly because these groups of people were not included during the clinical trials of the vaccine.  However, global experts concluded that, if the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risk, these groups of people could be vaccinated.

Dr Dhakal said that the only exception was for those, who were severely ill and those with blood cancer currently undergoing active chemotherapy. “And for those, who experience an anaphylactic reaction during the first dose, they can’t take the second dose. These are the only exceptions.”

Besides the guideline, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that people with comorbidities are the priority group to receive the Covid-19 vaccine across the world. “In case of an outbreak, these groups of people would be the most vulnerable, which is why we have to vaccinate them.”

Dr Dhakal said that people with compromised immunity have more chances of getting a severe form of Covid-19 disease during an outbreak. “They are the priority group in countries where the vaccine is in shortage.”

Younten Tshedup 

Vegetable prices continue to spike 

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 11:34

With local vegetable prices soaring, a Thimphu resident can buy a kilogram (kg) of big green chili, a kg of mushroom, and a bundle of asparagus with Nu 1,000 at the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM).

Pasang, a public servant in Thimphu spends Nu 2,000 every week to buy fresh local vegetables to feed her family of five.  With soaring inflation, her purchase doesn’t even last a week.

Like Pasang, access to nutritious, varied fresh local vegetables has become a challenge to many urban residents.  The impact is greater on the low-and-middle-income families.

A kg of big green chilli cost Nu 700 at the CFM

When the big green chili from Tsirang was brought to the CFM, people paid Nu 900 a kg.  Even after three weeks, the price is Nu 700 a kg.

Soon, the much sought after Trashiyangtse chili will hit the market at Nu 750 a kg.  A single chili would cost around Nu 15.

However, in recent days, except for tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, imported vegetables are not easily found at the CFM.  Vendors said that due to increased production, they purchased local vegetables from wholesalers, but the exorbitant prices of vegetables are jeopardising the whole business.

In fear of running into losses, Karma Lhaden, a vendor, couldn’t take the risk of buying big green chili from Tsirang.  She said that a sack of chili that has about 24kg costs Nu 5,000. “It’s expensive. We don’t earn a profit of Nu 50.”

“It’s discounting the plastic we have to buy for packaging,” she added.

A kg of packaging plastic costs more than Nu 250.

A vendor from Paro, Phub Gyem said that customers were misinformed about the prices of the big green chili. She said that many demanded it be sold at Nu 350 as broadcast by the government. “I had a few arguments over chili prices with buyers. We had to negotiate.”

She said that, with high demand in the market, wholesalers, who were adamant about prices, had nothing to lose.

Vegetable vendors say the price hike was caused by the high prices charged by farmers at the source.  They also blame the high cost of transportation due to the Covid-19 situation forcing the price hike.

A customer said that it was easier to buy 25-kg rice instead of buying a kg of green chili.

Another said that rather than buying a kg of chili at Nu 700, she would rather buy a mathra kira that would last a few years.

But it is not only the prices of chili that are driving residents into poverty.  The prices of other local vegetables are comparatively higher.  The cheapest price of a kg of vegetables is Nu 30 at the CFM.

National Statistics Bureau in January reported that commodity prices rose significantly last year as the measures taken to contain Covid-19 had a major impact on food supplies in the country. “The month-on-month consumer price index in October 2020 increased by 0.31 percent with food prices increasing by 0.41 percent and non-food by 0.23 percent.”

To keep price hike under control, the Department of Agricultural Marketing Cooperatives shared the farm gate prices of vegetables through various modes of communication, including direct communication to the wholesalers, retailers and also to growers through the dzongkhag and gewog agricultural officers.

The Office of Consumer Protection has asked shopkeepers and vendors not to manipulate the prices of goods and asked consumers to report hiked prices to the department.  Customers have to submit a receipt of the purchase.

These measures by the government do not have much impact.

Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that global food prices rose in January this year for the eighth consecutive month, led by cereals, vegetable oils and sugar.

Experts warn that recent price spikes for food will hit the most vulnerable populations.

Choki Wangmo 

Windstorm damages 11 houses in Mongar

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 11:33

A windstorm that occurred between 2.30pm to 5.30pm on April 4 that lasted for about three hours blew off roofs of 11 houses in six gewogs of Mongar. Among the affected were a house each in Balam, Dramitse and Thangrong gewogs, two each in Kengkhar and Sherimuhung gewogs, and three in Ngatshang gewog.

 While the roofs of the six houses were totally blown off, the roofs of another five houses suffered partial damages.

While no casualties were reported gewog officials and volunteers have started rendering and facilitating rebuilding the damaged structures. 

Staff Reporter 

Windstorm affected households receive temporary relief support

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 11:32

… minor damages reported in eight gewogs in Sarpang

Authorities reached temporary relief support to all affected households in Nangkor, Zhemgang,  which suffered the maximum damages in the windstorm on Monday evening, with the help of desuups, and the community.

Assessments for insurance for all affected families in the gewog were completed, according to the gewog officials.

The relief efforts started as early as 7am. Houses that lost roofs to the windstorms were temporarily covered using tarpaulin sheets, and tents were pitched for the affected families planning to start repair works soon.

Nangkor Mangmi, Singye Wangchuk said, “We could restore the roofs of almost all the households that had materials ready. Those without the required materials were covered with tarpaulin provided by the dzongkhag.”

He added that dzongkhag officials were overseeing the relief efforts throughout the day. Almost all houses affected were insured, according to the mangmi.

The relief support had also reached families in Bardo gewog and the dzongkhag provided 15 small tarpaulin sheets to the affected families in Langdurbi chiwog yesterday.

Bardo gewog Mangmi, Tshering Tenzin said that the relief materials provided were not sufficient for the affected families. “But, we managed with the help of locals and started to temporarily restore the rooftops. Assessment for those insured are underway,” he said.

Several public and private structures were damaged in Sarpang including schools, RNR centre, shops, and rooftops of over 10 houses in eight gewogs.

Dzongkhag disaster management officials said the damages were mostly minor and the assessment for houses that suffered major damages were ongoing.

Damages to roofs, summer vegetables, and polyhouse were reported in Sarpang following a windstorm on Monday evening, which lasted more than an hour.

The most affected were in Samtenling gewog with over 10 low-cost and 11 prefabricated polyhouses damaged, according to dzongkhag agriculture officials.

The windstorm also affected crops and vegetables that were ready for the harvest in the dzongkhag.

Maize, beans, summer gourds, and betel nut trees were reportedly affected by the windstorm.

In Shompangkha, the windstorm also damaged 30 areca nut trees and 15 banana trees belonging to a farmer. Another 35 areca nut trees broke down in Samtenling according to dzongkhag’s report.

A total of 71 polyhouses, and two green shed houses were damaged on Monday evening.

Nima | Gelephu

Lachu irrigation channel will benefit Ridha

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 11:31

The renovation of the Lachu irrigation channel in Dangchu is expected to solve the water scarcity issue in Ridha village.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) funded project is expected to benefit more than 45 households in the village.

According to Dangchu Gup Pemba, in April, the farmers in Ridha would pick a token to decide their turns to receive water for paddy cultivation.

“But one can’t be happy that they got to be first as they’ll receive water only after more than 20 days. Ridha is one of the villages in Dangchu, which engages in continuous vegetables and cereal production.”

With 45 households in the village and two households receiving water for one day during paddy season, a farmer awaits their second turn for 22 days.

Doongdoong nyelsa-Norbooding Tshogpa Rinzin said that, while the farmers manage vegetable cultivation with rainwater, the farmers had issues during paddy season. “The farmers cultivate all kind of vegetables—potatoes, chili and cereals.”

The water to Ridha village will come from the existing irrigation water source Lachu.  The source is located about 8km away from the village.

Gup Pemba said that almost 50 percent of the existing irrigation water was lost on the way due to small irrigation channel.

“Earlier, the water was enough for the people as the population was less. But with increasing number of households, water is scarce,” Tshogpa Rinzin said.

The new irrigation water channel will be large enough to accommodate the water lost on the way to the village.

Tshogpa Rinzin also pointed out that as the new channel would be connected until Ridhagoenpa area, water to the remaining households in Ridhawo would have be channelled through the existing irrigation channel. “My concern is if the old channel would be able to accommodate the new quantity of water.”

The project worth Nu 1.8 million was inaugurated on March 24.  The project is expected to be completed within eight months.

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

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