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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago

KHEL’s play hampers locals in Trashiyangtse

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:34

Nima Wangdi 

The Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited or KHEL was seen as the harbinger of development in the otherwise sleepy Doksum town, Trashiyangtse. The project came and it led to a beehive of construction activity with many pinning their hopes on the project.

A direct benefit of the 600MW proposed project, at least to Yangtse locals, was from the increased economic activity with demand for housing and other small scale businesses. Many invested in constructions.  Some buildings have been completed and more are expected to be completed in the next few months. However, uncertainties of the future of the biggest project in eastern Bhutan has left locals worried.

Sangay Choda, a businessman in the town, said he relied on KHEL for opportunities. He expected the project to bring better business. Sangay and others took loans and invested in construction with the hope that there will be demand for housing.

Sangay will have to start repaying the loan in monthly installments from this month. He is worried.



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This is because there is an abrupt halt on the project that promised so much to the locals besides adding to the country’s hydropower generation.

At Doksum, some hoteliers started business. But there are no customers.  “Some people are selling their land after not seeing any prospects in the town,” said Sangay Choda.  “With not even basic amenities like clean drinking water, street lights, pedestrian paths, and parking areas put in place, there is almost no one visiting the town today.”

Doksum town’s Tshogpa, Karma Lhamo said  KHEL is supposed to occupy 200 units of residential space in the town. She said project officials today occupy five buildings and the rest are empty.

If the project would take off is not sure. What is clear is that those who took loans to invest in housing will have to repay soon. “We don’t know if the project is getting delayed or scrapped,” said Karma Lhamo, who will complete her building in a few weeks. “My only worry is the financial institutions will seize our buildings  if we fail to repay,” Karma Lhamo said.



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KHEL roughly translates to game or play  in  Hindi. Locals are thinking the project and the government are playing with their lives and livelihood. Tongmijangsa Gup, Ugyen Dorji said the delay of the project has been a problem for the gewog since 95 percent of the project falls in his gewog. “Initially, during the project site development phase, villagers benefitted in so many ways but about 80 percent of the construction workers have left by now.”

He said  the project provided  market for farmers and that those who constructed buildings earned good rental income. However, with uncertainties surrounding the project, the gup is worried. “People are asking about the project since they have sacrificed much for the project like their land. Some have not yet received land compensation or land replacement.”

Ugyen Dorji said that the delay  also hampered the gewog’s development plan as the master plan was linked with the project. The gup said his gewog has not been able to blacktop its gewog road since KHEL was supposed to do it. “We have also built two market sheds where villagers could sell their farm produce. It will be useless if the project doesn’t come through.” There is an earmarked budget to build two more.

He said he is optimistic that the project may be delayed, but would not be scrapped. “Both the government and the community would have to bear heavy losses if it got scrapped.”



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Trashiyangtse Thromdey representative, Jamba Sonam said vehicles KHEL hired were asked to discontinue after completion of their contract term. The project cancelled  contracts of about 15 vehicles recently. Jamba Sonam said the head office of the project is based in Trashiyangtse town and the houses where project employees resided on rent have also been vacated.

KHEL officials said that there is no development in the project as of now, but the usual contract works are being carried out at the minimal cost.

In an earlier interview, project officials said that tendering of two of the three main civil works of the project: construction of the dam and the powerhouse could not be resolved due to differences between shareholders, DGPC, and the Indian company, SJVN. Construction of the Head Race Tunnel had started as of January this year.

Out of the Nu 20.276 billion for all three projects, the dam is worth Nu 9.72 billion and the powerhouse, Nu 6.21 billion.



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The 600 MW Kholongchu project commenced in 2015 and was supposed to be completed in 2020. Upon completion, it’s expected to generate 2,568M units of electricity annually.

KHEL is the first-ever joint venture hydropower project in Bhutan and it is formed between Druk Green Power Corporation and India’s SJVN. An expert said, given the current experience, this might be the last JV project for Bhutan.

ACC detains three immigration officials in P’ling for alleged embezzlement

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:33

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is currently investigating an alleged case of embezzlement at the Phuentsholing immigration office.

Several staff have been interrogated and three were detained by the commission.

Sources said that of the three officials detained, two were released and only one is still in detention.

Although Kuensel couldn’t confirm from the ACC or the immigration office, sources said the officials were suspected to have embezzled fund allocated for travel and daily allowances (TADA).



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Sources said that a huge amount of false TADAs amounting to more than Nu 3 million (M) was misused.

The misuse dates back to the last three years.

Meanwhile, observers in Phuentsholing are not surprised that the case surfaced.

Many residents said such a case was bound to happen.

According to a source, of the three suspected individuals, an accountant used to work with Phuentsholing thromde before he was transferred to the immigration office.



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“I heard he was not given much responsibility in the thromde because he was not good,” an official said, requesting anonymity. “But he was still transferred. That was wrong.”

Sources also said that the alleged misuse must have occurred due to the system called the electronic public expenditure management system (ePEMS).

“Unlike in the past, where funds were drawn using cheques with signatures of higher officials, one can easily transfer the money using ePEMS to his or her account,” a source said.

However, ePEMS has also been regarded as appropriate as any false monetary transfer leads to audit trails. When this system was not there, cases of forgeries were rampant.



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Despite following up numerous times, Kuensel was not able to get confirmation and further information as the ACC refused to comment saying it’s too early to comment.

Baunijhora flood creates havoc in Pasakha again

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:32

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The bridge over Baunijhora stream at Pasakha, Phuentsholing remained closed to traffic yesterday after a flash flood following continuous rain in the past few days submerged it in debris.

Four excavators were deployed the whole day yesterday to clear sediments and debris but they kept on washing downstream.

Along with the bridge, the nearby Ahalay Land Customs Station (LCS) has also been severely hit as the debris and sediments have entered the office buildings.

Although residents managed to evacuate to higher and safer areas, 90 vehicles, including more than 50 industrial trucks were stranded on both sides of the swollen stream. If the bridge does not open, more industrial trucks are expected to be stranded today.



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The 50-metre multicellular bridge is an important link between Phuentsholing and Pasakha, including the industrial estate. The bridge was completed in May 2019. It was one of the three South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) projects in Pasakha constructed to improve the Pasakha bypass road and connect the industrial estate.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded over Nu 324 million (M) in grants for these three SASEC projects. The multicellular bridge and 1.3km road were allocated Nu 115M, while Nu 77M was accorded for the 123-metre pre-stressed concrete girder bridge over Bhalujhora and Nu 132M for the gabion wall upstream of Baunijhora stream.

As Baunijhora is prone to such flash floods, residents said history repeats itself at Baunijhora almost every year as it did yesterday. On June 24, 2019, a month after construction was completed, flash floods caused similar challenges and blocked traffic causing disruptions for several days.

This time, however, the flood could have been prevented if mitigating measures were taken earlier on. After the flash floods in 2019, two construction companies, Rigsar Construction Company and Bhaskar Construction were allowed to dredge or clear the riverbed materials (debris) on a pro-bono basis in February 2021. This means the construction companies privately invested to clear the debris and used the dredging materials for their own benefit. No floods were reported that year.



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However, this year, the construction companies’ forest clearance to dredge the debris had expired. Although Rigsar Construction tried to get the clearance, the relevant agencies handed it in only on June 16, which many in Phuentsholing say was “too late”.

On June 16, the Gedu forest division issued the clearance to the Department of Roads (DoR) regional office in Phuentsholing, after which the debris clearing work was offered to Rigsar Construction. The clearance was issued as a “disaster mitigation measure” as per the request submitted by the Phuentsholing DoR office.

An official from Rigsar construction said that there was no flash flood in 2021 because they were given the work to clear the debris in February 2021.

“Our time was until December 2021. We did our job until then,” he said, adding that the clearance expired thereafter.

One contractor in Phuentsholing said that the pro-bono basis is a win-win situation but government agencies keep prolonging.



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“That is why private investors are losing interest in such volunteer work,” he said.

DoR chief engineer in Phuentsholing, Karma Dorji said that they have been at the site since 6am in the morning yesterday.

“This time the debris keeps on flooding repeatedly.”

Karma Dorji said Rigsar Construction was given the clearance and three to four excavation machines were deployed accordingly. The construction company’s staff are also there.

“But the clearance came late,” Karma Dorji said.



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Pasakha tshogpa, Prabhat Rai said that clearing the debris was difficult.

“The sediments are getting washed time and again despite the clearing,” he said. “People will not volunteer if this is the case.”

Prabhat Rai also said that the situation at Baunijhora affected people living in Pasakha and nearby areas because their children couldn’t go to school at Chumigthang MSS.

“This has always been a major problem,” he said, adding that due to such flash floods residents also are not able to visit the hospital.



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“Although there is a primary health centre, it doesn’t help during the monsoon.”

On June 15, the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology had forecasted moderate to heavy rain from a few places in the southern parts of the country. Even before this, the centre had made it public that the country was likely to experience “slightly above normal” rainfall this monsoon.

Eastern highways prone to landslides, blocks

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:31

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The landslides blocking the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang highway at various points have been cleared and the highway opened to traffic at around 2pm yesterday. The Project DANTAK workers started clearing works early yesterday morning.

Chief engineer with the Department of Road’s (DoR) regional office in Samdrupjongkhar, Kinzang Wangchuk, said the poor weather conditions and continuous rain hampered the clearing work.

Given the incessant rain for the past three days, he said that there were chances of the highway getting blocked again if the rain does not stop.

Kinzang Wangchuk said that the Project DANTAK workers responded in time and rescued stranded passengers and a bolero which was buried by a landslide near Lemsorong on June 16 night.



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Meanwhile, several blocks along the Tshelingor-Khothakpa were cleared but the mudslides recur due to the continuous rain blocking the road again. About six blocks were reported along the Pemagatshel-Nganglam highway.

The blocks along the Nganglam-Panbang and Dewathang-Samdrupchoeling highways were also cleared.

“Since the roads remain blocked frequently at this time of the year, people should avoid unnecessary travelling or contact concerned officials to plan their travels,” Kinzang Wangchuk said.

Picture story

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:30

A landslide triggered by continuous heavy rain in the past few days has damaged a semi-permanent house in Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar yesterday.

The affected residents are temporarily residing in Samdrupjongkhar thromde branch office in Dewathang. There were no casualties.

EVs need a policy switch 

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:28

The assurance from the economic affairs ministry had not helped prevent motorists from thronging fuel stations in Thimphu. The rush, whether fearing for another price hike or shortage, unfortunately will be a regular scene. Supply disruptions would become more frequent and demand will always be on the rise.

The writing was there on the wall. The number of vehicles is increasing faster than the rate of fuel hike. When the information and communication ministry readied the second draft of the National Transport Policy, 2017, there were 83,000 vehicles registered in the country. Since then, we have added more than 7,000 vehicles, on average, on our roads every year. The policy, comprehensive it may be, after five years is still not approved.

The recent incidents of fuel shortage and the price hike should get some policy attention. To start with, the draft policy which is now with the Gross National Commission Secretariat should receive some urgency. Current global events are forcing many governments to relook into their policies – from food and energy security to dependence on imports. It is an opportunity for Bhutan to reshape our policies.

The statistics are frightening. The country’s biggest export, hydropower, is not able to meet the demand for fossil fuel. In 2020, our overall balance of trade including electricity was about Nu 18.38  billion in the red. Half of the import bill is from fossil fuel import. It would be worse when the next report is published with more vehicles imported and hike in price of petrol and diesel. Worse, we have no control over the price of import of fossil fuel and even export of electricity.



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Bhutan should have a policy to promote not only efficient or affordable, but also sustainable and environment-friendly transport systems. The current position we are in is a good time. Going electric is a good opportunity.  But electric vehicles (EV) are expensive and  out of reach for many.  It is here that some policy interventions could encourage people to switch to electric vehicles.

Is it too much to ask for financial institutions to provide cheaper loans with longer repayment durations for first time car buyers? The EV taxi project is a successful one because of the subsidies. It would be too much to extend the subsidy to all car buyers, but making it affordable through schemes like cheaper loans could make many go electric. Cheap loans and smart schemes were the reasons for the uncontrolled growth in vehicle numbers.

EVs need reliable infrastructure. There has to be enough charging stations across the country, EV repair shops and our roads have to be EV-friendly (smoother). And there could be incentives like tax rebates on EVs and its spare parts. There are demands to do away with the green tax on fossil fuel to bring down the cost of fuel. It should be the other way round. Lucrative subsidies on EVs and surcharge on diesel or petrol luxury cars, second or third cars could discourage people from buying fuel driven cars.

Another policy should be scrapping old vehicles after a certain time. Old vehicles are fuel guzzlers and not environment-friendly. Many countries do not allow vehicles that are more than 20 years old. Some of the vehicles on our roads are older than the drivers or owners.



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We have been lauded for our environment policies, replacing 50 percent of the vehicles on our roads with EVs, except heavy vehicles, would be another feather on our cap. It would help us in our balance of trade too.

A need for a separate entity to provide legal aid

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:26

Legal aid is an important part of justice under the principle of equality before the law. Legal aid is necessary protect the rights of vulnerable population.” Article 9 Section 6 of the Constitution mandates the government to provide legal aid in Bhutan. The Prime Minister informed the National Council that the legal aid Standard Operating Protocol has been submitted to the cabinet. He informed that he saw a problem since the SOP provided that OAG will provide legal aid when OAG is a state prosecutor at the same time.” The Prime Minister’s observation is noteworthy and deserves careful analysis.

The Chairman of the Constitution drafting Committee noted “the right to free legal service is a constitutional right to ensure that all people, regardless of income, have access to justice. In Bhutan legal aid is not a new concept, it is already provided in the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) 2001 on the Command of Drugyel Zhipa.” Article 29 of the Constitution recognizes the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to serve as the legal representative of the government. This objective is reiterated in the preamble and numerous provisions of the OAG Act, 2015. OAG acting as a public defender’s office may seriously affect the independence of both prosecutors and public defence counsels. The OAG Act also makes it clear that except for AG, other employees are under Royal Civil Service and also prohibits OAG from defending private citizens in litigation. For example, the Supreme Court of Argentina said the provinces’ General Prosecutor’s Offices also providing legal aid over decades showed ineffective criminal defences because they did not enjoy full independence.” Further, the United Nations Principles and Guidelines state that “legal aid providers should be able to carry out their work effectively, freely and independently without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”  It will be extremely difficult for OAG to balance these two opposite roles.



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India enacted the Legal Services Authorities Act in 1987 and the National Legal Aid Authority provides legal services.  In the United Kingdom, “legal aid is a national program, funded by Parliament, that covers civil and criminal proceedings, family matters (including divorce), juveniles, and all levels of appeals. The National Legal Service’s legal aid solicitors provide the legal aid service. In the United States, the legal aid is funded by Legal Services Corporation and Lawyers Trust Accounts and is distributed to each independent non-profit legal aid organization that actually provides the legal aid.  In Australia, eight legal aid commissions implement the legal aid programs. The Singapore government provides legal services through the Legal Aid Bureau under the Ministry of Law. Even in China, the Ministry of Justice and local aid centers provide legal aid services.

These examples not only suggest the importance of having a separate, independent agency or authority to provide legal aid services but also the legal aid must be extended to all cases. However, in Bhutan, Section 34 of CCPC currently provides legal aid only in criminal cases.  Thus, Section 34 of CCPC also needs amendment because justice is important both in civil and criminal cases. Since the draft legal aid SOP has reached Cabinet, it is appropriate to consider these important aspects before it is approved by weighing the pros and cons of allowing OAG to serve as the office of a public defender at the same time as the state prosecutor.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Accountant in Dagana allegedly misappropriates millions

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:26

Phub Dem 

The Royal Audit Authority earlier this month forwarded a case of alleged misappropriation of millions by the accountant handling funds of Drujeygang, Tsangkha and Largyab gewogs in Dagana to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The accountant is accused of making excess payments for works not executed, excess, double, inadmissible payment of professional allowances, payments without supporting documents and wrong bookings.

Despite the bad reputation of the accountant, the RAA report states that the dzongkhag administration continued to let him manage the accounts of the gewogs resulting in numerous inadequacies exposing the gullibility of the overall system. “Although similar audit issues were reported in past, the dzongkhag administration did not institute appropriate measures.”

The authority held the head of the agency, dzongdag, accountable for all the observations, recommending appropriate measures.



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According to RAA, the dealing officials, the head of the agency and drawing and disbursing officers, failed to discharge their responsibilities, reasoning that there was a lack of a proper internal control system within the dzongkhag. The RAA recommended relevant authorities to initiate appropriate administrative actions against them.

RAA audit observation revealed the accountant had misappropriated around Nu 3.4 million (M) of direct transfer of funds and excess payment refunds from Drujeygang, Tshangkha and Largyap gewogs were credited in his personal bank account and not imbursing the cash refunds made by employees or contractors in the Letter of Credit (LC) account, and retaining it in the personal account.

The audit noted unidentified cash deposits of Nu 896,663 in the accountant’s account, stating that a shortage of cash balance and failure to produce refund bill payments indicated probable misuse of funds.

The accountant is alleged of making Nu 2.1M in excess payment and inadmissible payments of various professional allowances. The report states that such lapses show that the dzongkhag engineering section, handing-taking committee, human resource and finance section had not been diligent in exercising controls to ensure the validity of the claims.



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He allegedly paid Nu 2.14M in excess for short execution of works and inadmissible payment of various professional allowances including double payment.

The report states that the accountant made inadmissible payments amounting to more than Nu 432,640 to civil servants in the dzongkhag. That includes excess payment of salary, house rent allowances and difficulty area allowances.

It was found that the accountant made payments without vouchers or supporting documents aggregating to Nu 3M, and revenue collections amounting to Nu 127,951 were not deposited in the bank resulting in irregular retention of revenue collected.

Other observations include inconsistencies in bill payment for community contracts including excess payment of Nu 348,640 for the construction of toilet and taps at community center and toilet near vegetable shed at Drujeygang, maintenance of Tsangkha Lhakhang, and construction of micro-common facility centre in Largyab.



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The report states that the administration did not present relevant documents to RAA for verification and the accountant could not explain audit queries related to the inadequacies.

Although similar cases were reported in the past, RAA states that the dzongkhag failed to institute appropriate measures despite RAA’s repeated reminders and caution.

Besides, it was found that the dzongkhag failed to resolve most of the audit findings from the previous audit reports; resolving only 40 observations from a total of 74 pending observations.

Stakeholders endorse national interpretation for conservation project 

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:24

Chhimi Dema  

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Bhutan in collaboration with relevant government and non-government agencies implementing the Living Landscape: Securing High Conservation Values in South-Western Bhutan project endorsed the High Conservation Values National Interpretation of Bhutan document on June 15.

The National Interpretation (NI) is a guiding document defining key terms and concepts of High Conservation Values (HCV) in the context of Bhutan, and a guide to adopting and implementing HCV in Bhutan.

The approach of HCV ensures the conservation of natural resources, besides enabling their sustainable use.

It was first used in forest management in 1999 and gained momentum for its use in agriculture and other natural resource management.



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Value in HCV is the area containing environmental and social values such as watersheds, grassland or archaeological sites of high significance or importance.

The project is being implemented by the WWF Bhutan in collaboration with the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS), Tarayana Foundation, and the National Land Commission (NLC) secretariat.

DoFPS’ chief, Kinley Tshering, said that the next step was to pilot the contents of the NI document in the field. The pilot project will be implemented in Paro starting in July this year.

Kinley Tshering said, “From the learning experience in Paro we intend to develop the forest management framework.”



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The HCV project in Bhutan aims to conserve biodiversity, ecosystems, and cultural values in nine dzongkhags that are without legal protection in the next eight years.

Bhutan’s conservation network is composed of 10 protected areas, one botanical park and eight connecting biological corridors, covering 51.44 percent of the country.

Kinley Tshering said that, often, national surveys found that a lot of biodiversity including tigers occur more in numbers outside the national parks.

“This [HCV] is a way of giving impetus to focusing our efforts in conservation and meeting public service demands outside national parks,” he said.



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He added the project allows the development of forest management plans which enable sustainable use of forest resources.

The initiative covers 9,967.45 square km of areas that are 53.5 percent outside the protected areas.

The project is funded through the International Climate Initiative by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

The eight-year project was launched in October 2020.



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National Interpretation HCV document

The document will serve as the guide for divisional forest staff, resource managers, auditors, academicians, students, scientists, and researchers to interpret different categories of HCVs in the Bhutanese context.

It states that the promotion of the HCV approach in Bhutan will offer opportunities to protect forests and promote biodiversity conservation, promote and preserve the cultural values, and safeguard the ecosystem provisions to meet community needs and services.

The HCV approach will also strengthen conservation legislation and management, strengthen carbon neutrality and build climate resilience, promote multi-stakeholder engagement and enhance integrated management.



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The document states that the HCV approach in Bhutan is for national land-use planning, understanding the environmental and cultural landscape for conservation planning and prioritisation, and supporting divisional forest offices to develop holistic sustainable forest management plans.

The HCV National Interpretation of Bhutan will consider six categories, namely: biodiversity, landscapes, rare ecosystems and habitats, ecosystem services, community needs, and cultural values.

Bhutan Moves into the Future

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:23

Bhutan has entered a new chapter of history, an era drawn from the wisdom that cultivated the Bhutanese system over the centuries. As the Covid-19 catastrophe battered societies and derailed economies around the world, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck assumed the role of a protector of the nation. Soon after January, 2020, when the news of the Coronavirus broke worldwide, His Majesty laid out the mandate of the State to protect Bhutan and Bhutanese society even as millions of people succumbed to Covid-19 around the world: 

 “The interventions by the State should be swift, effective, comprehensive, and inclusive. The measures must be immediate and substantial.” 

Instead of being cowed down by a debilitating pandemic, His Majesty The King shifted the country into new gear. His Majesty reminded Bhutanese leaders that nation building is a dynamic process and the reality of a changing world means new challenges and opportunities. Bhutan is moving into new times with fresh perspectives and ideas to emerge better and stronger from the pandemic.

Nation Building

A State comprises the country and people. Nation building, therefore, means the reformation of government and reformation of society, a phenomenon that we see unfolding by the day. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities, shaken Bhutan from a stupor, and provided our generation with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-shape a country that is strong, resilient, and future-ready. As Bhutanese society emerges from the worst of this pandemic, there is a new vision being translated into national policy, legislation, and action. 



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It is a demanding vision. But the basis for hope and optimism is a trusted leadership that is illustrating clarity by the day. Over the past one and a half decades the sense of urgency of the Royal guidance has grown. In 2020, His Majesty granted Royal Kashos for the fundamental rethinking and restructuring of the Bhutanese education system and the civil service. Last year, His Majesty made it crystal clear that complacency and misplaced compassion should not be tolerated in public service.

 

On Governance

The landscape of governance is being transformed, starting with a much-needed and far-sighted reform of the civil service. The government is being restructured, the plans and programmes reprioritised. Public service organisations and institutions are being reorganised. The administration system is being refined for a population that is more educated, skilled, and globalised than in the past. 

With the emphasis that a higher level of prosperity is vital for the security and well-being of a nation and people, economic development is being overhauled with the ambitious goal of becoming a high-income country. The focus is on sustainable and equitable economy to ensure the overall health of the nation.

The new economic vision expands national policies to reach sparse communities over rugged terrain. Bhutan is an agrarian nation and agriculture in the 21st century must be characterised by technology and information management, in policies and action. Decentralised governance will be a major contributing factor to rural development, focused on higher productivity for self-reliance.



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Bhutan’s pristine natural resources must be conserved to maintain intergenerational equity. It has become imperative that the hydropower and tourism and mining sectors are revamped to ensure a good quality of life for all the people as part of the vision to establish a progressive and prosperous country. In the energy sector, Bhutan’s commitment to clean energy is being stepped up and hydropower supplemented by solar power and bio energies. The decline in high–end tourism to mass tourism is being reversed to rescue an industry heading in the wrong direction. The mines and minerals policy aims at benefiting the nation rather than a few people.

Pragmatic wisdom for the 21st century places Bhutan in the geo-strategic context of the region and the world – for example, the fourth industrial revolution. The wisdom of GNH requires that Bhutan learns from a world that uses technological prowess for better governance, to monitor the environment, promote sustainable development, and stimulate the economy. 

In implementing policies, government ministries and institutions, parliamentary bodies, and public agencies with their specific mandates, have been repeatedly advised by the Throne to work together, not in competition or in isolation.

On Society

Bhutanese have survived as a populace, and Bhutan as a nation, because of the distinct identity of the people. The threat perception of 700,000 landlocked people in a region which is home to two-fifths of mankind has required that Bhutan find its strength in a unique identity grounded in the country’s history, tradition, culture, and value system. Today, Bhutanese are forced to contemplate the situation and ask some important questions. Have the phenomenal achievements of our forefathers lulled the transitional generation into a sense of false comfort and malaise? 



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The country’s strength being the people, it is a Royal aspiration that Bhutan must not tolerate mediocrity. The Royal vision conveys, loud and clear, that Bhutanese society needs a new mindset and work culture, from ingrained complacency and indifference to action-oriented work ethics. How can Bhutan build and nurture the people to implement the plans and fulfill our goals? How do we empower and equip a generation in transition, youth coming out of schools and colleges with skills and opportunities for productive careers and lives?

 “It is no longer enough to say ‘I am the best in Bhutan’. I expect you to be the best wherever you go in the world.” 

The education system is seeing a fundamental rethinking and reform, as a vision and as a system. The past measure of progress in education by increasing school enrolment is being replaced by an emphasis on quality and skills that will nurture Bhutanese youth to be the best among the best anywhere in the world. The De-Suung Skilling Programme was initiated by His Majesty The King to train youth. 

A historic Royal initiative will be the Gyalsung – National Service. The vision is to prepare all Bhutanese youth for the future. One of the foremost objectives of Gyalsung is to forge a shared national identity that transcends social, economic, regional, ethnic and linguistic differences. Bhutanese youth should know their history and culture and understand national circumstances and concerns, goals and objectives. As youth from all 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs go through this rite of passage together, their shared experience will help build inextricable bonds of friendship. Gyalsung aims to help youth identify their own life-goals, enhance their capability and skills, foster their self-confidence and autonomy, and strengthen their emotional positivity and psychological maturity so that they not only realise their own aspirations, but also serve the Tsawa-Sum as capable citizens.



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A Just and Harmonious Society

The Royal vision is that the present generation of Bhutanese, with a unity of aspirations and values as human beings, focused on science and technology as well as the lessons of history, will rethink and redefine the true purpose of growth. This would require a fundamental change of thought, a social revolution that will change the way to pursue growth that is truly sustainable.

The image of a future Bhutan is that within the sovereign, peaceful, and prosperous nation will exist a “just and harmonious society”. Such a vision is as pragmatic as it is wise as it is lofty, with universal appeal and relevance. GNH as a development goal, and Bhutan’s historic transition to democracy, are both vital elements of a just and harmonious society.

The concept of a just and harmonious society does not come from a specific body of political thought or social theory but is what every human society pursues. It is a vision shared by intellectual giants of the past and prophets of the future. For Bhutan, it implies a transformation of a deeply traditional populace into a contemporary society which is a balance of cutting-edge technology and a progressive work culture with a value system that is deeply humane.

The vision calls for difficult decisions made with clarity and courage to build the Bhutanese legacy for all time. The goal is not just to increase per capita income, but to distribute the improvement of the country’s economy more justly, more satisfactorily, among the population so that the resources of society should be distributed to all, those most deserving first.



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Covid-19 has reminded us that the world will always remain vulnerable to unforeseen events that we have no control over – pandemics, natural calamities, economic downturns, and political volatility that affect all countries and far-flung communities. Bhutan needs to be bold, creative, and farsighted as it relaxes pandemic protocols today, albeit with the caution that has enabled the country to survive and thrive as a unique nation.

Keeping Tourism on Track

Today, every industry needs to change because Bhutan is changing… the world is changing. How we emerge from this pandemic, the bold decisions Bhutan takes and the sacrifices we make today, will redefine what it means to be Bhutanese. We owe this to the future generation. 

For the tourism industry, as for all industries, Bhutan symbolises a brand of the highest quality. The mandate of this generation of Bhutanese is to live up to what Bhutan represents as a regenerative approach to the heart of a unique destination. And for tourism, the proposed policy is not a new concept because, early in Bhutan’s development, the industry was established with the vision of being a high value, low volume destination. It is now time to think deeper about travel that enriches, rather than dilutes, the quality of life of the Bhutanese people. 

High value, low volume tourism policy was crafted to preserve Bhutan’s socio-cultural identity and environmental sustainability even as we leverage economic gains. The vision of a just and harmonious society requires that Bhutan’s approach to growth must be inclusive and equitable. It is a reminder that tourism, in the past, has made a few people wealthy and neglected the wider population. The question now is how will this exciting and complex industry, which represents 10 percent of the global GDP, benefit the people of Bhutan, especially the future generations?



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Why now?

The unsettling and transformative times brought on by human conflict, climate change, and other factors including the Covid-19  pandemic, are forcing countries across the world to rethink and revise economic initiatives, starting with travel procedures. Global tourism organisations like World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) now acknowledge the need for a new direction to “build back better”. 

Bhutan too must think honestly, boldly, and creatively to ensure the sustainability of an exciting and potentially disruptive industry in a small, landlocked country with a large youth population. The most notable and perturbing trend in Bhutan’s tourism is the descent of a high-end aspiration into the lowest common denominator in the form of mass tourism. This mirrors a world grappling with unsustainable travel and over-tourism that has sidelined local communities, damaged local environments, and overtaken local cultures. Where did we go wrong? How did we aim high end but accomplish low end?

The first step is to understand and acknowledge the neglect in the governance of the tourism industry. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) was established with a vision that was appreciated, even admired, by the global tourism industry. TCB was steered by prime ministers and senior ministers, advised by highly paid and experienced consultants, and the secretariat headed by veteran bureaucrats. So why such an enormous blindspot? 

The Decline



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The mandate was stretched across numerous organisations which were not coordinated: Cabinet, ministries, Tourism Council of Bhutan, thromdes (municipality), Road Safety and Transport Authority, banks, tour operators, hoteliers, dzongkhags, transporters. The lack of clear direction and limited professionalism was exacerbated by economic turbulence like a Rupee crisis. At the same time, there was pressure from the industry, politicians, and external interest groups. And Bhutanese tour operators and hotels collaborated with foreign agents to bring in more tourists who pay less.

In a decade and a half there was an upsurge of service providers, explosion of cheap hotels, Air BnBs and home stays, all enabled by policy, tax waivers, easy loans, and lax regulation. Monasteries became crowded, footpaths and scenic viewpoints congested, roads and trails to spiritual sites were disrupted by loud music and unruly behaviour. Corruption began, with agents undercutting prices, operators avoiding rules and evading taxes, Bhutanese fronting for foreign agents and hotels. 

Bhutan is the only carbon negative country, with more than 70 percent of forest cover and new species of flora and fauna being discovered regularly. Yet, the country is losing the battle against glacial recession, growing carbon footprint, pollution of water sources and poor waste management. Bhutan’s tourism industry had privatised profits and socialised losses.

Bhutan as a “global hotspot” tourist destination became a broken promise. High value visitors started to abandon Bhutan. A resounding message came from an agent who had brought tourists to Bhutan for many years: “Goodbye,” he said, after a visit to Taktshang in May, 2019. “Bhutan is no more a high-end destination”. 



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The implication of mass tourism is about much more than just tourist numbers. It is the impact that affects the quality of lives. Bhutanese life and culture have been disrupted. Grocery stores in towns are being replaced by handicraft shops and cafes. The path to Chime Lhakhang is crowded with shops selling more gimmicks than handicrafts. The spiritual journey to Taktshang has given way to rushing ponies, blaring music, and cheap artefacts from India and Nepal. At monasteries, tourists jostle with pilgrims trying to make their offerings and prostrations. Peaceful Dochula is jammed with an uncontrolled flow of vehicles and tourists. The Bhutanese populace is starting to resent this.  

Moving Forward

A glaring dilemma is that the industry deteriorated even as Bhutan knows exactly what needs to be done. To return to high end tourism we must define the roles of key tourism stakeholders, streamline government taxes, and outline pricing mechanisms to avoid over-tourism. Domestic and foreign vehicle traffic has to be regulated and streamlined.

Seasonal and geographical spread of tourism, long discussed but never implemented, should target performance-based incentives and investment. Long existing ideas include at least one alternate international airport and updated technology to prevent revenue leakage and misuse of payment systems as well as transparent and convenient transactions. This is all underlined with improved services and facilities. 

Domestic tourism is an emerging and welcome trend. Increased spending power gives Bhutanese people the opportunity to travel, particularly on pilgrimage. Royal initiatives like the highland festivals and the Trans Bhutan Trail promise healthy, enjoyable, and educative journeys into Bhutanese culture, history, and nature. Home stays are available in most dzongkhags, a modern expression of the traditional system of “seeking hospitality”.



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Managing Tourism

Bhutan needs sensitive and intelligent stewardship to manage tourism. The responsibility has fallen on today’s leadership to return to the concept that less is more – quality rather than quantity. Officials have the mandate to do what is best for the community. The challenge is to resist the temptations to harness quick fortunes from mass tourism. Bhutan must not be pressured into wrong decisions. The priority is not marketing Bhutan but managing the quality of the travel experience for both visitors and hosts. 

It is the government that decides policy and makes decisions, not the industry. The industry must not be hijacked by a few influential people whose motives are purely commercial and interests short term. Hoteliers and tour operators must resist temporary profits at the cost of long term benefits. The private sector is the driver of the economy, but it must not drive the country in the wrong direction. It is not the fault of budget tour operators and hoteliers who went into the hospitality business but it is not right that they decide the policies by pressuring the politicians. The regulated cannot be the regulator. 

The country must find solutions for those affected to support their livelihood and urge all politicians and bureaucrats to make decisions for the greater good. Bhutan is elevating the experience of tourism. The high value, low volume policy aims to welcome discerning visitors who are appreciative of and sensitive to the values that promote culture and the environment. Apart from cultural festivals and trekking based itineraries concentrated around specific seasons and places, the tourism industry has not been able to tap the full potential of Bhutan’s vast natural, cultural, and social assets. 

Visitors are willing to pay a premium to experience the Bhutanese-ness of Bhutan, meaning an uncontrived, authentic, and experiential travel experience to a unique land. Only smaller numbers of such premium visitors under a more liberalised tourism model can ensure maximum value and experience for everyone – from the visitor being able to enjoy a unique experience to the Bhutanese sharing their daily lives and sacred spaces and the country reaping economic benefits. The industry must be able to provide world class services, personal care, and genuine experiences.



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Elsewhere

Bhutan is not the first and will not be the last to opt for responsible tourism over mass tourism. In Kerala, India, the state government has established a “responsible tourism mission” to ensure that local communities share the benefits. New Zealand announced a post covid goal to attract the global 1% richest as visitors. Venice laments the dwindling of local residents from 150,000 to about 50,000 persons in 2019 because of tourism pressures that included pollution of the waterways in the city. Tourist havens like Thailand and Nepal have expressed regret at not adopting more of a Bhutanese model. Many countries are introducing tourist taxes to ensure sustainable tourism. The list goes on.

Revamping tourism is not about visitor numbers but about sustainability and the quality of experience for both the visitors and the host. Bhutan’s attempt to re-manage its tourist arrivals will contribute to the sustainability of its natural environment and culture and, in fact, the nation’s survival.

Beneficiaries

Tourism is a strategic asset of the nation. Therefore, all Bhutanese citizens are key stakeholders as enshrined in the Constitution. In the past, tourism enriched a few and neglected the majority; farmers who comprise over 50% of the population received just crumbs. 

The renewed vision for the tourism sector consciously and deliberately places considerations for the future generation at the forefront. This is because the economic makeup of the country will be redefined by exciting new drivers of growth. Reforms in education and skilling, and emphasis on STEM, for example, will help engage youth in high skill industries with the dexterity to navigate and excel in a rapidly-changing technology-driven world. 



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Tourism is not a panacea for unemployment as governments often believe. Government planners attempted to justify mass tourism as an employment opportunity for Bhutanese. But that does not carry weight in the long run because high-end hotels employ much higher room-to-person ratio and their employees enjoy a higher standard of living. The relatively smaller number of youth who choose to be engaged in tourism must be highly skilled and well paid. Youth must have a diversity of choices and the skills to be engaged in a variety of high-tech industries.

The answer is a return to the vision of high value, low volume tourism with a liberalised pricing model and a bold review of the Sustainable Development Fee. The world is realising that responsible tourism is about managing, not marketing. Tourism must serve Bhutan, not Bhutan serving tourism. Tourism must better the lives of all Bhutanese people. It should strengthen the sovereignty of the nation. Bhutan owes this to the future generations. 

The trends and forecasts tell us that it is now or never. 

Contributed by

Dasho Kinley Dorji 

Celebrating the life of Japan Saab

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:22

Yangyel Lhaden

Agur Camp, Panbang, Zhemgang. Temperature reads 37°C. The whole Zhemgang has congregated here today for their Japan Saab.

Late Dasho Keiji Nishioka, known to most people in rural Bhutan as Japan Saab, lived at Agur Camp, in his simple two-storey house between 1976 and 1980 in Panbang.

Today is the consecration ceremony of this house, which has been renovated after many years of neglect and will now function as an office and museum. The location of Dasho’s house has been the sub-centre office of Agriculture Research and Development Center, Samtenling since 2018. Care has been taken to retain the original architecture. 

Festooned with colourful dhar—blue, white, red, green, and yellow—the little house evokes memories of the years gone by.



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The people walk around the camp like they did about 40 years ago to learn modern agriculture practices with their beloved Japan Saab.

“It feels like Japan Saab is still among us,” says a bleary-eyed gentleman, frail, weather-beaten, and shuffling to a side.

Dasho Keiji Nishioka was a Japanese agriculture expert who laid the foundation of modern agriculture in the country from 1964. In 1980, he was awarded the Red Scarf and, in 1992, was awarded the Druk Thuksey (The Heart Son of Bhutan).

From 1976 to 1980, Dasho worked in Zhemgang, which was then the most remote district, with the task to help poor farmers as part of Integrated Development Project.



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On the second floor of Dasho’s residence is a gallery that houses Dasho’s work and projects. The pictures take one down the memory lane; how he brought the people of Zhemgang together to work on the land and produce enough for themselves.

There are pictures of clearing land, in black and white, of people crossing the Drangmechhu in pan (temporary boats woven out of cane); Dasho working in the field with villagers, group photo in front of his house; the Nishioka Bridge; and people paying their last respects to Dasho Nishioka near Drangmichhu and throwing his ashes in the river. And more.

Before Dasho Nishioka came to Panbang, the people of Zhemgang practiced shifting cultivation. Crossing the Drangmechhu happened once a year, in winter, with pan and support of ropeway, to buy essential items. Dasho built a suspension bridge across Drangmechhu which is called Nishioka Bridge. It is still there, alongside a new motorable bridge.

On the ground floor of the house, a group of elderlies share stories of Dasho Nishioka. One of them said that this room where they are sitting, was used as a storeroom and had agriculture machinery and equipment. “You name one equipment and you could find it here.”



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Rinchen Dolkar, 66, recalls the name of the village she grew up, in the forest, called Phuling which no longer exists. She said, “ Dasho cleared the land for us and gave us home. Had it not been for Japan Saab, we would still been eating off the forest.”

Rinchen used to come daily to the camp to learn agriculture methods from Dasho Nishioka. She had never seen rice cultivated in wetland.  Rinchen said: “Japan Saab taught us starting from basic spacing for seed plantation to making tofu from soyabeans.”

She no longer remembers how to make tofu.

When she first met Dasho Nishioka, Rinchen, along with other villagers planted rice at the camp.  A few months later, Rinchen was shocked to see the seedlings coming out of the field. She had never seen anything like this. “The fibers of rice plant were numerous, silky like end of a horse tail.”



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Pema Chojay, 69, remembers it differently. He was an excavator conductor. His task was to clear the forest and prepare fields. When a foreigner made him level the field, he made a short work of it. “I was not sincere and did not make good fields.” The fields are awkward, filled with giant rocks here and there.

The people of Panbang remember Dasho Nishioka with binoculars all day long. He would be watching from someplace afar. If he saw people not working on the fields, he would burst into mad temper. This kept the villagers on their toes—Japan Saab would be coming with stick in his hand.

Nado Tshering, 65, said that Dasho was a humble man who ate and slept among the local people. “He punished people who did not work, but he also rewarded hardworking people.”

Sangay Thinley, 65, said he was one of the 26 people from Zhemgang who went to Bondey, Paro to learn agriculture.“ Dasho was strict, humble, and spoke in impeccable Dzongkha.”



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Tshewang, 89, was then head carpenter who built Dasho Nishioka’s house. His pay was Nu 10 per day. Today, his son, Leki Tshethup, is the contractor who renovated Dasho Nishioka’s house. Tshewang said that it gave him happiness that both his son and he were involved in building house of their Japan Saab.

This year marks the 30th death anniversary of Dasho Nishioka.

For the people of Zhemgang, their Japan Saab has never left them.

Ecotourism potentials in Zhemgang

Sat, 06/18/2022 - 13:20

“The district has 33 species of mammals, 234 species of birds, 41 species of herpetofauna, 207 species of butterflies, 60 species of moths, 93 species of orchids, and 349 species of wild flowers recorded till date by the Zhemgang Forest Division– while many are still unrecorded.” 

Zhemgang Dzongkhag’s boundary intersects with that of the Royal Manas National Park in the south, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the West and Phrumsengla National Park in the North. About 90% area of the biological corridor (BC 4) connecting these three parks fall inside the Dzongkhag forming 52.45% of the total area under the protected area. Dominated with broadleaf forests, Zhemgang Dzongkhag has 94.17% forest cover, one of the highest in the country. 

In terms of biodiversity richness, the Dzongkhag has recorded the highest number of tigers outside the protected areas with a density of 3 tigers per 100 km2 during the nationwide survey in 2015. The second largest population of White-bellied Heron occurs in Mangdechhu and Drangmechhu Basins and their tributaries draining through the Dzongkhag. The Golden Langur that is endemic to Bhutan and Assam State of India is largely found in the entire Dzongkhag. There are 33 species of mammals, 234 species of birds, 41 species of herpetofauna, 207 species of butterflies, 60 species of moths, 93 species of orchids, and 349 species of wild flowers recorded till date by the Zhemgang Forest Division while many are unrecorded.

River Guides of Panbang



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Zhemgang has about 3,800 households with over 17,700 residents. The Dzongkhag is traditionally divided into three regions: Upper Kheng covering Shingkhar and Bardo Gewogs; middle Kheng covering Nangkor and Trong Gewogs; and Lower Kheng covering Phangkhar, Goshing, Nangla and Bjoka Gewogs. The people of Kheng are mostly subsistence farmers with major income coming from agriculture farming. The Kamzhing (dryland) and Chhuzhing (paddy field) are dominant land use supported by cash crops such as orange, cardamom and potatoes. The lower regions of the Kheng are popular for bamboo crafting and generate substantial income from the sale of bamboo products.

The lower region of Zhemgang bordering Assam State of India falls within the administrative jurisdiction of the Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan’s oldest protected area established in early 1960s. This park shares boundary with the Manas National Park, India which is a World Heritage Site and Tiger Reserve. Because of this significance, Zhemgang was a hotspot for tourists in the 1980s where Bhutan Tourism Corporation promoted high-end visitors. The tourism in Manas was lifted during the 1990s due to insurgency problems along the transboundary until 2010. For two decades, the access to tourists was restricted and only important official visits of dignitaries and donors were permitted. 

Zhemgang is also historically known for early use of the river as means for transportation since the early 1960s. The manual wooden boats were used to cross Manas River from Mathanguri to Manas camp where today Manas Range office is located. Later in the 1970s, a Japanese agriculturist, popularly known as Dasho Nishoka used mechanized boats to transport machineries from India to Bhutan. In 2012, the River Guides of Panbang was formed by local youths to revitalize the legacy of river journey in the Dzongkhag. Both historically and geographically, Zhemgang has potential to develop as one of the top tourist destinations in the country. 

The concept of ecotourism started in Zhemgang in 2009 after the first democratic government was elected. The basic idea was to increase local income and reduce rural poverty, generate employment for youth and reduce rural-urban migration. Since the conceptualization, the initiatives at the micro-level have started with support from different government agencies and conservation donors. The ecolodges at Gomphu, Pantang, and Panbang developed by Royal Manas National Park and handover to respective local communities for management. Bermoo Botanical Garden was established in 2015 to provide recreational sites to both the local and international visitors.



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Buli Tsho (Lake) and Duenmang Tshachu (hot spring) are two popular destinations in Zhemgang for domestic tourism. Duemang Tshachu is used a healing place for mostly sick and aged population from across the country. Mostly, people come is large group and stay there for one week to four weeks. The accommodation at the tshachu is managed by the Zhemgang Dzongkhag and has a capacity of roughly 100 bed nights. The visitors to Buli Tsho are mostly day visitors. For those who wish to stay back in Buli, there are homestays certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The annual report of the Tourism Council of Bhutan shows that Zhemgang received 346 visitors and spent 915 bed nights in 2019. Considering the ideal season to visit Zhemgang in dry months (October to March), the accommodation available ranges from 15,660 bed night (single occupancy) to 29,160 bed night (double accoupancy). This shows that only 5.7% of the facilities were currently being availed by the visitors. The potentiality of ecotourism in Zhemgang can easily be supported with existing facilities and services with some modest support from the government to improve it. 

Studies also suggest that reorientation of local control over ecotourism business can encourage local people’s participation in making community-based tourism as a rural development mechanism. The disparity due to location, skills and capital investment result in inequitable sharing of benefits with the local community resulting in leakage of local economy. The use of local goods and services, employment of local residents is highly recommended for retaining local economy and avoid leakages from the Dzongkhag. The Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Association of Bhutan Tour Operators should encourage tour operators to use local facilities and services, discouraging them from even importing food items from outside the Dzongkhag. 

With only 0.1% of the total arrivals in the country visiting Zhemgang annually, the regional spread of tourists in remote locations of the country is seen as an inevitable challenge. The major factors affecting reach of tourists in remote Dzongkhags including Zhemgang are lack of credible infrastructure, long distance, and poor road conditions. Addressing these challenges could be a prerequisite to promote ecotourism or community-based tourism in the country in the long-run. 



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Jigme Dorji is a former forester and has done research on community-based tourism in Zhemgang for his master’s degree. He is passionate about rural livelihoods and human-wildlife conflict management. Currently, he works for GEF7 Ecotourism Project. 

 

This series is sponsored by Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” funded by GEF-UNDP through the Tourism Council of Bhutan, RGoB.

 

Misconceptions of Buddhism

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:44

Hi Lam, with the strong influence of western culture around the world, I fear that we might lose our deepest treasure, Buddhist wisdom. I’m not saying that Buddhism will disappear, but as most of our people are not well versed in Buddhism philosophy, it is easy for misconceptions to arise, causing the Dharma to get diluted. Lam, have you noticed any common mistaken views on Buddhism in Bhutan? If so, could you point them out so I can be aware of them? Thank you la.  

JW, Thimphu

Well, yes, there are many western concepts and sensitivities that are influencing Buddhist traditions, not only in Bhutan, but everywhere, and so, as you say, they are becoming diluted and distorted. If this continues, then the Dharma will be at risk of losing its capacity to lead people to awaken to the truth, and monasteries will be rendered nothing more than tourist attractions and places to conduct rituals for the dead. To avoid this from occurring, it is absolutely essential that we preserve the purity of the core teachings, while, at the same time, ensuring that they retain their vitality and significance. To put it in another way, the way of presenting the teachings should adapt to the times and so remain relevant and attractive to each generation, but the core teachings must remain pure and cannot be tampered with to suit contemporary ideas and fashions.     



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Now, one Buddhist concept that is quietly being nudged out by western sensitivities is that of karma. Due to lack of understanding of how karma operates, many so-called Buddhists in the west cannot accept the idea that past-life events can influence present day occurrences. Basically, as the concept does not fit with their culturally shaped ideas, they claim that karma is not an integral part Buddhist teachings but instead a cultural appendage, and so can be dispensed with. Some even take it further and contend that claiming that illnesses or bad incidences experienced in the present are the result of negative action in the past is victim-blaming and so they strongly oppose and reject the idea of karma entirely. In reality, however, karma is a perfectly rational concept when considered in the context of emptiness and interdependence, and it is a fundamental part of the relative teachings taught by the Buddha. Furthermore, it does not lay blame on a victim for the negative situations or illness that they encounter any more than someone would be criticized and blamed for a sickness that was caused by hereditary genetic imbalances. It is just an explanation of why certain situations are occurring. 



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As I mentioned above, karma is a perfectly reasonable concept when understood in the context of interdependence. As an example, think of a papaya tree. It doesn’t suddenly materialize from no-where, but appears as the result of a seed that came from a former fruit, which then matured through interaction with other conditions, such as moisture, warmth, and nutrition. Similarly, we did not reach our present situation by chance, but arrived as the result of past karmic seeds interacting with other events and circumstances. Like floors in a building, each one develops as a result of the one below, and no floor just appears out of thin air. 

In addition, karma is often misunderstood as pre-destined fate. However, this confusion is not caused by western influence, but is a common misunderstanding even in traditional Buddhist countries. Due to this mistaken view, some people may believe that there is no point in trying to recover from sickness or, otherwise, they may feel that only spiritual intervention, such as pujas, can influence the outcome. As a result, they refuse medical treatment. However, this is not the correct view of karma, and to clarify the difference between predestined fate and karma as understood in Buddhism perhaps it is helpful to think of a person being in a boat far out to sea when a storm blows in. Now, as he can neither alight from the boat nor stop the storm, we can say that the situation is due to karma. However, how he sails the boat is in his hands. This is his free will. Now, if the situation were due to predestined fate, then he would only have two options – to unconditionally accept whatever happens or to offer prayers, but there would be no point in trying to sail the boat as the outcome is already predestined and so cannot be changed. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche often uses the example of playing poker to make the same point. The hand you have been dealt is your karma, but how you play the game is up to you. Now, I feel this is really an important point. Basically, people who are sick can definitely perform pujas, but they should also ‘sail the boat’ and seek professional treatment. As evidence of this, we can note that all the high lamas who are sick receive both medical help and conduct religious rites. 



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The common view of gods and heaven has also have been influenced by exposure to western culture, and as a result it is common for people to say things such as, “thank god he passed the exam”. However, Buddhism doesn’t recognize a creator god, and neither Buddha nor Guru Rinpoche is a god, but are awakened beings. In this respect, referring to them as gods is not only totally incorrect, but distorts our relationship with Buddha and Guru Rinpoche. Basically, we can only worship a god and petition him or her for help, but we always remain in a subservient position. In contrast, the mind of the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche and ours is identical and our aim is to become Buddha. As a teacher, we obviously respect and esteem the enlightened figures in Buddhism, but, in terms of mind, we are the same. This is why at the end of any visualization practice, the being who we have visualized above our head, such Guru Rinpoche or Dorje Sempa, dissolves into us and our minds merge. Never does the being remain above our heads as a separate and superior entity. If this were the case, then the entire philosophy of Buddhism would be shattered and all the practices and rituals we undertake to uncover our Buddha nature and recognize the truth are rendered useless. 



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As for heaven, well, many people nowadays mistakenly believe that the aim of Buddhism to be reborn in a heavenly realm or to gain some sort of peaceful mind. This is totally wrong. Instead, the aim of practice is to uncover our Buddha nature, and so permanently exit the wheel of samsara, of which the heaven realms and peaceful mental states are a part. To explain it in another way, heaven merely exists as an illusion that is created by the joining together of certain causes and conditions, and so will disappear once these factors dissipate. In contrast, our Buddha nature is not created but uncovered, and so awakening to the truth is a permanent reality, and this is the goal of Buddhist practice. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche stated: “Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it. We have merely discovered it.”     

As your question raises important issues, I’ll continue with the answers next week. 

NA committee raises high interest rates issue

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:42

Dechen Dolkar 

The National Assembly passed the economic and finance committee’s (EFC) recommendation asking the government to take up the prevailing high loan interest rate issue with the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) to facilitate private sector borrowings and boost the economy, yesterday.

The House decided and asked the committee to put it as an additional recommendation while discussing the industry and service sectors where the private sector requires further support through policy interventions.

The EFC chairperson, Kinga Penjor said with the prevailing high interest rates those in the private sector couldn’t avail of loans. “On the other hand, banks have excess liquidity.”

He said that though the central bank does not dictate the interest rates of the banks; they set the minimum benchmark of lending rates, which means the bank cannot lend below the benchmark.



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“The individual banks set the interest rates,” the MP said.

According to a budget report of FY 2022-23 excess liquidity stands at Nu 39.88 billion as of March this year.

Kinga Penjor said that in 2015 the excess liquidity was mostly of foreign reserves standing at around Nu 15M to Nu 20M. However, the current excess liquidity is from the domestic budget only.

Further, the committee recommended rationalising the collateral values estimated by financial institutions for the same land.

Kinga Penjor said that it was also observed that those individuals borrowing for the first time from the banks get a loan amount of 50 percent of their collateral value. If borrowers have already taken out a loan with the banks and have a good credit portfolio,  they get up to 70 percent of their collateral value.



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The chairperson said that the collateral value differs from individual banks for the same property. “Their valuation price is also very less as compared to the market price. If they could make it the same as market value,” he said.

Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said that local banks are earning huge profits.

He said that if the corporate banks could regulate and decrease the interest rates the private banks will also follow suit. Many people claim that the banks are syndicated for not reducing the interest rates. “If the government could look into the matter, it will benefit the economy.”

Opposition Leader (OL) Dorji Wangdi said that with excess liquidity, the government should ease access to finance for the private sector with a conducive private sector development policy instead of the government using the excess liquidity.

The OL said that though the interest rates have decreased five years ago and benefited, there is still a possibility of decreasing the interest rate.  In some countries, the interest rate ranges from 3 to 4 percent and even some have less than one percent.



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He said that with high interest rates, people are unable to repay loans leading to more non-performing loans.

However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that there was no correlation between access to finance and the high interest rates. To have access to finance, borrowers required collateral and individual banks have different valuations of the assets.

“Government is making asset valuation uniform for all the banks,” Lyonpo said 

Lyonpo said that in the current scenario, it should focus on business viability and facilitate the businesses after taking loans rather than focusing on decreasing the interest rates.

During the pandemic, the government provided Nu 5B as working capital at 5 percent interest rate for businesses.



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Lyonpo said that institutions provide loans from Nu 5M to Nu 10M for individuals.

“For those taking Nu 5M loans, the interest rate is 19 percent. The risk of repayment is very low, this is because banks support and facilitate the business after taking loans,” Lyonpo said.

Kabisa LAP likely to complete this year

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:41

Phub Dem

Kabisa is just a few minutes’ drive north from Thimphu Throm. The village, however, is still largely isolated.

Among the few concrete buildings are many hutments. Every few metres, in front of every house, timber and construction materials are piled.

Kabisa, according to locals, has been waiting for their Local Area Plan (LAP) for more than a decade. While waiting, many who were granted permission to construct temporary structures began building permanent structures.

Locals are frustrated with the construction moratorium, imposed in early 2016. Temporary prohibition of construction is costing the people in the area.



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Lham said many were waiting for the finalisation of the LAP so that restrictions on the construction would be lifted, adding that locals had put on hold their plans to construct houses.

She said it is difficult to get approval for new roofing.

Another resident, Dorji, said that the restriction has an impact on felling timber for construction as households get a permit once every 25 years. “It has been ten years since the timbers were procured, and more than half is already damaged. We have to again wait for 15 more years to get a new timber permit.”



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He said that selling timber is illegal. “People are concerned about renovation and building permanent houses on time.”

Lham added that the locals never wanted an urban facelift in Kabisa; those who bought land pushed for the LAP. “We have to face the brunt of other people’s choices.”

Tandin Zam is among many who had to postpone plans to build houses. The timber she got a few years is unusable now. “More than half of them are rotten.”

She said that human-wildlife conflict has increased in Kabisa due to the fallowing of land.

According to records with Thimphu dzongkhag administration, Kawang gewog, which includes Kabisa area, has the second-largest share of fallow land—33.45 acres of dry and 11.65 acres of wetland.

Though public consultations were completed by 2018, work progress was delayed due to issues related to the conversion of wetland to dry land.



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Kawang Gup Dawa Tshering said that there are three LAPs in Kabisa but the issue was with LAP 1 where construction and renovation works were temporarily restricted.

The issue was raised during the recent Thimphu Dzongkhag Tshogdu.

Dawa Tshering said that no construction is allowed in LAP 1 and temporary constructions are allowed in LAP 2 and 3.

According to the DT resolution, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, from North Thimphu constituency, said that representatives of the special committee and experts have been called to review the LAP and that the government’s plan is to complete the LAP this year.

According to Lyonpo, the Plan was delayed due to the pandemic, as experts could not come due to movement restrictions. “The public consultation will take place soon.”

Opposition concerned about significant increase in 2021-22 budget

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:40

MB Subba

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi expressed his concerns about the significant increase of the supplementary budget for fiscal year 2021-22 during its deliberation in the National Assembly yesterday.

The Parliament last year had passed a total national budget of Nu 80.483 billion (B) for the fiscal year, but the government allocated additional budget of almost Nu 3.867B.

The opposition leader said that although some changes in the budget figures were expected after adjustments, the additional allocations made to some agencies were significantly large.

“The government should adjust the changes in budget figures within the budget approved by Parliament as much as possible,” he said.



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The opposition leader said that budgets for some agencies had tripled at the end of the fiscal year.

He cited the example of the Cabinet Secretariat budget, which increased from Nu 138.7 million (M) to Nu 453M.

This means that the government allocated Nu 324M to the Cabinet Secretariat in addition to the budget that was originally allocated and endorsed by Parliament.

Dorji Wangdi said the budget for the environment commission was also increased from Nu 348.9M to Nu 723M.

He said proper rules and regulations should be put in place to avoid such issues in the future.



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However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the budgeting system should be flexible and that such changes in budget figures were expected after adjustments towards the end of the fiscal year.

“We don’t want our budgeting system to be statistic, which is why we are introducing a rolling budget system in the 13th Plan,” he said.

He said that the increase in the budget was due to the incorporation of externally funded projects including Covid-19 related activities.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the budget had also increased as the government had given its priority to the health sector.



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Citing an example, he said that 12 new endoscopy machines were procured and distributed to various dzongkhags, including Wangdue and Tsirang.

He said that the procurement of the machines helped the government detect breast and stomach cancers at an early stage and prevented cancer cases in a significant number of people.

The theme for the budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 was ‘Sustained Economic Stability for a Resilient Economy’.

The Supplementary Budget Bill 2021-2022 will be voted today.

Civil Liability Bill application might lead to confusion

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:39

Nima Wangdi

During the first reading of the Civil Liability Bill of Bhutan 2022 at the National Council (NC) yesterday, Haa’s Member of Parliament (MP), Ugyen Namgay, said the Bill’s application would lead to confusion during its enforcement.

Section VII of the Bill states that a provision of this Act that gives protection from civil liability does not limit the protection from liability given by another provision of this Act or by another Act or law.

Ugyen Namgay said that there would be problems during the enforcement as different Acts and laws can be referred. “Fines and penalties could also be unequal.”



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He said that the aim of the Bill is to integrate all relevant laws and make it convenient, but the provision here spells otherwise. “There are chances of having more than one law for an issue.”

Zhemgang’s MP Pema Dakpa said that the application of the law prescribed is confusing. “We might not be able to find the laws if left as the legislative committee has proposed and it will lead to problems.”

NC chairperson, Tashi Dorji, instructed the legislative committee to relook into the sections.

There was also a lengthy discussion on the duty of professionals.

Gasa MP Dorji Khandu said that there is a need to have the legal professionals defined in the way health professional is done.

“The Bill defines only the health professional,” he said. “The subsequent subsection assumes all professionals. There is no need of defining health professionals as well.”



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Pema Dakpa said there are different professions and it would be inclusive if left as professionals as general without specifying one. “Defining only health professionals and leaving the rest as general professionals doesn’t look good.”

The deputy chairperson of the legislative committee, eminent member Ugyen Tshering, who introduced the Bill, said a professional is defined as a person practising a profession.

He said there will be a long list if all the professionals have to be listed.

Ugyen Tshering explained that health professional is specified in the Bill because it is different from other professionals. “Many countries, who initially mentioned medical professionals in their laws changed it to the health professionals later.”

He said the health professionals could face an allegation of negligence and it is different from other professionals.

The deliberation will continue today.

The monsoon woe

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:39

The monsoon is here in its all forcefulness. In the kind of terrain we are in, it is a big deal.

Unlike in some places in the region, the monsoon comes to us both as a boon and bane. That’s probably why we do not celebrate its coming.

Being in the mountains, our roads become increasingly dangerous as the rains hit us hard. Landslides are already a common theme along the Bhutanese roads. Soon we will have to contend with flash floods.

As the news of accidents rises by the day, there is a need for us, particularly frequent travellers, to reflect on safety and precautions.



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The problem is that no amount of awareness and advocacy seem to work. The police and the roads department are posting situations and updates along the highways; we read and then forget them almost instantly.

The monsoon is a critically important season in Bhutan, not just because of the amount of rain we get, but also, more significantly, because of the destruction and problems it brings to the people. If the farmers are happy, road users are not.

Some travel plans can be cancelled. Why not? 



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Rivers are swelling; we are constantly getting alert signals. When the monsoon comes forcing down on us, we immediately think about the communities along the major river systems in the country—Are they prepared? Are they safe? 

Being in the heart of a difficult terrain in the Himalayas, the monsoon brings us many challenges. We are also all too familiar with earthquakes and flash floods that leave villages bare and poor. But they are not the only problems. Climate change is a very unique phenomenon that affects us in diverse ways. Its fickleness means that we can be caught off guard.



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Facing such challenges ought not to be the government’s responsibility. The responsibility of securing one’s life falls on the individual. Accidents and deaths can be prevented.

So, as the monsoon hits us hard, we may do well to reflect on the dangers the season brings. Road travel in Bhutan is fraught with risks, particularly in summer. Precaution and care are the only things we can depend on.

Alert notices from the police and the roads department are now easily available and plan your travel accordingly.

Script development grant for quality storytelling

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:38

Chhimi Dema

The heart of any film is the script.

To contribute to the improvement of Bhutanese storytelling and to take the film industry to the international level, an initiative called the National Script Development Grant awarded three individuals with a grant to develop their ideas into film scripts.

The award, consisting of financial support of Nu 50,000 for two winners, and Nu 25,000 for a special jury mention, was given on June 15.

Under the initiative, eight finalists from 32 entries attended 10 days training with national and international experts on professional screenplay writing.

The participants learnt observation writing, the concept of storytelling, and screenplay.



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A winner of the grant, Ngawang Choden, said the initiative helped bring her imagination to words.

She said that the most important thing she learned from the class is ensuring the audience could see the visuals in their head as they read the script.

She added that they were taught to internalise, conceptualise and apply the learning in a way that the quality of the script is a priority. “These lessons are imperative to building the quality of Bhutanese cinema.”

The other winners were Dechen Y Choden and Deki Wangmo.

The initiative was funded by the Golan Pictures and Shangreela.



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A filmmaker, Chand RC, said that the Bhutanese film industry over the past 20 years remained quantitative in its growth. “But in the quality of storytelling, we are not on par with the global standards.”

He said that the film industry has the potential to create job opportunities with support from different stakeholders. “One filmmaker can employ at least 45 individuals for five to six months. If the government supports five independent filmmakers, they would be employing 250 to 300 jobseekers.”

International reports state that with the increasing global success and globalisation of the Korean Film industry, the industry “evolved to be a content powerhouse with the popularity of ‘K-Wave’ dramas, film, and music”.

The industry’s worth was estimated to be USD 5 billion in 2019.

Chand RC said that in the global scenario, the creative performing arts and entertainment industry is worth USD 300 billion. “The Bhutanese film industry has huge untapped potential.”

Lauri GC road blacktopping delayed another six months

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 11:37

Kelzang Wangchuk | Lauri

Residents of Lauri gewog in Jomotshangkha, Samdrupjongkhar, will now have to wait another six months for their gewog connectivity (GC) road blacktop to complete.

The Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag tendering committee (DTC) on June 8 approved and gave the six months extension to the contractors who are executing the Lauri GC road blacktopping work.

The Nu 105 million (M) blacktopping work was supposed to complete in April this year. It now has until  December 31 this year to finish the remaining work.

Jomotshangkha drungpa, Lamdra Wangdi, said the dzongkhag administration issued the work order in March 2020 for 15 months, adding that as per the initial deadline, it was supposed to complete in June last year.



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He said the dzongkhag warned and told the contractors their contract would be terminated because they did not start the work for almost 10 months. “The contractors then started the work in January last year.”

Since the contractors could not complete within the deadline, the drungpa said the contractors were given a time extension for 10 months from July last year to April this year. “They still failed to complete the work.”

He said the DTC decided to give a time extension for another six months as the contractors could not bring materials due to the several lockdowns in Jomotshangkha and Samdrupjongkhar.

“The contractors would be terminated if they could not complete the work on time which is in December this year or they have to continue the work on liquidity damage (LD),” the drungpa said.

Indanila construction’s proprietor, Tshewang Rinzin, said they have completed the laying of the granular sub-base (GSB) and 50 percent drain construction. “Only the laying of wet mix macadam (WMM) and blacktopping are left.”



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He said they could not complete the work on time because the crusher got damaged and had to be sent to Guwahati in India for repair as they didn’t get the spare parts in Bhutan.

Tshewang Rinzin said the frequent power cuts also affect the work because they cannot run the crusher, adding that it is also challenging to construct the drain because the rain damages and wash away them.

“Since we cannot carry out the blacktopping work until October end as the rain would affect the quality of the work, we have requested the time extension until June next year, but we were given only six months. We would work hard but it would be challenging for us to complete in December,” Tshewang Rinzin said.

Muensel construction’s proprietor, Sonam Tshewang, said the work got delayed because they had to transport the materials to the site via Samdrupjongkhar from Phuentsholing as there was no direct escort service.



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“We also like to complete the work on time because it incurs losses to us but we could not because we have to take our machines either to Samdrupjongkhar or India for repairing as the lone workshop in Jomotshangkha lacks the skilled mechanic,” Sonam Tshewang said.

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