About two decades ago, Bhutan became the first country to ban plastics. It made headlines around the world, some calling our country the first plastic-free country. Foreign media still romanticise Bhutan and the many still believe we are plastic-free.
The reality is altogether different. What is freely, cheaply and abundantly available is plastic, especially single-use plastic bags. Recently, residents of Phuentsholing questioned the ban on plastics when custom officials in Phuentsholing seized their plastic bags bound for Thimphu and beyond.
The ban on plastics started in a dzongkhag tshogdu decision in Samdrupjongkhar and was later adopted by the central government. Considered environment unfriendly and identified as one of the most hazardous wastes, environmentalists lauded Bhutan’s initiative.
But the ban never worked. It had to be reinforced in 2005 and again in 2019. The success or lack thereof is there for everyone to see – in shops, drains and landfills.
Then there are several other ‘bans’. We banned billboards to preserve the uniqueness of a Bhutanese city. We standardised signboards. But all these are only on paper.
The ban on the sale of tobacco, after all the drama and controversy, has become a joke. It should be an example of how bans don’t work.
The ban on the sale of tobacco was driven by a Bumthang dzongkhag tshogdu decision in 1999. The National Assembly in 2004 decided to ban the sale of tobacco for both health and religious reasons. The Tobacco Control Act 2010 took the ban another step, criminalising many people, but failing to meet its intended purpose of reducing consumption of tobacco. The ban, in fact, led to a thriving black market. The government legalised the sale of tobacco to curb its smuggling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Everybody knows bans in Bhutan are not working. The biggest problem is we are not asking why they do not work. The lack of seriousness in implementing laws and rules is behind the failure. We are making a mockery of legislators, legislations and implementers. At the rate our rules are being flaunted, we shall soon be known as a country that does not enforce rules and regulations!
It’s more concerning that the bans, rules and regulations are initiated to mark important occasions and, by not implementing it, we show disrespect to good intentions.
It is high time for a relook into all the legislations that do not work and look for practical solutions instead.
Let us not ban for the sake of banning but ensure it is practical. Perhaps bans are not working because we do not provide alternatives. There should also be solutions and alternatives to the bans. Education and awareness would be more effective.
Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) is exploring options for other billing systems after receiving complaints from people over high electricity bills.
Even after reissuing the electricity bills for January and February, residents of Thimphu and Paro still feel they were overcharged for energy consumption.
BPC’s chief executive officer, Sonam Tobjey, said: “BPC is exploring other options of billing. The options we have are taking the energy consumption of the similar months from previous years or read the meter after the lockdown.”
The bills were reissued following doubts raised over the average billing system implemented during the second nationwide lockdown to calculate the monthly electricity bills.
The average billing system calculated the bill of consumers for the month during the lockdown by taking an average of the previous three months.
Some residents received bills of Nu 7,000 when they normally paid Nu 500 to Nu 1,000 in other months. Some got bills around Nu 30,000 in a month.
Sonam Tobjey said that the bills were reissued to give block tariff advantage to the consumers.
He said that the billing for February would take the actual energy consumption from the last reading until the opening of the second nationwide lockdown.
Households that did not get the block tariff advantage because of the average billing were given the advantage in the current reading, he said.
Sonam Tobjey said that the payment made in the month of the average billing system was adjusted.
For example, in January, with the average billing system, a household was billed with an energy consumption of 100 units. When the actual meter reading was done in February, it will show the consumption of two months (January and February). And if the consumption for two months was 200 units, then the 100 units billed in January was deducted from the February meter reading.
Sonam Tobjey said that, if people had complaints, they could visit the service counters and seek justifications. “We’ll attend to the issues personally for those who are still not convinced.”
Individuals can also avail online services to generate their monthly electricity bills through email or SMS. BPC also plans to revamp the SMS metre reading to a self-reading system.
BPC received more than 2,500 complaints in the last two months. About 300 individuals requested their meter to be checked.
A total of 658 students (332 girls) studying in various schools in the upper regions of Chukha, who were at home in Phuentsholing, were sent to schools on April 3.
Without the quarantine places in Phuentsholing, the students have been sent to two schools, Kamji Central School (CS) and Pakshikha CS for quarantine.
The students were escorted from Phuentsholing on April 3 and they are currently under quarantine facilities in the school facilities.
Of the total students, 252 (from classes PP to eight) were taken to Kamji CS. The remaining 406 (classes nine to 12) have been put into quarantine at Pakshikha CS.
Phuentsholing drungkhag education office arranged the transportation and quarantine facilities.
The drungkhag education officer, Chimi Tshewang said, while many students (classes nine to 12) from the lot were returning to their schools in Chukha, students from Lokchina LSS, Wangdigatshel PS and Rangeytoong PS have graduated from their schools and sent to new schools.
“It was challenging to put them in quarantine facilities in Phuentsholing,” he said. “We got the Taskforce’s approval to put them in school quarantine facilities.”
The students will be tested for Covid-19 on April 9 and sent to their respective schools in the upper regions of Chukha.
Although the classes from PP to eight had started last month, many were left in Phuentsholing, Chimi Tshewang said. Students in classes nine to 12 were doing their exams until recently and their schools had opened only on April 1.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) has begun reviewing the vehicle registry system.
The authority has found that many people do not transfer vehicle ownership after closing the sale deed.
“A person selling the vehicle must transfer the ownership to the person buying the vehicle within 15 days and a penalty of 2 units, Nu 100 per day, must be paid after the due date,” said Tashi Dawa, RSTA’s director.
Tashi Dawa said that the authority and the information ministry in consultation with finance ministry had reduced the tax from 5 percent to 1 percent as depreciation to encourage people to transfer ownership of vehicles.
Tashi Dawa said that RSTA did not allow the person to register new vehicles and did not issue their new driving license, or cancelled the license of a vehicle owner who sold and didn’t update annual fees as per the rules of RSTA.
A person, who sold a truck recently, said that he could not renew the blue book (vehicle registration certificate) as the vehicle was sold to India by the 4th person, who brought his truck.
Tashi Dawa explained that Bhutanese registered vehicles are only allowed to be sold outside the country after deregistering from RSTA.
Many vehicle owners hope that they will not have to pay the 1 percent tax as they sold their vehicles before 10 years and no authority made it mandatory to pay the taxes.
RSTA will complete the review of the vehicle registry system in two months from now.
Staff at Ruebisa wind farm find an opportunity to learn
The two wind turbines in Ruebisa, Wangdue that generate around Nu 5 million annually have not been operating due to issues related to the wind blade.
In mid-February, one of the two wind turbines faced issues with the wind blade.
Bhutan Power corporation’s site engineer at the wind farm in Ruebisa, Wangchuk, said that, with advice from the supplier, the other turbine (which was working) has also been turned off.
He added that an expert would arrive at the site on April 12 to investigate the issues related to the wind blades.
“We don’t know what the issue is yet. It could be because of a manufacturing issue or because of the wind quality as dust from the project sites are blown with the strong wind at high speed.”
Although the issue could have been resolved within a few days, the wind blades couldn’t be inspected due to the pandemic. Wangchuk said that, initially, an inspector from Japan had planned to visit in March. The visit was postponed because of the nationwide vaccination drive,
Wangchuk added that importing a crane, which needs to be more than 44metres (m) in height with a lifting capacity of 60metrictonnes was also a challenge. The two turbines are 41m high.
“The cranes aren’t available in our country and they have to come from India. And, according to the protocol, they’ll have to be quarantined for 21 days. Within Bhutan, we did look for one but couldn’t find it.”
Today, the contractor company is also looking for a crane in India.
Challenge as an opportunity
The staff at the wind farm is taking this challenge as an opportunity to learn more about the wind turbines.
Wangchuk said that the two wind turbines were commenced in 2016 as a pilot project and, until 2018, the contractor (a Japanese company) carried out the maintenance work while also training BPC staff. “We did get hands-on training with them. After their contract period ended, since 2019 we’ve been doing the maintenance work.”
The hands-on training, Wangchuk said could be helpful in the government’s plan to diversify energy sources.
As per the Renewable Energy Management Master Plan, Bhutan can produce 760 megawatts (MW) of wind energy in technical terms. Yet the country’s current installed capacity for renewables, apart from large hydro plants, only amounts to 9MW.
Wangchuk said that the government had plans to install turbines, which could generate 18MW in total at Ruebisa and Gaselo in Wangdue.
Further, the wind farm staff has also been providing data related to studying wind energy to students of College of Science and Technology.
“The pilot project is first of its kind and it’s to explore alternative renewable energy. I’d say that with experience, the hope is good for renewable energy,” said BPC’s distribution services, director, Sandeep Rai.
“Of course, there are challenges and opportunities. Challenges like this are inherent in new systems in pilot projects but we should look forward to the opportunities it provides.”
Until December 2020, the two turbines have generated 4.82 million units (MU) of electricity generating an income of Nu 24.566 million.
On average, the turbines generate 1.2MU of electricity every year.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Tashi Dema and Younten Tshedup
In the last nine days, 466,811 people have received the Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccination, which is 85 percent of the eligible population and 62 percent of Bhutan’s total population.
This is a success by any standard, commended by observers and a comfort to all living in Bhutan. But health experts, both global and Bhutanese, warn that this could be misunderstood as a higher level of protection than it actually is. Bhutanese are not yet safe from the pandemic.
“With increasing cases in the region, the growing number of cases in India and a spike Bangladesh which has declared a lockdown from tomorrow, we have to be careful. We must practice the safety precautions,” said a health advisor.
There are already signs of complacency and carelessness in public behaviour in Bhutan. Perhaps stemming from a sense of relief after receiving the first dose of the vaccine, many people are not following health protocols that are vital to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This includes a relaxation of masks, social distancing, as well as public gatherings.
“Very few people are following the health protocols seriously, including physical distancing,” said one Thimphu city resident. “Hand-washing taps in front of shops and public places are not in use anymore. People have forgotten the hand sanitisation and hand-washing protocols.”
Many people assume they do not have to wear facemasks after receiving the Covid-19 jab. A corporate employee cited his own example, because he doesn’t feel the need to take a facemask when he leaves home anymore. “I feel I’m safe after the vaccination. Everyone must be feeling the same.”
Some people are known to have said that only those who have not been vaccinated should wear the facemask. “Many of us assume we’re now safe from novel coronavirus,” said a senior public servant.
Although it is a general belief that life will normalise once everyone receives the second dose of vaccination and the country achieve sherd immunity experts warn that even the best vaccines leave five percent of vaccinated people susceptible and the vaccine won’t protect people from the Coronavirus permanently.
World’s Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative in Bhutan, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, said the vaccination needed to happen in all countries with good coverage to ensure some relaxation and return to normal ways. However, he said that the vaccine alone was not adequate protection from the virus. “We still don’t know how long the immunity from the vaccine will last and also how the disease will evolve.” He said people will have to adhere to measures such as using face masks, avoiding crowds, and regular hand washing.
The health ministry’s technical advisory group has repeatedly informed the public that, while the vaccine will ensure a level of protection, it won’t be until the second dose of the vaccine was delivered to the entire eligible population. The second dose for Bhutan, for now, is tentatively scheduled eight to 12 weeks after the first dose.
Officials said that only after the delivery of the second dose of the vaccine, and a cushion period of two weeks, would an individual be considered fully vaccinated. This means that things would return to ‘normal’ only towards the end of June or the beginning of July.
Health ministry officials said that complacency was always a concern. “As always, our porous borders remain the biggest challenge. With increasing cases in India, if we aren’t careful and let our guard down at this stage, it could be a waste of all our efforts against the pandemic so far.”
The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has increased the material mobilisation advance payment to contractors from the existing 10 percent to 20 percent of the contract price.
The mobilisation advance will be paid upon the signing of the contract and furnishing of performance security. The notification came into effect on March 23.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the increase in the mobilisation advance would help contractors at a time when mobilisation of materials have been a challenge. “In the past, some contractors used to import materials on credit, but that’s become difficult due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
The decision, Lyonpo said, would also increase the flow of money in the economy. The increase in the mobilisation advance will apply to all the categories of contractors, he added.
However, to prevent the misuse of the mobilisation advance, the MoF has notified that the contractor must use it only to pay for equipment, plant, materials and other expenses required specifically for execution of the contract.
The contractor must produce copies of invoices or other documents to demonstrate that the advance has been used for the said purpose.
The contractor must also produce a guarantee issued by a financial institution for an amount equal to the required advance payment. The guarantee will remain valid till the advance is recovered in full, according to the MoF.
Contractors said the decision would benefit the sector and that it had come at a right time.
A Samtse-based contractor who did not want to be named said that the decision would benefit small and newly established construction companies as they don’t have much access to credit like the large ones.
“The increase in the mobilisation advance will help in the growth of our business,” he said, adding that many construction companies were struggling financially.
He said that construction was one of the largest and fastest growing industries that employs a large number of youth. The decision, he said, would strengthen the sector and help create more jobs.
“It may not make a big difference for large contractors. But some contractors face difficulties to mobalise funds to execute the project,” he said.
A contractor, Sonam Tshewang, said that the decision should be applied retrospectively to the projects that were signed before the March 23 to help contractors. But he added that the decision would benefit the sector.
It was learnt that the decision was part of the government’s strategy to offset the impact of the Covid-19 by ramping up the government’s spending.
The low budget utilisation rate has been a concern for the government. The actual capital expenditure reported in the first half of the fiscal year (July-December 2020) was Nu 6.176B, which is roughly 16 percent of total capital budget.
This means that about 84 percent of the capital budget remained unused at the beginning of the second half.
The MoF also recently notified that procuring agencies and contractors would be allowed to defer the project completion deadline due to the pandemic. This is also expected to affect budget utilisation.
However, to offset the impact of the Covid-19 on budget utilisation plans, the government was working on allowing a contractor to take up a maximum of five works at a time.
The rules would help the government execute more projects within a short period. This is aimed at enabling the government to increase its spending.
Nima | Gelephu
A windstorm damaged more than 50 structures in Nangkor, Bardo, and Phangkhag gewogs in Zhemgang at around 3.45pm yesterday.
Nangkor gewog reported the most severe damages with 35 households reporting total damage to roofs.
More than 10 households suffered minor damages, according to gewog officials.
Local government officials said that the affected families were moved to safety and provided temporary relief with support from desuups and tshogpas. They were also provided relief materials by the dzongkhag, according to Zhemgang Dzongdag Chimi Dorji.
The officials from the dzongkhag and gewogs were in the field providing relief materials and helping people move to safer places after the windstorms subsided.
The dzongkhag has mobilised a group of four desuups who would be sent to other gewogs for relief efforts. All affected families in Buli were provided with the required support from the dzongkhag and gewog administrations.
Around 11 households living in temporary and permanent structures in Langdurbi, Bardo gewog were damaged by the windstorm.
The affected families were provided with temporary relief support with the help of gewog officials in the field and temporary tents pitched with the help of materials borrowed from the locals.
Mangmi, Tshering Tenzin, said the affected families were provided temporary relief support.
“We thought it might rain and we helped pitch tents for the affected families as we wait for the relieve materials from the dzongkhag,” he said.
The damages were reported from four gewogs in Zhemgang as of yesterday evening.
Meanwhile, around the same time, a tree fell on the Sarpang-Gelephu highway blocking it for more than two hours. Some commuters used alternate routes from Dechenpelri.
Residents nearby the highway said the tree fell in the evening and they were left without a power supply for some hours.
The windstorms also caused minor damages to farmers in Samtenling, greenhouse structures were blown off and crops damaged.
Neten Dorji | Kanglung
Sherubtse College will offer two new courses, Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Statistics and Bachelor of Data Science, from July this year.
With the two new courses, the college has eight Science programmes after it started with Bachelor of Science in 1983.
The college president, Tshering Wangdi, said 30 students each for the two programmes would be taken in for this semester.
He explained that an applicant, who studied Science with Mathematics in class XII obtaining 55 percent in Mathematics and four other best subjects, would be eligible for the BSc in Data Science course.
For BSc in Statistics course, apart from science students, Arts and Commerce students, who studied business mathematics in class XII with a minimum of 60 percent, are eligible.
Dean of Academic Affairs, Tenzin Wangchuk, said the decision to start the two new programmes was based on college strategy to focus on STEM education.
He said they conducted a market survey and consulted stakeholders before submitting the proposal to start the two new courses to the Royal University. “We found there was demand for students, who study the two courses.”
College officials say the college has good infrastructure and potential to get resources for the programme. “We don’t have any problem starting the programme because we’ve required human resources. One of our faculty is undergoing a Doctor of Philosophy in Data Science,” Tenzin Wangchuk said.
He said the four-year Statistics programme would prepare students to use data to confront real world problems. “Learning how to collect and break down complex information can help statistics majors to contribute any policy decisions.”
He said that BSc in Data Science is a blend of Mathematics and Statistics with new advances in computing. “The programme is going to focus on developing skills in analysing big data using technology. It will teach students to use advanced analytics to extract accurate information from big data for decision-making.”
Tenzin Wangchuk said the programme is considered one of the trendiest and most promising courses.
Associate professor, Balamurgan, said the programme would help to analyse and make sense out of available data. “Although data is available online, there’s no one to analyse. With this programme, our students can be hired to analyse the data to make decisions.”
He said data science is a blend of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science and the college has strong Mathematics faculties. “I think Sherubtse is the right place and faculties have enough experience to offer this programme. There’s also scope for students to absorb within the country and globally.”
He also claimed data scientists are highly demanded in the job market.
Course developers say the team was going to review the eligible criteria, if Arts and Commerce students, who studied Business Mathematics, do not perform well in the Statistics course. “From the first cohort, who’d understand their performance. We’ll change the requirement criteria for admission if the performance is poor,” a faculty member said.
College management said shifting BSc Computer courses to Gyalpoizhing provided the college space to diversify other BSc programmes.
The college also introduced new science programmes in 2019.
Meanwhile, Sherubtse College is increasing the undergraduate degree programmes to four-year to ensure greater level of maturity of graduates as they join work.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
With the six-unit public toilet in the heart of the town damaged and closed, people in Mongar are forced to defecate in open spaces.
People initially used a pathway to the hospital and helipad area but, after their entrances were blocked, people used the gate area near Bhutan Oil Distribution fuel station. Many also used the old truck parking area above the vegetable market shed.
Some people even use the temporary open pit toilet at the corner of the public ground, which was constructed to be used during public functions. At night, dark corners between the new and old town structures are used.
People cite the lack of access to public toilet in the town as the main reason behind the unhygienic practice.
A local vegetable vendor from Chali, Jampel Tshering, said she uses the toilet of her neighbour’s shop in town. “It’s not comfortable to use other’s toilet every day.”
She said the dzongkhag authorities need to maintain the old public toilet. “Locking it is a waste of public resources.”
A villager from Mongar gewog, Dorji, said he was forced to buy and eat something from restaurants to use their toilet.
Meanwhile, dzongkhag municipal officials say they would maintain the existing toilets and make it accessible to people soon.
The municipal engineer, Ram Bahadur Darjee, said the dzongkhag had allocated Nu 700,000 to maintain two damaged toilet pots and replace the tile roof with CGI sheet.
He said the existing toilets were closed to people, as some users left used sticks and thick carton boxes on the pot while some defecated outside. “It was difficult to maintain without a caretaker.”
The dzongkhag now plans to employ a caretaker on muster roll payment to take care of the public toilet. “The municipal office also proposed collecting user fees,” Ram Bahadur Darjee said.
He said maintenance work was expected to complete in a month and the toilets would be open to the public after making it gender friendly by separating three units each for male and female.
Dzongkhag officials said the dzongkhag also planned to construct a new gender friendly public toilet near the vegetable market.
An official said the budget would be proposed in the next financial year.
The first round of mass vaccination in the country is over.
With people assuming that the vaccine shots can protect them from Covid-19 forever, we now seem to have a new challenge to deal with.
The problem is we aren’t up against the game.
Face masks are fast becoming a thing of the past. Hand washing stands, ubiquitous at one point of the pandemic’s height, are now few and far between, even in crowded places such as Norzin Lam in Thimphu. Crowding is growing visibly.
Why is this happening?
We find the answer in lack of education or awareness and irresponsibility. What we know, through research and on-going studies is that even the best vaccines leave five percent of vaccinated people susceptible. For some vaccines, that figure is even higher. We have a certain section of people that haven’t got the vaccine.
Receptiveness to the vaccine and turnout for the first round of vaccination programme was impressive, yes, but the threat of the pandemic doesn’t just disappear after the vaccine shots.
The gap is clear. There are those who know about the vaccine well and those who do not. Why is awareness and education lacking even so?
Ministers coming on television to explain about the programme is good; it has some good effects. But sustained efforts to educate the public about their vulnerabilities is by far more important. That is missing and the consequences can be serious.
What is clearly showing in all these schemes of things is short-sightedness.
Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory that borders Spain at the point where North Africa and Europe form the gateway to the Mediterranean, has vaccinated most of its adult population. This has been in the news for some time now. But we have done better, save international limelight. There is a lesson to draw, through, from these two cheerful cases: the arrival of vaccine doesn’t mean we can open bars and entrainment centres as we used to before Covid-19.
There’s probably a little break, that’s why we call it a beak, not complete freedom. Bhutan cannot make this mistake, at any cost. What is needed is more awareness programmes. Imposition of measure such as hand-washing, distance-maintaining and face mask-wearing must be made mandatory all the more.
And these efforts must come from the government, not least from the Ministry of Health.
The vaccine doesn’t give us any excuse to be lax with our health protocols. In fact, this is the time when we have to focus more on the preventive care and measures that have served us well and will for a long, long time to come.
Bhutan earned an environmental champion title due to the visionary leadership and strong conservation laws and policies. But the vagaries of global weather and changing climate have had some serious impact on the country’s conservation efforts. Poaching, invasive species, and climate change are some of the emerging issues that are growing at an alarming rate.
So, what is Bhutan’s new conservation narrative in the context of changing socioeconomic settings?
The book assesses conservation priorities for Bhutan and provides sensible solutions. It looks into the country’s conservation laws and policies. At a time when the country needs a radical shift in its development priorities, the book may shed some light on the realities facing the country today.
If the many departments and bureaucrats read and listen, and see for themselves, it may be an opportunity to make necessary changes in the way we look at conservation and its challenges. The book has nine chapters and identifies challenges with policy recommendations.
Bhutan may be a carbon negative country today but it faces serious threats of climate change with a temperature rise of 1.3°C over the last two decades, which is nearing the threshold level of 2°C rise above the preindustrial levels. Threats from increased temperature like glacial lake outburst floods are ever-present, which poses “…uniquely perilous challenges in keeping with its conservation commitments because of its relatively low adaptive capacity and being one of the least “developed” countries in the world.”
The book calls for climate change policy or a climate white paper, which can provide a prudent and holistic approach to tackle climate change impacts in the country.
A major attempt to assess taxonomic bias and the need to include research and studies on other kingdoms, besides plants and animals, for example, is insightful. For that, the book suggests embedding research and policy recommendations to conserve the underrepresented or lesser-known species within Bhutanese conservation strategies.
Among other vital issues, the book talks about human-wildlife conflict, safety approaches and strategies, and innovative approach using immunocontraceptive vaccines (antifertility vaccine) for the population control of street dogs and wild animals for peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife.
The country needs a human-wildlife conflict policy, the book says, which encompasses preventive and mitigation measures.
The publication is an important addition to environmental research by a local writer, who has worked in the executive and various roles in conservation agencies. The book is aimed at researchers and policymakers. Other readers will find it illuminating and useful too.
Bhutan: Conservation and Environmental Protection in the Himalayas
Ugyen Tshewang, Michael Charles Tobias, and Jane Gray Morrison
ISBN no. ISBN 978-3-030-57823-7
Chimi Dema | Dagana
Thuji Om, 62, from Peling in Tseza, Dagana, was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia, a condition that causes irregular heartbeat two years ago.
So it was with Thuji Om for a very long time until she decided to take a dip in menchu (medicinal water). Her cardiac arrhythmia just disappeared.
Peling menchu in Dagana is famous for curing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, joint pain, tuberculosis and piles, among others.
“Benefits of this menchu can be felt within 30 minutes of soaking in it,” a resident said.
Many do not know about the menchu because of its remoteness.
Gyatshay, 69, remembers visiting the menchu once about a decade ago. “There wasn’t a road. It was a long and difficult journey to the menchu. We’d have to collect firewood from far away.”
Except for a wooden bathtub, which is also partly broken, there is nothing at the menchu site even today. But there is now a guesthouse under construction for visitors. Other amenities are being planned.
The project worth Nu 2 million will construct new bathtubs, toilets and a canal.
The construction of a 1.6km farm road to connect Peling village to the menchu was completed last month.
Tseza Gup Phurba said that the project was one of the gewog’s priority activities in the current plan.
“Once the site development is completed, we hope that more visitors will come,” he said.
Besides residents, the gup said, commuters are also expected to come once the Dagana-Wangdue bypass, which will connect through Laptsakarchu village of Tseza and Wogayna village in Wangdue, is through.
Peling menchu is about 19km away from the gewog centre.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
On March 1, walking from home to his office in Bajo, Changa Dorji was bitten by a stray dog.
Thirty days later, he received his last dose of the anti-rabies vaccine (ARC).
The stray dog bite prevented Changa from receiving the Covid-19 vaccination.
He said the number of stray dogs in Bajo town was a concern, especially for children. “People with disability or those who visit the town are attacked most times.”
As of March this year, Bajo hospital provided 50 individuals with the ARV. In 2020, 210 individuals received the ARV and in 2019, 350.
According to a nurse at the hospital, the total also included few cases of cat, rat bites, and bear maul cases.
She added most of the dog bite cases are from Bajo and Lobesa.
Changa Dorji claimed he counted the strays in Bajo on his home to office and said there were more than 130 stray adults and two puppies.
To control the dog population in Wangdue, the livestock department has been conducting sterilisation programmes and also vaccinating the dogs against rabies.
Wangdue dzongkhag livestock officer, Ugyen, said that sterilisation programmes were provided twice every year and anti-rabies vaccines once every year. These programmes are also held in gewogs.
He, however, said residents do not support their programmes. “We have few officials and aren’t able to catch the dogs. If people could help us catch the dogs in their areas, it would help.”
He said even if four or five female dogs are left unvaccinated, they could deliver six to nine puppies.
Ugyen also said people from the waste management and stray dog population control programme were requested to visit Bajo due to stray dog issues. “The team is currently engaged in Bumthang.”
Bakhas Women FC from Thimphu won the first edition of the Bhutan Football Federation’s (BFF) open futsal championship for women yesterday in Thimphu.
The team defeated Wanakha Women FC 2-0 in the finals at Changjiji sports arena.
Ten teams from Thimphu and Paro took part in the championship that started on March 20. Three teams dropped out at the last moment.
The tournament was supposed to complete on April 1. However, due to the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme, the competition got deferred for a week. All the games were held at the centralised venue at Changjiji.
The tournament was free, and the teams didn’t pay an entry fee.
Organiser Passang Tshering from BFF said that the federation gave Nu 10,000 to all the participating teams as a subsidy. “Our motive is to encourage women in both football and futsal. I expected only five to six teams, but 13 registered initially.”
Club and national players were not allowed in this tournament, “It was to provide opportunity to women who don’t get a chance to play,” he said.
Along with the rolling trophy, Bakhas Women FC was awarded Nu 50,000, and Wanakha Women FC got Nu 30,000.
The BDFL Women FC won the fair play award. The club got Nu 15,000. Anita Rai of Bakhas was the most valuable player. She got Nu 5,000.
Passang Tshering said that this tournament would not be an annual event hereafter. “BFF club women futsal championship will be conducted soon.”
Games were conducted with strict compliance to Covid-19 protocol, and desuups were deployed at the venue.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Aggravated by the overseas returnees and laid-off employees due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s unemployment rate has reached five percent, according to the Labour Force Survey Report (LFS).
The unemployed rate almost doubled from 2.7 percent in 2019.
The report, which was released yesterday, states that this is the highest unemployment rate since 2016. The employment rate was 3.7 in 2018.
This means that there are 16,660 economically active people, who are jobless, seeking a job and available for work during the reference period of the survey.
All persons in the working-age population who were/are employed or unemployed during the reference period are referred to as economically active population or labour force.
The report states that, apart from the returnees and laid-off employees, the pandemic also affected business and service sectors that disturbed employment opportunities.
The report reveals that other reasons for being unemployed are recently completed studies, lack of adequate qualifications, and lack of experience for the available job.
“The tourism and hospitality industry was the worst hit by the pandemic and records show a high number of jobless people,” report says.
However, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) categorises one as unemployed only if one satisfies three conditions simultaneously: the person must be without a job, must be seeking work, and must be available for work if there is an opportunity.
The unemployment rate for females (6.0%) is higher than that of males (4.1%) going by the report. “A higher rate in unemployment indicates a declining economy and its inability to absorb people of working age.”
Thimphu has the highest unemployment rate with 12.3 percent, followed by Paro (9.4%), Chukha (5.8%), and Punakha (5.2%). In most of the dzongkhags, the female unemployment rate is higher.
The survey shows that the highest unemployment rate is observed amongst persons with bachelor’s degree, followed by higher secondary, and diploma education levels.
The overall youth unemployment rate has also increased to 22.6 percent from 11.9 percent in 2019.
Out of the total unemployed youth, about 38.7 percent are males and 61.3 percent are females.
Youth unemployment rate, according to the survey, is defined as the percentage of unemployed persons in the age group 15-24 years to the economically active population in the same age group.
In terms of absolute numbers, there is 6,922 unemployed youth who are without work, actively seeking and are available for work during the reference period.
The youth unemployed rate 22.6 percent is also the highest to date.
The youth unemployment rate estimated for male (19.2%) is lower than female (25.4%). Thimphu has the highest youth unemployment rate, followed by Paro.
“Investment in employment creation has been the top priority over the years for the government. However, involvement and investments from the private sector play an equally important role in solving youth unemployment issues,” the report says.
The 18th LFS was conducted in the months of November and December last year.
A total of 9,012 households were selected from twenty dzongkhags, out of which about 3,420 households were in urban areas and 5,592 households in rural areas.
From the 9,012 sample households, 8,932 households responded to the survey questionnaire, giving a response rate of 99.1 percent.
A total of 124 enumerators and 20 supervisors were engaged in data collection.
Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen tendered his resignation from the Cabinet to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday, Kuensel learnt.
However, Lyonpo declined to comment when asked about the details yesterday.
The larger bench of the High Court recently convicted the minister to two months in prison for claiming false vehicle insurance worth Nu 226,546. The crime took place after he superannuated from the civil service and before he joined Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa to contest in the third parliamentary elections.
Lyonpo has appealed to the Supreme Court.
The government plans to table the Local Government (LG) Act for amendment in the upcoming session to address issues that have emerged in implementation block grants as part of the decentralisation process.
The department of local governance (DLG) director, Kado Zangpo, said that the department, which has reworked proposed amendments on the government’s directive, is ready to submit it to the government. DLG had submitted a draft to the government in 2020 but was asked to conduct more consultations.
Proposed amendments have not been shared with the media but the director said that the department consulted stakeholders, including local governments, Gross National Happiness Commission and the Royal Civil Service Commission.
Issues with LG Act
Members of Parliament (MPs), who are pushing for the amendment of the LG Act, feel that it restricts them from exercising their oversight roles, which include monitoring and review of development activities.
MPs also point out the lack of proper planning of development activities at the local government level and that the loophole could allow LG members to appropriate funds at their whims.
Such issues, they say, could lead to wasteful expenditure at a time when the government has provided half of the budget at the disposal of local governments.
Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the LG (Amendment) bill was being tabled in the upcoming session. He said that inconsistent provisions among other issues needed to be streamlined through amendment.
The amendment bill was withdrawn from the National Assembly on the recommendation of the home minister. Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen declined to comment.
Wangdue’s Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said the LG Act was not only restrictive for MPs and agencies to exercise oversight duties but also inconclusive on how LG leaders could be held accountable when the Act was violated.
Kinley Wangchuk said that the National Assembly Act empowered Parliament committees to summon officials, including ministers, for questioning as part of their oversight roles. But he added that the LG Act did not provide any space for MPs to question local governments should they make wrong decisions.
Lack of proper communication and coordination between the local governments and MPs has also been an issue as the LG Act does not require local governments to either consult or inform the concerned MPs about development activities at the dzongkhag or gewog level.
An MP, who wished not to be named, said that local governments should keep MPs in the loop not only to enable them to exercise their oversight functions but also for the local government’s own benefit. “We can render our support and offer advice to the local government if we’re kept in the loop,” he said.
Gangzur Minjey MP Kinga Penjore said there was room for improvement in the LG Act. He said that working relation between MPs and the local government should also be enhanced.
There is also a lack of a proper document to guide local governments on the prioritisation of resources. The issue has already led to the allocation of funds from productive to non-productive activities, some MPs say.
MP Kinley Wangchuk said the GNH Commission must provide a standard economic roadmap to all the dzongkhags, which should then guide gewogs to draft their own plan within the dzongkhag’s economic roadmap.
A gup from Tsirang said that local governments appropriate funds based on National Key Result Areas (NKRAs) and Local Government Key Result Areas (LGKRAs).
A former MP said that only 30 percent of the provisions of the LG Act were being implemented. He said that there was a gross mismatch between the LG Act and the local government rules and regulations.
Section 236 of the LG Act states that the gewog tshogde and dzongkhag tshogdu secretariats shall, as soon as possible, provide a copy of the agenda to members of the local government, concerned members of Parliament, and other relevant agencies. But an MP said that LG secretariat officials did not follow the Section and there was no legal clause to hold officials accountable.
Speaking on a similar note, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in January last year said that there were barriers in the LG Act that did not allow the central government to work together with local governments.
The government feels that there is a lack of communication among three institutions—politically elected central government, local governments and bureaucrats—due to the design of the laws.
He said a careful read of the LG Act suggested that there was no communication between gewogs and between gewogs and the dzongdags. He expressed concerns that the communication gap between the central government and local governments had emerged as a barrier against reaching the government’s vision to the grassroots.
However, one of the issues that Parliament is expected to be mindful of is the possible interference in the local government and encroachment on their powers.
The role of dzongdags could also become an issue amid deepening decentralisation. Some say that the role of dzongdags should be redefined.
The LG Act states that the dzongdag shall be accountable to the DT in respect of implementing the decisions taken by DT. Dzongdags were members of the pre-democracy National Assembly, but they are members of neither the Gewog Tshogde (GT) nor the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT).
A defined role for dzongdag is also expected to avoid conflict of authority between elected local leaders and dzongdags.
The works and human settlement ministry in July last year, on the instruction of the prime minister, wrote to the Trashigang dzongdag to implement the blacktopping of Merak gewog centre road via Khardung against the decision of the Trashigang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) to blacktop the road that goes Chaling.
An MP had lobbied to implement the DT decision although the implementation of the ministry’s directive would benefit more households. In line with the government’s directive, the DT later reversed its decision.
However, whether or not the central government can intervene in certain cases that merit a revisit of the local government decisions also remains as an issue.
The DLG had not proposed any academic qualification for local leaders like gups, mangmis and thromde tshogpas in the draft it had submitted to the government last year.
The legislative committee of the National Assembly in the second Parliament session had proposed a minimum academic qualification of Class X for gups and mangmis. But the LG (amendment) bill was deferred due to lack of adequate homework.
Should there be any changes in the qualification of local leaders in the LG Act, Parliament should also amend the election Act as it prescribes only a functional literacy level certificate.
Bji gup Passang from Haa said that the present LG Act could not resolve the problems faced by the local governments. “We’re facing a shortage of human resources as the government has increased the block grants,” he said.
The Assessment Study on DT and GT published by the department of local governance (DLG) in 2019 found that there is a poor understanding of the rationale and basis of having DTs and GTs as instruments of decentralised governance and the main institutions of decision-making at the local level.
Despite growing apprehensions, Bhutanese and foreigners living in the country gathered at vaccination stations last weekend, with prayers and hope, as Bhutan began its ambitious nationwide vaccination against Covid-19.
As of last night, 459,858 people were vaccinated in the country. However, to provide vaccination to those who could not avail the services due to other engagements, the health ministry had extended the campaign period by two more days over the weekend.
The campaign began on a high note with Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and other cabinet ministers receiving the jab on the first day. The numbers nearly touched 100,000 on the second and third day.
Turnout at the vaccination stations started dropping since the fourth day. Only 23,811 people were vaccinated as of 8pm yesterday. Many attributed the drop to people reporting adverse events following immunisation (AEFI).
Experts with the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) said that the drop in turnout might not be because of the AEFI. Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the last few days of any such campaign saw low turnout as most of the general public would have been already vaccinated.
Considering the target population, he said that the country had covered more than 430,000 as of the sixth day of the weeklong campaign. He said that the remaining people would be the health and other active frontline workers who were engaged during the campaign and asked to take the jab after the campaign. “It also includes people who could not physically come to the vaccine centres due to their health conditions.”
There are more than 20,000 desuups of which majority are actively engaged in the vaccination campaign. And then there are the active health workers spread across 1,200 vaccination centres across the country.
Dr GP Dhakal said that the health ministry would have been worried if the difference between the vaccinated and targeted population was huge and the turnout started dropping. “We have almost covered all the targeted population by the fifth day and perhaps that is why the number (turnout) has started to plateau.”
The reason why Bhutan opted for a time-based nationwide vaccination campaign was to achieve herd immunity in the community.
When enough people in a population become immune to a disease (in this case, Covid-19), the active chain of transmission is broken. As more people become immune either through the natural course of infection or with vaccination, those infected are less able to pass on the disease, and the spread of the disease slows down. This is when a community, country, or population achieves herd immunity.
Although Bhutan has covered almost 90 percent of its eligible population in the last seven days, until the second dose of the vaccine is administered, technically, the country is yet to achieve herd immunity.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that for the country to achieve herd immunity at least 75 percent of the entire population had to be vaccinated.
According to the 2017 Population and Housing Census, Bhutan’s total population at that time was 735,553. This means that to achieve herd immunity, around 551,665 had to be vaccinated (both the doses).
However, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the 75 percent coverage was considering the reproductive rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as four. “But we know that the average reproductive rate of SARS-CoV-2 virus is about 2 to 2.5,” he said. “That is why anything above 65 percent should be good enough for us because it would have a significant impact.”
He said that the efficacy of the vaccine was also critical in determining the coverage and herd immunity. “Initially, AstraZeneca or Covishield vaccine had an efficacy rate of 63 percent but now it has increased to 81 percent. Therefore, we are confident we would achieve the herd immunity.”
He added that despite fears and anxieties many turned up for the vaccination this time. “We would like to see the same response from public during the second dose. For those who are worried about getting sick, researches have shown that you will experience lesser AEFI during the second.”
He said, “We would also like to assure people that with the surveillance system in place, there is very little to worry about. Have confidence in us and get the second dose for the benefit of all.”
Her Royal Highness Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck inaugurated the Child Education Programme at Green Weaving Centre (GWC) in Thimphu yesterday.
The programme was launched by the social enterprise project of Youth Development Fund (YDF) in collaboration with Academy of Himalayan Arts and Child Development (AHACD).
YDF’s chief of social enterprise, Kinley Tenzin, said that the education programme was a social and emotional learning platform for children of the weavers at the GWC. “Self-care, care for others, and care for the environment are the three key guiding principles of the curriculum. Children would be assessed based on their knowledge, skills, values, and attitude.”
Beginning next week, children will learn weaving, arts and crafts, singing, natural dyeing, yoga and mindfulness, storytelling, and entrepreneurship for four months. A total of 19 children have registered so far.
GWC was established on June 16 last year with an objective to promote and preserve Bhutanese textile culture, conserve the natural environment, and enhance socio-economic development for the weavers across the country.
The centre’s programme officer, Tshering Choden, said that GWC focused on weavers, children and youth by providing them with opportunities to learn and create textile arts and crafts.
“The tradition of weaving is not merely a skill. It’s a ritual of love and tenacity that comes from the hearts,” said Kinley Tenzin. “Bhutanese textile has gained impetus in the country. Our Royal Families, past and present have played a significant role in sustaining and furthering the weaving tradition.”
He said that the centre’s ideology was based on empowerment, engagement, and economic wellbeing for connecting and reskilling 108 weavers in nature dye-based weaving, educating their children in creative arts and crafts and building a farmers’ cooperative to grow natural dye in six dzongkhags in three years.
“Our vision is to become a green fashion brand, which is synonymous in the world for its concept of Gross National Happiness.”