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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Vaccines airlifted to Lunana yesterday

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:52

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Two days after the second Covid-19 vaccination campaign began, 18 Lunaps received their jab yesterday. 

Although Gasa dzongkhag had booked a chopper to lift the vaccines on July 17, the flight had to be cancelled because of bad weather conditions. 

With improved weather conditions yesterday, a doctor from the national referral hospital and health assistant (HA) of Lunana primary health centre (PHC) flew to Lhedi chiwog from Paro. 

The chopper landed at around 10:45am in Lhedi, taking 510 doses of Moderna and 100 doses AstraZeneca. 

Lunana’s HA, Dhan Kumar, said that vaccination began immediately after they landed. 

He said the 18 individuals took Moderna.

Health officials initially planned to complete vaccinating residents of Wachey and Threlga villages by yesterday. With the delay, the team will travel to Threlga village today and to Wachey tomorrow.

Lunana gewog has 462 people eligible for vaccination.

Similar to the first dose, a different team of six people, three health staff, two desuups and one caretaker, will walk on foot to vaccinate Lunaps.

During the first vaccination campaign, a team walked over 53 hours (often at night), and travelled to places at an altitude of more than 4,100 metres above sea level to complete vaccinating the residents on time. 

Dhan Kumar said they would be carrying the vaccines on their back. “We will try to complete the vaccination between one week and 10 days.” 

In villages, Lunaps have been informed of the date the team would reach with vaccines.

Lhedi tshogpa, Gyembo Tenzin, said they were waiting for the vaccines. “I don’t know why but many want to get Moderna this time.”

Meanwhile, a separate team will be airlifted to Esuna, which is the furthest village in the gewog.

Esuna is about five days walk from Ramina village. The village has five households. 

In three other gewogs of Khatoed, Khamoed and Laya, 17 vaccination posts have been identified. Gasa has 1,859 individuals eligible for vaccination.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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High Court upholds lower court judgment on Wamrong battery case

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:51

Thinley Namgay 

The High Court’s (HC) bench II upheld the judgment of the Trashigang dzongkhag’s court on Wamrong’s battery and trespassing case.

The HC passed the judgment yesterday.

Wamrong drungkhag and Trashigang dzongkhag court found defendant Tshering Yangki guilty of battery and trespassing and gave a concurrent sentencing of 18 months in prison.

The courts also ordered her to pay Nu 260,000 as compensation to the victim.

It stated Tshering Yangki must pay the compensation and medical expenses to the victim within a month from the day the judgment was given.

Defendant Tshering Yangki appealed to the HC earlier this year contending she is not guilty for both battery and trespassing.

She also contended the lower court’s decision and claimed she was imposed huge compensation and the courts’ dismissal of the assault charges against the victim and her son.

The defendant also submitted to the HC that her family was defamed after the short video clip of her assaulting the victim went viral on Facebook. She questioned if freelance journalist Namgay Zam could raise funds for the victim.

The court, however, ruled that the issues are not related to the battery and trespassing case and the video clip in fact serves as an evidence. “Medical reports from Riserboo hospital, Mongar regional referral hospital and national referral hospital in Thimphu confirm the victim’s claims,” the judgment stated.

It ruled that the relevant ministry and agency should deal with the defendant’s contention over the fund raising.

Meanwhile, the judgment also stated that the media is the country’s fourth estate and it has the responsibility to inform the public correctly to gain public trust. “Media should function according to its rights and duties enshrined in the Constitution.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Golden Youth Award 2021 to be held online

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:50

Sherub Wangmo | Intern

The most coveted Golden Youth Award for students will be held online this year.

The annual award Youth Development Fund (YDF) organises every summer could not be conducted last year because of the pandemic.

Officials explained the 13th award is being organised online for class X students of academic 2020.

They explained everything, starting from the registration was done online through their portal system.

Meanwhile, for the award, students are nominated from all 20 dzongkhags to compete in the national level.

According to the organisers, students will go through series of activities like essay writing, extempore speech and showcasing talents and test their general knowledge and intelligence quotient (GK and IQ) on zoom platform.

A YDF official said they have a focal person in every dzongkhag who is responsible for making the students aware of the online activities. 

Organisers also said from the five students in every dzongkhag, a girl and a boy, would be selected by the dzongkhag selection committee chaired by the dzongdag. The two candidates would be then referred to the national selection committee.

They said the top 40 candidates would go through the final selection from July 27 to 30 where four students, a winner and three runners up would be declared on August 5.

The winner would receive scholarship from YDF to study overseas. Nine Golden Youth Award winners have received scholarships to study in Netherland, Singapore and Canada as of now.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Local experts say side effects not from mixing vaccine 

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:48

Side effects are normal and people should take PCM if the pain is severe  

Younten Tshedup  

After more people, who have received Moderna vaccine as their second dose, shared about side effects publicly, local health experts said they are normal and not life-threatening.

The side effects include ‘severe’ pain at the place of injection, joint pain, chills, and fever.

Many recipients of the heterologous regime (Moderna after AstraZeneca) of the vaccine are experiencing the symptoms a day after the vaccination.

Some of the people Kuensel spoke to said that the pain and discomfort could be because the Moderna vaccine was more efficacious. “Lyonchhen said that if you get sick after vaccination, it shows the vaccine is working,” said a Thimphu resident who received her second dose of the vaccine on Tuesday.

She said that she began to feel ‘feverish’ towards the evening of the vaccination day. “I couldn’t sleep throughout the night as the pain on my arm grew stronger and the fever rose. I took a PCM and I was absolutely fine the other day.”

However, a few others said that the pain at the injection site and entire body ache has not receded even on the third day of receiving the vaccine. “Maybe mixing vaccines wasn’t a good idea after all. I had no side effects during my first dose,” said a corporate employee.

Kuensel learnt that some of the recipients were bed-ridden on the night of receiving the vaccine. There were a few who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as the second dose experiencing a similar form of side effects.

Should you be  concerned?

National Immunisation Technical Advisory Team (NI-TAG) member, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, “People need not be worried.”

He said that any vaccine or medicine came with a certain level of side effect and that it was absolutely normal.

He said that the only side effect of vaccination people should be concerned with was the anaphylactic shock. This, he said, would be an immediate reaction of the body to a vaccine and that it needed medical attention. For this, the 30 minutes mandatory observation was put in place.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the majority of the common side effects such as fever, headache, joint pain, and pain at the site of injection, among others, happened between 24 to 48 hours after the vaccination.

He said that as per evidence and clinical studies, the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine produced slightly higher common side effects compared to the booster dose of the same vaccine. However, for a mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), he said that the second dose had proportionately higher side effects than the first dose.

“Now that we are mixing the two, a few studies have shown that there will be a slightly higher side effect. However, this doesn’t mean that a heterologous regime of vaccination was associated with severe side effects,” he said.

“We are distributing paracetamol to all recipients after the vaccination. If they experience some side effects, they should take a tablet,” he said. “If the symptoms don’t subside, they should take another tablet after 12 hours because for some people the episode may last longer than 48 hours.”

However, he cautioned people not to take the paracetamol in anticipation of possible fever or headache. “You should take the medicine only if you are experiencing the pain.”

With some questioning, if the side effects were triggered by injecting a higher dose of the vaccine, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the Moderna vaccine was of the same quantity — 0.5ml — used during the first dose. “Even the syringes used are the same, which has a built-in auto-lock system. So, there is no chance of drawing in more content as the syringe locks itself when you reach 0.5ml.”

He added that a higher dosage of the vaccine would not trigger side effects. “People have received double doses of AstraZeneca vaccine during our first campaign. There were no associated side effects.”

According to clinical trials, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the people who received the Moderna vaccine experienced a slightly higher pain on the site of injection. “This is expected. However, not all would experience the same as the vaccine works differently on different people.”

Another observation was that some of the people experienced vomiting and gastrointestinal disturbance including diarrhoea after the vaccine. “However, this is all normal as these side effects were already observed during the clinical trials,” he said. “People should not be worried because we’re not seeing anything unique or extra which has not been reflected during the clinical trials of the vaccine.”

Meanwhile, 282,236 people were vaccinated at the end of the third day of the second mass vaccination campaign. Of the 1,307 adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) were reported so far, 530 were reported yesterday.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Lhamoidzingkha residents plant agave to tackle human wildlife conflict

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:01

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

In what could be a local measure towards tackling human-wildlife conflict (HWC), residents of Lhamoidzingkha in Dagana are planting agave plants.

Agave functions as a fence to control wild elephants from entering the fields and villages. 

Studies have shown that agave, a native of arid and semiarid regions of the Americas, will protect elephants from coming into fields when grown in clusters as it has spines along the edges and the tip of the leaf.

Records maintained by the Dagapela forest division reported more than cases of HWC from 2018 to 2019 in Lhamodzingkha. Within the same time period, Dagana reported about 500 HWC cases. 

Lhamoidzingkha Gup, Surja Bahadur Limbu, said that despite measures such as electric fencing, canals, and sirens, HWC is an issue in the locality. “I hope the matured agave plant that grows up to five metres will help keep away the elephants.”

He, however, said elephants are intelligent animals.

Villagers plant agave saplings

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According to the gup, an endowment fund started in 2012 is not operational today.  “Except for seed replacement in case of damage in cereal crops, none of the farmers received compensation.”

A resident of Lhamoidzingkha said he is hoping agave plantation could reduce HWC. “During harvest season, elephants are a nightmare in our village.”

Monitoring and evaluation officer with Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC) in Bajo, Tanka Maya Pulami, said that during consultation meetings, farmers pointed out the need for intervention to reduce crop damage from wild elephants.

However, a forester with the Dagapela forest division said that to reduce conflicts,  interventions  such as installation of electric fencing and habitat management activities were carried out in the dzongkhag. “Recently we have provided recycled plastic posts for 11 electric fencing user groups under Lhamoidzingkha gewog and two groups under Tsendagang gewog with 11 energisers.”

During the current fiscal year, Tanka Maya Pulami said that a sum of Nu 800,000 was budgeted to conduct on-farm research demonstration and trial on wild elephant crop damage control with use of climate smart technologies like plantation of agave, thorny shrubs, and setting up of bee hives.

ARDC raised more than 5,000 seedlings of agave and distributed them to the three gewogs of Lhamoidzingkha from where the elephants enter the villages.

Supported by the Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project and implemented by ARDC Bajo, the initiative was started in 2017 and is expected to be completed next year.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Phone thief flees with Nu 600,000 siphoned from owner’s account 

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:00

Banking agents in Gelephu and Sarpang overlooked SOP

Nima | Gelephu

A woman operating a restaurant at the industrial service centre in Trashiling, Gelephu lost close to Nu 600,000 this month after her mobile phone was stolen from the restaurant.

The thief used the OTP sent to the registered mobile number to withdraw the cash from the woman’s account from the BOB connect agents in Sarpang and Gelephu.

Cash transactions were done from five different banking agents; 10 transactions were made from an agent in Zomlingthang, Gelephu. Only nine transactions were completed but the agent had paid for 10 transactions.

The mobile number was connected to the woman’s bank account. An account holder can withdraw Nu 10,000 per transaction from an agent.

The case was reported to Gelephu police station on July 16, almost two week after she lost her phone on July 6. The woman knew about the fraud after the bank agent from Zomlingthang, Gelephu reached the woman about the cash transactions made from her account on July 13.

The man had left the country, following required procedures, with the hard cash from the border gate when the case was reported to police. However, the police recovered Nu 45,000.

Gelephu police officials said that there were lapses from both the account holder and agents that allowed the man to withdraw cash without completing the required protocols.

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was put in place to avoid such fraud. Anyone withdrawing cash from agent banks was mandated to fill a form and produce an identity card to prove that the account belongs to him or her, according to the official.

Account holder, Mamta Darjee, said that she had to produce an identity card and sign it when withdrawing cash from her account. “But, I have no idea how my money was withdrawn. I kept it with the bank. I did not know that I could lose my money with my phone,” she said.

She added that she was confused about how the agents paid the man without having to produce any form of identification. “I was told the money could be recovered but nothing happened so far,” said the Mamta Darjee.

The man got the password for the phone from Mamta Darjee’s son who used the mobile phone to play PUBG game. The family also knows the man.

The bank agent operator from Zomlingthang said that any individual approaching the agent to withdraw cash was allowed after producing a one-time password.

“We have to punch in the account number and the OTP is sent to the registered mobile number. Then, the account gets confirmed and we complete the transactions. It’s similar to the ATM that doesn’t ask for the identity,” he said.

He added that 10 transactions were made but only nine were completed. “I lost Nu 10,000 to the man. His phone was switched off when we followed up. The account holder should have immediately blocked the SIM when she lost the phone,” said the agent.

Officials from the Bank Of Bhutan said that the banking agents were trained with the process. “They have to verify through an identity card or bank account card. This mishap could have been avoided if all processes were followed,” according to the official.

Gelephu police is investigating the case.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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P/ling residents get their second dose 

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:50

Younten Tshedup  

Much to the relief of those residing in Phuentsholing — the current hotspot of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country — the second round of mass vaccination campaign began from yesterday.

More than 2,000 people in Phuentsholing have received their second dose as of yesterday.

As the second nationwide vaccination campaign rolled out from July 20, many Phuentsholing residents remained concerned as to whether they would receive their vaccines on time.

According to sources, the initial plan was to conduct a mass testing in Phuentsholing before vaccinating the people there.

The bordering town of Phuentsholing is currently under a complete lockdown since July 9. The two-week lockdown will end today.   Phuentsholing entered its third lockdown on April 17 this year, and since then the lockdown has not been completely lifted.

The technical advisory group (TAG), after consultation with the relevant stakeholders, decided to start the vaccination programme from July 21.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk of the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) said that given the risk in Phuentsholing it was decided that all Phuentsholing residents would also be vaccinated along with the rest of the country.

The vaccination started from Mega Zone III yesterday as no positive case was detected from this area for the last two months.

The zone covers Pasakha and Pekarzhing areas.

A slightly risker area, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, was Mega Zone I that included the Amochhu, Damdara and Kabreytar, and Core II areas. “Every now and then there are positive cases detected from these areas, which is why we will have to first test the people there before rolling out the vaccines.”

A representative mass testing will be conducted between July 22 and 23 in the mega zone where one individual from each household will be tested.

Vaccination in Mega Zone I will start from July 24 until July 26.

The most volatile of the mega zones has been Mega Zone II that include Core I, III, and IV.

“We have been recording positive cases from this zone despite the lockdown,” said Dr Sonam Wangchuk.

Another representative mass testing will be conducted between July 24 and 25 in the Core I and Rinchending areas taking one person from each household.

A mass sweeping would be conducted in Core III and Core IV areas during the same time.

Vaccination in Mega Zone II would be conducted between July 27 and 30.

To ensure smooth testing and achieve maximum vaccination coverage, the respective mega zones will remain under complete lockdown during the mass testing and vaccination period. Import and export will also be not allowed during the period.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that vaccination in Phuentsholing would not follow the regular station-based immunisation strategy. “It would be conducted in a cluster-based or colony-based manner in order to avoid gatherings and minimise contact between people during the vaccination.”

Meanwhile, at the end of the second day, 194,588 people were vaccinated with the second dose of Covid-19 vaccines.

Day two of the campaign saw 95,232 new recipients of the vaccine. Health officials said that majority of the recipients on the second day took Moderna vaccine in a heterologous regime.

About 450 new AEFI (adverse events following immunisation), including headache, fever, and tenderness at the site of injection were reported.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

OTT platforms to self-regulate digital content 

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:50

Chhimi Dema  

Over-the-top media or digital content such as web series, short films, documentaries, animations, and any other similar online video-on-demand content will not have to undergo the current review and certification system procedures and protocol implemented by the National Film Commission Secretariat (NFCS).

This was following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed on Tuesday between NFCS and over-the-top (OTT) platforms–Samuh and Songyala. An over-the-top media service is offered directly to viewers via the internet through OTT platforms.

NFCS’ officiating head, Tenzin Gyeltshen, said that the OTT platforms were beneficial to the film producers because they provided an opportunity to sell their films or tie up with OTT platforms to create content.

He said: “It not only benefits the filmmakers but also youth in the creative industry.”

The cinema halls have been closed since March last year following the first positive case in the country. Kuensel reported earlier that about 20 films were not released and 10 films were not screened in other dzongkhags.

Anywhere in the world, OTT contents are not regulated, Tenzin Gyeltshen said. “The MoU is a freedom with responsibility for the OTT platforms.”

He said that it was challenging for NFCS with a small set-up to review the contents that were continuously created for OTT platforms.

However, the OTT platforms need to apply for filming permits from NFCS and acquire any other required approvals from relevant authorities and agencies.

“The NFCS shall seek the support of the Media Council of Bhutan, the legitimate government agency charged with the responsibility to look after media content, to monitor and evaluate the OTT contents”, stated that MoU.

The OTT platforms were also to institute an internal review system or mechanism to ensure all its contents were made as per the established existing norms, regulations and guidelines.

Tenzin Gyeltshen said that in the existing rules and regulations, there were no rules on how to review or a fee structure for commercial films which includes web series, dramas, short films, among others.

The Rules Governing Examination and Certification of Films defines ‘films’ as a form of moving image production including feature films, drama, documentaries, advertisements and music videos that are meant for commercial and public screening.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Education roadmap is a visionary document and shouldn’t be politicised: Sherig Lyonpo

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:49

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Education transformation, curriculum, pedagogy, and information and communications technology (ICT) are some of the reforms that will be looked into in the education ministry’s 21st Century School Education Roadmap and Beyond.

According to the Sherig Lyonpo, Jai Bir Rai, the roadmap is a visionary document developed drawing inspiration from the royal decree (Kasho) on the education reform to address various issues and provide the way forward. “It is also included as a new initiative in the ministry’s 12th Plan.”

But educationists are questioning if the ministry’s decision to develop an education roadmap would scrap off the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024.

Some educationists said that if every new government keeps coming up with a different roadmap or blueprint without any concrete intervention in the quality of education, the education system will continue to remain under public’s scrutiny and criticism.

A senior teacher serving in a remote dzongkhag questioned who would address the present issues in the education system if governments keep changing education strategies. “No government would implement the education policy and plan of the previous government.”

The blueprint, formulated by the previous government, is a time-bound strategic roadmap for a systematic transformation of the school education system.

It has a sequenced plan on how to transform the schools based on priority, by 2024, schools and the education system should be performing at high levels of effectiveness and efficiency.

However, Sherig Lyonpo told Kuensel that the education roadmap is completely different from the blueprint. “The roadmap is a visionary document, an aspirational document for school education for the future, which is why the document is named as 21st Century and beyond.”

He said the blueprint is a timeline on what should be implemented and when.

He also clarified there is no political agenda in developing the roadmap because the ministry is still implementing it. “The ministry is also currently reviewing the blueprint, but the pandemic disrupted its verification processes.”

Lyonpo JB Rai said it is difficult to implement what is in the blueprint with changing times, which does not necessarily mean it is being politicised or doing away with the plan. “The roadmap doesn’t have an exact timeline, but gives a direction for the future.”

He said that with time, some plans in the roadmap might not be implementable.

Meanwhile, the roadmap is almost complete and it will undergo different consultations including parents, political parties, and various agencies related to the education fraternity before submitting to the Cabinet.

Lyonpo JB Rai said the consultation is expected to bring in values, suggestions and feedback. “Consultation is important because the roadmap should be a document for everyone and not just for the ministry. People must understand that the education system cannot be changed overnight.”

He said that once the roadmap is ready, there would be specific blueprints for curriculum like how to go textbook less, or a blueprint on pedagogy that will prepare teachers for the future education system. “The roadmap would also prepare students for future jobs depending on the country’s economy.”

The roadmap is targeted to be ready by December this year.

Edited by Tashi Dema

The time calls for innovative finance: conservationists

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:49

Chhimi Dema

With the world already witnessing the impacts of global warming, the need for innovative financing in the green sector has become not a choice but a necessity.

This is from virtual national policy dialogue on financing for socio-ecological production landscape that was held on July 20.

The session was part of the dialogue on “Community-based Landscape Management for Resilient Ecosystems” organised by the Bhutan Ecological Society in partnership with Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) under UNDP.

Speaking at the dialogue, UNDP’s BIOFIN project coordinator, Ngawang Gyeltshen, said that innovative finance was about identifying solutions that can mobilise new financing for development.

Innovative finance or financing refers to a range of non-traditional mechanisms to raise additional funds for development aid through innovative projects such as micro-contributions, taxes, public-private partnerships and market-based financial transactions, among others.

“To an extent innovative finance raises new funding, but innovative finance is also about optimal use or use of traditional or available funds,” Ngawang Gyeltshen said.

He added that innovative finance and innovation, in general, is not always about new or break-through ideas or ICT, but also about simple ideas that can yield results, copying from where things worked or looking at historical trends, for example.

In Bhutan, one of the innovation financing programmes is the payment of ecosystem services, said Jigme Tenzin (PhD), deputy chief forestry officer with the Watershed Management Division, Department of Forests and Park Services.

Citing an example of watershed protection from the four types of payment ecosystems, he said that protecting watersheds and water sources was benefiting the local communities.

Some challenges the speakers highlighted with innovative financing were bringing the stakeholders together, conservation organisations working in silos, the system that was failing to take risks, and the limited role of financial institutions in innovative financing.

World Wildlife Fund’s country director, Tashi Jamtsho, said that there is no choice but to invest in ecosystem restoration.

He said that the country was on the right track with the development approach of Gross National Happiness that has environment conservation one of the foundation pillars and the constitutional requirement of maintaining at least 60 percent of the country under forest coverage.

“But the question is are we doing enough?” he asked. “Doing enough not in the sense of reforestation, species conservation, watershed management, but doing enough to bring people and institutions from the other side of the fence [conservational side].”

Teachers find sponsors to help needy students get phones for online classes

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:47

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Teachers can go beyond classrooms and school to help their students.

This is exactly what two teachers of Sonamgang MSS in Phuentsholing have done.

After learning that some students didn’t have phones for online classes, the teachers, Chhimi Pelden (the school vice principal) and Pema Chhoki, ventured to finding a solution.

They got in touch with several sponsors from the community and succeeded getting funds.

In June, the duo distributed 16 Samsung Galaxy M01 Core 16 mobile phones to students from Classes IV to X.

One of the recipient parents said she had a tough time managing her children’s online classes with just one phone at home.

“My son is in Class IX and he uses the phone for his online classes. That meant my Class VI-daughter would have to miss her online classes,” she said.“All our problems are solved now.”

She said her husband, a driver, is jobless these days.

Another woman with two children in Classes IV and VIII did not have a phone after her phone got damaged.

“My children went to their friends’ house to learn from online classes,” she said. “Everything is fine now. I would like to thank the teachers for their initiative.”

Chhimi Pelden said they found that one of the reasons why students did not participate in online classes was due to lack of gadgets.

“We volunteered to look for old and useable mobiles. We got in touch with a school management board (SMB) member, a businesswoman, Deki Choden, and asked if she had old and useable mobile phones.”

Deki volunteered to sponsor two phones. Bhutan-India Friendship Association (BIFA) sponsored 14 phones. A mobile shop, Ugyen & Brothers, agreed to supply the phone at a discounted rate of Nu 6,000 each.

Pema Chhoki said many students are still sharing their parents’ phone for online classes and lessons.

“We mostly helped students with single parents who had lost their income during the pandemic,” Pema Chhoki said.

Fundraising by the teachers is underway as some students are still in need of mobile phones. The target is to sponsor 20 students from Classes IV to VIII.

A total of 17 phones are ready. Of the total, a businessman, who is also an SMB member, Krishna Tamang, sponsored 11 phones. Parents and teachers from the school sponsored six more phones.

The phones will be distributed after the lockdown.

Teachers in other schools and individuals in Phuentsholing are also helping the needy students in similar ways.

Phuentsholing has been under lockdown since April 17.

Schools have also been closed since then and students are learning from online classes.

The government also has decided to shift students of Classes IX to XII by August this year. Classes PP to VIII students will continue with education online.

There is government plan to provide tablets to needy students across the country.

About 13,000 needy students could get the tablets if the plan gets through.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Landslide in Garzhikha

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:46

Staff Reporter 

A landslide buried an attached toilet in Garzhikha, Wangdue yesterday morning.

The landslide occurred  around 4:30am.

No casualties were reported.

According to Bjena Gup Khandu, a machine was also deployed yesterday and had cleared the slide to avoid further storage of water to avoid slides.

“The main house is safe. The landslide had just passed over the toilet, which was attached to the house.”

Yesterday, the gewog and dzongkhag officials processed required documents for insurance, Gup Khandu said.

He added that the house resided below wetland areas, which had overflowing water due to rainfall. “There was heavy rainfall at night prior to the slide. That was the lone house in the area.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

All irregularities against RENEW resolved: RENEW officials

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:46

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) secretariat clarified that the significant unresolved irregularities amounted to Nu 5.910 million reflected in the Annual Audit Report 2020 were resolved earlier this year.

The report, which was released last week, reflected irregularities against unpaid dues, unnecessary cash withdrawal, diversion of project funds, and excess accumulation of prior year advances until January 2021.

The RENEW official said that all the irregularities were resolved within the stipulated time period before March 2021 and memos were dropped except for one.

“The irregularities were resolved on time, that’s why we have all the audit clearance,” the official said. “The one that was not resolved was related to the government’s e-PEMS system.”

An official from the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) said that although irregularities were resolved, it was resolved only in April 2021 instead of January 31 2021.

The official said that in any audit observation, all agencies are provided an opportunity to resolve audit issues within a deadline.

“In this case, the issues were supposed to be resolved by January 31 this year,” the official said. “We also send a notification to all agencies clearly stating that if issues are not resolved within the time, all unresolved irregularities would be reported in the Annual Audit Report 2020.”

The official said that although the irregularities were resolved, they were resolved only in April after the report was prepared.

The office record showed that only four of the five irregularities were resolved. The irregularity of excess accumulation of prior year advances of Nu 2.180 million was yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, to avoid such confusion with any agencies in the future and bring consistency in the annual audit report, the RAA, henceforth will publish the audit report on November 11 every year which is six months ahead of current practice.

The official said that this was to ensure that the report remains relevant to the particular financial year.

The current practice is that by the time the audit report is tabled in the Parliament the report would be late by almost two years losing the relevance.

The Annual Audit Report 2020-2021 is expected to publish this November and then table in the Parliament during the winter session.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Initiative to help persons with disabilities 

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:45

Yangchen C Rinzin 

When Sapnam Adhikari went for a field visit to Draktsho East in Kanglung, Trashigang, in 2016, she felt the need to help persons with disabilities (PWDs).

The first thing she wanted to do was to make PWDs realise they can be independent. She also wanted others to understand PWDs better.

Sapnam and Abi Chandra, both graduates from Sherubtse College, then formed an initiative called “Youth initiatives for persons with disabilities” to help PWDs in their own capacity.

Their first initiative was to help build a house for Aum Buku, a person with a disability in Shongphu, Trashigang.

Aum Buku lived in a hut, which was not disability friendly for her two children who are also PWD.

Sapnam said it would not have been possible without the help of many people including gups and students from Sherubtse College, Ability Bhutan Society, local community volunteers, and donations from the people where a total of more than Nu 600,000 was raised to construct the house.

“I was happy that we were able to bring forward their story to people who later helped us to help Aum Buku,” she said. “I think we should help PWDs the way we can instead of only sympathising with them.”

For Abi, it was his social service interest that interested him to take such initiative and as a forum for international and national affairs (FINA) during his college days made it possible to help Aum Buku.

“Scouting is my religion and I put it into practice through services, kindness, and love towards the community,” he said. “I want to be a helping hand to those who needed it.”

The youth initiative is now trying to help another family where the sole bread earner is PWD from Bartsham, Trashigang. The family struggling to find a place to live and to make ends meet.

Sapnam said the family reside in other’s house, which is left as gungtong (empty household). “The owner might return any time and the family would have to vacate. They will become homeless.”

She said the eldest daughter in the family is also intellectually disabled and their hope is to at least help to build a house for them by raising funds. “People have been coming forward to help two children’s education. Many are also donating.”

However, the fundraising has been put on hold as of now.

Sapnam said they were unaware they needed permission from the home ministry to raise funds. “We are applying for the permission.”

Meanwhile, besides the two activities, they are also trying to create awareness for PWDs.

Sapnam said that most PWDs in rural areas still do not know how to avail help. “Those PWDs who are today independent are mostly in urban areas. Those in the rural areas do not even know they could study or avail help.”

With many PWDs in rural being discriminated against or left unattended and stigmatised, the initiative hopes to create awareness among people on disability through help from various disability organisations.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Club for sustainable chess development

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:44

Thinley Namgay 

Almost eight years after the chess federation became dormant, the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) is trying to revive the chess culture in the country.  

BOC is starting a chess club next month for those interested in the indoor game. So far, 30 players have registered for the club.  

The general secretary of the chess club, Ugyen Wangchuk, said chess enhances creative thinking, planning skills, focus and protects against dementia. “There was a chess federation before, but it’s not operational.” 

The lack of sufficient equipment and professional trainers are the main challenges for chess development in the country. There is a need for more chairs, tables, chess boards and chess apps. 

 There is also limited awareness among youth on the importance of chess.

Ugyen Wangchuk said they would organise tournaments and seminars for both students and teachers. “The chess club will collaborate with various stakeholders such as education ministry and thromdes to foster the game.” 

Meanwhile, a chess player from Gelephu, Binod Rai, said the chess competition was mostly at the school level. “After that, there is no opportunity. We don’t have a chess championship in the country.”

He said the only popular international chess tournament participated by Bhutanese was in 2014, where five players took part in the Chess Olympiad in Norway. 

At present, Bhutan has two chess instructors recognised by the World Chess Federation. 

Meanwhile, chess can also be played online. 

In January this year, a maiden online chess competition was conducted between Bhutan and Israel, where 140 Israelis and 30 Bhutanese participated and Binod Rai, 29, bagged overall second position.  

Binod Rai said that chess players require constant practice. “I have a group in messenger with 30 players from Bhutan. We share chess tricks and play when we get time.”

Chess enthusiast and a trainee at the Samtse College of Education, Hari Prasad Dungyel, said that only a few are genuinely interested in playing chess. “Many might not know the motive behind playing chess.”

He, however, said that to keep the game alive, online platforms such as Chess Club Bhutan encouraged online chess competition among interested players.

A chess player from Tsirang, Sonam Dendup, said limited competition hindered chess popularity. “There is no proper platform for beginners to learn. Without knowing the scope and benefits of chess, it would be challenging to attract and advocate people about the game.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

Ensuring every child benefits from the royal soelra

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:44

Children of Bhutan received a royal soelra to learn coding through games on a popular online platform, CodeMonkey, amidst the pandemic.

Coding, in simple terms, is a computer programming language to develop websites, apps, video games and software to help people in day-to-day activity.

In the age of technology, coders are in demand. For children, coding is not only fun, but the knowledge they gain would help them to understand the world better. It improves their creativity and problem-solving skills.

The CodeMonkey also has good resources for teachers, including well-developed lesson plans, teaching materials and classroom management system with grading and assessment.

As a country with its mission to embrace information, communications and technology (ICT) as the third language to remain abreast with the rapidly changing digital world, His Majesty’s soelra would equip the children with 21st Century knowledge and skills.

We also have the royal kasho on civil service reforms which highlights the royal aspiration for Bhutan to become a developed country in our lifetime through a knowledge-based and tech-driven economy. Coding is the answer to make that possible.

It’s now the education ministry mandate to ensure every child in the country benefits from the soelra and not just the privileged. With the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, every student should learn to code.

Coding products are used in every field today. During the pandemic, checkpost management system (CPMS) and contract tracing apps benefitted.  

However, the success of the implementation of the coding programme would depend on internet connectivity, availability of computers and proficiency of teachers.

With the education ministry already implementing the education flagship programme, we know the issues. There is a huge digital divide. Many rural schools do not have ICT laboratories, computers and internet facilities. Even in Thimphu, many children do not have access to computers.

The ministry already listed there are 30,000 disadvantaged students as of 2020. It also found more than 13,0000 students need tablets.

The good news is that the education ministry would implement the coding programme with support from Department of Information and Technology and Royal Society for STEM. While the ministry must ensure schools have computers, DITT should ensure internet connectivity.

We have come a long way in digitising Bhutan. Children and computer science are the future. Children can learn new languages faster. We have to facilitate the learning so that no one is left behind.

Tala shut down costs millions in revenue 

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:43

… the plant is expected to resume operations today

MB Subba 

The 1,020MW Tala hydroelectric plant has been completely shut down since 6pm of July 19 with a daily revenue loss of around Nu 55 million (M).

Large chunks of debris due to continuous rainfall during the past few days clogged the gates of the intake tunnels.

At this time of the year, the Tala power plant with the monsoon rains would be generating the rated capacity of 1,020MW and an additional 10 percent overloading capacity, altogether amounting to 1,122 MW, according to the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC). This is equivalent to a daily generation of about 26 million units.

“If one were to consider that 100 percent of the generation from Tala to be exported to India, the daily revenue loss would be approximately Nu 55M,” DGPC managing director (MD), Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

However, officials are working round the clock to complete the restoration works at the dam intake gates. The DGPC MD said that all six generating units had been out of operation and that only once the free flow of water is restarted from the dam intake gates, generation will be restarted.

The project had planned to start filling the reservoir by late night yesterday.

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that power generation would resume today if things go as per the plan. Electricity generation in the country’s biggest plant would have been shut down for three days if generation resumes as expected.

The DGPC MD said that the accumulated debris that was clogging the intake gates were being cleared and the debris in the desilting gates chamber are also being cleared. He said that on July 19, the Tala generating units started to experience some problems in generating at full capacity.

Since the pressure gauge readings at the Main Inlet Values were found to be slightly lower than rated, the generating units were shut down, according to him. After shutting down two of the generating units, the remaining four generating units also tripped in the evening at around 6pm, he added.

“When the generating units tripped, there was water outflow from the adit tunnel to the dam desilting gates chamber accompanied by some noise,” he said. On inspection, it was found that the desilting gates had been dislodged from their docking place with some damages to the rope-drum hoisting mechanism and the supporting steel beam I-sections.

On the causes of the damage, the DGPC MD said that from the review of the sequence of events, it appeared that the penstock pressure loss and subsequent events could have been caused by air suction into the water conductor system due to choking at the dam intake gates.

“To ascertain this, the Tala reservoir was emptied to get access to the intake gates. On completing the lowering of the water level in the reservoir, the intake gates were found to be clogged with debris thus impacting the flow of water into the water conductor system,” he said.

All resources of Tala and Chhukha power plants have been mobilised for cleaning of the intake gates and to lower the reservoir level to get access to the intake gates. The desilting gates chamber is also being cleared of any debris to allow free flow of water into the headrace tunnel.

The DGPC MD said that the desilting gates, rope-drum hoisting mechanism and the supporting structures will take some more time to restore but these are required only for maintenance works and not for operating the powerhouse.

However, he added that there are no problems with the generating units. “The problem is with the dam intake gates only, which are being cleared of the accumulated debris to allow free flow of water into the water-conducting system.”

While almost all the sectors of the economy took a severe hit in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hydropower saw significant growth with energy generation increasing by 31.45 percent.

According to DGPC, the country exported a total of 9,121 million units (MU) of electricity worth more than Nu 27.042B in 2020.

The total generation from the six hydropower plants that are in operation increased to 11,364 MU in 2020 from 8,645 MU in the previous year.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:41

Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck, His Eminence Vairochana Rinpoche, HRH the Princess Pema Lhadon (Pem Pem) Wangchuck, HRH the Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, Royal Family members, Lopons from the Zhung Dratshang and foreign minister attended the completion ceremony of the Punakha Dzong Re-electrification Project on July 20. The entire electrical system of Punakha Dzong was upgraded to European electrical standards with joint contribution from Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother, the goverment and Emanuel Fluckiger.

Picture story

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 12:30

Sarpang Rabdey Lam Neten presided the Salhang tendrel for the construction of 200 bed quarantine facility at Namkhaling, Gelephu yesterday. 

More than 175 officials from Desuung and Royal Bhutan Army are involved in the construction.

His Majesty The King grants soelra for children to learn coding

Wed, 07/21/2021 - 12:18

Staff reporter 

His Majesty The King has granted access to online resources for students to learn coding as soelra to the children of Bhutan.

The soelra was presented to the Ministry of Education by His Majesty’s secretariat yesterday morning.

Along with the presentation, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was also signed between the MoE, Department of Information and Technology (DITT) and the Royal Society for STEM (RSSTEM).

The RSSTEM, which is an office under the His Majesty’s secretariat set up to strengthen Bhutan’s participation in scientific and technological innovation, received Royal command in February this year to explore educational platforms to make coding more engaging and fun for students.

A press release from RSSTEM stated CodeMonkey was jointly chosen over several leading platforms in consultation with the MoE and DITT. “CodeMonkey is a popular online platform which offers paid coding lessons, taught through games.”

According to the MoU, the MoE, which has received the soelra on behalf of the students, will implement the programme, with support from DITT and RSSTEM.

RSSTEM’s director, Karma Wangdi, said Royal Soelra is special and extraordinary happening in the midst of the pandemic when the Thorne is fully occupied leading the fight against it.   

“We would also like to join everyone in offering our deep Obeisance and eternal gratitude to His Majesty for His Love, Care and Boundless Compassion, and offer our humble prayers for His Majesty’s long life.”

He said CodeMonkey also has good resources for teachers including well-developed lesson plans and teaching materials with solutions to challenges contained in the lessons. “It is also equipped with classroom management system with automatic grading and assessment of student performance, and also provides a dashboard overview of the whole class which can be viewed at different levels.”

The director said CodeMonkey will be implemented in the second half of 2021 academic year based on the feasibility with respect to computer labs and connectivity in schools.

He said according to the plan, it will be rolled out from August in all lower secondary schools, middle secondary schools and higher secondary schools, where it will form part of the ICT curriculum for classes VII to VIII, and will be supplementary learning for other classes. “For primary schools and below, it will be rolled out wherever availability of computers and connectivity permits.”

Karma Wangdi siad from 2022, when devices and connectivity reach all schools, CodeMonkey will be implemented as part of the ICT curriculum from Classes PP – VIII.

He said RSSTEM would continue working closely with the education ministry and DITT to support the swift and successful implementation of the Royal Soelra.   “As the Ministry of Education implements Codemonkey in schools, the Department of IT and Telecom and RSSTEM will be there to render all possible support.”