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དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 2 hours 1 min གི་ཧེ་མ།

Picture story

3 hours 14 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Following incessant rainfall, a huge landslide blocked the Trashigang-Trashiyangtse highway at Buyang, around14km from Doksum towards Trashiyangtse, at around 4:40pm yesterday. Department of Roads officials said it would take around two days to clear the block.  

Bhutan’s losses on graduation from LDC to be minimum  

3 hours 15 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

MB Subba 

Even though Bhutan will lose specific trade benefits and entitlements after graduation from the group of Least Developed Countries (LDC) in 2023, such losses will be minimum, states the recently launched Diagnostic Trade Integration Study Update 2020.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Bhutan is well on track to graduate from the club of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in 2023 coinciding with the end of the 12th Plan, according to the UN’s Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

Published by the Department of Trade and UNDP Bhutan, the report states that the unprecedented socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic may dampen and exacerbate challenges to Bhutan’s sustainable transition. But it adds that the UN’s Committee for Development Policy could take a holistic view to review progress made by graduation aspiring LDCs.

Despite its disadvantageous geographical location, Bhutan has progressed well on the socio-economic front. This, the report states, will serve as a cushion for the adverse impacts that may be encountered after its graduation.

Bhutan will continue to enjoy the same level of market access with India even after graduation given the tariff concessions the former receives from the latter under the bilateral trade agreement, according to the report.   

Bhutan’s graduation will also not affect its market access to its relatively important markets—Bangladesh and Nepal—due to the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and bilateral trade agreements.

Graduation from LDC is a significant breakthrough aimed at opening new development pathways. But it also brings a new set of challenges, as countries stand to lose specific benefits and entitlements they used to enjoy as LDCs.

These benefits, according to the report, include support for concessionary development finance and technical assistance, trade preferences, and special and differential treatment with respect to various multilateral trade rules and regulations.

Upon graduation, they lose access to many privileges and International Support Measures (ISMs), exclusively available for LDCs, such as withdrawal of certain unilateral and non-reciprocal trade preferences granted under Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF) schemes (preferential market access provided to LDCs by developed countries).

However, Bhutan is different from many other LDCs—the bilateral agreement with India, with whom it has an overwhelming trade dependence, will remain effective even after LDC graduation.

Most of the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) consisting of grants, concessional loans and untied aid are also not strictly linked to a country’s LDC status, which means that Bhutan could continue to receive them even after graduation, according to the report. The World Bank has classified Bhutan as a lower-middle-income country, and the status may remain even after graduation.

Given its good performance in cutting poverty incidence by two thirds in the last decade, its high average annual GDP growth and a GNI per capita of USD 3,080 in 2018, the graduation may impact concessional loans that the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank, and other financial institutions have been providing.

However, the report adds the situation will be different with donor countries, where the concessional loans or grants come in view of larger political engagement and bilateral relations.

Bhutan’s graduation is anticipated to result in the loss of technical and financial support but the likelihood of drastic cuts in external development assistance is not expected in the bilateral context.

As an LDC, Bhutan receives DFQF preferences from developed as well as some developing countries, despite the fact that it is not a WTO member today. “After graduation, Bhutan will lose these DFOF preferences.”

However, less than 10 percent of its exports are to countries that grant DFQF Thus, upon graduation, Bhutan will lose its zero-duty market access to these markets, which is mainly in the European Union (EU).

Bhutan, however, will still be eligible for the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSPs), reduced rates of duties granted by developed countries like the EU to developing countries.

The report identified that the largest export reduction post-graduation will be to the EU market.

However, it adds that the total losses in exports will be smaller due to the increase of Bhutan’s exports to India. It is projected that there will be a substantial shift in Bhutan’s export destinations, from the EU towards India, which will be concentrated in minerals, metals and chemicals.

“Part of a smooth graduation strategy is to continue to benefit from DFQF market access to developed countries, including the EU for three more years after its official graduation,” the report recommends.

In most cases, except for primary agricultural products, minerals and ores, it would be difficult for Bhutan to qualify for GSP.

An official said that nothing was “confirmed” yet on Bhutan’s graduation in view of the pandemic but added that Bhutan’s earlier official position stood.

The graduation thresholds must be met for any two of the three criteria—Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, Human Assets Index (HAI) and Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI)—in two consecutive triennial reviews. Bhutan’s GNI per capita is estimated at USD 2,982 in 2021, which is almost three times the graduation threshold of USD 1,222.

The country’s current HAI score (index of education and health used as an identification criterion for LDCs) is estimated at 79.4, which is above the required score of 66. The EVI is now 25.7, which is well below the graduation threshold of 32.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Improved Samdingkha-Sewala road benefits farmers and goenpa

3 hours 15 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Vehicles being pulled or being pushed out of mud was a common sight along the 17km stretch between Samdingkha and Sewala Goenpa in Chubbu. But now, with granular sub-base (GSB) work almost completed on the stretch, the goenpa and travellers are benefiting from the improved road condition.

Sewala Goenpa’s principal, Namgyel, said that before GSB work began, students from the goenpa had to help travellers and maintain the road every weekend.

He added that the goenpa sought funds and maintenance works were being done along the stretch.

“When I came here in 2015, the road was unimaginable; we had to tie a rope to the vehicle. I left my car on the way and had to hop in another vehicle. And we have to travel twice a week to the town to procure necessities.”

The goenpa has more than 85 individuals—monks and teachers together.

With improved road condition, the goenpa is seeing increased number of visitors. It has also helped to bring workforce for the reconstruction work at the Namgyel Tse Temple (neykhang) above the goenpa.

Namgyel said that during auspicious days, over 500 devotees help fetch stones to the site.

He added that with road, reconstruction of the neykhang made significant progress. “We thought the work would take around two years, but within six months it has made so much progress. It is almost complete now.”

Travel charges for farmers carrying their produce to the market have also decreased. Until recently, taxi drivers refused to drive to the villages near the goenpa.

Namgay Dem, 60, said that in the past drivers would charge the travellers more than Nu 2,000.

Today, travellers pay only Nu 200 to reach their villages in the Jangwakha-Sewala chiwog.

“Even light vehicles are now willing to come here,” Namgay Dem said.

The 17km road was first paved in 2008.

Jangwakha-Sewala’s chiwog tshogpa, Tsagay, said: “The road is as good as blacktopped. The difference is huge now.”

With improved road, farmers expect to increase agriculture work in the villages.

The project is yet to be handed over to the gewog.

The Small Development Project funded project began in February this year with a budget of more than Nu 26 million.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Truckers refuse to abide by agreement

3 hours 16 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

State Mining Corporation Limited’s (SMCL) sales office in Samdrupjongkhar terminated two truckers and cancelled agreement for 14 truckers between January and July this year.

SMCL’s officials said they had to terminate the truckers after several reminders as the truckers did not ferry gypsum as per the agreements for more than a month.

“We faced challenges to meet the daily requirement of more than 1,400 metric tonnes of gypsum (MT). The truckers didn’t inform the office about their absence,” an official said.

According to the agreement, SMCL would cancel the agreement and issue the termination letter if truckers do not work continuously for 10 days.

They said one trucker did not ferry gypsum for more than a month and didn’t inform the office. Officials, however, said they traced the truck through GPS and found it was carrying goods in Samdrupjongkhar town.

“We terminated him because it’s against the Covid-19 standard operation procedure (SoP). He was also found ferrying goods in Nganglam, Pemagatshel,” an official said.

About 14 truckers also withdrew ferrying gypsum, reasoning the trucks were old.

Officials said SMCL also issued reminder to 22 truckers who didn’t turn up for ferrying gypsum since October last year, adding that of the 22 truckers, one trucker informed the office that he would take another one month to resume the work.

“Truckers are given direct work of transporting gypsum without the middlemen. We have no choice if they do not cooperate when we need them because we even fuel their trucks. The management looks at the need and truckers’ response,” an official said.

A trucker, Karma Dorji, said he didn’t transport gypsum for more than a month as his truck could not travel with the escort because it is old, adding that the officials issued a termination letter as they found his truck parked in Samdrupjongkhar town.

“I have no issues terminating, but I didn’t understand as SMCL didn’t cancel the agreement for other truckers. I used to earn a minimum Nu 80,000 to Nu 90,000 profit excluding the fuel and maintenance charges a month,” Karma Dorji said.

Truckers said they submitted the withdrawal letter because they face challenges in meeting the 15 truckloads of gypsum a month as their trucks frequently give problems. “We would continue to work with the SMCL if the office gives us an opportunity as we are buying new trucks,” a truck driver, Thukten, said.

Meanwhile, the SMCL has about 112 trucks ferrying gypsum from Pemagatshel to Samdrupjongkhar today, while the office exports more than 1,400MT from its stockyard a day.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Lhuentse’s new township needs additional amenities

3 hours 17 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

From the hamlet of makeshift huts a few years ago to a town with two to three-storied concrete structures today, Phaling town in Lhuentse is mushrooming into a beautiful township after a decade of planning.

After plots were allotted in 2008, owners started constructing the buildings and 18 of the 28 plot owners have rented out their newly constructed houses. One building is still under construction.

The construction boom has now addressed the acute housing shortage Lhuentse residents grappled with until now.

Most of the ongoing town road widening works and infrastructure development activities are now completed.

The Nu 90M town development work that includes widening of 2.5km double lane road and flood protection wall along the Lekpagangchhu near dzong area including other urban infrastructures like footpath, streetlight, and storm water drainage, is in progress. Buildings in the new township are electrified and connected with water.

The contractor will have to complete the works by January 2022.

However, building owners, particularly those whose plot falls in the upper part of the new Phaling township have their last demand, an internal road network connecting their buildings to the highway approaching towards the dzong, besides streetlight and internal footpath.

The length of the road is estimated to be just over 200m to connect to the main highway towards the dzong and plot owners said it was previously promised by dzongkhag as a main infrastructure in the new town but did not get through.

Building owners said lack of the infrastructure and service has affected them as they were not able to rent out their shop spaces attached to the buildings.

“There are no shopkeepers keen to operate due to lack of customers because there is no proper road,” a building owner, Kunzangla, said.

All the shop spaces in eight buildings, especially those that fall in the middle line of the town, are vacant. Each building has a provision of two shop spaces required by the town’s design.

Building owners said everyone prefers a comfortable service like a bag of rice loaded into their car parked in front of the shop and drive through a comfortable road. “Since there is no provision, people don’t visit our shops,” Kuenzangla said.

They said there is an approach road from one side above connecting the road to Ngar village, but need to be improved and connecting it to the highway would be much beneficial.

Residents say the road will also help municipal waste collection reach individual buildings and solve waste issues in the town.

“It’s quite a burden to go all the way to the road point near vegetable market to catch the waste truck all the time,and collecting it from the doorstep would be beneficial,” a building owner, Chedup, said.

He said some residents even throw away their waste along the street.

Another building owner, Dechen Wangmo, said streetlights and footpaths in the new township would also attract customers and tenants.

Building owners said most of them have constructed their houses on loan and almost all the building owners will have repayment difficulty.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Keeping the hope of being able to walk again

3 hours 18 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Thirty-four-year-old Yonten Jamtsho is lying on an air-bubble mattress, which helps prevent bedsores. His legs are being tied with a traditional sling (for carrying baby) to avoid stiffening up.

For almost two years, Yonten Jamtsho has been stuck either to his bed or his wheelchair. “It is scary thinking about dying. No matter what, in the end, we try to stay alive.”

Today, staying inside a two-roomed rental apartment in Punakha, Yonten Jamtsho is accompanied by a friend he knew at work. Yonten needs a full-time caregiver.  

“I pay him. Sometimes Nu 500, other times Nu 300,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

In 2019, on December 25, Yonten was travelling to Gasa’s fuel depot from Damji. While returning, he met with an accident. The old van he was travelling in veered off the road, falling down almost 130 metres.

In a critical condition he was moved to the national referral hospital. There he received surgical treatment and was moved to Bajo Hospital after one month.

“The vehicle’s brake had issues. Later, I was in Bajo Hospital for about a year,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

On his bed, Yonten constantly moves his arms, which doesn’t stretch above his head. Although movement is restricted to his lower body, he often stretches his toes, pointing up. 

“I can feel sensations. It isn’t that my body is completely paralysed. That is why I want to stay here and seek help,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

Yonten Jamtsho was in his village in Pemagathsel two weeks ago. He said that his relatives one day forced him in a vehicle unannounced and was taken to the village without his consent. That time, Yonten Jamtsho was in Sirigang, Punakha in an apartment paid by a help group, Yamtshen Chenge Detshen. With Yamtshen Chenge Detshen, Happiness Center and Ability-Bhutan society have provided help.

“My relatives don’t come to see me. It is understandable as I couldn’t do them any good when I was in a good condition, but they shouldn’t have forced me to go to the village,” Yonten Jamtsho said. 

After Yonten Jamtsho left for his village, he lost his medical documents with other items. “A close friend took good care of me but after I was taken to my village, he had left,” Yonten Jamtsho. 

In Pemagathsel, Yonten Jamtsho was with his mother and his stepfather. 

“They took good care of me. But there is no hope in the village,” said Yonten Jamtsho.

Yonten’s hope to walk someday came after a private consultancy ensured him treatment, which could enable him to walk. 

“Madras Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (MIOT) consultancy in Thimphu said that I would need to first see if the treatment would work on me. Then if it can, I can get the treatment,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

However, his dreams to leave wheelchair someday comes at Nu 2.6 million (M).

“I have received about Nu 80,000 donations from other people,” Yonten Jamtsho said. 

Yonten described himself as a strong-headed person.

It has been more than eight months he has not met his touch with his 2-year-old daughter. That makes him sad. 

“I heard that my ex-wife travels to Punakha often from Gasa but they hardly visit. She has blocked my number and wouldn’t let me see my child,” Yonten Jamtsho. 

Yonten and his wife separated about eight months ago. 

“I have no hard feelings. She was a good person. But her parents didn’t want someone like me who couldn’t take care of their daughter,” Yonten Jamtsho said. “If I am able to walk someday, I want to be a monk.”  

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Blind football – a new sport  

3 hours 19 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Thinley Namgay 

Phub Tshering from Wangdue hasn’t played football for the past 11 years. The 27-year-old quit monkhood and sports in 2010 after becoming visually impaired.

However, his love for the sport was reignited recently when Bhutan Paralympic Committee (BPC) and the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) invited him for a blind football game in Thimphu last week. Phub Tshering joined 21 others including five women.

Blind football is a game designed for players who are visually impaired. It is currently a Paralympic sport under the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA), which also organises a world championship.

IBSA was founded in 1981. IBSA’s first congress was held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. Spain is considered the pioneer of blind football, having played the sport since the 1920s.

According to BPC’s official,  blind football is also called- ‘football 5-A side’ as it involves five players from each team. The size of the blind football ground is usually like a futsal or basketball ground.

In the game, players will clap to receive the ball pass, and some will make noise. A ball makes a gentle rattling sound when in motion.

Internationally, a blind football match consists of two halves of 20 or 25 minutes, with a 10 minutes break for half-time. Except for the goalie, all players have to be blindfolded while playing.

Phub Tshering, who works at the Kuenpel Entertainment of Visually Impaired in Thimphu, said that the game was exciting. 

“I was thrilled to play football after a decade. I felt light after the game. I travel most of the time in the vehicle and lack physical exercise,” he said.

“I am optimistic about the game. We can do it. Even if we can’t feature on the world stage, it will help us stay fit,” said Phub Tshering.

For the event, International Blind Football Foundation donated eye masks and balls.

BPC coach, Penjore Gyeltshen, said that blind football would act as a recreational game for the enthusiasts. “BPC and BFF are trying to advocate people on this game. The game was also introduced at Khaling, Trashigang.”

However, Penjore Gyeltshen said Bhutan has a long way to participate in the international blind football competitions.

He said if players are really interested, the game would become popular and able to participate in the international platforms. “In other countries, blind football is prevalent, and players earn their livelihood through this game.”

According to Penjore Gyeltshen, other para-sports such as goalball, air rifle shooting, disable football, and swimming would be introduced in the future.

Rinchen Penjor, 27, a graduate of Sherubtse College, said he enjoyed the game. “After the game, I have discussed with my friends to at least play once a week.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Decongesting the capital city

3 hours 20 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Thimphu city is crowded. Many knew, decades ago, that this was going to happen and called for planned growth of the city. In recent years, as the new local area plans (extended areas of the town) opened up for development, the call was that the core city area should be decongested. One way was moving offices and institutions, businesses and other establishments to the new areas.

It has not happened, except for new businesses that found opportunities in the rapidly expanding town. The Road Safety and Transport Authority on Monday opened a service centre in Babesa, south Thimphu to cater to owners and drivers of medium and heavy vehicles who are restricted from visiting the head office at Lungtenzampa. 

It was a wise decision. There are many benefits besides easing the crowding at the RSTA head office. As of June 30, there were 61,240 vehicles registered in Thimphu, according to RSTA’s record. This is one vehicle for two people even if we consider the population of Thimphu to be 150,000. Those who got caught up in the traffic jam in north Thimphu would have wished they didn’t have to come to the core city or what some call now the centre business district (CBD) to work. And those whose offices were on the outskirts of the city or in the extended town would have had the last laugh as social media was filled with images of long queues of vehicles stuck in the jam. 

There is only one way of decongesting the capital city. We have to take services to where people reside. Five of the six banks, for instance, are located along the Norzin Lam. It is a crowded street seven days a week. A few banks have opened branches in the new settlements. Their services are being appreciated. A lot of services can be availed from their branches without having to come to Norzin lam, drive around for a parking space and pay hefty parking fees after finding a space to park. 

Going by the rural to urban migration rate and the promises (false or real) the capital city offers, there will be more people moving to the city. The capital city’s infrastructure cannot keep up with the growing population. We are experiencing it, whether in terms of traffic jams, waste management, housing and so on. It is only wise to decongest and ease the pressure on the limited infrastructure by decentralizing.

There were discussions of moving the Thimphu dzongkhag administration to Debsi. It is not happening and, in the meantime, Debsi has become a town, bigger than many dzongkhag towns. Moving the dzongkhag administration that caters to the gewogs out of Changlimithang makes perfect sense. The indecision is not. Freeing Norzin Lam by pedestrianizing it was another good idea our planners came out with. The idea was killed not because it was bad, but because of pressure from a few business people and because of the indecision of our decision makers. 

Thimphu is not obviously what we see today. It had to develop and grow, but as a late developer, we had the vision to make it a unique Bhutanese town. The congested haphazard unplanned growth was not what was envisioned. There will be demand for more offices and institutions. It will be worse if we cannot look beyond Norzin Lam or Chang Lam or the so-called core city area. 


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When is the new tobacco Act coming into effect?

3 hours 20 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

In the meantime, illegal smuggling continues to flood the local market  

Younten Tshedup 

More than a month after the Tobacco Act was amended as an urgent bill by the National Assembly, tobacco and tobacco products continue to be readily available in the market today.

However, the contraband comes with a cost. A packet of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes (10-piece) cost Nu 300 today, against the maximum retail price (MRP) of Nu 110. A packet of chewing tobacco, Baba, with an MRP of Nu 3 costs anywhere between Nu 80 to Nu 100 in the market today.

Those selling the products say that the ‘market price’ has not dropped.

“This is the same rate which we have been charging since last year,” said a shopkeeper in Thimphu.

The fact that these illegal products are readily available in the market today indicates that illegal smuggling of tobacco and tobacco products is still happening across the border.

The Tobacco Act was amended in the summer session as an urgent bill in view of the continued smuggling of tobacco products through the porous border in the south, which has been identified as one of the main reasons for the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the country.

“The decision to lift the ban on sale and import of tobacco products came as good news for people like us,” said the shopkeeper. “Honestly, there is not much of a profit for retailers like us. It is only those who import illegally from India who make the biggest profit from this business. We just buy from these dealers at almost the same price we offer our customers.”

Many users of the product have also been anxiously waiting for the revised rates under the new Tobacco Act. “The government pushing for the revision was an indication that things would be done at the earliest.  

But there seems to be no change whatsoever,” said a civil servant, who requested anonymity.

He said that tobacco and tobacco products are readily available in most of the shops in Thimphu. “The reason why there is no shortage of tobacco in Thimphu despite the lockdown in Phuentsholing is because people are still smuggling it illegally,” he said, adding that the amendment of the Act would be of no use if the illegal tobacco business continues.

“The government must act fast or else the black market will continue to grow along with the risk of virus from across the border,” he added.

Although the implementation date of the new Tobacco Act remains unsure for now, the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) has notified that the Bhutan Duty-Free Limited will make its existing tobacco stock available to the authorised outlets for sale, until the supply commences.

Under the interim standard operating procedure (SOP), authorised tobacco shops and tobacco wholesale dealers will be the only entities permitted to import the products.

BNCA stated that only micro general shops including ‘pan’ shops, and grocery retailers will be allowed to sell tobacco and related products. Dealers and sellers of tobacco and tobacco products are required to maintain daily records of their importation, sale, and distribution.

It will be mandatory for sellers to seek an identification card or proof of age before selling any tobacco or tobacco products. The sale of ‘loose’ cigarette sticks will not be permitted as per the interim SOP.

Using tobacco and related products in open and public places will continue to be prohibited and strictly monitored by the authorities concerned.

Meanwhile, the government plans to conduct aggressive awareness programmes on the harmful effects of tobacco to offset the impact of lifting the ban.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Govt. considering donating excess vaccines to Nepal 

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:49

Younten Tshedup  

Following a request placed by the Nepalese government seeking vaccine support from Bhutan, officials from the foreign ministry said that the government was considering sending excess AstraZeneca vaccine to Nepal.

However, before finalising any decision, the ministry officials said that the government must first get export approval from donor countries, including Denmark, Croatia, and the AstraZeneca company.

Once the donor countries agree to the export conditions, the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) in Bhutan will also have to approve the export of the vaccine as per the existing protocol.

An official said that the government was considering Nepal’s request as Bhutan had surplus vaccines after inoculating more than 90 percent of the eligible population in the country.

“We’ve vaccinated most of our people with both the doses now. It will be the right thing to do if we can give the excess vaccines to other countries where the vaccine is in short supply,” said the official. “Also, because the vaccines are expiring soon, we would not want to waste it.”

According to a report by The Kathmandu Post, Nepal has written a ‘diplomatic note’ to Bhutan seeking 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.

A senior Nepali official in Kathmandu and Nepali diplomat based in New Delhi confirmed that the request was sent to Bhutan through the Nepali embassy in Delhi. “Nepal has communicated to Bhutan as to whether the surplus doses could be supplied to us on condition that we would return when we have the vaccine or any other support we could extend.”

Vaccine quantity to be exported, however, has not been finalised yet.

Health officials did not share the quantity of remaining AstraZeneca vaccines in the country and its expiry dates.

Kuensel learnt that the country has over 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine secured recently through donation for the second round of mass vaccination. This also includes excess vaccines from the first round.

The country used some 25,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine during the week-long second vaccination campaign.

Officials said that the adult population (18 years and above) who are now eligible to receive the vaccine are recommended AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We are now giving AstraZeneca vaccine for adults as we have stopped using the Moderna vaccine to give it to children between 12 and 17 years,” said a health worker.

Should Bhutan supply the vaccines, Nepal plans to use it for its elderly population. Around 1.4 million (M) people aged 65 and above in Nepal have received their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Nepalese government is also expecting some 1.6M AstraZeneca doses from Japan.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk 

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Sibjam aims to improve the agricultural supply chain

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:48

Chhimi Dema 

Supply chain in the country, which centres around what is known as middlemen, is often blamed for pushing up the price of produce in the market. They buy from the farmers and sell to the wholesalers.

Sibjam, a digital platform, that will connect farmers to the market aims to eliminate the role of a middleman and give the middleman’s cut to the farmers.  

Sibjam’s founder, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the platform would ensure effective linkages between farmers and consumers and also collect data on farm produce, harvest and the expected price of produce.

Sibjam ensures that farmers earn good price from their crops and do what they are good at­­–producing agricultural produces,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Sibjam would cover marketing, transportation and delivery aspects, he said. “For now, we have the middleman connecting the farmers and wholesalers, Sibjam will eliminate the middleman, and we will become the retailers allowing the farmers to keep the middleman’s earning.”

Sibjam aims to encourage farmers to grow crops that both local and international demand.

Kinley Wangchuk said: “We are here because we want to contribute to the food security of Bhutan.”

The platform will be launched in September this year.

Today the platform has a website and is reaching out to farmers and consumers.

The platform was funded by Loden Foundation, sponsored by Bhutan Foundation with support from the US Aid.

While many feel that farmers can produce and directly link with the retailers, there are questions of efficient marketing, according to the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC)’s director, Kinlay Tshering.

Kinlay Tshering said that wholesalers were important in the supply chain of agricultural produce.

“Many people say farmers can produce and directly link with the retailers and sell to the consumers. But if we professionalise the supply chain, wholesalers are important as retailers because they do business in bulk,” she said.

Linking producers to retailers sometimes is not efficient because of many producers; many producers can link with wholesalers and they can distribute to retailers, Kinlay Tshering said.

There is a need for advocacy on profit margin or  what the middleman can keep, and research needs to be done on this issue, she said.

DAMC is working towards connecting producers to consumers. So far, about 400 schools have been linked to the farmers. Moreover, the department intervened to connect the onion farmers of Dagana with wholesalers in Thimphu.

“Efforts have been given [to improve the supply chain] and we will continue,” Kinlay Tshering said, adding that wherever possible linkages between producers and retailers are established.

In the Bhutanese context, the input cost is heavy and the commercialisation of farming is limited, she said. “We are trying to get the maximum out of the minimum and that way farm gate price is not comparable to the imported produces.”

Logistics aspect of marketing adds up to the price of farm produces.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk 

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More relaxations in Phuentsholing begin today 

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:47

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The second phase of lockdown relaxation for Mega Zone 1 and 2 in Phuentsholing commences today.

About 35 restaurants and five grocery shops from these two mega zones have volunteered to operate from these two zones. Including the staff, about 57 people were tested for Covid-19 and are waiting for results.

The regional director with the trade office in Phuentsholing, Sonam Dhendup said that they will verify the results and let them open their businesses, accordingly.

“They sat for the RT-PCR test,” he said.

According to the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF), restaurants will be allowed to open for take-away orders today. Grocery and medical shops will be allowed to open. All these business entities will be allowed to open from 8am to 7pm.

The integrated vegetable market will open at 50 percent capacity.

Construction activities will also start under self-containment mode. Operation of factories and industries will also start in self-containment mode.

This phase of relaxation will continue until August 9.

During the first phase of relaxation, identified shops were allowed to open in respective sub-zones. Few other shops in strategic locations that sold baby products, sanitary pads, including book stores and hardware were also allowed to open.

Meanwhile, there are still some confusions among residents about the movement as some shopkeepers are in different sub-zones while their shops are in other sub-zones, especially, in the core town. The movement from one sub-zone to another is restricted.

For this, the trade regional director said that people will be given one-time movement. Shopkeepers can come to the shop and operate, but they will not be allowed to return home in the evening.

The first phase of relaxation in Mega Zone 1 and 2 was given on July 27, after the conclusion of the second dose of vaccination on July 26.

Relaxation started much earlier in Mega 3, which covers Pasakha, Ahlay and Pekarzhing. This zone didn’t have Covid-19 cases for more than 21 days and the vaccination drive commenced earlier than in Mega Zone 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, a restaurant owner, Karma Tshering Dorji said that there were not many customers during the first phase of relaxation (seven days), which ended yesterday.

“I think it is because people from other Mega Zones are not allowed,” he said.

He also said that there may not be many customers today as complete movement of people is not allowed. Restaurant owners will spend cleaning their spaces, he added.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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North Thimphu residents frustrated with frequent roadblocks

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:47

Yangyel Lhaden 

Frequent landslides along the newly widened road stretch between Langjopakha and Simtokha cause inconvenience to commuters, who are forced to wait hours for roadblock to clear.

Following a heavy rainfall yesterday morning, landslides at two locations closed the road between Dechenzam and Langjopakha and 100s of commuters travelling from North Thimphu got stuck in the roadblock for more than three hours.

With the ongoing four-lane road construction between Jungshina and the Bhutan Telecom office in Chubachhu, many people use the Langjophaka route, but frequent roadblocks cause traffic jam along the already congested road.

Road users said thromde could have notified them about the roadblock so that they could travel when the road was cleared.

Thromde officials, however, said they were clearing the roadblock between Dechenzam and Hotel Riverview when the landslide at the other side occurred.

An official said they were worried which road to clear as there was traffic jam from every direction. “We couldn’t notify the public as our priority was to clear the roadblock.”

Thromde’s chief engineer, Yeshi Wangdi, said they closed the road between Dechenzam and Hotel Riverview and tried to clear the landslide between Langjophaka and Dechenzam.

The area below Zilukha roundabout has become risky for commuters (Photo: Thimphu Thromde)

He said trucks were deployed immediately but procuring chained bucket excavator and operator took time. “The roadblock was cleared by 11am.”

Yeshi Wangdi said landslides occurred because the slope had not stabilised.

He said constructing a retaining wall along the whole stretch was not feasible and they had to wait for the slope to get stabilised. “We are expecting the slope to get stabilised within a year.”

Thromde notified people not to use the old road between Zilukha and Dechenphodrang by 11am yesterday as the roundabout in Zilukha had become risky and might slide anytime due to continuous heavy rainfall.

Commuters said thromde could speed up the construction of the four-lane road in Zilukha so that one road remained open.

A thromde official said blacktopping the four-lane road was not feasible in summer and during rainfall, the four-lane road became muddy even though gravels and soil were laid and rolled over the road.

Yeshi Wangdi said thromde would ensure the road is cleared as soon as there was a landslide. “We will focus on making the road safe along the newly widened road.”

Another landslide occurred a few days ago in Simtokha.

Yeshi Wangdi said thromde constructed retaining wall as drainage was not good. “But the retaining wall also collapsed because of the rain this year.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Need of the hour

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:46

Farmers in some cabbage-growing gewogs of Paro had to run from pillar to post when their produce began to rot last year, when the country was reeling under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Eventually, the government came to their rescue, roping in the Food Corporation of Bhutan which subsequently suffered a huge loss with its buy-back scheme. 

Similar instances recurred this year with the communities, mainly in the south, that could not market their cash crops.  

The country is pumping hundreds of millions of ngultrums in fighting the pandemic which otherwise would have been put to good use in essential development activities such as building roads, schools and hospitals.  

How long can the government go on with buy-back scheme? Is there no alternative? Cold storage, perhaps? These are the serious, urgent questions today.

With many farmers’ groups and growing number of commercial farmers, value-addition and investment in the supply chain now can reap huge dividends in  not-so-distant future. 

There are also those who are making the best out of the situation at the cost of many who are hapless. The ‘middlemen’ buy from farmers cheaply and sell them to vendors at higher prices. This is not a new trend but when many families are dependent solely on Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu for their daily sustenance, such obvious greed is too much. 

There is some hope with the agriculture ministry enhancing the marketing links between producers and markets or large institutions. There is also a new online platform coming soon that expects to connect farmers to vendors and reduce the role of the middlemen if not do away with them altogether. 

There are also small firms in the communities that try to do their bit to help the farmers. A local spice firm, for example, has been buying ginger from farmers at a reasonable price, helping them sell the produce before it becomes waste. 

The farmers joined many other Bhutanese in contributing to the State’s efforts to help combat the impacts of the unrelenting virus. They responded remarkably when the country needed large quantities of farm produce after lockdowns across the border and within. 

In the still living culture of  giving, rice, vegetables and dairy products poured into the urban areas and front line workers for free. 

Going by the trend of the pandemic in the region and elsewhere, the virus will not go away anytime soon. As the country’s Gross Domestic Product continues to take a severe beating, we will have only ourselves to rely on for our well-being. 

Local processing firm eases turmeric marketing challenges in Dagana 

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:45

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

With the establishment of the first spice production unit in Dagana, local farmers in the dzongkhag are pinning their hopes on solving the turmeric marketing challenges.

Farmers have started selling their produce to Daga Adding Masala Unit (DAMU), a local processing unit in Dagapela that manufactures turmeric powder for both domestic and international markets.

DAMU’s proprietor, Narath Koirala, 30, said that he started the processing unit in 2018 to reduce spice imports and to gradually substitute imports. “We operated on a small scale in 2018 and with experience, we had been working on expanding the unit.”

In the future, he expects to optimise spice production with increased youth employment. “To reduce risks from market volatility and shortage of resources, I plan to grow turmeric on five acres of land.”

His firm is yet to be certified as organic.

He said that in the past, they faced challenges in marketing products due to a lack of proper packaging.

He has sought support from the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives to explore the export market.

He said that in recent years, the farmers across Dagana were facing difficulties in selling their turmeric.

To date, he has bought 25 metric tonnes (MT) of turmeric from farmers at Nu 37 a kg.

Last year, Dagana agriculture sector, with support from the National Organic Flagship Programme encouraged the farmers to grow organic ginger and turmeric as focused crops in Tsendagang and Tsangkha gewogs.

The initiative was undertaken to encourage farmers to establish a productive organic farming system and cultivate in their fallow lands.

From 2019 to 2020, the sector focused on growing turmeric in nine-and-half-acre land in the two gewogs to produce about 28MT.

However, much remains to be done to reduce the wastage of resources at the unit. For example, there is a need for storage facility. At Narath Koirala’s firm, turmeric, which has a shelf life of a year, is found stacked outside. Young shoots were sprouting even.

According to the trade statistics 2020, although cardamom remains one of the top five items exported by Bhutan to India and Bangladesh, without commercial production of spices, Bhutan is heavily dependent on imports.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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RSTA opens a new service centre at Babesa

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:44

Kinley Wangchuk | Intern

The Information and Communications minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, inaugurated Road Safety and Transport Authority’s (RSTA) service centre at Babesa, yesterday.

The new service centre would cater to owners and drivers of medium and heavy vehicles, who are unable to visit RSTA office during working hours because of restrictions imposed on medium and heavy vehicles to enter the core town area besides delivering general vehicle and driving license related services.

RSTA officials said with more than 48,098 vehicles registered in Thimphu alone, demand for vehicle-related services has increased proportionally.

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said that RSTA office in Lungtenzampa receives more than 250 vehicle-related clients every day, but officials are able to provide services for only 120 clients. “This results in a daily backlog of more than 65 vehicle clients every day.”

Meanwhile, the new service centre located near the STCBL Head Office in Babesa, is expected to complement the online services and enhance service delivery. RSTA’s office in Lungtenzampa will also continue to deliver services as usual.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Women’s cricket team resumes practice for ICC Asia qualifier

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:43

Thinley Namgay

The national women’s cricket team is using the Indian Embassy’s cricket ground at Hejo for the month of August to practice for the upcoming International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s Asia qualifier in Malaysia in November.   

The practice session at Hejo began yesterday.   

According to embassy officials, the assistance was to celebrate the common love for cricket between India and Bhutan. 

Players will also attend yoga classes from a yoga teacher at Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre, KVSSN Murthy.   

Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, said she is delighted that the Indian Embassy is able to play a small role in helping girls train for the International Cricket World Cup. “They are an absolute inspiration for the youth of Bhutan.” 

The 11 national women’s cricket team players and officials from Bhutan Cricket met with the ambassador yesterday.  

President of Bhutan Cricket, Thinley Wangchuk Dorji, said that the Indian ambassador has always been a generous supporter of cricket in Bhutan.  

He said the support would motivate the players and enhance the much-needed skills and confidence for the upcoming competition.  

The tournament in Malaysia is a precursor to the 2022 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2022. Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, China, Hongkong, Myanmar, Nepal will also participate in the tournament.  

The 29-year-old skipper, Yeshey Choden, said the girls practised at the Gelephu cricket ground for four months. “But we couldn’t continue the regular practice at Gelephu due to incessant rainfall.  After reaching Thimphu, we trained at Jigmethang, which is the only cricket ground in the capital.”  

From September, regular training will resume at Gelephu.   

Yeshey Choden said the girls show passion in cricket. She said that a 15-year-old player discontinued her studies after class X to play cricket. “We also have one college student and she confirmed that she would skip her studies this year.” 

Press Officer of the Bhutan Cricket, Tandin Wangchuk, said that the main challenge for the cricket growth in Bhutan was the lack of quality ground. “But now, Gelephu’s international cricket ground has become operational and Bhutan could host an international tournament in Gelephu.” 

Currently, all 11 players are kept on a 10-month contract basis, which is extendable. 

Tandin Wangchuk said that Bhutan Cricket would hire an international coach and also build a cricket stadium at Ramtokto. 

Meanwhile, the team made its international debut at the 2009 ACC Women’s T20 Championship in Malaysia. 

Edited by Tashi Dema

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APA month, an attempt towards solving incoordination in the system?

ལྷག, 08/03/2021 - 11:43

PM to meet agency heads every 3rd day of every month to discuss co-ordination issues

Yangchen C Rinzin 

A common issue in the civil service today is the lack of co-ordination among agencies that hamper work progress.

To many, the lack of co-ordination and “working in silos” has become a cliché, especially among the bureaucrats.

However, an attempt is being made to solve incoordination, according to the Cabinet Secretariat, Director, Chencho.

The first step initiated was coming up with the APA month where heads of various agencies and ministries, including ministers, attend respective agencies to prepare plans with a set of targets to achieve in the particular fiscal year.

“This is one area the prime minister is trying to strengthen on the existing APA process and give ownership to the respective agency,” Chencho said. “So, for this fiscal year, we ensured that all APAs were prepared during the APA month in presence of all the agency heads.”

It also requires that all agency heads should be in the station during the APA month. APA month is targeted to eliminate duplication in the plans.

Incoordination issues among agencies, even within the same ministry which has often led to duplication of developmental activities, was raised in almost every meeting for decades.

Chencho said that there were issues where agencies come up with different policies or laws or Acts, including rules and regulations, but often failed when it came to implementation.

“There were incidences when various plans, resources and budgets are often misaligned. But there was no accountability fixed when the agency could not deliver, as targeted in the APA,” he added.

The government now requires all agencies to have monthly APA reporting within less than two weeks every month.

This is a process where the agency can inform the government on some of the targets that cannot be achieved or require government’s intervention. The prime minister will accordingly intervene or create a mechanism to solve the issue.

In another attempt to solve incoordination, the prime minister will meet all the agency heads every third day of every month and conduct coordination meetings/consultations where all heads will discuss together the coordination required to achieve certain targets.

The prime minister has conducted co-ordination meeting twice so far.

To keep track of the developmental activities and other issues, the prime minister will also meet different agencies, including dzongkhags, thromdes, and autonomous agencies to update on APA implementation every month.

“APA month or such initiative is only to ensure that we improve the APA and not intended to do away with the initial objectives of APA formulation,” Chencho added. “We’re aiming at how robust the APA formulation needs to be by taking everyone on board while preparing APA.”

The director said that APA month would be now formalised in the APA system, which could also partly be a part of civil service reform. “Since reform can happen anywhere and anytime, we must start somewhere to solve the incoordination issues. We’re quite confident this time that there will be coordination.”

This time, the agency would be also required to align targets against only 10 key performance indicators. This is expected to keep agencies focused and prepare realistic/achievable targets.

With these initiatives, there will also be a stern year-end evaluation at both agency and individual levels.

Chencho added that the evaluation must be strict because all the plans are prepared after several coordination meetings and interventions from the prime minister. “So, they cannot give an excuse in the end that they could not achieve the plans when they were given enough time to inform the government if plans are not achievable.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Picture story

མིག, 08/02/2021 - 11:25

  A garbage collection shed along Jemina-Thimphu road yesterday

School closure put pressure on students with disabilities 

མིག, 08/02/2021 - 11:23

Report says schools should remain open during partial lockdown

Yangchen C Rinzin  

Schools with special educational needs (SEN) faced difficulties in learning as the general guidelines provided by education ministry did not cater to them during school closure last year, an Education in Emergency (EiE) Report 2021 states.

This is despite the ministry’s effort to keep all students engaged by providing opportunities for continuous learning. When the schools remained closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the ministry came up with an adapted and prioritised curriculum.

However, the guidelines provided by Royal Education Council to implement these curriculums helped and were convenient only for regular schools.

A total of 834 students with disabilities including (516 boys and 318 girls) in 62 schools across the country availed the EiE services. Students with disabilities include those enrolled in general schools as well as schools with SEN programme.

The ministry developed an adapted curriculum during the school closure and later developed prioritised curriculum on May 15 2020 to be implemented for Classes PP-XII as part of the second phase of EiE.     

The report found that many respondents expressed that the adapted curriculum did not include all the subjects. Some schools with SEN programmes said that their teachers were not trained to deal with students with disabilities online.

The report has recommended that the education ministry should have plans and programs to support students with disabilities during EiE. The study covers all the dzongkhags and thromdes, schools, early childhood care and developments, non-formal educations, learners, teachers, school principals, and parent representatives.

However, challenges relating to online education did not affect SEN students alone.

The study found that there was a lack of authenticity in students’ assignments. “The standard of assignments submitted by the students were too high for their level, which was evident that they did not write their assignments,” many teachers told the team that compiled the report.

Teachers also found that many students had plagiarised their assignments.

Despite teachers following the guidelines provided by education ministry for online teaching, it was found that inadequate ICT skills and knowledge of both teachers and students hindered effective teaching and learning.

There was a lack of knowledge on media literacy and cybersecurity among students.

Online teaching was not only difficult for students, but also an issue for both working parents and homemakers where they complained about facing difficulties in managing time between their work and guiding their children.

“There were hardly any materials available for Dzongkha subject for teaching online, making it difficult to teach,” the study found. “Students could not view files or did not have Dzongkha software installed.”

Meanwhile, the study prepared by the education monitoring division recommended developing TV lessons according to class level instead of Key Stage wise and that the adapted curriculum should also include all subjects.

It also recommended a professional development programme for online teaching, Google Classroom, digital pedagogy, and media literacy for teachers and ECCD facilitators.

“Schools should remain open with adequate infrastructure and safety protocols during a partial lockdown,” the study recommended.

It was reported that 119,772 students used social media App such as WeChat, Telegram, WhatsApp and Messenger to access lessons. A total of 88,118 students accessed lessons through television; 60,507 students accessed through Google Classroom.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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