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Updated: 2 hours 42 min ago

Dorona in monsoon

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:32

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Dorona is a remote gewog in Dagana. During monsoon, Dorona considered one of the poorest gewogs in the dzongkhag remains inaccessible.

I was advised against travelling to Dorona that shares border with Getana in Chukha and Karmaling in Lhamoidzingkha, Dagana.

I started to make the 30-km journey around 8am from Dagapela town. It rained the whole night. But I had to make the journey. Before long, I encountered the first major roadblock on the Dorona gewog centre (GC)  road.

An excavator from the nearby project site took hours to reach the block site. Getting pass the protocols took time. Boulders continued to slide in the meanwhile.

The road to Dorona worsens during monsoon

About 15 minutes after crossing the first roadblock, an old tree had fallen right in the middle of the road. A few people had gathered to clear but the tree was too big for the tools the men had with them.

Further on, the road is not suited for amateur drivers. The blacktop of the poorly aligned narrow roads were washed away by the monsoon. Huge potholes continuously threatened to throw the vehicle off road.

“It feels like I am on a National Geographic adventure,” said one of my travel companions.

With 96 percent of the gewog under forest cover and no settlements nearby, if one is stuck on such roads, help won’t come soon. With an average annual rainfall of 1,646.9ml, Dorona is always rainy and foggy. The situation worsens during monsoon.

One of the five chiwogs—Dorona Chewa—is yet to be connected with a road. It is six hours away from the GC. The gewog received electricity connection in 2013.

The population of 2,060 includes Sharchops, Kurtoeps, Ngalops, Khengpas, and Lhotshampas spread across 15 villages.

Before reaching the GC, there was another major roadblock. Sliding agricultural land created numerous roadblocks. A house was precariously located on the mouth of the landslide.

Clearing and driving through the road, it took about five hours, which actually is one-and-half-hour journey.

Gup Suk Raj Rai said that the gewog was a disaster-prone area with windstorms and heavy rainfall affecting the area every year. “Since the landscape is marshy, we can’t help but be at nature’s mercy.”

The gewog spends a major chunk of the budget in maintaining the roads.

Recently, at the Dagana Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), Dorona gup raised the issue of the gewog centre road maintenance. He said that with Nu 30,000 budget provided per km annually to maintain GC roads, it was not enough. Many DT members raised similar issue in their gewogs. “We do not get enough workers with minimum wage rate provided.”

Dorona GC road is pliable for only three months in winter. Most of the residents walk for two hours to Geserling.

It is 3pm. An elderly lady who came for an event at the gewog lhakhang called out to her friends: “It is time to leave. Before dusk we have to cross that stream. Otherwise, we could either get washed away or be stuck on the way at night.”

She wore a rain boot and was holding an umbrella. Her kira was tied till the knees.

In 2015, the monsoon completely cut the gewog off. Essential items had to be airdropped.

A civil servant who has been here for three years has applied for transfer. “When I was first posted here it was winter and I was excited. But once the monsoon started, life became very difficult.”

The gewog did not have a gewog administration officer for a year.

The yellow clayey soil has added to the problems. The ground is muddy and filled with puddles.

Not being able to face such challenges, young people are quickly leaving their villages. There are 50 goongtongs in the gewog.

Tshering Yangzom, who resettled from Mongar in Dorona in 2003, however, said that the economic conditions had improved slightly.

“When I first came here, I hired mules to carry my belongings. The place was a thick forest. The primary school construction had not even started,” said Tshering Yangzom, who is a sweeper in the school.

She has cultivated cardamom and citrus in her five-acre land.

More than 200 acres of land in the gewog is under cardamom cultivation. But with such road conditions, marketing is a formidable issue.

The agriculture extension officer, Indra Bahdur Raika, said that since last year, people ventured into commercial winter chilli production. People also rear cattle, poultry, pigs, goat, sheep, and horses.

A teacher said that although there were high attrition rates among students after completing their primary education, they now seek works in agriculture instead of loitering around.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Picture story

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:31

The newly constructed 200-bed quarantine facility at Phuntsho Rabten Ling (Motanga) Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar was consecrated yesterday. 

A total of 95 de-suups including 18 females from different dzongkhags joined the RBA personnel and other workers from various parts of the dzongkhag in its construction that began on July 18. 

Bhutan at Tokyo Paralympic Games

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:30

Thinley Namgay 

Team Bhutan took part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan yesterday, along with athletes from 162 other nations.

This is the first time Bhutanese para-athletes are taking part in the popular international event since the inception of Bhutan Paralympic Committee in 2017.

Para-athlete Chimi Dema, from Mongar, was the flag bearer of Bhutan. The other two participants are 28-year-old para-athlete Gyeltshen from Trashiyangtse and para-archer Pema Rigsel, 34, from Thimphu.

Chimi Dema said that it was a proud moment for her.

Three participants are accompanied by two coaches and an official from the Bhutan Olympic Committee.

In the first event for the country on August 27, Pema Rigsel will participate in the men’s individual recurve archery qualification round at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field.

On August 29 and September 4, para-athletes Gyeltshen and Chimi Dema will take part in the men’s F40, and women’s F40 shot put events at the Olympic Stadium.

The International Paralympic Committee and World Archery Federation invited Bhutan to the competition.

Many supporters including Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering conveyed their best wishes to the athletes on social media.

The theme of the 16th edition games is “United by Emotion”. Japan’s Emperor Naruhito attended the opening ceremony.

There are 4,537 para-athletes from 163 nations featuring in 22 sports, covering 539 medal events at 19 venues.

Tokyo 2020 saw the maximum number of countries and participants compared to Rio 2016 in Brazil.

During Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Paralympic Games, 4,342 athletes from 159 nations participated in 528 events in 22 sports. The games will end on September 5.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Too early to celebrate

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:29

There had been no Covid-19 positive cases reported from communities in the last 10 days from Phuentsholing and Samtse boosting confidence in our long drawn fight against the pandemic. Some are still skeptical of the situation in the south.  But life in the rest of the country has returned to normal. There are no restrictions except for having to wear face masks in public places and businesses closing at 9pm, at least officially.

We are gathering to celebrate weddings and promotions, meeting in large numbers for seminars and workshops and many other activities. As some construction see through the pandemic, we see new buildings being consecrated, archery and other games and tournaments are being organised. All seems normal as of now.

It is, indeed, an indication of the success of our fight to keep the virus, especially the Delta variant that is highly infectious, at bay. A lot of sacrifices had been made. There are still hundreds, if not thousands of frontline workers along the border still keeping vigil to ensure the safety of the rest of us. Life has to go on and even with a lot of logistic issues, trade and commerce are happening. We are even importing tobacco besides essentials.

However, it is important to remind ourselves of not celebrating too early. The world had seen the consequences of declaring victory too soon. The risk is still there. Even as we tend to believe the virus is gone for good, especially with the two rounds of vaccination, the situation is getting bad in areas that border us. 

Experts are warning of an imminent third wave towards the end of this month in neighbouring India. Looking around, the writing is on the wall.  Covid-19 cases are suddenly surging in the neighbouring states. Yesterday, the Indian state of Sikkim reported 137 new cases, in Arunachal Pradesh, there were 94 new cases and Assam reported 700 new cases, according to local media outlets in the states. These are only the officially reported cases. Local media are skeptical of the figures, meaning they expect the numbers to be higher than what is reported.

A big cause of concern is how the North Eastern Indian states have suddenly become vulnerable to imported cases adding to the many they are already reporting. UN experts have already warned how Myanmar could become the “super spreader state” because of the double trouble it is going through – from the political turmoil and the fast-spreading  Covid-19 Delta virus. 

Myanmar shares a long and porous border with North East India. There are refugees pouring into the North East because of the military coup and the pandemic risking the Indian north eastern states. On Monday, Myanmar recorded 2,186 cases although vaccination programmes have stepped up.  

We should be more concerned with the developments in the neighbouring India states because of our proximity and the open borders. Our memories are short. We cannot forget how one man who contracted the disease while on a visit to a neighbouring Indian town resulted in numerous positive cases and lockdowns.

Delay in parent stock import causes egg scarcity 

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:29

Chhimi Dema  

In the past one month, the price of a tray of eggs in Thimphu rose from Nu 320 to Nu 440, an  average increase of Nu 4 every day. An egg costs Nu 14.6.

Vendors said that the suppliers have hiked the price. “The suppliers increase the price weekly,” a vendor at the Centenary Farmers Market, Choney Zam said.

Officials from the Department of Livestock said that the delay in import of parent stock–to produce the layer and broilers, and vendors hoarding eggs were the reasons for the short supply of eggs in the market causing the price rise.

An official said that since eggs have a longer shelf life, vendors were buying and storing to market when there is a short supply of eggs.

“Some vendors hoard the eggs to make a profit when the demand spikes,” the official said.

Another reason, the official said, for the short supply of eggs was the delay in importing parent stock. Bhutan imports parent stock from Australia and New Zealand.

“There were travel restrictions while importing the parent stock,” the official said, adding that the import of the first batch of parent stock was almost delayed by four to five months in the production cycle.

Only in August last year, the first batch of parent stock arrived. It takes another five to six months for those parent stocks to reach the maturity level. And only in February, the parent stock can hatch eggs. It takes 21 days for the egg to become day-old-chicks (DOC). The DOCs are then supplied to the farmers.

“The DOCs that we have supplied to the farmers are still at the growing stage which means that they are about 14 to 15 weeks old,” the official said.

The chicken can lay eggs when they are around 16 to 18 weeks. “In one or two months, there would not be a massive shortage of eggs in the market,” the official said.

According to the Livestock Statistics 2020, there were 734,451 layers in 800 poultry farms in the country that laid 169.2 million eggs last year.

The official said that Tsirang and Sarpang dzongkhags were impacted by the delay in import of parent stock. The department imported a batch of parent breeders and supplied DOCs to the eastern dzongkhags.

Sarpang dzongkhag has the most hatcheries in the country and imports parent stock after every 21 weeks. Paro and Limithang, Mongar import only twice a year.

Officials said that there is no parent stock supplier in the Asia region and that it was not feasible to establish a parent stock farm in the country considering the small Bhutanese market.

Meanwhile, the poultry farmers in Tsirang said that the existing layers have become old and cannot lay more.

The owner of Nugoo Farmer’s Product, San Man Subba said that he had applied for replacements in October last year. He did not get a response to date. “I am hoping that I will be able to get layers by October.”

He had 5,000 layers which dropped by 1,000 in the last few months.

Due to DOCs shortage, his farm could produce only three cartons of eggs daily. He sells a carton at Nu 2,100. In the past, a carton cost a maximum of Nu 2,000.

To reduce market price, he said that farmers should be provided DOCs at the earliest. “If not, the price will continue to soar.”

He buys his DOCs from a dealer in Sarpang, who imports them from India.

The farmers, however, are pinning their hopes on Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited who signed an agreement with contract farmers.

A poultry farmer in Gosarling, Birkha Bahadur said that many farmers have abandoned their poultry farms since it was difficult to obtain inputs like DOCs. “The production has decreased and people are no longer interested.”

The demand, however, has increased, he said. He has 1,500 layers on his farm and sells a carton of eggs at Nu 2,800.

Tsirang has 140 layer farms with over 100,000 birds. Of it, 64 are registered members of Tsirang Poultry Cooperative.

The situation is no different in Dagana.

A poultry farmer Jit Bahadur Tamang who supplies eggs in schools said that the price of an egg has increased from Nu 9.5 to Nu 11.5. He said that despite the price hike, the demand has increased.

In the school feeding programme, children are given two eggs in a week. With a shortage, Jit Bahadur said that it would become impossible to feed eggs to school children in the future. He charges Nu 2,500 a carton of eggs.

Another farmer, Deo Bahdhur Ghalley said that there was a severe shortage even in the local market and meeting the demand from places like Thimphu is challenging for them.

Meanwhile, a poultry farmer, Nima Lama from Shompangkha said that the dzongkhag and the country experienced a similar shortage of eggs around this time every year for the past four years.

“We came to know about this situation in 2017. So we planned our requisition of DOCs and placed them with the livestock sector and National Poultry Research and Development Centre. But, this was overlooked and we are facing the acute shortage now,” he said.

Nima Lama added that over 15 farms of Sarpang Layer Cooperative, one of the largest producers in Sarpang, are empty. “We need 95,000 DOCs a year but we received around 8,500,” he said.

The farmers also said that the quality of feed could also have reduced production.

Additional reporting by 

Choki Wangmo and Nima 

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:13

  There is no crowd on the streets in Phuentsholing town. It has not reported a positive case from the community since August 13. 

Haa sawmill association says need more time to upgrade

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:13

Phub Dem | Haa 

Fall in demand owing to fewer constructions and the absence of foreign workers because of the border closure, 11 out of the 24 sawmills in Haa remain closed. 

The dzongkhag with the highest number of sawmills has been competing among themselves to supply timber to little construction work in the dzongkhag. Given the lack of work, sawmill owners are doubtful that they would be able to upgrade their establishments to an integrated wood-based industry amid the pandemic. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forest asked the stand-alone stationary sawmills to upgrade to an integrated wood-based industry by December 31, 2022. 

According to the letter from the ministry, failing to do so would result in deregistration of the sawmill, cancellation of licence by the economic affairs ministry, and debarment from monthly timber allotments by the forest department.

Representatives from the Haa sawmill association said that when sawmills were trying to make ends meet, the directive on the integrated wood-based industry was untimely.

According to a sawmill owner, Tashi upgrading requires procuring heavy machines, and it is difficult to buy these machines without business due to the pandemic. 

The owner of GT sawmill, Tashi and his wife have been working in their sawmill with some locals. 

Tashi said that he had to pay Nu 1100 and the day’s meal to the local helpers without domestic helpers. “When we calculate the cost of timber and labour charge, the cost of sawn logs increases. But when we compete to supply the timbers, the rate decreases drastically.”

He said he was willing to upgrade the sawmill to an integrated wood-based industry, but the financial investment was an issue. “If the government could provide low-interest loans keeping the machine as a mortgage, it will be doable.”

A stable market and sufficient raw material is a concern.

Tashi said, what if there was no export market after investing a considerable amount in procuring the materials. “What if all the sawmills in Haa apply for loans worth Nu 10 million each for the wood-based industry? I am worried about the trade balance.”

While the wood-based industry could employ some people, he said that if there were no stable market, the workers would be unemployed again. “There is risk in investing in such unpredictable ventures.”

An executive of the Haa sawmill association, Lhendrup Wangdi, said that conversion requires purchasing machines that were not feasible for the current market scenario, adding that importing expensive equipment during the pandemic was a wrong decision. “A wood-mizer costs around Nu 4 million. There will be a huge outflow of dollars.”

Besides, he said that introducing a mega wood industry questions raw material sufficiency and sustainability. “There should be a specification on the integrated industry. We don’t know what kind of integrated industry the government is talking about.”

He said that there was no need to shut down the existing Indian style sawmill to establish an integrated wood-based industry, adding that those willing to upgrade will do so per the market demand. “Sawmills are still required even if there is an integrated wood-based industry.” 

The association sends its discussion and suggestion to the Association of Wood Based Industries, which includes questioning the feasibility to upgrade by 2022. 

It further requested the AWBI to convey their request to the Department of Forests and Park Services to specify the type of saw machine and its feasibility in the country.

The association was willing to convert to wood-based industry only if the government agreed to provide financial support such as preferential loans at low-interest rates, fiscal incentives, and tax exemptions to help gradual upgradation. 

For a smooth conversion, it recommended the department to conduct a consultative meeting to study the scope and efficiency involving officials from the economic affairs ministry, revenue and customs, Natural Resources Development Cooperation, AWBI.  

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Water supply work for Nobding yenlag throm begins

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:12

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Construction of a drinking water supply line for residents of Nobding town, Wangdue began in late March this year.

This is the first of many structures and facilities for Nobding since it was identified as a yenlag throm (satellite town).

According to Wangdue dzongkhag Urban Planner Cheki Wangchuk the structure and local area plan for Nobding yenlag throm was approved in 2018.

He said that structures such as internal roads, sewerage drainage systems, streetlights and footpaths among others would be carried out in the next 20 years, between 2017-2037.

“Right now, we have completed re-plotting and demarcation of the land. We have also issued new lagthrams to the people.”

While reservoir tanks would be built and water would be brought to Nobding, construction of distribution lines will begin after service duct construction completes.

Dzongkhag planning officer Jigme Dorji said that the water supply would benefit more than 2,000 residents of Nobding.

Currently, the residents depend on smaller water sources, which is insufficient. The new water source at Lachuka is located around 7km away from Nobding. The project worth Nu 27.28 million (M) is funded through small development projects.

As part of the yenlag throm, officials are also trying to have an oil distributor operate in Nobding.

Cheki Wangchuk said that the yenlag throm would also consist of eco-trails, and parks for the residents. “Our vision for the throm is to build a vibrant and socially harmonious town which will act as a regional centre or hub for Gangtey, Dangchu, Phobji and Sephu.”

The yenlag throm covers 85.94 acres.

Meanwhile, the need for waste management and collection system in Nobding was also raised during the 10th dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) session held this month.

Dangchu Gup Pemba raised concerns over the lack of budget for the waste management system in Nobding. Most Nobding residents currently burn their waste.

Planning officer Jigme Dorji said that a proper waste management system plan would be executed through the national waste flagship programme in the next financial year.

He said that either a dumping ground in the community or an integrated waste collection system with Bajo would be made.

“If it is integrated with Bajo, the vehicle will go from here, which is expensive. So we are hoping for a dumping ground there.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Sarpang gups against pooling engineers in the dzongkhag

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:11

They are worried of losing gewog engineers to dzongkhag

Nima | Sarpang

Gups in Sarpang voiced their concerns against restructuring in the dzongkhag engineering sector, where all engineers in the dzongkhag would be pooled together.

The re-organisation plan is expected to enable knowledge sharing, specialisation of engineers and lead to improved work quality as engineers with different expertise and qualification would be stationed together.

Through the reorganisation plan, dzongkhag engineering sector would be reorganised as dzongkhag engineering and human settlement sector with five different sections of human settlement, infrastructure design, municipal service, implementation and monitoring, and compliance section.

Under the infrastructure design section, there would be three units of building, roads and bridge, and water and sanitation.

During the last dzongkhag tshogdu conducted on August 19, most gups said it is important to have engineers in the gewogs.

The DT resolved that gewogs could keep the engineers for a time being, but should abide by the government’s directives and sent the engineers to the dzongkhag.

The DT chairperson, Nim Dorji Sherpa, said local government officials have to support the plans and policies of the government.

He said that although gewogs were supposed to have an accountant, engineer and administrative officer, only some gewogs have the officials today.

“There is a need for an engineer in the gewog, but it is not appropriate to push the government in these difficult times,” he said. “The Department of local government has started to study the challenges faced by gewog administrations.”

Gelephu gup Ugyen Wangchuk said that an engineer plays an important role in the gewog administration.

“We face lots of problems when they are away even for a month. We won’t be able to achieve the set target and the budgets won’t be utilised well if they are stationed in the dzongkhag,” he said.

The dzongkhag could spend only over 70 percent of the total budget in the fiscal year 2020-21 while gewogs utilised almost 100 percent budget, according to the officials from the dzongkhag.

Ugyen Wangchuk said engineers in gewogs are busy compared to the engineers in the dzongkhag, who only look after big projects. “Big projects come once in four or five years whereas in gewogs, many small construction and plans are implemented frequently.”

He said gewogs would not be able to use expertise of engineers if they are stationed in dzongkhag. “Restructuring of engineers in the dzongkhag was a good initiative but it might not cater to the immediate need of the gewogs.”

According to the gup, the government might have to bear extra expenses on travel and daily allowances of engineers once they are pooled in the dzongkhag. “Country is not in a good situation today. The pandemic is far from over. There might be lockdown any time and it’s important that we have them in gewogs.”

Umling gup, Ugyen Norbu, said restructuring the engineering sector was aimed to provide improved services with the limited resource at hand.

He said change should not impact the people. “We were most benefited with the engineers in the gewog.”

Gups said they have to seek approval from the dzongkhag even for a survey in the past when engineers were not placed in gewogs, delaying the service and progress at the grassroots.

Dzongkhag’s chief engineer, Sangay Tenzin, said that there were only limited expertise and professionals in the dzongkhag today. “Engineers are stationed in gewogs, drungkhag and dzongkhag. When gewogs approach the dzongkhag for help, it is not available readily. We have engineers with expertise in water projects and irrigation in the drungkhag.”

He said it is difficult to monitor engineers when they are not stationed together.

There are 14 civil engineers in Sarpang today, six in dzongkhag, three in gewogs, and five in Umling drungkhag. There is one technician each in 11 gewogs and one each in drungkhag and dzongkhag.

The chief engineer said that using the current set of engineers well would be much better with the restructuring of the sector. “Design, estimate, monitoring, and implementation from the beginning of work to end, is done by one engineer today. The quality gets compromised.”

Sarpang dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji, said that the restructuring of the sector was not about taking away engineers from gewogs. “The resource and expertise remain in the dzongkhag whether they are working from gewog or dzongkhag.”

He explained the restructuring plan is as per the Royal Civil Service Commission’s aim to maintain small, compact, and efficient civil service. “It would enable effective use of limited resources in the dzongkhag.”

He also said this is expected to be more convenient, transparent, and there would be more accountability with different people involved in design, estimate, implementation, and monitoring.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Pemathang farmers wait for agriculture officer 

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:10

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupcholing 

The absence of an agriculture extension officer in Pemathang gewog in Samdrupcholing drungkhag, Samdrupjongkhar, has left villagers in a fix. Farmers say they lost more than 100kg of chillies recently because there was no one to facilitate marketing.

Villagers said that despite several requests to the gewog administration, the gewog was left without a replacement after the former agriculture extension officer resigned nine months ago last year.

A farmer, Chandra Bahadur Waglay, 48, said they seek help from the agriculture extension officers of Phuentshothang and Martshala gewogs whenever they are available.

“But since both are large gewogs in the drungkhag, we are unable to reach the agriculture officers when we need. Martshala gewog’s agriculture extension officer visited once so far,” he said.

Another farmer, Ram Chandra, said it became difficult to get seedlings, information on forming cooperatives, and avail farmer training without the official.

“It is more challenging when the insects affect the crops because we don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “It’s high time for the concerned authorities to send a replacement.”

“We cannot blame Phuentshothang and Martshala gewog’s agriculture extension officers for not turning up because they also need to attend to their respective gewogs,” a farmer, Subba Chettri, said.

Officiating Samdrupjongkhar agriculture officer, Chorten Tshering, said that they have submitted the requisition to the department in Thimphu three times so far.

He said the department has instructed them to wait until December this year. “The dzongkhag agriculture officer has been helping the people in the gewog whenever required.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Wangdue DT decides to relocate crematorium

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:10

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Around 35 funeral rites were performed at Wangdue dzongkhag’s cremation ground near Wangdue dzong this year alone.

According to the crematorium caretaker, Ugyen Zangmo, this is a rise from around four before the pandemic.

With more bodies turning up at the dzongkhag’s crematorium, the narrow road leading to the crematorium, lack of proper guesthouse, and other facilities such as kitchen have become a major concern.

Considering these issues, the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) members during its 10th session last week decided to relocate the crematorium.

Wangdue Rabdey’s Drungchen Nima said that the current crematorium lacked a proper space to keep the corpses and rooms for the relatives to stay.

He said that Tshochungthang, located near the existing crematorium near the Punatshangchhu which had enough space and was an ideal site for a crematorium.

Following discussions on the clearances from the environment and forest sector, the members agreed on the new location.

The members suggested building guesthouses and a lhakhang to perform the rituals, among other structures at the new site. 

According to chief dzongkhag engineer Tshering Chophel, the new location was below the existing crematorium and belonged to Wnagdue Rabdey. He added that a road could be connected to the area from a different route.

A proper survey is yet to be conducted to estimate budget and work to begin.

Meanwhile, members discussed blacktopping the road to the existing crematorium.

A recent survey estimated  blacktopping and drainage costs to be around Nu 2.7 million. While concerns over parking space at the crematorium were raised, DT members deliberated that the existing location didn’t have room for expansion.

DT Thrizin Tenzin Wangchuk said that investing money on the crematorium, which was to be relocated, will waste budget.

The DT forewent blacktopping and decided to maintain the road if the relocation took time.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Bailey Bridge at Rothpashong to come in next fiscal year

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:09

Tshering Namgyal  | Mongar

A bailey bridge over Kurichhu river at Dorjilung, commonly known as Rothpashong area, would be built in the next financial year, according to the Department of Roads (DOR) officials.

The chief engineer of DoR regional office in Lingmethang, Mongar, Kinzang Dorji said the parts for the bridge would be supplied by Punatshangchu. However, the budget for the construction of abutment and wall would be proposed in the next financial year due to inadequate budget for this financial year.

“Even zhabtog lyonpo during his recent visit has agreed and the bridge is confirmed,” Kinzang Dorji said.

However, the chief engineer said DoR officials are yet to confirm the exact location of the bridge. According to the old survey and design, the site had been confirmed as the area near the existing suspension bridge.

However, DoR officials are planning to shift the location a kilometer upstream towards Lhuentse to avoid the landslide-prone area which often blacked the highway in summer.

The chief engineer shared the status of the bridge at the recent dzongkhag tshogdu that ended last week.

Tsamang Gup Sonam Dargay said that the road from Banjar via Pam in Tsamang gewog was connected in the financial year 2018-19 and following which the survey for the bailey bridge was conducted by the regional DOR office, dzongkhag engineering sector, and the gewog administration jointly.

However, he said there was no progress on the bridge.

Kinzang Dorji also explained the progress of road widening between Phrumsengla and Yongkola, and the plan to widen and improve the Yongkola to Dorjilung bypass highway.

Of the five contract packages on the Phrumsengla-Yongkola stretch, he said three were awarded and tender for one has been floated. The last package would also be tendered out soon, the chief engineer said.

While the widening work on this stretch is expected to complete by 2023, Kinzang Dorji said the road from Yongkola to Dorjilung would be widened simultaneously as the zhabtog lyonpo has agreed to propose its budget in the next financial year.

Once the bridge completes travelling distance between Lhuentse and Thimphu is expected to be shortened by more than 32 kilometers. The road will not pass through Gangola junction in Mongar while the people of Tsamang travelling to Mongar town or Lhuentse will enjoy similar benefits.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Archers complain no uniformity in implementing Covid-19 protocol

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:08

Thinley Namgay  

The number of players during an archery game is still limited to 10. This is the threshold set by the National Covid-19 task force in the wake of the pandemic.  

Despite the standing regulation, most of the archery matches today — official and informal — are seen with more than 10 players.   

An official from the Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) said that the association had sent an official letter to the DeSuung head office requesting deployment of desuups at the archery ranges to ensure the threshold set by the government is maintained.

BIGSA official said that until the notification from the government, the association was not able to do anything.

Following the first nationwide lockdown in August last year, the government allowed sporting activities in a phase-wise manner.  All sporting events were permitted beginning March this year. However, new protocols developed by the Bhutan Olympic Committee in consultation with national sports federations and associations were put in place.   

According to officials, desuups and BIGSA officials monitor the number of crowds at the two Changlimithang archery ranges. However, the situation is different in most of the private archery ranges around the capital and other dzongkhags. There are no desuups regulating the crowd. 

An official from the DeSuung head office said that it was difficult to deploy desuups in all the archery ranges. 

The official said that the DeSuung office had deployed desuups to monitor the games following the request from BIGSA but was recently suspended given the manpower shortage. “While the office would revisit the issue, archers must be responsible and follow the protocol.”  

In the meantime, archers are not happy with the restriction set by the government. 

An archer, Sangay, said that it was not fair for archery players when rest of the games and sports were going on as usual without any restriction. “As long as we follow all safety measures, there shouldn’t be any problem. In archery, two teams are playing the entire day, and risk of Covid transmission is comparatively lower compared to many other sports.”

He said that a game of football involved more physical contact than an archery match. “Twenty-two players are involved in a game for more than an hour. After every hour new teams arrive and in the process most of them get mixed, increasing the probability of transmission.” 

Another archer said that there was no uniformity in imposing the player restriction.  “Most of the archery ranges outside Thimphu are privately owned and there are no protocols followed there.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Controlling inflation

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:08

The official inflation rate is recorded at 4.94 percent as per the latest report this year. On the ground, many are feeling the heat this summer as  prices of essentials have almost doubled in the last one year. The poor and the middle income group are affected the  most.

Increased food prices mean the low-income group are  cutting down on food items like meat and dairy products. Many families are also struggling to afford basic necessities.

One evidence of the rising cost of essentials is how Bhutanese are cutting down on offerings, a critical part of our life. Many say they  have either reduced their butter lamp offerings or are contemplating reducing it because ‘dalda’ has become unaffordable. A box of the hydrogenated fat  that cost about Nu 900 at the beginning of last year cost more than Nu 1,800 to Nu 2,000.

Egg price is the latest to hit the consumers. Although it is the only food item that we can proudly claim of being self sufficient, there is no control on the price of eggs because we still import layers, broilers and feed.

Inflation, if not controlled could push many Bhutanese, who lived above the poverty line below the poverty line. It is also a difficult time when most people have lost jobs because of the pandemic and are surviving on ‘kidu’.

Economists explain more flow of money in the economy and shortage of stocks cause inflation. In the present context, as an import driven economy, the problems associated with import of essentials is the probable cause of inflation.

The government claimed inflation in our market is because of inflation in India. That is one fact. There are areas where policy making can keep a tab on the rising cost, goods or services . Inflation, especially the increasing price of essentials, house rents, and fuel is impacting the people of lower-income group.

The government could intervene in areas like the ever increasing  house rents. It cannot be left to the market forces alone.  In times of the pandemic, house owners  benefiting from the fiscal and monetary policies like the interest waiver, deferred payment of loans should have played a role in checking inflation  by letting the benefits   trickle down to the tenants. Most Thimphu residents spent about 60 percent of their income on house rent.

Cost of utilities are another burden on the already burden consumers. Unfortunately, price regulation is also poor in the market. Our market is flooded with goods that have no fixed prices.

Everyone understands that improving our own food production is the only way out to tackle increasing food prices. But we have also been discussing that for decades. The pandemic has only exposed our vulnerabilities. Although efforts are made, we are far from producing what we need.

Our high-cost economy is another challenge. Cost of production is always high. Reviving the economy will not be possible if policies are not framed and implemented to address the existing problems.

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Financial sector performance improving

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:07

MB Subba 

The five banks and non-banking lenders recorded a net profit (after tax) of Nu 1.63 billion (B) at the end of the first quarter 2021, according to the financial sector performance report of the central bank.

This is an increase of Nu 1.625B from a meagre profit of Nu 4.7 million (M) at the end of the first quarter of last year.

The quarterly review report highlights the performance of the Bhutanese financial sector based on the reports submitted by the financial institutions.

The interest income of the financial institutions increased from Nu 2.979B to Nu 6.045B during the period. The financial institutions’ interest expenses increased slightly from Nu 2.022B to Nu 2.514B.

One of causes of the increase in the profit was the increase in the loan amount that the financial institutions had disbursed to stimulate economic activities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

An official said that the financial institutions had come up with various credit products to boost the economy and to offset the impact of the pandemic and that the non-performing loan (NPL) had also decreased during the past one year. “The financial institutions have launched various products like short-term loans to local industries for import of raw materials to deal with the impact of the pandemic.”

The total loan at the end of the first quarter increased to Nu 169.8B from Nu 158.928B at the end of the first quarter of last year.

However, NPL decreased from Nu 28.162B to Nu 24.754B during the period. The amount of NPL decreased by 12 percent while the gross NPL ratio decreased from 17.72 percent to 14.58 percent. 

Figures show that out of the total loans, the service and tourism sector has the biggest chunk of the loan with Nu 44.7B (28 percent) followed by the housing sector with Nu 41.368B (26 percent) and trade and commerce sector with Nu 19.9B (12 percent).

An analysis of the loan portfolio shows that the financial sector has loans highly exposed towards the service sector with an NPL ratio of 29 percent. This is followed by trade and commerce sector, and production and manufacturing sector with NPL ratio of 19 percent each.

The capital fund of the financial institutions stood at Nu 22.948B in March 2021 as compared to Nu 21,065B in December 2017.

The capital fund is the main source of financial support and acts as a buffer that enables financial institutions to absorb a level of losses without the interest of creditors and depositors being adversely affected and protects the interest of the creditors and depositors in the event of liquidation.

Besides absorbing the unanticipated shocks, the capital fund also signals that the institution will continue to honour its obligations.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Picture story

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:20

 Lead by Zhung Dratshang’s Laytshog Lopon Sangay Dorji, a group of lams and monks are conducting a week-long kurim and rituals at Rinchending Goenpa in Phuentsholing

MoAF to revamp buy-back scheme

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:20

Chhimi Dema 

The agriculture ministry will revamp the buy-back scheme and improve the agricultural marketing system in the next three years, according to Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor.

The scheme was introduced to provide an assured market for agricultural commodities to ensure that the farmers do not run into total loss and to encourage them for future production.

Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said the current buy-back scheme helps farmers, but the government risks incurring heavy loss since there is no assurance to market the produces.

The government buys potato, cardamom, areca nut, ginger, cabbage, beans, carrot, maize and paddy under the scheme.

Under the scheme, the government spent Nu 20.74 million (M) in 2019 to buy 50 metric tonnes (MT) of farm produce and Nu 70M in 2020 to buy 3,000MT of farm produces.

To buy cabbage under the scheme, the government incurred a loss of more than Nu 2.7M and the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited incurred the loss for Nu 30M last year.

Sources said the cabbages were dumped in Wangchhu at Damchu later.

According to Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor, the ministry will soon revamp the current buy-back scheme and call it buying-back at the source.

He explained that under the new scheme, price of the produce would be considered on three criteria like location of the produce, seasonal growth and nutritional index.

He cited how the price of chilli should be different in Trashigang and Thimphu, and  that the price in December should be different from June. “If the chilli does not hold nutritional value, then the buy-back price should be lower.”

He also claimed the buy-back price set by the government should be competitive, meaning that the price the government fixes should be attractive for the farmers to sell to the government. “If the price is fixed based on availability during the season, farmers would attempt to produce during the lean season.”

He said that with the buy-back scheme if the price is competitive and market assured then people would be encouraged to produce more.

Lyonpo said that after buying from the farmers, the government also must create two avenues of marketing­ like value addition export and raw export.

“After buying the produce, the produce should not be wasted but exported with a better price or set up value chain and storage system,” he said, adding that cold storage system allows an opportunity for the government to sell at a good price when the produces are in demand.

Three cold storages are under construction in Wangdue, Sarpang and Khaling. The ministry plans to construct five more cold storage units within this fiscal year.

Lyonpo said that there are opportunities for the private sector or youth cooperatives to invest in certification systems, packaging, storage or transportation of the farm produces.

“The risk factor in the RNR sector is high so the private sectors are not bold enough to venture into it and the government should prove that it is worth investing,” he said.

He, however, said that until buy-back at the source is implemented, the current buy-back scheme will continue. “We need to continue this in the pandemic situation so that the farmers do not run into a total loss.”


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Agriculture marketing 

The minister also claimed the ministry is working to improve the agricultural marketing situation, which is a production-driven market today.

He said that the proposal to revamp the agricultural marketing system will be submitted to the government. “By 2023, the country would have a better marketing system.”

He said that with the closure of the border and when trade was formalised, they realised that they had been complacent on informal trade.

He said that exporters did not bother about maintaining the quality of agricultural produce, good packaging or adding value to the produce. “After the auction, they did not explore where the produces were exported to or the price fetched.”

To improve the agricultural marketing system, the ministry is working on an application to show the production of RNR produces in different dzongkhags.

“The application would also allow the extension officers to provide information about the quantity of production and the timing of harvest to the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC),” Lyonpo said.  “DAMC will then facilitate sharing the demand from market centres and give it to the farmers.”

The application was developed to manage the agricultural marketing chain in the first and second lockdown.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Space Science and Technology lessons to begin by year-end 

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:19

Yangyel Lhaden  

What do I require to survive on the Moon? How can I design a satellite mission? How do I design a prototype of a space rover to explore another planet by using satellite images?

Among others, these are what students of Classes IX-XII  will learn in the newly incorporated space science and technology (SST) lessons of the New Normal Physics curriculum (NNPC) which began this year.

Developing the curriculum started in 2020 and was completed the following year along with teaching or learning materials by local experts from the Royal Education Council (REC), the division of telecom and space (DTS), and the education ministry.

A DTS official said that 21st-century education emphasised on development of transversal skills of critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration. For that engagement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education was crucial, the official said.

REC’s Dean and Curriculum Specialist II, Wangpo Tenzin said: “Our government mandates STEM as one of the essential crucial tools in empowering transverse skills and also engender scientific temper and interest to learn and do science.”

He said STEM education has always remained one of the crucial learning areas. “Therefore, elements of space physics existed in the old physics curriculum across various key stages.”

REC’s Curriculum Developer ( Physics), Phuntsho Norbu said although space physics existed in the old curriculum it was more of theory and lacked practical lessons for students to have first hands-on experience.

A DITT official said SST in NNPC’s main objective was to present a hard science topic in a fun and interesting manner.

Phuntsho Norbu  said SST in NNPC  involved theory and practical lessons. Students would also build models and track satellites through software available on the internet. “There is so much for students to explore, self-study, and critically analyse.”

New Normal Curriculum Physics

Phuntsho Norbu said materials for SST in NNPC was developed as a separate package was distributed to all schools last week.  “Incorporating SST in a textbook by revising the old physics textbook authored by foreigners is not feasible.”

He said SST was inserted as the last chapter of the syllabus to provide enough time for teachers to prepare. “ We are aiming for a face-to-face orientation.”

Class IX students would learn about the moon, Class X students will be taught space exploration,  Class XI students about space technology and applications, and Class XII about satellite development.

A DITT official said topics could be treated as introductory lessons. “The initiative is closely linked with recent global developments in the space industry as well as complementary to the advancement of other emerging technologies.”

In Class IX students are taught how to make nine life-supporting systems on the moon. The background of the teacher’s guides reads a future lunar pace to be a self-contained habitat with all life support systems necessary for the survival of people, animals, and plants.

Students will be taught how to make life-supporting systems through materials such as straws, strings, rubber bands, tapes, card boxes, and hoses.

Way forward

Phuntsho Norbu said through NNCP it was expected to ignite interest in students so that they could find a career in the SST field in the international market. “The future is SST and this is our first step in introducing SST to students.”

A DITT official said that as the integration of SST was a recent initiative it was preemptive to embark on a full study on the space job market. “However, informally officials are carrying out research studies on the space job market and monitoring the impact of this intervention in the Physics curriculum.”

Phuntsho Norbu said in collaboration with DITT they were also developing series of SST books for classes PP-XII. 

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Chaskhar farmers revives paddy cultivation in 70 acres field after a decade

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:18

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

After Chaskhar gewog in Mongar allocated Nu 6 million budget to restore irrigation water source at Gudari, farmers of Pam chiwog revived paddy cultivation in more than 70 acres of fields at Frokpulung this year.

The 6.7kms irrigation restoration work was executed through a community contract.

Chaskhar gup, Pema Dorji, said more than 60 households benefitted from the repaired irrigation canal. “We also increased the intake at the source.”

He said there are more than 100 acres of dry land remaining fallow because of lack of irrigation water.

Farmers are happy.

Paithey, 66, of Pam chiwog in Chaskhar gewog, Mongar, remembers harvesting more than 800 drey (measuring bowl) of rice from his paddy fields in Frokpulung decades ago, but lack of irrigation water forced them to leave the fields fallow. “The water source dried up.”

He said they did not buy imported rice then as what was harvested was more than self-sufficient for the family. “But we depended on imported rice after we stopped cultivating.”

Paithey is now happy.  With the paddy fields looking lush green and promising, he is hoping for a similar yield he harvested 15 years ago.

“The soil is more fertile here in the lower altitude and I’ve no doubt about the yield this year as well,” he said.

Another landowner, Rinchen, said she is even hoping to sell rice and earn some income.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Wangdue farmers affected by electricity lines want land replacement 

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:18

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

A farmer in Chungsaykha village of Phangyul gewog, Wangdue, had been waiting for the last two years to construct a new house. She has the documents and materials ready for the construction.

However, construction is yet to begin.

This, she said, was because the new house, which would be bigger than the present one, fell right below electricity lines.  “Everyone says that the roof of the new house would touch the electricity lines,” Tshering Wangmo said.

Tshering Wangmo only owns 11 decimals land as chimsa (Land for house) and relocating the house would be difficult. “The land behind the current house is government land and in the front, the house falls right under the electricity lines,” she said.

Her case is not isolated.

Many homeowners in Daga gewog faced similar problems due to the gewog’s close proximity to Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project.

The 10th dzongkhag tshogdu session also discussed the matter.

Daga mangmi, Sonam Lhamo, said that while people received land replacements when electricity poles were installed on private lands, there is no land replacement when electricity lines impact houses.

She said that farmers, who do not own much dry land, are impacted as they could only cultivate and not construct houses when electricity lines run above their land.

Dzongkhag land registrar, Gyembo, said that a circular issued in 2013 states people should be provided with land replacement when their land was used for installing larger electric poles.

Cases in regard to having electric lines over private lands aren’t given land replacement.

Gyembo, however, said some cases were also considered and land replacement was given to individuals, who owned only fewer decimals of lands and didn’t own any other dry land.

Bhutan Power Corporation’s senior divisional manager, Dil Kumar Rasaily, said that house constructions are not allowed under electricity lines for safety as breaking of the high voltage electric lines posed risk to the residents.

He said that the economic affairs ministry was currently framing the rehabilitation and resettlement guideline, which he added might address the concerns.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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