To promote renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE), Bhutan Ecological Society (BES) and Department of Renewable Energy (DRE) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Thimphu yesterday.
BES and DRE will collaborate on various areas like implementation of RE projects especially in the communities where grid electricity is infeasible, promote RE and EE through research, and mobilise funds to support the activities, among others.
DRE will focus on overall administration and guidance related to policies and technical aspects for rural electrification, RE and EE. The department will also identify and manage the projects, seek statutory clearances, monitor and evaluate the implementation and performance of the projects, submit the project progress and completion reports.
On the other hand, BES will propose, promote and collaborate in carrying out relevant research on RE and EE activities, implement RE and EE projects in collaboration with the DRE, and actively source funding from non-traditional sources for the collaborative projects.
DRE’s Director Phuntsho Namgyal and the BES’s Executive Director Dr Nawang Norbu (PhD) signed the MoU.
Phuntsho Namgyal said that the importance of the RE sector is gaining popularity globally. He said that RE was intertwined with livelihood enhancement and that the collaboration with BES was timely. “RE sources help to maintain ecological balance,” he said.
Some of the alternative energy sources in the country besides electricity are solar, wind, and biomass.
Nima | Gelephu
In Umling, Gelephu, an irrigation channel separates officials from Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) on Covid-19 duty from nearby Indian settlement in the State of Assam.
Here the chances of people moving from across the border are high. There were few cases of people trying to cross borders in the beginning, according to the forestry officials.
The foresters from RNMP are able to continue their required surveillance along the border with the additional manpower support from Zhemgang, Bumthang, and Wangdue in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was challenging in the beginning. We had to provide services to the people and also had to be on duty with the limited manpower,” said Samten Wangchuk, chief forestry officer with RMNP. “But, we are in good shape now. The department has provided us with the additional teams.”
He added that the people are aware of their presence. “There was no case of people trying to intrude. It’s a rare opportunity for us to serve the nation in these critical times,” he said.
There are over 35 forestry officials placed in four different points of entry in Umling today. The officials from the national land commission had also supported the team in the beginning.
During the initial phase of the duty, the officials in Umling had to stay in the observation points for 24 hours without shift. There were only two groups to look after four OPs in the gewog.
The foresters guarding the point of entries along the Maokhola river stretch in Gelephu withdraw from their observation points when it starts to rain today.
The officials stationed overnight at observation points along the border are temporarily replaced by frequent patrolling since the recent flash flood at Maokhola stranded four forestry officials who were on Covid-19 duty.
These are some of the challenges facing the guards along borders, trying to secure porous borders from the coronavirus outbreak to date.
In Sarpang, over 140 foresters in divisional forest office Sarpang, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, and RMNP are placed along the borders to prevent the movement of intruders.
Seven points of entry are manned by foresters along Moakhola stretch and at Gakiling-Sisty area near the border.
There are also reinforcement officials from divisional forest office Tsirang and Wangdue on the Covid-19 duty in the dzongkhag.
Chief forestry officer, Sarpang, Phub Dhendup, said the service delivery was continuing unhampered. There are separate staff for service delivery and those on Covid-19 duty.
“The foresters on duty could prevent few cases of people trying to move across the border,” he said. “Most areas manned by foresters are along borders that have thick covers. But, it’s not so different from other officials who are on the same duty.”
The official added that the 24 hours watch along the borders also reduced the incidences of illegal fishing, felling and logging along the borders.
These activities were happening frequently along borders in the past.
Stationed along the border, the foresters endure subtropical region risk of unexpected flash floods during monsoon while guarding the borders.
“The recent outbreak of malaria and dengue, and the pressure from wild elephants are some of the challenges facing the officials on duty,” said Phub Dhendup.” But, most officials have the experience of working under such situations.”
Chief Forestry Officer with Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Dorji Rabten, said the risk of community transmission was high should there be weak surveillance along the porous border in the Southern region.
“The illegal transaction of alcohol and tobacco products along the borders are under control today. There are several informal routes that allowed these illegal trades in the past,” he said.
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
Trashigang dzongkhag court dismissed the case the representatives of Chaling and Shongphu villagers filed regarding the Merak gewog centre road blacktopping case yesterday.
During the miscellaneous hearing held yesterday, the court stated that the petition to the court was incomplete.
“The Court could not accept the case as it did not fulfil the requirements of a petition of a complaint as per section 132.1 of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code Of Bhutan,” the court order stated.
The section states that a petition of complaint must allege sufficient information to establish a right of relief, state the basis of the court’s jurisdiction, and contain a prayer for relief.
As the case is administrative in nature, the court had no jurisdiction, stated the court order issued yesterday.
The representative of Shongphu and Chaling Chiwogs appealed to the Trashigang court to investigate if the government‘s decision to blacktop the road from Khardung has violated the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) decision on 27 July.
The government has risked getting bashed from all corners in taking a decision to allow the sale of tobacco in the country even with a law that says sale and distribution of tobacco is not allowed.
However, it is a bold decision and by far the most practical. Tobacco is still a problem for both health and spiritual reasons. But it has become the biggest problem in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The craze for cigarettes and Baba chewing tobacco, people are convinced, could undo the hard work led by His Majesty The King in securing our borders and all our efforts put in to prevent the country and the people from a community outbreak.
Even as we write this, His Majesty The King is in Samtse, for the eighth time in a few months to oversee preparedness. Samtse that share an open and porous border with India have become a problem. As of last week, 61 people had breached the border security protocols. Most of them did for tobacco and drugs.
The ban on the sale of tobacco, we all know has not worked. It would be the biggest irony if a community transmission occurs because of tobacco. The risk is real. From Nganglam in the east to Samtse in the west, all those breaching border protocols are because of tobacco. Those guarding the borders have just one plea – not to cross the border illegally for the risk of contracting the disease.
Those violating protocols are not innocent villagers. They are people trying to make profits from the lucrative and thriving black market. The price of tobacco has shot through the roof and people are still buying. The price of a Baba packet with a maximum retail price of Rs 3 is sold for Nu 250 in the interiors.
Even in Phuentsholing, just across the border, the 10-gram packet is sold for not less than Nu 100. A farmer would toil for a day, earn Nu 500 and buy a packet for Nu 200 or more. This profit margin is encouraging more to cross the border and risk themselves, the community and the country.
Let’s be honest. Tobacco was banned not really based on pragmatism, but by the anti tobacco lobby, especially from those who harboured negative views of tobacco, influenced by several interpretations of Buddhist teachings.
Let’s be honest. Even with a ban in place, everybody has access to tobacco without paying tax. Everybody – from lawmakers, to those implementing, monitoring and reporting buys from the black market. We have suppliers who cater to only the “big shots”. Big shots here include parliamentarians, Dashos, officers of the armed force and many more.
Let’s be honest. If the concern of youth, including students, smoking in bars and entertainment centres has garnered support among Bhutanese who are already worried about emerging “decadence” among a section of our youth population, it has not changed. Almost 16 years after Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco, use of tobacco is still rampant among youth. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) Bhutan Report, 2019, which the health minister launched last month stated that one in five students currently abuse tobacco.
Legally, the tobacco law prohibits sale of tobacco, but not the import of tobacco for self-consumption. With borders sealed and travel restricted, who is going abroad to get the tobacco from an airport duty free shop? Making the Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) and its outlets the “foreign source” will ensure everyone gets their quota without having to rely on smugglers.
If allowing BDFL to sell can stop the risk of a community transmission, channel the profit from the black market to the government and ease the burden of people, we should welcome it. We will have time to debate the moral and ethical wisdom of the decision. We cannot wait to take measures to stop a pandemic.
Tricholoma Matsutake, locally known as Sangay Shamu, is the economic lifeline of the people of Genekha in Thimphu. Sangay Shamu from Bhutan goes to Japan, Singapore and other countries.
But, Covid-19 has hampered the Matsutake export. The people of Genekha so have stopped picking the mushroom.
Karma Gyeltshen, Genekha Gup, said that the Gyenyen Shamu Zinchong Tshogpa, a mushroom collectors’ association, had put the brakes on the Geneps from picking the mushrooms. He said: “Matsutake collection is halted for now because of irregular Matsutake export situation. The Tshogpas only let the villagers pick the mushroom when the exporters ask for more supply.”
Passang Gyem, 31, from Tshocheykha, has been collecting Matsutake from the nearby forests since she was six years old. She said that Genekha was like an abandoned village during mushroom picking season unlike today.
Passang’s mother, Tshewang Dem, is one of the most reputed mushroom collectors from Zamtok. Last year, she made more than Nu 300,000 by selling the Matsutake. She said, “We bought winter essentials with the earning from Matsutake.”
The people used to gather Matsutake twice a day and sold them in the evenings to the two exporters almost every day. But this year, only one exporter visited Passang’s village.
“The yield looks promising but the market is the biggest concern this year. We don’t want to be black sheep in the community going against our tshogpa. We will wait and trust our tshogpa to come up with some better idea,” she added.
The people reportedly are not even allowed to sell the mushroom in the local market. The Gup said: “We will conduct a meeting soon. If the export fails, we must bring the Matsutake to the Centenary Farmers’ Market.”
Nim Dorji, a 19-year-old student of Wangbama Central School, is also one of the mushroom hunters. He could sell four kilograms of Grade A Matsutake worth Nu 1,400 per kilogram. He said: “I blame Covid-19. I am here in the wheat field instead of collecting Matsutake.”
Kaden Sari, 41, from Drubsi said that she was tempted go into the wild to check her favourite spot to collect mushroom. Once, she even had to escape a bear attack. “Matsutake collection is so much easier than the farm works.”
Matsutake harvest season starts in July and ends by October. Normally, the first export to Japan happens around mid-July. This year, the first consignment to Japan, by Ugyen Exports, was sent on July 28.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ugyen Exports, Karma Dhendup, said that export got delayed because of flight arrangement issues. Last year, his company exported Matsutake thrice a week. “We need to maintain the freshness of the Matsutake. We cannot buy it daily from the farmers like we used to,” he said.
Usually Ugyen Exports send out 10 kilograms of Matsutake in the first consignment but this year it could send 280 kilograms of Grade A mushrooms. Karma Dhendup said: “It’s just a trial shipment. We are anticipating feedback from the Japanese importers.”
Said Karma Dhendup: “I don’t think exporting Matsutake would be big issue as we have already figured another networking flight from Bangkok to Japan. We will send consignments in bulk this time. But let’s see how it works out.”
Ugyen Exports sent 4,500 kilograms of Matsutake last year.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
The ongoing training on western garment tailoring has inspired Cheten Norbu, one of the two tailors in Dagapela, Dagana to explore his new skills.
A National Institute for Zorig Chusum graduate, Cheten Norbu specialises in sewing the national dress and religious items. He has been in the tailoring business for more than two years.
However, with the new knowledge from the three-week training, Cheten Norbu plans to expand his business and provide all sorts of tailoring services including western attire to his customers.
He said that although he is skilled in tailoring local garments, recently he has been losing clients without the skills on dressmaking.
“With an increasing enrollment of armed forces and DeSuups, I can sense good market prospects in the future if our skills are enhanced,” he said. “Today, we are importing all the uniforms.”
Another participant, Yeshi Tenzin said that the country today has only about 15 percent of local tailors skilled in tailoring western garments.
“Such training on enhancing skills is timely and important,” he said. “I feel that opening a tailor shop exclusively for western garments would be a good business in the country as we don’t have one yet.”
Yeshi Tenzin is an employee in one of the tailor shops in Gelephu. “So far I am enjoying the lessons. They are all doable.”
Funded by the Government of India, the western garment tailoring training is a critical capabilities development (CCD) programme under the labour ministry.
Trainers from Lekdrup Skills Development Institute in Thimphu are conducting the training in Damphu, Tsirang.
Trainer Sangay Zangmo said that the participants would be trained to sew trousers, uniforms for the armed force and technical training institutes as well as nursing dresses in the following weeks.
Of the 20 participants from Gelephu, Tsirang and Dagana, 12 are female.
Senior programme officer with the labour ministry’s regional office in Gelephu, Ugyen Dorji said that the advanced tailoring course was targeted for private sector employees who had at least three years of experience in the business.
“The objective is to enhance the skills of these employees who have basic skills in tailoring,” he said.
Proposed in the 2018-2019 fiscal budget, similar training initiated by the regional office in Gelephu were approved in three dzongkhags including Bumthang and Sarpang.
While training in Bumthang focuses on western garments, the one in Sarpang focuses on advanced cooking skills.
In an attempt to inculcate healthy dietary habits among the Bhutanese, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering launched a social media campaign ‘Healthy Drukyul’ yesterday.
The campaign urges people to switch their choice of staple diet or replace rice with vegetables, buckwheat, ground dried corn, or quinoa at least once a day.
An official from the Prime Minister’s office said that the timely intervention would make the Bhutanese less vulnerable to Covid-19 and improve their health but would also help revive the economy by reducing the dependence on imports.
Bhutan imported Nu 9B worth of rice last year. If Bhutanese could reduce rice consumption by one-third, it would mean a saving of Nu 3B.
Through this campaign, messages on healthy dietary habit through text, video and audio would be shared on the campaign’s social media platforms.
Lyonchhen and the experts on nutrition, agriculture and economy would disseminate messages and share tips on healthy eating. The campaign would also engage social media influencers to disseminate the information.
Exciting activities, for example, include one month no rice challenge, hashtag green on Tuesday, and individual’s weight loss at the end of the month. The entries would be posted on the campaign’s Facebook page.
“Lyonchhen is a fitness enthusiast and being a medical practitioner is always passionate about health-related topics,” the official said.
In a statement on Prime Minister’s Facebook page, Lyonchhen stated that his growing concern for lifestyle diseases grew when borders closed. He stated that the current scenario presented with all the reasons to revisit out dietary habits, be it health or country’s economy.
“Rice continues to be a staple, likewise potatoes even among the Bhutanese. Our curries are sauced in oil. We’re all aware our diet was unhealthy but our dietary habit was etched in our culture which made many Bhutanese refuse to change their dietary habits,” Lyonchhen wrote.
Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are one of the major public health issues in the country.
A nationwide World Health Organisation STEPS Survey last year on risk factors for NCD showed that Bhutanese are exposed to varied risk factors: 33.5 percent were overweight; 28 percent had raised blood pressure; 1.9 percent had raised blood sugar, and 86.4 percent of them were not consuming the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Farmers in Trongsa received semso for the cattle killed by tigers on the 10th International Tiger Day observed in the dzongkhag yesterday.
Tigers killed 177 cattle in the past seven months.
Nubi gewog lone lost 148 cattle, the highest among the gewogs in the dzongkhag. Farmers lost 10 cattle in Chumig gewog, Bumthang and two cattle in Sephu gewog in Wangdue to tigers.
The forestry department paid nominal cash as a token of appreciation to 138 households. Farmers were given Nu 2,000 for each ordinary breed cattle and Nu 5,000 for a jersey.
Similar token of appreciation will be distributed to rest of the dzongkhags which recorded cattle lost to Tiger through respective gewogs.
A children’s book titled ‘Who am I?’ about Tiger was launched to commemorate the 40th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The King.
Although the number of cattle lost to Tiger increased over the years, the affected people never received compensation. However, officials said a new policy on paying compensation is drafted.
Department of Forest and Park Services director Lobzang Dorji said although there was an endowment fund to pay compensation in the past, it never worked.
“With not enough money deposited in the bank, the interest was not enough for the compensation. It wasn’t sustainable,” he said.
Lobzang Dorji said that the department is discussing with the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan(RICBL) for the livestock insurance scheme.
“The endowment fund will be handed to RICBL and the people should deposit a certain premium for the cattle.”
The draft policy is submitted to the Cabinet for endorsement.
Although the exact number of Tiger in the country is not known, according to the survey conducted a few years ago, 103 tigers were recorded. It was learnt that there are five tigers in Nubi gewog area.
Phub Wangdi from Denzhing said that he learnt more about the importance of tiger after taking part in the programme yesterday.
“I’m grateful to the government for the semso,” he said.
Another villager, Sonam Choden said that the new policy for livestock insurance will help them. “I will insure my cattle.”
Head of Bhutan Tiger Center Tshering Tempa (PhD) said that Trongsa recorded highest human-tiger conflicts which are important to be resolved to preserve the big cats. “We are coming up with a project to minimise such conflicts,” he said.
Bhutan Tiger Center will be implementing a project known to protect endangered mountain species, which is also expected to resolve the human-tiger conflict.
Most of the areas in Nubi are close to the forest and a large portion of fields near homes are left fallow which turned into bushes making it easy for tigers to invade.
Tshering Tempa said that the bushes near the houses would be cleared, develop into a pasture and fenced with modern facilities to keep the cattle in.
“Bio-gas implementation is also among the plan, as for the manure to be used for the gas, the cattle should be kept near the homes,” he said.
The 10th International Day celebration was supported by the Bhutan Foundation, World Environment Organization, UNDP, WFP and organised by DoFPs and Bhutan Tiger Center.
Ministry to persuade students to return
Yangchen C Rinzin
The education ministry has found out that 114 Class X students and 96 Class XII students had not returned to school after schools reopened on July 1. Together, 210 students have dropped out of school so far this year.
Illness, opting for jobs, joining monastic education, changing schools and a few deciding to repeat in the next academic year were some of the reasons, according to education secretary Karma Tshering. The secretary said a few students got married or were sent to rehabilitation centres, as they had come into conflict with law during the school closure.
“Despite efforts to keep students engaged during the school closure, it was disheartening to see students not returning to school,” he said. “The ministry asked the concerned dzongkhag/thromde and schools to encourage and persuade the students to continue their education.”
The secretary added that although school authorities did their best to persuade the students, it is important to understand the circumstances of the concerned families and respect their decisions.
The ministry through the school principals and dzongkhag/thromde education officers (DEOs and TEOs) will continue to track all those 210 students.
“We’ll ensure those who are ill, on rehabilitation programme and who want to repeat return to school next year,” the secretary said. “It is also important to ensure those students seeking jobs find jobs to ensure no child is left out of school for unjustifiable reasons.”
The secretary confirmed that the closure of schools for a long duration because of the pandemic made parents and students make such a decision (dropout). “Had the schools remained opened, these students would have continued their education. If the school closure continues, there can be more cases of students not returning to schools.”
Schools were first closed on March 6 in four dzongkhags and then across the country on March 18. Students are not confident about returning to school, so they chose to continue their education next year. Many principals in an earlier interview with Kuensel shared that students were not confident of what they learnt through online education to continue in the class.
In terms of intervention, secretary Karma Tshering said that when the parents have decided, there was not much the ministry could do. “But we’ll continue to advocate and educate families and in particular, students on the importance of having to complete their education,” the secretary said, adding the ministry will also look into providing extra counseling services to the students.
Considering the various consequences from the school closure, the education ministry recommended to the government for reopening of schools and subsequently Classes X and XII were reopened.
The ministry has now put in place all the necessary preparation to reopen Classes VII to IX and XI so that children will not miss the education. The government is yet to announce the reopening of schools for rest of the classes in the phase II of new normal.
“It’s also the role of the education ministry, DEOs/TEOs and concerned schools to consistently monitor and engage the students meaningfully during school closure,” the secretary said. “This can ease the worries of the families and children to achieve better academic learning outcomes.”
Since the school closure, the ministry has intensified the vigilance on the continuous education taught through TV, radio, social media, print media, and individual teachers reaching out to students to teach and counsel in the remote villages.
“Teachers have also risked their life travelling during this monsoon to ensure students are staying in the village and studying,” secretary said. “We also kept some students at schools who were unable to go back to their villages due to various economic and social reasons.”
The ministry also supplied dry rations to almost 12,000 students belonging to economically challenged families.
A class XII student of Sherub Reldri HSS in Mongar, Ugyen Yangzom chose to discontinue her study and remain home to look after her ailing grandmother. There was none to take care of her grandmother who raised her after her parents died.
Ugyen Yangzom is one of the 15 students in Mongar dzongkhag who did not return to school after the government ordered reopening classes X and XII from July 1.
A class X student of Mongar HSS decided to continue next year in a different school alleging that some teachers teased him as ‘drugsman’ after he was arrested for abusing drugs. He is working at a construction site.
His mother told Kuensel that her son didn’t heed to advice from relatives. “He was into drugs a few times but he isn’t an addict,” she said. “And he promises to quit and continue his study next year in a different school.”
Of the 15, three were class XII students and the rest of them were class X.
Four students each from Drametse Central School and Mongar High School followed Gyalpoizhing High School and Sherub Reldri HSS with three each, and one from Yadi Central School.
Among the dropouts, three students had expressed their wishes to repeat next academic session to the school authorities as a reason to stay back, four due to domestic problems, two didn’t want to continue for no stated reason while one left for job.
Two class X students of Mongar HSS became nuns at Yakpogang. Three other girls studying in class X married and discontinued their study.
A parent of one of the girls who married during the break said, “We don’t want them to suffer like us and wanted her to complete at least class x.”
“But she went ahead and we couldn’t do anything.”
Dzongkhag education officials said more students wanted to discontinue because they came from the economically disadvantaged families. They were working at construction sites.
“Some students told us that they don’t have TV or smartphones and couldn’t update the lessons from the BBS TV and wanted to continue in the next academic year,” an official said.
“We encouraged them and a few students changed their mind to join,” he added.
Experts say that the level of pollution is directly proportional to urbanisation and population density.
In urban Bhutan, especially, waste and pollution are a growing problem.
The National Environmental Standards (NES) 2020 is come. How is it different from NES 2010?
NES are designed by National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) to maintain pollutants at the quantitative limits to the permissible amount.
The NES 2020 has incorporated some of the best international practices, among others—limits set by USA, India, the European Union, and the World Health Organisation.
The components of the NES 2020 include ambient water quality, industrial effluent discharge standards, standards for sewage effluents, ambient air quality standards, industrial emission standards, workplace emission standards, vehicle emission standards, and noise level limits.
Choki Wangmo, Dy. Chief Environment Officer, said that there was no timeline or duration for revision of Environmental Standards. The standards, she said, was reviewed periodically and revised as and when necessary as per section 30(f) and 42(a) of the National Environmental Protection Act of Bhutan 2007.
For example, seven new parameters have been proposed in ambient water quality criteria – anionic detergents, sodium, TDS, calcium hardness, magnesium hardness, barium, and chemical oxygen demand to the existing parameters.
The noise level limits, however, has not crossed the NES 2010 parameter.
The new standards proposed are aluminum smelting unit standard, waste incineration standard, vehicle noise level limit, and waste incinerator ash disposal/utilisation standard.
With the movement restriction during Covid-19, air quality monitoring stations in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gedu, and Chukha have recorded a drop in particulate matter between January and March.
Likewise, the water quality assessment conducted by the National Environment Commission (NEC) indicates that the country’s water resources are healthy—at the macro level.
Chief of Water Resources Coordination Division with NEC said that there was a growing concern about the deterioration of river and streams due to increased run-off from pollution.
He said that reckless dumping of solid and liquid waste was happening because of growing urban populations. Most of the effluents from auto services, he said, were not treated and went directly to the streams.
“Though we have come up with discharge standards, the implementation will require robust discussion with respective authorities, particularly for grey/storm water which is directly discharged into nearby water bodies,” he said.
And he added, to address the grey/storm water, NEC is looking to introduce NIMBY (Not in my backyard) and nature-based solutions.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Although loan deferment has come as a major relief to the dumper truck owners and transporters, without the export of dredged riverbed materials (RBM) to Bangladesh and India due to the pandemic, hundreds of trucks have remained idle for months.
There are no transport jobs in the local market for these trucks, transporters say.
With increasing number of Covid-19 cases in West Bengal and indeterminate lockdown in the state’s many towns, the export of boulders and RBM is likely not going to resume anytime soon.
If the export doesn’t resume, transporters say sustenance will be a serious issue.
A transporter, Sonam Jamtsho, said: “And there are no major projects to engage the trucks.”
Another truck owner, Samten, said that parking charge for the trucks was expensive.
Since there is no work, it is also difficult for the truck owners to pay the drivers.
Without the Kidu, the condition of truck owners would have been worst, they say.
Many invested heavily on dumper trucks after dredging was allowed in 2017 in Phuentsholing. However, due to hiccups in the business many truck owners had heavily defaulted by the end of 2019.
One transporter said that he received a call from the bank inquiring if he would be able to repay the loan and suggested to submit a form if he was unable to.
“I told that I had no work since the lockdown and there was no means to pay,” he said.
After the lockdown in India on March 25, hundreds of Bhutanese dumper trucks were also stranded at Fulbari, India at the border of Banglabandha, Bangladesh. Of 489 trucks stranded at the Fulbari, 316 entered Bhutan by June 26.
More than 100 trucks have still not registered to return despite being able to unload the materials in Bangladesh. This, sources say, are Bhutanese registered trucks owned and operated by people across the border.
The construction industry has almost come to a standstill. It is not because of lack of raw materials or the weather. It is the shortage of workers. The more we delay the on-going construction, government or private, the costlier it is going to become.
The labour ministry is allowing foreign workers, skilled and professionals to come into the country if all protocols are followed. The protocols are strict. It should be given the risk of a community transmission. Although the figures are not revealed, hundreds of people have applied to bring in foreign workers. What the construction industry lacks today are workers, skilled or unskilled.
Foreign workers could come and build roads, bridges and buildings and go. But this is just another short-term solution. The better solution to the problem of skilled workers is in the ministry’s Build Bhutan Project. The ministry while allowing recruitment of skilled workers have made it mandatory to employ unskilled workers from the project. The project is receiving a good number of applicants. There are 1,164 Bhutanese registered. However, the requirement is more. So far, employers have requisitioned for more than 4,000 workers to work in the construction sector.
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up a lot of opportunities and solutions. The construction industry is dependent on imported labourers. It is said that foreign workers are cheap. Ask those in the sector. It is not cheap. Nor are they the best of workers. The dependence is because Bhutanese are reluctant to dirty their hands. We always blame the mismatch of skills and job and the mind-set. Covid-19 has shown that Bhutanese are willing to work. There are tour guides, entertainers and those working in the hotel industries taking up all sorts of odd jobs. They take pride in it.
The ground is set. There are jobseekers and there are employers. The government is encouraging people to join the construction sector and ensuring that they will be trained and protected. With interventions, we can make the construction sector attractive. It is not new. Those working with the Construction Development Corporation Ltd. know that with the right attitude, policy and interventions, Bhutanese will happily work in any sector.
That Bhutanese will not take up “blue collar” jobs is a myth. Situations will force people to change their “mind-set.” If we can make the construction sector the most attractive sector, we will have no dearth of jobseekers. And if we can build skills, the “jobs and skill mismatch” excuse of the past few decades will be resolved.
Here is an opportunity for both the government and the thousands waiting for jobs. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Ministry recruiting professional and skilled workers
To help the construction industry that has almost come to a standstill and fill gaps at the professional level, the labour ministry is recruiting skilled workers and professionals while also allowing those who left the country before the pandemic to return.
According to the labour ministry’s revised definition of recruiting professionals, professionals are those certified by a recognised professional/ accreditation body of the country’s origin. Skilled workers are workers with special skills and knowledge especially in the construction sector such as masons and tile layer.
The construction sector is hit the hardest. With the closure of border, the country is short by about 50 percent foreign workers. During normal times, around 50,000 foreign workers are there in the sector. Currently, there are only about 23,000 foreign workers across the country.
The labour ministry has received hundreds of applications to recruit foreign workers. Labour minister Ugyen Dorji said that the applications are under review for approval. Lyonpo said that there were various aspects to look into before approving the request. He said that not only should they be skilled but also the number should be in line with carrying capacity of the country’s health infrastructure, availability of quarantine facilities, and availability of test kits among many others.
Any person or government agencies recruiting foreign workers should follow the guidelines generated by the labour ministry. One of the requirements is that relevant agencies and employers should bear all the expenses of quarantine and testing kits of foreign workers.
Lyonpo said that verification of skills specified in the application would be done once they are in the country. This is because it was difficult to screen from the applications. “Foreign workers who are not skilled will be sent back and penalties will be imposed on the employer,” Lyonpo said.
Among many obligations and conditions, employers must employ workers from the Build Bhutan Project (BBP) and train them with skilled foreign workers. About 1,164 applicants have registered with the BBP as of July 29. However, 4,078 workers are required in the construction sector as per the requirement of those in the construction sector.
Lyonpo said that the ministry was doing a favor by allowing foreign workers and the employers should also do a favor to the country by ensuring foreign workers train local people. “We wouldn’t be so dependent on foreign workers if this initiative can be implemented,” he said.
Meanwhile, schools and colleges have opened up but some teachers and lecturers who went home earlier this year could not return due to the lockdown and closure of borders. Similarly, managers of companies and charter accountants are some of the professional workers who could not return.
Unlike the foreign workers, professionals are fewer in number and they would be allowed indiscriminately at all times in the country, according to Lyonpo.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Fifty-three people had been put under home quarantine in Nganglam, Pemagatshel recently after coming into contact with a man, who had crossed the border illegally.
A border patrolling team apprehended the 28-year-old man from Tanzama in Norbugang gewog when he was returning from Dawdari in Assam, India on July 19.
Senior district health officer of Pemagatshel, (DHO) Kinley Dorji, said that a-28-year-old man had crossed the border once two weeks before his arrest. A border patrolling team apprehended him during the second time when he was returning from Dawdari.
He said that the main suspect was put under facility quarantine on the same day as he had put the community in risk breaching the protocol and Covid-19 standard operation procedure.
“The reason for crossing the border is still unknown as the officials could not interrogate the man,” the official said.
The 53 people who came into contact with him were also placed under home quarantine the following day. “They are strictly monitored by health officials and Desuups.”
He said that the officials conducted a rapid test and RT-PCR on the suspect, but both results came negative.
Despite the strict surveillance and patrolling at the border, it is still challenging for authorities to monitor such trespassing due to the thick forest cover and many informal routes.
“We request the general public to cooperate and inform the concerned authorities if they come to know about such incidents,” Kinley Dorji said.
Did you complain about noise pollution from increasing dog population in the capital? Are you one of those who pretended not to see the dog catchers? If so, you are part of the problem faced by the officials implementing the waste management and stray dog population control flagship programmes in urban areas.
While presenting an update of the programmes to the Prime Minister yesterday, an official from the livestock department said that catching dogs was comparatively difficult in the thromde areas due to poor response from the public. It has affected the progress of sterilisation and vaccination programmes even.
Currently, 1,363 dogs and 56 cats were sterilised and vaccinated with the sterilisation and vaccination campaign in Changzamtog School until this month.
The clinic is now moved to Hongtsho since the community support is higher in the peri-urban and rural areas, said the official.
“Earlier, the local government leaders committed to help us but when we visited the areas, they don’t respond to us. Community commitment is necessary to catch dogs,” he added.
By the end of this year, the programme is expected to sterilise and vaccinate 4,000 stray dogs in the capital.
The Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering, said that the challenge could be addressed through incentive measures. For example, if an individual can catch five dogs, he can be rewarded Nu 500. He also said that darting could be an easy method to catch aggressive dogs. This, however, wasn’t received well by the animal welfare groups.
Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals and Jangsa Animal Shelter are part of the dog population control flagship programme.
Under the programme, 1,216 dogs and 76 cats were vaccinated against rabies in Phuentsholing and 1,111 dogs were vaccinated in Kanglung and Samkhar gewogs in Trashigang to contain rabies outbreak in March.
The dog population management survey is also underway in Thimphu, Paro and Bumthang to establish baseline data and emulate the management strategy in Haa as a model for the rest of the country.
The dzongkhag has 95 percent success rate due to strong community support. More than 1,000 dogs were neutered and 635 were adopted.
Once the baseline data is established, it would be easier to carry out interventions, said the official.
In the future, under the waste management programme activities in the National Management Plan for Biomedical and Hazardous Waste would be implemented. The team is also proposing ways to assist waste handlers and scrap dealers on the stock piling of trash due to border closure due to Covid-19 pandemic.
The Phase-I of the programme has just about begun—implementation of three coloured bins and comprehensive waste management system from source to disposal sites in Thimphu.
The first four drop-off centres are in Semtokha, Lungtenphu, Changzamtog, and Babesa. Including the existing drop-off centre at Kelki Higher Secondary School, there would be 11 drop-off centres by the end of 2021.
In the last Parliament session, the National Assembly rejected the Economic and Finance Committee’s recommendation to re-prioritise waste and stray dog flagship programme in wake of the economic downturn due to Covid-19 with 35 votes.
Around Nu 248 million has been allocated for waste and stray dog management flagship programmes.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Houses and institute buildings along the Dangchu River in Wangdue are exposed to risks of flooding.
If the river level keeps increasing, as it did on July 21, the eight households along the river are at immediate danger.
On July 21, the overflowing river, flooded the road along the river.
According to Dangchu Gup Pemba, with increasing water level in monsoon and with the changing river course due to the water force, the Bjimthangka Primary School and the Basic Health Unit (BHU) would also be at risks of flooding.
The school and the BHU are located a few metres away from the eight houses.
Letho, an owner of a house by the river, said that the distance between his house and the river had shortened over time. “We can at least run if water level increases during the day as we can monitor the river. But if it is during the night, it is really risky.”
A similar incident also occurred around three years ago, when the river reached and damaged the wall in front of Letho’s house.
Gup Pemba said that debris and stones were heaped in the middle of the river.
He added that these were cleared and the riverbed was dug deeper to make the river change its course. “The walls were also reconstructed.”
A report on the damage was also filed to the dzongkhag on July 27. The gewog has received Nu 1.3 million (M) in this fiscal year for disaster management activities.
Pemba said that three retaining walls were required along the river—two near the eight households and one near the school. “We don’t think the budget would be enough to build the retaining walls. So we would seek additional fund from the dzongkhag.”
The gewog administration will also conduct a survey to find an estimate to construct retaining walls.
The country is home to more than 100 of the total global tiger population
Amidst a global decline in the tiger population, pictures of six new Royal Bengal tiger sightings on camera traps within the country have brought cheers among forest officials and conservationists.
Of the six new sightings, one each was recorded in Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary (JWS) and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS), while the remaining four were from the Sarpang forest division.
Sarpang forest division recently captured 48 tiger images from five camera trap stations within its jurisdiction. Of the total images, four were identified as new tigers. The division recorded a single tiger during the national tiger survey in 2014-15 and during a camera trap survey in 2017-18. The total number of tigers in Sarpang stands at five currently.
PWS’s chief, Dorji Rabten shared that last year a patrolling team had physically sighted a tigress and a cub in the region. But no images could be captured on the camera traps.
However, when camera traps were retrieved early this year, a male tiger was captured in three camera stations, said Dorji Rabten. With the recent sighting, PWS, the smallest wildlife sanctuary in the country, is now home to two tigers and a tigress.
Similarly, during camera trap retrieval in JWS early this year, a new tiger was captured on camera in two locations.
JWS’s chief forestry officer, Ugyen Tshering said, “It was difficult for us to identify the sex of the tiger. We were also not sure if the image was of one individual tiger.”
He said that there was only one image each of different body parts in each location. “We could not confirm individual tigers. We will continue to monitor the tiger and its prey and reinforce our patrolling techniques to provide better safety for the tiger.”
The last tiger image captured in JWS was in 2017.
Coinciding with the International Tiger Day today, WWF Bhutan stated that these sightings highlight the amazing tale of tiger recovery that has been unfolding in the country since 2010.
The country is home to about three percent (more than 100) of the total global tiger population today.
The International Tiger Day this year also marks 10 years since 13 tiger range countries including Bhutan committed to double the tiger numbers in the wild. The TX2 recovery strategy adopted in 2010 is one of the most ambitious conservation goals ever made for a single species.
Because of the commitment, the press release stated that the numbers of wild tigers are increasing in five countries – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Russia.
Head of Global Tiger Centre in Gelephu, Tshering Tempa (PhD) said that the new tiger sighting is a sign of a healthy ecosystem for tigers. It also means that the country’s conservation strategies are successful, he added.
For more than two decades WWF Bhutan has been working towards tiger conservation, which has reached a global crisis level today. The initial support was provided in protected areas, which was recently extended to areas outside the ‘protected areas’ as tigers needed large areas with diverse habitats.
“This has led to positive impacts with tiger sighting increasing in many places outside protected areas,” states the press release. WWF and government partners maintain six ‘Tiger Heartland’ sites for Bhutan to contribute to Bhutan’s TX2 recovery strategy.
As the country’s oldest conservation partner, WWF Bhutan also facilitated in creation of the Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) between Bhutan and India in 2010. The area covers 6,763.89 sq.km of high biological diversity extending along the southeastern Bhutan and northeast Indian state of Assam.
The Bhutan side of TraMCA includes the three protected areas of Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), PWS, JWS including two biological corridors connecting RMNP with PWS in the west and JWS in the east.
Leveraging technology, WWF Bhutan has also supported forest rangers to monitor tigers annually through camera traps. The initiative resulted in increased tiger sightings from RMNP from 10 tigers in 2011 to 23 in 2018.
However, besides the successful conservation efforts, the press release stated that there is a growing conflict between humans and the tigers given the close proximity of their habitats.
In 2014, Trongsa recorded the highest average loss of 600 cattle annually to tigers. In the past two years, the dzongkhag lost 148 animals to the apex predator.
“Although religious sentiments and legal enforcement have kept people from retaliatory killing until now, the increase in the number of incidences, impacts on livelihoods and fear of feeling unsafe has led the people to rapidly lose their social tolerance. This may lead to retaliatory killings,” states the press release.
WWF Bhutan with the Department of Forests and Park Services is exploring innovative ideas to compensate affected communities through insurance schemes and also engage communities in tiger conservation.
Collectors in Paro appeal for royalty waiver
Phub Dem | Paro
In the worst-case scenario, the government will buy back Cordyceps Sinensis if collectors cannot sell or fetch a fair market price.
As the fungus is the only source of income for the highlanders, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor said buying back is the last option. The government will compare cordyceps prices of the past three years, according to its grade and will pay the average price to the farmers.
To help farmers store the fungus in the event they are not able to sell it, Lyonpo said that the government would provide some capital to procure the requirements, but not interest free loans.
Following the cancellation of the cordyceps’ auction at Paro earlier this week, the agriculture minister along with other officials visited Tsento gewog and met with the collectors.
Lyonpo consulted with the local leaders of three gewogs – Tsento, Doteng and Soe and the cordyceps collectors to explore alternatives to help market the fungus.
The local leaders submitted a letter addressed to the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives on July 27. The letter proposed the ministry to either waive off the royalty and service charge of the cordyceps so that collectors can sell the fungus in an open market.
According to the guidelines for collection or harvesting of Ophiocordyceps Sinensis 2018, legitimate buyers pay a royalty of Nu 8,400 for every kilogram of cordyceps at the auction site. The guideline also states that the sale of the fungus outside of the designated auction period and site shall be considered as an offence if the royalty and service charges are not paid.
However, the minister said that he agreed to discuss the issue with the cabinet, as forgoing the charges was a legal matter, and the ministry had no authority to overrule the law.
He said that the ministry would come with a response whether to waive off the royalty before the auction season ends.
Collectors also proposed to conduct re-auction either at Paro or merge the auction with Thimphu scheduled to take place from August 20 to 22.
The letter mentions that the farmers were willing to sell their fungus without paying royalty and service charges, and if they fail to sell, they expect the government to buy it.
In the meantime, the local leaders said that the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan Limited (RSEBL) reached out to help the farmers link with the buyers through an online Farmers’ Market System (OFMS) to sell the cordyceps.
The initiative was launched to help farmers gain access to market for their farm produce in the wake of Covid-19.
The OFMS is a joint initiative of Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) and the RSEBL. The system is also an extension to the existing Bhutan Commodities Market Initiative.
However, Tsento Mangmi, Checho Gyeltshen said that it would help the farmers only if the government forgo the royalty so that they can sell the fungus legally.
Party EXCOM to decide new OL
With the Opposition Leader (OL) Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) having formally tendered his resignation, the Opposition Party is looking into the procedure to nominate a new OL.
The OL submitted his resignation last week from the posts of both opposition leader and Member of Parliament, according to the National Assembly.
The OL is expected to leave office by mid-August, which means that he will remain as the OL for slightly more than two weeks from now. While the party president or a nominee of the ruling party is appointed as the prime minister, laws are not clear on the nomination of OL.
In normal situations, the president of the Opposition Party becomes the opposition leader. The party needs to call a general convention to elect a new party president.
The party has three vice presidents—MP Dorji Wangdi, MP Ugyen Wangdi and Lily Wangchuk. Younger MPs are also said to be eyeing for the post.
The opposition leader is expected to issue a media statement in the coming days. Party members said the OL recently met with MPs and party members after the news broke in the media to brief them about his decision.
Party insiders said that the OL’s resignation did not come as a shock as he had expressed his intention to resign from the post for quite some time. The Opposition Party is expected to convene an executive committee meeting (EXCOM) to discuss who will be the new OL.
Opposition MP Ugyen Dorji said that the party had not decided on the new OL. “We will complete the process,” he said, adding that in the present case, the new OL will be the de facto president of the party.
The opposition party has five members serving their third time in the National Assembly.
The National Assembly Act states that a member may, by writing under his or her hand, addressed to the Speaker, if the House is in session, or the Secretary General if the House is not in session, resign his or her seat.
But there is no separate provision for the resignation of the opposition leader in the law. A by-election will be held within 90 days as from the date of vacancy the resignation is accepted.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on July 16 announced that the OL was selected as its new director general from mid-October this year.
The Kathmandu-based regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge-sharing centre serves eight countries-Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
This will be Pema Gyamtsho’s second stint with the ICIMOD. He had previously worked in ICIMOD as a watershed specialist.