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State has no constitutional obligation to supply tobacco: PDP

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 14:02

Chhimi Dema

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) countered the government’s justification to allow the sale of tobacco through the Bhutan Duty Free Ltd yesterday, calling it unconstitutional.

The party said that it could cost the ruling party its place in the Parliament.

The party in a strongly worded three-page press release yesterday blamed the government of not upholding the rule of law and breaching the provisions of the Constitution.

For any executive order that overrules a provision of the law passed by the Parliament, there should be other laws to immobilise this provision, says PDP.

PDP mentioned that the country has not declared Emergency under Article 33 of the Constitution.

Attorney General’s (AG) statement that the right to import tobacco has to supersede Tobacco Control Act and the government’s measure of setting tobacco outlets was refuted by  PDP saying it is up to the consumers to import or not.

“If the circumstances do not favour importing by consumers themselves, it may not be right for the government to act by violating the very law that is protecting these consumers,” says PDP.

PDP said, “The right to import tobacco is a legal right given by the Tobacco Act and not a fundamental right given by the Constitution.”

Going by the AG’s statement, the closure of business were not decided upon emergency sessions but by an executive order. PDP counters that it exhibits AG’s notion that the enforcement agencies without question has to abide by orders that are not sanctioned by the law but passed by the government.

Citing examples of other nations, PDP stated that decisions that were undertaken during exigent situation are “either backed by law or have congressional or parliamentary endorsement.”

PDP counters AG’s opinion that law becomes secondary for an exigent situation that compels the government to act as a “scary proposition of law.”

PDP said that the government without declaring an emergency that the law becoming secondary denotes that “the government can take any action regardless of whether or not it is in conformity with the Constitution and other laws including Parliamentary decisions.”

PDP justified that even in national state of emergencies apart from Sections 2, 3, 5, 12 and 19 under Article 33(7), the rest 17 sections are effectual.

Along with the government, PDP said that people who bought tobacco products from outlets were liable for penalty for violating Section 11 (C) of the Tobacco Control Act by buying tobacco within Bhutan.

There is no local transmission

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 14:01

There is not a single reported case of a local transmission in the country as of yesterday. We have, so far, 108 Covid-19 positive cases in the country with 96 having recovered already. All the cases are imported and there are only 12 active cases in the safety of isolation wards.

To prepare for a possible community transmission in the capital city, authorities led by the health ministry conducted a simulation exercise yesterday. Three real case scenarios were presented with details and how all the institutions and groups identified will jump in to control a local epidemic. It was a good exercise to prepare for a local transmission.

Unfortunately, many took it for a real case of a local transmission. By late evening, rumours spread that there is a local transmission and the country is heading for a lockdown. This happened even after those attending the exercise were cautioned about spreading rumours or the possibility of mistaking the exercise as a real event.

However, the powerful rumour mill started rolling that people started calling each other or the mainstream media to confirm. These include those who are aware of the situation. This is not new. Last week, following a similar presentation to parliamentarians, rumours became rife that the country is going under a lockdown. Some even accused the media for hiding information.

What we don’t want today is rumours to create panic among the populace. It is good to be concerned and aware of risks of a community transmission. Knowing the risks will help authorities contain the spread and keep us safe. Panicking is not good. It will, as we have experienced already, inflate the price of essentials, create disturbances and uneasiness.

Should there be a single case of local transmission, it will be announced through the media. There will be press conferences and we could expect the prime minister addressing the people. There is nothing to hide. Hiding would be more disastrous.

Concerned with the risks of a community transmission, the government is trying to put some measures in place if, only if, we have to go for a lockdown. From the exercise, it is coming out that there  is a chain of activities. Roles are designated from securing food supply to monitoring traffic and movement of people to contact tracing and the national referral hospital activating its contingency plan. People are identified and given responsibilities.

Lets not get it wrong. What we are doing is a simulation to prepare for a worst-case scenario. It is better to be prepared.

Rumour, surprisingly, is still the most powerful medium. Before the health ministry could issue its clarification, people from as far as Australia, in the southern hemisphere are calling if we are going for a national lockdown.

There is only one thing that can beat rumours with- being open. What if a simulation exercise was made open to a wider audience? Every additional person knowing the strategy and plan would help us prepare better.

With an increasing number of positive cases in the border areas and illegal border crossing, risk of a local transmission is imminent.  It is better to be prepared and prepared in the right way.

Differences between Thrimthue and Compoundable offences

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 14:01

Kuensel, in its yesterday’s story “Increasing illegal entry cases along the border” quoted a prosecutor who  said: “Given the risks involved, no one is acquitted if charged with breaching and criminal nuisance and is sentenced under non-compoundable, which means the convict cannot pay in lieu of the prison terms/sentence.” From the report, it seems that Thrimthue is equated with a compoundable offence. Are Thrimthue and compoundable offences the same? If one closely read the relevant provisions, these two doctrines are different.

Thrimthue is an opportunity provided by Section 28 of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) to an accused who has been convicted of a crime to pay money in lieu of imprisonment. This can be applied only if the accused is not a recidivist and accustomed or habitual offender or the conviction is not a felony (Imprisonment of three or more years). Further, Section 73 of PCB provides conditions for the court to determine the eligibility for Thrimthue. This includes “severity of the charges, the defendant’s past criminal record, the potential threat posed to society and the defendant’s age and physical or mental health condition.”

On the other hand, the “compoundable offences” is derived from the common law system which essentially means “those offences where, the complainant (i.e. the victim), enter into a compromise, and agrees to have the charges dropped against the accused for a consideration.” To allow compounding of the offence, first Section 70 requires that the offence must not be a felony. Second,  the cases to be compounded must be allowed only “upon being satisfied that the substance or at least a certain part of the wrongful loss or damage or injury to the victim is restored or paid over (S.72).” Thus, the primary basis for the application of compounding of offences is that the accused must be willing to make good the loss or compensate the victim for injury either partially or wholly. This means, there must exist an agreement of concession where the victim gets the benefit of restoring his or her original position or compensated for the injury caused. Additionally, the court is also required to apply Section 73 before allowing the compounding of the offence.

The probability of confusion among people on Thrimthue and compoundable offence may be due to Section 73 as it applies to both. However, Section 73 does not apply to both the terms in the same sense.  While Section 73 is the primary ground on which order for Thrimthue is decided in addition to Section 28, it is not the primary premise on which the compounding of offence relies.

In short, Thrimthue is a discretionary authority of the court to allow a person who is convicted for a criminal offence not amounting to a felony or other conditions. It is applied only to the person who is convicted and allows his punishment to be metted through monetary means. Contrarily, compounding of offence is aimed at restoring the damages or injury caused to the victim and not to benefit the accused. Unlike Thrimthue, the victim plays a major role in compounding the offence. But the effect compounding is that the accused also gets acquitted and his charges dropped. Thrimthue is allowed upon conviction whereas compounding of the offence arises once the accused is indicted by the court. Thrimthue and compoundable offences cannot be equated as same as their purpose and objectives are different.

 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

Apple growers report poor fruiting

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 14:00

Choki Wangmo & Phub Dem

In the last few years, apple production has continued to plummet in Thimphu, Paro, and Haa.

This year is no different. Farmers are in for the worst.

Taw Tshering has sold about 70 boxes of apple last year. This year, his nine-acre orchard with 500 trees in Yusipang are yellow and lean.

He said although the weather was favourable this year, the yield was the worst. “The flowering was timely, though,” he said.

Another orchard owner in Hongtsho said she gave up tending to the plants since it failed last year. She is a roadside vendor and apples from her 50-decimal orchard are sold there. She said that the yield was decreasing since five years ago. “Apples develop a dark patch and becomes non-edible. I think it is a disease,” she said, adding that she sprayed pesticides even.

All apple-growing gewogs has complained about the bad yield.

Mangmi of Genekha gewog in Thimphu, Khandu, said that the yield was only 35 percent. He blamed hailstorm that destroyed the flowers in May.

According to RNR census report 2019, Thimphu has 578 apple growers with 57,886 trees from which 46,383 are fruit bearing. Last year, the apple production was 755.24 metric tonnes (MT). Maedwang gewog produced the highest number of apples at 4,20,271 kilogrammes.

Ap Gyatshay in Shari, Paro is known for his large apple orchard with about 150 trees. Usually, at this time of the year, he would be plucking them, as local buyers collect the fruit from the orchard.

The poor yield this year has, however, left many farmers like Gyatshay frustrated. Apple is one of the essential cash crops in Paro.

Last year, Gyatshay sold 250 boxes of apples to local buyers who then exported it to India and Bangladesh. Each basket weighs 20 kilogramme, which is more than Nu 500.

Gyatshay expects only two baskets of apple from his orchard this year. “There are only one to two apples in each tree. And the production is poor everywhere.”

Gyem from Wangchang gewog has a similar story to share. She said: “I am storing the apples for my family and relatives. There is nothing left to sell.”

She added that last year she earned about Nu 80,000 from her small apple orchard.

The situation is no different in Haa. Karma Dorji has two orchards with about 300 apple trees in Tshilungkha in Eusu gewog. He said the production was relatively poor.

If productions are enormous, he sells the apples in two seasons. “During harvest, I auction apple orchard while storing majority of the portion for winter.”

This year, he has plans to store. “If I sell in autumn, I think the yield won’t even fetch me Nu 40,000. In winter, I can earn about Nu 100,000 from 20 to 30 baskets,” he added.

He said the production was decreasing by the year.

The dzongkhag agriculture office did not receive any official complaint from farmers but Paro’s agriculture officer, Tandin, said that the production was comparatively low, as the yield was substantial last year.

The production, according to him, rotates each year. “The yield was poor in 2018 but huge last year. And it is low this time.”

Proper irrigation channel, soil fertility, and wind direction among other factors are responsible for the yield. “Major apple orchards in Paro lacks proper irrigation channel,” Tandin said.

Some farmers doubt continuous rain for falling of flowers. Tandin, however, said that rain was, in fact, vital during pollination and it cannot shed the flowers.

National fruits and nuts coordinator, with the agriculture department, Sangay Dendup, said that fruiting could be affected due to hailstorm during flowering season and also because of sudden change in temperature triggered by the current pandemic. “As the economic activities closed down, there was drop in temperature and change in weather conditions which could have affected the pollination.”

The department is yet to carry out technical assessments.

The RNR census report 2019 noted that among the fruit crops, apple, once a major fruit crop in Bhutan, now stands nowhere in the competition to other crops like mandarin. Last year, the highest number of growers was in Paro (32.24 percent), Trashiyangtse (10.55 percent), and Thimphu (10.45 percent). Paro (65.62 percent) and Thimphu (20.50 percent) account for the highest production of apples.

The apple production trend according to RNR census report 2019 is decreasing. From 7,051MT in 2014 to 3,684.42MT last year.

The Yeti: Why Bhutanese believe it exists

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:59

If you came across the yeti, what would you do?  

Most Bhutanese would pray that they don’t cross paths with it. We believe that if we do, then we will not live to tell the tale. However, in the rare chance encounter, the first thing any Bhutanese would do is determine its gender and then accordingly make an exit plan. If it’s male, we will run uphill as it is believed that the yeti would likely trip on its own long hair allowing us to escape. If it’s a female, we will run downhill as they are believed to  have sagging breasts and will be busy picking them up giving you a chase to escape.

Why do we believe that Yeti exists?

There are multiple reasons why we believe the yeti exists.  The first reason is the arrogance of the human race to think we know everything. To support the case, until 1905, the west thought our national animal Takin was the golden ram or a unicorn; both mythical creatures. Similarly, till a British Botanist Betty Sherriff saw a Blue Poppy in 1932 in Bhutan, our national flower was considered as a mythical flower.

The second reason is that 72 % of our land is under forest cover with 51% of this protected as park lands. The area of Singapore is 719.9km². We have designated a bigger area than the entire country of Singapore as the Migyo Park. The Sakteng Wild Life Sanctuary in North East Bhutan is 750km². If we are not serious about the existence of the yeti, why would we make such a big sacrifice. 

Discussion includes the possibility that there exists a yet undiscovered hominoid species. The humans which inhabit the world, have labelled themselves as Homo sapiens. We believe that the species now remain the only members of the genus Homo that has not become extinct. There were other types of the genus Homo, whose evolution was distinct from ours in more than just our slight deviation in height and our range of skin colour. The best example would be Homo floresiensis (“Flores Man”) whose standard adults would be considered dwarves or hobbits due to their short stature. It is thought they evolved this way due to the lack of food resources on the isolated island of Flores where they lived.

Homo floresiensis is an extinct species in the genus Homo. The remains of an individual that would have stood about 1.1m in height were discovered in 2003 at Liang Bua on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Homo floresiensis is well known and died out only around 60,000 years ago, which is not that long ago in geological time. Might the Yeti be a branch of the Homo family, which has not become extinct? 

There is also a conjecture, related to the  study of the feces carried by an expedition all the way to the United Kingdom and analyzed in a laboratory there. Their conclusion is that it is possible that Migyo or the Yeti is simply a group of Bhutanese whose physiology evolved to survive the harsh mountains. Or it could be some kind of large ape living in the top ends of the forest, and moving from one big valley system to another by passing through the mountains.   All those mountains east of Gangkhar Puensum are almost completely unexplored and there is plenty of room for them to live up there.

An additional point of discussion and history is that in the 1990s, our Fourth Druk Gyalpo told Dr. Bjorn Melgaard (who established the Danida office in Bhutan and acted as its Resident Representative 1992-1995) that his Royal scouts had come across the yeti, but could not show proof because they did not have a camera. It is possible that the yeti is a kind of ape, a very clever one that has been able to avoid coming into contact with civilization. 

Animal Planet

So far there have been at least three big scientific expeditions mounted in search of the yeti in our country. Animal Planet’s was the most recent one. Their documentary “Lost Kingdom of the Yeti” was aired in  2018 in the United States intrigued millions of Americans.  

Animal Planet funded the whole project and Icon Films from the UK was employed to produce it. The production team comprised nine people: film director, main cameraman, sound man, drone operator, presenter, safety officer, medical doctor, scientist and Bhutan’s old and good friend Steve Berry as the expedition leader.

Steve Berry, is himself a mountaineer and knows the Himalayas like the back of his hand. Like the Bhutanese, he is convinced that the yeti exists. 

In October 2014, while doing the Mount Gangkhar Puensum trek he saw bipedal footprints on the slopes of Ziga-phu Valley. Intrigued, he trekked there again in 2015 and 2016 and in both years, also saw such footprints at about 18,000 feet. At 24, 770 feet, Mount Gangkhar Puensum remains the world’s highest unclimbed mountain and the area around is inaccessible and remote.

Foot Prints

Steve Berry was  convinced that the mysterious creature who made those foot prints, zig zagging, down a slope and able to pivot easily  in the way only a two legged beings can. This bi-pedal maneuver can only be accomplished by an upright and cannot be a four legged animal. 

In the photos Steve Berry examined, there was  a clear print of the thumb which dug deep in the snow. Humans, birds and apes on occasions  walk on two feet.  Many lizards and cockroaches also run on two feet. Bears also are known to walk on two feet occasionally. The snow leopard lives on high ground and their back foot lands exactly on the  front foot print but it drags its heavy tail, so that elusive creature is ruled out.

Expedition

To solve the oldest mystery of the Himalayas, the nine-man team included British veterinarian turned film presenter, Dr Mark Evans who hosts the popular River Monster programme on Animal Planet. He has spent five years of his life looking for the Migyo in the Himalayan ranges stretching from Pakistan to Bhutan. He is skeptical but curious. 

Evans was backed by world renowned geneticist Eva Bellemain. The French scientist used cutting edge genetic technology to extract DNA from water. It is a well-known fact that the body shuts down after three days without water. So, if the yeti exists, it has to drink at some point. For the first time drones were engaged for photography. Dr Bellemain said, “If we had this technology 20 years we would have definitely caught the Migyo.”

The expedition started shooting their documentary in April-May 2017. They were in Bhutan for 25 days, out of which 18 were spent in the mountains, where they collected numerous DNA samples using Eva’s prized research-gathering device, ‘Phantom’ that can extract the DNA from water. 

At the end, the French scientist had accumulated many samples from rivers, stagnant water, lake-sides, animal droppings, scrapping from footprints in the snow, and hair samples from a house that had clearly been broken into by an animal. The hair sample turned out to be yak hair.  

After running tests on the samples in the lab for a year and sequencing them through the world’s largest DNA database, the team arrived at the following conclusions.

Conclusion:

The DNA lifted from the bi-pedal footprints in 2017 from Ziga phu were tested and found to be that of the Argali Sheep.  It is a huge sheep found on the Tibetan Plateau which had thought to have been hunted down by bounty hunters to extinction. While there have been occasional sightings of it in Bhutan, this is the first scientific evidence of the majestic sheep. 

The expedition found some evidence of unusual human like faeces. This is also surprising considering the remoteness and the tough habitat of the terrain. The most  interesting finding was that the sample were a 99% match with human faeces.   This is most interesting. When you consider that Gorillas have a 98% match with humans this could be a significant find.

Like Steve Berry believes, “it could be that some tribes people in Bhutan are not yet registered in the human DNA ‘library’.   In other words, we were left in doubt.   No solid proof one way or the other.”

In Bhutan, we are convinced through the multiple reasons that  the yeti exists but  we are in no hurry to produce evidence of the Migyo. While there is certainly a  biological being behind the mythology, we believe that it will not be in the shape and form that Westerners have romanticised it to be.

Contributed by,

Tshering Tashi

Bhutan and the Covid-19 pandemic

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:58

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Bhutan was detected on 6 March 2020. Since then, under the enlightened leadership and personal guidance of His Majesty The King, the government has taken many steps to mitigate risks and prevent the transmission and spread of the disease in the country. In fact, His Majesty The King was already aware of the risks and challenges that Covid-19 could pose to the people and country even before the detection of the first confirmed case and was pro-actively preparing response plans and strategies.

Bhutan’s preparedness, response strategies and efforts have been lauded as many steps were taken in a proactive manner despite the fact that there was no local transmission in the country. Till date, all cases are imported cases of Bhutanese returning from abroad and these are being meticulously managed in quarantine and isolation facilities by healthcare professionals.

The whole community approach as reflected in the spontaneous outpouring of support in cash, kind and volunteerism by the people of Bhutan from all walks of life is a matter of great pride. It bears testimony to our deep-rooted values and principles of compassion, unity and service to the nation in times of need. This is our strength as a nation and people. Indeed, Covid-19 has brought the country together to combat and overcome one of the greatest challenges of our times. All this has been possible due to the outstanding leadership and steadfast resolve of His Majesty The King who continues to remain at the forefront of all endeavours in these difficult times.

The swift and deliberate manner with which Bhutan acted to prepare and respond while countries in the region and beyond were overwhelmed by the pandemic is noteworthy, particularly given our constraints and limited resources. Today, His Majesty remains at the helm of all efforts and regularly travels the length and breadth of the country to take stock of our preparedness and response mechanisms and to institute new measures in keeping with the rapidly evolving situation. Among others, His Majesty has repeatedly emphasized the imperative to remain vigilant at all times and not become complacent and to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

His Majesty’s primary concern is to protect the well-being and welfare of the people and country and towards this end, His Majesty has been actively engaged in spearheading relief measures. A National Resilience Fund has been established on Royal Command to provide relief to those who lost their livelihoods or sources of income and to help businesses affected by the pandemic to sustain their operations. Among others, people who are unemployed and have lost their source of income have been provided monthly subsistence allowances as kidu.

Similarly, deferment of loan and waiver of interest pursuant to Royal Command has come as a huge relief for the people of Bhutan.  Interests on loans were initially waived for three months from April-June 2020. In addition, the waiver of interest has been extended for another three months till September 2020. This will be followed by a partial interest waiver (50%) for six additional months from October 2020 to March 2021. Vitamin pills and face masks have been distributed on Royal Command as a preventive measure to senior citizens and people with underlying conditions who are more vulnerable. Such kind of care, compassion and support from the highest level is unprecedented and we are all truly blessed and fortunate.

The people of Bhutan owe a huge debt of gratitude to His Majesty The King for his selfless service and for being the beacon of hope in these very difficult and uncertain times. Whatever we have achieved thus far in preventing the spread of the disease in Bhutan is due to the wise counsel and leadership of His Majesty The King.

Likewise, the Zhung Dratshang led by His Holiness The Je Khenpo is engaged in performing special prayers and kurims and invoking Sangaymenlha and other protecting deities to prevent spread of pandemic and keep our country safe. We also remain immensely grateful to His Holiness The Je Khenpo and the Zhung Dratshang.

The government under the leadership of the Prime Minister also deserves our deep appreciation and gratitude. In particular, we specially acknowledge the hard work being done by Health Ministry and healthcare professionals, frontline workers, armed forces, De-Suups, volunteers and all other agencies including the Covid-19 Task Force to prevent the importation and spread of Covid-19.

Going forward, what is important and imperative is for each and every citizen to be responsible by supporting the efforts of the Royal Government to prevent local/community transmission. We must diligently comply with all Notifications and Advisories issued by the government without fail and take all precautions.

As a senior citizen, I urge and appeal to all Bhutanese to be responsible and comply with health advisories such as wearing face masks, washing hands frequently and physical distancing. The Druk Trace App is an extremely important tool for contact tracing and must be used whenever visiting any public place. As the development of a vaccine remains uncertain, the age-old adage, “prevention and better than cure” must be the order of the day.

We all have a solemn responsibility, individually and collectively, to prevent the transmission and spread of Covid-19 in Bhutan. As we adapt to the “new normal” we cannot afford to become complacent, irresponsible or reckless. We must continue to work together with steadfast resolve and unity of purpose to protect our communities and our nation and to fulfill the vision of our beloved King of a strong, secure and happy nation. I am confident that we will be able to overcome this challenge by working together as members of one family.

Pelden Drukpa Gyalo!

 

Contributed by,

Chenkyab Dorji

Thimphu

Sha Dha Gye’s Rada Lhakhang

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:58

Phurpa Lhamo  | Wangdue

A pair of tiny slip-on is firmly set at the foot of the staircase leading to Rada Lhakhang in Wangdue.

Inside the heavily draped door curtain, 8-year-old Kinley Sonam Pelden is prostrating while her father, Dechen Lhendup, is peeking through the door.

“Say you were born here and ask for Ap Rada’s chap (guidance or blessing),” whispers Dechen Lhendup.

Kinley folds her hands, closes her eyes and murmurs something.

The Sha Radap Lhakhang, popularly known as the Rada Lhakhang, is located in Gangthangkha, the old Bajo town, Wangdue.

The lhakhang is said to be constructed more than 150 years ago by Wangdzhop Sigay from Sha.

Today, the lhakhang is under major renovation.

Rada Lhakhang Kyenyer, Kencho Dorji, said that today a room from the dratshang nearby was used until the work finished. “We expect to move to the newly renovated lhakhang by the end of August.”

Although Rada Lhakhang is a small two-storey structure, it holds significant importance not only to the people of Sha Dha Gye but also to people across Bhutan.

Over 30 people visit the lhakhang every day. “They are mostly parents seeking names for a newborn, ex-army personnel, and those who were born in Wangdue,” Kencho Dorji said.

Although Ap Rada’s name is Dorji Draktsen, “Rada” became popular when he pointed out that his nyekhang (at Sha Khotokha) was as small as a goat (ra) upon his arrival in Bhutan, said Kencho Dorji.

In principal of Bajo Lhakhang Lhatu’s two-page compilation of Ap Rada’s background and his journey to Bhutan, Radap appears wrathful, red in complexion. He holds a spear in his right hand and a snake-rope in the left. He rides a red-horse.

This manifestation is particularly sought during times of war and major games in the community.

Forty-seven-year-old army personnel said that during the 2003 conflict, armies would make sure to worship at the lhakhang before travelling to far-off lands. “Even during Pema Tshewang Tashi’s war, it is said that he showed ominous signs to show that he would lose. That is why people still trust him in these matters.”

Army personnel seek Rada Lhakhang equivalent to the main Lhakhang in Tencholing, Wangdue, which holds a Goenkhang with deity Pelden Lhamo.

Every two months, Rada Lhakhang is flooded with ex-army personnel.

“Many who graduated from Tencholing ensure to go to Rada Lhakhang while they visit the lhakhang in Tencholing. Even the cadets who come from India do it,” said the army personnel, 47.

Although Ap Rada is popularly known for being a military commander, he takes four other manifestations—a king, a monk, two other manifestations to fight evil—to help different people in need.

History of Rada

Lopen Lhatu’s work was compiled through references of past works, and through conversation with ex-Umzeys and late Dawa Gyeltshen, an elderly of the community.

His narrative further goes—the reincarnation of Chana Dorji, Mondey Phurpa worshipped Ap Rada as his deity. Upon Mondey Phurpa’s request, Ap Rada was escorted to Radagang (the Rada Nye), which is located in Sha Khotokha today.

Early stories of Ap Rada dates back to when he was born as the king of the Nagas in an ocean.

Upon receiving monk vows from the Buddha, he was born in Zhingkham Yoe Dhang Dhenpa (shining paradise). After his death, he was then reborn as Sangay Yoesung, becoming the lama king. During this form, he happened to have cursed those who criticised him during his reign, which led to him to live countless lives in hell.

Later he was born as the youngest son of the Masang Puendhuen (Seven Siblings), born from the cross marriage of God and Naga. He was named Nangpo Drulchen (Gigantic Black snake). The mother Naga, (Lumo), out of unconditional love and affection, gave him the Jewel called Norbu Samphel, which is why Radap is considered to be rich and could even bless people with wealth.

Later, upon administration of a religious institution as a Geshey, he accidentally killed one of his follower monks. This led to him being born as a cliff deity (Draktshen) at a Ta Na cliff in Shangyul. There, Lopen Pema Thoethreng gave him blessings, oral transmissions and was purified with holy water. With Chabdro and Genyen Gi Dhompa, he was named Dorji Draktsen. He was also made responsible for upholding the teaching of the Dharma.

Bidders face challenges to export cordyceps

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:57

Nim Dorji | Bumthang

The cordyceps has been affected by the Covid-19.

The bidder attending the cordyceps auction have drastically decreased compared to the previous years.

Only 10 bidders attended the cordyceps auction in Chhoekhor gewog in Bumthang yesterday.

The price of the fungus has also decreased. Bidders say that because of Covid-19 pandemic they could not export the fungus.

Tenzin, a regular bidder, said that the price of the fungus had decreased compared with last year. This is because most of the bidder did not turn up fearing how they might be able to sell even if they can buy.

Most bidders have old and unsold stock.

Tenzin said that he sold the cordyceps outside, but this year, he had to export through Bhutan post. So, for 250 grams of cordyseps, Nu 8000 is charged as postal charge.

“I could send to the only those whom I know if not there are chances of not getting the money, “ said Tenzin

Another bidder, Dophu, said that the tourists were one of the main buyers, but with no tourist coming, there was no buyer. “I bought 14kg cordyceps last year at Nu 1.04M, which is left unsold. The same grade I can get at Nu 0.03M. I will bear the loss should I sell at the current rate.”

Yesterday, 4.6kg cordyceps was withdrawn from the auction due to low price.

The highest price for a kg of cordyceps was Nu1.01M and the lowest 41,000 a kg.

The auction will end tomorrow.

Gender-based violence increases during the pandemic

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:56

Not many from the LGBT community reporting violence

Yeshey Lhadon

Gender-based violence (GBV) cases have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to records with the Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW).

The civil society organisation recorded 407 GBV cases during the pandemic period. This is an increase of 289 more cases compared with last year.

RENEW’s program officer, Ugyen Thinley, said that most gender-based violence go unreported.  “GBV cases have increased dramatically this year in the shadows of Covid-19,” he said.

On August 5, RENEW in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA in Bhutan) organised a day long training on the theme “Freedom from Violence; Cultivating Happiness.” The training was to create awareness to prevent gender-based violence and also to encourage sexual reproductive health services (SRHS) among the trainees.

RENEW, however, have so far not recorded any GBV cases from the LGBT community although they feel that the community is not free from GBV. “Our LGBT community members are now more prone to exploitation during the pandemic. Sensitization programmes will help them prevent, cope up and respond to the violence,” said Ugyen Thinley.

GBV is common among people sharing an intimate relationship. Everyone, irrespective of their gender identity or sexual orientation, have the equal right to seek help from related agents such as police, hospital, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) or RENEW.

At the training, officials said that members of the LGBT community are reluctant to avail sexual and reproductive health services. National Program officer of UNFPA in Bhutan, Dechen Chime said that the members of LGBT community are the key population and should be kept safe during Covid-19 pandemic. “Our LGBT members should not feel left out at such times. They must use continued health facilities embracing the new normal at such times to keep themselves safe and healthy,” she said.

There are 180 diverse members; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and gender-fluids registered with Rainbow Bhutan as of now. A member of Rainbow Bhutan, Pema Dorji, said that most of the LGBT members are not aware of physical, sexual and psychological violence happening against them.

He once witnessed one of his transwomen friends being beaten by her boyfriend. But she didn’t seek help. “Victims are not aware that they have been abused. Most of us know that we were exploited very late in our life, when we causally narrate our story,” he said.

Four years ago, Pema was sexually harassed. He was ashamed and kept it secret until he could gather courage to share his story. “It took me three years to be aware. Now I am ready to fight back. I know where to seek help from, “he said.

Pema noticed that physical violence is faced mostly by transmen and transwomen. Pema thought that RENEW and NCWC were only meant for women and children. He said, “I now know that the service is also extended to LGBT community and we deserve to live a life free from violence.”

Tshering Dendup, popularly known as Poko among her friends was gay until 2015. She came out as a transwoman in 2019. She said, “Now that I am a visible transwoman, I feel more vulnerable to harassment.”

Poko was bullied, teased, judged and never taken seriously. “I am a victim of cyber bullying. I received hate messages and even threatened to be killed,” she said.  However, she hesitated to seek help from the police and go through legal procedure.

She said that the transwomen are different from what is being portrayed in the movies. She wants to be a makeup artist and a fashion designer. “I want to change the image of transwomen,” said Poko.

“I feel like I’m a man from the depth of my heart,” said Dorji Yuden, a transman, known as Ogo. He said that he faced challenges while visiting the hospital. “I have stopped visiting hospitals. It’s uncomfortable when male health workers touch me as a part of checkup.”

Ogo said that sexual exploitation is common among transmen. “Biologically we have the body of a woman, we could get pregnant if our male friends take advantage of the situation. The risk is inevitable,” he said.

Another transwoman, Sonam, was raped and robbed. She was left alone in a forest one night. But she didn’t report it to the police. She said, “I was drunk and they took my phone.”

Another transwoman, Sonam Choki said that she wants to blend in with the society and add value to the society. She said, “I am empowered through this training. When an armless or legless man can lead a normal life, why not us?”

RENEW in collaboration with UNFPA in Bhutan organised the training.

Chilli growers opt for plastic mulching

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:56

Chimi Dema | Semjong

Many chilli farmers in Tsirang mourn over the poor chilli yield this season due to continuous heavy rainfall in the dzongkhag. 

However, one individual in Semjong gewog had a bountiful harvest owing to modern cultivation technology.

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Namgay transplanted small chillies on 15 decimal land using plastic mulching on a trial in February.

Having sold about 400 kilogrammes (kgs) of chillies already, he is waiting to pick the last harvest from his field.

“I made more than Nu 100,000 and sold at a minimum of Nu 250 a kg,” he said. He expects another 20kg from the last harvest.

Ngawang Phuntsho Tamang from Dzomling chiwog cultivated on the same size of land as Namgay, the gewog agriculture officer, but he harvested only around 90kgs.

“I think it is because I haven’t used plastic mulching.” The differences were visible, he said. “Chilli plants grown with plastic mulches have better growth and yield.” He wants to use the method in the next season.

Namgay said that he cultivated the chillies to demonstrate the new method as well as to encourage farmers.

“The government provides subsidies for plastic but only a few are interested,” he said.

He said that such a method is necessary to use in a commercial farming system to enhance crop productivity.

Plastic film mulching of seedbeds, he said, improves crop yields and water use efficiency through maintaining soil moisture, suppressing weeds and increasing soil temperature.

“Favorable moisture and temperature conditions under plastic mulches also affect plant roots, typically stimulating root development and increasing root exudation,” he said.

The government’s chilli production project in low altitude chiwogs of Dekiling and Dzomling provided plastic mulching for early chilli production on around five-acre land, last year. About 68 farmers participated in the project.

Given its agronomic benefits in crop production systems, many farmers in the gewog are keen to use plastic mulches for upcoming winter chilli production.

A farmer in Dekiling chiwog, Bal Bahadur Tamang wants to cultivate winter chilli on 50-decimal land using the new method.

“Such technology has become important to increase yield, reduce pesticide consumption, and provide frost protection to the crop,” he said. “Moreover, it also reduces leg work for farmers.”

Bal Bahadur Tamang said that with plastic mulches on 10-decimal land for early chilli last year, he sold about 100kgs.

“Without it, I could have harvested barely 40kgs,” he said. “The plants rot after about three harvests.”

Namgay said that more farmers were now seeking support for plastics from the government. For the coming season, the project would provide plastics to cover eight acres.

He said that farmers were also willing to purchase on their own, realising its benefits. A roll of plastic costs around Nu 3,000 and could cover 25 decimals.

However, a growing concern with using plastic mulches is that the  residual plastics are never completely removed from a field and thus, leaving remnants which remain in soil for decades.

As substitutes to polyethylene mulch films, experts suggest using biodegradable plastic mulches that are designed to be tilled into soil after use and where microorganisms degrade the plastic.

Discrepancies found in weight and price of rice sold

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:55

Dzongkhag writes to OCP to investigate

Neten Dorji | Trashigang 

With discrepancies in the leveled weight and the actual weight of rice sold in Trashigang, the dzongkhag administration has written a letter to the Office of the Consumer Protection (OCP), Thimphu, for necessary action.

The dzongkhag wrote the letter after a team led by the Regional Trade Director in Mongar, conducted a detailed inspection. The letter requests the OCP to take necessary action to stop the supply of underweight rice bags from the source as rice is one of the main essential food items imported in the country.

Imported rice comes in four types of bags – 50kg, 40kg, 25kg and 22kg.

 Team leader, Tshering Wagdi said they found discrepancies in the actual weight of rice bags that is inscribed differently for different brands of rice. “ Rice bags with 50kg level weigh only 40kg and 25kg bag weigh only 22kg.”

Tshering Wangdi said customers were confused when they compared the actual cost of 50kg rice bags in FCB outlets and the cost of underweight with wholesalers.

Members said most of the customers were confused because of the weight specified on bags of rice and the labelled price.  “Customer thought the price of 50kg which was underweight was cheaper than the actual price of 50 kg. Shopkeeper charged only underweight  of rice the price of its 40kg bag and 22kg bag,” said a member, Nina S Tamang. “Customers didn’t realise there is a difference in the weight of rice and its cost.”

A Dzongkhag Marketing Surveillance and Monitoring team (MSMT)conducted the inspections.  The team conducted a detailed inspection of wholesales and FCB across Trashigang dzongkhag on the directives  of the Dzongdag Chekey Gyeltshen.

One of the members said that without in-depth studies on discrepancies in price, they could not say what was happening between suppliers and buyers. “It is important to create awareness among customers and check before buying anything from shops,” he said.  “It is the customers right, if shopkeepers deceived customers.”

A proprietor of a wholesaler in Trashigang said he did not noticed the difference or benefited from the difference in weight.   “We import as per the level of the rice bag and sell it as per the level of weight,” he said. “Only thing is that, rice bag marks as 50kg which weighs only 40kg.”

During the inspection, the dzongkhag MSMT team has asked all retailers and wholesalers across the dzongkhag to correct the underweight rice bag and warned them from importing such underweight rice.

A Kuensel independent verification found that rice bags  labelled as 50kg weighs only 40.35kg and 25kg bags weighs only 22.70kg.

Meanwhile, the team also found that shopkeepers didn’t have a standard weighing balance or equipment and those who have are not functional.

“The OCP should direct all shopkeepers to purchase standard weighing balance in line with Bhutan Standard Bureaus protocol,” the letter signed by the dzongdag states.

Persons with  disabilities receive grants to better their lives 

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:54

Yangyel Lhaden

Sangay Rinchen’s fascination with science continued despite not qualifying to pursue science stream in high school. While studying humanities in high school, he beat science students in science exhibitions.

He also participated in the national STEM Olympic Science Exhibition with his plastic carpet making machine and stood 11th out of 20 competitors in 2018. Since then he has been pursuing his passion learning from  any material available.

His proposal of a smart walking stick for the visually impaired has won a microgrant of Nu 40,000. The FabLAb, Thimphu has also committed to help him improve on his prototype.

“The micro-grant made it possible to further pursue my dream,” Sangay Rinchen said.

Microgrant is part of a project called “Understanding, Developing, and Supporting Meaningful Work for Adults with Disabilities in Bhutan: Networks, Communities, and Transition”, managed by Royal Thimphu College, University of Birmingham, and the University of Minnesota.

The project aims to study how such intervention could enhance social participation and employment opportunities if such facilities and support systems are made available for youth with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities in Bhutan, aged between 16 and 30, applied for a grant up to Nu 50,000 in June. The grant aims to support employment and other social and economic activities, including capital for start-up, school fees, transportation costs, and related costs for youths with disabilities.

The grant coordinator Sonam Tshewang, said that initially the microgrant aimed to help 10 youths with disabilities but after screening 43 proposals, 10 individuals and two group proposals were selected.

“The grant recipients would be mentored and assisted to use the fund effectively to enrich and empower themselves on a weekly basis for six months.”

Manish Koirala’s project proposal to open a grocery store in Gelephu received Nu 50,000. Manish Koirala underwent brain surgery when he was in class PP and since then faced difficulty in walking which also forced him to discontinue studies. He is 18-year-old now.

“He helps in my scrap business and handles the customers well,” Hari Maya Koirala, his mother said.

Besides the scrap business, she plans to open a grocery store for her son. “I will help my son to become independent and will assist him in the shop.”

Sukrayj Sherpa will open a print shop in Gesarling, Dagana with the help of the grant. The class 12 graduate said that there was no print shop in the area which also has a school.  “I’m looking forward to becoming an independent businessman.”

Group grants are given to Special Education Needs students from Tendruk Central School, Samtse for laptop and another group of youth with disabilities trained in multimedia at Changangkha for purchase of equipment.

Sonam Tshewang said that viability, future scope and their challenges were important to screen. For example, he said, opening a restaurant in Thimphu was not considered as it was expensive and non-viable but opening up a print shop near Gesarling in Dagana was considered as it was more viable and inexpensive.

“Considering the challenges of youth with disabilities, we’re mindful not to fund any activities that will further complicate their undertaking.”

Most recipients are opening small enterprises while a few individuals are given assistive technology such as laptops.

Breastfeeding is more than a meal: UNICEF representative

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:53

Yeshey Lhadon

Bhutan’s exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 51.4 percent. UNICEF Representative, Dr William Parks said, “UNICEF will continue to support the Royal Government of Bhutan’s efforts to improve the rate and achieve the target of 56.8 percent by 2023.”

Dr Parks said that exclusive breastfeeding was the cornerstone of child survival and child health.

Breastfeeding is more than a meal. It is the baby’s first vaccine. It boosts a child’s immune system, stimulates brain development and self-confidence.

“Breast feeding is a natural process, but it is not always easy. Mothers are better able to breastfeed when they have the support of their families through positive encouragement and sharing household responsibilities,” he said.

Not just improving exclusive breast-feeding among infants less than six months, UNICEF also encourages optimal breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

The world breastfeeding week 2020 focuses on the impact of infant feeding on the environment and climate change, and the imperative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for the health of the planet and its people.

“We must protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling,” said Dr Parks.

UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to:

1. Invest to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman.

2. Train health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families.

3. Ensure that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible.

4. Partner and collaborate with civil society and health professional associations, building strong collaborative systems to provide appropriate counselling.

5. Protect health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.

The second-year students of the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) in Thimphu observed the week by advocating the clients in the clinical setting for the first time. Poster presentation competitions on some major topics: breastfeeding during Covid-19, exclusive breastfeeding, alternative breastfeeding, breastfeeding in special cases and relactation were held.

A student of FNPH, Nima Wangmo, said that it was more likely for mothers to go under stress and anxiety while breast-feeding during Covid-19 pandemic. “A stressed mother will divert her attention from her baby and lactation will reduce. Breast-feeding will reduce mothers’ stress. A mother should keep calm and breastfeed.”

World Breastfeeding Week was observed from August 1 to August 7.

“Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet” was this year’s theme.

The Dean and Assistant Professor of FNPH, Deki Pem, said that mothers should visit health centres if they feel ill and practice hand washing and wear masks as they can’t maintain physical distance from their baby.

She said: “In case either the mother or the baby tests Covid-19 positive, the Covid-19 clinical management will handle the situation as per WHO’s guidance.”

Young mothers these days are not breastfeeding in public places.

Tshering Lhaden, a student, said: “Young mothers are ashamed of the shapes and sizes of their breasts. Thus, their Babies miss breastfeeding when in Public places. We encourage safe breastfeeding anywhere and anytime.”

She also said that it was challenging to grab the attention of crying infants’ parents. “New mothers complained of sore nipples and chose artificial feeding. They were shown a proper baby holding position to overcome this problem.”

A student of FNPH, Phurba Tshering, said that breastfeeding was a collective effort. “Breastfeeding is not just mothers’ responsibility. So, we also targeted confused and concerned fathers. Breastfeeding is the best compliment for giving birth, it’s nothing shameful.”

Some families chose livestock and commercial supplements which not only hamper a child’s health but also the environment. Another student of FNPH, Sarjana Limbu, said: “We discourage mothers from replacing breast-feeding with livestock and commercial supplements.”

Dawa Tshering, a diploma student studying community health, who advocated relactation found it difficult to convince the mothers. “We help mothers to re-establish breastfeeding and encourage consistent breastfeeding.”

“Children are our hope, our present and our future. A healthier planet means a healthy future. I call upon all of us to give children the best start in life,” said Dr Parks.

Front liners at risk

ཉིམ།, 08/08/2020 - 13:50

Yangchen C Rinzin

Last month, a patrolling team in Gelephu intercepted a Bhutanese man returning home after sneaking out across the border. The suspect smelling trouble tried to escape. The patrolling team and police arrested him.

The two policemen who caught the suspect had to hold down the man. They were later quarantined for 21 days along with the suspect. The policemen were released after the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test results came negative.

With the attention diverted on preventing community transmission, those on the frontline getting in direct contact with people exposed to the virus, many say could be the biggest risk of local transmission . Cases of people covertly crossing the border and the spike in Covid-19 cases across the border have increased the workload on the front liners and the risk of local transmission.

De-Suups on duty in Gelephu

Police are tasked to arrest suspects before surrendering them for quarantining. Health officials conduct a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) on the suspects, but not on the policemen who bring them to the quarantine facility. After completing quarantine, a PCR is done and the police escort the suspects to court for trial.

All suspects, so far, have tested negative, but those on duty along the porous border fear that the suspects they handle might test positive after 21 days. By then they would have mingled with others. The Royal Bhutan Police, Royal Bhutan Army, and De-Suups have been patrolling the borders along with the volunteers from National Land Commission, immigration department, forest rangers, and community volunteers since the borders closed in March.

Those on duty follow a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which specifies handling a suspect and physical distance requirements. However, implementing it on the ground has been challenging. A De-Suup who served in Gelephu said that they are usually given a two-day briefing before being placed at the outpost for a month.

But the ground realities- the heat, the thick uniform with heavy boots, many say compromise the protocols.

“Sometimes, it is suffocating to keep wearing a mask because of the heat. But we’ve to do it if we come across a suspect,” said a De-Suup.

Another said that while they are aware of the physical distance rule, they have to interact closely with suspects sometimes. A De-Suups said that when they see a suspect while on patrol, they immediately surround the suspect to ensure the intruder does not escape, maintain distance and immediately inform the police to deal with the situation.

“We wear face masks, if possible gloves, and we make them carry their own items. We don’t touch the suspect at all,” said a front liner adding that they are not tested after patrolling. Some shared that although they are most careful, there could be a possibility of getting infected by the virus.

Police have designated individuals to arrest suspects. A health team comes to the spot in a designated bus to pick up the suspect along with police personnel. “Such measures give us hope that local transmission from the frontline is slim.”

A health official said that as far as possible the health team tests the suspect immediately so that there is not much physical involvement of the police or patrol team.

The official said that patrolling teams are usually stationed at outpost so there is less interaction with others.

“They were face masks. With cases increasing at the border, we’ve recently enforced that they should be using face shields and gloves too.”

P’ling woman tests “false positive”

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:08

Twice tested negative on RT-PCR, the confirmatory test for Covid-19

Younten Tshedup

A woman in Phuentsholing who recently tested positive on the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) could possible be ‘false positive,’ experts said, after she tested negative twice on the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), the confirmatory test for Covid-19.

The woman had tested positive for IgG antibodies during the health ministry’s ongoing serosurveillance in high-risk areas. A serosurveillance is a process of monitoring the presence or absence of a specific substance in the blood serum of a population.

Clinical microbiologist with the national referral hospital, Dr Tshokey said that the ministry is using RDT kits to detect possible infection through the detection of antibodies among the high-risk population during the serosurveillance.

There are two brands of RDT kits currently used in Bhutan to detect antibodies besides the rapid antigen testing and the RT-PCR.

Dr Tshokey said that the Phuentsholing woman had tested positive for IgG antibodies using both the brands of antibody test kits. “This means that the person had been exposed to the virus some three weeks ago or even before.”

However, the negative results on the RT-PCR confirmed that the woman had no active infection (infectious) at the time of testing.    

It was learnt that the woman had no recent travel history and had not come in contact with any positive patients.

Dr Tshokey said that the most logical thing to do in such cases was to test her family members and close contacts. “If this person was infected without her knowledge, at least we expect some of the family members who are in close contact to test positive.”

All her primary and close contacts including family members tested negative for Covid-19. “The only possibility then was that the RDT results could have been false positive,” said the microbiologist.

The woman has been quarantined for now.

Testing is a major challenge

Health experts say that having a good and reliable test kit for detecting Covid-19 is still a challenge. This is mainly because Covid-19 is a new disease and the behaviour of the virus is still evolving.

Dr Tshokey said that no test is 100 percent in terms of sensitivity and specificity. “There are limitations to every test kit and specifically with the Covid-19 test kits because it’s a fairly new disease.”

He said that unlike test kits for other diseases that have to undergo robust scrutiny and testing by international bodies before the approval for use, Covid-19 test kits are allowed based on an emergency use authorisation (EUA) following a fair evaluation.

He added that some of the practical test kits are given the EUA, including the ones the country is currently using. The test kits are imported from South Korea.

Surveillance to feel the pulse of the pandemic

The health ministry on July 30 started conducting serosurveillance to check for possible local transmission in communities in the light of increasing positive cases across the border.

High-risk populations including health workers, officials in the frontline and mobile population such as taxi drivers, among others are tested using RDT kits to detect antibodies in the body.

Antibodies are produced as a body’s response when an antigen (foreign substance) enters the body.

Ideally, for any infection, the body first produces the IgM antibody during the initial phase of the infection. The body starts producing a large amount of antibodies (IgM) in response to the infection. Subsequently, the number of viruses starts declining, as the antibody fights the virus. Usually, by the second week, the number of IgM antibodies drops and the body then starts producing IgG antibodies.

However, Dr Tshokey said that some studies have shown that for coronavirus, the IgM and IgG antibodies could also be produced simultaneously.

He said the RDT is a good test for serosurveillance, which detects antibodies in people even if the individual has been infected several months ago. The test detects any recent or past infections through the presence of antibodies produced by the body.

With about 20 percent of the Covid-19 patients being asymptomatic, the microbiologist said that people might never know if they are infected. With increasing cases across the border, the test was initiated to see if there were infected people without symptoms in the community, he added.

Meanwhile, as of August 5, the ministry has tested over 16,000 people using RDT along the border communities in the country – Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar.

The ministry towards the evening yesterday posted that a second round of serosurveillance was found necessary to ascertain the evidence of community transmission along the bordering areas as they reported spikes in the Covid-19 cases.

Biodiversity monitoring protocol to integrate conservation activities

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:07

Choki Wangmo

Now with the biodiversity monitoring and social survey protocol in place, conservation activities in the country are expected to be more integrated with systematic, coordinated, and consolidated biodiversity data.

The monitoring protocol outlines tools and methods to gather important information about plant and animal species such as diversity, habitat, threats, and distribution patterns, among others.

It is also expected to set a standard tool to monitor biodiversity and assess the socioeconomic status of people who depend on biodiversity for their livelihoods.

The manual outlines the monitoring protocol for six broad taxa—mammals, birds, insects, aquatic biodiversity, herpetofauna, and plants. Until now, research and surveys were limited to taxonomic groups such as mammals, birds, and plants, leaving out other taxa like mollusks.

Senior forestry official with the nature conservation division, Letro, said that currently the conservation and biodiversity surveys were carried out in silos. However, with the monitoring protocol, all types of biodiversity in the parks and territorial forest divisions would be inclusive, he added.

The protocol, which is critical to ensure the survival of various species, would also help record new species and changing trends in biodiversity due to climate change and human disturbances, he said.

Besides determining status and tracking changes, the first standard monitoring protocol also helps to understand threats to species and their responses.

Despite being biologically diverse, Bhutan faced challenges in documenting all species in the ecosystem. Lack of standardised survey methods and protocols impeded further efforts to conduct uniform biodiversity and social surveys in the protected areas for conservation management planning.

The forest department also launched the guideline for classifying and managing key biodiversity areas last week. The guideline would ensure that endemic species outside the protected area systems and national parks are also conserved.

Some endemic species in the territorial divisions are beyond protected area network, therefore losing the attention of conservationists, Letro said. “In the territorial divisions, there are unrecorded endemic species, which will be recorded through the key biodiversity areas guideline. We plan to develop action plans to protect these species in the future.”

The number of species outside the protected area system is vulnerable to anthropogenic activities and is at the risk of being wiped out. The key biodiversity areas conservation approach would ensure that all sites of importance for biodiversity are identified, mapped, and documented.

It is in line with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the strategic plan for biodiversity 2011-2020, agreed by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to which Bhutan is a member, states: “By 2020, …areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, …and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.”

By delivering effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity, key biodiversity areas will contribute to sustaining existing biodiversity values and improving biodiversity conservation outcomes through conserving important ecosystems, safeguarding habitats of endemic species, and supporting the recovery of threatened species among others.

The key biodiversity area concept was first introduced in the country in 2005.

The drafting of the documents was supported by UNDP and funded by the Global Environment Facility.

New 1st year students of RUB colleges must report before August end

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:06

Yangyel Lhaden

All first-year students selected for 2020 admission to the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) colleges will have to report to the college before August end.

The Vice-Chancellor (VC) of RUB, Nidup Dorji, said that the colleges would call new first-year students as and when the colleges are ready. For the rest, RUB would discuss whether to call them back during a meeting amongst the executives this month, he added.

VC said that it was important to orient the new first-year students with college environment.

In an earlier interview with VC, he said that new protocols of virtual learning could not be conducted with the freshers because they were transitioning from school to college life and were not aware of virtual learning environment – VLE, an online platform for the RUB students.

If the colleges carried on with online teaching it would be difficult for the new first-year students, he added.

The College of Science and Technology and the Sherubtse College have decided to call new first-year students between August 18 and 19. Jigme Namgyel Engineering College (JNEC) has asked the new students to report between August 29 and 31. Reporting date for the new students of Gyalpozhing College of Information and Technology (GCIT) is August 17.

The new requirements for students are, among others, face masks and hand sanitisers. The college presidents said that everyone would be fully briefed on health protocols along with general briefings.

JNEC and GCIT have re-called the current semester students for the sole purpose of sitting examination.

President of JNEC, Andu Dukpa (PhD), said that 60 percent of diploma syllabus was based on practical component which made it impossible for students to do online exams and there were only about 71 students pursuing degree programmes.

Andu Dukpa said that after the approval from University Strategic Response Committee, the administration decided to re-call the current students, which did not mean that they were called for next semester. “That decision would solely depend on government’s directive.”

President of GCIT, Lhato Jamba, said that the college had only 274 students and ensuring health protocols would not be a challenge. “Before the new students come to college, the old students will be sent back.”

VC (also in an earlier interview) said that if colleges could reopen by September, it could also mean having to do away with winter break. “It is a big disruption to normal times; we are looking as to how to overcome this disruption.”

Residents blame thromde’s negligence for bad roads 

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:06

Choki Wangmo

Less than four months after construction, the road connecting Serbithang to Ngabiphu in Thimphu is parched, damaged, and riddled with potholes.

The three-month-old road has left the residents irked and seeking thromde’s accountability.

The area was under thromde since 2002 and was taxed accordingly. In 2004, land in the area was pooled by the government promising road and streetlights for residents.

The representative of the Serbithang residents, Kezang, said that the road, which is about a kilometre was constructed only in 2019 and blacktopped three months ago.

The old road from Wangchhutaba to Serbithang was not maintained in decades, reasoning that the new road would benefit the area, he said.

Despite delaying the infrastructure, Kezang said that the quality was compromised when it was eventually built.

The blacktopping was completed within two days according to the residents. Of more than 30 households, 27 are within the thromde area.

Kezang said that he lodged a complaint to the thromde officials about the compromised quality but was reassured saying that the construction was according to the specifications.

“Although we informed thromde, the officials didn’t visit to monitor work. The fault is entirely thromde’s. We pleaded with them to visit the site,” he added.

At the site, Kuensel found that the road was damaged at various points, the blacktopping was not even an inch thick while the drains were higher than the road level.

During heavy downpours, the drain water overflowed on to the road, residents said. The private constructions along roadsides and plying of heavy vehicles also contributed to the damage.

The potholes were filled with gravels, which Kezang said was done a few days ago since he shared about the issue on social media.

A resident in the area, Om, said that during monsoon, the road was muddy and was inconvenient to users. “The earlier asphalt road was better.”

Another resident said that she was expecting the contractor to maintain the road but individual private builders in the area were also accountable.

“People should take care of the infrastructure but thromde should monitor to avoid wasting the government’s resources.”

The thromde engineer for the project said that by the time she joined the office, the project was almost completed and the former project engineer left for maternity leave. “The thromde is rectifying the damage and the contractor has to take responsibility.”

The thromde hasn’t handed over the road to public yet.

The financial audit of Thimphu Thromde’s current deposit account for the financial year 2018-19 revealed that the thromde had made excess, over, inadmissible payments and also payments for work not done to various contractors amounting to Nu 7.596 million in the construction and maintenance of roads, drains, and footpaths.

Make the solution work

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:05

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has defended the government’s decision to allow the duty free outlets to sell tobacco products during the pandemic. The OAG argues that governments issuing executive orders to address exigencies during a pandemic cannot be construed as violations of laws. 

It is not sure if critics of the decision are convinced. The next step, it seems, is moving the court.

Even as the debate continues, outlets in Thimphu and Phuentsholing are doing a brisk business with one making about Nu 0.6 million on the opening day. Those aware of the outlets are feeling relieved as there is access to tobacco at a cheaper rate.

However, the government’s decision would be unfair if it delays opening more outlets, especially in the interiors. Nearly a week after the first outlet opened in Phuentsholing and another one in Thimphu, not many are aware of the outlets. There are none in others dzongkhags. People are still resorting to the black market, which has not been affected at all.

If the decision was to get rid of the black market and curb the illegal movement of people across the border, there has to be more outlets and soon. A decision has been made. It seems rational as tobacco smugglers are seen as the potential source of a community transmission. It should not be another case of a good idea poorly implemented.

The bigger risk is creating another black market where people buy from outlets in Thimphu and Phuentsholing and sell it at a higher price to other dzongkhags. As of Wednesday, some tobacco products were already out of stock in the outlet in Thimphu. The group that appreciated the government’s decision would start losing confidence if they have to resort to the black market after all the controversy.

Outlets should strictly stick to the maximum quantity prescribed and start rationing if lockdown in neighbouring Jaigaon is affecting replenishing stock. The idea is to make tobacco available and discourage breaching border protocols. A few out of stock outlets are not worth the risk the government took.

Meanwhile, the OAG has made it clear the decision is an interim measure. Given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, it provides the perfect opportunity to our legislators to relook into the Tobacco Control Act.  The Act while criticised for not being practical has brought some good changes. Smoking in public areas has reduced to a large extent. People think twice when they want to light up at public institutions, public places that include offices and restaurants, in all modes of transport, and at places where other people will be affected.

Tobacco is still bad. It is bad for health and is against our religion. We can surmise that a lot of people would have kicked the habit of smoking or chewing either for health or spiritual reasons. Ultimately, awareness and education seems to be the only answer. Tobacco cessation programmes could be stepped up, for instance, while we still debate the decision.

Should mushroom collectors stop picking for a year?

སྤེན།, 08/07/2020 - 11:04

Sustainable harvesting needed, says experts

Yeshey Lhadon

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the Matsutake (Sangay Shamu) and the exotic medicinal mushroom, Cordyceps sinensis (Yartsa Goenbub) business, which otherwise would be peaking at this time of the year.

With export restricted or importers not showing up at auctions and prices not up to expectations, collectors are withdrawing from auctions. Many say the quality of both the fungi will deteriorate if stored for long. The declining productivity of these wild mushrooms has raised concern. These wild fungi could disappear from the woods because of overharvesting.

Should collectors stop harvesting the mushroom for a season and let it regenerate?

Mushroom specialist at the National Mushroom Center (NMC), Dawa Penjor, said that if people stopped collecting mushrooms, it would help the mushrooms regenerate. However, he said collecting mushrooms with moderation is good. “In the long run, the forests could become too thick and mushroom growth could be reduced if people don’t collect them,” he said.

Some pickers are harvesting the mushrooms before they are mature, leaving no spores for regeneration. Dawa Penjor said: “NMC encourages harvesters to practice sustainable harvesting method; protecting the substrate, soil, host plant and allowing some mushrooms to mature and shed spores.”

Matsutake is the main source of income for the people living in higher altitude. Kaden, a Matsutake collector from Genekha gewog in Thimphu, said that Matsutake once crowded the Genekha forests not so long ago. She said, “We find lesser mushrooms now a days but it fetches us better price. Our livelihood depends on the Matsutake yield.”

NMC train the mushroom harvesters every year on sustainable harvesting and marketing of wild mushrooms emphasising on Matsutake and its ecology. Matsutake can be harvested only within the declared time frame as per the standard set by NMC.

The mushroom harvesters were also provided standard baskets to discourage airtight containers such as plastic bags “Using baskets for collection and transportation of mushroom would allow spores to drop in the forest and maintain quality of mushroom,” said Dawa Penjor.

This year, however, there is only one exporter. Thus, Matsutake collectors from Genekha go to pick mushrooms only thrice a week. Dawa Penjor said that the limit on mushroom collection would allow mushrooms to flourish. He said, “Picking Matsutake three times a week is better for the mushroom.”

Passang Gyelmo, who collected mushrooms every day last year, can now only go when the exporters inform her to collect the mushrooms. She observed that some Matsutake had already opened its cap. She said, “I think we will have a better harvest next year. But if we are restricted from collecting mushrooms this year, the mushrooms will rot eventually and its economic value will deteriorate.”

This year, the collectors sell mushrooms in three grades—A, B, and C. “We now sell the grade B mushroom as grade C. The exporter is looking for perfect shapes,” said Passang.

The declining mushroom production is also attributed to increasing temperature and invasive species. The matsutake in Genekha grows in brown oak (Bji Shing) forest. “The blue pine creeping in the brown oak area is changing the flora composition, making the soil acidic and dry, affecting the mushroom forest if not controlled,” said Dawa Penjor.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently declared that Cordyceps Sinensis is threatened with extinction because of overharvesting. Globally, overharvesting has slashed population by about 30 percent in the last 15 years. Bhutanese collectors are experiencing difficulties finding the fungus. Quality is another issue with collectors quick to blame climate change.

The head of IUCN’s Fungal Conservation Committee, Gregory Mueller was quoted saying “This is one of the few documented cases of a fungus being threatened by overharvesting.”

He said there needed to be a sustainable harvest programme to protect both the fungus and the communities that rely on it for their incomes.

Another mushroom sought after is the Chanterelle (Se sey shamu).  Dawa Penjor said that most Chanterelle collectors were not highlanders and the collection was not critical. He said, “Overharvesting of Se sey Shamu is destroying the ecology too.”

He said that if people are stopped from harnessing the natural resources such as mushrooms, it could lead to the tragedy of commons. “If I don’t harvest the mushroom then my neighbour will harvest. Then why should I not?”

Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, reported in July that the IUCN has listed Matsutake as a “vulnerable” species.

ཤོག་ལེབ་ཚུ།