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To criminalize or not: Our youth

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:16

We often hear about the arrest, detention, and prosecution of our youth. It is also not uncommon to hear various issues including numerous criminal offences committed by our youth. This week a report in Kuensel stated: “Two years on, youth policy revision still incomplete”.  Another one said: “Parents unhappy with how schools handle disciplinary issues.”  There were reports of disturbing videos on social media involving children in violent acts. The reports of drug use, unemployment and social problems make our youth more prone to anti-social behaviours. The issue is increasingly becoming more complex and there is a need to address these issues urgently.  

The country recorded a 95 percent increase in crime in 2018 compared to 2017; the largest number constituted those committed by youth.  Contrary to such huge number, only 39 youth got reintegrated who came in conflict with the law in the only Youth Rehabilitation Development Centre (YRDC) in the country. Childcare and Protection Act (CCPA) 2012 mandates the state to ensure “diversion and alternative sentencing, prosecution, conviction, imprisonment, stigmatization, victimization, and criminalization and facilitate social reintegration” and also protects them against the separation from their parents, unless it is imperative for the best interest of the child. This essentially means that detention, arrest or imprisonment of any child in any form must be an exception.  

But the Section 115 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 states: “If the defendant is a child of above 12 years, the court shall sentence the child in conflict with the law to a minimum of half of the sentence prescribed for the offence.”  This provision not only criminalizes youth crime but also fixes the minimum penalties in case of committing a crime.  Further, Section 5 of CCPA allows “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child as a last resort” and section 10 discriminates if the child has a criminal history that deserves initiation of prosecution.  These are a few examples, how the current legal mechanisms are conflicting and how the State is still ill-prepared in terms of addressing the youth issues.  

For example, contrary to numerous measures to protect children in conflict with the law, most detention centres across the country hardly have special places for a child in conflict with the law. Our young people are detained and treated the same as an adult person involved in a crime, violating the fundamentals of CCPA. Once they are arrested, they stay with other detainees accused of serious offences making them vulnerable.  The institutions of probation officers or protection officers remain only in the law and implementation is almost absent. Though the law was enacted as early as 2012, implementation of the law remains very weak. Except for youth unemployment, the overall scenario of our youth has never attracted political eyes. Thus, unless the government buckles up and ensures a multi-sectoral approach to address youth-related problems, the issue is likely to worsen.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

Five SDG goals likely at risk from Covid-19

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:16

Bhutan on track to achieve most SDGs 

Yangyel Lhaden

The Covid-19 pandemic that is now running into 16 months has derailed the country’s progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

A Voluntary National Review Report (VNRR) 2021 by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) found out that five goals – poverty, gender equality, decent work, and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and partnership for goals are at risk of not achieving today.

In the first VNRR 2018, it was reported that only SDG 17 (partnership for goals) was at risk. However, the report also found out that progress had been made across most SDGs under the 12th Plan (FYP).

VNRR 2021 is a collective whole society approach evident based description based on available data of Bhutan’s status in SDG implementation. The theme and structure of the report are around the theme of transformational processes that build on past achievements and draw lessons from the pandemic- as Bhutan works to “build back better” while also moving ahead towards least developed country graduation, the SDGs, and Gross National Happiness (GNH).

Compared with the first VNRR 2018, there is an improvement in data availability and level of indicators adoption in VNRR 2021. 93 out of 247 indicators are fully adopted which is an increase of 38 percent compared with 2018 and indicators that are relevant but not adapted have dropped to 30 percent (74 indicators) from 44 percent (107 indicators) in VNRR 2018.

SDGs are accessed by 231 unique indicators.

Senior Planning Officer with GNHC, Phurba, said that in collaboration with National Statistics Bureau (NSB)- Dewa Platform an integrated dashboard to monitor GNH, SDGs, and national development progress improved the database to access indicators.

He said data availability continues to be an issue as some surveys to access SDG needed independent surveys which were not possible due to cost and limited human resource capacity. “However, in collaboration with NSB, we are working to improve data availability.”

Phurba said VNRR 2021 was a timely midterm review as the first VNR was developed during the formulation of 12th FYP where SDG implementation was integrated into the Plan. “ The findings from this report will be used in future planning and policy formulation.”

 

Goals at risk: Goal one Poverty

The SDG one is accessed to be at risk despite Druk Gyalpo Relief Kidu protecting the most vulnerable during the pandemic since the pandemic is expected to have a deep and lasting impact on the economy especially on the livelihood of the vulnerable.

Phurba said the overall progress and setback based on the multidimensional poverty Index (MDPI) and Gini-coefficient will only be available after the next Poverty Analysis Report  (PAR) in 2022-2023. “An initial assessment found that many people have been affected by the pandemic.”

The Covid-19 and Social Protection in South Asia report on Bhutan suggested that economic shocks from the pandemic could lead to an additional 5,503 people falling into poverty line of USD 3.20 (Nu 235) per day, and 14,083 people based on a poverty line of USD 5.50 (Nu 404) per day.

Many of these emerging poor are expected to come from informal workers which constitute more than 87 percent of total employment in Bhutan.

According to PAR 2017,  income poverty at the national level was reduced from 23.2 percent in 2007 to 8.2 percent in 2017, while rural poverty was reduced from 30.9 percent to 11.9 percent in the same period, and MPI decreased from 12.7 percent in 2012 to 5.8 percent in 2017.

 

Goal four: Quality  of Education

The report states SDG four is accessed to be at risk today because of uneven access to online learning, prolonged school closure leading to students dropping out of school, and the increasing cases of anxiety and depression among students.

The report, however, stated that the Royal Decree highlighting the need for fundamental reforms in the education system was a positive step forward to improve education but it is also an indication of significant gaps in the current system.

 

Goal eight: Decent Work and economic growth

As of May 2020, according to the report, 11,000 individuals from tourism-related sectors lost job, more than 50,000 individuals had been impacted directly or indirectly by the pandemic, and the situation is expected to have been compounded with several thousand youth returning home from overseas amid the pandemic.

According to Labour Force Survey 2021, overall unemployment reached the highest to date with an increase of five percent in 2020 (6 percent for female and 4.1 percent for male). Youth unemployment has worsened reaching 22.6 percent with female constituting 61.3 percent of the total number of youth unemployed today ( 6,922 persons).

The report states, the economy has been impacted by Covid-19 containment measures. At the beginning of the 12th Plan, the economy was projected to grow between six and seven percent on average. Growth in 2020 was projected at 6.9 percent which projected downward to negative 6.1 percent following the first nationwide lockdown.

Phurba said, however, as reported by the Ministry of Finance during the mid-term review of the 12th FYP, average economic growth is estimated at around 2.3 percent by the end of the Plan period.

The report states 12th FYP will focus on addressing the country’s unstable macroeconomic environment such as lack of technology and human capital, low productive capacities, and the insufficiently diversified economic base and other economic factors.

Goal 10: Reduced  inequalities

Like in the first VNR, the report stated  that Bhutan still needs to address the issue of income inequality. The Gini coefficient had increased slightly from 0.36 in 2012 to 0.38 in 2017, with the index being higher at 0.35 for rural as compared to 0.32 for urban Bhutan.

Phurba said inequalities in various forms such as gender-wise employment where men are employed more than women and the increasing gap between rich and poor needed to be addressed. The report states that the richest per capita consumption quintile is on average seven times more than that of households in the poorest consumption quintile.

Phurba said goal 17, partnership for goals, was identified at risk during both VNRR as Foreign Direct Investments were limited every year, withdrawal of traditional development partners, and decline in Official Development Assistance. He said the pandemic and impacts on the economy would further put goal 17 at risk.

The VNRR report was presented to the United Nations High-level political forum on July 15.

Elephants endanger life in Gelephu

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:14

Nima | Gelephu

Three men working at the Gelephu Industrial Service Centre (ISC) were driven out of their bed at 2am yesterday after a herd of elephants wrecked their makeshift camp and entered the bedroom. 

They spent the night at the neighbour’s place. A mechanic had to sleep inside the car he was repairing, as the herd damaged the camp and loitered around the place for around half an hour.  

“We were only an inch away from the herd. My friend saw the elephants coming and we fled the camp immediately. They ate the leftover rice and left,” said Bharat Verman. 

There were eight of them. The residents and workers living at the ISC said that the same group was seen loitering and causing problems to the community for the past three days. 

The highest number of elephants seen in a group was 20, according to the people from Trashiling. 

ISC representative, Kamal Pradhan, said that the lives of the residents at ISC are at risk. “There were also damage to properties but the more important is human life. Another thing is that there is no compensation for the damage. We are a small economy here and everybody’s trying to cope with it,” he said. 

He added that the forest officials also attended to the call from the people. “Quick response team is activated but we don’t know how many members are there in the team. The officials are engaged in the Covid-19 duty along the border and we are planning to supplement the team,” said Kamal Pradhan. 

However, it was learned that the business community was not forthcoming to form a group that would supplement the quick response team. 

Kamal Pradhan said it has become risky for the residents in ISC because many depots stocked food items in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We have to be careful now. People walk from Trashiling to Zomlingthang and not everybody is aware of the situation. It may have a larger impact on human lives,” he said. 

Amith Gurung and his friend hired a warehouse at ISC last month to store household items in a warehouse. The duo lost about Nu 180,000 worth of household items in the last three days after the elephants attacked the warehouse continuously for two days. 

The duo shifted their store items to another warehouse yesterday. 

Amith Gurung said that there was no solution other than to light a fire. “Forest officials fire blank shots which helps,” he said.   

Solution 

Sarpang forest officials said an application was developed to enhance online reporting through the Human elephant conflict (HEC) project because there was no proper data on human-elephant conflicts. 

The focal person of the project, Tashi Wangdi said the dzongkhag planned to reestablish the response team, which was not functional last year because of the Covid-19 duty. 

“Report couldn’t be collected because of the staff shortage. The project plans to redesign electric fencing and train farmers for better information sharing,” he said. 

According to the official, the elephant moved up towards Gelephu, as the adjoining forest across the border was cleared. 

“Elephants have lost their habitat and we have a good forest cover here. Moreover, our people don’t harm them and they are not frightened. We use only sound to chase them away,” said Tashi Wangdi.  

As a part of habitat improvement initiatives, divisional office Sarpang has constructed waterholes after they observed elephants damaging drinking water tanks and pipelines. 

Fodder enrichment and removal of Lantana Camara, an exotic weed found in elephant habitat were conducted in the dzongkhag, among many other initiatives, according the officials. 

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Phobjikha de-suups and their Rescue operation

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:13

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

July 12. Around 20 teachers of Phobjikha Central School were watching the EURO 2020 final when the Phobjikha’s de-suup coordinator (also a teacher) informed them that four forest officials were in need of de-suups’ assistance. It was1:30am.

On July 11, one of the four forest officials who were travelling towards the Black Mountain on anti-poaching patrol had suffered altitude sickness. They had started their journey on July 6 from Trongsa.

On July 10, the team was at Dungshingtshang, almost 3,800m above sea level.  Team leader, Karma Chorten, said that one of the officers had severe coughing on July 10. On July 11 evening, his health condition worsened.

The team began to descend immediately.

“When we were returning from Dungshingtshang, we had to climb uphill before descending again. That area is around 4,200m high and it was difficult for him,” Karma Chorten said.

One of the officers went to look for a horse from herders. Three yak herders came to help the officers with their gear.

Each forest official was carrying at least 15kg of gear.

While descending at around 6pm on July 11, the team informed their chief about the situation and reinforcement. They travelled for more than 12 hours before they decided to rest and wait for the de-suup team. It was 7am on July 12.

From Phobjikha, nine de-suups and a guide had left at around 3:30am on July 12. Eight of the nine in the team were teachers of Phobjikha Central School.

“Some had to stay behind because we had exams in the school,” said Phobjikha Central School’s principal, Kuenga Tenzin, who was in the team.

After six hours, the team met the forest officers, at around 9:30am.

“We gave glucose to the officer who was sick. After one hour descend on a stretcher he got a little better,” Kuenga Tenzin said. “We were all very tired. We had to walk uphill for at least three hours.”

In Phobjikha, co-ordinator Gyem Tshering had formed the second team with 15 de-suups. Majority of the de-suups were teachers from the central school. With the team also came Phobjikha tshogpa and doctor from the BHU.

“Our mission was to rescue the sick officer but I was also worried about our teammates,” Gyem Tshering said.

The second team met the first team at around 3:30pm on July 12.

The descend continued. This time, de-suups from the second team carried the sick.

The first team had their lunch and continued their journey downhill.

Both the teams reached the road point at around 5:30pm.

The forest officer was admitted to the Primary Health Centre and was released on July 13.

“We have heard and seen [de-suups’] works. When we personally experienced them saving our friend, I really felt the importance of de-suung,” Karma Chorten said.

He said that response from de-suups and his chief was very quick which saved a life of an officer on duty.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Thimphu thromde spends about Nu 20M annually to repair roads

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:12

Yangyel Lhaden

Thimphu thromde spends about Nu 20 million (M) every year to maintain roads, mainly potholes.

According to the thromde’s chief engineer, Yeshi Wangdi, potholes in the city were mainly caused by poor drainage system, which leads to surface runoff water.

A thromde official said thromde repairs potholes on a daily basis. “We carry out the work departmentally.”

Yeshi Wangdi said potholes get bigger every time it was repaired because of wear and tear. “Potholes are like cancer. It spreads.”

He said that to reduce maintenance cost of roads, thromde is now awarding contractors road construction works along with drainage improvement works. “This would address the issue of surface runoff water that deteriorates the quality of road.”

He said they are replacing the RCC drains with bigger size of hume pipes. “We decided the hume pipe size after calculating surface runoff water.”

Another thromde engineer said a catch pit was constructed in every 10 to 15m, which would serve as a reservoir for surface runoff water. “Excess water on the ground will go in catch pit and flow through hume pipes.”

The chief engineer also said thromde is also improving sewer lines, using improved quality of blacktopping material and installing cables in certain interval along the road to join any cables by private residents to reduce the maintenance cost of roads.

He said bitumen used for blacktopping roads give in when exposed to water for long time, forming potholes. “Currently, we use only asphalt concrete. To improve the resistance on bitumen, we would now use a second layer dense bituminous macadam.”

It is not only surface runoff water that is an issue in Thimphu thromde.

Surface runoff sewer and water along Norzin Lam and Bhutan Youth Development Fund area during monsoon is also a serious issue.

In the last fiscal year, thromde awarded a Nu 40M worth project to six contractors to connect sewer lines in whole thromde area, which was disconnected from city sewer and those that did not have sewer lines.

Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) was supposed to blacktop the road after the sewer lines was laid.

Yeshi Wangdi said the sewer project did not go as planned, as sewer pipe suppliers could not supply it on time, although they initially agreed they could. “Laying sewer lines is underway.”

He said the project to lay sewer line got extended in the current fiscal year. “We also had to engage CDCL for road resurfacing works, as they are included in the sewer package.”

CDCL resurfaced about 4.7km of road within the thromde.

A contractor said executing road works in Thimphu thromde was difficult because of various underground cables installed without proper plan.

Yeshi Wangdi agreed and said that was because most residential building owners wanted to convert their buildings to commercial buildings and when they lay cables for higher voltage of electricity, they dig the ground. “This practice damages the road causing wear and tear.”

He said thromde has now mandated all constructions in Thimphu to keep provisions at certain intervals, which could be used to lay any cables in the future. “That way, people need not dig the ground randomly.”

Meanwhile, Yeshi Wangdi said they are planning to change sewer lines and drainage in Norzin Lam.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Is climate change killing farming?

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:43

Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha

Come July, farmers in Guma could opt to either have machine-pumped water from the Mochhu or wait 10 days for their turn to get their share of irrigation water from Nyakhulum. If luck favours there will be rainfall to feed the stream.

In Punakha, paddy cultivation has become an expensive business.

Namgay Tshering paid Nu 450 an hour to use his neighbour’s water pump to water his paddy field. It took two hours to adequately fill two langdos (25 decimals each) of land. Namgay Tshering has two acres of land. “We do not have water. Even the water from Nyakhulum, we cannot have it as it is quite far. We have to resort to bringing water from the river. We borrow the pump from our neighbours.”

Only 4km away in Bjimthang, Dzomi gewog, farmers are forced to drink from ponds. At least three spring water sources in the village have dried. Rashes, and cough and cold have become common health issues.

A study by the Watershed Management Division of the forest department has shown that of Bhutan’s 6,555 water sources, 2,317 (35 percent) are drying up; 147 have dried up.

Drying water sources, which once fed households in rural areas and their fields, have left many farmers distressed.

A Wangdue and Punakha-centric research titled ‘Farmers’ vulnerability to climate variability in Bhutan’ found that Guma and Kabisa gewogs in Punakha were most vulnerable to climate variability.    

One of the researchers, dean of College of Natural Resources, Om Katel (Phd), said that after studying data from 2015, 2016 and 2017, the researchers studied exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

Researchers, he said, studied how often the gewog was exposed to extreme climate variability such as heat waves, drought, hailstorms and windstorms, among others.

Further, adaptive capacity to understand as to whether the villagers had other alternatives in case crops failed due to extreme climate variability, was also studied. “For example, a village or household may be exposed to so many disaster like storms, snowfall, heavy rainfall and drought. But if they have resources like money, that is the adaptive capacity.”

The research concluded that for the short term (5-10 years), Guma and Kabisa gewogs were most vulnerable among the gewogs in Punakha and Wangdue.

Farmers complain of overflowing Nyakhulum stream and drying of water sources.

In Changyul village, Lhamo’s irrigation canal was damaged due to the overflowing stream.

The traditional irrigation canal served to four households. “In Changyul, we have serious issue. We have too much water if there is rain. If there is no rain then there is no water and it wouldn’t even fill a paddy field.”

Many in Guma sharecrop. Despite the challenges, farmers are forced to cultivate, as they have to provide a certain share of the rice to the owner of the land.

“Last year, my fields remained almost fallow. There were others who also had similar issues and we shared it with the land owners as well,” Lhamo said. “It is so difficult for farmers. If we seek other’s machine (to pump water) then the price is really high. And if we want to buy it ourselves, then we need loan, which we don’t get easily.”

A few months ago, Lhamo bought a water pump paying Nu 56,000. She borrowed money from her neighbours. She still has Nu 30,000 to repay.

“There is no one else who worries like farmers when it comes to repaying their loans. But when it comes to getting the loan, it is so difficult,” Lhamo said.

Drying spring water and extreme weathers are attributed to climate change.

Om Katel (PhD) said that after studying past data, research found that the intensity of rainfall had increased, while duration of rainfall had decreased. “Which means it rains for short period but it rains too much, and the duration of the rainfall has decreased compared to the last 10 to 20 years.”

Intense rainfall for shorter duration is worrying, as seepage into the ground to increase the water table is low, which comes out as spring water.

“People say that the spring water has dried up and people blame on climate change. It is, of course, partly true,” Om Katel (PhD) said.

The Gross National Happiness Survey Report 2015 found that farmers were found to be least happy. Only 33 percent of the farmers were classified as happy, which

is worrying, as farmers make one of the biggest occupational groups in Bhutan.

The labour force survey report of 2016 showed that 57.2 percent of people were involved in agriculture.

Nevertheless, the De-Suung water project and gewog water project activities are helping address the issues.

In Guma, while irrigation water scarcity issues remain, work to bring drinking water has begun.

Likewise in Dzomi, drinking water is expected to arrive by end of July this year.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Phuentsholing and Samtse residents worried of the second jab

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:42

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Residents of Phuentsholing and Gomtu are worried if they would avail the second Covid-19 jab on July 20 when the second dose of vaccination rolls out in the country.

This is because the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that active Covid-19 positive people cannot be vaccinated, while announcing the information about the 550,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on July 7.  He also explained vaccination wouldn’t be effective with positive cases from the community.

Both the towns have seen positive cases.

After the fourth lockdown commenced, Phuentsholing has seen an increasing number of community transmissions.

On July 13, the town saw 18 cases from the community. On July 12, there were 11 community cases.

On July 14, Phuentsholing reported 30 positive cases, but all were contacts of previous cases. One positive case was from the community.

Gomtu saw five positive cases yesterday, but all were contacts from previous cases.

A Phuentsholing resident, Karma Tshering Dorji, said as people are all inside their homes they don’t know where the virus is coming from.

“We are hoping these 14 days will work. Otherwise, we will have to come outside. We cannot go on forever like this.”

He said he is “hopeful” because the positive cases were from the previous cases. “I think the chain will be broken this time.”

He also said it was already 90 days. “We have been supporting and cooperating even in this fourth lockdown.”

Another resident said there are green, yellow and red areas within Phuentsholing.

“The government should vaccinate people in the green and yellow areas first and then only the residents of red areas.”

A Gomtu resident said the government may have to give the second jab at people’s homes.

“We all are inside our homes due to the lockdown.”

He said that people may be hesitant to go for the mixed jab. He said he saw people going to get the first vaccine late in the evening.

“I think they were scared,” he said.

Edited by Tashi Dema

GoI allows import of seven vegetables as an exceptional measure for Bhutan

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:41

Chhimi Dema

With many farmers and exporters impacted by the mandatory customs clearance officials across the border demanded to export vegetables to India, the government of India put in place an interim arrangement and ‘an exceptional measure only for Bhutan’ to allow the import of the vegetables.

The Indian Embassy in Thimphu issued a notification on July 14 to the foreign ministry that their government decided to allow the import of seven crops through the plant quarantine station in Jaigaon.

This means the seven vegetables, including chilli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, peas and soybean would be allowed to export without any hurdles now.

The seven vegetables were not included in the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order, 2003, which regulates import and prohibition of import of plants and plants product into India.

The notification stated that the Indian government had posted a plant protection officer at the Plant Quarantine Station in Jaigon to facilitate the plant quarantine works.

It also stated that the Indian government had lifted the import of potatoes ‘freely, without any license up to June 30, 2022’.

Meanwhile, with the export to India at halt during peak production time in the country, farmers faced difficulties to market their farm produce.

Kuensel previously reported that about 7.6 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger belonging to Samtse farmers are stored in Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard as the export from the dzongkhag was stopped.

Moreover, cabbage growers of Naja and Dawakha gewogs in Paro are still facing challenges in marketing cabbage.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said the export of produces would resume once the lockdown lifts in Phuentsholing.

He said the government was continuing the buy-back scheme and redistributing vegetables in the country. “The government buys potato, cardamom, areca nut, ginger, cabbage, beans, carrot, maize and paddy under the buy-back scheme.”

The National Post Harvest Centre in Paro, Bhutan Agro Industries Limited, and private sector industries were also buying the agricultural produce from farmers for value addition of the produces.

The country through the FCBL exports roughly from 25,000MT to 32,000MT of potatoes, and 3,500MT to 5,000MT of vegetables to India in a year.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Taxi counter service offers service through reduced rates

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:40

Yangyel Lhaden

People who want to travel inter dzongkhags can now travel in taxis at a reduced rate.

This was made possible as Bhutan Taxi Association (BTA) established a taxi counter service (TCS) at the Road Safety Transport and Authority (RSTA) building in Thimphu amongst the counters where people buy bus tickets.

The reduced fare came into effect from July 14 after more than 100 taxi drivers registered with TCS and provided the service. Their rates are lower than RSTA’s approved rate for the public (Taxi) transport.

While the RSTA’s approved taxi fare from Thimphu to Paro is Nu 250 for a person, people travelling with TCS have to pay only Nu 200. Similarly, fare from Thimphu to Phuntsholing with TCS is Nu 555 a person whereas RSTA approved rate is Nu 770. Fare from Thimphu to Samtse with TCS is Nu 1,015 a person whereas RSTA approved rate is Nu 1,103.

The president of BTA, Rinzin Chophel, said taxi drivers registered with TCS proposed the new rate. “BTA and RSTA were not involved in reducing the fare.”

He said that RSTA officials only told them they could reduce the fare, but not increase it.

Rinzin Chophel said TCS was established during the pandemic to curb the crowd as many people gathered in the taxi stand. “Through TCS, a person can book a taxi through phone call and there will be pick up services from passenger’s home.”

He said that BTA wanted to establish TCS for the last two years as the association received many complaints from people of unfair charges by taxi drivers. “People who want just and fair service can avail TCS service.”

However, taxi drivers in Thimphu, who have not registered with TCS, are unhappy with the reduced fare for intra dzongkhag travels.

They said the new reduced rates would hamper their business as people would prefer to travel with taxis registered with TCS.

A taxi driver, Dorji Wangdi, who did not register with TCS said people might travel with taxis registered with TCS, as the fares are lower and people might assume they were charging higher although the rate they charge is approved by RSTA.

Another taxi driver, Phub Tshering, said with fuel prices skyrocketing, he would not join TCS as even with the normal rate he could hardly make ends meet during the pandemic.

Drivers registered with TCS travels to 13 dzongkhags as of now, but BTS plan to estabish in 20 dzongkhags.

Edited by Tashi Dema

BPC to electrify Phumzur village next year

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:40

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

As dusk envelopes the foothills of famous Black Mountain in Trongsa, residents of the 17 households in Phumzur and kurdak watch electricity lighting up households in the nearby villages.

Outside a small one storey house of wooden planks, Choden is sorting out pine resins from the stacked firewood.  “We rely on firewood for cooking purposes and pine resins to light homes,” she said.

As one of the remotest and least developed Monpa village, Taryana Foundation provided them solar lightings in 2007, which helped them but since it was old, it did not work whenever the weather was bad.

Located inside the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, the villagers were also provided with solar fencing, which has also become defunct now.

Villagers said their life would improve if their village was connected with electricity, as they would use electric cookers and rely less on firewood.

According to a villager, Namgay Wangmo, they walk more than three hours to charge their mobile phones in Jangbi.

Jangbi tshogpa Lhajay said he made several request on behalf of Phumzur and Kurdak residents to electrify the villages. “Electricity will even improve sanitisation and hygiene in the villages.”

Langthel Gup Sonam Dhendup said that Phumzur, Rewtala, Kurdak and Ngada villages do have no electricity connection.

He raised the issue in the dzongkhag tshodgu. “Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) officials assured the places will be electrified this year.”

However, BPC’s manager in Trongsa, Ugyen Thinley,  said electrification of Phumzur and Kurdak will begin next year. “Works were supposed to begin in September but it got delayed because of the pandemic as we have to import the materials.”

Electrification of Rewtala, Ngada and Samcholing Goenpa will start by August as all the materials are ready.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Damphu town introduces new parking system to reduce congestion

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:39

Choki Wangmo   | Tsirang

With the implementation of the 30-minute parking system in Damphu town,  residents and commuters say that it has become easier and systematic.

A grocery owner in Damphu town, Zangmo, said that in the past, she had to load and unload her goods away from the shop since there was no space in front of her shop. “Now it is convenient. I have at least 30 minutes to complete the work.”

Nar Maya Monger, whose shop is located in the middle of the town, said that the new parking system was convenient for everyone. “Otherwise, it was difficult for us to do business. We lost customers as people bought goods from shops that had parking space.”

In the past, customers had to park their vehicles away from the town and carry heavy loads, particularly groceries and hardware materials.

Tsirang Police Superintendent (SP), Lieutenant Colonel Gyem Tshering, said that in recent years, the population in the town is increasing with an increasing number of vehicles that are creating traffic congestion and inconvenience to people.

The SP said that the division discontinued double parking and proposed a temporary parking fee system to the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) but was deferred.  “Shop owners and landlords parked their cars in front of the buildings and people availing goods and services did not have space to park. The business owners were losing customers.”

For example, a shop that has five cars parked in front of their building in the town took up unnecessary parking space.

The parking lights have to be on for 30 minutes after which traffic police ensure that they move out. This has also helped people leave at the given time, the SP said. “When the parking light is put on for a longer period of time, the car’s battery dies. People don’t park for long.”

However, Lieutenant Colonel Gyem Tshering said that they give flexibility of 10-15 minutes after the given time is over. “For people visiting restaurants, it won’t be enough.”

The 30-minute parking system is implemented from 9am to 6pm during which residents and business owners are allotted separate parking spaces within the town.

Tsirang Dzongdag Pema said that Damphu town was small and with cars congesting the parking areas, customers did not get proper space to stop and shop around. “Travellers drove through the town looking for parking space. It affected the business in the town.”

Endorsed by the DT, the new parking system was jointly implemented by the Tsirang Police and Road Safety and Transport Authority since the end of last month.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:33

Coinciding with the First Sermon of Lord Buddha on July 14, former Tsugla Lopon Samten Dorji launched a book titled “Buddhist Jurisprudence and Pre-Constitutional Principles” in a simple ceremony at the residence of retired Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye in Chang Gidaphu. Written by former Thrimchi Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, who was also the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee,  and Jeffrey Avina, the book attempts to compile the codes, rules, legal precepts and laws from the Buddha’s teachings, from different Buddhist schools, traditions and Buddhist-influenced secular States into a format which enables a cogent review alongside Western philosophical and jurisprudence models and their frameworks.

It also provides a legal and even pre-Constitutional format for the conduct and protection of communities which were similar to but long pre-dated, most Western jurisprudential concepts and constitutional democracy.

Any vaccine: Go get it!

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:32

In the world that is seemingly in complete disarray, there is no comparing how effectively Bhutan has handled the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s why various countries and organisations are coming forward to give Bhutan vaccines even as they require them much more than we do.

The vaccine politics has heightened; it will only get worse in coming days and months.  Meanwhile, Bhutan has experienced the second Covid-19 death. The whole debate must be understood in this new context.

An 82-year-old woman from Gomtu in Samtse died yesterday. Strictly, in medical sense, she did not die of Covid-19. She had underlying medical conditions which made medical interventions difficult.

To the family of the deceased, we offer our prayers and sincere condolences. In these difficult times, we are the mirrors of the society we co-create and co-inhabit—often we give too little because what comes down on us is overly painful.

That said, the real debate has to be brought to the fore. At a time when a majority of Bhutanese people are asking whether they should get a jab or which vaccine they must get, a clear-cut advisory is in short supply.

But there is science to tell us that vaccination is important to protect ourselves from this menacing scourge. What is unhealthy is the information that is coming out about the vaccines. Logically, if two vaccines work wonderfully fine individually to protect ourselves from the virus that has caused so much disruption in societies across the world, why is mixing  a danger?

The vaccine politics has been raging and it will only get worse, unfortunately. What is important is that we make sure that we get them from the vial to the arm sooner than later. The good news is that we now have pretty much enough vaccines for the whole population, thanks to our friends who found it in their hearts the need to support their small and true friend.

Having come thus far in the battle against the Covid-19, the question is no longer whether we should take the jab or about choosing among the many vaccines from different laboratories that are all WHO certified. Really, the time has come to choose any to protect ourselves against the deadly virus.

The virus will continue to evolve; we are already hearing about a new variant whose danger we do not yet know. The shot we take this time, whatever vaccine we choose to take, will not be enough. That’s the fact, but we will have boosted our resilience against the virus significantly. That’s what matters more than anything now as we tread these uncertain paths.

Bhutan has 2,380 Covid-19 positive cases. It’s small looking from the global perspective but huge seen from the local lens. No one has died by getting a jab in his or her arm. In fact, the reverse is true. We all have underlying health conditions in these awesomely affluent times which make fighting Covid-19 that much more difficult.

The reason to get a shot in the arm so is more compelling. Now’s the time to get yourself vaccinated: Go get it!

Covid-19 claims second victim – an unvaccinated elder

Fri, 07/16/2021 - 11:31

Health minister urges public to come forward and get vaccinated to avoid similar tragedies   

Younten Tshedup  

Five days before the country rolls out the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, an 82-year-old woman living in Gomtu, Samtse, died with the disease at the RIGSS isolation ward in Phuentsholing yesterday.  She was not vaccinated.

After contracting the disease about a week ago, the woman died following complications from multiple medical conditions she was already associated with. The woman had congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic kidney failure, hypertension, and diabetes.

The woman was referred to the Covid-19 isolation ward in Phuentsholing on July 14 after her condition started deteriorating. Health officials said that she had difficulty in moving around and carrying out day-to-day activities, which was why she was moved from Gomtu to the isolation facility in Sipsu, Samtse.

It was learnt that the woman was moved to isolation along with her daughter who tested positive for Covid-19 on July 5. Her son-in-law and grandson also tested positive later.

Sources said that her 85-year-old husband was out when the house they were living in was declared a red cluster in Gomtu. He has not tested positive for the virus yet.

 

Vaccination is must  

Besides the multiple pre-existing medical conditions, the deceased had not taken the Covid-19 vaccination.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said: “Our deepest condolences to the family members, many of whom are currently in isolation.”   

 Lyonpo said that the reason why the government was pushing for mass vaccine coverage in the country was to prevent such misfortunes. She said that the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine came in two forms — minimising the risk of transmission and averting hospitalisation and mortality from the disease.

“It is a proven fact that Covid-19 vaccines can help reduce the rate of transmission by almost 60 to 70 percent. But it is also proven that vaccination can reduce the risk of hospitalisation and mortality by almost 95 to 96 percent,” she added.

Lyonpo said that 48 individuals who are above 70 years old have tested positive in the ongoing outbreak. Of the total cases, 24 of them were comorbid (had more than one existing medical condition. “45 of the 48 people had received their first dose of the vaccine and all of them have recovered now.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering posted that the highly infectious disease (Covid-19) was known for complicating the health of those infected, especially among elderlies and people living with underlying medical conditions.

Lyonchhen said: “In offering deepest condolences to her family and loved ones, let us also make her life count by drawing more courage and strength to hold out against the pandemic that is far from over. Please ensure that you abide by Covid norms, while we continue to be guided by His Majesty and put up a relentless battle until the end.”

As of 6pm yesterday, a total of 2,380 Covid-19 positive cases has been confirmed in the country since March 5, 2020.

The country’s first casualty from the pandemic was recorded on January 7 earlier this year in a 34-year-old man who also had underlying medical conditions. The deceased, who was a known case of chronic liver disease, was under medical treatment after he tested positive for Covid-19 on December 23 last year.

Edited by Tshering Palden

BHIM to enhance digital payment with India 

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:54

Chhimi Dema  

To allow Indian citizens to make instant and secure payments to businesses in Bhutan, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) and the National Payments Corporation of India launched a cross-border Quick Response (QR) code payment called Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) in Thimphu yesterday.

With the BHIM app, Indian citizens from within Bhutan and India can make payments by scanning the BHIM QR codes that the Bhutanese merchants can avail themselves from local financial institutions.

BHIM is based on the Unified Payments Interface that merges multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application of any participating bank to enable seamless fund transfer or payments.

During the launch, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the launch marked a key milestone between Bhutan and India in the digital payment space to connect and provide payment services using innovative financial technologies.

He said that the payment facility would promote cashless transactions to enhance convenience and safety for customers and merchant businesses, support expansion of business, and help monitor the flow of business transactions within the economy.

BHIM is also expected to improve business transparency and reduce costs associated with the printing of currency, according to the Minister.

There are 23,792 businesses accepting QR code payments and 356,157 registered users for QR code payments in the country today.

“In Bhutan, the general acceptability of domestic QR codes as a safe alternative to cash or any other means of payment has surged especially during the pandemic,” Lyonpo said, adding that this indicated Bhutanese’s preferences for cashless transactions and payments.

The launch was attended by the Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, along with the officials from RMA, Indian Embassy, financial institutions, and foreign ministry.

The launch included a live transaction by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman making a cashless payment through BHIM app by scanning the QR code of OGOP (One Gewog One Product).

According to the press release from Indian Embassy, the commitment to launch BHIM in Bhutan stems from the joint statement issued during the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit in August 2019.




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More Covid-19 vaccines to arrive in Bhutan

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:53

Phub Dem | Paro

As the country prepares to roll out the second mass vaccination on July 20, the much-anticipated vaccines begin to arrive.

After receiving 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine from the USA, another consignment from Denmark, 121,900 doses of Astrazeneca, arrived in the country yesterday.

According to the press release from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, the country will receive over 100,000 doses of Astrazeneca from Croatia, Bulgaria, and other countries.

Other contributions include 5,850 doses of Pfizer from the COVAX facility and 50,000 doses of Sinopharm from the People’s Republic of China.

The government has also ordered 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to arrive at the end of this year.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government was grateful for the support from the international community, especially when vaccines are in short supply. “We are fortunate that Bhutan evokes tremendous goodwill and affection the world over. We are blessed with genuine friends for their unwavering help and support for our country.”

With enough vaccines to administer the second dose for eligible population, the press release states that the provisions to vaccinate those below 18 are considered with the availability of data and evidence.

While the roll-out plan will be similar to the first one, it states that the government awaits evidence on the Moderna vaccine to cover children below 17.

Lyonchhen said: “As we look forward to the next step in overcoming this pandemic, the government would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude for His Majesty’s leadership that has guided and inspired us throughout.”

UNICEF Bhutan representative, Dr Will Parks, said the vaccines would provide the much-needed and awaited protection against Covid-19.

He said that the vaccines were a critical step towards controlling the pandemic that has upended the lives of children and young people across the world. “UNICEF is humbled to support the government’s response and recovery efforts under the exemplary leadership of His Majesty The King, and remains committed to reimagining a better, safer and healthier future for children and their families.”

Besides fast-tracking the shipment of the vaccines and providing operational support, UNICEF is also strengthening the cold chain system to store the vaccines.

According to Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) representative to Bhutan, the country’s response to Covid-19 and the nationwide vaccination campaign for the first dose was exemplary.

He said: “WHO would like to acknowledge the proactive role taken by the government to secure the vaccines and donors for providing the much-needed vaccines for the second dose.”

WHO will be funding Nu 24 million for the second dose roll-out campaign.

Ambassador of Denmark to Bhutan, Freddy Svane, said that Denmark was behind the people of Bhutan amidst the battle against Covid-19. “The Danish donation of vaccines represents an important step in the global vaccination drive.”




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Parents unhappy with how schools handle disciplinary issues

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:52

Phub Dem |  Paro

A few weeks ago, four students of a school in Paro fought over a game after school.

After learning about the brawl, school authorities called the parents and suspended them for two weeks.

A mother of a student involved in the brawl, who is a teacher, expressed her concern regarding the decision.

The mother requested to remain anonymous, claiming teachers and school administration usually targets students when parents confront the school. “Many parents are not willing to speak up because of such practices in schools. That’s why many violence cases are unreported.”

She claimed that the school also threatened to hand over her son to the police if she doesn’t report to the school on time. “Students should be punished in such a way that they realise their mistakes, but schools shouldn’t incriminate them.”

Since her son was a first-time offender, she requested to write a surety stating that she will take him to the police if such incidents happened again. “Without warning and counselling, is it fair to suspend students right before the examination?”

Apart from the four walls of the classroom, she said that the teachers should have a moral conscience and be responsible for impacting children’s lives.

She said that the school should punish her son, but with corrective intervention and positive disciplining as per the guidelines of the 21st century.

She added that law for juveniles should not incriminate them but make them reflect, realise and change. “Police should refrain from juvenile crime. There should be a separate unit for children coming in conflict with the law.”

This isn’t an isolated case.

A civil servant, who works in a remote area, said he had seen school administration directly deciding to either hand over the children to the police or suspend them before understanding its impact on their lives later.

Sonam said that policies and guidelines on child welfare were in place, but the issue arises while implementing them.

He said that some teachers in remote schools come drunk in classes affecting student’s futures, and the school administration doesn’t take any action.

Another parent, Tshering, said that teachers are the main drivers of education, and children spend the crucial years of their lives in school, adding that teachers should look beyond completing the syllabus.

He said that it was essential to consider the background and identify children in difficult circumstances to provide corrective interventions rather than expose their weaknesses. “There is an overwhelming focus on academics and examination in the current education system neglecting other valuable educational goals such as grooming and productive citizens.”

According to a Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy report ‘Youth Voices: Youth Matters’, an increasing rate of divorce, busy work life, domestic violence, peer pressure and widening communication gap between parent and child is said to be an emerging issue that could be contributing factors to juvenile delinquency and school dropouts among youth.

Teachers, on the other hand, call for better parenting to address such issues.

A school counsellor, Tandin Wangmo, said that schools usually suspend repeat offenders after all the corrective measures and interventions are exhausted.

With increasing youth disciplinary issues in schools, she said that both teachers and parents are responsible for the wellbeing of the children.

A teacher, Pema Choden, said that teachers were equally concerned about the wellbeing of the students as it directly impacts the academic progress.

She said that students are handed over to the police only if the schools cannot handle the situation. “Otherwise, schools try every way to protect the children.”

Another teacher, Passang Wangmo, said that schools have disciplinary issues such as minor, moderate and major. If students are caught fighting, she said it was considered a major disciplinary issue where school discipline committee first investigates the case and informs parents and gets a statement.

She said that most problems arise when children overtake their parents, citing incidences where parents fear their children. “School counsellors conduct parenting every week as an intervention to rising youth issues.”

As a parent of two boys, she said that discipline should come from home as there was a clear correlation between students with discipline issues and an unhealthy home environment.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Nganglam-Panbang highway in poor condition

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:51

Kelzang Wangchuk | Nganglam

Five years after the construction of the Nganglam-Panbang highway, the condition of 55km road has become worse than the farm roads, according to commuters.

Commuters said it takes more than three hours to reach Panbang drungkhag from Nganglam, as the road is riddled with potholes.

A driver, Tashi, said it would actually take an hour and half if the road condition is good. “The road condition is deteriorating every year and authorities never bothered to repair the damages.”

He has been using the road to ferry construction materials for many years.

He said there are potholes in every metre of the road, making it even difficult for heavy vehicles to ply. “It is also very risky to ply along the highway in monsoon.”

A commuter, Thinley, 43, said it is more challenging for light vehicles to ply along the road, as it gets damaged. “But we have to travel for urgent official work.”

He claimed that although the Department of Roads (DoR) was carrying out blacktopping work, but it stopped. “It is high time for concerned agencies to carry out maintenance and improve the road condition.”

DoR’s executive engineer in Nganglam, Sonam Wangchuk, said the road was constructed in 2012 under the Assian Development Bank project and handed over to the DoR in 2016.

He said that of the 55km, DoR office in Panbang looks after 15km of stretch and their office in Nganglam looks after the remaining 40km.

According to the engineer, DoR awarded the first package of maintenance and blacktopping works for 9.5km in the 2020-21 fiscal year. “But work had to stop because of the monsoon, as it affects the quality of the work.” The government funded Nu 48 million for the first package.

Sonam Wangchuk said they proposed a budget for the second package and are waiting for response to maintain and blacktop another 30km in this fiscal year.

He said they increased the thickness of blacktopping to 100mm from the 25mm, as trucks ferrying the construction materials along the road have increased over the years. “When the thickness is 25mm, it does not last much.”

Edited by Tashi Dema




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For the safety of all

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:50

Even as Bhutan is receiving a mix of vaccines from the COVAX Facility and from development partners, the warning that mix and match vaccines are not safe has caused some serious concerns.

However, the World Health Organisation has not, as of yesterday – day after an international news agency reported the “warning” –  has not made an official statement. 

The concern of the WHO scientist was made at an online briefing, which as of yesterday was not made into a WHO official statement. 

The government, led by both the prime minister and the health minister, is assured that getting a different vaccine for the second shot is safer, if not more effective. Their assurance is backed by members of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG). The group, which is also aware of the WHO “warning”, is convinced that mixing vaccines is the best way to save people from the more infectious Delta variant of the Coronavirus. 

What is reassuring is that the decisions are based on scientific studies and made by decision-makers who have the background and experience to take the risk of what they decide. The concern up till yesterday, among Bhutanese aware of the developments, was if we would get a different vaccine for the second dose. We welcomed the 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccines. We also received and 5,850 doses of Pfizer vaccine in May. We were assured of the second dose or the immunity booster jab.

We have a few days before we begin the second round of vaccination. There could be developments and we can expect the WHO to issue orders or warnings to stop mixing and matching for the second dose if proven not safe. 

The government is not deciding on the mix and match vaccine because of shortage of vaccines. 

There are enough vaccines and more are on the way. Scientifically, it is also proven that a mix of vaccines have more impact, especially against the Delta variant. Mixing vaccines is not new. 

Developed countries have gone ahead with it and some of the prominent global leaders have received mixed vaccines. 

In the meantime, what we should be concerned about is achieving herd immunity. The health minister, aware of all the developments surrounding vaccines, is urging people to register and get vaccinated. 

We have come a long way in securing enough vaccines to inoculate all the eligible population. We should go ahead and get ourselves protected. 

The call in this pandemic times is that nobody is safe until everybody is safe. If vaccination is the only solution for Covid-19, we should get vaccinated. We have enough vaccines to achieve herd immunity and we should achieve it, not to be the first country to do so, but to save ourselves.




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Damphu—a town in a garden

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 13:49

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

 A resident of Damphu, Migmar Gyeltshen Sherpa has spent most of his life in this small town. Only in the last few years, he felt that the town had become truly livable. 

The town saw a drastic change in the last two years with new inclusive structures and green spaces. The town feels like a botanical theme park. 

“Damphu is becoming beautiful; the town’s atmosphere has created suitable conditions for business,” said Migmar Gyeltshen Sherpa, who loves flowers and owns a flower shop in the town. 

Building on the initiative of former dzongdags, Ngawang Pem, who created the Rigsum Pemai Dumra, a recreational park in the centre of the town, the current dzongdag, Pema, has been emphasising on the importance of beautification work. 

Since early 2019, dzongkhag beautification officer Chhimi Dorji along with dzongkhag officials and stakeholders has been involved in creating a town in garden, a concept inspired by Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. 

We do not have resources like in other countries but we made use of what is available to us to create a livable town that gives out positive energy to residents and travellers, Chhimi Dorji said. “Town is important. If the town is aesthetically pleasing, it creates a happiness chain and auspicious conditions for goodness.”

Beautification work started two years ago

Those involved in beautification of the town planted flowers and plants in places where people used to dump waste. Such grey areas do not exist anymore.

Chhimi Dorji said that while preparing the land in the initial stage of the project, the team recovered tonnes of plastic waste. “By planting flowers in such areas, we are conveying a message to people about waste. After a while, people stopped littering.”

The town’s flower gardens are spread over a six-kilometre expanse. It is difficult to maintain flowers in winter due to lack of water. “However, we have strategies to deal with such problems. We grow water-tolerant hard plants in summer and drought-resistant plants in winter,” Chhimi Dorji said.

The dzongkhag administration has created a nursery to grow saplings. 

The town has wild cherry trees, flowering fruit trees, and petunias of different hues decorating the footpaths. Shrubs and trees fill empty spaces in the town.

Ugyen Phuntsho, a resident of Thimphu who recently moved to Damphu, said that he felt serene and peaceful upon entering the town. “There are many green spaces to enjoy unlike in Thimphu.”

Facilities like children’s park, outdoor gym, disabled-friendly washrooms, swimming pool, football ground, and spiritual places, he said were sensibly located. “And they are all in good shape. Maybe this is what a sustainable city should look like.”

A shopkeeper, Zangmo, said she likes decorating the entrance of her shop with flowers. “The dzongkhag administration provides us with the flowers that must be planted in uniformity. And, who doesn’t love flowers?”

“I feel proud to live in this town because many say Tsirang is clean, green, and aesthetic compared to other dzongkhags,” said Migar Gyeltshen Sherpa, who regularly receives text messages from friends and relatives about the beauty of the town.

He remembers illegal dumping everywhere, a car workshop in the middle of the town, and unmaintained structures. “It’s all changed now.”

Nar Maya Monger from Damphu agrees. “In the past, the place looked very dull and dirty.”

Chogyal Sherpa, a shopkeeper, said the changed town has invited more visitors. 

His Majesty The King’s Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibitions inspired Chhimi Dorji. 

He said that while starting the project, it was difficult but they have learned. “People stole flowers but then we kept replacing them. Now there are not many cases of theft. Communities are willing. Each building has a minimum of three flowers in Damphu town.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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