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Focus point

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:47

Government halts 2,560MW Sunkosh project

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:46

MB Subba 

The government will for now not pursue the 2,560-megawatt Sunkosh hydropower project, the country’s biggest, according to the economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma.

This means that developmental activities like the construction of roads, bridges and plantation of cash crops, which were halted before, will be allowed.

Many villages in Lhamoidzingkha Drungkhag in Dagana, including Samarchu, Piping and Doban, were affected.

“The Sunkosh project is a good project, but our priority now is to complete Punatshangchu I and II,” he said, adding that starting many large projects simultaneously would cause issues like cost escalations.



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Lyonpo said that the government has written to the Dagana Dzongkhag Administration to allow developmental activities in the affected area.

“Activities in the area must go on,” he said.

Explaining the rationale behind not pursuing the project, the economic affairs minister said that technologies were changing fast and that the long-term benefits of hydropower projects must be studied properly.

“The energy market is changing and we need some time to decide on remarking large hydropower projects,” he said.

However, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma added that small storage hydropower projects would be pursued and their benefits studied before starting large projects like Sunkosh.



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A storage hydropower plant will have a dam and a reservoir to impound water, which is stored and released when needed.

“We have already embarked on the construction of small hydropower projects. And that might be the way forward for the hydropower sector,” he said.

The government on July 8 inaugurated the construction of three small hydropower projects, one each in Lhuentse, Zhemgang and Haa, with a combined generation capacity of 104 megawatts (MW). 

The Sunkosh project did not make it to the agenda of the recent talks between the economic affairs minister and his Indian counterpart.

However, the minister added: “I would not say that the project has been dropped. If the project is implemented in the future, infrastructures would be enhanced and used.”



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A local leader from Dagana said that the government’s decision to allow developmental activities in the area would help the local economy.

“Some people in the area are planning to establish businesses like homestays and rafting facilities for tourists,” he said.

The National Council (NC) in a recent session recommended the government to provide a definitive timeline for the implementation of the Sunkosh hydropower project so that the people can benefit from planned development.

During the NC’s public consultations, people in the affected area were informed that the project could be started soon, the NC stated during the debate.



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The delay caused a major impact on the use of alternative routes to connect the drungkhag to other interior dzongkhangs, as many bridges are yet to be built.

The Sunkosh project is estimated to cost about Nu 200B.

Even though it was been identified as an intergovernmental project like Punatshangchu projects I and II, the governments of Bhutan and India have not agreed on the modality of its implementation.

The Indian side reportedly wanted to implement the Sunkosh project on a model with full management control.

ADB supports pediatric, booster vaccination against Covid-19 in Bhutan

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:45

Staff reporter 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a USD 10 million (M) loan to help Bhutan to purchase safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19.

According to a press release from the bank, the loan will finance the purchase of at least 1.28M doses of Covid-19 vaccines which are expected to support Bhutan achieve its 100 percent vaccine coverage target by 2024.

“Vaccines will immunise at least 90 percent of children aged 5 to 11 to cover the initial two-dose schedule and the additional doses for the entire eligible population,” the press release stated.



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ADB’s Country Director for Bhutan, Shamit Chakravarti said that the ADB remains committed to supporting Bhutan in its efforts to manage the pandemic and to fully carry out its National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan. “The administration of booster and paediatric vaccine doses will protect the entire eligible population against waning immunity and ensure that Bhutan’s economic recovery is sustainable and inclusive.”

The project is part of ADB’s USD 9 billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (APVAX) launched in December 2020 to offer vaccine-related support to ADB’s developing member countries.

The ADB will also administer a USD 3M grant from the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific (JFPR) to help improve access to primary health care services, including Covid-19 vaccination and routine immunization, in remote areas through the purchase and deployment of mobile medical unit vehicles.



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The grant will be utilised to train medical personnel to help strengthen outreach health care service delivery and biomedical waste management.

Also, it will help the government maintain the current level of Covid-19 disease surveillance capacity to address new Covid-19 variants and ensure the safety of health care personnel involved in Covid-19 care service by providing medical and laboratory equipment and supplies, test kits, reagents, and personal protective equipment.

The loan and grant agreements were signed between the finance minister, Namgay Tshering, and ADB’s Country Director, Shamit Chakravarti yesterday.

A fine city?

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:44

The capital city’s council has come up with a lot of measures to control illegal activities in the city. Stopping illegal connection of water supply, bypassing or tampering with water metres, digging and damaging roads or footpaths and many more will come with a hefty fine of Nu 45,000 besides asking the violators to fix the damage.

Time will tell how seriously the thromde will implement what they have announced. But the initiative is timely, if not late. If they can implement half of what they announced, it will improve the lives of the capital city’s residents. Many feel there is inequality in the services the thromde provides. Perhaps this arises from the fact that some have overflowing water tanks while some have no water for days in a row.



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Digging up roads, including newly surfaced ones, to lay pipes or cables, blocking footpaths with cars or destroying them for access roads, connecting illegal water supply and parking on roadsides  are problems that called for interventions a long time ago.  Nobody cared. The hefty fines should discourage violators. The capital’s residents will enjoy the benefits of these bold decisions.

Many accuse Thromde officials and their workers for much of the problem. It is either their plumber or engineer for approving illegal water connections or allowing the digging of roads. This means unequal distribution of drinking water or inconvenience to the general public. Water is a big issue in the capital. There is enough for all, the problem is in distribution. Some have excess and some shortage. Connecting kitchen wastewater to the thromde’s main sewer line became a business for some. How did this happen under the watchful eyes of the thromde?



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Following the thromde’s notification, some residents became witty, but with a reason as they know that the thromde could do a lot better in enhancing services.  Some suggested penalising the thromde, 50 percent of the monetary fines they notified, for failing to provide services like drinking water.

The list is long indicating that the services are poor. Pothole-ridden capital city roads, overflowing drains, bursting sewer lines that flood the city’s main thoroughfare with sewer water, and waste strewn openly are the eyesore in the capital city. There is a general consensus that the capital city has to be clean, green, and infrastructures well maintained. It has not happened after decades of urban planning.



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Parking space is a big issue. Thromde’s building rules mandate that each building should provide enough parking space for the tenants. This is strictly followed on paper (architectural and structural rules). On the ground, it is different. Parking spaces on paper to get approval – are converted to shops or residents, even if it is inhabitable. Thromde has done nothing. This is evident from cars overflowing on the sides of widened roads making them narrower.

The recent thromde notification should be welcomed. It should not be one way. If the lives of the capital’s residents can be improved, we should respect it and the thromde should stick to its strict notification.

Knowing when to engage a Jabmi (legal counsel)

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:43

Right to Jabmi of one’s choice is a fundamental right under the Constitution. The State has the mandate to provide legal aid to those who can’t afford to engage the Jabmi. However, quite often, many Bhutanese are not able to decide when to engage Jabmi. Some wait until everything goes wrong with case.

The modern legal system is fairly recent in Bhutan and engaging jabmi (lawyer/legal counsel) is even more recent. However, the business of jabmi hiring is increasing as society becomes more complex.  First, in the case of Criminal Offences, the case will be prosecuted by Royal Bhutan Police if the offence charged is a petty misdemeanor (less than one-year imprisonment) and the rest are prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Thus, in the case of criminal cases, one can hire defence counsel (jabmi) to defend the accused. While most legal systems require jabmi as mandatory, and parties can’t represent themselves in court in case of civil disputes, the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan allows not only the litigant himself/herself to initiate suits but also his or her joint family or jabmi of his/her choice.



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 The judicial process or adjudication is a process of telling the story to the court; whoever can convince the judge better wins. The storytelling involves three important steps. First, the party must be able to narrate a detailed fact about the case to the court which should contain the background of the case, issues or disputes involved and kind of remedy. Second, the party asserting claims and rights must provide evidence to prove each claim during the proceedings.  In the case of criminal offences, the entire burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt is on the prosecutor and defence counsel to protect the substantive and procedural rights. Third, the judge, after understanding the facts and issues or disputes and examining the evidence against each claim, applies the appropriate legal provisions from the relevant laws and interprets these provisions in light of facts and evidence submitted by the parties through the interpretation rules which includes invoking numerous judicial or legal principles to ensure justice for the parties.



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 This type of storytelling requires not just knowledge of facts and issues but also relevant laws. The jabmi preferably must be engaged as soon as dispute commences, or when one gets arrested in case of criminal prosecution. If not, the best time to consult or engage jabmi is during the trial in the lowest courts such as dzongkhag or drungkhag courts.



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First, on appeal, the likelihood of complete reversal of lower court decisions is rare and minimal. Second, technically the appellate courts are limited in their authority and scope.  The appellate courts are only expected to rectify any error made by the lower court, particularly in the interpretation of the laws (questions of law and not fact). Third, no evidence is generally permitted to be produced in the appellate court as appellate courts are there to review the lower court’s decision and not to conduct full proceedings.

 The primary purpose of hiring jabmi is “to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of proceedings” both substantive and procedural rights of the parties.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

Finance ministry to come up with plan to replenish foreign currency reserve

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:43

….no moratorium on the import of non-essential commodities for now

Thukten Zangpo

The Cabinet on August 4 directed the finance ministry to submit a concrete plan to replenish foreign currency reserve in consultation with the economic affairs ministry and the Royal Monetary Authority.

The ministry was asked to enhance export and protect the foreign currency reserve through import restrictions in the country at the earliest possible.

Also, the ministry was directed to explore the possibility of mobilisation from international banks and other external sources to replenish the foreign reserves considering the current situation of the country.



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Bhutan’s foreign currency reserve depleted by over 40 percent between April 2021 and February 2022, according to the Royal Monetary Authority’s latest provisional report.

As of February, the reserve was able to meet only 7.6 months of essential imports.

Expressing concerns about imposing a moratorium on the import of non-essential commodities, the Cabinet stated that the decision had the potential to create market distortion. “The cabinet has decided not to impose a moratorium for the time being without proper assessment and plan.”

The ministry has been asked to enhance export and protect foreign currency reserves through import restrictions in the country at the earliest possible.



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As an alternative, the ministry was directed to explore the possibility of mobilisation from international banks and other external sources to replenish the foreign reserves.

The reserve saw an increase of about 17 percent in March this year—USD 984.8B, which was able to meet 9 months of essential imports, three months less than the Constitutional requirement of reserve enough for one year’s imports.

March saw an increase in the Indian Rupee reserve (INR) to INR 20.4B from INR 11.4B in February this year.

In March, Bhutan exported electricity worth INR 546M from INR 89.61M in February this year. The electricity sale to India is rising which recorded a growth of INR 3.3B as of June this year.



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Similarly, the convertible currency reserve also increased from USD 841.9M in February to USD 984.8M in March. During the period, the inward remittances increased from USD 3.97M to USD 10.95M.

For an import-driven country, foreign currency reserve is important for trade.

Because of a surge in imports, Bhutan’s trade deficit widened to Nu 27.3B as of June this year.

New SOP to punish both parties in moneylending cases

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:41

Staff Reporter 

A private money lender who lends without a license will be considered an offence and punished under section the Financial Services Act of 2011, according to the new Standard operating procedure.  

The SoP for Adjudication of Private Money Lending Cases 2022 states that courts hereafter would accept all monetary cases irrespective of the amount and the date of lending.

The Financial Services Act of Bhutan 2011 requires any person who provides financial services (lending) for business purposes to obtain a license from the authority concerned, and have charged interest in lending. 

Any private lender without a license who has charged interest higher than what is prescribed under section 17(1) 3 of the Movable and Immovable Property Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 1999, shall be punished as per sections 3984 and 3995 of Usury law under the Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004. 



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Those found guilty of these offences will be liable for consecutive sentencing and both the borrower and lender will be held liable.

However, lending for non-business purposes is allowed as long as such lending does not involve reciprocity in the form of interest leading to lending businesses.

The offences would be graded accordingly by the respective courts with the gravity of the offence. 



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Financial services for non-business purpose is interpreted as lending which does not involve charging interest for profit-making. “However, in the civil case proceeding, if it has come to the knowledge of the court and subsequently be proven that interest has been clubbed with the principal amount in the agreement, such cases shall be treated as lending for business purpose,” the SOP stated.  

Some borrowers and their relatives who have been affected by practice welcomed the change in the judiciary’s perspective of illegal money lenders.  

“This SOP has caused some uneasiness within the illegal money lending market. But I’m still hearing of people willing to conduct transactions based on fraudulent cheques and sales deeds,” a relative of a borrower said. 



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They called for its strict implementation. “Illegal money lenders must realise that they too will be held accountable as per the prevailing laws of the land. 

They said that they are hopeful that this SOP would discourage money lenders from misusing the police and the courts as part of their illegal business, and perhaps even opt for a legal source of income or investment.  

“The SOP is a step in the right direction and a victory for rule of law,” said another. “It finally evens the scales of justice for private money lending cases. However, whether it succeeds in convincing local loan sharks to become legal money lenders remains to be seen.” 



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He said that there was a need for legislation to regulate this market. Parliament should consider a money lending Act that addresses the requirements of both sides to minimise the negative socio-economic effects of this business. 

“We don’t have concrete information on how this black market harms our communities and affects the financial system. But based on my own and others’ experiences, I believe the damage to be significant enough to not ignore,” he said. 

Could industries lose their competitive edge?

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:40

Delays and cost escalations in the hydropower sector will push the price of electricity, and industries may no longer be able to reap the benefits of cheap electricity

Industrial development and promotion of industrial activities in the country are part of Bhutan’s post-pandemic economic recovery plans. The industrial estates of Jigmeling and Motanga in Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar will soon see a row of new power-intensive industries that are proposed to be established in the next few years.

In the past, the availability of electricity and its affordable rates have enabled many large energy-intensive manufacturing industries to be established in the country. The sale of electricity to these large industries constitutes almost 70 percent of the total domestic use of electricity. For power-intensive industries like those manufacturing Ferro silicon, electricity is the primary raw material and constitutes almost 30 to 35 percent of their total production cost.



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According to information available with the department of industry, the Jigmeling industrial estate, Bhutan’s largest so far, received around 69 applications at one point in time to set up mineral, agro, food-based and other industries. The minister for economic affairs Lokhnath Sharma said, the economy right now is in favour of establishing a wide mix of industries across different sectors such as food, agro and forestry, and not just Ferro silicon.

The relatively cheap electricity is the only competitive edge that Bhutanese industries enjoy over other players in the global and regional market. Bhutanese industries do not have a competitive edge over other production costs, including labour and transportation. Coal is sourced from South India and China, while Quartzite is bought from Jharkhand in India.

Industries contribute significantly to the economy in the form of foreign currency earnings, tax contributions, export revenue and employment. Ferro silicon was Bhutan’s top export commodity, fetching export revenue worth Nu 15 billion last year, according to the Bhutan Trade Statistics. Industries also provide value addition to electricity rather than selling electricity directly to India.



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For these industries to operate efficiently and still be competitive in the market, the supply of affordable electricity, the primary raw material for processing Ferro silicon, is crucial. Without affordable electricity, Bhutanese industries could lose their competitive edge in the highly volatile global market.

Therefore, Bhutan’s hydropower sector needs to be able to cater to the needs of the industries, especially as the cost of developing hydropower projects is increasing significantly.

Cost escalations in developing hydropower plants have direct implications on the price of electricity. In other words, higher cost escalations directly translate to a high price of electricity. By the time Punatsangchhu II is completed, its export price is expected to be more than Nu 6 per kWh. The price of electricity from Punatsangchhu I is expected to be even higher.



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Ever since Bhutan started developing hydropower, the price of electricity has increased over the years. Chhukha Hydropower Project’s export tariff, which is revised every four years, has today reached Nu 2.55 a unit, Kurichhu and Tala export power at Nu 2.25 a unit and Mangdechhu at Nu 4.12 a unit.

With the increase in demand for electricity due to industrial development, power from Chhukha and Tala, where the price is relatively cheaper, will no longer be able to cater to the demands of the industries. This means, that more and more of the domestic allocation of power for industries must be met from the more expensive hydropower projects like Mangdechhu or through imports from India.

Managing Director of Druk Green Power Corporation, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, “It will be critical to take into consideration the evolving energy market conditions when considering investments in sectors where electricity is a major input, such as the High Voltage industries.”

He added that it will be important for our investors to consider what’s going to be the price of electricity in the future because it is definitely not going to go down. The tariffs will only be higher for the Punatsangchhu projects which are at various stages of construction.



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Domestic demand for electricity is projected to more than double in the next two years, on account of several power-intensive industries being set up in the country. The Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority, in their tariff revision proposal, projects a domestic load growth from 2,437 Gigawatt hours (GWh) this year to 6,812 GWh in 2023.

Against this backdrop, Bhutan will be required to import more power from India. Bhutan is already experiencing instances of net imports during the lean generation months.

Although capacity addition by building more hydropower projects will make electricity available for the industries, the increased price of electricity due to delays and cost escalations will significantly increase the cost of production for these industries.

Against these expected risks to Bhutan’s industrial development, there is a need to relook at the current mode of building hydropower projects between Bhutan and India, to bring down costs or to keep cost escalations reasonably subdued, so that industries still enjoy the competitive edge of easy access to cheap and affordable electricity.



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Lyonpo Lokhnath Sharma said, even if the price of electricity goes up, it will still be competitive in the region. “But we will not encourage too many power-intensive industries as it is not viable. We are aiming for value addition of our electricity and circular economy where we set up different industries across all sectors so that they can complement each other’s needs and create wealth and employment.”

The government could also come up with policy interventions, such as doing away with the 15 percent royalty on energy. This will bring down the price of electricity for industries to an extent. But this could increase the price of electricity for low voltage (mostly households) users. However, it may be one solution to keep our industries competitive in the market. The benefits reaped by these industries in the form of taxation and revenue could then be used to subsidize the low-voltage users.

Contributed by 

Nidup Gyeltshen 

The story is being covered by the Institute of Happiness for a research conducted on the effects of cross-border energy trade.

New, Festive Farmers’ Market in Thimphu

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:39

Chhimi Dema

The mood is festive.

The moment you enter, the sweet and sharp smell of fruits overpowers you. There are bright lights and colourful art installations around. And the aroma of grilled meat and fried chicken from the food stall run by De-ssups trained under the De-suung Skilling Programme.

These remain with you after the stroll at the Kaja Throm, a farmers’ market next to the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) on Chhogyal Lam in Thimphu.



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Rigsar songs play gently in the background as the vendors chatter away.

Children come in with their parents, excited to see a big face-on-hole popcorn photo booth, and sculptures of dinosaurs and wild animals.

Farm produce, animal products, cereals, incense powder and sticks, flowers and plants are neatly displayed in wooden crates.

Local bands play live in the evenings.

Food, entertainment, and fun meet at the riverside market that was established in July this year.

Dawa, 32, is a vendor. She said that she likes the new space.



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“I have lost a few of my regular customers from CFM but I have been connecting to new ones. The business was struggling in the first week after we shifted here. Now it is getting better,” she said.

For her, the most exciting moment she said was His Majesty The King’s visit to the marketplace.

Dawa said: “We say among ourselves that even if the business isn’t going well, we are fortunate to receive His Majesty The King’s audience.  That is enough for us to keep us going in life.”

Kezang Choden, a vegetable vendor, said that she prefers the new space to CFM. “We don’t have to pay fees here. Even if the business isn’t profitable it is heartening to interact with people and meet old friends visiting the market.”



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The throm’s broad footpaths, playful art installations by VAST Bhutan, and sumptuous food have parents bringing their children for weekend shopping.

Passang Dema, 31, a corporate employee, said that even the children have opportunities to experience something new and different.

The vendors at the throm shifted from the first floor of CFM while the Thimphu Greening Initiative is working on refurbishing it.

The move is only temporary.

While many vendors have made a home in the new space some vendors still long for the space at CFM.

“My business isn’t doing well here,” a vendor said. “I hope my business will pick up.”

The unseen adventures in Samdrupjongkhar

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:37

A gateway to eastern Bhutan by road with a whole new travel experience of birdwatching, indigenous seed banks, salt-trek route, and many more. 

Most people who grew up in the eastern part of the country have memories of traveling to one of the oldest towns in the east, Samdrupjongkhar. The town was popularly known for having one of the first cinema halls, the oldest commercial hub of the east and also a gateway to the bustling Indian city of Guwahati. The district as an ideal travel destination has been underrated so far. The dzongkhag has much to offer. Here are some of the notable attractions for travelers. 



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Kantali Hut

Narphu – Samdrupjongkhar birding route

Bhutan is known to be home to over 7 percent of the world’s bird species in various districts including Samdrupjongkhar owing to its rich forest coverage. About sixty kilometers away from the main town, from the base of the famous mirror cliff (melong brak) is the sub-tropical and warm-broadleaf forest, the ideal birdwatching route. It is home to about 360 different species of birds found in Bhutan. Beautiful Nuthatch, Crimson Sunbird, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Greater Goldenback, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, and White-browed Scimitar Babbler are some of the prominent bird species that fly around within this vegetation. The birding activities can be done in spring, fall, and winter.    

Kaloyen Tsho Hike 

Located above Dewathang, Kaloyen Tsho is a 2-hour hike from the main road of Lamtsarong. Locals believe the lake belongs to the guardian deity of Dewathang, Kaloyen Yongba, and is therefore named as Kaloyen Tsho. Hikers can enjoy the breathtaking view of Yongla Goenpa, Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar town and views of Assam plains in the soft golden dusk. The hikers can also visit sacred sites along the route, and the rich vegetation. 



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Chokyi Gyatso Institute 

Popularly known as Dzongsar Shedra, the minimal but magnificent Chokyi Gyatso Institute overlooking Dewathang valley is one of the attractions for local travelers. The monastery is unique in many ways. It has palatial architecture, a serene environment, and most importantly, it upholds traditional wisdom with modern innovative programs like Lhomen Education. So, it is an inimitable tourist destination for a traveler who is looking for valuable experiences. The Shedra welcomes all visitors with no limitations like dress code or religion– he/she can visit each shrines, mediate at their own will for hours and exit the monastery whenever they want.   

Dungsam Seeds Bank

Cereals and vegetable seeds

Bhairab Kunda Shiva  Mandir

The Shiva Mandir at Jomotsangkha is popular among the local visitors and also regional tourists from across the border. It has rich religious stories and is also a popular place for picknickers. There is a self-arisen lake with linga beside the cave. 



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Salt-trek route 

Like James Beard’s weighty question, “Where would we be without salt?”, a long time ago, people of Pema Gatshel and Trashigang traveled through the broad-leaved pine forests route carrying oranges for trading with salt and silk from Gudama-the border town of Samdrupjongkhar. This was during the period when the national highway between Samdrupjongkhar and Trashigang was not constructed. It was an eight-day voyage through beautiful villages and mountain ridges. Today, it is one of the potential nature-based treks in the Dzongkhag to retrace and revisit the ancient salt-trek route. 

The palatable Orongpa  Solo (Chili) 

For food lovers, Samdrupjongkhar is also known for the famous local chili called Orongpa Solo which is best for preparing the national dish Ema Dasti, like Urka of Trashi Yangtse. The story has it that many moons ago, the people of Dueri noticed the millet husk drifting from the upper hill. They sensed the presence of fertile land above and so, they discovered Orong. The gift of this discovery was this special palatable Orongpa chili. 



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Dungsam Seeds Bank

With initiative from the local community, around sixty-seven varieties of indigenous cereals and vegetable seeds’ genetic diversity is preserved and distributed at the Dungsam Seeds Bank in Samdrupjongkhar. For instance, the cereal ‘Yang-go’ which was declining in the Geowgs was revived. The traditional seeds bank serves as the seed library with information on Dru-na-gu (the nine essential cereals of spiritual value) available in the Dzongkhag.

Kantali Hut

Kantali Hut in Dewathang is a must-visit for all visitors. Kantali is a Sanskrit word meaning replica. In line with its name, the hut exhibits the artisanship of the people in the Dzongkhag. The arts and crafts in the shop comprise products from mud, bamboo, wood to upcycled contemporary bags, bamboo mugs, plastic baskets, earthen pots, and natural dyed Bhutanese attires. 

Access to the nearest  ecotourism destination  in Assam 



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Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag is in proximity to the commercial hub and the international airport of Guwahati, Assam. It takes about 3-hour drive from the main town of Samdrupjongkhar to reach Guwahati. Assam is globally known for ecotourism. Hence, the Dzongkhag serves as the entry and exit gateway for all tourists to the rich tourism hotspot of Northeast India. 

In a nutshell, the far-flung district of Samdrupjongkhar has a lot to offer to travelers who are seeking unique experiences, warmer weather and soft golden hours in the southeastern plains of Bhutan. 

 

Contributed by Sonam Wangchuk is Asst. Economic Development Officer under Samdrupjongkhar Administration. He enjoys photography, translation, digital design, reading and writing. He blogs at sonamwangchuk132.blogspot.com

Kanglung-Trashigang highway prone to landslide

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:32

…DANTAK officials say landslides will be cleared after the monsoon

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

The motorists between 22Km Kanglung-Trashigang highway say they are worried landslides are worsening the road condition.

A landslide almost buried the road under the fallen debris at Namla because of heavy rain.

Tashi Wangdi, a commuter, said that in case of an emergency, it is difficult for people to reach the hospital.



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Another commuter, Pema Wangda, said it is more challenging for light vehicles as it gets damaged because of the bad road condition.

Road users say that although the Project DANTAK workers clean blocks, the road condition has been deteriorating.

A taxi driver, Karma Loday, said that the exposed boulders are posing a risk for vehicles and drivers.



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The road is narrow and slippery during the monsoon.

Teachers of Rongthung Primary School who drive to school from Kanglung walk from the landslide area.

A DANTAK official said:  “Huge boulders roll down on a daily basis and it is not possible to clear all rocks by machines. Once the monsoon settles, we will clear all landslides and find permanent solutions for Namla and Bamridrang.”

National women’s team preparing for SAFF championship 

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:31

Thinley Namgay 

After more than a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bhutan’s national women’s football team is set to participate in the upcoming South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Women’s Championship 2022 in Nepal.

The 13-day SAFF championship begins on September 6.

This will be Bhutan’s sixth appearance in the championship since 2010. The last time Bhutan played in the SAFF was in 2019.

The SAFF Women’s Championship 2022 will feature seven countries—Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.



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Bhutan is in group B against Nepal and Sri Lanka.

In the opening match on September 6, Bhutan will face the 2019 runners-up Nepal.  Bhutan and Sri Lanka will play on September 9.

Training has been underway in Thimphu since June.  The team trains six days a week under the guidance of coach Hong Kyung Suk, a former South Korean national player.

Midfielder Pema Choden Tshering said the tournament would be exciting as the team is featuring in an international competition after a long time.



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She said, “We are very grateful to the Bhutan Football Federation for sending us to Nepal for the competition.”

Assistant coach, Tanka, said, “ We are pretty confident.”

In 2019, Bhutan lost to Nepal 3-0 and Bangladesh 2-0 in the group stage.

The last time Bhutan won a point was in 2010 after a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka.

Confusion galore: Who will benefit from the new tourism policy, tour operators or hoteliers?

ཉིམ།, 08/06/2022 - 17:31

Many say they will wait and see

Dechen Dolkar

To cut costs, fearing decreased revenue from tourism, a four-star hotel recently relieved more than a dozen employees on leave without pay from August 1, for a year.

Citing uncertainties in the hotel business because of the increased sustainable development fees to US$ 200, the head of the company which runs about four hotels decided to send away about 100 employees, to be hired on a daily wage system if the “situation” improved.

Bhutan will officially open its borders to tourism from September 23. But uncertainties about what will happen are filling the tourism air. Many are confused if the new policy would benefit them or hamper their business.



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The big question is who – tour operators or hotels would benefit or lose. This arises from the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) decision to allow hotels to function as tour operators.

The uncertainty is if hotels or tour operators would lose or benefit from the new policy. As of now, only 629 out of more than 3,000 licensed tour operators have applied for validation and assessment for the readiness for opening the tourism. Only 126 hotels and 92 homestays have applied for the validations as of July 3.

Meanwhile, while some hotels are still under renovation to gear up for the change, others including some three-star hotels are converting into offices, and private apartments while some are pulling down the shutters.



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Confusion among hoteliers

The hotel industry is in a mix. They are not sure if they would benefit from the new SDF policy or lose out badly. The chairman of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB), Sonam Wangchuk said the association is not sure if they would gain or lose.

Many, including the association, are waiting for the borders to open to see the repercussions.  Sonam Wangchuk said that they will be able to know only after tourists start coming. The chairman said that he has been telling hoteliers to not sell at a minimum rate and maintain the standard rates.

In the earlier minimum daily rate (MDR) arrangement, hoteliers are held at ransom by tour operators. Tour operators bargained with hoteliers for the cheapest rates. Having to depend on the tour operators, hoteliers slashed their rates to earn some income and stay in business. There are also cases where tour operators have not paid the hotels.

A hotelier said that tables would turn if they could sell their property. “If tourists book our hotels for 10 days to see Bhutan and ask us to arrange a guide or vehicles, we could negotiate with the tour operators. If it is not profitable, we will do it ourselves,” she said. “This will address the bad debt issue between the hotels and tour operators,” a hotelier said.



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What tour operators say

Tour operators on the other hand feel that the hotel business will suffer when they have to compete for tourists willing to pay more than the USD 200 SDF. Tour operators would have to sell above USD 200 as the fee would be given to the government. An operator selling for USD 400 would have to manage the cost of guide, travel, food and lodge within the extra USD 200. “This will hamper hotels as tour operators would bargain. The cheapest hotel would receive the most guests as tour agents try to save cost,” he said.

A board member of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) said that around 64 percent of tourists come through tour operators in the world. “There is no clarity. If hotels are to operate as operators. It will be confusing,” he said.

Letting both hoteliers and tour operators handle tourists, some say, will ensure a level playing field. For instance, in the earlier minimum daily package scheme, a tourist was provided with a hotel, guide, transport and meals while also limiting the choice. When a tourist is taken to restaurants, the tour operators bargain with restaurants, because the margin to play around is limited. Discounts led to compromises. A buffet dinner costing Nu 700 per head is negotiated to Nu 400 with reduced food items. “This impacts service,” said a hotelier.



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The new SDF, an operator said, would provide choice to tourists. “If a tourist wants to have meals for Nu 1,000, the restaurant will cater accordingly and if the tourist opts for instant noodles it is also possible.”

Another tour operator said that with the new SDF, tour operators will have rooms to play around. If tourists want to experience something unique and drastic, the price can be charged accordingly. “Tourists were reluctant to pay for additional services since they think that everything is included in the package. Hence, they don’t experience anything special,” a tour operator said.

For instance, if a large group of tourists visits a farmhouse, some farmhouse owners are reluctant to provide the services because they gain nothing from it. The operator said that farmhouses can charge for tourists wanting to visit their property.



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A new concern

Some tour operators are concerned that tour operators outside the country could also operate and send tourists to Bhutan. “They will pay taxes, apply for a visa online and use the local agents after giving commissions,” one said. “This will bring us back to square one if not make it worse.”

Tour operators are convinced about the policy of increasing the SDF to USD 200, but are concerned that fronting and labelling Bhutan as a budget destination is possible, defeating the policy of high-end tourism.



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It was learned that regional agents are already advertising holidays in Bhutan for USD 280. A tour operator said that while undercutting in the tourism sector was rampant in the past, it could become worse since there is no requirement for tour operators.

Meanwhile, big players in the industry running their own travel agents and hotels are expecting that they would benefit from the new policies. However, many in both the hotel and tourism industry say that they will have to wait until December 2023 to see the impact of the new tourism policy.

Villagers rattled by tiger attack

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:54

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

There has recently been brutal killing of cattle in Sakteng, Trashigang which has left herders worried and scared.

The latest incident occurred on the morning of August 1.

Highlanders said that tigers attack the cattle. The pasture is three days’ walk away from the gewog centre.

Rinchen Tshewang, 55, said that this has been happening for the past seven months. It’s always the same tiger.

“The tiger killed one of my heifers on July 30,” he said. “After a few days, my neighbours also lost three yaks to a tiger attack.”

Stories of cattle attacks by tigers are rampant in pasture areas.   



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Sakteng valley

Another highlander, Lhundrup, said that herders have in all lost more than 15 cattle to tigers.

“In the past, only wild dogs killed domestic animals. It is now the big cat preying on livestock,” he added.

Tiger, he said, attack only yak and hybrid cattle.

“Very soon it might attack herders,” said Lhundrup. “Pugmarks have become a very common sight at the pastures.”

A herder said: “In the last five days, at least four cattle heads have been killed by tiger at Do-lung and Goendung pastures.”

Sakteng Tshogpa, Tshangpa, said that herders so far have not spotted the tiger.



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Some herders have even started asking for compensation from Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.

Sakteng Gup Tshewang Tshering said that the villagers depend on livestock for sustenance and survival in the harsh environment.

Officials from Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary said an investigation is being carried out to determine whether villagers can be compensated for the loss of their cattle to such attacks.

Park officials have set up camera traps.

An expensive affair: Current expenditure exceeds capital expenditure 

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:36

… in FY 2021-22, 85 percent of the released budget spent 

MB Subba 

The government’s current expenditure exceeded the capital expenditure by almost 2 billion (B) in the fiscal year 2021-22, according to the budget performance report released by the finance ministry.

While the current expenditure amounted to Nu 34.103B, the capital expenditure incurred was Nu 32.366B only.

Current expenditures are the expenses incurred on necessary purchases that keep a business or administration going from day to day, such as rent, utility bills, and office supplies. Capital expenditures are the expenses incurred on long-term investments such as infrastructure development and the purchase of assets.

The government had prioritised capital expenditure over current expenditures and accordingly allocated more capital budget than current.





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However, despite the current expenditure exceeding the capital expenditure, the latter increased by about 15.5 percent compared to that of the previous year.

The budget performance report attributes the increase in relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, which enabled agencies to carry out more capital activities.

During the fiscal year, the government released a total budget of Nu 77.152B, of which the actual expenditure amounted to Nu 71.99B, including domestic lending and repayments of loans.

This means that 85 percent of the total release was utilised during the fiscal year. “The overall expenditure performance shows an improvement of 11.3 percent as compared with the last FY during the same period,” the report states.

However, the government’s expenditure, excluding domestic lending and repayments of loans, was Nu 66.469 billion (B) only.

In the fiscal year 2021-22, the government spent Nu 19.73B, Nu 7.751B and Nu 3.632B on salaries, wages, operations and management, and subsidies and grants, respectively.



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The government also transferred Nu 28B as annual grants to local governments, subsidies and equities for State-owned enterprises (SoEs) and grants to other non-budgetary agencies such as Civil Society Organisations. This was 6.61 percent increase from the previous year.

The overall increase in the expenditure was attributed to the rise in the budget allocated as block grants to local governments by 10 percent.

The total resource performance (revenue and grants) decreased by 0.6 percent compared to the previous fiscal year. The expenditure (budget implementation) performance, however, increased by 12.1 percent for the corresponding period.

The increase in expenditure and decrease in the receipts increased the fiscal deficit by 76.9 percent in the fiscal year 2021-22 from the previous fiscal year, according to the report.

During the fiscal year, the government increased the capital budget by 12.42 percent above the initially Parliament-approved budget. This means that the total capital budget was revised to Nu 43B from the initial allocation of Nu 38.32B.

The government wanted to ramp up its spending to offset the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.



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However, the Finance Minister in a recent interview said that the government would be cautious in spending in the wake of the economic crisis in the region. He said, “The government now will not stress too much on GDP growth but correct the fundamental parameters of the economy.”

Picture story

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:35

Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Bhutan, Lee Jang-keun handed over four electric cars (Hyundai Kona) to Foreign Secretary Pema Choden in Thimphu yesterday. 

The cars are provided by the Government of the Republic of Korea under its Small Grant Aid for the year 2021. Since 2016, the ministry has received 22 cars from the Government of the Republic of Korea, including the current four Hyundai Kona electric cars. 

Foreign Secretary Pema Choden said that the four electric cars will contribute to the government’s efforts to promote a low carbon transport system which is one of the identified actions for low emission development to support Bhutan’s effort to remain carbon neutral in our first nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. 

Woman gets 5-year jail term for drug trafficking

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:35

Thinley Namgay 

Thimphu dzongkhag court recently sentenced a 34-year-old woman to five years in prison for trafficking controlled substances into a quarantine facility.

The defendant, Sonam Dema from Trashiyangtse didn’t appeal to the High Court.

The incident happened on September 6, last year, when Sonam Dema and her husband were in facility quarantine in Hotel Kisa. Police found 64 Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+) capsules in her food items at the hotel counter.

Police found that Sonam Dema ordered 64 SP+ capsules from Tandin Namgay, a private individual, and paid Nu 3,300.

Tandin Namgay brought the drugs to the hotel along with some food items and handed them to de-suups on duty at the facility. The de-suups after discovering the drugs in the package called the police.



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The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) argued that Sonam Dema after knowing about the incident called Tandin Namgay to switch off his phone to shield him from the authorities. According to OAG, this has obstructed prosecution.

Her urine sample showed the presence of tramadol, one of the illegal and strong drugs, which is used as a painkiller.

Sonam Dema’s husband was fined Nu 11,250 for failing to report the crime despite knowing the purchase of drugs.  He submitted to the court that the issue was between his wife and Tandin Namgay and he wasn’t involved.

Sonam Dema was arrested on September 10, last year and her prison terms will end on August 15, 2026.

Dealing with rising HIV cases

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:34

Fighting HIV/AIDS remains a formidable challenge. Positive cases have been rising over the years.

Forty new HIV cases (19 male and 21 female) were detected between January and June. This is the highest number of cases detected in a period of six months.

We now know enough about HIV/AIDS and the modes through which the disease can be transmitted. Despite relentless awareness programmes, however, unprotected sex remains the principal mode of transmission in Bhutan.

According to a press release from the health ministry, 13 were diagnosed through medical screening, 12 through contract tracing, 10 through voluntary counselling and testing, and five through screening of pregnant mothers availing antenatal care services.

Since the disease was detected in Bhutan for the first time in 1993, the number of recorded until now stands at 835. Currently, some 628 people are living with HIV in the country; 608 are on antiretroviral treatment resulting in 97 percent treatment coverage among the living cases.



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As positive cases grow, perhaps we need to rethink our strategies and approach. If awareness and education is not working, does it mean that we aren’t doing enough? Are we not reaching out to the right target groups? Where are we falling short?

These are important questions. But, more important, answers must be found and effective interventions put in place.

Awareness and education continues to be our approach in tackling the disease. However, as the health ministry said, there is a need to intensify HIV counselling and testing to bridge the current case detection gap of 35.8 percent.

In what could be considered a significant development, the health ministry has begun carrying out pre-validation assessments to check Bhutan’s readiness for the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B by 2025.

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangcmo said that if Bhutan is to achieve an AIDS-free generation, “pregnant mothers must avail two-time HIV testing during their entire pregnancy period and avoid any risky behaviour during breast-feeding to prevent mother-to-child transmission.”



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For that, expanding HIV testing programmes to all healthcare facilities, and standalone community testing centre, especially in urban centres, will be a very useful intervention.

What we also know is that close to 70 percent of HIV cases in Bhutan are among the economically productive age group—25 to 49. This, in the long term, could have an adverse impact on the health and economy of the country.

Creative promotion of safe sex and condom use must receive renewed drive. Destroying stigma remains our biggest challenge still. Fighting HIV/AIDS needs renewed and sustained focus.

Poor cellular network connectivity affects service delivery   

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:33

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Poor cellular network connection in parts of three gewogs in Tsirang has been affecting the basic service delivery.

In the recent Tsirang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), Phuentenchu Gup Shivalal Karariya said that the issue was raised in the past DTs, but none of the agencies concerned intervened.

“In some chiwogs, residents at least have access to a weak network connection but one chiwog is completely cut off,” the gup said.

Three chiwogs in the gewog— Tongshingang, Norbuthang, Wangthangling—with a population of 1,500 have no access to proper network and internet connections.

Sergithang Gup Phub Dorji said that without a network connection, two chiwogs in the gewog with 350 residents still use feature (landlines) phones. “When there are important decisions taken at the gewog administration, the chiwog representatives have to convey the decisions to residents.”



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Lack of such communication facilities in the backdrop of the increased number of social media users has affected information sharing, the gups said.

Some residents of Wangphu chiwog in Tsirangtoed travel to the gewog centre to avail the network services.

Takthang, Wangphu, and Chubelsa villages in the chiwog have 80 households without a proper network connection.

The gups said that network and internet connectivity has become an indispensable tool for rural development and inclusion of rural population in decision-making.

An official from Bhutan Telecom in Tsirang said that as there were not many network users in these places, there was no return on investment.

However, the official said that the challenges could be solved through Rural Connectivity Project implemented by telecom operators in collaboration with Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority.



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Tashicell’s regional manager Indra Ghallay said that there is one Tashicell tower above Phuentenchu gewog. However, the network connection, he said was hampered due to the geographical location of these places.

Once the five towers are complete, the issue could be solved, he added.

While Tashicell’s tower construction works at Tashithang chiwog in Sergithang are yet to begin, Phurba Dorji said that 50 percent of Bhutan Telecom’s tower construction works are complete.

Meanwhile, according to the Department of IT and Telecom the cost of Internet has dropped to Nu 550 for 1 Mbps per month from Nu 1,350 per mbps for government agencies connected to the Government Initiated Network due to the bulk purchase of bandwidth. This saves the government Nu 13,107,200 per month or Nu 157,286,400 annually, according to the Department of IT and Telecom.

The government agencies include research and educational institutes and health facilities throughout the country that are connected with existing optical fibre network infrastructure.



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A press release from the department yesterday stated that Bhutan Telecom Limited has offered the internet leased line to all citizens at a reduced rate of Nu 550/Mbps w.e.f August 1 with the bandwidth subscription above 2Mbps. The other telecom company, Tashicell has also submitted revised leased line rates to BICMA which are expected to be announced shortly.

Tashicell last week announced that it would provide double the bandwidth for the same price.

Entire Gangola-Lhuentse highway to be blacktopped by next year

སྤེན།, 08/05/2022 - 10:33

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

After nearly a decade, the Gangola-Lhuentse highway will be fully resurfaced, hopefully by early next year.

The Department of Road (DoR) has received Nu. 36.14 million in the financial year 2022-2023 to resurface the remaining 14 kilometres along the 65-KM secondary national highway from Gangola junction to Lhuentse town.

While the rest of the highway has been resurfaced last year, two stretches-between the Tangmachhu bridge area and Budhur and Autsho town couldn’t be resurfaced due to a shortage of funds.

Resurfacing work between Gangola and Lhuentse began in the 2014-2015 fiscal year with budgets approved for a few stretches every fiscal year.



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The dzongkhag also received another Nu. 42 million to blacktop and resurface the Lhuentse-Dungkar road. A DOR official said the budget would be used to resurface and lay Granular Sub Base (GSB) and blacktop the 10-kilometre road between Dungkar and Zhamling.

DOR officials said of the 147 million budget proposed to resurface the entire 42.5 km road from Lhuentse to Dungkar, only 42 million has been approved this fiscal year. “The entire road is badly in need of resurfacing and we could do it if the government approved the budget.”

Assistant Engineer of DoR’s Autsho sub-division office, Gayleg, said the estimates were already worked out and resurfacing works in both the sites would be tendered out by October.

The little improvement works are already being appreciated both by commuters and residents of Lhuentse. The completion of resurfacing the entire highway is expected to cut short the travelling time by one hour to travel from Lhuentse to Mongar, according to residents.



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However, the proposal to resurface the more than 15-KM stretch between Tangmachhu bridge to Takela, where the giant Guru statue lies, has not been approved.

Meanwhile, the DOR is yet to construct the bailey bridge at Dorjilung that would connect Lhuentse to the bypass road via Dorjilung to Yongkola.

DoR officials said the construction could not commence due to budget constraints although the parts to construct the bridge were already in place. The bypass is expected to shorten the distance between Lhuentse and Bumthang by more than 35 kilometers, according to sources.

ཤོག་ལེབ་ཚུ།