On June 5, Phuentsholing completed 50 days of the third lockdown.
While the fight and resilience against Covid-19 are still on, positive cases are still emerging from the community to the utter shock of both Phuentsholing residents and authorities.
Phuentsholing had recorded 254 positive cases, excluding 86 imported cases, by the morning of June 4 since the lockdown started on April 17. Of the 254 positive cases, 62 were cases from the community and 194 were contacts of the positive cases.
Three people from Pemaling, who tested positive on antigen on June 3 also tested positive on RT-PCR. Including them, Phuentsholing, by evening, saw 14 new cases. The youngest patient is a month-old child.
While the fight against the virus continues, many from approximately 33,000 people in Phuentsholing could be facing other problems at home, especially, financial burden.
Unlike the civil servants, corporate employees and some private employees of reputed companies, many who depend on meagre monthly salary or daily wage in small enterprises, including those operating these enterprises or businesses could be going through hard time due to mounting rental pressures and daily sustenance with the bank balance exhausting by the day.
A single mother, Samphel Zangmo (name changed), who worked in a drayang before the pandemic and runs a restaurant now, is worried. She has not paid rent for both her house and restaurant for two months now.
“I look after my entire family,” she said. “And right now I have no income.”
She said the building managers confirmed there is no rent waiver.
“I hope they will allow me to pay after the lockdown is lifted and my business resumes.”
Samphel Zangmo said there must be many like her, who are affected due to the prolonged lockdown.
Another restaurant owner said restaurant business was already hit due to the pandemic and the previous lockdowns.
“But this time it is more difficult.”
She said the restaurant rent is high and it has been pending since October last year.
“If this lockdown continues, it will be difficult to sustain.”
However, her property owner had not pressurised her for the rent, she said.
A small printing shop owner said everything was fine at first.
“But now, we are still under lockdown even after 50 days.”
He said his bank balance exhausted each day and there is only expenditure without a penny in earnings.
“Even if I could buy groceries, rent and other utility bills and loan are troubling.”
He said matters would be worse for single parents and those without employment.
“Government is only focusing on the lockdown. We have to pay the bills. If they are so concerned, why don’t they ask building owners to waive off the rent.”
He said it was demotivating to see positive cases still emerging despite the prolonged lock-down.
“Even if the government is waiting for vaccine, something worse will happen to people like me before the vaccine arrives.”
He said that although it wasn’t the right time to complain, poor and middle-class citizens will face the ultimate brunt.
A few house owners are also coming forward to waive off rents, but the numbers are not encouraging, as it was during the first lockdown when many property owners came forward to waive rents or give discounts.
It is not only financial stresses people are into. Some are facing difficulties coping with their lives inside the four walls. Occupants in the red buildings are among them.
A woman in one of the red buildings from Core 4 in the Mega Zone 2, (the most affected core and zone), Sonam Zam, said her family has become desperate.
She said it is the third time a family in the building they live tested Covid-19 positive just five days ago.
“Every time someone is tested positive, our family have to repeat the seven days to 21 days’ red building quarantine routine.”
“We have tested negative for the fifth time,” she said. “But we are still inside our homes with windows closed.”
Sonam Zam posted her frustrations on a Facebook group called the Residents of Phuentsholing Group (RoPG), in which the Southern Covid-19 Task Force also posts their announcements and notifications.
She wanted to get into a quarantine facility and go to Thimphu.
“Now, we are just two families in two flats, who have not tested positive yet,” she said.
Sonam said that she is yet to understand why they have to stay in 21 days in red building after the Covid-19 positive persons, their families and close contacts are taken to isolation.
She said she often took her mother to evening walks due to her health problems but that has been impossible now.
As of June 4, official records showed there were seven “red clusters” out of which six were in Mega Zone 2, and one from in Mega Zone 1. Only two clusters were deactivated from “red” status from Mega Zone 2.
In terms of the number of buildings, there were 32 buildings out of which eight were located in Mega Zone 1 and the remaining in Mega Zone 2 on June 4.
However, four red buildings from Mega Zone 1 were deactivated and similarly, 11 such buildings from Mega Zone 2 were also deactivated from the red status.
As per the task force, almost 48 percent of the red buildings were deactivated and more deactivations are expected in the coming days if no positive cases are detected during the scheduled testing.
Another resident, Nar Bahadur, said the lockdown has affected many financially.
“In my case, I am stressed. I may even get diabetes and other related noncommunicable diseases if it continues like this.”
He said he wishes they are allowed to go jogging or for some other sports to stay fit.
A resident at the Toorsa temporary settlement, Singye Wangdi, said if the lockdown continues further, many could suffer.
“Can a lockdown go this long?” he questioned. “People will go mad.”
Singye said recently he even found the price of grocery items inflated. The price of SK Gold rice bag was inflated from Nu 700 in the beginning of the lockdown to Nu 830 later. He complained to the trade office.
“Five litres of oil costs Nu 625, which means Nu 125 per litre,” he said. “Not many will be able to afford.”
The third lockdown in Phuentsholing started on the evening of April 16 after a 10-year-old boy in one of the schools under thromde tested positive. On May 5, a controlled reopening started.
People were allowed to walk within their respective zones until 7pm.
Eventually, after several mass testing, the second relaxation started on May 22 after 35 days of lockdown. This time, several zones were turned into three mega zones and movement within the mega zones were allowed.
However, starting June 3, the southern task force has retracted this relaxation for Mega Zone 2, as more cases were emerging from the community.
While the cases are emerging from the community, many are also of the view that a strict lockdown would help.
A resident, Melam, said complete lockdown needs to be imposed for a minimum of 15 days.
“In that time, all the frontline workers and shopkeepers should reside either in self-containment mode or shop to stop the virus from spreading.”
By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Edited by Tashi Dema
The health ministry introduced integral Cardiotocography (iCTG) with 55 sets to complement the existing conventional cardiotocography in the hospitals across the country to improve the mother and child healthcare services.
To commemorate the 31st Birth Anniversary of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, Health Secretary Dr Pandup Tshering handed over two sets of mobile iCTG devices to the Eastern Regional Referral Hospital (ERRH), Mongar on June 4.
The ministry launched the services in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The device can monitor the health condition of an expectant mother and her foetus and help screen high-risk pregnancy to facilitate timely referral and care.
Moreover, health officials said this technology can help pregnant women to avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital thereby minimizing exposure of patients and health workers to Covid-19.
The seven Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care Center (CEmONC) with Obstetrician like Gelephu central regional referral hospital, Wangdue hospital, ERRH Mongar, Trashigang hospital, JDWNRH, Phuntsholing hospital will serve as referral centres for other health units.
It is expected to benefit half of the expectant women of the total more than estimated 10,000 pregnancies reported in a year. The provision of the iCTG is an initiative to reach every pregnant woman with quality gynaecological and obstetric services.
By Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Edited by Tshering Palden
The animal and plant kingdom comprised of 93 percent of all species in Bhutan, but other kingdoms like Chromista, Eubacteria, Protista and Archaebacteria are severely underrepresented, according to a senior conservationist, Ugyen Tshewang (PhD).
Currently not a single species is recorded under the kingdom Archaebacteria. Representation of Kingdom Chromista, Eubacteria, Protista, and Archaebacteria is less than one percent in the records.
He said that societal preference, funding agencies, researchers, and geopolitical and economic conditions could be the reason for the gaps and taxonomic chauvinism. “That needs to be rectified to ensure adequate knowledge of all ecosystems.”
Ugyen Tshewang said that as a least developed country, Bhutan’s conservation programmes have been largely donor-driven mostly for charismatic and keystone species of animals.
“This has perpetrated a distinct bias in research which Bhutan shares with other donor-dependent nations.”
Although recognised as an ancient form of life with potential for applications in science and technology, food industries, and environment-friendly processes, he said that the kingdom Archaebacteria was totally neglected in research and studies. “Identification and inventory of species in the kingdom could be a useful tool for developing the conservation strategies to halt their disappearance in the face of climate change and environmental pollution.”
In his recently published book ‘Bhutan: Conservation and Environmental Protection in the Himalayas’, Ugyen Tshewang wrote that as the 10 protected areas represent the national conservation domains, there is complacency stemming from the perception of conservation success in Bhutan. “This has all, but co-opted research on the underrepresented species which do not feature in the conservation strategies and plans of the protected areas.”
An environmental researcher and a herpetologist, Jigme Tshelthrim Wangyal, said that species in the reptiles and amphibians family do not get enough conservation support in the country. “There are myths surrounding these species, which makes the field of study unattractive. Except for vipers, cobras, kraits, and coral snakes, people need to understand that all snakes are not venomous.”
However, he said that the country’s approach to conservation is holistic, which means that if forest is conserved other species occupying the forest are conserved too.
The country has more than 100 species of snakes. King and Spectacled Cobras and Python are listed as vulnerable under the IUCN list. “Rest of the species are either data deficient or in the least concern category.”
Deputy chief biodiversity officer with the National Biodiversity Centre, Choki Gyeltshen, said that although species research is improving annually, it is primarily focused on keystone species such as bigger mammals, plants and a few insect groups.
“To have inclusive research, the focus needs to be on the invertebrates such as snails, bees, wasps, and other lower plant groups like mosses and lichens. Without inclusive information for species management and decision making, there could be lapses in effective conservation,” he said.
He also said that neglecting such species would result in the extinction of species which will create imbalance in the ecosystem. “For example, ignoring research on bees will threaten food security, as they are the key pollinators of crops.”
As of 2019, Bhutan Biodiversity Portal’s taxonomic information shows that the country has recorded a total of 11,248 known species.
Of the 134 threatened species, the highest number of threatened species recorded were from the plant groups (48 species), birds (30 species), mammals (26 species), and amphibians and reptiles (18 species).
One of the orchid species has gone extinct, while the plant species Brugmansia suaveolens belonging to class Solanaceae has gone extinct in the wild.
Ugyen Tshewang recommended a thorough assessment of Bhutan’s biological diversity to enable conservation actions in the country since Bhutan is one of the 36 global terrestrial hotspots in biological diversity.
He said community participation among biodiversity stakeholders could address the gaps in developing holistic information systems and databases from across the country. “Bhutan Biodiversity Portal needs to promote all sections of the society.”
Students, researchers, policy makers, conservationists, amateur naturalists, and tourism operators, he said, could play an important role in the feedback system of providing information on species for the conservation of Bhutan’s biological wealth.
He said as a major policy intervention for the protection of critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable species, the “Endangered Wildlife Act” of Bhutan could provide a strong legal protection under the current national legislations.
Choki Gyeltshen said that research needs should be strengthened species-specific.
Researchers, he said, should be provided with basic research facilities such as DNA sequencing equipment and laboratories through funding support.
By Choki Wangmo
Edited by Tashi Dema
Sarpang dzongkhag’s environment sector plans to implement the waste prevention and management ideas that were exhibited during the world environment day on June 5.
Four higher secondary schools from the dzongkhag, Losel Gyatsho Academy, Norbuling Central School (CS), Pelrithang Higher Secondary School, and Sarpang CS took part in the exhibition.
The ideas presented in the exhibition focused on the need to segregate and reduce waste from the source and recycle waste in school.
A participant said managing waste is an individual responsibility.
Losel Gyatsho Academy’s idea on reusing waste to develop classroom settings for pre-primary and class I bagged the first prize. The team used pet bottles and caps, plastic waste, and discarded boards in the school campus to make teaching aids and classroom furniture.
The team had used the waste produced within the campus to prepare learning aid that could be used to teach numbers and both dzongkha and english alphabets while making learning fun for the kids.
The dzongkhag environment officer, Chimi Dorji, said that the ideas were normally forgotten after the exhibition. “We will ensure it is implemented in respective schools and other institutions this time. We were looking for practical and doable ideas in youth.”
He said that the dzongkhag produced over three tonnes of waste per day in 2019. “The amount of waste collected and taken to landfill would be even higher today. We are sticking to the waste prevention part so that there is no need for management.”
Of the four different ideas presented on waste prevention and management, three focused on the need to separate the waste from the source and to set up an initiative that could help recycle wastes within the campus.
Kezang Jamtsho from Norbuling CS said that it was important to segregate waste from the source.
“We presented the concept of going pitless in school. For this to happen we need to prevent the waste from the source, which is a classroom. We will recognize the classroom producing the least waste in the month. This way students would be encouraged to not produ sce waste,” he said.
The team from Sarpang CS highlighted that the best waste management method was in accepting the waste, citing the ban on the use of plastic as an example.
The waste segregating chain service model presented by the group focused on converting waste into useful purpose and exploring entrepreneurship to create employment.
The group proposed coming up with a reverse vending machine that would encourage users to properly dispose of the waste and an opportunity to be rewarded instantly for the act. The proposed waste management model also focused on value-adding the biodegradable waste.
The model is already being implemented in the school, according to the team.
The event was also held to commemorate the Birth Anniversary of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen in Sarpang on June 4.
By Nima | Gelephu
Edited by Tashi Dema
Aum Badhum’s favourite cow Tsherim broke the fence and grazed over an entire plot of paddy seedlings of Aap Sherub in Toedpisa, Punakha. That evening the two met with their village representative and the issue was resolved amicably.
When paddy transplantation time came, the former, as agreed earlier, compensated Aap Sherub adequately. The incident took place more than a decade ago and the neighbours live in harmony to this day.
But if either of the two did not agree to the settlement, lawyers say there is no specific law that caters to such damage or civil liability cases.
So the proposal of the National Council’s legislative committee to enact a civil liability or torts Act makes sense. If not late, it is certainly timely.
The committee has done its research and the findings expose the stark and sad reality that we have been living – one that victimises innocent people, families and communities, even the state.
However the problems today are not as simple as compensating with a backload of paddy seedlings which was in the case of Aum Badhum and Aap Sherub some 10 years ago. For instance, young families have lost their only child in the national referral hospital despite the suspicions they raised there was no legal recourse, the legislative committee pointed out.
The primary aim of torts law is to provide relief to injured parties for harms caused by others. It also imposes liability on parties responsible for the harm and deters others from committing harmful acts. The Act shifts the burden of loss from the injured party to the party who is at fault or better suited to bear the burden of the loss.
The tort Act is necessary to institute and enhance corrective and restorative justice for the victims and this proposed legislation will bring about accountability in the system. The case of a woman injured when an electric pole collapsed will be an open and shut case. At present, the only way the woman will get compensated is by fighting a criminal case in court. Lawyers say, otherwise, there is no hope.
The simple lesson from the above anecdote is that our society had a system to fulfil the duty of care placed on the one responsible. If the act is enacted anytime soon, it will go a long way in strengthening such customary ways of resolving disputes in the communities to the national level.
Our society has a hope to become more just and the rule of law will get a better chance with such an Act. For now, even if the judge has the will to deliver justice, the law fails.
The Opposition has expressed concerns about the government’s proposal to reduce the customs duty to 10 percent from the existing rates of up to 50 percent on imports from third countries, saying that it will affect local industries.
The proposed customs duty will make goods from third countries cheaper in the Bhutanese market. But there are no changes in the customs duty on import of vehicles, alcohol, tobacco, gold and silver.
Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi in the National Assembly yesterday said, “The proposed revision of the customs duty may definitely benefit in some ways. But economists have voiced their concerns saying that it will kill local industries.”
The proposal, he said, would also affect the agriculture sector and food self-sufficiency targets.
Bartsham Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said that experiences from various countries had shown that the country could become a “junkyard” with the proposed customs duty.
He also said that it would affect economic sovereignty and that the country should strive towards becoming an export-based economy despite the disadvantage of being a small country. “We do need to import but based on necessities,” he said.
The government, he said, should also promote industries that have the potential to reduce dependence on imports.
“For example, we have great potential in wood-based industries, but unfortunately, a large portion of our imports are wood-based products,” he said.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering denied that the proposed customs duty would affect local industries. He said that local industries have been protected through the tax waivers on the import of raw materials under the Fiscal Incentive Act.
Lyonpo also said that most of the imports come from India. “The government has carried out a proper study on possible impacts of the proposed customs duty and we are confident that it would not affect our industries,” he said.
The new customs duty has been proposed for more than 500 goods including medical equipment, agriculture and education-related products. In the case of goods imported from the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), the customs duty is levied based on the preferential tariff rates as agreed by the member countries.
However, the Opposition Leader added that the government’s perspective on economic issues was not right and that it needed to correct flaws that existed in the past. “Is it right to say that we have always been an import-dependent economy and should continue to be the same?” he asked.
OL Dorji Wangdi said that excessive imports would deplete the convertible currency (CC) reserve. “I’m concerned that the government’s strategy to build the CC reserve is through borrowings. We’d explore other options,” he said.
Tsirangtoe-Sergithang MP Garja Man Rai said that the proposed customs duty would benefit farmers as the cost of goods including agriculture equipment would be reduced.
Stressing on the importance of the agriculture sector, the MP said, “The agriculture minister in his recent visit to Tsirang said that there would be no shortage of agricultural products if we have five dzongkhags like Tsirang.”
Drametsi-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that it was not the right time to reduce the customs duty as the revenue was already affected. He said that even 15 percent would be acceptable but that reducing it drastically would further impact the economy.
He said that making foreign products like flowers cheaper could also have an adverse impact on Bhutanese culture.
The finance minister said that the revision of the customs duty would broaden the tax base. “We don’t want to import everything. The demand in the market, which is not expected to increase drastically, will regulate imports automatically,” he said.
The House will continue deliberation on the Bill today.
By MB Subba
Edited by Tshering Palden
Just as the second phase of lockdown started in some parts of Samtse, two Covid-19 positive cases were detected in Phuentshopelri (Gomtu) putting the tiny town and the gewog under “restrictive lockdown.”
According to sources, two female employees of Penden Cement Authority Ltd (PCAL), aged 41 and 47, tested positive on RT-PCR during routine surveillance testing.
Samtse dzongkhag Covid-19 task force notified that the case is now considered a community transmission and movement of people and vehicles in Phuentshopelri gewog was completely restricted. All schools, offices, institutions, and industries were also closed.
The two PCAL employees were part of the unloading labour team. They unloaded raw materials, which were transported in Indian vehicles.
Samtse Dzongdag Pasang Dorji, who is also the incident commander of the task force, said they were brought to Samtse. “Contact tracing is underway.”
He said vehicles are also not allowed to move out of the gewog until decisions will be made after the contact tracing results.
Dzongdag Pasang Dorji said Gomtu was initially under lockdown when the first case was detected in Tashichholing last month.
“But due to the fewer contacts between Tashichholing and Gomtu residents, and as Samtse throm didn’t have primary contacts, Gomtu was given full relaxation.
Lockdown relaxation phase-II in Samtse started yesterday.
However, the relaxations are not applicable to Norbugang and Phuentshopelri gewogs.
As per the Task Force, schools in Tashichholing, Samtse throm and Khandothang will resume from today.
However, students and teachers of Samtse HSS, Samtse LSS and Khandothang Primary School residing in Norbugang will not be allowed to go to their respective schools. Similarly, civil servants, corporate and private employees residing in Norbugang will also remain under lockdown.
All shops are allowed to open from today but a restrictive number of customers have been allowed as of now. About two to five customers are allowed as per the size of the shops.
Shops must maintain adequate space for proper passage of customers.
Eateries, restaurants, barber shops and salons will be allowed to operate at 50 percent of the capacity. However, all are encouraged to opt for delivery and takeaway services. Sitting arrangements also must be aligned as per the reduced capacity.
The business operation timing is from 7am to 8pm and no movements will be allowed after 10pm.
All the sporting activities (both indoor and outdoor) are not allowed. Leisure and entertainment centres such as karaokes, discotheques, snookers, gyms, video game parlours and caroms are also not allowed.
Social events for birthdays, weddings, promotions, official dinners and functions are not allowed. Cremation and funeral rites will be limited to close family circles not exceeding 10 people.
Outdoor activities such as picnic, hiking, swimming and visiting spiritual places are also not allowed.
By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Edited by Tashi Dema
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has dropped the investigation of alleged corrupt practices in price-fixing in gypsum export to Nepal involving State Mining Corporation Limited’s (SMCL) marketing specialist, and director of marketing and logistics.
However, if new information arises in the future, the ACC could resume the investigation, the commission stated in a press release.
In December last year, the ACC received a complaint against the SMCL’s marketing specialist and director of marketing and logistics alleging them of possible collusion and undue price-fixing in gypsum export to Nepal.
The complaint alleged that the two officials were directly involved in fixing the price and thereby enriching themselves by receiving the difference money from the importers from Nepal.
The ACC formally launched an investigation on March 12 this year.
According to the ACC’s press release on June 4, the investigation revealed that the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA), on October 16 2018, authorised the SMCL to take over the operation of Khothakpa gypsum mining in Pemagatshel along with the infrastructure and staff of Druk Satair Corporation Limited (DSCL) for an interim period of two years from January 2019.
The mandate was assigned to SMCL primarily to ensure seamless business continuity, fulfil the requirements of the domestic industries and avoid loss of established market for Bhutanese gypsum. The SMCL adopted the pricing structure for the export of gypsum.
Based on the market study and intelligence gathered by the SMCL, the board approved the proposed revised rates for gypsum export by approximately Nu 200 per metric tonne and Nu 400 per metric tonne for both Nepali and Indian parties respectively last year.
The press release stated that the investigation found no involvement of the two alleged officials in determining the prices for the export of gypsum as the company’s major decisions, such as fixing mineral prices, providing strategic directions, and maximizing the company’s wealth and profitability, lie on the board of directors.
The marketing specialist and director of marketing and logistics are neither a part of the board of directors nor have any role in the decision-making process but are involved in operational functions of the company. “Given their roles, there is no evidence to suggest their influence or involvement in the price fixation favour the Nepal parties,” the press release stated.
As per the press release, the ACC found the rates of gypsum export to Nepal during the DSCL has remained the same at Nu 1,750 a metric tonne (MT) during the SMCL’s operation for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018.
The ACC also found that the rate increased from Nu 1,750 per metric tonne in 2018 to Nu 1,775 per metric tonne in 2019 and Nu 1,975 a metric tonne in 2020 and 2021.
The press release stated that the allegation on the total export of 1,989,000MT of gypsum in the past three years was baseless as the total production of gypsum itself was approximately 905,153MT total gypsum production in 2019 and 2020.
“Of the total production in the last two years, the SMCL could only export 816,366MT of gypsum and generated sales revenue of only Nu 1.559 Billion,” the press release stated.
By Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Edited by Tshering Palden
To hold accountability for mishaps
Citing 16 examples where mishaps occurred in the recent past, but no accountability was held, National Council’s (NC) eminent member, Ugyen Tshering, proposed to enact a Civil Liability or Torts Act.
He said that although many unfortunate accidents occurred resulting in death, injury, and loss of public property, concerned parties have refused to take responsibility and relevant authorities failed to take necessary action against the tortfeasors.
Ugyen Tshering, who is also a deputy chairperson of the Legislative Committee, said that the Act, if enacted would address the ongoing predicament faced by the victims of civil wrongs.
“The victims have not been remedied notwithstanding the fact that the harms or injuries suffered have been grave and irreparable,” he said. “Although there are relevant provisions for the initiation of criminal proceedings, no criminal prosecutions have been undertaken so far to hold responsible individuals or agencies or companies accountable for the wrongs committed.”
He said victims, in many cases, are not compensated.
He cited the example where the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the national referral hospital recorded 22 cases of infant deaths in 2019 and many parents alleged poor hygiene practices, and unprofessional to handle newborn babies. “But no one or the hospital was held accountable for the deaths.”
The committee submitted that there also weak implementation and enforcement of the laws by the relevant agencies such as police, Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the courts, which lead to people losing trust in the legal system.
“Which is why there is a need for the House to come out with a resolution to mandate the relevant authorities to implement the laws in its true form,” Ugyen Tshering said. “In law, such perilous or unreasonable conducts, which causes injury to others are known as torts or civil wrongs.”
He said that the Tort Act is necessary to institute and enhance corrective and restorative justice for the victims and this proposed legislation will bring about accountability in the system.
The proposed legislation is also expected to place a sense of responsibility amongst relevant or responsible individuals, officials, agencies, business entities, as well as citizens.
In addition to the criminal prosecution that may be initiated against those who have been negligent or failed in their duties, the Tort Act will give victims option to file a civil or tort suit to seek remedies for wrongful death, injury or loss of property.
“This is not possible today, as they cannot file for a separate tort suit to be compensated for the harm suffered in absence of separate specific tort law,” Ugyen Tshering submitted. “If the person has a chance to suit tort, the victim would not have to wait for a lengthy criminal process.”
He also said a woman, who worked in a drayang and filed a rape case, is still waiting for justice because she is still waiting for the DNA report sent abroad. “If the Act is enacted, she could have an option to sue for tort.”
In Bhutan, although there are few tort provisions scattered in few legislations, they are mostly concerned with the criminal prosecution and sentencing of the tortfeasor or defendant.
However, deliberating almost for three hours and about 19 members who shared various views in regard to the enactment of the new Bill, the House decided to discuss further on the proposed Act.
The Legislative Committee was asked to table the Bill in the later sittings.
Although a majority of the members agreed with the proposal, some of the members expressed there was a need to weigh the pros and cons of such a law so that people do not take advantage of it.
A few members shared that it was important to see if this law could be provisioned in the existing laws as a new section or enact as a specific Act itself.
By Yangchen C Rinzin
Edited by Tashi Dema
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is preparing the charges against Penjore who was earlier arrested and detained for 16 days for his allegedly defamatory posts against public officials and institutions including OAG, Kuensel learnt.
Police have submitted their investigation report to the OAG. The issue has stirred public debate on numerous issues such as freedom of speech, and arbitrary detention, among others.
OAG on June 4 issued a three-page press release, a second one related to the issue, clarifying freedom of speech, defamation, arbitrary detention, and whether the OAG can initiate a case.
The press release stated that the defence of freedom of expression to the rapidly emerging field of online defamation in particular whether existent of the conditions of anonymity or without have been gravely misconstrued. “In consequence with the lack of legal awareness on the laws, and limits of laws in our society, it continues to perpetuate communication that sow the seeds of distrust and suspicion on the enforcement of laws in the country, undermining the rule of law and principles of due process and natural justice,” the press release stated.
Taking into cognizance of the fact that freedom of speech is not beyond the scope of laws, it must be subjected to certain restraints to protect and uphold the good reputation, honour, and dignity which is so sacred and dear with a human person both in private and as well as in public life, the OAG press release stated.
“There is no exception to the rule of defamation whether the defamatory comment is made in a real-life situation or libellous comments posted in the virtual world situation through the use of the Internet,” it stated.
The press release further stated that online posts through online anonymity and in-person are often exciting, thrilling, and intimidating but there were consequences to such actions that the public need to be mindful of.
Penjore, who had posted the comments on his Facebook account – Penjore Penjore, maintains that he had not defamed the Attorney General. He said that he had exercised his Constitutional right to freedom of speech and that his article has a ‘larger nation-building element’.
He alleged that following the complaint by the Attorney General, the police arbitrarily arrested and detained him for 16 days. “I don’t know full well exactly why I have been detained,” he said.
He said that police presented him to Thimphu dzongkhag court the day after his arrest for a remand order. “On the third hearing when the Police charge sheet has been submitted to the OAG did they release me.”
The OAG press release stated that the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code expressly prohibits pre-trial detention that extends to 49 days for cases of misdemeanour and below offences and 108 days for serious offences felony third-degree and above. “Thus, the public discourse on the questions and concerns of the arbitrariness of detaining persons such as Penjore are adhering to the due process of law,” it stated.
The former attorney general Damcho Dorji, on his Facebook page, stated that since the alleged defamation by Penjore does not involve murder, armed robbery, terrorism or treason, it did not fall under felony of fourth-degree but falls under a petty misdemeanour.
“Petty misdemeanour is a compoundable offence meaning the offender does not need to undergo imprisonment but can pay a fine instead. But if Penjore is already detained for weeks before he gets bail from the Court, it defeats the whole purpose of the law giving a lighter sentence of a petty misdemeanour which is compoundable, as opposed to mandatory imprisonment for felonious defamation,” it stated.
He said that the problem with this dilemma lies in the fact that the police cannot give bail to an accused without a warrant from the court and the court cannot give bail to an accused until the case is charged before it.
He said that while the police would need time to investigate the case, it could be done without the accused being physically present under detention.
“As long as the alleged offence is not a felony, the court has the power to suo motto grant bail under Section 199.4 of the CCPC 2001, which applies to both pre-trial investigation by the police as well as during trial before the court, if the accused so applies,” he stated.
This time of the year has come again! Farmers, especially in the south of the country are losing crops to wild animals.
Human-wildlife conflicts have been increasing for obvious reasons. Sometimes, it is seen as wild animals are more important than the livelihoods of the hard-pressed Bhutanese farmers. But, seen in the right perspective, that’s not necessarily true.
Both are very important for Bhutan—the livelihoods of the farmers and the conservation of the environment and the country’s rich biodiversity. The problem is that we are not able to strike the right balance, somewhere somehow.
Animals must live and our forest cover grow; at the same time, our farmers must grow and prosper to propel our economy to the next level. The Covid-19 gave us some true picture of the reality. However, the many laws, rules, and regulations today make no sense to the farmers, let alone to the foraging animals from the deep wild.
Compensation for crop damage has never worked; there is too much bureaucracy in between to set the ground running. Electric fencing is also a failure in its own right. But the farmers must feed themselves. Confrontations with the wild have even claimed many human lives.
Bhutan’s strength is agriculture. But there has not been significant development in the sector, at least not in the way to benefit more than half the country’s population who depend on it. And we continue to harp about the importance of agriculture for economic development, self-reliance, jobs creation and some such grand-sounding national dreams. We can be a lot less hypocritical, why not.
There are simple things we can do. We depend too much on foreign aid for our country’s development activities. That’s fine, but we also need to call our own shot, which is by far more important. It is long past time we said that the one who pays the piper does not always call the tune.
In this sense, Bhutan has now come of age. Agriculture has been, at least on paper, the central focus of development since the first day of the first planned development in the early 1960s. We also know that the sector has been appropriated the least budget since then. This must change.
Crop loss compensation will never work and the farmers’ challenges will never end with our strict conservation laws. Meaningless rules and regulations add to the burdens facing the farmers, which can be seen in the form of increasing rural to urban migration and rising urban poverty.
When we talk about increasing city crimes, we often conveniently forget joblessness in the cities and growing towns. The animals are coming, in droves, to teach us a vital lesson. We would do well to read the runes.
Fighting the increasing number of wildlife crimes has been daunting without information and expertise in the country.
However, with the launch of World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Asia-Pacific counter-illegal wildlife trade (IWT) hub on June 3, the related issues could be addressed.
Conservation director with WWF Bhutan, Vijay Moktan said that in the face of increased illegal wildlife trade in the country, which is often used as a transit point for illegal contrabands, the country lacked the expertise to tackle such crimes.
The lack of clear guidelines and policy directives are also impeding the process, he said. “Through this hub, we’ll support the government in capacity building of the relevant agencies like the forest department, the judiciary, Royal Bhutan Police, Royal Bhutan Army, financial institutions, and customs officials.”
Although wildlife crimes have been increasing, he said that the judiciary lacked the expertise to persecute such crimes. “The forest department does not have the skills to investigate crimes, particularly, the forensic part of the illegal trade.”
From 2017 to 2020, the country reported 4,000 forest crimes from which illegal activities related to timber and wildlife poaching topped the list.
The hub would help strengthen the region’s response towards transnational wildlife crime which poses a grave threat to wildlife, critical habitats, and people, Vijay Moktan said. “Profit is the most important driver behind global illegal wildlife trade. Online wildlife sales provide new channels for illicit trade within national boundaries, across borders, and between continents.”
To curb these challenges, he said that the countries should disrupt trade chains by building synergies among governments, transportation and shipment companies, financial institutions, international bodies, the private sector, and NGOs.
Globally, in a year, illegal wildlife trade amounts to USD 24 billion. According to reports, it is the fourth most profitable illicit trade. Transactions from the illegal wildlife trade flow through global financial systems.
Chief forestry officer with the Forest Protection and Enforcement Division, Kinley Tshering, said that with the launch of the hub, the department is looking forward to reducing wildlife crimes through skills in investigation and international and regional information sharing mechanisms.
“Wildlife extends beyond Bhutan which calls for transnational cooperation. We’ll now have access to information, expertise, and access to online forums which are used to conduct illegal businesses,” he said.
He said that the increasing wildlife crime is gradually impacting human wellbeing as it involves money laundering and human trafficking. “The hub is targeting to disrupt the financial flow in illegal trades.”
With the launching of the hub, the department expects to reduce poaching cases, which currently is one of the most difficult crimes to tackle.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has reduced cases of IWT due to movement restrictions and border closures in the country, Kinley Tshering said.
Last year, the country recorded 44 wildlife crimes.
By Choki Wangmo
Edited by Tshering Palden
…until the Covid-19 situation improves
Entertainment centres such as drayangs, karaokes, and discotheques cannot operate until the Covid-19 situation in the country improves, according to economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma.
In response to Tashichhoeling Member of Parliament (MP) Dil Maya Rai’s question at the National Assembly on June 4, Lyonpo said that reopening the centres in the current situation was impossible.
Citing that the livelihood of those involved in such businesses has been severely disrupted by the pandemic, the MP requested if the government could consider reopening the businesses with the implementation of strict protocols.
“People working in the entertainment business are facing hardships and cannot earn. They still have to pay rents as high as Nu 50,000 to Nu 80,000 monthly without any income,” said the MP, adding if the government had any plans to address the issue.
Lyonpo said that the main reason for not allowing entertainment centres to operate was to discourage gatherings. “Alcohol is an inseparable part in these places. Despite the stringent Covid-19 protocols, it won’t be easy to implement the rules in such places. Moreover, we are seeing an increasing number of cases today.”
He said that majority of the people involved in the entertainment centres were recipients of His Majesty The King’s Relief Kidu and other measures including the loan deferment and interest waiver schemes. “Banks have been giving loans. The finance ministry has also notified the National Cottage and Small Industry Bank to provide capital bridging loans.”
Temporary measures such as exploring other avenues for these operators were also being considered, Lyonpo added.
By Thinley Namgay
Edited by Tshering Palden
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs observed the founding day of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) yesterday by lighting a thousand butter lamps at the historic Changangkha Lhakhang. In keeping with Covid-19 safety protocols, few senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassadors of India and Bangladesh to Bhutan attended the event.
A foreign direct investment company, Mountain Hazelnut (MH) Venture, has sent most of its staff on unpaid leave for three months with effect from June 1 as a cost-cutting measure.
Officials said the decision to send the employees on leave was made as an interim measure while they were refining their operating model for sustainability in the light capital crunch.
From more than 450 permanent employees besides 300 plus casual workers as daily wage earners in its three nurseries, the company is employing about 150 people on a rotation basis in the next three months.
MH Venture employees are worried.
A field staff in a gewog in Trashigang said he is worried how he would pay his house rent and employee loan repayment. “I also have a family to support.”
Another employee said it’s difficult to find job immediately and the company should have informed earlier although he could understand the situation.
He joined the company in 2013 after signing a contract for 30 years.
A field staff in Mongar said he is the eldest among the siblings and got loan to repay and siblings’ school expenses to support.
He said the company’s service rule mandates the company to serve a prior notification. “The service rule states that a notice must be served before three months for those who hold key positions and one month for an ordinary employee.”
The MH’s chief executive officer, Dr Sean Watson, explained that while this step might seem sudden, the company has been mindful of its budgetary constraints and started maintaining stringent cash conservation measures from December 2020. “MH was hopeful that it would be able to secure funds before exhausting the resources, but due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions on foreign entry, investors could not come.”
He said the pandemic has brought unprecedented hardship to the company, as it has affected many other companies in Bhutan.
He said the nationwide lockdown also hampered the business, as the company was not able to collect most of last year’s harvest. “As a result, the company missed some key investor funding milestones.”
Dr Sean Watson said every aspect of operation from land registration to bringing in tissue culture, procuring materials from India, distributing trees and performing an audit has been affected by the pandemic.
MH officials said the company has been also in close consultation with the labour and human resources ministry (MoLHR) on the interim measure and MoLHR officials have been understanding and supportive, guiding MH in line with the same principles that other private sector organisations in Bhutan have been abiding by since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They also said that while they are currently working on redefining its operating model to make it sustainable in future, the company is also not certain if all the employees would be retained upon completion of their leave period.
MH officials said they firmly believed that hazelnuts are a viable business and suitable for Bhutan, but requires some additional time and investment. “Once the company has the funding to transition its operations to a long-term sustainable basis, it hopes to bring most staff back to work based on the needs of the refined operational model,” an official said.
Meanwhile, some employees have already started exploring new jobs after their company informed of the leave and a construction site in Gyalpozhing has employed 13 of the MH employees. The site supervisor is willing to take additional employment with the wage differences for skilled and unskilled labour.
By Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Edited by Tashi Dema
SKD All-Stars defeated Dragon Strikers by four wickets to win the T20 Smash cricket tournament held at Jigmethang cricket ground in Thimphu on June 5.
It was SKD’s maiden win after having participated in few other editions of the same tournament. Dragon Strikers, on the other hand, were two-time champions of the same edition.
Choosing to bat first after winning the toss, Dragon Strikers lost both their openers — Sanjog Chhetri and skipper Tenzin Wangchuk early at a score of 36 after eight overs.
Sanjog was caught behind by wicket-keeper Manoj Adhikari off Kinzang Wangchuk’s bowling. Tenzin Wangchuk exited the field following a Leg Before Wicket (LBW) from Jigme Singye’s bowling.
Pasa Wangdi steered the ship for the Strikers with 28 runs of 33 balls before being run out by Jigme N Dorji at the position of the covers. It was SKD’s young and fast bowler, Tshering Dorji, who bagged the expensive wicket in form for the Strikers Suprit Pradhan and Tobden Singye in the same over that changed the course of the match.
The remaining batsman could add only 43 runs from the last five overs taking the total to 132 runs.
Dragon Strikers got the start they wanted as they bagged the wicket of opener Jigme N Dorji in the second over. Striker’s opening bowler, Thukten J Yoezer, added woes to SKD’s batting line-up as he went on to bowl-out Namgang Chojay and star player Jigme Singye.
SKD’s all-rounder, Wangten, was joined by their most experienced player and wicket-keeper Manoj Adhikari in the middle. Manoj went on to play a mature innings of 27 runs of 30 balls that kept the SKD on the hunt.
On the other hand, Wangten played a fearsome inning of 43 runs of 33 balls with a partnership of 70 runs between the two taking SKD closer to the target before Manoj was balled out by Sanjeevan. Wangten was caught out the next over of Suprit Pradhan’s bowling. Suprit went on to take his 13th wicket of the tournament when he got Mikyo Dorji stumped in the same over.
SKD then needed only four runs off nine balls to win, which Sherub Jamtsho pulled for a huge six down the leg side to give SKD their first title. Wangten was awarded the man of the match.
SKD’s Jigme Singye walked away as the best batsman of the tournament and Suprit Pradhan of Dragon Strikers was awarded the best bowler. Tashi Palden bagged the best fielder. All the winners received a cash prize of Nu 3,000 each. Suprit Pradhan was also awarded the ‘most valuable player’ recognition and a cash prize of Nu 10,000.
Edited by Tshering Palden
Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graced an event to commemorate World Environment Day, which is observed globally on June 5 every year.
Her Majesty launched four significant National Actions for the environment: Bhutan’s Second Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); Third National Communication (TNC) of Bhutan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) for Food Security, Human Settlement, Surface Transport and Industries, and the upgraded national Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Bhutan presented its first NDCs to the UNFCCC in 2015, with the ambitious pledge to remain a carbon neutral country. In presenting the second NDCs, Bhutan reiterates our National commitment to remain carbon neutral, and calls for support from the international community in implementing Bhutan’s climate efforts.
Bhutan’s Third National Communications to the UNFCCC presents an inventory of Greenhouse Gases emissions and the actions to mitigate them, the adaptation strategies undertaken to face the impacts of climate change, and also updated country circumstances since the submission of the Second National Communication in 2012.
The Low Emission Development Strategies are 30-year strategies spread across short, medium and long-term time horizons with prioritized climate actions for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Along with the GHG reduction targets, the LEDS also present other co-benefits and sustainable development benefits such as diversification of economy, job creation, increased efficiency, improved health, etc, in pursuit of the GHG reduction efforts.
The Clearing House Mechanism, which provides information services related to biodiversity at a national level, has been upgraded on the Bioland tool. With this, the portal is better able to promote and facilitate scientific and technical cooperation for awareness, effective decision making and implementation of national biodiversity strategies and action plans.
This year, the theme for the global World Environment Day is “Ecosystem Restoration”. Ecosystem restoration can take many forms: Growing trees, greening cities, rewilding gardens, changing diets or cleaning up rivers among others. This is the generation that can make peace with nature.
In keeping with COVId-19 protocol, the small number of attendees at the event included the Chair of the National Environment Commission (NEC), officials from relevant sectors and the NEC Secretariat.
Thanking Her Majesty, who, as the Royal Patron for the environment, has granted valuable support to all of our National conservation and environment efforts, the representatives of agencies working in these areas offered birthday wishes to Her Majesty.
World Environment Day is observed all over the country by offices, schools, institutions, and the private sector.