To keep the High Court functioning in the light of three justices demitting recently, the Supreme Court recently initiated an interim measure where all the four Benches of the appeal court will keep functioning.
After three judges completed their 10-year term last month, the High Court is left with only four justices hampering judicial services.
In the interim measure, all three Benches will have one drangpons each. Justice Pema Rinzin is assigned to Bench I, Justice Pema Wangchuk to Bench II, Justice Kinley Dorji to Bench III and Justice Duba Dukpa will preside over cases in the Larger Bench along with two justices.
Appeals from Bench I will be heard by justices of Bench II and III, appeals from Bench II will be heard by justices I and III and appeals from Bench III will be heard by justices of Bench I and II. This arrangement enables the current four justices to meet the quorum of three justices in the Larger Bench.
The arrangement is only until the High Court is reconstituted with the full nine justices, according to the Acting Chief Justice of Bhutan.
As of today, there are more than 600 appeal cases pending at the High Court.
The High Court, the court of appeal from the dzongkhag courts should comprise of a Chief Justice and eight drangpons, according to the Constitution. The High Court is today short of five justices without a Chief Justice and the Supreme Court by two justices.
Every time we take a look at the state of our agriculture, we are looking at the same opportunities and challenges.
Covid-19 gave us a little boost. Reportedly, there are many Bhutanese, especially young, who have found employment in the sector.
Hopefully, this trend does not turn the other way after the pandemic is out and gone. Our efforts to improve or develop agriculture should be more than just a wobbly attempt.
On the papers, agriculture has been on the top of the priority list since the first planned development programme. The fact, however, is that the sector has continued to suffer a steady decline from about the same time.
We are today a country that is more dependent—on everything starting from food items to construction materials—than we ever were.
We are poised to become a middle-income country but we are still not producing enough to feed ourselves. Along the many years of development journey, we have had to get a move on. That is understandable; we had to make a dash to catch up with the rest.
That we, somehow deliberately, forgot our national priority along the way still does not make any sense. As a landlocked country in the Himalayas, agriculture still is our best bet.
Our farmers may not see future in the sector what with shortage of farmhands and increasing human-wildlife conflict but why are we still grappling with these same small problems—at this age?
The simple answer is that we lack vision. And this is going to be very costly. When elected leaders and civil servants can’t find a common ground to work, national dreams suffer.
When the long-term development opportunities are missed, or, are omitted, the consequences are often very serious.
Here is a bunch of questions. Hopefully, our elected leaders and policymakers are listening.
Why is rural to urban migration rising when youth unemployment is already a serious problem in the country?
In a way, the farming population has got a point. Why must they lose almost everything to wild animals every year and continue to sweat in the fields?
Why are our irrigation systems riddled with problems—even the big ones that were built with huge external funds? Farming dies when water does not come to the fields.
But this is the question: why are all these the persistent problems still?
Now is the time to turn it all around. This will require a major shift, of course—from policies on. Otherwise, we lose this one opportunity to make ourselves food self-sufficient.
Put another way, food self-sufficiency is critically important for our survival. This fact can also be read as an urgent national statement.
From former owner, says case not over
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The former proprietor of Hotel Kuenzang Norling International (KNI) in Bumthang has yet again got into another controversy with the former proprietor claiming that the dzongkhag using the hotel as a quarantine facility was a breach of rule.
The former proprietor, Penjor, said that the hotel cannot be used as a quarantine facility as a legal case is pending in the High Court, which the Bhutan National Bank has seized earlier after a protracted loan default case.
Penjor has approached the Parliament Joint Committee on Covid-19 last month requesting an investigation on why the property was used as a quarantine facility while a case was pending in the High Court. “This unlawful decision of the Bumthang dzongdag has to be investigated,” he said in a letter addressed to the chairman of the Committee.
Penjor, who complained in writing and in verbal several times to this newspaper said that he had informed the dzongdag about the case on March 27 when a committee was discussing about using hotels as quarantine facility. “I informed him that my hotel was closed for four years because we are not finished with the case,” Penjor said. “The dzongdag said he would get back to me after discussing with the committee, but he didn’t and the hotel was used as a quarantine centre.”
Penjor said that he had informed the dzongdag that there are about 70 hotels and resorts in Bumthang and that choosing KNI was wrong because of the case. He also accused the dzongdag of making him “look bad” by not cooperating during the Covid-19 pandemic. “If the property is not embroiled in legal issues, I would gladly surrender mine as a facility,” he said.
Bumthang dzongdag Passang Dorji said that during the first meeting on Covid-19 with regional and sector heads and local leaders on March 06, the drangpon informed the meeting that the Bhutan National Bank (BNBL) owned a hotel which was empty and could be used as quarantine centre.
“The taskforce enquired with the BNBL management and got the keys from the BNBL. I suppose the owner of the property has the key”, he said.
The Supreme Court has issued an execution order to Bumthang court on July 4, 2018 to surrender the mortgage properties, hotel KNI and land, to the bank as he had failed to pay the loan. It also stated that he should refrain from posting “un necessary things” on the social media.
The dzongkhag district court issued the enforcement order on August 8 2018.
Nima | Zhemgang
We always say on a knife-edge when we are in a difficult situation. The journey from Gelephu to Zhemgang during monsoon, especially when you are a first-timer, lets you feel the meaning of being on a knife-edge.
It is a comfortable start from Gelephu driving on the broad smooth road. In about 20 minutes, the air becomes colder and the road narrows. The vast plains of Gelephu, a buzzing commercial town despite looming Covid-19 fear is nowhere to be seen as soon as you get out of the town.
The broad-leaved and conifer forests replace canopies of areca nut trees. And the plains by hills drenched with a heavy monsoon. Muddy and slippery roads with boulders precariously hanging above make you feel like an unseen force chasing you from behind.
The road filled with potholes, the threat from falling boulders, and broken twigs lying by the roadside are common scene along the highway.
However, I was fortunate to be accompanied by a driver and an engineer from the Department of Road, Zhemgang on the road. I followed the tyre tracks left by the bolero ahead of me. It helped me locate the high crown and road edges.
At Ossey bypass road construction site, the road is slippery. The car stopped in the middle of the mud. I restarted the engine but in vain. I would have returned from that point. Travelling alone is not advisable.
However, the bolero driver stopped a few metres ahead and came back to my rescue. A stranger came out of a Hilux and helped me push the car. Together we got the car out of the mud.
After another five minutes of driving, the engine failed in the middle of a stretch filled with wet sand. The tyre is rolling but refuses to move. There was a smell of burning rubber as I pressed the accelerator, harder.
The bolero driver had to come out of his car again and that was the last time. By then the five-kilometre bypass road construction site at Ossey was over, but Zhemgang is still far away.
“Two days of sunny weather, the road is clear without any hurdle said Kencho Wangdi who worked with the Department of Road, Zhemgang for the past two years. “There is no proper drainage build along the road. When it rains heavily the landslides are a common sight,” he said. He added that the bypass road construction is taking a long time.
We reached Tingtibi, a small town 35 kilometres away from Zhemgang town at around 1pm. The road is narrower with several hairpin curves along the Zhemgang-Dakpel road.
As I inched closer to Zhemgang town, Kencho Wangdi shared a story about a 22-year-old boy who was killed by falling boulders on the Zhemgang-Dakpel highway last month. The parents of the deceased who also worked with the national workforce for decades were preparing to quit the job.
I asked Kencho Wangdi about the plan to widen the road. He said that the approval was given only for two kilometres of the road when proposed to widen about 10 kilometres of road.
The half-day journey took almost a day. It was 3 pm when I reached Zhemgang town. The small town along the old Trongsa-Gelephu highway remained still and silent with the picturesque Zhemgang dzong in the backdrop.
Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”, and interestingly after 2,000 years, the quote still stands true today.
With the current coronavirus pandemic bringing down many countries to its knees, we are once again, reminded of the centrality of health in our everyday life and its significance in the developmental paradigm. Many will agree that a key prerequisite of any economic or social advancement, is the health and wellbeing of the population.
If we were to scan the evolution of health systems, be it public, private or a mixed model, many have in the past and continue to advocate that, health must be protected, and promoted for a vibrant and sustainable development. Fortunately, in Bhutan, health has always been a basic human right, enshrined in our Constitution and compassionately sculpted over many decades by our successive Monarchs.
These days, when many countries are strategising and working with the health industries and insurance companies on how and to what extent the cost of pandemic should be covered by the states, for a Bhutanese, worrying about insurance coverage and out of pocket expenditure for health services is an alien dilemma. Even during this unprecedented time, everything, from facility quarantine to treatment to recovery is fully borne by the state. For a nation with the smallest economy of barely USD 3 Billion GDP, and now spending half of its per capita GDP on protecting its citizen from coronavirus pandemic, yet again Bhutan reaffirms the value that health is happiness for its people.
It is not an easy decision for any government, if we were to randomly pick people along the main street of Thimphu city and ask their thoughts on the impact of coronavirus, it is fair to conclude that given a choice between life and livelihood, it will always be life for many, but with the precondition that you have a social safety net to protect you and your loved once from economic adversity.
During other times, we have, the so called “market forces” to achieve that social and economic wellbeing equilibrium, but today, due to the unprecedented circumstances, tough choices must be made, within a short span of time. In doing so, a path must be decided, a path between economy and health, life and livelihood, so on and so forth. These choices for any government is the toughest decision, simply because the decision not only has a bearing on the individual life, but the lives of many and, ultimately the “health” of the nation.
Although, to an average person it seems simple, but the deeper we look, there are web of issues that needs thoughtful consideration and microscopic analysis. Take the economy as an example, immediately the current pandemic presents a new variety of instability and disharmony that can be triggered by an economic recession like the Great Depression of the 1930s and then there is the uncertainty of the future, is there an end to this pandemic? Experts around the world agrees that the “ Global economy” itself is on a ventilator, how and in what manner it will be weaned out is yet to be predicted; some say it may recover rapidly (V-shaped); some say it may be in a staggered manner over few years (U-shaped); and some are adamant that we are in for a long haul (L-shaped); BUT only time will tell.
Never did we imagine a pneumonia of unknown cause reported to the World Health Organisation on the eve of new year would inflict great illness, death, and instability in most communities across the world. These days no one can escape from the grimness of the daily news; sometimes we hear that the infection curve is flattening in places, spiking in others, and curving in some, where we stand is hard to predict. While we would like to be optimistic and true to the facts, it is not always easy, given what the science tells us and reality of inevitable.
Thus, in this era of uncertainty, leadership is the lifeline. Leadership may be hard to define, but in times of crisis it is easy to find, and it is impartial to say that, exemplary leadership will steer the ship forward in the ocean of turmoil. Beyond politics, economics and science lie qualities of character, manifested in the leadership that governs at the time of crisis. We Bhutanese that way, has always been blessed with benevolent Kings, our pinnacle of admiration and hope.
Recognising the multidimensional effects and needs of the society, His Majesty was quick to respond to the calling of everyday Bhutanese through the Kidu programme, rendering immediate relief to the most affected individuals and families. His Majesty The King at the helm of this pandemic provided the much needed guidance. His Majesty said, “We must exhibit the strength that comes out of our smallness, remain united and support one another. During such exceptional circumstances, the government will take the responsibility of alleviating any suffering to the people due to the virus”. The key words such as united, support one another and responsibility are values that are imbedded in the intrinsic fabric of our society and once again sets Bhutan apart from the world during this pandemic.
We hear global leaders talk about “whole of government” approach, but unique to Bhutan is “whole of society” approach, under the singular unifying forces of our love and respect for our Kings. Boosting the epidemiological response, we have a social resolute; people from all walks of life, from every sectors and communities coming together to collectively protect our country from coronavirus. Where government is falling short, civil societies and private sectors have delivered, most going beyond the traditional mandates and shouldering extra responsibility. Farmers giving up their annual harvest to feed the people in quarantines, thousands of monks chanting for peace, youths walking miles to guard our borders, elderly turning the prayer wheels for solidarity, every one of us is playing our part to protect our country, that to me is the vaccine that will for sure keep us SAFE.
Bhutan is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2020, an increase of 24 places in two years, according to a new analysis by Yale and Columbia universities.
In the South Asian region, Bhutan has ranked first followed by Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
This year’s EPI provides a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world.
The EPI ranks countries using 32 performance indicators across 11 issue categories and two policy objectives— environmental health and ecosystem vitality. It features new metrics that gauge waste management, carbon dioxide emissions from land cover change, and emissions of fluorinated gases –important drivers of climate change.
Denmark topped the list with 82.5 percent and Liberia at 180th with 22.6 percent. Bhutan has scored 39.3 percent.
While the country’s performance in ecosystem vitality was one of the best in the region along with solid waste management, the performance was poor in issue categories such as air quality, sanitation and drinking water and heavy metals.
Within 10 years, Bhutan marked vast change in protected areas representativeness index, grassland loss and methane gas growth rate. The large decrease was observed in Carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas intensity and Sulphur dioxide growth rate.
Meanwhile, India, with notably poor health outcomes from air quality and other environmental risks, comes in near the bottom of the rankings. The report stated that the air quality continues to plague China, although its recent pollution control and other environmental investments have helped it climb to 120th place, 48 places ahead of India’s 168th ranking.
The lowest scores of the report are those countries like Liberia, Myanmar, and Afghanistan struggling with weak governance. “Low EPI scores suggest a need for national sustainability efforts on a number of fronts, including air and water pollution, biodiversity protection, and the transition to a clean energy future.”
The highest-ranked country stands out in solid waste management, with all of nation’s waste being recycled, composted, or incinerated. Denmark, for instance, leads the world in its programmes to tackle climate change, including a recently announced target of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030.
Since 2006, the EPI is released biannually by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University.
The results were declared on the world environment day, June 5.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the natural resources market mainly for timber and boulders as demand remains low.
The Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) officials said after selling 671,918.92 cubic feet (cft) of timber including spillover from last year, NRDCL still has 507,248.84cft in its stock as of the first quarter this year.
General manager with the forest resources division, Deo Kumar Biswa said, “Those customers who put requisitions for timber hoping that they can manage their labour and capital are also deferring their orders.”
NRDCL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Sonam Wangchuk said that to upscale the production, resources would be diverted to other production. He said that if there is a low demand for raw timber, it would be used to make panelling, flooring and window shutters, which would be used by people at some point.
Officials said that the demand for boulders in the domestic market is also minimal and the requirement is only for stone chips (gravels) for construction of roads and playgrounds.
The surplus boulders are exported to generate revenue for the country. However, the CEO said that with the lockdown in India and closure of border gates, the export of boulders has stopped leading to huge stockpiling of stones in Gelephu.
To sell the surplus stones, NRDCL is studying the requirements in the local market including government projects.
CEO of NRDCL, however, said that demand of sand from Tshokhana extraction site in Wangdue was high.
“The demand for sand now is similar to 2019. This is mainly because sand is highly regulated as there is a limitation at the source.”
The sand extracted from Tshokhana caters to the customers from Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Haa, Trongsa, Bumthang, Wangdue, Tsirang and Gasa.
As of May this year, 249,711.56m3 (cubic metre) of sand was extracted and 276,117.37m3 sold in the market.
To achieve its mandate of equitable distribution and increase the accessibility of quality natural resources, NRDCL has allocated various sand extraction sites in the country.
Sonam Wangchuk said that the high transportation cost to ferry sand from these far-flung extraction sites discourages customers. He said that the company made efforts to bring sand from Gelephu to the Tshokhana site in order to make sand available.
However, customers did not buy the Gelephu sand, as the sand from Wangdue was much cheaper. “We’re discussing with the natural resource pricing committee to come up with one price for all commodities,” he added.
The transportation cost from Wangdue extraction site to Semtokha in Thimphu is Nu 6,979, which takes into account the distance covered in kilometres and cost of per cubic meter of sand (Nu 13.63).