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Updated: 1 hour 33 min ago

4,000 wildlife crimes in last three years

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:39

Choki Wangmo 

In the past three years, about 4,000 forest crimes were reported in the country from which illegal activities related to timber and wildlife poaching topped the list.

The crimes have reportedly increased by the year. The average crime committed within 2017-2019 was 1,300. 

With 795 cases, the forest department last year recorded the highest number of misdemeanors in timber extraction. Timber related cases involved the misuse of rural timber and other surplus timber.

In 2019, 49 poaching and 504 fishing cases were reported. 

According to forest facts and figures from 2017 until last year, more than half of the offenses were related to timber followed by wildlife poaching and fishing.

The records showed that between 2016 and 2018, fines collected from wildlife crimes amounted to Nu 67 million. In 2017, fishing and wildlife poaching accounted for a total of 149 cases and in 2018, 40 poachers were caught. Crimes included hunting and poaching of wild animals and its parts, smuggling and their illegal sale.

Other crimes against wildlife are illegal extraction of forest resources for food and resources, bush meat killing, fishing, forest encroachment, retaliatory killing, and forest fire.

Animals such as tiger, clouded leopard, Asian elephant, bear, Himalayan monal and musk deer are poached for skin, ivory, musk, medicine, and bones, among others.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) recent wildlife crime report: trafficking in protected species found that while the number of seizures of tigers and their parts remains small, the number has risen from 2007 to 2018.

Thailand and India are the main source countries for these seizures, although sourcing from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan is also ongoing.

Nearly 6,000 species have been seized between 1999-2018, including not only mammals but reptiles, corals, birds, and fish. Suspected traffickers of some 150 nationalities have been identified, illustrating the fact that wildlife crime is a global issue.

The forest department noted that offense and illegal cases are still a major challenge in the country.

An official with the forest protection and enforcement division said that those animals that have high market value were vulnerable to wildlife crimes, mostly species-based. The magnitude of illegal trade in wildlife products, however, is relatively unknown.

“Crimes against plants are hard to detect because it is difficult to break the chain of transboundary organised crime,” he said.

Red sanderwood, for example, is smuggled from India to China in different forms of consignments, he said.

Due to stringent measures to control Covid-19 and border restriction, cross border wildlife trade has reduced but the crime within the country might be ongoing, said the official.

He said that meat import restrictions could encourage bush meat killing and rampant fishing. “Once there is a shortage in the market, peoples’ dependency on natural resources increase,” he said.

As of now, about 600 forest officials are deployed across the country for border patrolling.

UNODC’s report also stated that the illegal trade in wildlife, which by definition does not go through proper sanitary and phytosanitary controls, can potentially lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases, such as SARS-CoV-2 that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the crimes undergo legal proceedings, due to the clandestine nature of the crime, it has been noted that the low risk of detection provides impunity to criminals. The defaulters are charged according to forest rules and regulations.

The national zero poaching strategy has also been developed to strengthen the anti-poaching and surveillance programmes to ensure safe protection of the wildlife in Bhutan along with transboundary networking and information sharing.

“To enhance reporting, SMART tool for species monitoring, wildlife crime hotspot mapping, and human-wildlife conflict predation mapping are also in place,” the official said.

UNODC recommended supporting law enforcement agencies in range, transit and destination states require additional technical and financial assistance to address capacity gaps, including help to better prevent, detect and investigate wildlife trafficking, and better training and protocols on how to secure and deal with specimens once seized or confiscated.

Applicants of Phase II of Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu must follow eligibility criteria

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:37

Thinley Namgay 

The first phase of Relief Kidu is over. The second is in.

Who can apply?

The employees of tourism and tourism-dependent sectors who have been laid off or placed on unpaid leave or receive reduced salary, and businesses required to remain closed by the government directives and activities affected severely by physical distancing measures with no other source of sustaining their livelihoods.

This is according to the eligibility criteria set up by the Relief Kidu team.

As per the criteria, individuals who are engaged in self-operated businesses in tourism and tourism-dependent sectors with no other means of sustaining their livelihoods are also eligible for kidu.

Moreover, individuals working abroad and have returned home permanently because of the pandemic and have no other means of sustaining their livelihoods are also entitle for kidu.

Press release from the Relief Kidu team states that the kidu recipients of different categories are required to actively seek jobs in the various employment programmes launched by the government and private sectors.

Applicants are required to submit an application. Those individuals who applied or received kidu in the first phase (April-June) can re-apply. Desk and field verifications will be conducted by the team to assess eligibility but may also be required to present themselves physically during the verification process.

Unlike in the first phase, some sectors are now phased out of the kidu considering the recent relaxations and extension in business timing.

Phased out sectors are private technical and vocational institutes, including driving and tailoring institutes, all businesses that operate until 9pm, informal businesses and street vendors, sports centres (stadiums, gyms, yoga, dance studios, rubber tracks and facilities for traditional games), taxis, and other public transport drivers and employees.

Phase two of the Relief Kidu was started on July 7 and it will end in September. The kidu amount has been revised to Nu 10,000 for the full amount and Nu 7,000 for the partial amount.

As of July 20, 15,784 applicants from the Phase I had re-applied, while 2,296 new applications have been received, taking the total number of applications to 18,080. Relief Kidu team has begun assessments for applications.

Of the 33,829 applications received in the first phase, over 72 percent has received the Kidu.

In times of disasters

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:36

Four dedicated servicemen lost their lives trying to save the lives of five people.  Sadness gripped the nation as the news reached people. But with the news of the tragic event sinking in, the spirits and thoughts of the Bhutanese are with the four soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

We could only imagine the relief on the face of the stranded people when they saw the soldiers get ready to come to their rescue.

His Majesty The King yesterday posthumously awarded the Drakpoi Khorlo Medal, an award for bravery, to the four soldiers. His Majesty has also commanded that the bereaved families would continue to receive salaries, allowances, and all benefits that the soldiers would have received during their service and in their retirement.

His Majesty cut short his visit to Haa and rushed to the rescue site in Gelephu. Such noble gestures encourage our servicemen and those in the frontline to give their best when in the line of duty. It is in the image and the concerns of His Majesty The King that the people feel reassured in dark and testing times.

It was a tense moment in Gelephu on Monday night. Soldiers, DeSuups, police, dzongkhag and forestry officials stayed the whole night up to ensure that the people stranded were brought to safety. It is now emerging that it was a massive rescue operation where 21 people had to be rescued in rain,under the cover of darkness. The last was one rescued at 11:20 am yesterday.

The whole nation woke up to the tragic news. Then there were questions such as how the rescue operation went wrong? Why could people not be alerted of the rising river level? Or whether the rescue team was equipped with the right gear to risk their lives.

While we may brush this aside as a case of getting wiser after the event, we could take some lessons from this incident.

Maochhu is a notorious river. It is too small to wade across in winter and too big that it causes havoc in the plains every monsoon. A brief downpour and the river or its tributaries turn wild, damaging properties and agriculture land.

In hindsight, an early warning system in place could save lives, if not properties. It is said that during disaster every second matters. Disasters come without warning, but we can warn, for instance, people living downstream or picnicking on the banks if a heavy downpour in the catchment area is going to cause a flash flood.

Given our vulnerability to natural disasters, early warning systems along the Maochhu banks could play a critical role in saving lives.

GCF projects target solving irrigation water channels issues

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:35

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

In a major effort to solve irrigation water issues in Wangdue, eight projects—six to upgrade and two new constructions of irrigation channels—are expected to begin this fiscal year.

The projects, funded through the Green Climate Fund (GCF), are worth Nu 396.57 million (M).

According to Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer, Dhodo, new construction of irrigation channels in Phangyul and Gangtey gewogs were two major projects of the eight.

He said that today the current water source at Lachu, which is around 18km away from Phangyul, was not sufficient for the people. “As such irrigation water rotation period of 21 days in the gewog is one of the longest in the country signifying it to be the most water scarce gewog in the country.”

With almost 164 acres of land remaining fallow, Lumchi village and Phangyuel chiwog faces major irrigation water shortage. The chiwog has around 75 households.

According to Phangyul Gup Ugyen, in other parts, around 50 to 70 percent of the land was cultivated.  “Irrigation could be only done during monsoon. That too, paddy cultivation is usually late. The execution of this project will benefit the people to be self-sufficient and independent.”

With the GCF project, the gewog will receive water from Baychu located around 34km from the gewog. The project will benefit around 285 households.

A new irrigation channel construction from Mangchuka source will take place in Gangtey gewog.

Dhodo said that today although potato cultivation took place, the land remained barren even as the potato season was over.

He added that with the new irrigation water channel from Mangchuka, located around 5.5km away from the gewog, people could plant dry crops after the potato season was over.

Around 110 households are expected to benefit from the project.

In six other GCF-funded projects, irrigation channels will be renovated.

The project’s aim is to replace the traditional water channels (earthen) with pipes to avoid water loss on the way.

Renovation of Rukha irrigation water channel in Athang, Pangkabji irrigation water channel in Nyisho, Lachu irrigation water channel in Dangchu, Rinchengang irrigation water channel in Thedtsho, and renovation of the Ngawang Sechu irrigation channel in Rubesa are part of the project.

According to  Thedtsho Tshogpa Chador, the renovation work would help encourage people to continue double paddy cultivation in the chiwog.

He added that while spring paddy cultivation took place in January and February, the households in the gewog would also have paddy cultivation in May and June. “We had issues of water being lost on the way. There were landslides and people would have to do woola. People also had to go clear the channels every time paddy cultivation began.”

While surveys for almost all eight projects are completed, designing and consultation are underway. Work for the renovation of the irrigation channels is expected to complete this fiscal year.

Handicraft shop turns grocery stores

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:35

Phub Dem | Paro

Traditional handicraft shops in Paro town, which was a tourist hub, is now transforming into grocery stores to cater the local customers.

While most of the handicraft shops still remain closed, others are reopening the store with alternate business modalities as grocery stores, garment shops, restaurants and vegetable stalls. And some have left the business.

It has been almost six months since the handicraft business closed with the first Covid-19 case in Bhutan.

Chimi Dema who has been operating a handicraft business in Paro for the past eight years recently set up a grocery shop with the handicraft items.

She stayed home, jobless for three months. Her house owner reduced the rent to Nu 10,000 starting this month.

If it wasn’t for the rent deduction, she said, she would have left the business. “When there is no business, how can we pay the rent. I hope the grocery business earns enough to pay the rent.”

Chimi does not foresee great prospects from the conversion. Almost all the handicraft shops in Paro are converting into grocery stores.

She said: “The profit margin is minimal from grocery items and there is a bloom already.”

Like Chimi, every handicraft owner is holding onto the business, even when there is no sale, with the fear that they might lose the spot.

Handicraft business, according to the craftspeople is expensive and the competition for the prime location is fierce.

A handicraft owner had invested Nu 1 million to buy a handicraft shop space a year ago. She has to pay monthly rent of about Nu 30,000.

Her landlord reduced the rent by 20 percent for the first three months, but she was asked to pay the full amount starting this month.

Her handicraft shop displayed a mix of souvenirs, edibles, and cosmetics.

She said: “I can’t leave the shop after investing a huge amount. But without business how can I pay the rent?”

Pemba Lhamo who started her handicraft business in 2008 has switched to a restaurant after her shop remained closed for more than four months.

She had been paying rent and other expenses from her savings until June. “My saving has exhausted now. I have to take this alternate business to sustain my family and reserve the site until the tourism industry returns to normal.”

With the local tourism industry suffering major setbacks due to Covid-19, the handicraft people are targeting local demand to sustain through the pandemic.

Unlike others, Tashi Wangmo Handicraft is targeting local demands through online business. She is adamant to change her business model.

She said that her store would focus on things such as religious artefacts, yathra, gho and kira, and locally available bamboo products.

Besides, she said that it was the right time to focus on the real “Made in Bhutan” products with the restriction on imports.

A proprietor, Sonam Choden was planning to set up a grocery store since both her tenants who ran handicraft business had left.

She said that the rooms had been lying idle for two months now.

Although she said that she gave 50 percent rent discount, the tenants left failing to pay the remaining amount, as there was no business.

Tashi Wangmo added that business could revive if people are safe and there is no community transformation. “Just for the sake of tourism business, we cannot afford to risk everyone’s life.”

Meanwhile, the shop owners have applied for alternate business licenses.

Barshong farm road difficult in summer

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:33

Chimi Dema | Barshong

The 54-kilometre farm road that connects five chiwogs in Barshong, Tsirang has made access to market easy besides cutting the distance to the nearest road head.

However, in monsoon, without stabilised base course, it is difficult for the vehicles to negotiate the road.

Only 3.5km of the gewog’s 11 farm roads has been stabilised.

A taxi drops Kencho Wangmo from Chunyikhang until the gewog centre. She then walks for more than two hours downhill to her home. Today she is carrying an LPG cylinder which she got refilled in Damphu.

Farmers say that with the road getting blocked frequently in summer, selling their farm produce is a major challenge.

A farmer in Barshong said that erosion affected the irrigation canal.

Barshong Gup Santa Lal Powdel said that not all farm roads were in bad condition except in some stretch points, adding that the gewog administration and local contractors were involved in carrying out minor maintenance.

“Landslide is a problem on roads running to Chunyikhang and Gangtokha whenever there is continuous rain,” Santa Lal Powdel said.

He said the government had approved budget for stabilising base course for 10km stretch in coming fiscal year.

“If we can stabilise 10km road this time, we will be able to do the remaining in the next two years,” he said. “Improving road conditions and making it pliable for all seasons could benefit our farmers significantly.”

He said that the drainage system would also be cemented to reduce damage to the paddy fields.

 

Soldiers honored with Drakpoi Khorlo medal posthumously

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:31

Four soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army lost their lives during a brave rescue operation to save the lives of people caught in the flash floods in Gelephu yesterday. 

His Majesty The King travelled to Gelephu yesterday morning, accompanied by the Prime Minister and Chief Operations Officer of the RBA, as the rescue operations were being completed. 

A team of five soldiers braved the waters of the Maochhu to rescue people at the Maochhu Water Treatment Plant last evening at around 8:30pm. The people were in imminent danger of being washed away by flash floods as the river swelled due to two days of incessant rain. The team rescued five of the people who were stranded, but four soldiers, Peljab Ugyen, Gopa Pema Wangdi, Chuma Dup Tshering, and Chuma Tandin Dorji lost their own lives in the process. Chuma Kinzang Dorji is the only member of the team that survived.

The deceased soldiers have been posthumously awarded the Drakpoi Khorlo medal for their extraordinary courage and their supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. His Majesty Commanded that their families would continue to receive salaries, allowances, and all benefits that the soldiers would have received during their service and in their retirement.

The rescue operations were conducted at 4 different locations along the river. Soldiers, helped by DeSuups, dzongkhag officials, excavator operators, and others, saved the lives of 21 other people, including 4 forest officers on patrol duty at border entry points at 2:30am yesterday morning, 16 workers including two women and a child at the Maochhu worksite and crushing unit at 9:45am, and the caretaker of the water treatment plant at 11:20am yesterday. All the people caught in flood have been rescued. The flash flood has affected over a 5km area around the banks of Maochhu. 

 His Majesty The King commended the dzongdag, RBA officers and personnel, DeSuups, and others who were involved in the rescue operation, in particular the excavator operators, who took on a great risk to reach the stranded people, and thanked them for their heroic services.

Rescue operation saves 21 stranded

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 12:05

.. hunt for the two missing soldiers still on

Maokhola Update: The last man stranded at Maokhola, the caretaker at the thromde water treatment plant has been rescued half an hour ago. 

The rescue teams brought to safety 16 labourers of Gaseb Constructions Company,  including a child and two women, from Maokhola in the morning. They were working on the bank of Maokhola when suddenly the river changed course and the flood occurred yesterday. 

The search and rescue teams are now looking for the two soldiers who went missing yesterday evening while attempting to rescue those five stranded people.

Two soldiers die, two missing in rescue operation

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 12:00

Five people stranded in the middle of Maokhola were rescued after more than six hours operation yesterday

Nima  | Gelephu

Two soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army in Gelephu drowned in the Maokhola and another two went missing yesterday while attempting to rescue five people who got stranded in the middle of the river.

The five soldiers were a part of a rescue team who tried to cross the river with ropes tied around their bodies to rescue the stranded people near Thromde’s water treatment plant. One of the five soldiers was rescued half way before reaching the stranded people. He was saved using excavators by other rescue team members. The survivor was immediately referred to the Gelephu central referral hospital (CRRH).

http://kuenselonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/maokhola3.mp4

Following heavy rainfall, water level of the Maokhola increased suddenly and changed course flooding the Thromde water treatment plant area.

The five stranded people were rescued around 8pm after nearly six hours of rescue operation. However, when this paper went to print at 11:30pm, search for the other two soldiers were ongoing despite the rising water level.

The five stranded in the middle of the river had left to see their stone crusher machine located at the Maokhola dredging sites, according to sources.

Meanwhile, the rescue team after continuing the search, managed to find two bodies. Army, police, and dzongkhag officials present at the spot immediately called for additional excavators and rescue safety ropes.

Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay said ropes were tied to excavators and the rescue members were wearing life jackets when the incident happened. There are three excavators deployed along with the rescue officials.

Gelephu Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said they were also trying to rescue the caretaker of the treatment plant who is also stranded at the plant, which is also flooded.

“The rescue effort started immediately after officials were informed about the rising water level near the treatment plant as Maokhola changed its course and started flowing from near the girls football academy at Shetikhari.

“We came to know about the people being stranded after reaching the site. The rescue work started at around 3:15pm,” he said.

Gelephu received continuous rainfall for most part of the day yesterday.

Budget irregularities rose by 134.1% in 2019

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:16

This is the highest irregularity reported in the past five years 

Younten Tshedup 

Shortfalls, lapses and deficiencies in various agencies and organisations amounted to over Nu 871 million (M) in 2019, with financial institutions having the highest of irregularities worth over Nu 288M followed by the ministries with over Nu 268M.

The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) in its latest annual report highlights an unresolved significant irregularity amounting to Nu 1.415 billion (B) in 2019, which is an increase by 134.1 percent from the irregularities reported in 2018.

The annual audit report 2019 has been compiled from 564 audit reports issued last year.

However, RAA in 2019 reported irregularities amounting to over Nu 3.53B of which audit findings worth over Nu 2.1B were either resolved and or were not material for inclusion in the annual report.

As per the report, the significant increase in irregularities (134.1 percent) is attributed to issues related to the construction of Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway project under the works and human settlement ministry, overdue loans and advances under Bhutan National Bank Limited (BNBL) and embezzlement of funds reported under Samdrupcholing drungkhag, Samdrupjongkhar.

The report states that the Lingmethang regional office under the Department of Roads has made avoidable payment of Nu 0.625M for the formation cutting of Gyelpoishing-Nganglam highway project. The office had not levied liquidated damages amounting to over Nu 49M and suffered a financial loss of Nu 120M in the construction of the road among others.

With over Nu 520M, the works and human settlement ministry reported the highest amount of irregularities among the budgetary agencies.

Of the four categories of irregularities observed for the ministry, more than Nu 292M was for non-compliance to laws and rules followed by over Nu 212M for the shortfall, lapses and deficiencies. More than Nu 14M fell under cases with elements of embezzlement.

Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag administration was next with irregularities over Nu 135M followed by the home ministry with over Nu 46M.

Among the non-budgetary agencies, BNBL reported the highest irregularities over Nu 229M followed by the National Pension and Provident Fund (NPPF) with over Nu 54M. Bhutan Post also recorded irregularities amounting Nu 21M last year.

Irregularities by category 

Following the shortfall, lapses and deficiencies reasons, non-compliance to laws and rules made up the second major reason for the audit irregularities last year.

The irregularities under the category amounted to over Nu 444M of which government ministries comprised the portion amounting to over Nu 342M. Next was the dzongkhag administrations with Nu 34.997M followed by autonomous agencies with irregularities of Nu 35.855M.

Mismanagement in the different agencies – government and autonomous amounted to over Nu 67M worth of irregularities.

Embezzlement and fraud and corruption each made up irregularities worth over Nu 29M and Nu 2.4M respectively.

The report stated that the highest embezzlement irregularities were reported under government ministries worth over Nu 14M followed by corporations (over Nu 7.6M) and dzongkhags administrations (over Nu 7.5M).

With Nu 14.113M, the works and human settlement ministry had the highest significant fraud and embezzlement cases followed by Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag with Nu 8.398M. Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) also recorded Nu 6.504M worth of fraud and embezzlement cases.

Thimphu Thromde and Bhutan Telecom Limited each recorded fraud and embezzlement cases worth Nu 1.669M and Nu 1.163M respectively.

Irregularities in hydropower projects 

The audit report highlighted that irregularities in two hydropower projects – Mangdechhu hydroelectric project (MHEP) and Punatsangchhu-I hydroelectric project (PHPA-I) amounted to over Nu 380M.

The highest irregularities for two projects were reported under non-compliance to laws and rules involving over Nu 241M worth of irregularities. Over Nu 139M was reported under shortfalls, lapses and deficiencies.

Meanwhile, RAA made recoveries of Nu 181M last year, an increase of 80 percent compared to 2018.

Impending slide: Households are worried

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:15

Nim Dorji  | Trongsa

The people living below the road before reaching Trongsa town are worried about the landslide.

With about 50 metres of road yet to be blacktopped with proper drainage system, the road has started to slide in some areas.

There are eight households below the road. They say that they are worried and cannot sleep, especially when it is raining.

Sonam Tshomo said her house is located below the road and her family is worried all the time.

She said that the slide was a perennial problem on this stretch.

Recently, slides damaged paddy fields.

Leki Zangmo said that the road was maintained the problem was reported to the authorities concerned.

As per the department of roads’ office, the particular stretch of road is included in the package in the east-west highway widening project.

The officials are monitoring the work.

Dredging in Gedu and Samtse: Govt. lost Nu 230M

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:14

Yangchen C Rinzin

Failing to exercise due diligence and levy loyalty as per metric tonnes for surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials (RBM) under the jurisdiction of divisional forest office (DFO) in Gedu and Samtse, has led to the government losing revenue of Nu 230.920 million (M).

The surface collection of RBM had levied royalty on truckload basis instead of per metric tonnes, thereby losing the revenue, according to the Annual Audit Report 2019.

Failing to implement standardised carrying capacity for truck, the DFO led the exporters to earn more revenue than the government. Exporters earned huge revenue ranging from a minimum of USD 14 to as high as USD 27 per metric tonnes. The government received only Nu 40 per truckload as royalty.

The audit also observed that lack of clarity and inconsistency in charging of export permit fees has led to short of Nu 1.745M for the export of surface collection and river dredging materials under Gedu DFO.

The Samtse DFO levied export permit fees at the rate of Nu 20 per permit page while the Gedu DFO charged only Nu 10, where such rate is not mentioned in the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) 2017.

“It was noted that there was no basis for revision of export permit fee from Nu 10 to Nu 20. It was not produced during the audit,” the report said.

Apart from leading to loss of revenues, the DFO of both Gedu and Samtse has violated the conditions prescribed in FNCRR 2017 during the issuance of forestry clearance to permit dredging work along the Budhuney river.

Although it was marked that 16 requirements as fulfilled in the inspection report, the site inspection team did not declare that the area is a habitat of peacock including the vicinity of a critical watershed and water sources.

A total of 25 parties comprising of 13 under DFO Samtse and 12 under DFO Gedu operated dredging works without forestry clearance.

This happened because the DFOs had not ensured that surface collection and dredging activities were carried out only after obtaining all the clearances.

“Of the 25, 15 parties had forestry clearance for surface collections and 10 did not obtain forestry clearance for both surface and dredging works,” the report. “Operating surface collections and dredging activities without obtaining the forestry clearance is a direct violation of prevailing Acts and Rules.”

There was also a clear incidence of undue favouritism to the operators in terms of issuing required clearance by the DFO Gedu and Samtse where they did not enforce the need to obtain all required clearances.

“This is laxity on the part of regulatory agencies,” the report said.

For instance, if the activities fall within highways and near to human settlements, the clearance from the roads department and the local community is a must to indicate there is no adverse impact from carrying out surface collection and dredging.

A total of 32 operators had not obtained applicable clearances from the relevant authorities.

The DFO Gedu and Samtse had also failed to comply with the requirement for environmental clearance for surface collection and dredging activities for RBM.

It revealed that for nine parties, the department of forest and park services (DoFPS) had issued environmental clearance for both surface collections and dredging works.

While the clearance for surface collection of sand and boulders are supposed to be obtained from DoFPS, for dredging works, National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) is supposed to issue the clearance.

“This is a pure contravention to the provisions outlined in Regulations for Environmental Clearance of Project. Only one party, M/s BMML enterprise had obtained clearance from the NECS,” the report said.

Both the DFOs had not carried out proper detailed project report for environmental mitigation and prevention works including operators also failed to carry out proper demarcation, plantation activities, as indicated in the environmental clearance’ condition.

The RAA pointed out that the activities of surface collection and dredging of RBM without valid environmental clearances has violated the terms and condition questioning the legitimacy of operation. It also pointed out the lack of due diligence on the part of regulatory authorities.

“This has resulted in huge negative environmental and social impacts. Instances like diversion of the river due to excessive dredging, damage to government properties, non-implementation of mitigation measures were observed,” the report stated.

This was also attributed to lack of coordination among relevant agencies in the governance, management and operation where most agencies were functioning in isolation.

The DFOs Gedu and Samtse did not review and demarcated the areas for mitigation works including mitigation plans submitted by the parties.

Although six parties had submitted mitigation plans for obtaining environmental clearance, none of them had executed the mitigation plans. The mitigation work would have otherwise cost Nu 622.581M.

What after the audit report?

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:14

Nearly two decades ago, when the Royal Audit Authority first published its annual reports through the media, there was almost a protest. Audited organisations objected to the findings and head of agencies made accountable scolded reporters who reported on the findings.

The reaction has subsided since then. Not many complain, perhaps understanding the importance of transparency in our system or more so because they are getting used to the annual reports. Yesterday, the RAA released its 2019 report. For a few days it will be talked about as we skim through the report to see which organisation had the biggest irregularities or head of agency made answerable.

The report has to be studied, talked about and taken seriously. After years of initiatives to cut down on lapses, shortfalls, mismanagement of public fund and wasteful expenditures, the audit reports are pointing out the same issues every year. The 255-page report has detailed information on ministries, agencies, thromdes, dzongkhags, autonomous agencies and corporations. What we see like every year is that irregularities are the same.

If the reports had been taken seriously, if people were brought to task and if we understood that our scarce resources are being wasted in the manner we do every year, we should have a report with a few pages.

The issues are the same. Poor work quality, goods not meeting specifications, agencies accepting poor quality works, excess or inadmissible payment, taxes not collected and cases of outright embezzlement. Shortfalls, lapses and deficiencies worth Nu 871.3 million (M) were reported in the audit year. Non-compliance to laws and rule cost nu 444.80M and mismanagement of projects or plans about Nu 67 M. Outright fraud and corruption is only Nu 2.46M, but the cost on the people for whom most of the projects and programmes are targeted is huge.

We are still talking about faulty designs of irrigation channels, construction or blacktopping of roads leaving halfway and paying contractors advances more than they deserve. We are dealing with contractors making money by sub-standard work or outright cheating. We are talking of buildings developing cracks soon after handing over, new infrastructure not put in use and failing to deliver services to the needy. And all these are planned with borrowed or aid money. This year, the RAA has also questioned how ministers and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court spent more than Nu 15M in granting solera, nyendar, changep and tshogchang.

There is a huge gap in planning, prioritising and implementing the projects. For example, the need for industrial parks was a long term priority. The parks cannot start without basic amenities like water and electricity. In the Dhamdum Industrial Park, the contractor had not built one “buffer” tank. The money was paid. A buffer tank, we can assume is not a tiny one to escape the eyes of those monitoring the projects.

We need not take pride in seeing a reduced amount in fraud or corruption. There are tricks up the sleeve. Contractors agree that they make money from manipulation. That is why there is poor workmanship, tender specifications are violated and sub-standard materials are used. The profit has to be made from manipulations if a tender is quoted too low. If those implementing and monitoring join hands, the margin is better.

The big question is what after the report. An audit report in itself is an ineffective document. There is very little impact if timely and tough actions are not taken.

Village-based vendors in Barshong link farmers to market 

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:13

Chimi Dema | Barshong

In many parts of the country, farmers today are finding it increasingly difficult to market their farm produce. But not villagers of Barshong in Tsirang.

They have a vibrant chain of ready buyers in Thimphu and Gelephu for the wide range of cash crops and livestock products they produce.

Favoured by improved farming technologies like poly-house, hybrid seeds, and roof rainwater harvesting system, among others, many farmers in Barshong produce both seasonal and offseason vegetables.

They grow 13 varieties of vegetables on a large scale including cabbage, ginger, beans,  onion, and chilli.  Farmers also grow banana, orange, mango, pear, plum, and passion fruit on their fertile fields close to the Sunkosh river besides numerous varieties of cereals including paddy.

Barshong Gup, Santa Lal Powdel said that the villagers so far could sell as much as they produced except a few times the prices were not as expected.

He said that a group of village-based entrepreneurs have been linking farmers to markets.

“On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the vendors go from house to house collecting the produce, and on Thursdays take them to Thimphu and Gelephu,” he said.

One of the vendors is 66-year-old Dhan Bdr Tamang from Gangtokha who says business has been good for the past 17 years.

He gathers produce from 12 fellow farmers in his village and sells in Thimphu’s Centenary Farmers market.

“I take about three metric tonnes of seasonal vegetables and fruits on Wednesdays around this time of the year,” Dhan Bdr Tamang said. “Sometimes, I send in the bus when the quantity is less.”

When vegetable production is at its peak, he said he used to hire a Bolero pick-up.

“I earn around Nu 25,000 a week during peak season,” he said.

Phul Maya from Barshongmaed takes seasonal fruits like bananas to Thimphu. She travels to Thimphu on Mondays and spends at least two days to sell the produce.

Pem Choki and her business partner make it to Thimphu every Thursday with a Bolero pick-up truck loaded with seasonal vegetables and fruits from the village.

The vendors said that they could fetch better prices in Thimphu than in the nearby market. “We earn enough to sustain ourselves,” Pema Choki said.

Farmers said that with such village-based vendors, they no longer have to worry about the market for their produce.

“In the past, we had to carry the produce on our backs and walk to Damphu to sell,” a farmer said. “We didn’t produce much without easy market access.”

The gewog administration has also constructed a sale and storage counter nearby the gewog centre.

The gup said that the gewog would help villagers store and sell farm produce should they find it hard to sell in the future. “We’d store the produce in the counter and seek help from gewog agriculture and livestock officials to link to the market,” the gup said.

Meanwhile, the introduction of climate-resilient agriculture in the gewog in recent years has been encouraging farmers to enhance farm production.

Sachi Dhar Mishra, a farmer in Barshong Taed, growing off-season vegetables is not a problem even when rains are erratic and environmental conditions are not favourable.

This, he said, is possible due to the new farming technologies such as poly-house and roof rainwater harvesting, introduced by rural livelihoods and climate change adaptation pilot project in the gewog in 2017.  

Sachi Dhar Mishra said that with the help of poly-house, he was able to raise quality seedlings faster.

The roof rainwater harvesting system, he said, helps him grow winter vegetables when the water from the source dries.

Besides covering expenses for necessities, he said that the income from vegetable produce helped him save money for emergency purposes.

Apart from interventions for climate-resilient agriculture, goat husbandry promoted by a pilot project is benefitting villagers in Barshong, today.

Kharkha Laya Monger, a farmer from Chunyikhang village, said that he earns about Nu 9,000 from selling chevon.

The gewog’s livestock extension officer, Ratna Bahadur Chuwan said that the pilot project has introduced about 96 beetal goats from India between 2016 and 2017.

He said that the goats were not only raised for meat production but also to crossbreed with locals.  “Farmers have also sold them in other gewogs and dzongkhags which has increased people’s income.”

He also said that many meat vendors also visit the villages looking for meat these days. “Farmers can fetch a good price.”

Currently, about 65 households in five chiwogs of Barshong raise goats.

Sachi Dhar Mishra said that it was easier to raise the new breeds than the local ones. He has four goats on his farm, today.

Farmers have also opened a joint saving account since 2016 where an individual contributes Nu 100 a month.

BNLI train bench clerks to improve judicial proceeding

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:12

Thinley Namgay 

Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI) organised a two-day training for the bench clerks on ‘interpretation of laws’ in Thimphu yesterday.

There is a need for the country’s judicial system to understand the importance of the bench clerks to assist the judges in the judicial proceedings. In other words, the whole activity is to bridge the gap between the courts and the members of the public who approach courts for judicial services.

The training is in line with the BNLI’s long-term goal to build capacity and to enhance judicial education for those in the system.

More than 30 bench clerks from 12 drungkhag, dzongkhag, high court and supreme court are attending the training.

Senior judges are among the programme’s trainers.

BNLI’s director general, Lobzang Rinzin Yargay, said that clerks interpreted the laws and drafted the judgments. “With this training, clerks will be well-versed in the rules and the principles of interpretation of laws because the primary functions of the judiciary is to interpret the laws passed by the Parliament. But if we don’t have the capacity to interpret the laws professionally, the legislative intent may not be satisfied.”

The bench clerks play a vital role in judicial proceedings such as study and to analyse the case, summon the parties for hearing, help the judges to hear the case, and to help the judges to draft the judgments.

Lobzang Rinzin Yargay said that clerks had to undergo a two-year diploma in national laws at Royal Institute of Management and other relevant training to upgrade their professional capacity.

There are more than 250 bench clerks in the country today. Thirty bench clerks of 15 courts took part in the first phase training in Paro last year.

Chief Justice Chogyal Dago Rigdzin graced the opening ceremony of the training.

Travel agent helps unprivileged students in Melongkhar

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:11

Neten Dorji  | Trashiyangtse

Jigdrel Dorji, 13, of Melongkhar Primary School in Trashiyangtse, would have dropped out a long time ago were it not for Bhutan Swallowtail. Bhutan Swallowtail is travel agent.

Jigdrel Dorji one of the 11 scholarship students sponsored by the Bhutan Swallowtail travel agency.  The boy is in sixth standard today.  The travel agent provides the sponsored students with school uniform, shoes, stocking and stationery. The students also get a yearly stipend of Nu 4500 to Nu 6000.

“I am grateful to the Bhutan Swallowtail travel agent. It would have been difficult for my mother to support with education for three of us,” said Jigdrel Dorji.

His father died when he was in Class II.

Jigdrel Dorji’s mother, Dechen Zangmo, is a villager and depends on farmland. She said that she had to borrow the money from her neighbours, especially at the beginning of the academic year. “I am thankful to the travel agent for supporting the education of my children.”

Tandin Dorji studies in Class IV. His mother finds it difficult to provide for his education. Chungku, Tandin Dorji’s mother, said: “What I earn is not enough for my child’s education.”

Pempa Lham, a teacher, said some parents had even decided to withdraw take their children out of the school. “The students are able to concentrate on their studies and perform well academically.”

The travel agent started giving education scholarship programme in 2016 after the school’s teacher had posted on Facebook:  “My students wearing the same old shoe for so many years”.

The proprietor of Bhutan Swallowtail, Tashi Wangmo, then decided to help the children in her small ways.

“Our aim is to support them with education If they disqualify from class ten, we will make sure they get a decent job,” said Tashi Wangmo.  “But we want to enable them to continue their education and succeed in life.”

GNHC clarifies its stand on Merak GC road

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:11

MB Subba

The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) has clarified its stand on the government’s decision to blacktop the Merak gewog connectivity (GC) in Trashigang via Khardung village despite the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) resolution to blacktop via Chaling.

The GNHC secretary, Thinley Namgyel, told Kuensel yesterday that the Merak gewog blacktopping project was being undertaken with the common minimum infrastructure (CMI) budget, which is over and above the funds allocated to local governments as per the resource allocation formula (RAF). 

According to GNHC, the purpose of the GC road was to provide the shortest route between the dzongkhag headquarters and the gewog. GNHC officials added the Merak GC road was initially supposed to go via Khardung and that the blacktopping budget was allocated accordingly.

“One of the arguments used in favour of the GC road via Chaling is the coverage of a larger population. But the idea about blacktopping the GC road is not so much about the population coverage but facilitating the shortest distance between the gewog and the dzongkhag headquarters,” the GNHC secretary said.

The GNHC secretary said that the budget belonged to Merak gewog. “Our view is that it’s the people of Merak who should decide which road should be blacktopped. Also, the shortest distance to reach Merak is via Khardung.”

However, GNHC officials added that Shongphu gewog could use its block grant to blacktop the farm road within the gewog. “If the CMI budget was allowed to be used for blacktopping of the Shongphu-Chaling and Shektimey road, which is a farm road, other gewogs may also come up with similar proposals,” the GNHC secretary said.  

The Trashigang DT and the Bartsham Shongphu MP are of the view that the DT resolution should be upheld as per the local government (LG) Act. GNHC officials said that they were mindful of the local government Act and that they would respect the DT resolution.

However, GNHC officials added that local government resolutions should be reasonable and implementable within the given resources.

Chief Planning Officer of the Local Development Division, Tandin Wangmo, said,  “From the CMI point of view, the people of Merak should have the prerogative to choose and decide where they want the road to be from.” She added that Shongphu gewog was already connected with a blacktopped GC road. 

Tandin Wangmo said that gewogs could choose to blacktop their farm roads with their RAF budget. However, she added that the present road via Chaling was not a GC road, but a farm road and that only GC roads were entitled for blacktopping under the particular budget (CMI).

“The catch here is that if we use the Merak GC budget to blacktop the road via Chaling, the GC road via Khardung will not be blacktopped (with the limited budget). These are the fundamentals that have gone into planning,” the chief planning officer said.

However, she reiterated that GNHC would have no say if it were the people of Merak who preferred the GC road to be via Chaling.

GNHC officials said that they were neutral and that they wanted the issued to be resolved among the people. “When the issue came up, we took a back seat and wanted the issue to be resolved amicably because we recognize and respect the LC Act. Our responsibility was to make sure that the Merak GC road was blacktopped as per the plan,” she said.

GNHC officials were of the view that earlier Kuensel stories did not give the holistic view and the background on the matter and that it hopes the matter to be resolved amicably at the earliest and that the project is implemented in a timely manner thereby benefitting the people of Merak gewog.

The construction of the Merak GC road was also undertaken in the 10th Plan  itself.

In the 11th Plan, works on blacktopping majority of the GC roads were undertaken. According to GNHC, the Merak GC road  blacktopping was already included in the 11th Plan. However upon  the community’s feedback to allow  the newly constructed road to        stabilise before blacktopping, the activity was  deferred.

The Shongphu GC road    blacktopping  was already undertaken  in the 11th Plan.    

The Merak GC road is         planned as a Gewog CMI activity for Merak gewog, with a total budget of Nu 147.9M (million) for the stretch Khardung to Merak via Shektemey.

The CMI activities are provided with the primary objective to reduce differences in jurisdiction’s per capita endowment of basic infrastructure and facilities. The budget for CMI activities are provided as over and above the RAF budget, to help promote and achieve balanced and equitable socioeconomic development among the local governments.

Shongphu gewog was provided with separate budget for blacktopping of Shongphu GC road in the 11th Plan. The activity was completed as planned in FY 2016-17.

 The connectivity between Shongphu-Chaling and Shektimey is as per Farm Road specification, and as of now farm roads are not eligible for blacktopping, according to GNHC.

People continue to breach protocols and illegally enter the country 

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:13

Recent defaulters caught. All test negative including their contacts    

Younten Tshedup 

We are lucky this time, but for how long?

This is a question that has surfaced after a series of incidents where people have illegally entered the country.

The latest report involved two men who had illegally entered the country on July 16 and towards the mid of May.

Following the reports, on the command of His Majesty, an emergency meeting among all stakeholders was held on July 18. His Majesty personally chaired and participated in the discussion.

On July 16, a resident of Rinchenphu village under Yoeseltse gewog in Samtse had entered the country without following the due procedure. Since his arrival, he visited two residents where he had contact with about eight people.

The 24-year-old man was working in Jaigaon, India since March.

In another incident, towards the mid of May, a man had illegally entered Thongzom (Malabasey) village in Samtse. This is the same village that has been put under quarantine following a recent breach.

After arriving in the country last month, the man had accompanied his wife to the national referral hospital to deliver their child.

However, much to the relief of many, a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) yesterday said that all tests conducted on the suspects and their primary contacts were negative.

Besides the contacts of the suspects in Samtse, the staff of the national referral hospital were also tested for Covid-19.

While the contacts have been advised to stay home, the men have been arrested and would be dealt as per the law, stated the press release.

The Covid-19 task force in Phuentsholing has also notified that all such illegal acts would be liable for the offence of criminal nuisance as per Section 410; failure to assist lawful authority as per Section 428 and breach of public order and tranquillity as per Section 448 of the Penal Code, 2004.

The PMO in its press release stated that such irresponsible acts besides being against the law, were detrimental to the country’s efforts of combating the spread of the pandemic in the communities.

The government since March 23 made it mandatory for all individuals travelling into the country to undergo facility quarantine.

“Such undesirable developments weigh heavy, not just on our resources, but our strength and spirit as the nation puts up the fight against this pandemic,” stated the press release.

The office has asked the public to cooperate and support the frontline workers and also to impart the message to friends and families in the villages who could be unaware of such happenings.

All local leaders and Parliament representatives have also been requested to reach out to their people in the grassroots.

The PMO also clarified that every Bhutanese wishing to come back to the country can do so as it was a wish and command of His Majesty The King.

“We will do all it takes to bring them home, but we need to know first. For this, we need your support.”

The press release stated that quarantine facilities were government-sponsored and ensured best of care and comfort for people staying in it.

“Under His Majesty’s leadership, we have come this far in securing the safety of our people from the disease. It is only in the collective effort that we will be able to see through these troubled times. Let’s rededicate our commitment, redefine our determination and work together.”

Meanwhile, supporting the tagline, ‘Together We Can!’, the health ministry also sought cooperation and solidarity from the public.

The ministry in the wake of a series of breaches took to social media stating, “Let’s look within, reflect and judge (for ourselves) whether what we clandestinely do as a single individual is bigger than the satisfaction for a few, or the harm it will bring to an entire community and country.”

It reminded the public of His Majesty’s concern that the reckless action of a single person could undermine the entire nation’s effort so far to control the pandemic.

Trucks stranded on Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:12

Tshering Namgyal  | Mongar

More than 20 trucks have been stranded at the bridge point of Kuri-Gongri after numerous points on the highway was washed away more than a week ago.

They are carrying mostly essential goods and are bound for Mongar, Gyalpoizhing and Trashigang

A few truckers decided to take the alternate route via Pemagatshel on July 17, while few left the trucks and transshipped the goods to come to Mongar.

Some vehicles are also waiting at Yangbari, around 18km from the block and some chose to remain back at Nganglam.

The truckers have been managing with the basic food items they usually carry and from the construction site.

Truckers said they have been surviving on two meals a day.  “Our food stock has exhausted now and we wanted to get out of this place at the earliest.”

A truck driver, Kinzang Tenzin, said shops are far away, so they are seeking help from those at the construction site nearby.

Three trucks laden with grocery items, beer and coca-cola of Mongar town’s one of the prominent grocery shops are stuck in the block. The shop’s owner Pema Zangmo is worried about her shop running out of stock.

“Some items like Dalda and juices are already out of stock.”

She said she never thought the block would last so long and bringing the goods via the alternate route would escalate the cost.

“I am in a dilemma now,” she said.

Truckers accuse Department of Roads (DoR) of not working hard enough.

“Only a small wheel loader has been deployed so far. On top of that, the driver reaches the site after 10am from Yongri, near Gyalpoizhing and leaves the site by 3 to 3.30pm. If that’s how the clearing works are carried out, I don’t think it will finish on early,” a trucker said.

“There were two excavators lying on the other side of bridge belonging to DoR, Nganglam. Since they are under the same department they could have used them as an alternative and finish the work faster,” he said.

A contractor, Karma Wangchuk, whose wall construction work has been affected said all the truckers were struggling and he shared his labourers’ ration. He added that his construction work has been hampered after he was unable to transport materials. He is worried about not meeting the deadline.

Meanwhile, Lingmethang DOR office deployed an excavator on top of the wheel loader, which reached the site on July 17 afternoon.

Lingmethang DoR office’s chief engineer, Karma Rinzin, said there were 10 to 11 blocks on the highway and a lone wheel loader was deployed after the standby payloader malfunctioned.  “It cleared the smaller blocks.”

He said the second major block at the waterfall area would take about three to four hours to clear. The major one is at 300m ahead of waterfall towards the bridge point where the base of the 50m road has been washed away.

“A cutting has to be done and we’re hoping to finish the rebuilding work by next four to five days to open the highway to traffic,” he said.

4km road stretch at Wokona to be resurfaced

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:11

Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha

Work to resurface around 4km stretch along the Punakha-Gasa highway will begin this year.

The stretch is part of the 7km road at Wokona, which has been in bad condition for years.

According to Chief Engineer with DoR’s regional office in Lobesa, Karma Tenzin, the department received Nu 10 million (M) in this fiscal year to resurface the road.

The department received the budget after it put up the proposal for last two years for rehabilitation of the 3km stretch and resurfacing of the 4km stretch.

Karma Tenzin said that the remaining 3km stretch, which the department had planned to be rehabilitated wouldn’t be possible as the budget wasn’t approved.

“Budget to rehabilitate the 3km stretch would be more. If we take the Nu 10M budget and do the rehabilitation work, we would only be able to do around 1km,” he said.

A complete blacktopping of the Punakha-Gasa highway was completed this year.

However, many portions of the highway are in bad condition.

Karma Tenzin said that the nature of the landscape and the weather were major reasons for the damaged roads.

“There is continuous rainfall in the area. And when water seeps in the bituminous material, it will be damaged easily,” he said.

Karma Tenzin said that studies were conducted to understand the condition of the road and bring better resolution.

The regional office has plans to increase the thickness of the road during future works.

Karma Tenzin said that the roads usually had a 20-year lifespan. “Gasa road is quite new. The Wokona area is around six to seven years old.”

Although the Gasa-Punakha highway is identified as secondary national highway, plans and budget would be proposed in the future for work similar to the primary national highway.

Karma Tenzin said that in the primary national way, an additional layer called the bituminous macadam materials (BDM) was added to the granular sub-base (GSB), wet mix macadam (WMM) and asphalt concrete (AC).

“We will see the requirement and propose accordingly,” he said.

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