Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Hundreds of orange trees belonging to more than 60 households of a chiwog in lower Chali died over the years due to an unidentified citrus disease.
Farmers claim the disease has now ascended and reached central Chali gewog.
Sangaymo, 59, from Chasar village of central Chali, lost more than 20 fruit-bearing trees in the last five years from the disease.
She said the disease first starts turning the orange trees yellow, then the leaves fall and production decreases. “The trees then die.”
Another citrus grower, Pema Wangdi, 51, from Lamai Zhukthri of central Chali. said more than seven fruit-bearing trees died recently and the disease has now reached his new orchard. “Orange is a main source of cash income.”
However, a citrus canopy management programme was conducted recently in the two gewogs of Mongar and Chali, which is expected to stop the trees from dying and improve production.
With fund support from IFAD-CARLEP, Mongar dzongkhag agriculture sector. in collaboration with Agriculture Research and Development Center (ARDC), Wengkhar, conducted the four-day citrus canopy management programme last week.
Three research officers from ARDC Wengkhar and 15 gewog extension supervisors coordinated the hands-on training programme that covered 18 households of Mongar and 27 households of Chali gewog.
During the training, the team covered 4,642 trees planted in about 28.67 acres of land in two gewogs. The first training activity on citrus canopy management in the dzongkhag was carried out in Kengkhar gewog in 2020 following a training from ARDC Bajo and Wengkhar.
Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Kunzang Tshering, said canopy management is mainly for regrowth and would help old trees to rejuvenate. “It would also help in nutrient water management besides easy harvesting.”
He said all gewog extension supervisors are trained and the canopy management activity would remain as an annual collaborative activity. “Citrus is grown in almost all the 17 gewogs of the dzongkhag from small to large scale and the gewog extension office will help growers to manage from next year.”
Eleven years after the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) was formed, the association is now upgraded to Disabled Persons’ Organisation (DPO).
This, according to the founders of the association comprising a group of persons with blindness, was an achievement for the country.
A physiotherapist, Dr Sanga Dorji, a person with blindness, led a group of visually impaired colleagues and founded DPAB in 2010.
From settling in a cheap hotel to discuss the formation of an association to renting a room, documenting and hiring people to fulfil the criteria of forming an association, Dr Sanga Dorji said they had come a long way.
According to him, the formation of the organisation was necessary but delayed due to a shortage of human resources and capital.
With many associations catering to different disabilities and working in silos, there was a need for a collective representation both within and outside the country, he said. “The foundation will provide a collective and common voice from people living with different kind of disabilities in the country.”
Six CSOs working on disabilities such as Ability Bhutan, Draktsho, Phensem Parents Group, Bhutan Stroke Foundation, will now function under the DPO umbrella.
Dr Sanga Dorji said, the up-gradation would also help the country rectify the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) after being a signatory since 2010.
The civil society organisation that works by and for the community of persons with disabilities believes in empowering a particular section of people by providing them with the necessary assistance.
The organisation supports persons with disabilities by opening education opportunities and making the public aware of the daily struggles that persons with disabilities go through.
Decades before the formation of the association, Dr Sanga Dorji said that there was limited knowledge about persons with disabilities.
He said that it was essential to have a universal representation of persons with disabilities to participate, contribute and influence decisions and strategy in policymaking.
“It’s a huge achievement and the voice of persons with disabilities will be represented through the organisation.”
Duptho Zangmo, who is also a founder of DPAB, said that she could advocate for people to consider the needs of women with disabilities through the association. “I hope I made some difference in the lives of women with disabilities through my voice.”
Tandin Dorji, who represents persons with physical disability, said had it not been for DPAB, he wouldn’t be there today.
He said that he had seen significant changes in people’s attitude towards persons with disabilities.
As DPAB transits to DPO, persons with disabilities were hopeful for an inclusive society by 2030. They met in Paro yesterday to launch DPO.
In what could be a way forward to offer efficient tourism services to visitors, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is working on digitalising tourism sectors in the country.
The digitalisation process includes creation of a TCB hub, convenient payment gateway, and digitisation of trekking routes and trails, among others.
The proposed TCB hub that will be either web-based or a mobile application is expected to incorporate existing and new services with a one-stop service centre, a payment platform that allows simple payments between users, and the incorporation of the Tashel Visa System into the TCB Hub for streamlining the processes.
According to the Chief of Tourism Promotion Division, Damcho Rinzin, the hub will make access to tourism services easier and user-friendly. “The recommended hub will allow more flexibility and convenience for travellers, more transparency and more focused reach of service providers, and better monitoring and decision making for government organisations.”
He said that TCB had been exploring way forward to digitalise the tourism services to address some of the challenges in the existing system, such as issues in wire transfer, local QR codes, and a non-functioning system that does not accept multi-cards from visitors.
Functions like messenger system and certification of sale of non-antique items will also be incorporated within the hub.
“The hub will generate, aggregate, and compile information in the form of data. Better data capturing allows for higher quality analysis and more informed decision-making capabilities,” stated the digitalisation of Bhutan’s tourism sector report.
Currently, the existing data generated by airlines, hotels, and tour firms in the private sector is found to be under-utilised.
The digitalised system is also expected to meet increased future demands to expand the capabilities and controls to manage tourism sustainably in the country.
However, data privacy, system security and reliability, maintenance and upfront costs, stakeholder involvement, and simplicity of operation remain a concern.
The creation of a digitalised platform is in line with the promotion of National Key Result Areas and the Sustainable Development Goals.
An assessment of the current tourism system of Bhutan highlighted the need for a tourist information search stage where a digitalised platform can cater to a customisable tour arrangement, enhanced communication between tourists and tour operators, and enriched tourism product and service descriptions with user reviews and ratings.
The assessment also recommended improvement in the visa application process and a common platform with a mobile application to allow real-time tracking and data accumulation of tourist activities in Bhutan.
The hub is recommended to be housed within the greater government data centre network.
RENEW, in collaboration with international agencies, trained about 300 vulnerable people to develop their human resource capacity in its vocational training centre at Gawailing Happy Home in Wangsisina.
The training includes professional caregiving, weaving, baking, tailoring, recycling, floriculture, and mushroom cultivation.
Fourteen women are being trained for home care and hospitality. It was conducted in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and labour ministry.
The training started on February 17 and most of the trainees are returnees from the Middle East and women who lost jobs during the pandemic.
The training aims to give wholesome training to women, which covers physical, intellectual, mental, educative programmes, and life skills other than home care and hospitality. The participants will also be trained in old age caregiving.
In the home care, participants will be trained to use different home appliances, basic cooking, baking and gardening.
At the end of the training, participants are expected to gain value and professionalism for a better scope in the job market at homes or hotels.
RENEW’s specialist in livelihood department, Tashi Wangmo, said that it was a timely intervention, as many young girls from villages were exploited and many women trafficked to the Middle East.
She said that with this training, participants would also be educated on legal aspects.
A trainee, who returned from Iraq in September last year, said she worked at a house from dusk till dawn and this training equipped her with skills to work efficiently.
Another participant, another returnee from Iraq, said that the certificate of recognition was important. “I want to work in hotels.”
In another group, nine women and six men received training to grow shitake and oyster mushrooms.
They received hands-on training to spawn logs and inoculate straw for mushroom cultivation. They also received financial literacy training.
A trainee, Singay Dorji, who is a laid-off employee from tourism sector, said he would start a shitake mushroom cultivation business. “I’m hopeful I can start mushroom export business in the future.”
A returnee from Iraq, Tshering Dema, said she wants to start mushroom cultivation.
She has availed floriculture, mushroom, and recycling trainings from the centre.
RENEW organised the training with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Bhutan Office and National Mushroom Centre (NMC).
JICA’s chief representative, Kozo Watanabe, said the aim of the training was to equip the trainees to start their own mushroom growing business as entrepreneurs.
While some participants are willing to start shitake business, most are doubtful if they can start a mushroom business, as they do not have capital investment, it involves risk and the training duration was short.
RENEW’s interim executive director, Tshering Dolkar, said interested participants could avail the organisation’s microfinance loan. “We’ll guide them with loan schemes.”
Kozo Watanabe said they look forward to continue their collaboration with RENEW, National Commission for Women and Children, and NMC.
A trainee, Sonam Dema, said cultivating mushroom was a complex science, which needed expertise. “We received training to cultivate mushrooms on a low-budget and I look forward to build a home for mushrooms with mud.”
Some participants said the training should be conducted for a longer duration, as they spent most of the time carrying logs from the forest.
On the closing of the eight-day training on February 19, the participants promised to gift the first harvest of mushrooms to JICA office as a token of gratitude.
Kozo Watanabe instead asked them to have shamu datse.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
The Tsirang dzongkhag administration has replaced all 16 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the Damphu town on February 18 after the security devices had gone defunct since April, last year.
Two pan-tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras with 8 megapixel (MP), which can capture 360-degree images of its surrounding, and two bullet cameras with 4MP were also installed in the dzong.
The security devices were first installed in and around the town in 2016 and 2018 at a cost of Nu 0.9 million. In 2016, a Thimphu-based trader, TCD, installed about 10 Alcon brand cameras with 16 Channel network video recorder (NVR). Two years later, a Damphu-based business, Gyeltshen Electronics, installed six HIKVISION brand cameras with 16 channels NVR.
Kuensel learnt that all the cameras were non-functional because of poor working experience, while officials claimed that three cameras were damaged by thunderstorms and lightning in April.
Replacing them was expected to be complete in December last year, but officials said that the Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdowns impeded work progress.
To ensure durability and reliability of the cameras, the dzongkhag Information and Communication (ICT) Officer, Tshering Dorji said that the CCTV connection was also switched from wireless to fibre optic cable now.
“The wireless connection of the cameras in the past suffered frequent damage every time there was lightning and storm,” he said. “Which is why the adapter was damaged and the entire connection disrupted.”
He said that the previous cameras had only 1.5MP. “Most of the present cameras are of 4MP,” he said.
The dzongkhag administration spent around Nu 0.99M this time to install 20 cameras through new device technology.
The cameras have night vision features, 32 terabyte storage capacity and records would remain for a month. They are also attached to backup batteries, which can keep them functional for an hour without electricity.
The dzongkhag handed over the cameras to Tsirang police. A focal person each from the police and municipality was appointed to monitor the cameras.
Given the constant monitoring and surveillance in the wake of Covid-19, officials said that ensuring internal security hasn’t been a challenge.
As per the new protocol set up by the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC), all sporting tournaments across the country will resume, starting today.
To stop unnecessary gathering, BOC had temporarily deferred all the tournaments until the end of February.
The protocol was developed in consultation with all national sports federations (NSFs) and sports associations (SAs).
The tournaments will be held behind closed doors, and only players, team officials, security personnel and media are allowed at the venue.
As per the new protocol, NSFs and SAs in Thimphu should get approval from BOC to organise tournaments, which BOC itself will monitor. Private individuals in Thimphu must first obtain permission from NSF to conduct the tournament.
Regarding the tournaments organised by NSFs and SAs in other dzongkhags, they have to be endorsed by BOC and the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force. The dzongkhag Covid-19 task force will monitor the tournament. According to the protocol, individuals, who wish to organise tournaments, have to route through the respective dzongkhag Covid-19 task force.
Team officials are not allowed to visit dressing rooms at any time. “All NSFs organisers must have designated Covid-19 focal person, who must have some level of training in Covid-19 safety and precautionary protocols,” stated the new protocol.
BOC’s head of sports research and development division, Namgay Wangchuk, said that none of the federations has applied for the tournaments except three private individuals, who applied to conduct football tournaments.
The government permitted all sporting activities without spectators until 11pm yesterday. “From now onwards, there’ll be no restrictions on the number of players,” Namgay Wangchuk said.
Failure to comply with the protocol will result in the cancellation of the tournament and the organiser will be blacklisted. Those breaching the protocol will be reported to the national Covid-19 task force for necessary action.
Govt. say the protocol has allowed the normal functioning for rest of the country
The government will not lift the seven-day mandatory quarantine for those travelling from high-risk to low-risk areas for now.
The seven-day quarantine was implemented as part of the unlocking phase in September last year after the first nationwide lockdown.
After every lockdown, people have been demanding the government do away with the protocol, stating that there was no active transmission of the virus.
Today, a person travelling from a high-risk (southern dzongkhags) to a lower risk area must stay in quarantine for seven days before they can travel. This, many say, causes major inconvenience and affects their businesses.
However, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that, despite the inconveniences, the protocol for the seven-day quarantine will not change for now.
Lyonpo said that it was important to know that the risk of the disease (Covid-19) along the border was still high. “The porous border poses a significant threat to the importation of the disease.”
She said that the seven-day duration provided health workers adequate time to detect cases, should there be any. “About 90 percent of the cases can be detected within these seven days.”
Lyonpo said that the seven-day protocol has been effective in controlling frequent outbreaks in the country and has also enabled the running of businesses including schools in the rest of the country. “Once the vaccination is complete, there’ll be a new protocol.”
Reaffirming the need to continue with the protocol, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the threat of Covid-19 still exists. “Our people think that the threat of Covid-19 is gone. But to us, the threat is ever-present, and has increased, in fact.”
Lyonchhen said that the number of cases worldwide has increased and, in the process, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has mutated with some of the new variants being more contagious.
He said that, while the new variants have not reached the country yet, it was already spreading in India rapidly. “In this light, we’ve put a double layer of surveillance with the seven-day quarantine protocol.”
Lyonchhen explained that the first layer of surveillance was at the border gates, which were closed on March 23 last year. He said that, while the government made sure no illegal border crossing was allowed, in the event of such incidences, the second layer of surveillance provided by the seven-day quarantine protocol, ensured the disease (if any) did not spread to the rest of the country.
The prime minister said that he had seen and heard the inconveniences of the public due to the protocol, but at this stage, he said that the government could not remove the protocol. “The reason we’re able to allow the rest of the country to operate fully is because of this protocol. If this is done away with, it might lead to another outbreak, where everything will be stalled again.”
Meanwhile, a sero survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research found that nearly one in five Indians was infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Media reports also suggest that the Indian subcontinent is possibly heading for a new Covid wave.
India has seen a resurgence in the number of Covid-19 cases with the country recording over 16,000 new cases and 100 plus fatalities in the last two days.
The future of the country lies in investing wisely in education. Unfortunately, this is not happening.
Perhaps we should recall the Royal Kashos issued to the people of this country in December last year at Punakha Dzong and put the real problems in the right perspective.
When thousands of Bhutanese children who truly deserve government support to continue their education aren’t getting the support, the ministries responsible should be at least clear as to what their mandates are.
The finance ministry has one thing to say, the education ministry the other. What is now coming off clearly is that our planners and implementers of the plans do not talk or face each other eye-to-eye. There is, thus, the widening gap. And this is proving to be very expensive for a certain section of the Bhutanese population—the country’s future.
There is something called the “Annual Block Grant”, and there is also a guideline as to how these grants must be used. However, the sectors, departments, sections, and the many units aren’t clear as to how they should appropriate the budget.
When the finance ministry’s notification to the education sector said that there is no separate budget provision for procurement of uniform, bedding, and stationery in this fiscal year, the schools had to make tight adjustments.
The importance of clarity here is critically necessary, for the sake of good governance. The government may have decided to discontinue the practice of transferring funds to the central and autonomous schools in the forms of grants, but the finance minister saying that “no where the notification indicated that we’re withdrawing free stationery and uniform”, is difficult to understand.
“It only means that the separate budget was withdrawn for autonomous and central schools because Annual Block Grant is allocated to all agencies,” Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, said. And how did school administrators not understand this? Can they even?
Education has always received a special priority in the grand scheme of national development. There will be emergencies, but emergencies should be put in the right development perspective. If the government must save, there are better ways to do it than simply stifling the future of thousands of children.
And this begs another, more important, question: are we scrapping whole idea of building resourceful and responsible citizens?
The answer must come from finance and education ministries, and clearly.
Ministries and planners are there not for nothing. What we are lacking today is a clear vision. And, by the way, shaping a long-term vision for a nation requires courage to work together. If each ministry, department and unit thinks that they are individually more important than the more sublime and bigger national dream, we have a serious problem brewing in the system.
To put it plainly, why could the finance ministry not be clearer and the education ministry not find reasons to raise questions? These unnecessary hurdles can destroy a generation. We can’t afford that.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Dzongkhags or thromdes have to adjust the budget to procure stationery for students and free uniforms for needy students from the annual block grant, Ngultse Lyonpo (Finance minister) Namgay Tshering said.
A notification from the finance ministry, which was issued to all public offices last year, notified that there was no budget for procurement of uniform, beddings, and stationery items this fiscal year, all schools should refrain from procuring these items.
During meet the press session last week, Ngultse Lyonpo said that the notification stated that the government decided to discontinue the practice of transferring funds to the central and autonomous schools in the form of grants.
“But nowhere in the notification indicated that we’re withdrawing free stationery and uniform,” Lyonpo said. “It only means that the separate budget was withdrawn for autonomous and central schools because an annual block grant is allocated to all agencies.”
The finance ministry’s decision comes after the government rationalised annual budget in light of the Covid-19 pandemic situation.
The decision to do away with the procurement of uniform affected 12,050 identified needy rural students. Doing away with these provisions could save the government Nu 30.125M. The uniform includes a dress set, shoes, socks, and slippers.
With a huge cut in the budget, 156,108 students across the country will not get the regular free stationery items this year. The students have to buy their own. The education ministry provides free stationery items to each student twice a year worth Nu 2,000.
Calling it a miscommunication, Ngultse Lyonpo said that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected domestic revenue and the recurrent budget had to be adjusted. “However, moving forward, the education minister has already been notified to procure stationery and uniform from the block grant.”
Sherig Lyonpo (Education Minister) Jai Bir Rai told Kuensel that, although it was advised to adjust from the annual block grant, it would not be easy given the limited budget. “The budget for the stationery shouldn’t have been withdrawn. But many dzongkhags and schools are trying to adjust the budget to help students.”
Sherig Lyonpo claimed that schools in a few dzongkhags have adjusted from the annual block grant and all schools have received free stationery.
However, when Kuensel confirmed with one of the dzongkhags, the official from the dzongkhag said that it was only one school that managed to adjust. “This was also because they had a leftover budget from the previous year and procured the items. It wasn’t from the annual block grant.”
Sherig Lyonpo said that there was never a miscommunication regarding the procurement of items and all students must receive them and the ministry would try to provide them by the first week of March. “Maybe, some schools couldn’t get stationery or uniforms because of insufficient budget, but not because the government refrained them from buying.”
However, talking with some education and dzongkhag officials, it was expressed that they are yet to understand what all this means. Some said adjusting the budget from the block grant would not be possible given that the block grant was reduced by half due to the pandemic.
Some officials said that adjusting the budget would depend on the finance officers and there was no space to adjust the grant when there was no budget provisioned for procurement stationery or uniform.
“When we’ve limited block grant, the chances of getting stationery budget is very slim,” an education official said. “The priority of block grant is developmental activities and construction, which is the first priority and takes half the budget.”
Another official shared that even if there was balance, the budget would be adjusted in the spill-over activities, which was why it was not easy to “adjust budget” from the block grant. “As per the priority, procurement of stationery or uniform would be the least. We’re in the field so, we know how the allocation of budget works and we need to follow several guidelines too.”
A few said that, despite trying, the budget was not sufficient and it could not be adjusted or some did not get the approval. “It’s not that dzongkhags are not supporting the education sector, but when there is already insufficient budget, how can we forgo other developmental activities?”
However, many schools have adjusted with the remaining budget from the previous fiscal year, while some are using the stationery and uniform purchased last year. Some students received them last year but could not use them as schools remained closed.
“They (government) could just accept that there is no budget for stationery,” an official said. “With so many directives, it’s confusing us and only affecting students in the end.”
The Kasho indicated establishment of Council
Yangchen C Rinzin
It is almost a month after the kashos (royal edicts) were issued but both the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the Ministry of Education are not sure how to go about the establishment of the councils.
Both the ministry and the RCSC are expecting the government to take the lead and give directives on council formation.
Who will form the councils and what are their jobs?
His Majesty The King, on February 2, symbolically handed over to the people of Bhutan two kashos on the reforms decreed for the education and civil service on December 17.
The kasho on the civil service decrees that the Civil Service Reform Council be established to recommend to the government directions to fundamentally restructure the civil service to have a renewed vision for the 21st century.
The kasho on education reform decrees that a time-bound Council for Education Reform be established to prepare a visionary and workable roadmap for the 21st century.
RCSC’s chairperson, Karma Hamu Dorjee, said that, although the Commission is waiting for the government’s directives, the Commission is continuously working on its initial five areas of reforms.
“We’re working in line with the vision of Royal Kasho,” the chairperson said.
Sherig Lyonpo (education minister) Jai Bir Rai said that, while the ministry continued to work its plan and discussed how to meet the Royal vision, it was still not sure about the formation of a Council.
“We’ll have to wait for the directives on the Council formation, and there are no directives as of now,” Sherig Lyonpo said. “It’s still not sure who’ll form and what are the modalities, but we continue to receive feedback on how we can improve.”
Officials from both the ministry and the Commission say they will have to act upon how the Council would direct the reforms.
However, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering told Kuensel that Councils were a component of the kasho, but there are no clear directives/indication to form the Council.
“Once the government receives clear directives on the formation, we’ll act accordingly,” Lyonchhen said. “However, the transformation must go on, and everyone must start working on it.”
Lyonchhen has directed all ministers, secretariats and the Commission to continue the work they have been doing in line with the Royal vision. “All reforms will be incorporated and go through multiple discussions. But for now, there’s no specific time frame to form the council and how, but it’ll be formed at the appropriate time.”
However, Lyonchhen reminded that all Bhutanese are members of the Council because the kasho was issued to the people of Bhutan. “We all are Council members, and everyone must be included to think and share their ideas towards reforms. For instance, how education should be in the country, research best practices, what can be changed and how are some ideas everyone can help with.”
Meanwhile, many observers have expressed that the government must ensure that the Council consists of members from diverse backgrounds and it was important to be transparent on the members of Council.
“It’ll depend on who’ll be the members of the Council,” an observer said. “If we’re going to have the same sets of people from the civil service, then we can’t expect anything new or reform.”
Some shared that if the Council consists of members from the present executive levels, there will be no change in the reform because these sets of bureaucrats would not accept that there was a need for change. “They believe whatever they’ve done so far was perfect. They’ve worked in the same agency for long that they’ll not have new ideas or are rigid,” an educationist said.
Many said that it was not clear what is the next step after the kasho was issued. “We hope that the kasho will not remain inside the frame hanging on the office walls,” a civil servant said. “The members could be a mix of bureaucrats and politicians.”
Many also shared that civil service should stop defending the criticisms they receive.
Some civil servants and people in the education fraternity shared that the Council should be formed from a varied group of experts who know well the service delivery and its shortcomings. “The expert group should be able to provide ways to make service delivery efficient and go for automation.”
A former educationist said that there must be representatives from technical group, finance services, administrative services, and education services, including teachers. “Currently, every reform is done by administrators and there lies the main problem.”
Many civil servants haven’t read the kashos, even today.
400,000 additional doses of Covishield vaccine to arrive by Mid-March
The highly anticipated Covid-19 vaccination programme could begin from March 18, Kuensel learnt.
The week-long nationwide vaccination programme would be conducted in a campaign mode (within a specific duration) with the likely closure of schools and institutions, including a possible restriction of inter-dzongkhag movement during the week.
This, according to Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo was to get maximum coverage. “This is our request and the proposition has been tabled for now. So, when we have the vaccines, this recommendation probably might come from the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Lyonpo said that the ministry began planning the vaccination strategy six months ago, exploring the country’s cold storage capacity and transportation mediums to reach the vaccines across the country. She said that awareness programmes for the public were already underway.
The minister said that a specific date to start the vaccination programme was not decided yet, adding that the date would be contingent upon the arrival of the additional vaccines.
“The moment we receive the vaccine, we feel that we should be able to roll it out within two to three days.”
Bhutan received 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccine (Oxford-AstraZeneca) from India last month. However, the government’s plan to administer the vaccine to the entire eligible population (533,000) would require another 383,000 doses.
Chidrel Lyonpo (foreign minister) Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government was expecting some 400,000 more doses of Covishield vaccine from India in the second week of March.
Kuensel learnt that the additional doses are expected to arrive by March 14 and the deployment of the vaccines to the rest of the country would begin the next day. Three days later, on March 18, the vaccination campaign would then begin.
The vaccination strategy
The health ministry’s strategy is categorised in two stages. In the preparatory stage, registration for the vaccine and other logistical arrangements would be conducted. The nationwide vaccination programme would rollout for all the eligible population in the second stage.
In line with the strategy, on February 21, the health ministry launched the online registration portal to allow registration for people above the age of 15. As of yesterday afternoon, over 63,000 people had registered on the portal.
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that for those in the rural areas without access to the online portal, the Prime Minister’s Office and the local government would facilitate registration.
To vaccinate the entire eligible population, the country would require around 953 vaccinators (those who would administer the jab). Lyonpo said that the country currently had 2,400 vaccinators.
On storage, Lyonpo said that the country had a capacity to accommodate about 900,000 doses of the vaccine. She added that in the event of emergencies, helicopters would be used to deliver vaccines.
She said that respective dzongkhags and thromdes would be tasked to identify schools, institutions and other centres as the vaccination stations. Observation rooms will also be identified where individuals after getting the jab would be observed for about 30 minutes for any possible adverse reactions.
To enhance the ministry’s preparedness, a training of trainers for the health workers to monitor any adverse reactions and possible side effects will begin next month.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that there was no reason to worry.
“Covid-19 vaccine is no different from other vaccines, which the health ministry has been giving for decades. In fact, it is one of the easiest vaccines to be administered,” he said. “We are preparing because we want to administer the vaccines within a week, and not because it is a different vaccine.”
Lyonchhen also assured that the vaccine was safe. “It’s been more than a month since Covid-19 vaccination started globally, vaccinating over 100 million people. No major risks have been reported so far.”
Sowai Lyonpo said that the reason the government decided on mass vaccination over its initial plan to administer the vaccines in phases was to get the maximum advantage.
She said that because the AstraZeneca vaccine had an efficacy rate of 70 percent, in order to achieve herd immunity, it was wise to vaccinate the entire eligible population at a time. “By getting vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself but the whole community. This way we can form a protective shield around us.”
Meanwhile, Chidrel Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the second dose of the vaccine, which is recommended two to three months after the first dose, would be made available towards the end of May.
For this, Lyonpo said that India had agreed to support some 550,000 doses of Covishield vaccine. “On top of this, we are also expecting around 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca and some 5,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines from the COVAX Facility.”
Lyonpo added that the government had also reached out to the Pfizer vaccine producers to procure around thousand doses of the vaccine. “The Pfizer vaccine can be used for those who are aged 16 and above compared to AstraZeneca, which is recommended for those aged 18 and above.”
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
With the ground-breaking ceremony conducted on February 20, work to construct the 20.29km Wandgue-Dagana bypass has begun.
Once completed, the bypass would reduce travel time and distance between Wangdue and Dagana.
Wangdue Dzongdag, Sonam Jamtsho, said there was a high possibility that the road could turn into a secondary national highway in future. “It will reduce the distance by 36km and travel time by two hours.” Today, people travel 168kms between Daga dzong and Wangdue.
The new road will be connected through Wogayna village in Wangdue’s Daga gewog and Lhaptsakarchu village of Tseza gewog in Dagana.
Apart from benefiting travellers, the road will also benefit people in Kamina village, which is identified as one of the remotest villages in Daga gewog.
Five households in Kamina don’t have a road connection. Villagers only have access to solar energy and don’t have grid supply.
A villager, Passang, said the new road meant opportunities for them to open shops for travellers to generate income.
He said farmers would also sell their farm produces, which rotted in the fields or had to be fed to animals until now.
While many are excited about the new road, concerns regarding the existing farm road from Kamichu to Wogayna village were raised.
To this, Dzongdag Sonam Jamtsho said that, as the existing road was a farm road, the road width was only 3.5 metres.
However, if the new road was identified as a secondary national highway, the farm road width would be expanded to 8m.
Meanwhile, work to construct the 20.29km road has been divided between Dagana and Wangdue dzongkhags.
Wangdue dzongkhag will execute works on 8.29km from Wogayna to Kamina of Daga gewog. Dagana dzongkhag will execute works on 12km from Laptsakarchu to Wogayna village worth Nu 21.291 million (M).
Works and human settlement ministry had awarded Nu 36M to Wangdue dzongkhag to execute the work. Both dzongkhags will execute the work departmentally, which is expected to save budget.
However, they cannot be treated as deductible income
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering has clarified that interest waivers provided to people as part of the monetary measure to tackle the Covid-19 situation will not be taxed.
Speaking at the meet the press session yesterday, the finance minister said that there have been queries mainly from house owners on the issue.
“The interest waivers can’t be treated as deductible expenses while filing tax returns by individuals,” he said.
“The interest waivers were granted as the Druk Gyalpo’s kidu. Interest was waived for all individuals and business entities.”
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the Covid-19 has affected the government’s revenue. “We couldn’t realise the domestic revenue as expected last year. It has gone down by 15 percent from the previous fiscal year.”
According to the Income Tax Rules 2017, interest on loans shall be allowed as deductions subject to certain conditions.
For instance, interests on a loan are deductible if it is taken from a recognised financial institution and within the maximum limit of debt equity ratio of 3:1. The rules also state that interest on loans are deductible if the loan is taken in the name of the companies or business and for the purpose of the said business.
The interest waivers for the period of nine months (100 percent waiver from July to September and 50 percent waiver from October 2020 to March 2021) is estimated at Nu 7.5 billion (B). The fund will be fully granted from the National Resilience Fund.
The Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) extended the deadline for payment of Personal Income Tax (PIT) from February 28 to March 31 in view of the Covid-19 situation.
The DRC has also extended the deadline for payment of Business Income Tax (BIT) and Corporate Income Tax (CIT) to April 30.
The DRC states that taxpayers have faced challenges in the submission of tax returns.
The benefits of interest waivers also trickled down to many tenants as many landlords waived house rents, either partially or fully during the difficult time.
Some tenants said that the rent waiver was helpful, as their salary was reduced due to the pandemic.
We have, finally, found a solution to the scarcity of water, both for drinking and agriculture. It is not in a new, advanced technology, but a renewed sense of urgency in finding solutions and knowing to make it work.
Bhutan comparatively is better off than many in the region in terms of water resources. The irony is that we have not been able to manage it. Water is a problem in the rural farming communities to towns and cities where shortage, for many reasons, is the common problem.
The solution has come in the form of the National Water Service projects, six of which have already started. The project executed by de-suung is yet another master stroke of His Majesty The King in not only ensuring water for the short term, but also securing the national resource for posterity.
In terms of building infrastructure, since its inception three months ago, the progress of the projects are impressive. There are six projects that have already started with hundreds of de-suups volunteering to live up to His Majesty’s aspirations. Two more will kick-start next month.
The National Service was created as an opportunity for Bhutanese youth to participate in nationwide projects that would benefit the people. Beyond ensuring reliable water supply, the projects that includes programmes like training youth in specialised water resource management, watershed conservation and technologies in water management provides the skills and know-how needed in agriculture that has come back into the limelight again, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic reminded us of the importance of growing our own food.
A big problem for water-rich Bhutan has been the shortage of water or drying sources. While at the policy level, water received priority, what happened at the ground had not lived up to the expectation of the people, both for drinking and irrigation. The focus had been on building infrastructure, but not conservation or ensuring reliable supply, for instance watershed management.
The pandemic made us realise that growing our own food is important even if we forgot that ensuring food security had been a national priority for decades since planned development began. There are many returning to the farms to make a livelihood. Agriculture, many realized, has good scope. But at the heart of all these opportunities is the water problem. Fallowing fields and therefore, rural to urban migration, joblessness and many more social ills are attributed to shortage of water or our failure to tap it. It is said that where there is water, there is life.
The De-suung water projects delivered by de-suups also indicate that Bhutanese can not only work, but also deliver if the conditions are right. We complain of youth not taking manual jobs, but from the hundreds of de-suups engaged in the projects, it is evident that with the right conditions like occupational safety standards, right attitude and respect for the jobs, Bhutanese youth would take up jobs that are filled by expatriate workers.
We have talked about skilling youth to take up available jobs, but we have not lived up to our promise. The De-suung national service has come at an opportune time to make this happen.
The Kuensel reported that “police officer beats two farmers in Zhemgang”. The “case was mutually resolved.” His Majesty once said, “democracy can only flourish if all Bhutanese uphold the rule of law.” His Majesty also said, Drugyel Zhipa’s foremost beliefs was “the rule of law” because the “failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation.”
Kuensel further reported that the case was reported to the Gewog Administration. The reason for beating the farmers was not wearing the helmet, violating the Road Safety and Transport Authority Act and Rules. Beating the farmers not only discredits the image of police but also raises the authority of the police.
First, the Section 39 of the Police Act of Bhutan 2009 states that while carrying out their duty, every Police shall “observe the highest standards of conduct, uphold the human rights of all persons while performing their duty.” Further, the Act requires that a police officer must be polite and tolerant.”
The Section 79, 80, and 81 mention that the “use of force by the police shall be “regulated entirely by the provisions of the law” based on the principle or objective to “quell a disturbance of the peace, or to disperse an unlawful assembly,” refusing to disperse or resisting a lawful arrest or attempting to escape or other circumstances.
Article 7(1) and 7(15) of the Constitution and Section 3 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code ensures that everyone is equal before the law and shall not be deprived of any rights except in accordance with the due process of law. Section 171.3 of the CCPC also mentions that “a police may use reasonable force to break into premises if the police are refused entry after identification as an agent of the law.” This means every force used by the police must be within the authorities of the law.
Beating a person amounts to either aggravated assault or battery. Both assault and battery are criminal offence under Section 156 and 158 of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
The report states that the case was reported to the Gewog Administration. Therefore, first under Section 430 of the PCB, every person has the duty to report the crime to lawful authority and failure is a criminal offence.
Second, under Section 165 of the CCPC, abusing or physically assaulting another person is a cognizable offence and can be arrested without a warrant.
And Section 167 authorizes the citizens to arrest a person who has committed or intends to commit a criminal offence and handover to the police.
Finally, if a complaint is made against a police, under Section 86 of the Police Act, the Chief of Police must constitute a committee to enquire the complaints and carry out an investigation and actions against the erring official under Section 88 of the Act.
All these laws ensure that police exercise their authorities within the limits of the law.
As His Majesty said, the “rule of law begets discipline, which in turn begets order, and peace, which leads to trust and stability.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Five years ago, Tashi Bidha was the only resident in Lull village in Kazhi gewog, Wangdue.
Today, being a model organic village in the dzongkhag, Lull village has launched about 10 certified organic products—spring onions, garlic scape, wheat flour, buckwheat flour, cauliflower, cabbage, coriander, dried red chilli, potatoes, and various seeds.
The products were launched in Lull on February 25.
A farmer in Lull, Dodo, said that, a few years ago, without a road connection and electricity, farmers from the village had moved out to nearby villages and got into sharecropping.
Dodo lived in Lengkhipji until he returned in 2013 on a request from former tshogpa Phub Dorji.
Phub Dorji proposed connecting the village with a road. Six households contributed over Nu 500,000 to build an 8.8km road from the nearest village, Sill.
In 2017, the village took up organic farming and was certified as a model organic village in 2020.
During this journey, the village received funding support from GEF LDCF through the National Organic Programme.
“It was tough in the past, even starting organic farming. But now we do earn an income from it,” Dodo said.
At the launching ceremony, organic certified rice from Kinley Wangmo’s farm in Chimakha, Paro was also introduced.
Kinley Wangmo began organic farming in 2005 on her seven-acre land. Kinley Wangmo’s farm is supposedly the first organic farm in Bhutan.
Kinley Wangmo grows asparagus, beans, apples and cereals.
While Kinley Wangmo and farmers from Lull pledged to continue organic farming, they said that poor road connectivity and pests were some of the major issues facing the farmers.
“People don’t understand that the products are organic. And we fetch the same price as any other products,” Kinley Wangmo said.
Officials from the department of agriculture, Agriculture Research and Development Centre in Wangdue, dzongkhag agriculture officials, and National Centre for Organic Agriculture in Yusipang also attended the launching ceremony.
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
A student of Doksum Primary School in Trashiyangtse, Karma Yoezer, walked four kilometres to school every day. He carried his own pack lunch.
But with the school benefiting from a feeding programme from this year, he eats breakfast and lunch at school. “I don’t have to eat cold lunch,” he said.
Rice, egg, potatoes and dal (lentils) are served.
The school principal, Phurpa, said the feeding programme benefits parents and students. It is the last school in the dzongkhag to receive the programme.
Trashiyangtse’s deputy chief dzongkhag officer, Rinchen Phuntsho, said the feeding programme would enhance students’ health.
He said of the 29 schools in the dzongkhag, Doksum Primary School, is the last school to get the free meal.
The school feeding programme is one of the government’s pledges.
Parents are happy with the programme, as they do not have to cook for their children.
“We’re thankful to the government for providing two meals for breakfast and lunch,” said a parent, Sangay Yangden. “Now with the school feeding programme, they can walk to school and eat from there.”
She said they could now focus more on farm work. “In the past, it was very difficult to provide children with good meals since we have to attend other daily chores.”
Another parent, Tashi Yangchen, said children refuse to eat early. “Now they can eat when they reach school.”
The Food Corporation of Bhutan supplies rice, salt, oil and cheese, while local people supply vegetables.
Meanwhile, the programme benefits 4,262 students in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag today. Except for Trashiyangtse Lower Secondary School, all schools provide lunch to students.
Following the death of a 49-year old man, Haa dzongkhag administration formed a committee and investigated when the patient died two days after being admitted to the dzongkhag hospital.
As per the dzongkhag’s finding, the cause of death was septic shock secondary to peritonitis due to abdominal trauma.
The patient from Wangtsa village was brought to the hospital on December 24 after falling off the roof of a two-storey house.
The hospital discharged the patient on the same day as initial medical examinations did not find external injuries.
However, the patient returned to the hospital two days later complaining of severe abdominal pain and shortness of breath.
As per the report, the patient’s vital organs were stable until the next morning, when his condition worsened.
It was found that the patient had a wound with pus above the genitalia. The patient was stabilised and immediately referred to JDWNRH after consultation.
According to a health official, who was a member of the committee, the patient’s vitals were monitored frequently, but his condition worsened after crossing the Chelela pass.
“Medical escorts planned to take the patient to Paro hospital, but, unfortunately, the patient died on the way.”
One of the victim’s sisters took to social media stating that her brother might have survived had the medical officials recognised the case’s seriousness on time.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
There is something more precious than chilis in Phuentsholing town these days: tailors.
About half the tailor shops in the town remain closed.
Residents are rushing from one tailor to another requesting them for various tailoring tasks.
With schools reopening, parents are under pressure to stitch uniforms and other clothes or alter them to fit their children.
After making two rounds around town, a resident Sonam Tshomo yesterday sat at a tailor shop and helped a tailor to stitch a kira.
“Tailors are too busy these days,” she said. “Many are running around to find a tailor who can take orders.”
Chikthuen Tailoring Centre’s owner, Rinzin Gyelmo, said there was a huge dearth of tailors in town. “And there is an acute shortage of those who stitch ghos,” she said.
Rinzin Gyelmo said she recently hired two tailors, who stitch gho, from Paro. Today, she has only one. The other one does not come to work regularly, she said.
But the one with her can only finish up two child-size ghos in a day.
“Gho-stitching orders keep coming. Orders are coming from the schools, individuals, but I can’t deliver. I have to refuse many orders and I’m under huge pressure these days,” Rinzin Gyelmo said.
Rinzin Gyelmo also said besides gho, she also gets increasing orders to stitch casual wear clothes.
Chikthuen Tailoring Centre, which started operating in March 2020, currently has three tailors including Rinzin Gyelmo. A tailor, who worked with her, left and opened her own shop.
“We are about five to six shops today but there are no experts,” Rinzin Gyelmo said.
The situation is no different at Tshering Lhamo’s tailor shop, which opened about a month ago.
“But I don’t know how to stitch a gho,” she said, adding that she was looking for help. “There are a few who want to join but they are housewives and have to tend to children.”
Tshering Lhamo, who works alone, said she learned tailoring in 2014 while she was living in Jaigaon. She said she stitched other clothes but didn’t have the expertise to stitch traditional ones.
“There is a huge demand but I can’t provide the service,” she said, adding she mostly does the minor repairs.
Considering the interest among residents to learn to tailor, tailors say there was a big opportunity to improve tailoring services in the town. “But given the huge workload at present, we haven’t time to conduct such a training,” a tailor said.
The only tailor shop fully equipped to stitch gho and kira is TL Tailor, which has four tailors. “We are only four and one is still learning,” its owner Tashi Lham said.
Tashi Lham said that Nazhoen Lamten helped her and the team start the shop. All the tailoring equipment and tools were provided.
A car screeches to an abrupt halt. It is on the wrong side of a narrow road. The bus driver on the opposite side of the road, a few feet away makes it obvious. If the headlight flicked to signal is not enough, the serious “it’s my right of way” look says it all.
The side of the road, where the car should be, is bad. What could have developed as a pothole has eaten into the road developing a deep drop making it difficult for small cars. Drivers, even of bigger cars, try to avoid it by getting on the good side of the road. The car apologetically reverses to make way. There’s no space behind him as a line of cars crowd his tail. One honks to warn of the shortage of space. It takes a few minutes to manoeuvre out of the jam.
This is a scene every morning rush hour near the fuel station at Babesa. Known only to those who ply the stretch that links the road from the Olakha workshop to the expressway, the condition of the road had been in this state for more than a year. A Good Samaritan tried to repair it by filling it with soil, but the intention has gone awry. The water that flows alongside the road without proper drainage had made it sludgy.
The traffic jam, confusion and inconvenience for those rushing to work gets worse when heavy vehicles, many who take the route to join the old highway in Semtokha, are involved. Quite often, trailers and heavy earth moving machines join the melée, says a regular user. The road, if on the blind side of the authorities, has a sharp turn and is accident prone. It is busy but without traffic policemen to control the flow of vehicles.
At one end of the stretch is a building near completion belonging to the elected representative from Babesa. The tshogpa, Namgay Tshering, said the thromde wanted to repair the road and widen it in 2020 but because of a land dispute, the thromde could not do it.
Until the dispute is resolved, motorists will have to make do with rushing for the good side of the road and eye-balling each other when the rush gets to one’s nerves.