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Updated: 56 min 38 sec ago

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graces launch of waste management facilities

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:36

Yangyel Lhaden  

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graced an event to inaugurate Waste Management Facilities in Thimphu. The event was held in Dangrina at one of the nine new facilities.

The event is a step in the government’s Waste Management Flagship Programme to achieve Zero Waste Bhutan by 2030, which is, through effective source segregation, to have maximum material recovery with only the absolute waste of approximately 20 percent requiring safe disposal. 

The flagship programme is introducing waste segregation, collection, transportation, treatment, recovery, and disposal facilities throughout the country in a phased manner starting with Thimphu. The first phase launched today was the inauguration of nine drop-off centres, nine electric waste collection vehicles, twenty-five Waste Collection Facilities for Thimphu and a website for Zero Waste Bhutan.

Other amenities such as Material Recovery Facilities, wet waste management technologies, sanitary landfills, recycling plants and specialised waste treatment facilities are being designed and built through the flagship program.

The electric waste collection utility vehicles will be used to ensure access into the narrow streets and corners of the capital, which existing waste collection vehicles are unable to reach, all the while ensuring emission reduction.

The Drop-off Centres and Waste Collection Facilities was conceived to provide residents with the convenience to drop off waste at any time of the day. The facilities are aimed at also encouraging residents to undertake proper waste segregation and disposal.

Further, the launch of the Zero Waste Bhutan website is to facilitate the dissemination of information of the facilities, the collection timing and the ongoing waste flagship activities.

According to the National Environment Commission, which is the implementing agency for the Program, parallel behavioural change activities and existing regulations on waste prevention and management will be enforced to complement the establishment of the waste management infrastructure. Efforts are underway to encourage understanding of waste as an important sector that unveils opportunities for livelihood along the process.

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen have expressed deep concerns on waste management as a growing problem especially for urban centres in Bhutan, and have encouraged all relevant agencies as well as the people of Bhutan, to work towards addressing these issues effectively. With the Royal Command that the effective management of waste contributes to nation-building, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, as the Patron of the environment, continues to support national initiatives and efforts in line with this vision.

Other eight drop-off centres in the thromde are in Pamtsho, Babena, Motithang, Changzamtog, Changbangdu, Lungtenphu, Semtokha, and Chumbagang.

Chief of waste management division, Thinley Dorji said that residents would be advocated on how to segregate waste into various categories like wet, dry, hazardous, and other waste by local leaders and through media platforms. “An additional QR code in the drop off centres will help people with a pictorial guide to segregate waste.”

He said that the Zero Waste Bhutan website was launched to educate and create awareness of individual responsibilities on waste management.

Smaller structures for drop-off centres in places with fewer households have been constructed across five gewogs in 20 locations within Thimphu dzongkhag.

 Thinley Dorji said that nine waste collection electric utility vehicles were imported from Italy to try the new environment-friendly technology. “More electric utility vehicles will be imported if the trial is successful.”

The event was also attended by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister in his capacity as the chairperson of the NEC, and other stakeholders.




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Safety above all else: Prime Minister 

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:36

Younten Tshedup  

The government is considering certain relaxations of Covid-19 protocols, which could come into effect anytime soon.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that with no new cases from the communities for the last two weeks, and a successful vaccination campaign, which is still underway, the government was hopeful to make   some relaxations.

In light of these accomplishments, Lyonchhen said that the national task force members and health experts also agreed that there could be certain relaxations in protocols such as the business operation timings at night, and the 21-day mandatory quarantine for those entering the country from abroad.

Lyonchhen said that potential relaxations would be considered after a thorough review in consultation with the experts and task force members. “We’re considering if businesses could operate until 10pm or if we can bring down the 21-day quarantine period to 14 days.    For now, we are working on this and any decision would be shared as soon as possible.”

However, the Prime Minister said that the Covid-19 pandemic has put a lot of restrictions on things that were indifferently allowed before. “We understand people are not happy with these restrictions and we want to lift them, too,” he said, adding that any relaxation at this point of time would come at a price.

Without any restriction and protocols, Lyonchhen explained that if an outbreak is reported in a particular community, the number of infected people would multiply exponentially, as people would start gathering in large numbers.

Another public expectation after the successful vaccination campaign is the lifting of the 7-day mandatory quarantine period for those travelling from high-risk areas to the lower risk dzongkhags.

Many have expressed the inconveniences the protocol has brought about, especially for the business operators and for those requiring medical emergencies.

However, the Prime Minister expressed the complications and threats that would be associated with the lifting of the 7-day quarantine period at this time. “The basis of having a quarantine system is to monitor an individual if he or she is infected with the virus and to keep them away from the mass until proven negative.”

Lyonchhen said that the government could not lift the protocol despite multiple requests from the public in the interest of the public themselves. He explained that in absence of the protocol, if an infected person from a high-risk area entered a lower risk area, the disease would spread exponentially within a day.

Lyonchhen said that prior to the pandemic, every day, some 4,000 to 5,000 people travelled between Phuentsholing and Thimphu. “Without the protocol, if there was an outbreak in Phuentsholing in the morning, by afternoon or evening, the outbreak would have spread in Thimphu as well,” he said, adding that frequent lockdowns across the country would become a common thing then.

Despite the demand to lift the protocol, there are a few who think the requirement of the 7-day protocol as key to preventing the disease from spreading across the country.

“It is this 7-day protocol that has kept the rest of the country running despite an extensive and prolonged outbreak in the south,” said one.

Others say that many people who have travelled to other dzongkhags from Phuentsholing and Samtse have turned positive while in the quarantine. “If it wasn’t for the quarantine, the rest of the country would also be reporting local outbreaks today. This 7-day quarantine is our last line of defence.”

Lyonchhen said that although the initial idea was to relax some of the protocols as soon as 80 percent of the entire population was fully vaccinated, this was not feasible anymore. This, he said, was considering the situation across the world and the aggressiveness of the Delta variant of the virus.

“Many countries are now stepping up their protocols and some are even exploring the need to vaccinate their population with a third dose of the vaccine,” Lyonchhen said. “This is all because of the threat the Covid-19 pandemic still posed to humanity.”

The Prime Minister added that despite all the inconveniences, the protocols in Bhutan were working. “Many are of the belief that having all these protocols benefit the health ministry or the government. This is untrue. In fact, the government is at a loss because all quarantine expenditures are borne by the government.” 




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Nearly half of help civil servants sought related to alcohol 

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:35

RCSC’s support desk established since 2015 caters to 113 civil servants

Yangchen C Rinzin

Alcoholism, going by records with the civil service support desk, is the biggest problem among civil servants.

Of the 113 civil servants, who sought help from the Royal Civil Service Commission’s (RCSC) support desk since its establishment in 2015, 50 cases were related to alcoholism.

Of the 50 alcoholism cases, 19 civil servants have fully recovered after rehabilitation programmes that include sending to rehab centres and detox services. These civil servants are also back to work. Four civil servants relapsed and are back to rehab for the second time.

RCSC’s chief human resource officer, Sherab Zangpo, said the number of civil servants who sought help is gradually increasing.

Only three people sought help in 2015. 21 civil servants are being monitored as of now.

The chief said three civil servants are currently undergoing rehabilitation at rehab centres. “Two civil servants voluntarily resigned from the service when they could not recover and refused to undergo rehabilitation with the fear of social stigma.”

RCSC officials said apart from alcoholism and mental health issues, four of the total cases were related to drug issues.

Data maintained by the RCSC also showed that more than 10 cases of 113 were related to mental health issues.

Most of these cases were related to civil servants suffering from stress-related to family issues.

RCSC officials said there were cases where civil servants ran away from the rehab and they had to look for them and take them back to rehab.

Officials explained civil servants inquire if they would be reprimanded for seeking rehabilitation. “Many fear seeking help because they are scared they might lose their job,” an official said.

Meanwhile, except for verbal complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace reported through telephone, the “Go to Person” (GtP) instituted in 2018 to help civil servants report incidences related to sexual harassment at the workplace including official travels, conferences and meetings, did not receive any written complaints.

The commission, however, received at least two to three anonymous calls every year on harassment of all sorts. Some complaints include seniors making them work throughout the week including weekends.

Sherab Zangpo said that the well being division is focused on making civil servants aware of various forms of harassment and where to report more than receiving a complaint. “It’s not necessary that victims have to report to the RCSC. They can report to respective agencies too like RENEW or NCWC directly.”




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Civil Service  Support Desk

Sherab Zangpo said that apart from work, the well being of civil servants is also a key objective for RCSC.

The support desk would help civil servants facing issues that hinder their performance. It also provides mentoring and counselling.

Sherab Zangpo said the division was initiated so that they could take care of civil servants and motivate them.

He explained that right after recruitment, civil servants are provided with an induction course to understand the work culture. “It will then be followed by a monitoring programme to help civil servants’ professional growth by retired civil servants.”

Civil servants are also given financial and literacy training.

Sherab Zangpo said that once in service there are various issues and challenges civil servants go through. “The division also gives them mindfulness retreat to enhance emotional intelligence among civil servants.”

Health camps, annual health checkups and hoops for health (basketball game) are also a part of the wellbeing programme for civil servants.

“We also sensitise civil servants before retirement so that they are mentally, emotionally and socially prepared,” Sherab Zangpo said. “We’ve exit management programme where a civil servant would be given a preparatory month for retirement. The respective human resource officers should help the concerned civil servant to prepare documents for retirement so that everything is ready on the day the person retires.”




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What fate for rescued animals?

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:34

What started as a good initiative, indeed a good deed, is fast becoming a problem now. The animals rescued from the jaws of death and released or put in care shelters, are being accused of many things. It is not only in one dzongkhag, but everywhere.

The animals rescued by the so-called tshethar tshogpas, have become an agenda at the dzongkhag tshogdus. The most recent was in Sarpang where local leaders decided to seek an intervention from the authorities. Some are out of compassion after the animals are being rescued, ironically, and some because the animals straying around are damaging crops or becoming a nuisance.

Not all animals rescued, if they can talk, would say they are enjoying the freedom after the rescue. Sick, maimed, weak and hungry, infested with worms or diseases, animals, according to those who complain, are dying a slow death or being tortured to death.

As a Buddhist nation that denounces killing, tshethar tshogpa’s works were appreciated. Hundreds of cattle, pigs, goats and horses were saved from being turned into meat or the farm drudgery. What happens after the rescue has become an issue. In some places where rescued animals are released, it has become a conflict especially when the carrying capacity of tsamdros (grazing land) are under pressure. 

The very purpose of rescue is defeated if post-rescue care is missing. If it is hungry animals in some, it is stray animals jostling for space with vehicles in other. Many are maimed, probably ran over by vehicles. In the capital city, stray animals, which some say are rescued, fight for space on the expressway, often getting hit or causing accidents. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the beef or pork landing on our plates are that of the rescued animals. The possibility is high with many finding the meat business lucrative and animals freely roaming around.

There are guidelines for the tshethar groups. They have to register as a civil society organisation, build shelter and feed the animals and appoint caretakers. Going by the recurring issues, it seems many are not following the guidelines. Even if the guidelines are sincerely followed, it is not the long-term solution, especially for some animals. Those who go on pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, India, know how rescuing animals work. They buy, free it only to be caught and resold again. It is a lucrative business.  

Today we have people who generously donate or contribute to rescue animals from going to the slaughter houses. It is, however, not sustainable. Animals will be raised and killed for meat and money.  In the meantime, many are becoming suspicious of how and where the donations are spent. Not to generalise or deride the initiatives, but there had been incidents where members of tshogpas take away animals from villagers even if they are owned or looked after well.

Another concern is the changing tone, especially among the young who are quickly getting alienated or view initiatives like saving animals more distantly than their grandparents or parents did. And then there are others who view such initiatives or projects for social recognition more than for spiritual merit.

In short, it is neither successful nor sustainable, and we have to find better solutions.




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Rural children must have equal right to education

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:34

Kuensel reports that some remote schools did not have principals for years.  The news further states that there is an education policy not to send principals if schools have less than one hundred students. These are clear signs of deliberate discrimination and violation of the constitutional right to education. His Majesty said: “ It is not enough to provide free education – we must provide education of such quality that it will guarantee a distinguished place for our youth anywhere in the world.” 

Going by the reports, these schools are seriously affected by a lack of principals, compromising the quality of the education.

OECD defines the school principals as the “heart of the education system, connecting education authorities, teachers, students and communities” where “good leadership in schools fosters nurturing learning environments that help children grow and develop.” The good principals can “cultivate such an environment, school heads must navigate and promote collaboration across the often-complex network of stakeholders.”

Article 9 of our Constitution requires the State to provide free “education to improve and increase knowledge, values and skills of the entire population with education being directed towards the full development of the human personality.”

Explaining this, His Majesty during the public consultation of the draft constitution in Bumthang, said: “In our country, our people are the biggest and the most important wealth. In other countries, some have oil and petroleum wealth while some have mineral resources such as gold, pearls, gemstones etc. Since we do not have such wealth, our people are our priced and the most important wealth. It is vital to provide good education to the people.” His Majesty further reiterated: “The fact that our children are in schools will not serve the purpose. We should also see how they are studying and how the teachers are teaching the students.”

Article 7, Section 15 of our Constitution, prohibits the State from any form of discrimination on the grounds of “race, sex, language, religion, politics or another status.” The government may have good reasons and intentions not to have principals in some schools from a logistical and administrative perspective. However, when these schools are deprived of principals purely on the number of students or remoteness of locations, it is clear discrimination between the students in these schools and other schools. 

Our policies instead should incentivise economically or geographically disadvantaged students who are in smaller numbers by placing the best principals to cope with the rest of the schools in quality education. Due to rapid development, children in remote areas are already suffering from lack of modern technologies and infrastructure compared to their urban cousins. 

In absence of a Right to Education Law, political parties often turn education into a political manifesto and use education like Guinea pig every time there is a change in government.

For example, many principals are currently undergoing leadership training in RIGGS which will immensely benefit the schools upon their return. However, schools without principals are deprived of having such well-groomed and trained leaders to lead them. 

The policymakers and the government must take cognizance of quality education of our children. His Majesty said: “if our Vision for the nation is not contained in the pages of the books that our young children hold, in the words of our teachers as they lead their classrooms, and in the education policies of our governments, then let it be said – we have no Vision.”

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.




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Party affiliation could dash aspiring LG candidates’ hopes

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:33

MB Subba

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has opened registration for the functional literacy test (FLT) for the third gewog elections, which will be held towards the end of the year.

However, many aspiring candidates have come to know that either their names are reflected in the membership lists of political parties or the de-registration date do not meet the one-year cooling-off period to contest the upcoming local government (LG) elections.

The membership lists published recently by the ECB show that the number of people affiliated to political parties are significantly large as compared to the past LG elections.

Almost 12,000 people are affiliated to the four political parties; the number was only 871 in the second LG election in 2016. The big increase in the membership of political parties, observers say, could mean decrease in choices of candidates in the upcoming elections given the small population.

According to party offices, aspiring LG candidates who were associated with political parties in the past were either calling or visiting party offices to inquire if their names were reflected in the party membership list.

Kelzang Tashi from Choekorling gewog in Samdrupjongkhar is one of the aspiring candidates who was disappointed to know that he was not eligible to contest the 2021 LG election due to his affiliation to People’s Democracy Party (PDP).

He said he had applied for deregistration in October with a calculation that he would meet the cooling off-period requirement for the upcoming election.

“However, I found that my deregistration is effective only from February 2021, which means that I will not qualify,” he said, adding that he had surrendered his business license to contest the election.

He said that he approached ECB officials. “The ECB said they were not in position to help me. There are many such cases.”

Observers said that more aspiring candidates are expected face similar issues as the election approaches. The incumbent local leaders will complete their terms in October and the election is expected to be held towards the end of the year.

PDP’s general secretary, Kuenga Tashi, said that aspiring candidates who were associated with the party in the past had approached the party office to cross-check whether they were deregistered and that some of them found that they were still members.

“Some of them thought they were deregistered. But a few of them who found their membership active expressed their commitment to stay and work with the party,” he said.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)’s general secretary, Sangay Phurpa, also said that he was explaining the issue to the aspiring candidates who called him and visited his office.

Some of the party members, he said, thought that they would be automatically deregistered if they did not renew their membership but that they should apply in writing to the party.

“A person’s membership will remain active even after its expiry if he or she does not apply for deregistration,” he said.

The general secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Phurba, acknowledged the prevalence of such issues. He added that he had encouraged members who aspired to contest LG elections to deregister in time.

A tshogpa nominee each from Thimphu and Gelephu thromdes was disqualified during the scrutiny process on the grounds of party affiliation in the second thromde election held in April.

Similarly, 16 were disqualified in the 2016 LG elections after election officials found their names in the membership lists of political parties.

Party officials blame a poor record keeping system of the ECB and that some of their former members’ names remain in the list despite having applied for deregistration with the ECB.

The ECB removes the names of members only upon the recommendation of the party. The election Act mandates a cooling-off period of one year to be eligible to contest in LG elections.

Some sources said that many members did not care much about whether they remained registered members or deregistered. According to the officials, many members switch their support after the primaries and remain more aligned with the party they supported in the general election, in which case some of them assume that their membership with the party they supported in the primaries is expired.

An election official said that aspiring LG people had visited the commission office to crosscheck their membership.




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Monsoon woes in Karmaling and Nichula gewogs

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:33

Choki Wangmo| Dagana

Residents of remote Karmaling and Nicula gewogs in Lhamoidzingkha, Dagana, cannot avail health services during monsoon.

Without health workers in their gewogs and monsoon damaging road connectivity, people of these two gewogs have to live without access to proper health care services.

Nichula up Dilip Kumar Gurung, during the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT), conducted from August 17 and 18, raised the issue, and said that the gewog requires a health care worker in the gewog for three months in monsoon.

Nichula is one of the remote gewogs in the drungkhag.

In absence of a motorable bridge over the Sunkosh river, people have to depend on the 220m Hordung suspension bridge constructed in 2011.

According to gup Dilip Kumar Gurung, people cannot travel due to threats of natural disasters during monsoon. “Before 2011, people used to cross the river by boat.”

He said that inaccessibility to services have affected the vulnerable groups, especially the elders, children, and pregnant mothers.

A villager, Garjaman, said that it takes about four hours to travel to Lhamoidzingkha hospital, crossing three streams on the way that swells during monsoon. “It is difficult to travel in such conditions.”

He said that people have requested the gewog administration to have one health worker posted at the gewog during monsoon for a long time. “We are tired waiting for the concerned agencies to look into our request.”

Another villager, Nar Maya, said that with the gewog cut off for months during monsoon, people with chronic lifelong diseases suffered. “It is inconvenient.”

She said for people who have to conduct sugar level test for diabetes, they have to leave early morning without eating. “The journey becomes torturous when the journey is four hours long.”

People have to pay Nu 2,000 to make the journey back and forth to Lhamoidzingkha and Nichula.

Expecting mothers, she said, had to leave for Lhamoidzingkha one month prior to the delivery date. “Most of us come from low-income groups. Some have money to stay in hotels but many put up with the relatives.”

According to the gup, the gewog has an outreach clinic where health workers visit once a month but during monsoon, it is challenging for them to visit.

According to the local government’s portal, even the Nichula gewog centre (GC) is not connected with road to the nearest township. “Due to this, all the developmental activities are severely hampered. All villages are deprived of many facilities and have one of the highest poverty in the country.”

Karmaling up Gyan Bahdhur Subba said the situation is similar in Omchhu chiwog, which is 50kms away from the GC. “If a health assistant could be posted in the chiwog, it will help the people of neighbouring gewogs like Dorona and Tshendagang.”

With 60 households, the chiwog has more than 500 residents.

He said that when Dalbari-Dagapela highway was in pliable condition, people did not face such challenges. “However, with the poor road condition, access to services has become challenging every monsoon. “

Omchhu tshogpa Deo Kumar Tamang said people had to pay Nu 4,000 to go to Lhamoizingkha hospital.

“In case of health emergencies, we are helpless,” the tshogpa said. “Few years ago, a pregnant mother lost her life due to complications before reaching the hospital.”

Dzongkhag health officer, Kinley, said that the dzongkhag was aware of the challenges. “We will carry out an assessment of the situations and then submit to the next DT session.”

He said that three health workers from Lhamoidzingkha hospital could visit once a week to these gewogs to provide health services. “There are plans to construct grade II hospital in Karmaling. We hope this will resolve current challenges.”




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The Significance of Jaldhaka Hydro Power Project in Bhutan- India Partnership

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:32

The modern-day legacy of the close and mutually benefitting Bhutan India relationship begins with the visit by Pandit Nehru in September 1958. The seed of the visit and friendship germinates and fruits into the beginning of Bhutan’s first five-year plan in 1961. Today, India Bhutan relationship transcends diplomatic boundaries shaping the lives and careers of thousands of people from the two countries. India’s support in the development of the hydropower sector in Bhutan lies at the heart of this bilateral cooperation. The cooperation in the hydropower sector is full of opportunities and has been recognized by both Bhutan and India as being mutually beneficial. 

Therefore, it is not surprising that the modern-day hydropower projects that dot the sacred landscape of Bhutan are woven with inspiring stories of cooperation and teamwork between the two countries. The oldest and the modest Jaldhaka Hydro Power Project and the majestic Bindu barrage built at the Bhutan India border in Samtse -West Bengal is a metaphor to the foundations, flow and glow of the strategic partnership.

Often unheard in comparison with the megawatts and magnitude of the bigger projects like the Chuhkha, Tala and Punatshangchu, the Jaldhaka Hydel Power Project is one of the oldest hydel projects of India. It is the first Indo-Bhutan hydropower cooperation that began in 1961 and was commissioned in 1967 with a total installed capacity of 27 MW. What makes the project truly a showpiece of the Bhutan India friendship is that the majestic dam at Bindu is built right on the Bhutan India boundary where three rivers namely of Jaldhaka Khola, Thoday Khola and Bindu Khola converge. The power project is run of river water and the left foundation of the dam is built in the Bhutanese territory while the right foundation falls in the Indian territory. The pond is built on the Bhutanese side and the powerhouse is located on the Indian side. It is operated by the West Bengal State Electricity Board and for many years the neighbouring areas of Bhutan like Sibsoo received electricity from the project.

The project is a 116km by road drive from Phuentsholing via West Bengal and NH 17.  It can be accessed via an hour downhill walk from Tendruk town in Samtse. Before the Sipsu Tendruk highway was built, the hydro project and the town located beside the dam was a lifeline and the nearest road head for the Bhutanese settlements of Tendruk, Kuchin, Bara, Dubey, Lingtam, Chamghu , Khongkha and to the Royal Bhutan Army wing based in Tendruk.  Jaldhaka and Bindu was the place where Bhutanese villagers traded their agricultural products like cardamom, ginger, and oranges. The road head and the project facilitated the construction of facilities like Bara Junior High School amongst others on the Bhutanese side.  Bindu was also the gateway for the people from nearby Bhutanese villages to go to cities like Phuentsholing, Kalimpong and Siliguri for education, medical treatment, and business. On the Indian side, the project brought connectivity and tourism to the settlements like Bindu, Thoday, Parangtar and Jhalung. Nowadays the Bindu barrage and its thrilling water discharge beside the road and the area is a major tourist attraction and a holiday spot for people from North Bengal. 

Today, Jaldhaka Hydro Power Project resonates more than ever as the finest example of transboundary water cooperation when the world and the region are embroiled in transboundary water sharing issues, differences, and conflicts. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence it will be an engineering and strategic pilgrimage for the policymakers to visit and pray at the foundations and facilities at the very source of where this momentous journey began. The historic Jaldhaka Hydro Project awaits facelifting and a fresh coat of paint in the national colours of Bhutan and India to pay homage to the energy of the landscape, to our natural resources, to our leaders, and the people of Bhutan and India. The Jaldhaka project deserves recognition for laying the foundation of the Bhutan- India Power Partnership.

Contributed by

Dhrubaraj Sharma 

QUT Design Lab




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The Shingkhar solar project is a great initiative but for a different location

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:31

The recent media report that a major solar project of some 8000 panels covering over 100 acres of Shingkhar’s Kangsumthang pastures is a disturbing news. In 2011, a golf course project on the same spot was withdrawn for ecological, social, and cultural reasons. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and the National Land Commission at that time stopped the golf course saying the meadow are important wetland and community pastures.

The Kangsumthang meadows not only serves as watershed and village commons but has spiritual and cultural significance being part of the sacred landscape covering holy sites of Dechenling, Rinchen Jungney and Shamzur. Stating these reasons, the villagers (34 out 39 households) submitted a petition to the Gewog office to cancel the solar project. Aware of the project’s national benefit, they suggested the spacious highlands from Rethang to Ngamdung for the project as these place have even better sunlight and are far from the village.

It appears that the project is funded by ABD and ADB clearly has safeguard policies for both environment and indigenous people recognizing their cultural integrity and their rights to ancestral land and resources. The locals of Shingkhar have voiced their concerns that their livelihood through dairy farming and tourism will be seriously affected by the project. Is the project viable, then, and can it succeed with such local resistance?

As a well travelled researcher, I can vouch that Shingkhar remains as one of the few beautiful valleys in Bhutan with serene and sacred landscape not marred by chaotic development. I dread to think how 8000 solar panels covering an area equivalent to some 70 football fields would disfigure the landscape of green meadows, holy sites and an idyllic village. No doubt we must support a sustainable renewal energy project of national importance but do we have to use such a sacred and ecological site for it? Could the local suggestion to use the upper reaches of the valley offer a better and more effective venue for project? One can only hope that the project realizes with minimum impact on nature and culture in the true spirit of GNH and find a win-win situation for both the nation and the local community.

Contributed by

Dr Karma Phuntsho




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Clearing the air over Bhutan’s forest resources

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:31

The balance between conservation and development is challenging, particularly for developing countries where resources are scarce. Bhutan is no exception, but we have always revered forests and depended on them for food and timber. 

Recently, discussions are emerging around forests and their potential to generate revenue for the country. We are blessed with a vast forest resource that could generate substantial economic benefits. Several people feel that we are not making enough use of it. Another view is that assumptions about the economic potential of our forests are generalized from advanced countries and not on our field conditions and data. They argue for the need to consider economic and environmental risks associated with large-scale timber harvest. 

The forest cover debate

Forest cover is defined in the National Forest Policy, 2011 as “any land with trees spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10%”. The definition is consistent with the Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As per the definition, 70.77% of Bhutan is currently under forest cover and was estimated by the recent National Forest Inventory (NFI) carried out by the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS). Since 2016, 70.77% has been declared as the official figure.

The forest cover definition does not include shrubs as shrubs are generally less than 5m in height, and the exclusion does not undermine the importance of the scrub ecosystem. However, from a timber perspective, they are less valuable. 

Many claim that Bhutan has experienced an unprecedented increase in forest cover over the last six decades based on comparisons of forest cover estimates provided by the Pre-investment Survey of Forest Resources (1974-81), Land Use Planning Project (LUPP 1997), Land Cover Mapping Project (LCMP 2010) and Land Use and Land Cover of Bhutan (2016). However, we should be mindful of the methodological advances with each land cover mapping exercise. The data sources, classifications, and methods differ between the data collected in 1981, 1995, 2010, and 2016 making forest cover change inferences based on these estimates less reliable. 

We see a lot of greenery around, but we must also acknowledge the pressure forests face from anthropogenic activities. Between 2000-2017, state reserve forests were allotted for various purposes (12,674 hectares), hydropower projects (2,276 hectares), roads (5,770 hectares), agriculture (36,298 hectares), mines and quarries (3,800 hectares), and powerlines (3,791 hectares). Some 667,680 hectares of forests were also degraded during the same period due to timber harvest, firewood allotment, forest fires, and livestock. 19,992 hectares of forests were lost to forest fires. 

Several remote sensing studies indicate minimal gross and net changes at the country level between 1990-2011. From 2010-2016, Bhutan’s Forest Resources Potential Assessment (FRPA) estimates an increase of just 0.31%, suggesting a stable forest cover over the years.

 

 


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Timber reserve, extraction, and import

The total growing stock in our forest is estimated at 1001 million m3. However, the entire growing stock and the annual increment don’t translate into economically viable timber and aren’t stacked up in one place- it is distributed throughout the country. The NFI survey found that 60% of the trees in our forests are less than 16m in height and have a diameter of less than 31cm, suggesting we have relatively fewer large-sized trees. A cost-benefit analysis by the DoFPS estimated that 11.27% of the total geographical area (16% of forests outside protected areas) has the potential for sustainable forest management. Only 5.8% is suitable for sustainable commercial harvesting. Expanding beyond this area will require massive investment and compromises, which include safety and environmental health. About 77% of our country has more than 35 o slopes making our landscape highly vulnerable to landslides, further worsened by slope disturbances such as logging, road, and other forest conversions. We are also limited by poor and old equipment (that frequently breaks down), frequent changes in weather conditions, lack of skilled labor, and rugged terrain. As a result, the World Bank notes that we cannot harvest even the Annual Allowable Cut from most Forest Management Units (FMU) which are the designated commercial timber production sites. Also, with the current timber recovery rate at 55-69%, we can salvage only about half of the total volume of timber harvested. As of 2018, 21 FMUs corresponding to 5.17% of the total geographical area caters to commercial needs. Another 2.5% under the community forestry program benefit 33% of the rural population. 

Similarly, on the timber industry side, one prominent limiting factor includes people’s preference for certain species and the lack of capacity of our wood-based industries to utilize trees of all species and sizes. There is a higher preference for mixed conifer species, comprising 20% of Bhutan’s forests, and is under immense pressure. Meanwhile, broadleaved species, which include 50% of Bhutan’s forests, and 60% of our total growing stock, are often less preferred by people and usually end up as fuelwood, e.g., Oak species. Operation costs combined with rural timber subsidies are also known to affect the sale of commercial timber. Hence logs are often seen rotting in the depots. So, bringing more areas under timber harvest is not the only solution to wood shortages, but addressing the above challenges can be.

We should also be aware that it is not wood as raw material but charcoal which accounts for a substantial portion of the billion’s worth of wood and wood-based products we import each year (>50%). Charcoal is causing trade deficits. Charcoal is heavily used in our metallurgical industries, with the demand surpassing domestic production. DoFPS looked into the feasibility of expanding domestic production but didn’t find it economically feasible. Besides, charcoal production is a significant source of deforestation in many countries. Its effect on global warming, health, and the environment is also immense. 

Ecosystem services and carbon sequestration

Although deforestation may bring in quick money in the immediate future, standing forests are far more valuable in the long run. Between 2013 to 2017, forestry contributed between 2.9 percent and 2.4 percent to the GDP. However, the small contribution of forests to GDP is due to the non-valuation of other ecosystem services provided by the forests. A study across five river basins in Bhutan highlighted “ minimum destruction to forests” to derive maximum benefit from hydropower, our golden goose. An initial estimate values the ecosystem services from our forests at approximately US $15.5 billion /year (Nu. 760 billion/year). 

Having a good forest cover ensures a lot of carbon sequestration. It also exerts a strong, thermally insulating influence on local scale climates, providing refugia to many plants and animals, especially temperature-sensitive ones. Even the old trees not only act “simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees,” in contrast to the popular belief that trees become unproductive as they age. Cutting down old trees also does little to maintain forest health. The key to thinning is doing it early before the competition starts to kick in and the young thinned trees, mostly pole size and those dead and dying, carry little economic value for timber purposes. A good forest cover will also mean less surface runoff and more infiltration, and in cool temperate and sub-alpine regions, water loss from evapotranspiration is generally tiny. So, the concern that an extensive forest cover might dry up water sources should not worry us as much. 

Bhutan can also benefit from REDD+( reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries). The REDD mechanism is developed by the Parties to the UNFCCC to enhance forest carbon stocks, which carries a financial value. In 2014, Norway offered US $40 million to Liberia for six years to preserve its forests. Recently, Gabon struck a similar agreement with Norway for $150 million over ten years with a price of US $10 per ton of carbon sequestered. At this rate, our forests, which offset about 4 million tons of CO2 per year, can generate US $40 million annually. A similar deal will mean a massive and sustainable revenue for Bhutan. Likewise, nature-based tourism can also create many new jobs and millions of dollars in wages and infrastructure. 

For Bhutan and everywhere else, decisions regarding forest utilization must ensure sustainability and be based on data and not on assumptions. Once cut, a forest will take several decades to grow, but we may not have that much time. 

Contributed by 

Tashi Dhendup

Wildlife Biologist

UWICER, Bumthang




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U-turn—life in the making

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:30

Yangyel Lhaden

Kinley Restaurant in Zangdopelri Shopping Complex in Thimphu—a popular hangout for snooker players and the city’s restless, meandering youths—is empty save two reedy boys having a late lunch, silhouetted against bright window light. Nothing about the restaurant has changed—the same layout, the same vacuous atmosphere, the same simple menu list…

Because it is a Tuesday, the restaurant’s bar is concealed deftly behind an orange curtain—strictly no drinks on a dry day! That’s about the only visible change here. Even the waiter and kitchen staff are the same. But a silent, imperceptible change has occurred. The owner of the Restaurant is 21-year-old Birkha Gurung who is nurturing a dream of the whole look and brand of the restaurant.

He even has a name thought out for the restaurant—Nazhoen Lamten—he would call it, after the non-profit organisation that supports and reintegrates children who have come in conflict with law supported him.

A problem child

That’s how Birkha describes himself—a problem child. His parents separated when he was but a kid in primary school. The impact left a huge void in his life. Soon Birkha began to hangout with kids who were doing drugs. His academic performance slackened and finally dropped out after failing thrice in Class V. 

After dropping out of school, Birkha worked as a parking-fee collector. One afternoon, Birkha and his friends were smoking marijuana. When the police caught them, Birkha saved his friends.

“They were still studying and I had dropped out. I had to save them. For me, then, I had nothing to lose,” says Birkha.

Birkha’s father was going through a difficult time himself—trying to make his son stop abusing marijuana and keep his family intact. Birkha’s mother would leave not long after and the journey thereafter for young Birkha was downhill all the way.

The date was 17th of August, 2017. Birkha remembers it clearly. He was 17 years old. After a three-month detention, he was taken to Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre  (YDRC) in Chukha.




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New dawn

At YDRC Birkha contemplated deeply about his life.

“I couldn’t continue living such a life without education. I had to decide what to do in life,” Birkha says.

YDRC provides many training opportunities. Birkha took baking and he wanted to be a chef. “Better part of my days at the centre was spent planning my future.”

Nazhoen Lamtoen visits YDRC and conducts interactive sessions with youths. In one of the sessions, Birkha raised his hand and said he wanted to be a certified chef and requested for a support.

Thinley Tobgyel, Nazhoen Lamten’s executive director, said Birkha looked determined and promising.

When Birkha was released on January 10, 2019, he called Thinley Tobgyel asking for a support. Nazhoen Lamten gave the support. That’s how Birkha ended up running Kinley Restaurant.

“Were it not for Nazhoen Lamten, I would have been lost still. I owe big time to the organisation that believed in my dreams. That’s why I want to start a restaurant and name it ‘Nazhoen Lamten,” says Birkha. “I am what I am today because of Nazhoen Lamtoen.”

According to Thinley Tobgyel, most of the children at YDRC come from dysfunctional and low-income families.

Thinley Tobgyel said that children face a hard choice after they leave YDRC due to lack of support and opportunities. “They easily become recidivists.”

Like Birkha, Nazhoen Lamten has until now reintegrated 44 children  back t done o society from YDRC.

Future

While working as a sous-chef with Project ZZA, Birkha tried to reunite his parents. He even got a job for his mother at the project as a helper. Sometimes he would cook delicious food and take it to his father saying that it is from mother. The other way round at other times. But both refused the overtures.

“Whatever happened between them, I think I will succeed in bringing them together. But I’ll keep trying, why not,” says Birkha, who provides for the family and the education of his younger siblings.

Hari Biswa, Birkha’s father, is proud of his son. Hari Biswa said he was overwhelmed his son, who only used to get in trouble is a responsible, is a “self-made” man today.

What’s more?

“I have kicked the habit and do not want to go back,” says Birkha. “I prefer to look ahead and plan for better days.”

The dream starts with the Nazhoen Lamten Restaurant in the heart of Thimphu.

 




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Thromde workers above Dechen Zam to relocate in two months

Sat, 08/28/2021 - 12:30

Yangyel Lhaden 

Thimphu Thromde is constructing 15 semi-permanent houses in Langjophakha to relocate its workers living in makeshift huts above Dechen Zam along Langjophakha-Lungtenzampa highway.

Heavy monsoon rains caused frequent landslides mainly in the area above the highway. The settlement above the highway is at risk of sliding down to the road if any more landslides occur.

Thromde’s Labour Officer Sonam Tshewang said that there were 18 households out of which three did not work with thromde.

He said following the first landslide at the location three households located near the edge of the slope at higher risk were temporarily relocated to makeshift huts in Babesa. “The structures were dismantled.”

The first landslide near the makeshift hut occurred on July 21 and the second one on August 2.

Sonam Tshewang said that plan to relocate the rest of thromde workers to Jungshina began right after the first landslide. “The groundwork for the construction of the houses is completed. We have hired labourers on contract to build the structures.”

 

Three houses at higher risk on the slope were dismantled




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The construction of semi-permanent houses is expected to complete within two months. Sonam Tshewang said thromde is asking labourers to complete building the houses within a month.

He said the risk of landslides was lower in those remaining 12 households but for the safety of individuals, they were being relocated.

Sonam Tshewang said permanent houses were not built for them because thromde planned to build affordable housing for low-income groups working in thromde.

He said it was difficult to say when the construction of housing for low-income groups would happen due to the pandemic and difficulty in importing materials and workers. “ In Babesa and Motithang 20 units and 12 units house respectively for low-income groups is in the plan. We are also identifying a plot in Pamtsho to construct low-income housing.”

He added that thromde had constructed low-income housing for daily wage workers with thromde in three locations- Motithang, Dangrina, and Changangkha to date.

“In the long run, thromde is aiming to provide affordable housing to every low-income group working with the thromde office,” he said.

There are more than 350 daily wage workers with the thromde office who live in makeshift huts in 14 locations within the thromde from Dangrina up to Serbithang and Royal Thimphu College areas.




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Change of Maochhu course strands people

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 12:02

Nima | Gelephu

Maochhu has changed its course and is inching closer to properties, residents, and paddy fields located near the river after a flash flood on Wednesday breached a gabion wall constructed along the Shetikhari stream in Gelephu.

The flood also washed away temporary boulder wall connecting the Reinforced concrete wall at the confluence. 

 The sudden change in river course from near the Shetikhari and Maochhu confluence caused flash flood and stranded more than 20 people in the same location where four soldiers lost their lives in July last year trying to rescue people.

Thromde officials said 21 foresters guarding the porous border at Maochhu and caretakers looking after the thromde water treatment plant were brought to safety using excavators before the flash flood cut-off the access to the treatment plant and three outposts at Maochhu. 




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 Labourers working at a crushing unit were asked to vacate the site following notification from National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology on flash flood, landslides and riverine floods.

 Gelephu thromde used more than 15 truckloads of boulders at Shetikhari and Mao Chhu confluence to divert the river back to its usual course on Wednesday, but the boulder walls were washed away yesterday.

 Gelephu thrompon, Tshering Norbu, said that river hit the weakest point after it changed its course. “The water force is erratic and the change in course is unpredictable.”

 He said it could be because of the heavy rainfall in the higher mountains. “We tried to protect the course and divert the river to its normal course.”

 According to the thrompon, thromde would be constructing another 150m reinforced concrete wall (RCC) connecting 300m long RCC wall, which was completed in April this year. The 300m wall was built at the cost of Nu 25 million.

He said the RCC wall stands tall and there are no issues with it. “We would complete the RCC wall before summer next year and it would be connected to a safer point.”

Pelrithang residents, however, said that leaving the RCC wall incomplete, halfway in the middle of the Shetikhari and Maochhu confluence could have triggered the flash flood.

A resident of lower Pelrithang said the floodwater could have run from its regular course if the wall was build from the point where Shetikhari stream joins Maokhola. “The wall was left halfway,” he said.

Thrompon said that the RCC wall could not be completed upstream because of budget constraints.

http://kuenselonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/videogelephu.mp4




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“We prioritised and have approved budget for the wall this time. We are yet to ascertain the damage to the water treatment plant. We hope the residents would understand our position at this time,” Tshering Norbu said.

The construction of the 150m long RCC wall is expected to cost Nu 12 million and thromde has approved Nu 10 million for the wall.

Meanwhile, officials have asked the residents residing downstream, close to Maochhu, to move towards a safer place for another 48 hours until the weather forecast improves.

Continuous rainfall for three days has also swollen the seasonal stream of Shetikhari, Dawalakhola, and Jogikhola in Gelephu gewog.

A temporary house located close to the drain and the roads were flooded with rainwater.

House owner, Sonam Delkar said the drinking water pipes kept inside the drainage caused the overflow.  “De-suups came and took the pipe out of the drain. It helped. We requested gewog officials to keep the drain clear earlier,” she said. 

Prem P Katel from lower Pelrithang said he and his neighbours had to move out of home at around 2am for the past two days when it starts raining, fearing floods.

“It has become risky for people. We have been facing the problem for a long time,” he said. “Allowing crushing unit at the source of the stream and lack of proper taming along the stream causes the flood.”

He also said floodwater spread outside its course because the dredging was not properly done.  “Removing boulders and stones from riverbed has increased the risk of flood.”

Edited by Tasha Dema

Rainfall in southern region to reduce in the next two days

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 12:00

Chhimi Dema 

The monsoon trough, a low-pressure zone running parallel to the Himalayan range that moved towards the foothills of the Himalayan range, causes heavy rainfall in southern and eastern parts of the country in past one week.

However, the intensity of the rainfall in some parts of the country is likely to reduce on August 28 and it is expected that the low-pressure zone would be in the normal position from August 27, according to the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM).

An official from NCHM said that the monsoon trough normally does not lie close to Nepal or Bhutan but in the tropical zone. “This week’s incidence of rainfall occurred because that belt was lying closer to the foothills of the Himalayas.”

Records with NCHM shows that compared to recent times one of the highest rainfalls was recorded on August 25 in Gelephu with 245 millimetres (mm). Similarly, places like Dewangthang and Samtse also recorded heavy rainfall.

One millimetre of rainfall is equivalent to one litre of water per square metre.

Monsoon in Bhutan begins from June and lasts until September.

“The country receives more than 70 percent of the total annual rainfall during these four months,” the official said.

Monsoon occurs with the southeast winds blowing from the Bay of Bengal.

The wind first hits the southern parts of the country and owning to plains in the southern parts, heavy rainfall occur in those places.

As the wind moves towards the northern parts of the country, the wind moisture content decreases giving lesser rainfall in the central and northern parts of the country.

The country is experiencing an active monsoon phase so the southern region is experiencing heavy rainfall, an NCHM official said.

Active phase which is an event of heavy rainfall. Break phase is an event of no rain.

NCHM on its Facebook on August 25 alerted that flash floods, landslides, and riverine floods are very likely over the southern and isolated places of the eastern parts of the country within 48 hours.




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Schools to continue face-face teaching during a lockdown: JB Rai

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:59

… except for schools in the four thromdes 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Except for the schools in the four thromdes, all schools will function in containment mode this time during lockdowns hereafter. The classes will be conducted face-face.

According to the Sherig Lyonpo (Education Minister), Jai Bir Rai, the ministry after extensive scrutiny has recently approved the plan made by respective dzongkhags and thromdes on the operation during a lockdown. “This preparation is to make sure we’re prepared this time if there is any lockdown.”

Sherig Lyonpo said that all 609 schools were asked to prepare plans on how to respond to future lockdowns to ensure studies are not disturbed. 

Last year, classes for PP-VIII remained closed the entire year.

Lyonpo said that as per the plan it was found more convenient to function schools in self-containment mode in dzongkhags where students and teachers would be called to school immediately after lockdown is declared.

“Where there are no hostel facilities, the dzongkhag administration will prepare to accommodate students even if they have to pitch tents. But arrangements are definitely planned,” lyonpo said.

The plan is also expected to help those students who cannot afford to buy gadgets or lack internet connectivity to learn online.

For schools in thromdes, where many schools do not have boarding facilities, lyonpo said that self-containment was found impossible because of the large number of students.

“Learning from experiences, we’ve asked schools to train students on how to study online by letting them bring a mobile phone, maybe once in a week,” Lyonpo claimed.

Schools should mentally prepare students for online classes. But this time, there will be proper online classes, according to Sherig Lyonpo.

“We must give them the feeling of a classroom environment including attending classes in uniforms or national attire. Otherwise, we had cases where students or teachers were seen attending classes online while sleeping in their bed,” he said.

Lyonpo said that with all planned the ministry was 60 percent confident and that its preparedness was far better than last year.

Meanwhile, there is no concrete strategy for students with disabilities but Lyonpo said that institutes can function in containment mode too. 

However, Lyonpo said that ministry might have to plan a strategy to help students with disabilities especially for those studying in regular schools that provide special education needs.

In terms of internet data, the ministry has registered phone numbers of almost 200,000 students with two telecom companies and they would be given additional data during the lockdown.

The ministry trained about 10,000 teachers in pedagogy on online teaching using Google Classroom or other social media applications.

Meanwhile, the same plan will also apply during the interim lockdown or smart lockdown or 72-hour lockdown.

As for the budget, Lyonpo said that the respective dzongkhag could allocate a budget for such plans, but even if they have to re-appropriate the budget for such plans or immediate action, the government will replenish the budget later.

Last year, apart from challenges in conducting online classes, the biggest issue was too many instructions from various authorities that confused schools. Lyonpo said that this time schools will comply with directives signed by the ministry’s secretary or the director general.

“For now, plans are in place. There is always an issue during implementation but we have to be ready,” Lyonpo said.

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Big Ticket Initiative to substitute import of livestock products

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:57

Chhimi Dema 

Prakash Pradhan, 29, who had lost his job because of the pandemic has finally secured a stable source of income. He owns a poultry farm in Thimphu. The farm has 5,000 poultry birds.

This would not have been possible without the support of Department of Livestock’s Big Ticket Initiative (BTI), launched in August last year.

Prakash Pradhan said: “I had the interest to start a farm but there were financial constraints on my end. Moreover, if I had invested in a farm with the capital I had, then I would not have gotten satisfactory financial returns.”

Import restriction has increased the local market.

He said that the increasing price of feeds and the difficulty to find individuals interested in poultry farming remain the challenges, however.

Officials from the BTI project monitoring the unit said that BTI was focused on employing youth and laid-off employees.

“The objective of BTI is also to substitute the import of livestock products and help increase food security,” an official said.

He said that based on the import data of 2019, the team projected the number of farms to meet the livestock product requirements of the country. “Even if 100 percent substitution is not met, at least 80 to 90 percent is expected through BTI.”

Through BTI, 65 piggery farms were established with 20 sows (adult female pig) on a farm.

The expected production from the farms was 26,000 piglets as pigs farrow twice a year with an average litter size ranging from 10 to 12 piglets­.

The estimated return is Nu 728 million from the 65 piggery farmers under the project.

According to RNR annual statistics 2020, 775MT of pork were imported and 897MT were produced within the country.

An official said that through the project, the beneficiaries were monitored and provided training and technical assistance in the field.

“It stipulates in the contract that the beneficiaries should at least operate the farms for five years,” he said.

He added that some beneficiaries discontinued operating farms because of the religious sentiments and due to the nature of work.

Under BTI, 15 layer (egg-laying poultry birds) and 45 broiler (chicken raised for meat production) farms were started with each farm that can raise 3,000 poultry birds.

The official said that the projected egg production was close to 0.75 million eggs in a cycle (after 504 days) from 15 layers.

Every farm will employ at least three individuals. Hence, with this project, about 200 individuals would have a source of income.

The official said that the consumption pattern and the source of funding would determine the continuity of the project.

The official said that livestock farming is the stepping stone for people to engage in other trade. “There is a need for consistent investment in livestock development.”

Ugyen, a poultry farmer in Paro, said that the initiative helped to establish farms but there were still financial constraints to establish well-equipped facilities.

“The challenge is augmented with the community’s poor support while starting poultry farming,” he said, adding that occupying a strategic location was difficult.




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BCCI to conduct office-bearers’ election today

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:56

MB Subba

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI), the umbrella organisation of the country’s private sector, yesterday decided to conduct elections of its president and vice presidents.

The election was scheduled for yesterday and BCCI representatives from dzongkhags had gathered in Thimphu. However, to the disappointment of the representatives and candidates, the chamber’s secretariat on August 25 had “cancelled” the election.

BCCI’s secretary general, Sangay Dorji, refrained from making any comment as discussions were ongoing.

A BCCI member who attended a meeting of BCCI secretariat and representatives yesterday said that the election was cancelled because a few of the representatives from some of the southern dzongkhags could not make it to the election due to the quarantine protocol.

According to him, a special arrangement would be made in Samtse where representatives from Phuentsholing and Samtse would be able to vote.

The tenures of the incumbent office-bearers have already been completed.

Members said the BCCI secretariat had received three postal ballots. But the candidates and representatives said that the secretariat had earlier informed votes would be cast on electronic voting machines.

Some of the candidates, in a letter to the general secretary, rejected the postal ballots and asked the BCCI secretariat to arrange an alternative voting facility for those who had sent postal ballots.

One of the signatories of the letter, Tandin Wangchuk, said that the election date was fixed a month ago by the BCCI’s executive committee and that the secretariat had no power to cancel or alter the date. Only the committee, he said, could make such decisions as per the chamber’s rules.

Tandin Wangchuk, who is also one of the two candidates for the post of president, said: “The candidates and dzongkhag representatives have come from across the country to elect the chamber’s office bearers.” He added that the candidates and representatives were surprised to learn about the cancellation of the election only after reaching Thimphu.

A representative from Trashigang, Karma, said that he was surprised to learn yesterday morning that the election had been cancelled.

“I went to the meeting thinking that I would be able to vote yesterday. I don’t know whose fault it was,” he said.

As per the agenda shared earlier with the candidates and representatives, each of the candidates would make pledges in seven minutes in the alphabetical order of their names.

There are six vice president candidates.

The other candidate for president is Thinley Gyamtsho of M/s T&K Construction in Thimphu.

Tandin Wangchuk is from M/s 8one8 Enterprise in Thimphu.

The candidates for the two vice presidents are Dorji Norbu and Kamal Pradhan from Gelephu; Pema Wangchuk from Samdrupjongkhar, Singye Namgyal Dorji and Sonam Dorji from Thimphu, and Ugyen Dorji from Bumthang.

Established under the Royal Command of His Majesty the King in 1980, BCCI is a non-profit organisation comprising members from the business community in the country. The general body of the BCCI is the apex forum that comprises of business representatives from twenty dzongkhags elected for the term of five years by the respective business members in each dzongkhags and meets annually with the BCCI for Annual General Meeting.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Did we miss the warning?

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:51

As if the loss of the lives of 10 highlanders in Laya earlier this year was not enough, another landslide claimed the lives of a couple who died yesterday in Pemagatshel while their daughter is still missing and feared dead by now. 

Natural calamities, mainly flash floods and landslides, are claiming more lives and causing increasingly severe damages to properties by the year. If anything the Gasa Tshachhu incident has taught us, it clearly indicates that we cannot wait to take mitigating measures against such threats. The river diversion works were deferred to be resumed this winter due to numerous reasons. The consequences were disastrous. Like the Gasa dzongdag said the trail of damages such forces of nature would leave would no doubt be beyond our imagination. 

A similar flood wiped out the tshachhu in 2009. The whole area around the hot spring ponds were rebuilt at a cost of Nu 40 million, mostly borrowed money. 

We were fully aware of something like this coming. That’s why the government pushed for the river diversion project worth Nu 26 million to divert the river and ensure the safety of the tshachhu. Officials now fear even the source of the tshachhu might be lost forever. Even if the source remains, it would take many months or even years to restore the popular hot spring to its original state. 

There is no denying the gravity of such disasters is becoming more intense. What is more worrying is that we never know when and where a flash flood might occur. 

It now appears we are past the warning stage. But are we prepared? 

The answer will depend on to whom one directs the question. For instance, the weather forecast officials will say they have never been better prepared. We observed for a fact that the weather forecasting has improved to be much more precise than a few years ago. 

What about local government officials? All dzongkhag agencies have disaster plans in place and are prepared to manage disasters. Many officials have been trained in search and rescue activities and the administrations are well equipped. 

Then where must we be going wrong? People say it is only talk and not action. 

Given the geology and the topography of our young mountains, a disaster could be waiting right around the next ridge. The vertical mountain cuttings for road construction only worsens our vulnerability to landslides. 

The recent spate of tragedies also frames another imperative — of re-examining the ways in which mountains and high-altitude areas have been positioned in the country’s development discourse. The country’s science and environment institutions have to do more research and policy makers have to be abreast with such research while making decisions that impact fragile ecosystems.

We need to treat our mountain ecosystem with sensitivity and care, plug gaps in research. Climate change and its impact on lives and properties are evident from Siberia to Australia to Europe and the Americas. If it is not heat waves, it is floods or droughts.

Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction measures into development activities is vital to prevent soil erosion and ensure the sustainable development of mountain communities. 

While we are pained to see our popular hot spring disappear, the thing about damaged property is that it can be replaced. People can’t be.




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RIM to become TOEFL IBT test centre

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:51

IELTs fees will be refunded to individuals

Yangyel Lhaden

Royal Institute of Management (RIM) will soon be a full-fledged test centre for internet-based English proficiency test called Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet Based Test (TOEFL IBT).

TOEFL IBT is a substitute for International English Language Testing System (IELTs), which was common amongst Bhutanese aspiring to study and work abroad.

It is remotely controlled by Educational Testing Service based in the United States of America whereas IELTs is conducted in partnership with British Council in the United Kingdom’s sub-agent in Kolkata.

RIM officials said they could not conduct IELTs since March last year as it is paper-based and required examiners to come from India. There were also other protocols such as examination papers should reach the country only two days before the examination.

Officials said that without IELTs exam in the country, Bhutanese was travelling to India to do the exam. “So we had to explore conducting TOEFL,” an official said. “We receive about five calls a day inquiring about IELTs.”

RIM has been working for more than seven months to meet the requirements to register as a testing centre for TOEFL IBT.

An official said they are in the last phase of registration. “We will launch TOEFL IBT this year.”

There are four phases to qualify for the certification process as a test centre for TOEFL IBT, which include requirements to meet technical, facility and staff requirement.

Four officials were also trained and are certified as test certified administration and proctor to conduct TOEFL IBT exams.

Officials said TOEFL IBT was most popular after IELTS and accepted in most English-speaking countries.

An official said it was the responsibility of an individual to crosscheck with universities which English test certificate is required before appearing for TOEFL IBT test. “RIM is only a testing centre.”

Meanwhile, RIM is yet to refund money to about 200 people who registered for IELTs exam on March 7 and 27 last year paying Nu 13,250 fees.

RIM’s IELTs and TOEFL coordinator said RIM was processing the refund. “Lengthy bureaucratic procedures for refund and lockdowns in the United Kingdom (UK) and Kolkata delayed the process of refund.”

She said that while people who paid for IELTs inquired whether the money could be transferred for TOEFL IBT exam, the two tests were completely different and the fees have to be paid differently.

The coordinator said British Council in the UK closed the examination sub-agent in Kolkata and RIM had not renewed the contract with other British Council sub-agents.

She said IELTs was on hold and British Council sub-agents in neighbouring countries were interested in providing IELTs exam. “ We are focusing on TOEFL IBT for now.”

She added when the situation improves, RIM would be testing centres for both IELTs and TOEFL IBT.

The coordinator said information regarding TOEFL IBT such the registration fee and score requirements would be announced officially once RIM completes registration process.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Farmers worried of paddy yield without irrigation water

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 11:50

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupcholing

Without irrigation water, paddy fields in Khatoedthang village of Phuentshothang gewog, Samdrupjongkhar, are dry and cracked.

Farmers of about 20 households who cultivated paddy with rainwater are worried about the yield. The seasonal stream in the locality dried.

Lack of irrigation water has forced many villagers to leave their fields fallow.

While some villagers suspect a coal mine in the locality might have caused the stream to dry, others blame it on erratic monsoon because they have depended on rainwater for decades to irrigate their fields.

A farmer, Til Bahadur Thapa, said the water seeps more towards the mining site and less to their paddy fields after the mining started above their village.

Another farmer, Padam Lal Thapa, said the stream started drying up two years after the mining operation started. “It has been about three years now we have been facing water challenges for paddy cultivation.”

He said he left the fields fallow once villagers started arguing over the little water available.

Villagers claim that the mine expanding into the mountains would be causing water to dry as they used to have adequate water for irrigation before the mining started.

“We wouldn’t be able to harvest paddy if there is no rain,” a villager, Ganga Ram, said.

Om Maya Bahadur, 54, said villagers have depended on the monsoon to irrigate their fields for decades, adding that she relies on rainwater to cultivate paddy, but could not cultivate this time as there was less rain.

She said the water dried because of the less rain as it’s seasonal stream water and not due to the mining. “We have reported the issues to the gewog administration but were told to pump water from the river.”

Villagers said many are switching to maize cultivation due to insufficient water for paddy cultivation.

They said it would help if the concerned authorities such as the gewog administration could construct irrigation in the village.

Phuentshothang gup, Jamyang Gyeltshen, said there are no such irrigation issues in Khatoedthang village as people have been using water for cultivation. “We cannot blame mining for drying up the water sources as it’s seasonal stream water and there was no rain on time.”

He said the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) compensated those households whose crops were affected.

He also said SMCL had also provided pipes and constructed a tank at the drinking water source. “The gewog would provide the irrigation canal if needed.”

SMCL officials said the coal mine has not affected any water sources because the mining area does not directly impact the watershed area of the stream in the village.

An official said they constructed an irrigation canal for lower Khatoedthang.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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