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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 2 hours 17 min ago

The need to face the threats firmly

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 11:32

The proactive actions from the Ministry of Health are to be lauded in the face of a threat that is knocking on our doors.

BF.7, a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5 is running riot.  And, it is in such difficult times that rumours give a new spin. The border gates are closing again, we hear. There is panic.

This is only to be expected, knowing what lockdowns bring to the nation and the people. If there are such concerns from the public, it is a good sign and we must bolster of surveillance system to the maximum.

The plan currently is that children between the ages of six months to below five years and those with chronic diseases will be given Covid-19 vaccine. Parents are encouraged to register their children on Bhutan Vaccine System. Parents must take this very seriously.

 The ministry reportedly paid for the 84,000 doses of vaccine for the children in this age group and Bhutan will also receive more than 100,000 doses of (Pfizer adult) vaccine by mid of next month. This lot of vaccine is to be given as booster doses for people between the ages of 12 and above.

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 The ministry has over 65,000 doses in stock and 50,000 doses of paedriatic vaccines will arrive in March on top of the 50,000 doses in stock already. These vaccines are meant for children between the ages of five and 11 years.

 More than 68 percent of people 18 and above have been vaccinated with the fourth dose (Second booster) to date. The health ministry urges people to get vaccinated.

 The government of India now requires international passengers travelling from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand to undergo mandatory RTPCR tests before departure and upload reports on Air Suvidha portal from January 1. The test must be conducted within 72 hours of undertaking the journey to India.

 We have gone through some difficult times. Lockdown is never a convenient measure, as we have experienced.

We know that the Ministry of Health is monitoring the trends of Covid-19 at all the major points of entry. This is a good beginning. What is more important is that we should be able to strengthen the protocol and surveillance systems at home.

 Even the basics such as wearing face masks, washing hands, and maintaining physical distance will go a long way in protecting ourselves from the imminent onslaught.

Bhutan’s economy likely to grow stronger in 2023

Fri, 12/30/2022 - 11:31

… GDP growth projected at 4.63 percent next year

Thukten Zangpo 

Bhutan’s economy is expected to grow stronger next year with stronger growth in the Indian economy.  The country’s economy is seeing a progressive growth, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said.

“Bhutan and India’s economies follow the same growth trajectory because of the currency pegged and India being the major trading partner,” he said, adding that the Indian economy is going to be strong.

According to the finance ministry’s report as of June this year, Bhutan’s economic growth rate measured in the gross domestic product (GDP) is projected at 4.95 percent in 2022 and downgraded to 4.63 percent in 2023.

The country recorded a GDP growth of 4.09 percent after it slumped to -10.08 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The growth projection was for agriculture, livestock and forestry sectors, seeing a growth of 2.05 percent in 2021 to 2.18 percent in 2022 to 3.23 percent in 2023.

Similarly, the services sector would see a growth of 8.08 percent in 2023 from 5.42 percent in 2022.

However, the indu

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strial sector will see a decline to -0.15 percent in 2023 from 4.37 growth in 2022.

Presenting the State of the Nation, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that the country’s GDP is better compared with many other countries. “If we can maintain Bhutan’s GDP above 4.5 percent next year, we can come out from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the International Monetary Fund has projected the economic growth prospects for the developed countries and fast-developing countries. “It will not be good in 2023 and 2024 as compared to this year and will pick up only from 2025.”

He added that Bhutan couldn’t improvise its economy to perform much better than any other country. “We are prone to economic shocks as a heavily import-dependent country.”

However, Lyonpo said that Bhutan could follow and learn from other countries whether there is a need to curtail the government’s spending or spend more.

The World Bank has revised India’s GDP growth estimate to 6.9 percent for the fiscal year 2022-23 from 6.5 percent earlier.

India’s GDP for the July to September period this year grew at 6.3 percent against 8.4 percent in the same period a year ago.

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Despite the impact of a tightening global monetary policy cycle, slowing global growth and elevated commodity prices, the World Bank expects India to see strong growth and remain one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world due to robust domestic demand.

“India’s economy is relatively insulated from global spillovers compared to other emerging markets. This is partly because India has a large domestic market and is relatively less exposed to international trade flows,” it added.

Similarly, the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) outlook as of December kept India’s GDP unchanged at 7 percent for this fiscal year 2022-23. For the fiscal year 2023-24, the GDP growth has been unchanged at 7.2 percent.

For Bhutan, the ADB stated that agriculture is set to expand on better weather, and construction is expected to ensure growth in the industry.

However, it added that the service growth would be lower than earlier expected, a tripling of the sustainable development fee, a daily tariff for visitors, to USD 200 per head in June this year.

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“This could dampen service growth in 2023 as effects spin-off on other businesses dependent on tourism,” the ADB stated.

The ADB revised and downgraded the South Asian countries’ GDP to 6.3 percent from 6.5 percent following a shutdown in Bangladesh and flooding in Pakistan.

For developing Asia, GDP is revised down to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent in 2022 and to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent in 2023 because of recurrent lockdowns in China, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and slowing global growth.

RCSC makes leave rules stricter

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:07

… also suspends the early retirement scheme for civil servants

Lhakpa Quendren  

While civil servants adding other types of leave to the special leave (EOL) has been a customary practice, there are no clear guidelines on whether this is allowed.

However, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) during its 165th meeting on December 27 decided that civil servants prefixing and suffixing different types of leave to EOL will be not allowed with immediate effect.

In the notification issued yesterday, the commission said prefixing other types of leave to EOL does not align with the rationale underpinning EOL and also disrupts service delivery in agencies.

Civil servants who have already availed themselves of earned leave prefixed to EOL, coinciding with their effective promotion date, will be considered absent from duty for promotion.

They are not eligible for promotion in line with the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations (BCSR) 2018. However, their promotion will be effective only after rejoining their agency coinciding with the earliest promotion cycle.

Section 13.6.15 of the BCSR 2018 states that even if a civil servant has fulfilled eligibility criteria, his promotion shall not be processed approved during his absence from duty and availing of medical leave beyond three months, EOL and long-term study leave or when long-term training (LTT) status in CSIS is ‘reported but pending completion’.

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It states, however, a civil servant while pursuing LTT under mixed mode shall be eligible for promotion subject to fulfilling other criteria including his or her presence in office at the time of processing and effecting the promotion.

Going by the data with RCSC, an all-time high of 542 civil servants have availed themselves of EOL this year alone. This was followed by 502 civil servants in 2019, 387 in 2018, and 273 in 2020 while 2021 saw comparatively low with only 155 civil servants availed of the EOL.

In August, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also notified, based on the structural reforms and transformation exercise carried out by the RCSC, staff under OAG who wishes to avail of the EOL should apply for compulsory resignation.

EOL is a facility extended to civil servants to avail themselves of sabbaticals for up to 24 months, in their long years of service as career civil servants.

Early retirement scheme suspended  

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The RCSC also reviewed and suspended it after finding it did not serve its intended purpose while adding cost to the government exchequer.

The suspension is with immediate effect and will remain until the RCSC reviews its policy on EOL and accordingly develops a new or revised scheme that aligns with the ongoing civil service reforms.

The RCSC official said that because of the difficult financial situation of the government, the Commission suspended the ERS for the moment. “Further, RCSC also felt that the ERS needed to be revised holistically,” said the official.

The initial aim of the ERS when it was instituted in 2006 was to facilitate civil servants in certain performance and qualification categories to retire early.

Farmers struggle to sell winter vegetables

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:06

… blame poor sales on loose ban on imported chillies and cauliflowers 

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

While illegally imported chillies, cauliflowers, and broccolis are making rounds at the price of local produce, farmers of the southern dzongkhags say their vegetables are rotting in the fields.

A few years ago, there was a surge in commercial farmers growing winter vegetables under the economic contingency plan triggered by the pandemic and import restrictions on chillies, beans, and cauliflowers.

Today, these farmers are suffering losses due to a lack of market for their local produce. Many have given up their farms due to stiff competition from illegally imported vegetables sold at a cheaper rate.

Hochu Leki is Dagana dzongkhag’s commercial vegetable aggregator (CA). He has signed contracts with farmers to market their vegetables to other dzongkhags.

Since the harvest season of winter chillies and cauliflowers started a month ago, he has been constantly receiving calls from farmers across the gewogs. Everyone wanted him to collect their chillies and cauliflowers. The pressure is only expected to mount as many of his CA friends left the vegetable business for other opportunities.

“I cannot deny requests from farmers as I am bound to them with contract agreements,” Hochu Leki said.

He had marketed chillies and cauliflowers from Dagana to other dzongkhags but without success. It took him six days to sell 600kgs of local chillies at Thimphu Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM).

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He has collected three Bolero loads of chillies from across the dzongkhag. He buys a kg of chilli at a farmgate price of Nu 100 and has to sell at Nu 70 or 80 at the CFM. “Vendors at CFM say that they can easily buy imported chillies at Nu 15 and sell at Nu 45. They refuse the locally sourced ones,” he said.

Some vendors, he said, directly contact farmers and buy chillies at an increased rate  to charge high prices at the CFM. This trend, he said, is eventually affecting the farmers as consumers complain about high charges for local produce.

The highest price a CA can charge a farmer is Nu 350 a kg according to the fixed farmgate price for chillies.

The dzongkhag has a designated counter at the CFM, but farmers say that it was impossible to compete with imported produce.

Commercial farmers said that if the government could at least strictly monitor illegal imports or impose import restrictions for vegetables in two months in winter, it would greatly enhance marketing and encourage farmers to continue commercial production.

“Marketing is a challenge every winter. We can’t totally ban import but there needs to be strict monitoring by the authorities concerned,” said Bimal Subba a progressive youth farmer in Samarchu.

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He said that it was time the government trusted local producers and let them pick up their businesses until the country is self-sufficient. “Farmers are discouraged and leave commercial production as there is a continued disruption in the market.”

In the past, Bimal Subba and his brothers earned Nu 800,000 from the sale of chillies. They have expanded the farm to seven acres this year.

They have harvested about 980kgs within a month. The production is expected to increase in February.

“Restriction is the way forward; we can never compete with imported products. But the country is prioritising organic produce and we can be chilli sufficient in two to three years” the youth said.

Dhan Bdr Subba’s 30 decimal chilli farm is still not harvested. No CAs contacted him this year. Most of the villagers in Samarchu could improve their livelihood from the sale of chillies.

“In the first year of cultivation, it took time for us to get used to the equipment and new methods of farming. Now, we are confident and there is no market,” said Dhan Kumar Subba.

Farmers are also struggling to market cauliflowers due to surplus production in the country.

Hochu Leki said that they can’t even market a kg of cauliflower at Nu 15 at CFM. Last year, he earned Nu 60 a kg.

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“The situation has deteriorated and people are no longer interested. We talk about self-sufficiency and then allow import, discouraging local producers,” he added.

Karmaling Kuenphen Tshogpa wrote to the gewog administration recently seeking support and interventions for chilli marketing. The CAs and farmers also approached the dzongkhag administration. There is no official communication yet.

In Tsirang, many farmers abandoned winter chilli cultivation. They are now growing early chillies (big chillies). The farmers, however, are struggling to sell cauliflowers and broccolis.

“Most of the broccolis are flowering in the fields,” said an agriculture extension officer in one of the gewogs.

A farmer from Sergithang, San Man Subba, said that the farmers are now selling a kg of cauliflower at Nu 20 to 30. “Rampant illegal import is wiping off the market for local producers,” he said.

He said that not many are interested in farming now.

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Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the import restriction on chillies, beans, and cauliflower is still effective. “Illegal importers of these banned produce are liable for hefty fines and penalties.”

Farmers should inform their local government leaders for effective response, Lyonpo added.

In 2016, the government imposed import restrictions on chillies, cauliflowers, and beans, stating high pesticide content. 

However, farmers allege that there is no strict monitoring at the borders.

Trashigang tightens pet ownership rule

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:05

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

The inspection team in Trashigang slapped a fine of Nu 4,000 on pet owners for letting their pet dogs loose in public places on December 14.

The team sensitised the public on Livestock Rules and Regulations 2022.

Deputy Chief Dzongkhag Livestock Officer(DCDLO), Naina S Tamang, said that the team intends to encourage pet ownership, especially in the town.

“If pet owners fail to abide by the regulations, offenders will be dealt with and fined according,” Naina S Tamang said.

The fine amounts range between Nu 100 to Nu 5,000.

According to livestock officials, the treatment of the injured person or animal will be the responsibility of the owner of the pet.

He said that the origins of stray dogs are from pet dogs that are let loose.

Officials advised the residents that rules and regulations prohibit feeding dogs in public places.

Tshechimo, a pet owner, said the policy would help reduce dangers caused by pets and stray dogs.

“I have kept cats and a dog for many years. I have always paid attention to their health,” said the 45-year-old.

Another pet owner, Rinchen Seldon, said that recently her cat was killed by a pet dog. “I hope the implementation of the policy will reduce the number of stray dogs as well as reduce the dog bite cases in the town.”

There are 1,180 pet owners in Trashigang.

The dzongkhag administration has notified all the pet owners that similar inspection exercises in other towns, dungkhags and 15 gewogs periodically by respective local leaders.

Largest Choeten project begins in Trashigang

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:04

Neten Dorji | Yadrang

Measuring 150 feet tall and 270 feet wide, Druk Men- jong Goma Sala Choeten Chhenmo currently under the preliminary stage of construction above Yadrang village of Phongmey gewog in Trashigang will become one of the largest choetens in the country once complete.

The choeten, which will be bigger than the popular Boudhanath Stupa or Jharung Khashor Choeten in  Nepal, will span over six acres with its 36 smaller choetens placed in all four corners. The choeten will be surrounded by a tshokhang and a few other structures.

The choeten construction project started two years ago as an initiative of Khenpo Tenzin Thinley.

According to Khenpo Tenzin Thinley of Ngajur Phuntshog Choling Goenpa, the primary Nangten (relic) would be 17 different statues which would be placed inside the main choeten with 100,000 tsa tsa at base. The choeten will also house statues of different prominent Buddhist figures like the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, Juetsuen Dolma, Chhana Dorji and Zhabdrung.

Druk Menjong Goma Sala Choeten under construction

Khenpo Tenzin Thinley said he planned to construct the Boudhanath-like choeten in 2016. “The main reason for constructing the stupa is to bring peace and harmony in Bhutan and the universe,” he said. “It is also for the longlife of His Majesty and the Wangchuk Dynasty as well as for the well being of all sentient beings.”

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To accumulate merit, he said, the choeten will be constructed by the Bhutanese. “It is not that we do not have skilled labour in the country. We have tremendously skilled people. It will be built by only Bhutanese people.”

The Kagay lhatsho would be positioned in the eastern direction, Phurpa Lhatsho in the west, Zhi thro lhatsho in the north and Gongdue lhatsho in the south to bring peace to the country.

The project is being initiated and funded by the people of 20 dzongkhags, who have so far contributed over Nu 7.5 million. The project committee members are also hoping for financial support from people across the country and effort from the people while constructing the choeten.

Khenpo Tenzin Thinley said about 20 percent of the project has been completed. “Currently, we are procuring different relics and Salang Tendrel will be held in 2024, an auspicious  year,” said the khenpo.

Construction site is located some 17km from Rangjung town situated on an elevated ridge overlooking 13 neighbouring villages of Bidung, Shongphu, Samkhar and Radhi.

The project is expected to be completed by 2033. 

RTC and Transport vie for fourth place 

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:04

Thinley Namgay 

RTC FC snatched a much need win against BFF Academy FC  2-1 in the ongoing BoB Bhutan Premier League at the Changlimithang Stadium yesterday.

RTC has now a better chance to remain in the fourth position.

It was, however, not easy for the RTC boys to surpass the young BFF Academy players yesterday.  It was a crucial match for RTC as they are in the race for the fourth position against Transport United FC and Ugyen Academy FC.

In a highly contested game, skipper and defender Pema Dhedup of RTC scored in the 35th minute. Before they could extend the lead, BFF Academy equalised in the 42nd minute through Kinzang Tenzin. The first half ended in a 1-1 draw.

BFF Academy boys had better possession at 57 percent.

Although RTC’s game tactics improved in the next half, the match headed for a draw.  However, at the last minute, RTC’s Winger Karma Sonam relieved the team with a decisive goal. Karma Sonam was left unmarked and he dribbled all the way into the box and scored the goal.

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With the win, RTC FC grabbed 27 points and the last game is against FC Takin on January 3 at Changlimithang Stadium.  RTC has a high chance to win considering the 4-0 win against Takin in the first leg.

RTC FC’s coach Ugyen Dorji said the team played a ‘respected game’ and he was looking forward to winning the next game. “FC Takin is not a very strong team but we respect it as an opponent. We will never underestimate the opponent in the game.”

As of yesterday, Transport has 24 points and two games in hand.  While Ugyen Academy has 22 points with one more match to play.

On January 1, Ugyen Academy will face Paro Rinpung FC at the Woochu Sports Arena in Paro. Transport will play against Druk Lhayul FC on January 4,  and Tensung FC on January 6 at the Changlimithang Stadium.

Druk Lhayul FC has confirmed third place and the winner will be either Paro FC or Thimphu City FC.

Tensung FC will face FC Takin today at Changlimithang Stadium at 6pm.

Ramp up the surveillance systems

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:03

In the face of rising Covid-19 cases in the region, the Ministry of Health has advised the government and the public to step up safety measures.

This is an important warning. We have gone through some difficult times. Lockdown is never a convenient measure, as we have experienced.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the latest variant, BF.7, a sub-variant of Omicron, is the fastest spreading variant to date. BF.7 has been detected in Indian states, especially in Gujarat and Odisha. The risk of the virus entering Bhutan, therefore, is very high.

Ministry of Health in its notification said that ministry is “continuously monitoring the trends of Covid-19 at all the major points of entry.” This is good news. 

We know that the entry of Covid-19 will happen only from the points of entry. There are six entry points in the country: Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, and Nganglam in Pemagatshel. Therefore, bolstering measures at the points of entry is critically important.

But the focus should not be only on the points of entry. Safety protocols should be strengthened inside, in towns and villages. Routine Covid-19 integrated influenza surveillance systems are in place to monitor the virus in all these entry points, we are told. Health workers have been alerted and the ministry has enhanced random testing of travellers and foreign workers at the entry points.

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Wearing face masks and washing hands should be made mandatory, especially in major population centres.

Covid-19 continues to be a serious threat. As cases continue to rise in the neighbouring countries, there is a need to bolster our surveillance and quick-action systems.

India is tackling with BF.7, a strain that has China in a very complicated situation today. The variant has already been detected in the US, the UK, and European countries such as Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark, among others.

India is ramping up genome sequencing as a proactive measure to study the emergence of new variants of the virus. The real danger facing us today is that we seem to assume that Covid-19 is no longer a threat. Covid-19 is still a significant threat and we cannot take it lightly.

Information, education, and communication are still very important. What the health sector has done so far deserves our praise but we can together do a lot more. We must prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. We must, at all costs, avert the kind of destruction that the virus has done to the economy and lives of the people.

Picture story

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:02

  Thousands of people enter and exit through the pedestrian terminal at the international border in Phuentsholing every day.

BCCI to request RMA to discontinue six-month observation period

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:02

Thukten Zangpo

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) on behalf of the businesses decided to submit to the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) to discontinue the six-month observation period at the members’ meeting on December 27.

In October this year, RMA directed that non-performing loans (NPL) that have become performing through repayments made by the borrowers shall be placed under the ‘observation period’ for a period of six months with no bank guarantee and letter of credit.

The observation period, the president of the Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB), Trashi Wangyel, said deprived the clients of credit facilities including availing letter of credits or bank guarantee.

“This has impeded contractors from being able to bid or take part in competitive bidding processes where such banking facilities are required,” he added.

He said that a majority of contractors painstakingly paid the overdue to banks in anticipation that post-covid-19 normalcy would bring new opportunities and business, but it has been a classic case of banks providing umbrellas when sun shines but taking them away when it rains.

“The person or entity under such observation devoid of these facilities and with loss of prospects is bound to fall back with their repayments within these six months and the cycle of NPL will repeat and this time with more critical outcomes,” Trashi Wangyel said.

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A bank guarantee, which is 10 percent of the total contract value, has to be submitted as a performance bond to the procuring agencies. It is a guarantee that the contractor will execute the contract. Otherwise, the procuring agencies can take the 10 percent.

Executive Director of the CAB, Tshering Younten, said that the government provided time extension for the construction works under the fiscal measures. 

However, without bank guarantee, he said that procuring agencies do not accept the extension of work leading to termination of works.

Tshering Younten also said that most of the contractors have more than one company and the construction companies have shareholders. “Even if a company or shareholder is under NPL, it affects all.”

BCCI’s President, Tandy Wangchuk, said that bank guarantees are a zero risk in nature since the borrowers have the fixed assets mortgaged with the banks with loan to assets value of 70 percent for term loans and 50 percent for the overdraft loans.

He said that if the government could re-assess the asset value for the collateral used to avail loans at current market rate, an additional loan amount could be pumped into the economy.

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The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) submitted that the hotels under the NPL during the pandemic to defer the loan period for two years like the other hotels with performing loans.

The association also asked for interest rate reduction from 10 percent to 7 percent for the loans under the deferment period.

Executive Director of the HRAB, Sangeeta Rana, said that the association requested before the opening of the tourism to the government and the central bank to reduce the interest rate for the loans from 10 percent to 5 percent for the deferment period.

However, she said that the government declined the request, assuring that the larger group of tourist arrival is expected in coming months and the hoteliers can repay the loans.

“The scenario is different now; there are hardly any tourist coming and the association would request for the interest reduction to 7 percent,” Sangeeta Rana said.

The association also asked if 10 year-tax holiday for hotels  affected by the pandemic could be considered for another two years. 

52 tax officials resign this year alone

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:45

Lhakpa Quendren

As the tax filing season approaches, the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) has come under mounting pressure with income tax officials quitting their jobs in bulk.

This year alone, 52 income tax officials resigned voluntarily and more could follow. Eleven officials superannuated from the service.

DRC said that the department’s attrition reflects the national trend.

The department is taking a multi-pronged approach to make do with fewer employees.

The department said it would remove redundancy within the organization through business process reviews. This includes multi-tasking to ensure that services are delivered without any disruption within the standard Turn-Around-Time (TAT).

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According to the department, employees are shouldering extra responsibilities.

Contract employees and interns are expected to address the manpower shortage in the department. All accounts services are being clustered together in the form of the Cluster Finance Service (CFS).

“The finance ministry in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission will re-deploy excess accounts personnel from the CFS to the DRC to fill the gap to ensure uninterrupted service delivery,” said the department.   

Further to that, the deployment of 20 Post-Graduate Diploma in Financial Management (PGDFM) graduates would ensure the department’s prompt service delivery.

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Long-term solution?

The department is looking at digitalisation as one of the solutions to achieve efficiency and effectiveness.

The focus on building and deepening competencies of human resources would continue to build a highly skilled and efficient workforce, according to the department.

DRC will also focus on grooming young leaders to create a pipeline of leaders for various functions to ensure an effective succession plan is in place.

The average attrition rate at DRC over the 5 years – from 2018 to 2022 – has been 12.2 percent, including superannuation and death.

Exhibitors expect opportunities from Thimphu Mega Trade Fair

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:44

YK Poudel 

Local businesses to broaden their business are exhibiting at the Thimphu Mega Trade Fair that began in the capital yesterday.

The fair has over 48 national exhibitors, who have gathered to showcase their goods.

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Bikash Rai, 27, owner of Bikash Easy Shopping, said that he is hopeful of better opportunities after the fair. “Since Thimphu is a business hub of Bhutan with a good start on the first day, I’m certain that the fair would bring businessmen in Thimphu better opportunities.”

Another exhibitor, Dorji Wangmo, who is exhibiting home decor during the fair, said that when she took part in a similar fair in 2018, there were participants from various dzongkhags and it was a successful one. “As the fair is targeted towards regional product promotion, I am hoping for a positive outcome.”

The event manager of Tendrel Events, Sonam Dorji said that the fair is organised with the motive to sell and promote regional products. “The economic affairs ministry issued a ban notice that involves external vendors. The fair being a national fair did not face any challenge and our motive has remained in line with the notice.”

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Varieties of consumer products that are locally produced or imported before the pandemic have been displayed, ranging from furniture, home decor, leather products, gym and fitness accessories, and textile products at the fair.

Exhibitors are charged Nu 20,000 per stall for the entire period of the fair. The five-day fair will end on Saturday.

Tendrel Events aims to conduct such fairs in other regions as well.

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The economic affairs ministry issued a notice that states, “Trade fair with imported goods banned. Only thematic fairs that promote local goods and services for export will be allowed.”

This was done to balance the overall trade of the country.

According to Bhutan Trade Statistics 2021, the overall trade deficit was over Nu 32 billion.

Health ministry to enforce Covid-19 protocols as new variant emerges

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:43

KP Sharma 

With the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in neighbouring countries, the Ministry of Health has advised the government and the public to step up safety measures.

According to World Health (WHO), the latest variant BF.7, a sub-variant of Omicorn, is the fastest spreading variant.

BF.7 has been detected in Indian states, especially in Gujarat and Odisha. The risk of the virus entering Bhutan is high.

Ministry of Health in its notification said that Ministry is “continuously monitoring the trends of COVID-19 at all the major points of Entry.”

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There are around six entry points in the country: Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, and Nganglam in Pemagatsel.

As per the Ministry, routine Covid-19 integrated influenza surveillance systems are in place to monitor the virus in all these entry points.

The health workers have been alerted and the ministry has enhanced random testing of travellers and foreign workers at the entry points.

Based on the recommendation of the National Covid-19 Task Force meeting on December 23, the ministry is encouraging people to continue to wear face mask. “Face mask will be mandatory while visiting health facilities, during mass gatherings, and for those with flu like systems.”

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Residents in Thimphu say that maintaining hand hygiene, physical distance and use of face mask must return.

People also raised concerns about gathering during celebrations.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, through her Facebook account, urged people to use public health tools available, including vaccination.

The ministry encourages people travelling abroad on pilgrimage and other purposes to get fully vaccinated and follow all the precautions.

A case of double jeopardy?

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:42

Nima Wangdi  

The High Court (HC) convicted two men to six and three months of mandatory rehabilitation for possessing controlled substances for self-consumption on October 9, last year.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on November 22 ordered the High Court Chief Justice to lead a team of two other justices of the High Court and hear the case again since the previous judgment was not rendered fairly.

The order asked the Chief Justice of the High Court to decide the case at the earliest complying with Article 21, clause 1 of the Constitution. The section states that the Judiciary shall safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.

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The court last week upheld the dzongkhag court’s judgment and found the two men guilty of selling and possessing controlled substances and sentenced them to five years in prison.

The mother of one of the convicts questions the judicial process. She said it was a criminal case and the rule of law of the criminal case is that a person tried and convicted for an offence by the competent court cannot be tried for a second time according to section 206 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC).

The mother said that the retrial and new judgment with new conviction order were completely in violation of Section 206 of CCPC when a person shall not be subject to the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb by law.

She said the case looked exactly like the case where the Thimphu district court in June 2021, dismissed the Penjor Penjor case filed by OAG reasoning that the OAG was both the complainant and the prosecutor and cannot take action against Penjor Penjor. “In my son’s case, the judiciary is the complainant and also adjudicating the case.”

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She said her son had completed the Mandatory Drug Treatment Program as the Central Treatment Assessment Panel recommended for the duration of six months by the HC in the previous judgment.

The special review bench has not reviewed and treated this case in accordance with Article 21 (1) of the Constitution but followed the Supreme Court’s order according to the mother.

“If the complaint was lodged to look into justice delivery procedure due to some suspected influences, then this review bench must first investigate this and then decide whether the retrial of an already disposed of case was merited. The bench did not do this,” she said.

The mother said that she is going to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The road ahead

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:40

The Kupar of His Majesty The King and His Holiness the Je Khenpo gracing the inauguration of the Kurizam-Gyalpoizhing road built by de-suups has touched many hearts. Some had changed their Facebook profile picture using the Kupar as a show of love, affection and appreciation. Beyond the Kupar is a story worthy of greater appreciation. 

His Majesty The King’s vision of skilling Bhutanese youth is paying dividends. If starting the DeSuung programme was a master stroke, skilling young Bhutanese is a triumph in many ways. The 7.3 km road was widened and improved to a higher standard in a year. If the aim was to pilot quality road construction and develop best practices by Bhutanese, the evidence is there for many to see.

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Bhutan has been building roads since the first five-year plan in the 1960s. We are still building, widening and repairing roads. In the meantime, the road is one infrastructure that is visible and also on the priority list of political parties. Drive around the country and we can see how roads have reached every nook and corner of the country. Unfortunately, quality is a big issue and some of the roads, particularly farm roads, are not pliable after investing millions.

We have constructed enough roads. The priority will now have to change from building to widening width and shortening distances. Technology has improved in road-building and perhaps, we will see an alternate route from Thimphu to Phuentsholing following the Wangchhu or join Wangdue to Chamgang to cut the distance by hours for those travelling to the east and southeast. Cutting distance could mean a reduction in transportation costs. As a landlocked country, the cost of transportation is one of the main drivers of inflation.

The DeSuung National Service Road Project could contribute significantly to this objective. The idea is not to make our youth construction workers. We will still require hands to turn the bitumen and gravel mix, but what we need is people with skills and dedication. The project was designed to build the capabilities of the de-suups so that they could become skilled workers, competent supervisors, effective managers and capable contractors in the future. 

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Six of them are trained as skilled operators in specialised machines, three in surveying and 13 as skilled construction workers. All of them are equipped to assist and understand general construction practices. This is a boon to the construction industry, especially road construction. The road they built in Gyalpoizhing could be the benchmark in terms of quality. As more get skilled, the construction could depend on locally-trained professionals for skills and knowledge. The big difference is that de-suups have taken the oath of allegiance and will not be lured by what is happening in the industry. 

Critics say that DeSuung can deliver because they are not bogged down by bureaucratic procedures. If that is true, we need to remove the bureaucratic obstacles to let the industry improve and thereby our road infrastructure. Driving beyond the pothole-riddled capital road, many will feel potholes are not a nuisance as they drive on long stretches of roads that had been damaged soon after the inauguration.

33 percent of lakes disappeared

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:39

People grappling with water shortage

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Harkati Tsho, Norbudzingkha — A bright day on the hilltop of the sleeping Dagapela town.

About 100 people from the neighbouring gewogs are busy. In a decorated tent, five monks are preparing for the deity appeasing ritual in front of a tiny altar.

They wait for their MP’s visit. He has promised to help them revive the lakes and solve the acute drinking water problems for once and all.

Phurpa Lhamo Sherpa, 53, is thrilled. With age, it is increasingly difficult for her to get easy access to drinking water. Water needs at her home has increased with two school-going children.

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Every day, she walks 30 minutes asking, begging, for water from her relatives in other gewogs. Sometimes she hires pickup trucks, but this is becoming increasingly beyond her means.

Without water, she has to abandon farm works, the main source of family income.

For the past 35 years, the drinking water shortage in Gozhi Toed did not get much attention. The situation has become dire for half of the 40 households in the chiwog. For two months in winter, the villagers do not have a drinking water. Since their water source at Chichibi and Jhorpokhori (four lakes) dried up, hopes of an easy access to drinking water was low.

Lakes are the main sources of drinking and irrigation water in Dagana. Records with the dzongkhag show that out of 21 lakes spread across eight of the 14 gewogs in Dagana, seven have dried up and six are drying up.

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Without studies, it is difficult to categorise these lakes.

A lecturer of College of Natural Resources, Jambay, who also closely worked with the communities in Dagana, said that the lakes could be barrier lakes as drainage lines are blocked and old gullies have dried up. He also indicated that some could be karst lakes as there are large holes on the other side of the lakes.

Communities have come together to save their water sources. But only few were successful.

A Gozhi Toed resident, Sherub, formed a committee to revive the lake in the earlier days. He said that by the time he resettled in Gozhi 11 years ago, the lakes had started to dry up. “The lakes were reduced to tiny ponds.”

Volunteers carried out works to clean the lakes, planted trees and sought divine support by installing lubums near the lakes.

Three years ago, Nima Wangdi Sherpa and his friends dug up Panatsho at Norbudzingkha to fill their water tanks. It was the only source of water for his community. Out of three lakes, only one remains today.

They are now starting the revival works with the support of their MP.

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Villagers created an artificial lake, Harkati Tsho, on Mingma Sherpa’s private land which is the water source for many housheolds in Tsendagang and Gozhi gewogs. They received a fund support of nu 45,000 from the gewog administration for the project.

“When people resettled, they had to cut tress. It might have caused the lakes to dry up,” said Mingma Sherpa.

Norbuzingkha has been facing water shortage for the past 18 years. Chandra Bdhr Sherpa recalls playing in streams and drawing water from springs as a young boy. “We didn’t have to depend on the lakes. Now, we have to go without water for three months in winter. It is challenging for the elderly, children, and women.”

Bhutan is endowed with abundant water resources. Combined with snow, ice, freshwater lakes, running streams, rivers, and ground water. Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. With an average flow of 2,238 m3/s, Bhutan generates 70,572 million cubic metres per annum, i.e. 94,500 m3 per person per year, the highest in the region.

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However, a recent study by the Watershed Management Division revealed that of 6,555 water sources in the country, 2,317 (35 percent) are drying up; 147 sources have already dried up.

Samtse, Tsirang, Mongar, Wangdue, and Dagana are severely affected.

Jambay said that lakes are drying across the country due to changes in the catchment area of the lake. “Most of the lakes in Bhutan are rainfed.  During monsoon, it enlarges due to rainwater from the catchment.”

He said that tree plantation at the catchment prevents rainwater from flowing directly into the lake, so the lakes dry up. The leaves, he said, accelerate the deposition of organic minerals and increase nutrition, making the water shallow to support aquatic plants and allow evapotranspiration.

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He recommended reviving drying lakes in Bhutan by creating an environment similar to what existed in the past. It could be done by clearing the catchment of the lake so that rainwater will flow directly into lakes.

Studies show that more than 60 percent of the lakes around the world are on the verge of shrinking due to the impacts of climate change.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series says that climate change will increase both water stress and water-related hazards. Precipitation is expected to decrease in the southern plains that are already water stressed, resulting in an even greater risk of droughts.

The impact of climate change on water resources not only affects the water availability but also food security, energy production, industrial sectors, and overall health of ecosystems and inhabitants.

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Bhutan’s Third National Communication to the UNFCCC stated that in the future, summer months are predicted to become wetter and warmer while winter months are expected to be drier, making the overall system more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It will result in the abundant availability of water in warmer months but less during winter months.

Jambay said that the drying up of lakes is caused by climate change. Due to the increase in temperature, more water is lost through evapotranspiration, resulting in more lakes drying up. With climate change, the rainfall patterns have also changed.

Climate researcher and a lecturer of College of Natural Resources, Om Katel (PhD), said lake ecosystem such as lake surface temperature, evaporation, and water level respond dramatically to climate change impacts. “Lakes are critical natural resources that are sensitive to climate change impacts.”

In the Himalayas, studies confirm that the shrinkage of water in lakes is associated with the reduction in the amount of precipitation that plays a key role in lake dynamics, he said. “Rainfall data in Bhutan show that the precipitation pattern; intensity and frequency, has changed. Such changing pattern affects the recharging of aquifers including the water budget in the lakes.”


This article is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s Climate Change Reporting Grant

Lhayul – Paro draw gives City a tittle chance

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:36

Thinley Namgay

Druk Lhayul FC’s 2-2 draw against the defending champion Paro FC in one of the crucial games in the ongoing BoB Bhutan Premier League

(BPL) yesterday opened a door for Thimphu City FC (City) to still contest for the 2022 BPL title.

Paro FC was the favourite to claim their third title of the BPL. With this draw, Thimphu City FC still has a chance to win the tournament.

The deciding game is now between Paro FC and City on January 5 at the

Changlimithang Stadium.

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On September 11, Paro FC defeated Lhayul FC 3-1 in the first leg of the tournament at the Woochu Sports Arena in Paro. However, Lhayul played a better and highly pressing game yesterday. Paro’s game tactics improved only in the second half.

The first half ended in a goalless draw. Lhayul broke the deadlock in the 59th minute from unmarked Jomoul Anthony Francois, scoring within a minute after substitution. However, Paro quickly equalised from Kazuo Homma. Kazuo Homma got a brace in the 78th minute, assisted by Chencho Gyeltshen. The joy, alas, was short-lived. Lhayul’s Tenzin Dorji rose to the occasion near the goalie and scored to level the game in the 83rd minute.

Tenzin Dorji was declared the man of the match.Hundreds of spectators came to watch the match despite the freezing weather.

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Of the 18 games in the tournament, City and Paro FC completed 17 games as of yesterday. Paro is leading the tournament with 45 points; City has 43. Even a draw is enough for Paro to bag the third title on January 5.  City will have to win.

Lhayul acquired 39 points from 17 games.  Lhayul will play their last game against Transport United FC on January 4 at Changlimithang Stadium.

DGPC takes over Mangdechhu power plant

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:33

Dechen Dolkar  

The 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) officially handed over the project to Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) yesterday.

The contract award cost was Nu 37.1B and the cost incurred until July this year was Nu 50.2B. The project required an additional fund of Nu 800M for the payment of liabilities.

The commissioning of the project has increased Bhutan’s electrical power generation capacity by 44 percent to 2,326MW. Since its commissioning, the project has generated more than 9,500 million units of energy.

In 2021, MHPA exported electricity worth Rs 12.13B to India, increasing Bhutan’s electricity exports to Rs 24.43B.

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So far, it earned Nu 43.6B as revenue after the commissioning of the project. The project has generated around 10,599.9 million units of energy as of yesterday.

Speaking at the event, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the project is yet another milestone.

He said that during the pandemic when the revenue fell, the commissioning of the project helped the country with its revenue.

The commissioning of project increased hydropower revenue in 2020 31 percent.

Lyonpo expressed his gratitude to all the officials, engineers, designers, and workers for delivering the project. He also thanked the Government of India for providing financial and technical support for the construction of the project.

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Ambassador Sudhakar Dalela said that the project was a ‘benchmark project’ which was completed at an optimal cost and time frame.

The power generated by the Mangdechhu Power Station is being exported to India and the evacuation of power is takes place at Alipurduar in West Bengal. The power flows through the 765kV Double Circuit HVDC transmission line running from Bishwanath Charali in Assam to Agra in UP, where the eastern grid is connects the western India grid.

The Mangdechhu Hydropower Station exported net energy at Alipurduar 9165.685 million units and the corresponding billing amount to Power Trading Corporation (PTC) for the exported energy is Nu 37.1B. The billing to PTC has been done for the period of three years until August 2022 from the date of commissioning.

The tariff of the Mangdechhu Project is Nu 4.12 per kWh.

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According to officials from the Department of Hydropower and Power Systems, it is projected to earn revenue of Nu 12B from the project annually. They said that of the total revenue earned around Nu 8.5B will be given to the government exchequer and around Nu 5B will be  repaying the loan for 17 years. In total, there is around Nu 47B loan.

Every five-year tariff will be increased by 10 percent. After completing the repayment of the loan, the tariff will be increased by 5 percent every five years.

A handing-over ceremony was held in Thimphu and witnessed by Lyonpo Loknath Sharma and Ambassador Sudhakar Dalela.

A handing-over document was signed between the managing directors of MHPA and DGPC.

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Four units of Mangdechhu Hydropower Station were commissioned between June 28, 2019 to August 16, 2019. The project was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tshering on August 17, 2019.

The project was awarded the prestigious Brunel Medal, 2020 by the Institute of Civil Engineers, London as a recognition for its excellence in civil engineering and the project’s social and environmental credentials.

The project will reduce about 2.4 million tonnes of Green House Gas emissions each year.

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With the handing over of this project, both India and Bhutan have successfully completed four mega hydroelectric power projects, taking forward our six decades-old hydropower cooperation.

Chamkhar still not relocated after decades of planning

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:07

Nima Wangdi

Almost two decades after Chamkhar town relocation plan, little has happened. In fact, the number of shops has increased and more permanent structures have come up.

The dzongkhag administration issued a reminder early this year about the expiry of their lease agreement. The lease agreement expires by September 2023 and the business people are expected to move to the three local area plans (LAP) in Bumthang.

The LAPs are Jalikhar, Chamkhar, and Dekiling.

Businesses say that relocation would not be a problem for shopkeepers but LAPs should be fully ready with all the amenities.

“We want the dzongkhag to consider extending the lease agreement until the LAPs are ready,” a shopkeeper said.

Sangay Phuntsho, another shopkeeper, said, “We will happily leave if we are given an identified place with all the basic amenities.”

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A businessman said Dekiling town plan, which began in 2003, has been scrapped. “Nothing happened after 2008 during which the town development work was stalled due to some political views. There are road networks, streetlights, and parking space but the plots are empty to this day.”

Thromde Thuemi, Ugyen Sangay, said development works are underway in all three LAPs. He said Dekiling town plan has not been canceled and people can start building houses if they want to.

Dzongkhag officials said that the Dekiling town plan alone has been canceled but it is still part of the Bumthang valley development plan that consists of three LAPs. The old Dekiling town plan falls under Dekiling LAP.

“Business people in Chamkhar town can move to any of the LAPs,” the official said. “We have not been able to build all the required amenities in the LAPs at the moment but they are not totally devoid of amenities at the same time.”

The official said that the GSB laying works in the Chamkhar LAP is being tendered and the same would be done for the other two LAPs.

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He said they did not want Dekiling town plan to be a centralised town like some new townships in the country. “This is why the town plan was canceled. We don’t want all the facilities to be concentrated in one place causing traffic jams and shortage of parking space.”

The present Chamkhar town lies along the Chamkharchhu and a major portion of it lies in the flood Red Zone.

DLLC decided not to extend the lease agreement

Early this year, National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) and dzongkhag land and survey sector jointly conducted an investigation which found that 70 percent of the lessee had violated the lease agreements.

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The lease agreement requires the lessee to utilise the leased land for only personal purposes and should not be rented out.

Twenty-six lessees had partially rented out their structures while 58 had totally rented out. Four lessees had even sold their leased plots along with structures. The NLC instructed Dzongkhag Land Lease Committee (DLLC) to take action.

The committee so decided not to extend the lease term from September next year.

NC elections in early 2023

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:06

Dechen Dolkar 

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has notified that the National Council (NC) elections for the fourth Parliament will be conducted in early 2023.

The tenure of the current National Council members end  on May 9, next year. 

The ECB also said that the familiarisation tour of the political parties and candidates would be allowed only until January 31, 2023. All political parties and candidates who are on their familiarisation tour must comply with this announcement.

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ECB has reduced the number of polling stations and consequently, voters may encounter changes in the location of their polling stations.

According to the ECB, given the enhanced road access and improved network connectivity in the country, it has carried out a review with the objective to reduce the number of polling stations.

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Eligible voters who have transferred their Mitsi on or before December 31, 2021, are advised to check their status on  ECB’s website, or by inquiring at the Commission’s Department of Electoral Registration & Delimitation (DERD).

ECB has notified that Voter Photo Identity Card (VPIC) or Citizenship Identity (CID) Card will be used for identifying voters at polling stations on the poll day. It is mandatory for all voters to carry either VPIC or CID card to the polling station.

The ECB urges all voters who have lost their CID cards or have not processed or obtained them to process for a new one immediately to avoid last-minute rush or inconveniences.

Similarly, in the case of those with CID cards with expired validity, it is reminded that such voters must apply for a new card at the earliest.

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ECB has also notified that after the issuance of notification calling the National Council Elections, 2023, all social and religious activities will be closely monitored by the Dzongkhag Election Authorities.

In the event there are other annual calendar events or compelling needs, institutions/individuals concerned must submit applications and obtain approval. The Dzongkhag Chief Election Coordinator will review the applications, on a case-by-case basis, and accord decisions as deemed necessary.