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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 35 min 15 sec ago

Gewogs request for fire fighting engine 

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 11:46

Tshering Namgyal  

Given the frequent fire incidents that cause huge property losses and threaten lives,  local leaders in Mongar proposed a firefighting engine for the gewogs in the Drametse-Ngatshang demkhong.

At the recent Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), Ngatshang Gup Ugyen Yangzom said that the house fire incidences in the region are increasing every year and a fire engine at the Yadi police station would benefit residents immensely by saving property and lives.

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A recent fire incident at Yadi town engulfed three three-storey traditional buildings leaving eight families homeless. “If there was a fire fighting engine on time, it could have helped save properties.”

Ugyen Yangzom said a fire fighting facility at Yadi would benefit the seven neighbouring gewogs like Sherimung, Balam, Chaskhar, Thangrong, Drametse and Narang.

Sherimung Gup Dorji, who was present during the fire incident at Yadi, said the fire fighting engines from Mongar, Trashigang, and Lhuentse took about two hours to reach the site.

“We could have saved many things if these engines reached on time,” he said.

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Mongar Police informed the DT that they were also concerned about the issue and stated that they submitted a request for an engine to the RBP headquarters. “The need is genuine and we are hopeful it would come,” a police officer said.

DT Chairperson Karma Sonam Wangchuk said firefighting engines would help contain forest fires near settlements as well which have become rampant recently in the region.

The DT resolved to submit the resolution to the RBP headquarters.

Facing the danger

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 11:45

Wearing face mask has been made mandatory in Phuentsholing. And the people are complaining that they are being unnecessarily inconvenienced. We understand the views as they come from the people who have had to endure protracted lockdowns and service delivery gaps that unfortunately ensued in the wake of a dangerous and faceless enemy.

What the people must understand is that the focus of the State and the government is to ensure that Covid-19 infection, which is very much present even after more than two years, is still around. In fact, new and more dangerous variants are coming that could have us in a more difficult situation.

Not just in Phuentsholing, this requirement to wear face masks should be made mandatory in all the major town and city centres. Take the case of Thimphu, Bhutan’s biggest city. Except for schools, face mask is not a requirement anywhere.

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To put the situation in the right perspective, we are inching closer to opening our borders again after a long shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the pandemic and its threats are still around. Many countries are fighting a new surge of the virus.

Closer home, in India, Covid-19 positive cases are rising at an alarming rate. On July 28, of the 189 samples collected in Phuentsholing, 10 tested positive. After Covid-19-related protocols were done away with on April 4, some 11,340 foreign workers had to undergo quarantine requirements.

The Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF) has said that there is an increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases among foreign workers and Bhutanese returnees. Positive cases are also being detected in the community.

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And we now are faced with another major health problem—monkeypox. Positive cases are rising in the neighbouring countries.

In an ever-shrinking world, keeping oneself cocooned inside a safety net is impossible. With greater connectivity today, we are forced to accept both blessings and bane that come with modernisation. Hardly has Covid-19 left us and a new problem has us looking for more safety measures.

We may be a small country hidden deep in the pockets of the mighty Himalayas but what happens at Wall Street and squabbles in a continent far away has an impact on the way we live.

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Maintaining good personal hygiene, wearing face mask, and being aware of the signs and symptoms of diseases affecting us is important, today more than ever.

If these simple measures can protect us from the diseases that continue to threaten our lives, we ought to be grateful that the State and the government are taking measures to bolster our safety net.

Bhutanese chess players display ‘good performance’ at Olympiad

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 11:44

Thinley Namgay 

Bhutanese men’s chess players drew 2-2 against Palau yesterday in the ongoing 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India.

Bhutan earned 2.5 points from the six games played to date.

Suk Raj Monger and Bhakta Bahadur Monger won yesterday. However, three women players lost to Ghana’s players.

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Bhutan couldn’t win in the first and second games.

On July 30, the women’s team played against Malta and Sonam Choden earned the first point for Bhutan. She drew against Psaila Uranchimeg, a candidate master player, and managed half a point. In a game of chess, the winner gets one point, and in the case of a draw, half a point is awarded to both teams.

Kenya defeated the men’s team on July 30. Suk Raj Monger lost to Ben Namale, who is rated 1,962 and the second highest rated player from Kenya’s open team, after 69 moves. The average game of chess is 40 moves.

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On July 29, Bhutan’s men played against El Salvador and lost despite a ‘good performance’. El Salvador has a strong team with all four players who are   Master rated – three international masters and a  federation master.

Team Captain Palden said: “At the end of the match, the El Salvador team stated that the Bhutan team played very well.”

The women’s team lost to Montenegro on July 29, which had an international master player.

Captain Palden said that for its first international appearance the women’s team displayed a strong performance.

The current tournament follows a non-eliminating tournament format which features a fixed number of rounds or competitions, less than the round-robin tournament.

Focus point

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:29

Poor service for high-end ambitions

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:29

Visitors say Bhutan has to buck up to meet USD 200 a day expectations or will backfire 

Dechen Dolkar 

If tourists are to get the “high-value” experience, worth the USD 200 they pay for a day and the country wants to be a high-end destination, there is a lot to do on the grounds.

This is the observation those coming to Bhutan, including Bhutanese, are making although they have not complained officially. The complaints range from chatting air hostesses without greeting passengers, some of whom are the first point of contact to Bhutan,  to confusions and unintended harassment at the Paro International airport, which visitors feel would be reasons for quick backfire if not improved before the international borders are opened on September 23.

A Bhutanese coming home for a break from the US on July 24 said that services at the airport are not ready for high-end tourism. “Procedure for arrival is not user-friendly,” he said. “I am a Bhutanese used to our system, yet I was frustrated by the delay and the confusion,” he said.

A common complaint is on the Nu 500 Covid-testing fee. Visitors or those coming home are not informed about the fee, which had to be paid in Ngultrum in cash or electronically. “I had Thai Baht and INR, but they refused it and had to change,” said the Bhutanese passenger.

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“The process is chaotic without any ground staff to  direct passengers. It took more than one hour to come out from the airport.”

The Bhutanese travelling with his family of five said that the confusion could make some people avoid the “Test and go” Covid-19 testing. “They put an ink mark on my finger before I was tested. My wife got it after she completed her test. This is confusing,” he said.

A foreigner visiting Bhutan for work was shocked with the crowd at the airport.  “The airport could be the super-spreader spot if services are not managed and improved,” he said. The foreigner who had not tested for Covid-19 said that if one passenger was positive, everybody would get the disease. “It is so crowded – skin to skin crowd – when we wait to be tested,” he said.

As passengers are put through the test and go regime, claiming baggage is another problem. With all passengers held for the Covid test, baggage are unloaded from the carousel  and dumped on the floors. “This is another place where people crowd to identify their belongings.”

The foreigner who had arranged a pick-up was shocked when he was asked the license and phone number of the driver besides asking to pay the fee in Ngultrums. “We can’t get Ngultrum outside Bhutan,” he exclaimed. Luckily he had enough from his last trip to Bhutan.

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The visitor also said that after 24 hours of quarantine, authorities didn’t inform him about the test result although in the form it is mentioned that they would be contacted for the test results.

“I called the toll-free number 112 to ask about my test results the next evening,” the foreigner said. “At least the person on the phone was helpful and efficient.”

Feedback welcomed. Improvements made

Director general (DG) of the Department of Air Transport Authority, Karma Wangchuk, acknowledged the inconvenience passengers encountered at the arrival hall. He said that they are already working to improve services.

On July 28, the airport Covid taskforce conducted a meeting and made the process simpler and faster.

“We noticed that passengers were encountering inconvenience,” the DG said, adding that from July 28, the process and formalities are simplified and become systematic.

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The department has identified counters for foreign exchange so that passengers and tourists can exchange money to pay for the Covid test. A second counter is identified for submitting forms and details for home quarantine and paying for the Covid test. The third is to collect the test kits and the last for submitting samples. “From there the passengers can directly go to the immigration counter and checkout,” he said.

Karma Wangchuk said that each counter will be managed by five to six de-suups to assist the passengers.

He said that they have already made changes to the infrastructure where tourists will experience something different from other international airports with art galleries.

Our vision is to improve services and provide the best services to the passengers,” he said. Karma Wangchuk said that now the staff at the frontline will be trained for service delivery like greeting, being polite and assisting the passengers.

The authority is also targeting to improve efficiency so that the last passenger will check out in 30 minutes.

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Another initiative is to screen luggage as soon as it comes out from the aircraft and before it is loaded on conveyor belts to save time and congestion.

The authority is also working on health declaration forms for monkeypox and will made available online. Passengers wishing to travel to Bhutan have to declare before they embark the aircraft.

Passengers are also informed through SMS about their Covid-19 result whether it is negative or positive by 5 PM the next day.

The airport authority has also decided to create an agency where taxis will be arranged for passengers who do not have vehicles. Around four to five taxis will be identified. They will be tested every week and monitored.

Elderly can give blood samples at home

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:27

… as part of a pilot project in Thimphu 

Staff Reporter

The Kidu Mobile Medical Unit will collect blood samples of elderly residents of Thimphu, who are over 70 years, from August 1, 2022 in a pilot project for better care of the elderly.

The initiative stems from Royal Command granted to the Kidu Mobile Medical Unit (KMMU) to assist the national healthcare system in taking some healthcare services to the homes of elderly citizens so that they need not visit the hospital multiple times.

KMMU has partnered with the health ministry’s Elderly Care Programme and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) for the project. Blood tests are the most commonly prescribed among follow-up tests, and often require patients to visit the hospital multiple times.

Elderly patients required to do blood tests by a consulting physician have the option of registering with the JDWNRH Lab focal for the at-home collection of samples. Registration may be done over the phone by calling 17363418.

The blood sample collection team will visit homes from 6am to 9am.

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The project will be evaluated for replication in other parts of the country with larger populations, where hospital visits may be encumbered by long waiting times and especially difficult for the elderly.

Taktsang prepares for tourists

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:27

DeSuung Takshel starts improving the trail and build infrastructure 

Dechen Dolkar 

Visitors to the Tiger’s nest or the Taktsang monastery, a popular tourist site in the country, will see major changes as the country prepares to welcome tourists from September this year.

DeSuung Takshel, a collaboration between the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and DeSuung, has begun improving infrastructure and services along the Taktsang trail to provide better experiences to visitors to the 7th century monastery.

The trail along the two-hour long trek to the monastery had come under criticism from visitors for the smell from horse dung and the unkept trail and lack of toilets. There are three drinking water stations with each station fitted with three taps. The taps are dry.

DeSuung Takshel will not only fix such issues, but also plans to make a trip to the monastery an unforgettable experience. According to a TCB official, improvement works under the project include enhancing and maintaining the trails, renovation of infrastructure such as restrooms, gazebos, and bridges along the trail. Alternative routes will be explored and developed if required.

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The difference is already visible at the base of Taktsang where about 300 de-suups already made the area spotless by clearing and cleaning the area. For the enhancement of the Taktsang trail, a total of 443 de-suups are engaged.

The TCB official said that the Department of Culture in consultation with the dzongkhag administration and TCB has developed a management plan for Taktsang and associated heritage including a master plan at the Taktsang base. He said that the enhancement will focus on Taktsang trail and associated facilities on waste management awareness and cleaning campaigns, improving horse marshaling area and of trail sections, maintenance of restrooms and drinking water stations and demolishing semi-permanent infrastructure. The semi-permanent basement area of Taktsang is also being dismantled.

TCB and DeSuung Takshel will similarly take up other popular trek routes and heritage sites and engage more De-suups.

In the master plan is the construction of new infrastructures such as ticket and information counter, VIP lounge, administration office, restrooms, storage space, horse marshaling area and car parking enough to accomodate 150 cars. “The objective is to deliver a holistic and quality service to the visitors,” said the official.  

The total budget for the Taktsang project is estimated at Nu 0.814M and will be completed by the first week of September.

Public transport fares up from August 1

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:26

… the revision is the highest so far

Thukten Zangpo 

Fares of public transport will increase from August 1, the second revision of the year.

A taxi ride from Thimphu to Paro will cost Nu 324 which is an increase of Nu 27 from the existing fare. If a passenger travels in a coaster bus on the same route the fare will be Nu 218 from the current fare of Nu 142.

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) revises fares twice a year, in February and August.

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An official from the transport management division in RSTA, Ugyen Norbu, said that there would be an increase of 14 percent to 56 percent which is the highest revision so far. “Fare depends on the type of vehicles and route.”

He said that the increase in the passenger fare was mainly because of a 37 percent increase in fuel price. “The cost of repair and maintenance also doubled over the past six months.”

A litre of petrol was Nu 76.67 in Thimphu as of January this year which increased to Nu 92.92 today. Similarly, a litre of diesel is Nu 109.78 now from Nu 72.24 in January.

While revising the fare, Ugyen Norbu said that the authority looks into three parameters-capital costs, variable costs, and fixed costs under 27 different dimensions.

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He added that capital costs include the cost of a vehicle, insurance, vehicle registration, scrap value of the vehicle, and business income tax.

While variable costs look into average fuel price over six months, repair and maintenance, tyre maintenance, mileage, administrative and communication cost, rental for ticket counter, and ticket printing cost. Fixed cost takes into account the drivers’ salary.

Considering all three parameters, Ugyen Norbu said that the authority kept the 10 percent profit margin for operators.

He added that passengers complain about the unfair fare charged by taxi drivers, however, the authority is helpless since they cannot track the driver or route. “If GPS is installed in the passenger vehicles, there will be no argument.”

The authority plans to install a global positioning system (GPS) in all passenger buses and taxis. Currently, the authority is working with the bus operators to install the system.

Reality check

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:25

The expectations are high with Bhutan announcing the opening of its borders and a revamped tourism sector including the sustainable development fee of USD200 per person per day.

Not many, except those in the tourism and allied businesses, are complaining about the rates. It has heightened the expectation of the visitors. They feel there is something special, something high-end to experience in the little hermit kingdom, as many call us. 

With less than two months to re-open our borders to tourists, there is so much to do to live up to the expectation and not let the decision backfire. What is touted on paper and what is happening on the ground is not matching as of today. Those returning home and the few visitors are already complaining of services at the airport. This is bad. 

For many, the Bhutanese experience begins at the airport. Physically, the Paro International Airport wears a new look. The airport has been transformed into a national aviation facility with a unique identity. The airport is an introduction to the country. The paintings, photographs, boutique shops, new furnishings and the corner where visitors can experience Bhutan by painting mounted traditional masks, postcards, and canvases as well as personal stamps gives visitors a whole new experience on arrival or while they wait to depart.

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However, it is the time, the confusion and the bureaucratic procedures to get to the lounge and relax or get rid of the jetlag that many are not happy with. Going by the few complaints reaching the authorities, airport services are still disorganised. From not maintaining physical distances while waiting for service to having to run around to exchange a few hundred ngultrums and not organising the test and go facility, visitors are sceptical as to whether the high-end or high-value ambitions could be met.

After all the hype and the risks we are willing to take, the policy of high-value, low-volume should not backfire. That will be an embarrassment. If the intention is to let the benefits from tourism trickle down to all Bhutanese, we should improve our services.

The ground reality is a little different . Visitors are complaining about issues that we can resolve with or without much investment. If tourists concerned by the risk of Covid-19 have to fight crowds to get their papers done at the airport, it would be the first and last impression of their travel to Bhutan. If they have to remember the driver’s name and licence number, run from counter to counter to change USD10 to pay the test fee, they will regret coming.

If they can come out of the airport with some patience, it should not be tested by the pothole-ridden roads or lack of decent restrooms on the way to Thimphu or Punakha. After years of talking about investing in infrastructure, what we have, for instance between Paro and Thimphu, is a toilet that was built by a non-profit organisation.

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Arriving in the capital city is a disaster. There are barking or fighting dogs  to keep a tourist awake all night after a tiring journey on bad roads. There will be a few who would enjoy the difference, but many would complain for not having basic infrastructure in place. Some guides say that they have to drive tourists  to the hotel just to use the bathroom because the public ones are in a terrible state.

There is time still and there are initiatives. Improving the trail to Taktsang monastery, building restrooms, and improving hygiene are some of the initiatives. This could help even if these are considered basic amenities in countries that do not charge anything to tourists for visiting their country.

If we are to live up to the expectations, there are many things to do. Time is running out.

Of consequences- positive drug tests in schools

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:24

The initiative of random drug tests in schools, including teachers, is a great initiative—one of the viable preventive methods. However, there is anxiety among students and teachers alike about the consequences if they test positive. In 2020, “an estimated 284 million people worldwide aged 15–64, the majority of whom were men, had used a drug ” and Bhutan is no exception. While Section 85 of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act (Amendment 2018) allows drug testing as per the rules, the rules and regulations are not available for public view. Such test protocols must be accessible to the public to prevent any abuse of such procedures or authorities while conducting the tests.

Drug tests in schools should not be used as a means to incarcerate or punish students and teachers. The Center for Disease Control in the United States defines “addiction as a disease, not a character flaw. People suffering from substance use disorders have trouble controlling their drug use even though they know drugs are harmful.”  Therefore, merely using or being addicted is not a criminal offence but a disease requiring medical and social assistance, not punishment. The studies showed that “stigma is the biggest challenge in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addiction.”  Evidence suggests, society thinks “it is their fault, and judges them, shames them, and punishes them.” Instead,  compassion, empathy, social reintegration programs, and the incorporation of drug abuse discussion in the education system are considered the most effective preventive methods.

 Section 40 of the NDPSSA Act permits the voluntary submission where drug users submit to authorities or hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation and are protected from criminalization. Sections 114 and 115 of the Penal Code waive any criminal liability of a child of 12 years or below, and those above twelve years and below 18 years, only a “minimum of half of the sentence prescribed for the offence.”

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Section 153 of the NDPSSA Act provides opportunities to correct a child in conflict of law for the offence of substance abuse if they are above twelve years and less than 18 years old. The “first-time offence” is liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than three months after being assessed by Treatment Assessment Panel (TAP) or one-month counseling if he or she does not require treatment or rehabilitation, or both. The second time for not less than six months. Third time for not less than one year and fourth time for a misdemeanor in addition to rehabilitation and treatment and also community service.” Section 154 gives a similar opportunity to the child below 12 years without any criminal liability.

Further Section 50 of the NDPSSA Act makes it clear that “any drug dependant person who has completed treatment or served sentence shall be given equal opportunities for jobs and other opportunities to help assimilate into the mainstream.” Therefore, any legal action against those 18 years or more must not violate this provision.

The scientific evidence has repeatedly shown that easy access and affordability of alcohol and tobacco significantly contribute to the use of harder drugs, particularly among children and youth. The government’s efforts to make both tobacco and alcohol easily accessible and affordable everywhere must be made equally accountable for increasing drug use among our children and for failing to act in the interest of the future of our children.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

Facemasks compulsory in Phuentsholing

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:24

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Wearing facemasks has been made mandatory in Phuentsholing.

The Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF) announced this on July 28.

The task force said that an increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases are being reported from foreign workers and Bhutanese returnees. Positive cases have also been detected from the community. SC19TF also pointed out that there was an increasing threat of monkeypox as cases in the neighbouring countries.

On July 28, a total of 10 positive cases were reported in Phuentsholing out of 189 samples collected. Since all the Covid-19 related protocols were done away with on April 4 this year, a total of 11,340 foreign workers have been put into quarantine facilities.

Pema, a resident, said that wearing masks in the heat was troublesome.

“I don’t feel like wearing them. Considering the Covid-19 threat, wearing masks is for our own good but there are not so many cases. So I think it’s okay not to wear a mask.”

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A shopkeeper, Dilraj Biswa, said: “Not even five percent of people are wearing masks. The sales have dropped. Although the notification has been there, I think not many know it’s compulsory.”

He said that he sold about 10 face masks yesterday. He used to sell at least 20 pieces a day.

A transporter, who travels regularly between Thimphu and Phuentsholing, Ngawang Tenzin, said most Phuentsholing residents don’t wear masks.

“They are probably thinking the Covid-19 virus is gone,” he said. “But people are still getting infected.”

Ngawang said face masks are the best safety measure available.

Most people in the town said that they had to go through many difficulties during the peak of the pandemic because of the prolonged restrictions as Phuentsholing town is a cross border town. They also point out that making masks compulsory at this time is pointless as people have been moving everywhere freely without masks for the last two months already.

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“The virus must have infected every household; many people are complaining of sore throats and runny noses these days. It could also be due to the monsoon,” one resident said.

De-suups and Royal Bhutan Police conducted an awareness programme yesterday.

Lhamoidzingkha awaits approval for dredging activities in Kalikhola

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:23

To reduce flood risks

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Without strong barriers and retaining walls, the people of Lhamoidzingkha, Dagana live in constant fear of the swelling Sunkosh and Kalikhola rivers.

The situation worsens during monsoon.

In the recent Dagana dzongkhag tshogdu, Lhamoidzingkha Gup Surja Bhdr Limboo raised the issue stating that the challenges could be resolved if mining, quarrying, and dredging activities are allowed in Kalikhola river.

The gup said that the river has affected peoples’ livelihoods by damaging irrigation canals and eroding aquicultural land.  The barriers against the river, he said, did not work as the river changes its course.

In the past, Surja Bdhr said that public gave clearance to the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) with an agreement that NRDCL would build a river barrier.

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“But even after two years, they couldn’t build it. This year, the public refused to give clearance to NRDCL,” he added.

To reduce risks, the gup said that the gewog administration had submitted a proposal to the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) to allow dredging activities in the area.

The gup claimed that although the DoFPS’s director with a team from the department visited the site for surveys, the gewog administration is yet to hear from the department. “We have submitted the required documents to the department. The forest range office in Lhamoidzingkha said that they did not receive any directives yet.”

A source at the DoFPS said that they are currently reviewing the proposal.

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Meanwhile, the residents said that with inevitable risks of flash floods, the situation has worsened over the years. “Our land is rapidly eroding and homes may get washed away,” one said.

Another resident said that during monsoon, her family lives in constant fear of getting wiped out by flash floods. “It is not safe.”

Pandemic enhances cross-border electricity trade

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:22

…Tariff benefits India

Albeit the contraction of Bhutanese economy by 10 percent with Covid-19 pandemic hitting all major sectors of the economy, 2020 was a big year for the energy sector in Bhutan, the obvious reason being commissioning of Mangdechhu hydroelectric project and improved hydrology.

However, there is one more aspect to it. The domestic demand of electricity slumped by 14 percent mainly due to the disruption in the manufacturing sector caused by the pandemic. This means that the Bhutan exported more electricity across the border since the power purchase agreements between India and Bhutan guarantees the market for excess electricity that Bhutan generates, after meeting its local demand.

According to Bhutan Power Corporation’s (BPC) annual report, domestic sales dropped by 14 percent from 2,280 million units (GWhr) in 2019 to 1,961 million units in 2020. This is largely attributed to Covid-19 pandemic resulting in subdued demand from High Voltage, Medium Voltage, and Low Voltage bulk consumers, as industrial consumption continues to dominate the domestic load at 72 percent. 

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While the Druk Green Power Corporation, the generating company saw a growth of 30 percent increase in generation, from about 8,600 million units to 11,300 million units of electricity, it is primarily due to the commission of the Mangdechhu project. Subsequently, BPC wheeled about 9,200 million units in 2020 to India, an increase from 6,163.19 MU in the previous year. 

Taking the Mangdechhu project out of the equation, DGPC has still generated 7,628 million units of energy in 2020. Now this is attributed to the improved hydrology and consequential increase in generation from Tala, Chhukha, Kurichhu and Basochhu hydropower plants. Excluding Mangdechhu,  a significant increase of 10 percent was observed from the generation units compared to 5 percent in the previous year.

In consideration to increased generation and subdued domestic load, the country’s export of electricity has reached a record high, earning INR 27 billion in 2020 from INR 16 billion in 2021. Even without Mangdechhu, export of electricity could have easily fetched INR 18 billion.

Since the entire generation from Mangdechhu is allocated for export, its tariff being almost double to that of Chukha and Tala, it garnered adequate INR earnings for the country.

However, in the face of growing energy demand, particularly when industrial parks are being developed in the country, the DGPC projected that the local demand will shoot up to more than 7,500 million units by 2025 and about 2,100 million units of energy has to be drawn from Mangdechhu to meet local demand. 

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If there is no capacity addition in power generation, as the local demand for power increase in the near future, export volume will eventually drop.

However, Bhutan’s competitive advantage for its industries is to access cheap electricity and this has been the only reason why many power intensive industries have been set up along the southern foothills of Bhutan close to the Indian border. The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India allows Bhutanese industries to export their finished goods to a large market in India with relatively lower import tariffs compared to other countries. 

It is also estimated that for every unit of energy sold to energy intensive industries, there is a value addition of about Nu 7 to the GDP. On the other hand, export tariff is much lower than that of energy market in India. 

This gives India the benefit of investing in Bhutanese hydropower projects and India stands to gain whenever Bhutan generates excess electricity. According to the tariff records from Power Trading Corporation of India (PTC), Bhutan’s electricity is far cheaper than those generated by other distributors within India.

For instance, as per the PTC’s energy pricing for the month of April this year, the Andhra Pradesh government bought power at INR 11.3 a unit from SembCorp Energy India Ltd. in the same state. The cheapest energy comes from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Odisha, mostly harnessed from renewables and some thermal plants. However, the selling price, even for renewable energy is at least INR 3.5 per unit, making hydropower from Chukha and Tala cheaper. 

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In comparison to hydropower plants in India, where the minimum tariff starts from INR 5 per unit, power from Chukha and Tala are sold in the Indian market at INR 2.59 and INR 2.27 per unit, respectively. Records from PTC show that Tala and Chukha plants in Bhutan makes electricity cheaper in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Sikkim, Bihar, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. This is as per the form IV published by the PTC on monthly basis highlighting the source and destination of power and reflecting both selling and purchasing price.

On the other hand, Mangdechhu’s tariff is bit higher at a little over INR 4 per unit but it is still competitive in the Indian power exchange. The Indian side stands to gain from the pre-fixed tariff for certain period of time, facilitating price predictability and that too determined at the cost plus model. 

This in turn, gives hydropower loan a self-liquidating and INR generator status on the Bhutanese side, while Indian side harnesses the benefits of cheap power. However, increasing cost of construction of upcoming hydropower plants and subsequent increase in tariff may deter India.

Contributed by

Tshering Dorji

The story is being covered by the Institute of 

Happiness for a research conducted on the effects of cross border energy trade

Managing toxic landfill leachates in dumpsites across Bhutan

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:21

In 2019, Bhutan generated more than 172 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, based on a national solid waste inventory survey conducted by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB). Thimphu alone generated 51 metric tons of waste every day, including both dry and wet waste. Currently, municipal solid waste (MSW) across Bhutan is generally dumped into landfills, which are literally open dumpsites with limited engineering designs to mitigate against environmental consequences. As per the National Environment Commission (NEC) records in 2019, Bhutan has about 25 open dumpsites and a majority of them lack a leachate management system. Thus, new landfill development needs to consider the incorporation of leachate collection and subsequent treatment systems, while new landfill sites could be better designed to cope with such challenges. 

Hydrological linkage of Memelakha landfill to nearby water bodies

Landfill leachate is generated as a result of rainwater percolation through solid waste disposed of in a landfill, as well as the moisture present in the waste and the degradation products of residues. The subsurface water flows could also contribute to leachate production when waste directly comes in contact with the land surface. Landfill leachates are highly polluted liquids containing high amounts of toxic and carcinogenic compounds. The flow of the toxic liquid into the nearest water bodies and soil is known to pose adverse effects on human health and the environment. Research conducted else in 2022 also identified landfill leachates as a significant source of emerging contaminants in Bhutan for which there are no data. Emerging contaminants are chemicals of natural or synthetic origin that have been recently discovered and are not commonly monitored, therefore the risk from our landfill leachates cannot be undercut. 

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Despite those significant risks, Bhutan currently has minimal field monitoring data to evaluate the seepage of the toxic leachate from the existing landfills. For example, leachate from Memelakha landfill in Thimphu is likely to discharge into the nearby Olarongchu stream based on hydrogeological mapping indicating fractures and schist layers dipping 31° toward the northeast. However, it is unclear how much leachate is present and at what rate it moves. Limited studies on the estimation of leachate generation from landfills across the country limit our understanding of better designing our landfills and their management systems. The leachate composition is also significantly influenced by the waste composition and local environmental conditions. Thus, this article suggests the first critical steps needed to be undertaken for managing landfill leachates in dumpsites across the country. 

The site selection for new dumpsites needs to incorporate more scientific hydro-geological baseline studies with due consideration to landfill leachate, gas emissions, slope stability, and odour control. Many dumpsites across the country are often located on hilltops which further increases the risks of pollution as leachate flows downhill. Research conducted by Choden et al. (2020) estimated that by the end of the year 2050, the Memelakha landfill in Thimphu would accumulate more than 27.8 million metric tons of MSW, thus accumulating tons of MSW on a hillside could leach significant amounts of toxic and carcinogenic compounds with both short-term and long-term risk to public health. Many of those toxic compounds are known to cause cancer if consumed by drinking polluted water or through products grown in polluted soil (Parvin & Tareq, 2021). Locating the landfill sites upstream of a stream that flows through the city as in the case of Olarongchu should be avoided in case of construction of new landfills. Currently, there are limited investigations into potential threats to downstream water users along Olarongchu or any other water sources that could be polluted by the landfill leachate generated by Memelakha landfill. 

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Next, comprehensive baseline data on the chemical composition and quantity of landfill leachates needs to be established across all landfill sites. Few landfill sites which have been under operation for a long time could be targeted to start with. This is a piece of critical information for the next phase of leachate treatment systems. A strategy to manage the risk from leachate could be designed using baseline information such as the chemical contents of the leachate generated from landfills at different locations. 

Lastly, the plans for the development of the leachate treatment systems are urgently needed, because the leachate once collected at the landfill sites needs to be treated accordingly before releasing into the natural environment. The treatment systems shall be determined by the various toxic elements measured in the leachates as mentioned above. However, leachate treatment also needs to consider other factors such as maximum concentration of pollutants, field capacity, moisture content of the land field, evaporation, and runoff. These are some of the critical parameters identified by Choden et al. (2020), where a team of engineers developed a mathematical model to quantify the leachate generation based on the case study at the Perkarshing landfill site (Phuntsholing). Their model was developed with the aim to contextualize the general theory of landfill design fit for the Bhutanese context.

The article is published based on personal experiences and observations by a group of water researchers from Bhutan. The group can be contacted at waterresearchbhutan@gmail.com

Picture story

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:20

The Udzorong drinking water project in Trashigang was completed and handed over to the beneficiaries on July 24. It will benefit 442 households and 2,210 residents of four chiwogs under Udzorong gewog. Around 113 de-suups were engaged for more than 13 months to complete the project which cost Nu 28.45 million.

Homestays ready for guests

Sat, 07/30/2022 - 13:19

Chhimi Dema

There is a buzz in the Zangmo Village Homestay in Ngyenphey, Phobjikha. From afar comes the whirring of chainsaw.

The family is constructing a new toilet and bathroom next to the small lobby.

The toilet outside is inconvenient to the guests, says the homestay owner, Zangmo. 

The floor is freshly polished and the walls are painted the traditional way. The one-storey house is getting ready to receive guests.

Zangmo says that with the closure of the border, not many guests came to visit.

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“We see better days coming now. Even if international tourists do not come, we will get local visitors,” she says.

The homestay is registered with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and has been operational since 2017.

There are 158 village homestays in the country that have registered with TCB.

Homestay is an additional source of income for many families in the country. It has allowed rural communities to take advantage of modern technologies as well.

However, while some homestay owners expect good business with the increase in Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) others are worried that this might discourage guests from coming to the country.

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Passang Tobgay, 35, from Phobjikha, says that he expects more local tourists to visit his homestay.

He says that homestay is a good business to earn extra income. “But with the new SDF, I am not too sure about my income from the homestay.”

Homestay owners have mixed feelings about the increased SDF.

Dema Village Homestay’s owner, Kencho Wangdi, says that with the borders opening soon he sees two things on the way: fewer opportunities for homestay business with hotels providing standard services and more local tourists coming to homestays.

He says: “The government has increased the SDF to provide quality tourism; I am trying to improve the quality of service in my homestay.”

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For the past few months, Kencho has been renovating his homestay. The tiled toilets with washbasins, water supply, and geysers are expenditures he hopes will not go in vain.

The homestay in Paro offers experiences such as gardening or playing archery and Khuru, among others.

Kencho says he was informed that officials from the Tourism Council of Bhutan are visiting the homestay.

“The quality of services I provide will also have impact on the country’s reputation. I am giving my best to provide quality service,” he added.

One homestay owner said that before the pandemic homestay guests were mostly regional tourists. “With increase in SDF, many might not be keen to come.”

Youths draw attention to tiger conservation 

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 10:31

Chhimi Dema  

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen attended the International Youth Tiger Summit held virtually yesterday. 

Addressing the youth ambassadors, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, said: “Where tigers have vanished, the lands are barren and devoid of life forms. Put simply, the tiger is a barometer of life in our forests and, by extension, the health of our living planet.”

Youths from the 13 tiger countries presented 14 declarations to protect tigers from poaching and changing natural habitats. Their recommendations were on broad themes of addressing the loss and deterioration of tiger habitat, poaching of tigers and snaring crisis; the threat and impacts of climate change on tiger populations; and promoting human-tiger coexistence.

This declaration highlights crucial actions recommended by the youth delegates to three key stakeholders: government, communities, and individuals.

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The summit was held ahead of the next month’s inter-governmental discussions on the Global Tiger Recovery Programme that aims to reverse the rapid decline of wild tigers and double the number of wild tigers across their range by 2022.

The summit organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is hosted every 12 years during the Lunar Year of the Tiger and brings together young people from 13 tiger range countries and beyond to highlight the desperate need to protect tigers.

The first International Youth Tiger Summit was held in 2010 in Russia.

Youth delegates shared their roles in tiger conservation in their communities.

During the summit, in their attempt to save living tigers, they pledged to bring social media content promoting tiger conservation to reach a wider audience, participate in campaigns for its conservation, avoid tiger products and inform relevant officials if they see the products in the market.

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A student from the Motithang Higher Secondary School, Sonam Rinchen, also the WWF Bhutan youth ambassador, said that tigers are an essential part of the ecosystem.

“I pledge to be an ambassador of tiger conservation throughout my life. I pledge to spread awareness of tiger conservation to whomever I met,” he said.

Sonam Rinchen added that through his youth group, he aims to create awareness and call for tiger conservation in all the dzongkhags.

The summit will culminate in the presentation of the “2022 Youth Declaration for Tiger Conservation” to the Global Tiger Forum, the inter-governmental body for tiger conservation coordinating the Global Tiger Recovery Program planning for 2023 to 2034.

Zero capital budget for a biodiversity conservation agency

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 10:28

Thukten Zangpo 

The budget rationalisation has left National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests with no capital budget in the fiscal year 2022-23.

The finance ministry rationalised the budget allocation across the ministries and agencies because of limited resources available.

Until now, the centre has been receiving at least Nu 2 million (M) as capital budget every fiscal year.

NBC received Nu 25.8M as a capital budget in the fiscal year 2020-21.

The slashing of the capital budget is likely to seriously hamper Bhutan’s biodiversity conservation efforts since the country is identified as one of the biodiversity hotspots globally.

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Agriculture Secretary Thinley Namgyel said that the government was not generous as used to be in the past because of new expenditures related to Covid-19.

He added that unless it was absolutely required, the finance ministry had not approved. “And we have to prioritise.”

Thinley Namgyel said NBC has a budget for projects at Nu 6.57M from external grants from different donors.

“It is not only NBC that is singled out, because looking at all government departments, it is also the same story.”

Officials from the centre declined to share the details.

NBC, formed in 2001 was mandated to strengthen conservation initiatives and coordinate biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilisation programmes in the country.

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The centre uses the capital budget mainly for the conservation and maintenance of an inventory of animal and plant genetic resources through gene banks, live plant conservation in a botanical garden, and herbarium, among others. The centre also discovers new species.

However, with no capital budget, officials or researchers cannot go to the field for specimen collection.

The seed banks or gene banks are the country’s biodiversity asset which ensures food security if the country faces a crisis.

Sources close to the agency said that it is important to preserve and maintain the gene bank of the traditional crop varieties since these varieties are in danger of getting extinct.

It was found that the traditional crop diversity in the country has been declining due to complex factors namely urbanisation, displacement of crop varieties, and change in the cropping pattern and use of new hybrid seeds.

“The traditional crop varieties are climate resilient and would be resupplied to the farmers if the varieties become extinct,” a source said, adding that these varieties are only available in Bhutan.

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The source also said that traditional varieties are nutritious and could be exported under the banner of the brand Bhutan.

Another source said that a herbarium that maintains a repository of wild flora information is helpful for researchers, botanists, and students as a reference for the identification of plant specimens.

“If researchers go by books, they would take two to three years to identify the plants’ specimen, however, one can do it in a month from the centre’s herbarium,” the source said.

The herbarium also shows the floral diversity and geographic distribution of the plant species across the region and dzongkhags.

“With the record, it can be known whether the species has existed earlier and become extinct with habitat loss or not,” the source said, adding that decision-makers can decide from the herbarium information whether species are critically endangered, vulnerable, or threatened.

Another source also said that native animal genetics is preserved, because of the risks of getting extinct in future.

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Royal Botanical Garden, a live plant ex-situ conservation works like a rescue centre. “If a plant was extinct, it can be introduced later to a suitable site,” a source said.

Statistics show that Bhutan has 70.77 percent of the total area under forest cover and 51.44 percent secured as protected areas and biological corridors and is home to 11, 248 species of flora and fauna including 4,978 species of vascular plants, 3,511 insects, 129 mammals, 736 birds, 125 fishes, and 158 amphibians and reptiles.

Over 300 species of medicinal plants have been found at altitudes ranging from 200 to 7,800 meters above sea level.

While, in domestic biodiversity, there are more than 55 species of agricultural crops and 6 species of livestock.

Contractor’s failure worries villagers

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 10:27

Tshering Namgyal

Minjey residents are worried about not getting the second phase of Granular Sub-Base (GSB) after the contractor failed to complete the first one on time.

During the recent visit to the dzongkhag, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering told the public that the local government and the community were responsible for monitoring the work.

Minjey Gup, Jigme Tenzin Zangpo, said people are pressurizing the local leaders. He said the contractor started the work three months late and after that did not carry out the work properly.  “We did our part and I think gewog and public should not be held responsible.”

Following the announcement from the government, the gewog administration identified Budhur-Kupinyelsa chiwog to do GSB in the second phase.

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Dzongkhag Level Tender Committee (DLTC) awarded the laying of GSB of 16.5km and construction of 11.5km drainage between Minjey gewog center and Chengling to M/s. Tachog Construction Limited at Nu 29 million.

After failing to complete by October 2021, DLTC gave a time extension of three months, until January 2022.

Residents say that the progress is not so impressive.

Zham-Chengling tshogpa, Thinley Jatsho, said that with only a few workers at the site the work could prolong.

Dzongkhag has written many reminder letters to the contractor.

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Dzongkhag officials said the dzongkhag is planning to conduct the final meeting with the contractor to discuss and decide on further actions to be taken.

Budhur-Kupinyelsa tshogpa, Ugyen Chophel, said that the 7-km farm road would benefit at least 29 households of Kupinyelsa village and more than 15 households in Budhur village.

No monkeying around

Fri, 07/29/2022 - 10:26

We are inching closer by the day to opening our borders again after a long shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But we also know that the pandemic and its threats are still around. Many countries are fighting a new surge of the virus which reportedly is more infectious than the variants we have seen so far.

Wuhan, China, known around the world in early 2020 as the first place scientists detected the new coronavirus—the first city to be put under harsh restrictive measures—is under strict lockdown again.

There was a time when such troubles could easily be kept at bay. Not anymore. The world has shrunk so much since them. Greater connectivity, today, bring to our doors blessings and bane both. Hardly has Covid-19 left us and a new problem has us looking for more safety measures.

Monkeypox, a disease of global public health importance, is around the corner. Although endemic mostly in central and western Africa, cases are increasingly being reported from non-endemic countries. The World Health Organization has already declared monkeypox a global health emergency and is calling for a co-ordinated international response.

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Should we be worried about the global outbreak of monkeypox? Of course, we should be. India has already reported cases of monkeypox.

Monkeypox is a zoonosis, an extremely rare disease transmitted from animals to humans; it is recognised as a much less severe cousin of smallpox. WHO says that the situation is evolving; as surveillance expands, more cases are expected from more non-endemic countries.

Usually self-limiting, studies have shown that monkeypox may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women, or persons with health conditions.

Surveillance and rapid identification of new cases will be critically important because prevention, always, is better than cure.

What we know is that infected persons are the most significant risk factor, which is why raising awareness about risk factors and educating people about prevention measures will go a long way in reducing exposure to the virus.

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There is, as yet, no proven treatment for the virus infection, but since monkeypox is related to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine is known to also protect against monkeypox, with a greater than 85 percent efficacy, according to some reports.

We also know that the disease is preventable. As with all diseases, there is no better measure than maintaining personal hygiene and care.

It is a big relief to know that the Ministry of Health has already developed monkeypox management guidelines and the surveillance system has been activated.

More than anything else, maintaining good personal hygiene, wearing face mask and being aware of the signs and symptoms of monkeypox such as rash with blisters on the face, hands, feet, body, eyes, mouth or genitals is important. If you have a fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, muscle ache and backache, don’t wait. Seek health advice immediately.