Phub Dem | Paro
Four years since local leaders implemented the Paro Valley Development Plan (PVDP), the guiding framework for Paro’s development and land use for 20 years, local leaders have been discussing it in every dzongkhag tshogdu (DT).
This, according to the local leaders is because the plan supposed to preserve the cultural landscape, topography, surface hydrology, natural environment and existing settlement pattern has some practical issues.
Local leaders said the plan is confusing and not applicable.
Last year, Paro DT passed a resolution to request the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement to review the development plan.
Following this, the ministry froze construction and conversion of wetland to dry and residential land in the dzongkhag.
The temporary restriction has affected the locals and left many disappointed.
According to Lamgong gup Gem Tshering, documents from people who wanted to convert wet to dryland was forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest, but only an individual from Tsento got approval.
He said that the ministry did not provide any clarification for not approving the conversion. “We are planning to send the application again.”
Gem Tshering said that according to the PVDP, Lamgong should accommodate only residential houses, but landowners wanted to explore other facilities such as futsal grounds and workshops.
He said that while Lamgong has an ideal location for automobile workshops, dzongkhag could not relocate it due to the plan. “On the other hand, the dzongkhag is still in search of an ideal place for workshop relocation.”
He also said the plan had kept provision for a buffer zone even for a small stream along the field, restricting people from construction.
Doteng gewog, which was partially included in the PVDP earlier, was removed during the revision.
Although Doteng gewog doesn’t fall in the PVDP, he said that locals had to bear the brunt of the plan revision, such as delaying the land conversion, which has affected many people.
He said that if the government could consider studying the ground reality and plan accordingly, it would address many inconveniences. “There is a need for a clear and specific directive when imposing a restriction.”
DT chairperson Tshering Dorji said that a team from the ministry reviewed the plan making some required changes as per the DT’s resolution.
However, he said that it was doubtful if the review document could solve the problem and benefit the locals. “The team agreed to discuss the issue with the ministry and respond. We are waiting for a positive change.”
The planning boundary extends from Shaba gewog to Tsento gewog but Tshering Dorji said people wanted to keep a buffer for road widening starting Chuzom. “People want to preserve wetlands if they get land replacements, maintain the architectural design of traditional houses, and allow the development of towns along highways and maintaining buffers along lhakhang and other religious structures.”
He said that many unrealistic provisions in the mapping show a lack of consultation with local people while developing the development plan.
“As per the plan, Paro will have 35,000 population by 2030, but the existing floating population in Paro is 55,000, “ he said.
Considering the boom in population a decade from now, Tshering Dorji said that the plan should provide alternative road connections and other facilities. “We requested for a comprehensive review of the developmental plan to avoid inconveniences and restriction during the development process.”
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Samdrupjongkhar Covid-19 taskforce announced yesterday that the zoning system would be activated in the throm up to Pinchina checkpoint beginning today until further notice.
Only one person from a household at a time will be allowed to move within the specified time and place, according to the notification from the taskforce. Only designated shops within the zones and essential services will be available as the zone cards issued earlier.
Sporting activities are prohibited and all schools, institutions, offices and business establishments will remain closed. However, schools are asked to conduct online teaching. Essential items will be delivered to containment zones and constructions that are in containment mode are allowed to continue.
The import and export will continue as usual as per the existing Covid-19 standard operating procedures, according to the task force.
While new registration for facility quarantine is suspended, emergency patient referral and those who have completed quarantine will be allowed to leave.
Essential health care services will be provided as per the cluster essential medical services and flu clinic at Tendrelthang will remain open between 9am and 3pm.
The measures, implemented following the directive from the eastern Covid-19 task force, comes after Samdrupjongkhar reported many positive cases from primary and secondary contacts of the recent Covid-19 patient from the police station in Samdrupjongkhar.
A 36-year-old woman staying in the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) colony tested positive for Covid-19 positive from the community on May 3.
The second community case was detected during the mass screening on May 6, where a 26-year-old police constable tested positive.
Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag Covid-19 task force declared a three-day lockdown in the town on May 7 to establish the sources of the infection and prevent the spread of the virus in the community.
More than 2,022 individuals were tested during the five-day mass screening in the town.
Another police personnel tested positive in the police station on May 8, and he was the primary contact of the 26-year-old constable, who tested positive from the community on May 6. Since then, the police station was also closed, as they stayed in the station after a woman tested positive from the RBP colony.
Health officials traced about 11 primary contacts and about 113 secondary contacts of a policeman. The primary contacts were put under the facility quarantine and the secondary contacts are under home quarantine.
Another three from the quarantine centre tested positive on May 9 including the 36-year-old woman’s husband and daughter.
“Although the primary contacts are in facility quarantine and secondary contacts in home quarantine, the task force is not comfortable to open the lockdown immediately given the high number of the school going students identified among the close contacts,” an official said.
Come June, 25 quick charging stations will be installed in six dzongkhags for electric vehicles (EV), according to a project official.
Fifteen fast chargers of 120 kilowatt (kW) and 10 semi-fast chargers of 22kW will be distributed in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Haa, and Chukha. The 10 semi fast chargers will be installed based on priority.
The installation of the charging station is part of Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban transport System project which started in 2019 and aims to replace 300 fossil fuel-driven taxis.
Project Manager Phub Gyeltshen said each of the charging stations could charge two vehicles simultaneously.
The fast charger can charge a car between 30 minutes and an hour. The semi-fast charger takes between two and three hours. The new charging station is of a customised design called a dual charging station which can charge any electric vehicle. The existing five charging stations can only charge Japanese brand electric cars.
There are two types of charging stations for export – combined charging system (CCS) and CHAdeMO. In CCS, the association of different brands of electric car manufacturers approve the use of one standard- CCS.
Phub Gyeltshen said the public preferred different brands of electric cars and to suit their needs the charging station in the country is a dual charging system which was a fusion of CHAdeMO and CCS.
He said the charging stations could not be installed as planned due to change in charging station design, delayed procurement due to the pandemic, and lack of technical expertise locally.
He said challenges were many. “We needed to extensively study the feasibility and appropriate design of the charging station which best suited our country.”
An electric car has two charging cables: alternating current (AC) 1 and AC 2. Phub Gyeltshen said people thought with a lack of charging station buying electric cars was not feasible. “AC level 1 charger is compatible to use in home sockets.”
In 2019, mandatory requirement for AC socket in new buildings was endorsed for buildings within Thimphu thromde.
In Thimphu, two new charging stations would be installed in Changlingmithang, one each in the vicinity of Lungtenzampa and Jigme Namgyal Lower Secondary School, and Centenary farmers’ market.
In Paro, one charging station is being installed at the Paro International Airport and another at the old taxi parking. One charging station each would be set up in Haa town, Bajo, Khuruthang, and Gedu.
There is also a charging station being installed in Tamchog lhakhang near Tourism Council of Bhutan’s toilet, and Wangkha on the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway.
Phub Gyeltshen said the installation of two charging stations in multi-level car parking and one in a parking lot near the new lower market would be delayed due to the lockdown.
Meanwhile, Nu 69 million has been approved in next fiscal year to install charging station in remaining dzongkhags, thromdes, and along the highway.
Given Bhutan’s location in the Himalayas with rich natural resources and adjustability for climate change resilience in different elevations, the country’s horticultural production could be doubled.
However, according to chief horticulture advisor with Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) Integrated Horticulture Promotion Project (IHPP), Sayuri Teramoto (PhD), this needs a paradigm shift in the current horticulture practices.
Nursery management, photosynthesis-based resource management like spacing, branch and fruit controls, and soil fertility management have to improve, she said.
The lack of aforementioned practices in Bhutanese horticulture, she said, could be the reason for poor horticultural production. “Branch and fruit controls are important features of management. It is crucial for economically important fruits. Bhutanese farmers don’t practice such management methods.”
“Farmers have plenty of space to improve basic management in their fields. Instead of counting the numbers of fruit trees planted, it is necessary to take care of the existing ones through good management,” she said. A fruit tree takes seven years to mature, which until that time, requires constant management and care, which Bhutanese farmers ignore, the expert said.
In recent years, mandarin and apple growers in the country reported poor fruiting and increased incidence of pests and diseases.
She also said that organic agriculture doesn’t mean not using synthetic fertilisers in the field. Without fertilisers, fruits, crops, and vegetables are naturally grown and not organic as is generally believed in the country. “To increase production, organic inputs like compost and high protein organic fertilisers are important instead of extracting forest surface soil which takes years to form.”
As part of the five-year (2016-2021) IHP Project project, between JICA and the government trained 502 farmers, 213 extension officers, and 23 counterpart researchers in the central and western Bhutan in horticulture.
By 2023, the government plans to increase fruit production by 120 percent. However, Sayuri Teramoto said that the government lacked methodologies and the analysis of the situation.
IHPP survey revealed that Bhutanese have limited knowledge-sharing opportunities, lack of essential management for crop production, and difficulties learning new techniques.
For better horticultural production at the commercial scale, the survey findings recommended village or community-based group production and collaborative work on nursery, harvest, marketing, transportation, sales, and input procurement. This, Sayuri Teramoto said, could address the market challenge—surplus during the production season and shortage during lean season—with opportunities for export.
Last year, the consumer prices increased by 7.56 percent in July compared to the same month in 2019 as food prices increased by 14.91 percent, according to the National Statistics Bureau’s report.
The main contributors to the increase were increased import of vegetables by 20.86 percent and fruits by 16.68 percent, among others.
Covid-19 positive cases are rising in the country. New cases are shooting up from the communities. In the region, the situation is deteriorating by the day.
We are talking about the new variants of the Covid-19 virus. Also, we are talking about the air-borne nature of the virus now. What this means is that we need to up-scale or improve our surveillance and management systems because the new variants of the virus are reportedly more dangerous and fast-spreading.
We have done well so far, but we must and can do more. The general feeling is that we are becoming more complacent by the day.
What the new variants of the Covid-19 virus are doing to the people in the region is there for us to see. Thanks to better television and communication networks!
“Lockdown” is the word. It is a sensible measure but it comes with many difficulties to many people. As border towns extend lockdown, there is an increasing threat of the capital city coming under lockdown.
The obvious reaction would be panic. People are already rushing into the shops to stock up essential items.
What has not changed and will perhaps never change is our way of dealing with the threat of the Covid-19 virus. Face masks in critically important to protect others and ourselves; maintaining physical distance is equally important. Avoiding crowds will minimise the danger of contact and spread of disease by that much more.
What do we have? Nothing more than these measures. That’s why we need to remind ourselves that we can ill afford complacency.
Look at the people thronging in the shops in our many towns. Hand-washing stands have disappeared; no one cares who scans the DrukTrack QR or not—all these in the knowledge that the danger of community transmission of the virus is immanent!
Can we afford to go this way for long? No.
We have special groups of experts manning the situations all across the country. It is incumbent on them to reinforce the existing measures because we are now facing a new challenge.
Personal and social discipline is important but these are things that must be instilled among the people effectively. This is not happening.
So, are the lapses coming from outside the communities? So it seems.
The real question is: Why is this let to ride?
Nima | Gelephu
Community members in Samkhar village of Jigmecholing gewog, Sarpang, came together and contributed some money voluntarily to pay the salary of a cook for two months in Samkhar extended classroom (ECR) this year.
Parents of students contributed Nu 250 a child to pay salary for a cook deployed temporarily for March and April.
The ECR is identified for the day feeding school but did not have a cook for two months. A cook was deployed recently.
The day feeding programme, according to the teachers, improved the attendance of children in the school.
Samkhar tshogpa, Neten, said that parents agreed to support the school by paying the cook’s salary, as the government supported the day feeding programme.
“It was difficult for the school to get the required facilities on time. We come together and support the school. We discussed with parents and decided to find a cook for the school,” he said.
The tshogpa said they requested for a school in their village and contributed in construction of basic structures. “The government helped us with CGI sheets.”
He said people from Samkhar contributed Nu 1,000 each three times and Nu 2,500 once to construct a classroom and dining hall for the ECR (all temporary structures) when the school started in 2010.
Neten said the school is in a good condition now. “It was important that we support the school for our children.”
A teacher at the ECR, Sherub Tshomo, said it was important to have a school in Samkhar, as it was challenging for parents to send their children to central school at a young age.
“They don’t get required care and they can’t take care of themselves. Teachers don’t get time to look after young children. It’s important that we keep schools in remote areas,” she said
The nearest school for the children from Samkhar is Jigmecholing Middle Secondary School, which is over 10km away from Samkhar ECR.
“There is no public transport available for the students to travel. Walking on foot during monsoon is risky. The expenses for the children are high. They have to pay extra taxi fares,” another teacher, Ugyen Loday, said.
The community also helped the school built many structures like classrooms and dining hall before the gewog constructed a new classroom unit. They also helped the teachers repair chairs and tables recently.
“We try to come up with a solution together. They helped with fencing works and minor carpentry works,” Ugyen Loday said.
Sherub Tshomo said that it was important to provide additional teachers and staff, a caretaker, and a cook for the school to function properly.
“As per the policy, the ECR won’t get an additional teacher. But, if we are to impart quality education, we need one teacher for one subject at least. Instead of teaching them together, it would better if we could teach them in different classes,” she said.
She added that looking after the school and teaching with only a limited staff in the school was challenging.
Meanwhile, with the school mandated to come up with 21st-century teaching practices, teachers in Samkhar ECR are worried if it could be implemented as expected.
There are no required facilities to take classes that are recommended for the children.
For the past three years, Nakho, 81, had been filling potholes of Dechhog Lam and Dechhen Lam in Langjophaka, Thimphu.
He also fills potholes on roads towards Taba, Jungshina and Hejo.
Nakho, who is originally from Langjophaka and stays there with his niece, said he has been fixing potholes because he believes merit could be earned by doing any good deeds.
Commuters along the roads might see the old man with a green trolley in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon.
Nakho said poor quality roads and drainage systems cause potholes in the city.
He said many people asked him if he gets paid for doing the job. “This work, to me, is a good deed that benefits commuters, which will help me gain merit for next life.”
He said he has been told that clearing paths and water canals bring good fortune and less sickness to one.
Nakho served in the army for 10 years but returned home to help his mother after his elder brother died.
He was married but does not have children.
Nakho’s niece, Nim Dem, said they told him it was not necessary to work at this age at the beginning.
“We told Azha (uncle) to stay at home chanting prayers,” she said. “But Azha said that what he does was also equivalent to chanting prayers. Since then we never stopped him.”
Nim Dem said Nakho raised her after her mother died.
Meanwhile, Nakho fills the green trolley with soil and gravels he gets beside the road. He waits for the vehicles to pass and fills the potholes. He continues the work until dark.
“Some people stop and ask me questions,” he said. “And some people glare at me.”
Nakho said that he starts at 5am to fill the potholes so that he does not cause inconvenience to the commuters. “Before I started filling the potholes, I had observed that a pothole creates traffic congestion, and there are risks of accidents.”
He said he hopes his work will ensure the safety of the commuters.
Sometimes he does not return home for lunch but munches on sip (flattened maize) and daw (buttermilk) he takes from home. When the weather is not favourable, he stays at home watching TV and chanting prayers.
Nakho said he would continue filling the potholes as long as he can. “I am doing this from my heart for the benefit of others.”
He hopes that his story will inspire others to take the same initiative. “Who knows people might even do it better than me.”
Gangchu, 60, a resident of Langjophakha, said that he has seen Nakho do the work for more than three years. “I see him enjoying what he is doing.”
Nima | Gelephu
Inmates of an open-air prison (OAP) in Tareythang, Sarpang, are in quarantine to be sent back to prisons in Trashigang and Thimphu after the inmates engaged in a violent brawl last week.
The video of the brawl went viral on Facebook on May 8.
In the video, a prisoner was seen hitting another inmate with a cricket bat and the other prisoner retaliated with a knife. Many prisoners were trying to stop the fight.
The video was, however, deleted by May 9 evening.
Sources in Gelephu, who are familiar with the prisoners, said it took hours to settle the fight that evening.
A source said the officials on duty were attacked with stones and they couldn’t control the fight. “There were 15 officials looking after 150 inmates.”
Sources also said the inmates were under the influence of alcohol.
Although police officials engaged in the project refused to comment, sources said three prisoners involved in the fight were immediately brought to Chamgang and an inquiry has been initiated.
According to a source, 45 police personnel have been deployed at the site following the incident.
It was learnt about 150 prisoners were taken to Tareythang three months ago from Trashigang, Thimphu and Sarpang to work for the project.
A source said the prisoners were brought to OAP for positive results but it did not happen as expected.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
Citing deteriorating road condition of Sergithang-Burichhu bypass in Tsirang, which was laid with granular sub-base (GSB) last year, gewog officials said the bypass should be blacktopped.
Raising the issue in the recent dzongkhag tshogdu (DT), Sergithang gup, Man Bir Rai, said if blacktopping is done at the earliest, it would save cost which is otherwise spent on laying more GSBs in the future besides improving the road.
He said that since the dzongkhag administration laid GSB and improved the road last year, at least 50 vehicles ply through the 9.4km bypass every day. “If blacktopped, the road is expected to improve livelihoods of villagers of four gewogs.”
According to the gup, with the gewog focusing on agriculture, many farmers take their farm produces to market in Wangdue, Punakha and Thimphu. “The bypass from Burichhu to Sergithang shortens a distance by 75km and saves travel time by almost three hours.”
He said blacktopping the road would add benefits to the farmers.
A commercial farmer in Tsirangtoed, San Man Subba, who usually supplies vegetables and dairy products to Wangdue and Punakha said that it was difficult to ply through the road during summer as the road becomes slippery and ridden with potholes.
“Only vehicles with four-wheel drive could ply on it in summer,” he said. “If the road could be blacktopped soon, it would benefit farmers like us.”
San Man Subba use the road at least four times a week.
Gewog mangmi, Monorath Sanyasi, said the bypass is almost a highway for them as residents commuting from Sergithang, Phuentenchhu, Tsirangtoed and Semjong to Wangdue use the road.
He said that the road condition would worsen during summer if it is not blacktopped. “We have laid GSB twice so far. The first one was done in 2017,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DT decided to forward the request to works and human settlement ministry.
Gup Man Bir Rai said that they would also submit budget proposal to Gross National Happiness Commission. Blacktopping the bypass is estimated to cost about Nu 27.50M.
The bypass road was constructed in 2016.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Movement of goods in and out of Phuentsholing is stopped after three drivers transporting essentials from mini-dry port (MDP) to Sorchen tested Covid-19 positive yesterday.
Besides the truck parking, which serves as another temporary port, the transshipment area at Sorchen also remains closed.
On May 9, samples of 108 drivers were collected out of which three tested Covid-19 positive. About 27 loaders from the MDP also tested negative. Three people from H&K company near the MDP and three MDP sweepers also tested negative.
The second mass screening, which was supposed to start today has been deferred, Sowai Lyonpo (Health Minister) Dechen Wangmo announced yesterday evening.
The health ministry’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) advised the Southern Covid-19 taskforce to defer the testing as positive cases were still being detected from the community.
According to the minister, the second mass screening could begin after a week considering the incubation of the virus. Further unlocking will depend on results of the mass screening, the minister said.
As per the first phase of the lockdown relaxation, restrictive movement is still allowed.
Until recently, community cases were reported from just one cluster, the lower market area. Positive cases have now emerged from three other places.
Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said as more tested positive from the community, including the truck drivers, there were chances of residual cases in the community.
“We will be able to find it,” she said, adding this was done as per the TAG’s recommendation.
Lyonpo said MDP is one of three most risky areas to consider in Phuentsholing.
“No lapses should come from here,” she said, adding that the entire country’s supply of essentials would get disrupted if MDP gets positive cases.
“The loaders are serving during difficult times. We hope they will continue.”
There are close to 100 loaders at MDP. All were being tested as of yesterday and the results are expected today.
Along with the MDP, the health minister said Pasakha Industrial Estate and quarantine facilities were other two risky areas that needed utmost caution.
Lyonpo said Core 4, which is in the main town, had the most community cases so far in Phuentsholing. Although Pasakha had a number of community cases earlier, she said it was quickly contained.
After the first case was detected in Phuentsholing on April 16, the town has seen a total of 132 positive cases. Today, Phuentsholing has 80 active cases.
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo also cautioned that 61 percent of the positive cases are primary contacts.
“They were declared positive in the facility quarantine. People in the red zones or clusters should not move around.”
A total of 30 positive cases were from the community, which is 10 percent of the total cases detected in Phuentsholing. About 17 cases were tested from the flu-clinic and 21 cases were reported among the frontline workers.
“His Majesty after the tour of high risk areas recently has commended the cooperation of the residents to the safety measures despite the difficulties,” she said.
The health minister said people must now understand they are in a very high risk area and “extra precaution” must be considered.
She also said the children below 18 (about 30 percent of the total Bhutanese), who are ineligible for the vaccine, were the most vulnerable and that the people should think about their safety. There are still 20,000 eligible people who have not vaccinated despite being eligible.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
After reporting positive cases from the community in the past two days, Phuentsholing residents will undergo a second round of mass testing from tomorrow until May 13, according to the Southern Covid-19 taskforce.
The first mass screening tested more than 8,000 residents between April 30 and May 2. Out of that a few positive cases.
Positive cases from the community kept emerging even while the mass screening was ongoing. Positive cases were detected from the community even after the mass screening.
Just yesterday, Phuentsholing saw a positive Covid-19 case from the community. Positive cases from the community have also been reported in the past two days.
Meanwhile, the second phase of the lockdown relaxation in Phuentsholing, which was supposed to begin today will not happen. Relaxation had started on May 5.
A resident Namgay said although the second mass screening was a good move it would be better to relax unaffected zones as announced during the first mass screening.
“It would be smart relaxation of the lockdown,” he said.
When the controlled relaxation started on May 5, the delivery of groceries stopped. However, delivery of vegetables, fruits and meat were allowed until May 7 after which it was stopped.
Many have taken to social media to share their problems of not getting vegetables.
Meanwhile, people in Phuentsholing are questioning the status of Covid-19 containment due to the daily cases from the community since the lockdown was announced on April 16.
A resident, Kezang Thinley said the authorities made a mistake considering giving quarantine opportunities to hotels located in active community areas.
“For example, the lower area in the town, where few positive cases were reported is an Covid-19 active place,” he said, adding children are always out in the open playing.
Kezang Thinley said the hotel used as a quarantine facility was just at the centre of a happening community.
A total of 99 positive cases have been reported in Phuentsholing until yesterday. Of that, 43 are from the community, while the remaining 56 are from facility quarantine.
The third lockdown Phuentsholing was triggered after a 10-year-old boy student tested positive for the virus on April 16. Soon after his mother also tested positive.
The boy and the mother were discharged yesterday.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
The emergence of more Covid-19 cases in Samdrupjongkhar is worrying residents in neighbouring Trashigang.
Shopkeepers said there was no change in the movement of people and businesses are operating unhindered but customers have dropped to half due to pandemic. A shopkeeper, Ugyen Wangchuk said, “Not many villagers are seen in the town like before.”
A restaurateur, Karma Tshering said there is strict vigilance. “The risk lies with commodities and vehicles coming to Trashigang from Samdrupjongkhar. This is the time to strictly adhere to health safety protocols and cooperate.”
Those operating businesses said that they ensure people follow safety measures and visit restaurants.
Officials on duty continue to ask the public to follow health protocols and caution them of the risks. “There is improvement in compliance.”
Although officials monitor strictly and strict protocols are in place, some fear that it won’t be enough to contain the virus if individuals are complacent.
“Since we are close to Samdrupjongkhar, it definitely scares us,” said another resident Ugyen Wangmo.
A villager from Bikhar, Dechen Wangmo, who had come to the town for shopping said they feared infection while travelling to the town. “We do not come here often, but while we are in the town, we follow protocols.”
Trashigang has not reported any case of Covid-19.
Residents said they are also stocking up everything as a preparation for future lockdown. “We are told by the town tshogpa to stock the essential items,” said a resident.
Hotels and restaurants along the Trashigang – Samdrupjongkhar highway and in the town have marked their floor with colourful tapes to encourage physical distancing. In restaurants, only two persons can share a table.
The dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce has urged the public to remain vigilant, as the cases have been increasing in the neighbouring dzongkhag. Issuing notification on Wednesday, the dzongkhag requested the people to avoid social gathering and places with crowds.
It has also recommended that people wear masks in public, wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitiser, and follow other health and safety protocols.
Meanwhile, 73 desuups returning from southern border duty and 33 desuup trainees were quarantined for seven days.
Nima | Gelephu
Ten class 12 graduates are currently working with P.K organic farm in Samtenling, Sarpang, to learn the basics of commercial farming practically.
The group expects to produce vegetables on a commercial scale within a year after setting up their farm in the dzongkhag.
They took up agriculture and food security subjects in school and practical experience at the farm inspired them to try their luck in agriculture.
The group leader and also the manager of the farm, Sonam, said that it was a big opportunity for him to prepare for life and earn a living by working in the farm.
“We are more vulnerable to bad influence once we complete our studies. Working on the farm kept me engaged and helped me learn important aspects of farming. It’s a big opportunity for unemployed youth,” he said.
Sonam said that the stay at P.K Organic farm helped him understand more about farming and its potential to achieve food security. “We will continue working here for a year and start our farm then.”
P.K organic farm pays the group a monthly salary, provides training and tour related to commercial farming.
The owner, Kama Gurung, said that she was planning to form a group to help more youth take up commercial farming. “Keeping them on a salary basis won’t encourage them. It’s an opportunity for them to earn more share and gain more supports.”
She said that it was difficult to get financial support and grants for an individual farm from the relevant agency and departments.
Three among the 10 youth are employed with support from Youth Engagement and Livelihood Programme (YELP).
The owner said that it would encourage more youth if the support from YELP were increased.
“Those working in agriculture and construction received Nu 10,000 in a month from labour ministry earlier, as a priority sector. Now they are given Nu 5,000 like other non-priority sectors,” said one of the farm owners.
Sonam said that the youth are motivated to work in agriculture when the earning is good. “Sometimes the production and marketing don’t come as expected, hampering the returns. Government should support in this situation.”
He said it was important to make the agriculture sector attractive for the youth.
“People don’t think good of agriculture still. This can be changed through awareness and by supporting mechanised farming,” he said.
Another group member, Tashi Drukpa, said that he would prefer to continue his studies before settling for the current job. “It’s important to pursue higher education first to do things differently. It would help me explore the same opportunities with better ideas.”
The group members said marketing the produce is the major setback in agriculture. “Price changes a lot. We couldn’t harvest the tomatoes this time,” a group member said.
In recent days we have seen what is widely known as the “worst case scenario” wrought by the Covid-19 crisis, sadly in our own region, South Asia. Human suffering is vivid in the thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands of the near-dead, and millions of sick. We watch this tragedy in the media and social media, and switch it off when we can’t take any more.
But what if this was taking place in our own homes, hospitals, and duthroes (crematoriums) and we can’t switch off the screens? What if the sick and the dead were our own?
The threat looms large and very real. As we continue to buy much of our needs – essentials, comforts, illegal stimulants – from India there is the inevitable cross-border interaction of people. We don’t really know how many positive cases there are in Jaigaon. One mishap, deliberate or oversight, will crack the dam. And the flood is a contagious virus that is multiplying and evolving into deadly forms.
We know that His Majesty The King has resorted to what may be our only hope – his active presence along the southern border, personally identifying vulnerable areas and gaps along a long and porous border that cannot be sealed. His Majesty continues to boost the spirits and stamina of security personnel shielding the physical gaps and loopholes.
And there is always Murphy’s law. What can, and often, goes wrong is what you least expect. For example, the lapses we saw this week involved two doctors who breached the Covid-19 protocol regulations. It is not just travellers, business men and women, smugglers, migrant workers that we have to watch; it is doctors, dashos, lyonpos, desuups – ourselves.
We have long understood that the border is just one aspect of security. We do not need to be reminded of personal and social discipline in following the Covid-19 protocols. But we continue the same lapses and slipups that many countries have seen and suffered from. We come up with explanations like the stresses of quarantines and lockdowns, mental anguish, claustrophobia, pressures to survive the Covid-19 fatigue.
These are all genuine conditions that must be avoided under normal circumstances. But these are not normal times. We are in one of the worst predicaments that the world has seen, and the situation is deteriorating. Catastrophe is at our doorstep. We need to draw on that extra physical mental, emotional, and psychological stamina that, we claim, is the resilience of a GNH society.
We really have no excuses. We have the luxury of living almost normal lives, unlike billions of people around us. We have, at the helm of governance, a King who braves tensions with front liners, who grants billions of ngultrums as kidu and ensures all the necessities of life, besides medical protection and treatment, who is already looking ahead at a Bhutan after the crisis.
All we have to do is look after ourselves… before we become a tragedy on the screen.
With decreasing apple yield and vegetables lost to wild animals, people in Damchena, Paro, thrived on porter-pony business for more than 15 years.
The village with 20 households has more than 300 ponies, catering to tourists.
Without tourism activities for over a year in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, villagers say that their livelihood is gravely affected.
A village elder, Sonam, has 15 horses and has been providing pony services to trekkers. In the tourist season, he earned about Nu 300,000.
In the past year, his ponies remained idle and it became difficult for him to buy feed and hay. A DCM trip of hay costs Nu 7,000. He has to buy more than five trips of hay.
He said it is difficult to manage expenses. “Even when there is no work, we cannot abandon them.”
With movement restrictions, he could make two trekking trips recently. His earnings were not even Nu 10,000. “Except for a few, many Bhutanese don’t use porter-pony services. Even if they avail, it is at a minimal fee,” he said.
Another villager, Pasang Dorji, said that since the business was lucrative, all households availed loans to buy horses. “Since I anticipated more tourists in 2020, I planned to buy more although I already owned 20 horses. We are hoping the situation improves.”
A pony costs about Nu 50,000 while a mule costs more than Nu 100,000.
Pasang Dorji said he went to the southern dzongkhags to provide pony services for mandarin exporters last winter. “It was not profitable because of poor yield and Covid-19 restrictions. I earned about Nu 50,000 in two months”
Some villagers had to pay a penalty for the nuisance caused by their ponies.
A horse contractor of Damchena Trekking Horse and Mule Service, Cenda Dorji, said that in the past months, a villager couldn’t pay fines for 20 horses that damaged crops. “It has been a struggle for people. Horses stray in the town areas and the municipality comes after us.”
A penalty is Nu 500 a horse.
He said that if the local tour operators and the government could engage pony service providers in development activities in rural areas, it would support them in sustaining until the tourism reopens.
Most of the porter-pony service providers are recipients of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu.
The new bridge that connects Changjiji to the Expressway was completed almost after 13 months.
The Dash Group Construction handed over 29-metre Bazam to the Thimphu Thromde in March this year.
Thimphu Thromde had to close the old bridge in June 2018 for the safety of the commuters.
The officials said that the construction of the bridge was supposed to open by the academic year 2019 but it was suspended as the work and human settlement ministry released the bridge design only in 2019.
Thromde’s engineer, Jangchu Choden, said the construction of the bridge was delayed as the Bazam required a steel frame of 13.8m and due to non-availability of timber and limited capacity of seasoning chamber.
She said: “More over, the project has also suffered delays due to Covid-19 and the two nationwide lockdowns. Other factors were budget constraints and the risk to workers from the swollen monsoon river.”
An official said that the design of the bridge had traditional touch and look for reasons more than aesthetic grandeur.
Residents of Changjiji said that the new bridge helped the commuters and students of Changzamtog and Loselling. It cuts the distance by almost 15 minutes.
However, some residents complain that tiles of the bridge are already beginning to come off.
Meanwhile, the contractor with Dash Group Construction, Jigme Namgyal, said that the problem would be fixed.
The budget for the contract was Nu 9.4 million (M) which shot up to Nu 12.5 million.
Bhutan pledged to remain carbon neutral (CN) in perpetuity in 2009 and it was reinstated for the Paris Agreement in 2015. Not surprisingly, behind this bold declaration there are certain aspects of the underlying structure of the Bhutanese economy that requires attention (see Part 1 also). For example, one outrageous issue considering carbon neutrality for a low-income country like Bhutan is exporting clean hydroelectricity and importing petroleum products notably diesel and petrol to fuel it’s transport. Bhutan’s oil burden on GDP remains high whilst nullifying export revenue from hydropower – a macroeconomic mess and messier for carbon neutrality! We think we can correct this, and we do it in bits and pieces. Revising petrol and diesel standards and investing in a few electric vehicles will not bend the emission curve.
The 1.5℃ world calls for banning fossil-fuelled vehicles latest by 2035! What is Bhutan doing for electromobility and low carbon transport? What is holding Bhutan from upscaling transport electrification remains an open question. Is budget-constraint the primary inhibiting factor? Is it due to perceived burden sharing between related agencies to enable the transformation? Is it due to vested interest from the oil distributors? Is it simply not daring to try it out? Perhaps be aggressive and accelerate transport electrification, which can save enough capital of Ngultrum 10 billion per year from avoided oil import to alleviate budgetary constraints. Apparently, there is much to gain from transport electrification. In fact, it seems that Bhutan can build a 21st century economy around transport electrification.
Perhaps Bhutan’s public agencies could procure electric vehicles (EV) for all their new purchases as a starting point and phase out existing fossil fuelled fleet. Doing so can ease out barriers and spur market development. Electrify buses across Bhutan – provide co-finance alongside regulatory requirement. To support ambitious uptake of EVs, the electric distribution networks may require upgradation to avoid breakdown, which were found to occur even under EV penetration level of around 38% (recent research at the College of Science and Technology, Bhutan). We need sectoral co-ordination to contribute to national climate goal.
Bhutan also needs to decongest and reduce automobile dependence at this stage when the vehicle ownership is low. Perhaps try out light rail transport (LRT) in rapidly urbanising towns/cities like Thimphu, Paro, Gelephu and Bumthang. Try out LRT between Thimphu and nearby places like Paro, Wangdi and Punakha. The UNCRD report shows that it is possible. This can be undertaken through Public Private Partnership or on a long-term build- operate-own/transfer contracts. Bhutan has never seen mega activities other than the ‘comfortable’ mega-hydropower projects. It is easier said than done though. But decades into the future, we may have a cleaner and less congested urban areas – good for our lungs, better for our business and perhaps an imperative to retain our carbon neutral pledge. Furthermore, it is not hard to deduce that decongesting road traffic and transport electrification can contribute to improving our GNH index especially those indicators under the ecological domain. Will we regret to reap these multiple benefits?
The Royal Kasho on Education Reform on the National Day of 17th December 2020 is a Royal Calling for a future Bhutan. The Kasho must be understood as an ideological, ethical, and sentimental state apparatus for bolstering of national priorities and materialising the national dream through transformation in the education sector.
Bhutan has progressed from one of the least-developed countries to a developing nation thanks to education. But education must also change with the changing times.
Despite being the birthplace of the globally acclaimed philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is witnessing increasing problems of citizen unemployment, youth issues, social inequities, mental health issues, domestic violence, and degeneration of moral and ethical values, among others. Educating for Gross National Happiness (EGNH) was introduced in the Bhutanese education system to essentially reorient and reconnect to the primordial call for a humanistic education, steeped in our national ethos. The idea was to give relevance to modern education.
It is a known fact that the gestation period of education policy is long and requires consistent nurturing. But the education policies have been subjected to twists and turns with each election cycle. For example, the first democratically elected government – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) launched the Educating for Gross National Happiness programme but barely five years into implementation, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) introduced the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024 as a reform strategy masterplan. The Blueprint is suffering a similar fate now under the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government.
As Bhutan prepares to graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status, demands for the knowledge, skills, and attitude of the country are changing. The Royal Kasho cautions: “unlike the past century, this one (new era) is qualitatively and quantitatively different.”
Furthermore, the surge of Covid 19 pandemic has caught the system unawares, compelling us to make a dramatic shift from the conventional classroom to the virtual modes of learning. The cost of such a leap, fuelled by infrastructural, logistical, technical, and pedagogical limitations, are intimidating. There is a need to develop a shock-resistant education ecosystem. As a tiny country sandwiched between giant neighbours and faced with an ever-increasing surge of globalisation ‘knowledge, attitude and innovation’ is not only inevitable but an indispensable one.
The launch of the first Five-Year Plan in 1961 heralded a planned socioeconomic development in the country. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck accorded the highest priority to education sector as the engine of growth to meet the country’s goal of a self-reliant, economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable, culturally vibrant, and politically sound nation. With a modest start through conscription to get children to school, His Majesty’s efforts produced a generation of pioneering nation builders in various trades. The reign of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was quintessentially marked by an exponential growth and diversification of education landscapes to meet the skills requirement of the country.
The Royal Kasho, while acknowledging the development of national human resources in diverse fields and reducing dependence on foreign experts, calls for a quantum transformation to prepare for the country to forge into the 21st century.
It is undeniable that Buddhism plays an integral role in the Bhutanese context from historical, cultural, and educational angles. Hence, the foundation of Bhutan’s education system is laid on the Buddhist precepts and of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness. In this respect, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo envisioned that education in Bhutan is should not focus only on sharpening one’s knowledge and skills but, more importantly, would be a tool to impart and inspire the development of good human character.
The landscape of Bhutan’s education system has been continuously and consistently adapting to fulfil the needs of the emerging times. With a modest beginning to basically impart the literacy and numeracy skills to manage clerical and developmental tasks for the country’s socioeconomic development, the need for the nation is now driven by emergent economic realities, socio-cultural assimilations, and global conditions. A globalized economy demands education systems to explore new ways to cultivate dispositions such as creativity, innovativeness, and adaptability. Therefore, the form and content of educational change are invariably driven by the local needs to suit the globally driven outcomes.
In this context, Bhutan’s education system must aim to citizens with the right skills to go global. The Royal Kasho calls for a new vision of an education system that can “create enlightened citizenship that is as much local as it is trans-local.”
The Royal Kasho is His Majesty’s deep concern for Bhutan’s education system. It shows us the future.
P.hD Student of Public Policy
Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy
Sporting activities in the country have come under scrutiny lately given the increasing local positive Covid-19 cases and risks of spreading the infection.
The second nationwide lockdown in December last year was linked to an archery tournament held in Dechencholing, Thimphu. Recently, a cook from a quarantine centre in Thimphu had breached the Covid-19 protocol and went out to play cricket on two different occasions.
Following the first nationwide lockdown in August 2020, the government allowed sporting activities in phases. Tournaments were allowed but without spectators and with desuups monitoring the events.
Various organisations governing sports say they have enhanced compliance and monitoring of safety protocols.
Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association’s (BIGSA) president, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, said that with the deteriorating situation in neighbouring India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the association was taking extra precaution.
He said that the association would deploy desuups in various private archery ranges to monitor the games.
Without anyone monitoring the matches at the private archery ranges, many said, the number of players exceeded 10, which is the threshold set by the national Covid-19 taskforce.
BIGSA president said, “At the Changlimithang archery range, three BIGSA officials are deployed to manage the matches.”
Bhutan Olympic Committee’s (BOC) head of sports research and development division, Namgay Wangchuk, said that the committee was also equally concerned with the recent developments. “As per the recent notification from the national Covid-19 task force, BOC had requested all the federations to postpone their meetings. We also cancelled the badminton tournament and volleyball training.”
Phuensum Football Club coordinator, Sunil Rai, said that despite the pandemic, sports should continue. However, he said that strict rules must be in place.
Thimphu City FC’s president, Hishey Tshering, said that sports are essential to keep the mind away from the pandemic. “If we follow the necessary protocols, we can keep ourselves safe.”
His club recently returned from the Maldives after playing an AFC qualifying match against Club Eagles. The entire squad was placed under 21-day mandatory quarantine on arrival. All tested negative.
Following the completion of the district league recently, the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) decided that the 10 teams would automatically play the BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) later this month.
Owing to the pandemic, BFF decided to do away with the BPL qualifiers. The federation’s head of media and marketing, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that strict Covid-19 protocols would be ensured as per FIFA’s mandate during the tournament. “If the BPL tournament gets cancelled, it has financial implications for the federation and clubs.”
Also, most of the officials including referees are paid for every game they manage.
Nima | Gelephu
Travelling from home to school every day has become expensive for students from Samkhar in Jigmecholing, Sarpang, after a public transport service was discontinued three years ago.
Parents from Samkhar and Batasey hire two boleros to pick and drop students from school every day paying Nu 1,000 a month.
Amith Kumar Rai from Batasey said that starting a school bus service or a boarding facility would help students. “We have to take students and also passengers. Taking only student is a huge loss for us.”
He said after the bus service stopped, many children were forced to go to schools that have boarding facilities.
Villagers said sending students to school was convenient and affordable when there was bus service, as parents had to pay only Nu 300 in a month as bus fare.
Mig Tamang from Samkhar said parents tried to hire a private bus for the students. “It was not affordable, considering the payment for the driver and monthly maintenance. Travelling during summer is a big problem here.”
Samkhar tshogpa, Neten, said parents are managing even if it’s a bit expensive.
He said the problem would be resolved once Jigmecholing Middle Secondary School has a boarding facility. “Construction of the hostel might take a year.”