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དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 8 min གི་ཧེ་མ།

Domestic power demand to significantly increase

སྤེན།, 07/29/2022 - 10:25

Bhutan’s domestic energy requirement is expected to more than double in the next two years according to the electricity tariff revision proposals submitted by the power sector to the Bhutan Electricity Authority earlier this year. The Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) and Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority, which constitutes Bhutan’s power generation, transmission and distribution companies has proposed to revise the tariff for efficient business operation and for infrastructural expansion and up-gradation. 

The demand for energy in the country will be pushed by a row of new power intensive industries that are proposed to be established in the country. A multitude of HV (high voltage) and MV (medium voltage) industries are being set up in the Jigmeling and Motanga industrial parks, in Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.  Also The Jigmeling industrial estate will be Bhutan’s biggest and in November last year, it started the construction of 10 factories.

With the establishment of many high and medium voltage industries, Bhutan’s total domestic requirement will increase from 2,437 Giga Watt hours (GWh) this year to 6,812 GWh by 2023 (see graph). Although Bhutan produces surplus energy, generation will not be able to meet domestic requirement in the lean seasons. According to BPC’s proposal, the power scenario in Bhutan has undergone a major shift with demand growth in the industrial sector outpacing capacity addition. “We are already experiencing instances of net imports during the lean generation months.”

DGPC’s managing director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin in an earlier interview said, with renewed focus on industrial development based on the projected 10,000MW plan by 2020, there has been unprecedented acceleration in the demand growth of electricity, but on the supply side, capacity addition has not taken place and is unlikely to gain momentum at least in the near future. Last winter, while Bhutan’s domestic peak demand was at 450 megawatt, the firm power capacity of the generating plants was 400 megawatt. 

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Bhutan will continue to be a net exporter of electricity on an annual basis, but in the lean generation months, Bhutan will be required to import more power. Currently, the power shortage faced by Bhutan during winter is met through imports from India. Although there has been no significant imports so far, the Druk Green Power Corporation has started importing power from the Indian Energy Exchange for the first time last winter. 

Due to hydrology and design of the existing hydropower plants, generation in winter dips to about a fifth of its installed capacity. 

The solution to meet the rising domestic demand for energy is to add more generation capacity to increase firm power capacity. However, this also poses the problem of how to market the over capacity during the summer months. While Bhutan could develop mini and small hydropower plants or hybrid solar to meet the demand, developing storage or pondage plants are being considered in the long run. Industries could also be allowed to develop captive power plants. 

As Bhutan’s power shortage worsens in the face of rising domestic demand especially from industries, it presents a strong case for the region to develop new and efficient model of electricity import by HV industries from India during winter, such as through power purchase agreements between Bhutanese industries and Indian distributors. 

Bhutan has already participated in the Indian energy exchange, called the Day-Ahead market for purchase of power from India last winter. It is anticipated that overtime, India will open up new market mechanisms for neighboring countries that will further ease cross border trade of electricity in the region. 

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Hydropower development in the country is expected to pick up pace with the opening up of the economy post pandemic and availability of Indian workers. The sector faced extreme labor shortage at the peak of the pandemic which delayed the construction of the Punatsangchhu II and Nikachhu hydropower projects. 

The two hydropower projects are now set to be commissioned in 2023. 

Energy cooperation in the region through regional grid interconnection was discussed during the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting in April. In the long run, a common regional grid will address Bhutan’s concern of marketing its overcapacity in summer as it could sell to other countries in the region as well as ease imports during winter. 

Going forward, Bhutan and India must also reconsider the current model of hydropower development in the country to avoid further cost escalations and delays.  

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.

Clubs engage youth to better football

སྤེན།, 07/29/2022 - 10:24

Lack of sports facility is a hurdle

Thinley Namgay  

Close to 300 youths in Thimphu are engaged by the football clubs and academies in the under (U) 12 and 16 categories and other grassroots programmes.

Over the years, football has gained momentum in the country.

The clubs are aspiring to produce talented footballers for the clubs and national squad. 

Thimphu City FC engages around 60 children currently.

Thimphu City FC’s president, Hishey Tshering, said the club has U-16 and U-14 for the official matches. “For training, we take kids of all ages. So, in our academy, we have kids from six years and above until 14 years.”

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He said that the club is providing free training for some youth during the weekend.

Hishey Tshering said the biggest challenge is sustainability as the club has 40 people employed as either player, coaches and management staff.

He said that despite the financial issue, the club allows kids to practice for free of cost in the club’s mini pitch when it is not occupied.

Transport United FC involves about 100 youth.

Transport’s coach, Bikash Pradhan, said that club would also start grassroots programmes in Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Tsirang from next month.

Paro FC trains 138 youths. Headcoach and technical director, Puspalal Sharma, said that for compressive training, the club would increase the number of practice days.

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The club trains its youth team four times a week and other grassroots groups twice a week.

FC Takin has 27 U-14 youth.

Mindu CC Dorji of FC Takin that his club would not entertain more than 30 youth to ensure quality training.  He said that his team has two coaches to look after the grassroots programme.

Mindu CC Dorji said that the lack of ground for the training is a major challenge.

There is a growing interest among parents to engage their children in sports. Football is one. But many say that coaching and training is limited because of the shortage of infrastructure (training grounds).

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A parent said  that lack of infrastructure is discouraging parents even if they know the value of sports. “There are more archery fields than football grounds or basketball courts,” a parent said. “If the government is serious about promoting sports or engaging the youth meaningfully, there should be more investment in sports.”

The football clubs understood the importance of nurturing skills, but the lack of infrastructure is discouraging both clubs and parents. “I stopped my son from attending after learning that he gets to play only for an hour in the midday heat. The timings are odd because there are limited facilities,” a parent said.

TCB to assess readiness of hoteliers and operators

སྤེན།, 07/29/2022 - 10:23

Dechen Dolkar

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is validating and assessing tourism service providers – tour operators and hoteliers – on their readiness to welcome tourists under the new tariff regime beginning  September 23 this year.

Hotels and homestays will be assessed based on dimensions such as services, safety and security, sustainable practices, hygiene and cleanliness, infrastructure, quality, and providing authentic Bhutanese experiences.

The assessment will take place in two stages: desk review of applications and documents, and only applications found to be meeting the requirements based on desk review will be further confirmed through on site observation.

According to TCB, all service providers will be assessed, validated and certified. They will be allowed to host tourists and conduct tourism business after passing the assessment.

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For instance, tourist guides will need to be certified by the council as competent guides. This assessment will be the basis for renewal of license and certification.

TCB this week notified that validation of hotels and tour operators will start from July 27.  In view of the requirement of all guests to stay in TCB certified accommodations, the readiness assessment will be carried out only for 3-star and above hotels.

TCB officials said that the service providers must meet all the requirements as set up by the Council.

Tour operators should have valid licenses, proper office setup, websites, service rules and policy and payment facility.

“The company should develop their own service rules and policy about the tour packages. Since different tour operators will be promoting different services at a different rate,” a TCB official said. However, he said the criteria are subject to change in the future.

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For hotels, parameters include having directional signage, main entrance, parking signboard and approach road from an external approach.

The hotels should have all the infrastructure and services at the front office, common restroom, guest room, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, back area and safety and security for the guest.

Hotels should also have hospitality staff, Wi-Fi connection of a minimum of 2mbps,  reservation system,  concierge,  payment systems like swift card and payment gateway and a service policy.

Hotels should also have sustainable practices like water-saving or energy-saving messages or posters, organic or local products, waste minimizing practices and minimum use of the plastic product.

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The official said that for homestays, they should provide an authentic community experience that should be unique so that tourists will never forget their stay and experience.

An official from TCB said that the validation will not be a one-time exercise. All service providers will have to continue to upgrade their services and apply for validation as and when ready.

TCB will also issue a separate notification after October 15.

Local govt. ask for more budget

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:35

MB Subba

Local leaders claim that the government has reduced block grants in the fiscal year 2022-23.

One of the gups in Pemagatshel said that the gewog budget had decreased by about Nu 2M.

The gewog received about Nu 20.95M in the fiscal year 2021-22. However, only Nu 18.539 has been allocated in the ongoing fiscal year, he said.

The gewog, he said, had proposed 37 activities in the fiscal year. The number of activities has been reduced to 30 due to budget constraints, he said.

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“We need more money because our gewog is large and chiwogs are scattered,” he said.

The Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) chairperson of Dagana, Bal Bdr Rana, said that budget had decreased by about Nu 1 to Nu 2M for each gewog in his dzongkhag.

The chairperson said that farm roads have been destroyed by the recent flash floods. However, he added that the infrastructures would be restored with the “summer restoration fund”.

One of the gups in Samdrupjongkhar said that the recent flash floods had destroyed farm roads and other infrastructures and that a chunk of the budget would be utilised for the restoration of the infrastructures.

“We will have to spend a lot on the restoration of the infrastructures,” he said, adding that the current budget had also declined.

One of the gups in Tsirang also said that the budget had decreased slightly in his gewog.

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He said that the budget that had been allocated as block grants was just enough for minor activities. He added that an additional budget was required for major activities such as blacktopping of rural roads.

He said that many roads needed to be blacktopped and maintained in the dzongkhag. “We may have to approach the finance ministry for an additional budget,” he said.

However, Trashigang DT chairperson and Yangyer gup, Duptho, said that the budget had not decreased in his gewog. He said that the gewog had proposed Nu 16M for the current fiscal year but that they received only Nu 14.9M.

“We received the same amount last year,” he said.

The budget will be used for activities that are needed for the community. “We will use the budget judiciously,” he said.

The DT chairperson of Trashiyangtse, Cheku, said that the budget had not increased from the previous year. “There are no new infrastructures to be undertaken and the money will be used for maintenance of the existing projects,” he said.

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However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the capital budget had not been reduced. But he admitted that some gewogs would have received a reduced current budget due to the pandemic.

“It’s not a normal situation and there may have been some reduction in current budgets. But we have not reduced the capital budget,” he said.

Lyonpo said that the revenue had decreased and that it was just enough to meet recurrent expenditures.

According to the budget report 2022-23, the total budget for LGs has decreased by 12.5 percent in the fiscal year 2022-23.

The total budget allocation for local governments in the fiscal year is Nu 22.769 billion (B), which is 30 percent of the overall national budget, excluding the allocations for on-lending (government lending) and principal repayments, according to the annual budget presented in Parliament on June 6.

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The total allocation for LGs in the fiscal year 2021-22 was Nu 26B.

The capital budget for local governments has also decreased to Nu 10B in the new fiscal year from Nu 13.235B in the previous fiscal year. In other words, the capital budget for local governments has decreased by 32 percent.

The overall capital budget, including that of the central governments, is higher than the recurrent budget. However, the capital budget allocated for local governments is Nu 2.74B less than the recurrent budget.

Relief income support kidu extended for the needy 

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:34

Staff Reporter 

The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu has provided monthly income support for the past 27 months to 58,667 people since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country and ended in June.

A press release from the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu office issued on July 26 stated that a one-time transitional monthly income support for beneficiaries from the tourism sector, given the sector’s re-opening in September 2022, and other distressed beneficiaries who still require this transitional support such as former Drayang employees, would be granted kidu for three more months from July to September 2022.

The office stated that these individuals need not reapply for the kidu.

Japan assures support to Bhutan beyond LDC graduation

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:34

Nima Wangdi

Japan assured Bhutan of its continued support beyond Bhutan’s graduation from the Least Developed Country in December 2023.

The First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi, Yamashita during conveyed the assurance during the 17th annual consultation between the two countries on economic cooperation held in Thimphu yesterday. 

Department of Bilateral Affairs director, Tshoki Choden led the Bhutanese delegation while Hiroyuki Yamashita led the Japanese delegation. Japan International Cooperation Agency Bhutan Office’s chief representative, Kozo Watanabe also attended the meeting.

According to a press release from the foreign ministry, the two countries discussed the status of Japan’s assistance to Bhutan and the Needs Survey 2022. The Bhutanese delegation updated on the 12th Plan and presented the draft concept note of the 13th Plan. “They deliberated on the new project proposals that Bhutan submitted and also reviewed the ongoing projects.”

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The annual consultation between Bhutan and Japan was instituted in 2006. Since then, it has served as a platform to review and exchange views on economic cooperation between the two countries. The meeting also provides an opportunity for the two sides to discuss other areas of mutual interest.

Tshoki Choden conveyed Bhutan’s gratitude and appreciation to the government and people of Japan for their continued support for socio-economic development and efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

BAFRA certification opens market access

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:33

Chhimi Dema

The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) in the past year certified 13 individual organic farms and one processing unit in the country.

The crops certified in the farms are tomato, strawberry, kiwi, mandarin, cardamom, turmeric, turmeric powder, ginger, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bean, onion, chilli, and spinach.

Organic certification is a requirement to demonstrate that a product or operation has met the legal standards.

BAFRA as a food safety organisation in the country is identified as a third-party certification body to ensure an impartial organic certification system which is in practice under Bhutan Organic Guarantee System.

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An official from BAFRA said that the farms have to fulfil the requirements of Bhutan Organic Standard and BAFRA’s organic certification scheme to get organic certification.

BOS is a system that ensures the production and supply of food and that the food materials are free from unnatural treatments, additives and any synthetic agro-chemicals that are hazardous to hum an health and ecosystem.

BAFRA provides organic third-party certification for primary crop production, processing, handling, storage, and marketing.

Bhutan Turmeric House’s owner, Suraj Ghimiray, said that receiving organic certification gives the company more market access.

The company makes powder products from Black and Yellow turmeric.

An official from the Bhutan Herbal Tea said that the organic certification is beneficial to them because it provides them with the niche they look for during export.

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BAFRA officials said that the certification helps to increase consumer confidence as the product has goes through an independent auditing and testing process.

“[The certification also] confirms that products and services meet all trusted national and international standards,” the official said.

BAFRA was accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies, Quality Council of India for organic certification as per the requirement of International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 17065:2012 in September 2021.

ISO is a non-governmental organisation that comprises standards bodies from more than 160 countries.

Alarm bells ringing

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:32

In the early 2000s, when media started reporting crime in Thimphu, many complained that we were giving the country “a bad image” by writing about such things. Many Bhutanese shared the view that negative aspects of our own society should be kept discreet to protect the national reputation. 

Another view in Bhutan was that crime was not a problem because it was all under control. Crime in Bhutan was just petty and every criminal, including juveniles, was being monitored and watched. We did not have a serious problem and, compared with other countries, issues like crime and corruption were negligible. Therefore, writing about it was exaggerating the problem. 

Today, after about two decades, we have people being injured in gang fights, the rape of minors is becoming more common, officials are imprisoned for corruption, we cannot leave sacred sites unprotected, and we all know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Suddenly it is not an exaggeration.

The problem, as we see over and over again, is not the crime itself but the trend. But the real issue is our refusal or inability to acknowledge it and deal with it on time. In most cases, the same people sit down to discuss the same problems and we see the same problems continue. 

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It is not just corruption and crime. We are encroaching on our pristine environment step by step, by generating non-bio-degradable garbage, accelerating the import of motor vehicles and other machines that emit poisonous gases, and generally increasing our consumption of material goods. 

While we have always maintained that our country is a special place we are suddenly struck by the realisation that we, ourselves, are vulnerable to all the temptations that have affected other places and societies. And if such trends are not checked Bhutan will not be special for much longer. With only months left for tourism to reopen, interventions are needed urgently. 

Practical wisdom shows us that problems like corruption and crime are directly proportional to the steps taken to deal with them. 

As we hear of dozens of people being treated for physical injuries inflicted by fellow citizens and properties damaged at random, as we listen to or read about more criminal acts taking place every week, and as corruption becomes a national concern, we ask ourselves the same questions yet again. Are the anti-corruption institutions adequately equipped? Is the police force strong enough? Are our laws relevant and practical? Can we do anything differently? 

Affordable and energy-efficient lighting for rural areas

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:31

Thukten Zangpo

With 90 percent of rural residents unable to afford lighting emitting diode (LED) bulbs, a startup is assembling it in Jungzhina in Thimphu to cater to rural residents. Rural residents were still found using halogen bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).

Called Norgu Lights, the startup is selling LED bulbs of 9 watts (W) for Nu 88 to rural residents while the market price is Nu 200. The company also has a range of power from 9W to 22W bulbs.

Since its operation in February this year, the company has distributed the LED bulbs to eight dzongkhags across the country with a turnover of Nu 2.5 million (M).

Assembling LED bulbs takes less than a minute

It manufactured 70,000 LED lights like LED bulbs, surface light, conceal light, and tube lights with different units of power in watts.

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The founder, Chencho, claimed the LED bulbs are equally durable, eco-friendly, and cost-saving. “Studies have shown electricity consumption from LED bulbs is 80 percent lower than the halogen bulb and 78 percent lower than compact fluorescent lamps.”

He claimed Norgu Lights studied the components of LED bulbs and saw the opportunity of assembling them in Bhutan. “We have customised each component by removing unwanted parts to save cost.”

Chencho said that if the country could achieve 100 percent coverage of LED lights for lighting in rural areas, the cost of lighting would be lowered, and also there would be huge energy savings in the country.

He claimed LED bulbs would not only save individual household energy consumption but also add to the national revenue. “In the next six months to a year, the company aims to substitute all imported LED lights.”

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The Department of Renewable Energy also encourages Bhutanese to use LED lights.

According to the Bhutan Trade Statistics, the country imported 284,103 units of LED lights amounting to over Nu 25M and 646 units amounting to Nu 0.61M from India and other countries respectively in 2020.

In the last four years, Bhutan has imported an average of 57,986 numbers of LED bulbs, which shows an exponential increase over the years.

Meanwhile, Chencho said startups Norgu Lights face challenges of access to finance and resistance from Bhutanese to buy local products although it is cheaper.

The company also provides repair and maintenance services such as buying back unusable company bulbs at Nu 10 or 15, which will be repaired and resold at a discounted rate.

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“This will go a long way in achieving our mission of eco-friendly and zero waste,” Chencho said.

The company currently employs eight youth in assembling work.

First ever women’s football tournament in Phuentsholing concludes

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:30

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The final of the women’s football tournament in Phuentsholing yesterday saw Phuentsholing come to life after a long time.

Thousands of spectators endured the scorching heat as women from Gedu College of Business Studies (GCBS) and Yonten Kuenjong Academy (YKA) battled it out on the ground.

GCBS won 5:2. However, participants said it was more about having fun than winning. The tournament organised without charging any fees by Phuentsholing Sports Association (PSA) saw a record number of participants of 15 teams.

Woman of the Tournament, Gaki Dem

The final yesterday also saw two outstanding players, Gaki Dem, 34, a lecturer of GCBS, who was awarded the Woman of the Tournament for her outstanding skills and unmatched scoring record of eight goals in the tournament.

Her team consisted of college students and lecturers. 

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“So, we thought we would not win, but came to give our best to the game,” Gaki Dem said, adding that the YKA girls were better in skills and stamina.

Woman of the Match Geeta Devi

The lecturer said that she didn’t get to play football much in her younger days. 

“For me, the Woman of the Tournament award is a lifetime achievement.”

Women’s participation in football has improved, she said. 

“It is not anymore men’s sport as perceived in the past.”

The Woman of the Match was bagged by YKA’s Geeta Devi, 19, a class 12 student. She has been one of the favourites throughout the entire tournament.

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Geeta Devi gives credit to the team’s manager (coach) and YKA teacher, who motivated her throughout the tournament.

“Initially, my family was against me playing because they thought I would get injured,” she said. “But my mother supported me.”

Geeta Devi, who is from Samdrupjongkhar, said that there were people who are not comfortable with women taking football seriously. But she will continue to play throughout her life, she said.

“I learned the skills during the matches with very supportive team members,” she said.

YKA’s team manager, who is warden and sports teacher in the school, Drakpa Balu said his team was “little nervous.”

“Two players were injured and our main goalie didn’t play today,” he said, adding that the goalie didn’t come to play in the finals because her family didn’t allow her. “We tried our best to bring her but we failed.”

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For many spectators like Drakpa Balu the match was exciting. He said such tournaments for women should be organised more often to bring women into the mainstream sports.

“We would like to thank Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) and PSA for this opportunity,” the YKA coach said.

Meanwhile, the tournament started on July 2.

“Our women played when Phuentsholing was recording 37 degrees Celsius,” a spectator said.

“Surprisingly, the crowd was very encouraging throughout. People brought umbrellas and watched the games under the rain or the scorching sun,” another said.

PSA general secretary Sonam Lhagyel said: “It has been overwhelming to see such a huge crowd support and overwhelming participation in the first ever women’s football tournament in Phuentsholing. It encourages us more to be of service to the community.”

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Meanwhile, the winning team, GCBS was awarded Nu 50,000 as cash prize and the runners, YKA was awarded Nu 30,000. Perfect TMT, Chogshey Enterprise, Drangchu Beverages, AB Enterprise, and Tamshing Enterprise supported the tournament. BFF was the main sponsor. 

The veteran open football tournament is underway. An open football tournament and departmental tournament will also be held this year.

INR reserve falls by over 50 percent

པ།, 07/28/2022 - 11:29

Reserve decreased to INR 10.7B from 23.2B in April last year

Thukten Zangpo 

Bhutan’s rupee reserve has fallen by over 50 percent over the last eight months from April to December last year.

The rupee reserve was INR 23.2 billion (B) in April last year, but has decreased to INR 10.7B in December. That’s a fall of INR 12.5B, according to the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) latest monthly statistical bulletin for July. The latest figure could not be accessed.

The reserve is a little above the central bank’s reserve threshold of INR 10B for all times to come. Going by the December reserve, it was enough to meet only 2.3 months of essential imports. In April, it was able to meet five months’ import.

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While the convertible currency reserve was reported at USD 828.9 million (M) as of December last year. It also fell by over 25 percent from USD 1.15B in April last year.

The central bank has also maintained the threshold for the convertible currency reserve at USD 757M.

Meanwhile, total foreign reserve declined by over 30 percent to USD 970.4M as of December last year from April at USD 1.45B. It will be able to meet only 13.4 months of the imports.

The reserves have been declining because of lack of earnings from tourists and decreased export for more than two years due to the pandemic.

For an import-driven country, the rupee reserve is necessary as more than 80 percent of the country’s imports are from India.

Finance minister Namgay Tshering said that Bhutan is comfortable at present with the foreign reserve. However, he said that Bhutanese cannot become complacent since Bhutan is a largely import-driven country. “We are always in the deficit economy and we tend to spend either in INR or USD.”

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Lyonpo said that the country has a foreign currency reserve to meet 14 months of essential imports. This is only 2 months more than the constitutional requirement to maintain a minimum foreign currency reserve to meet the cost of not less than one year’s essential import.

He added that an internal arrangement is already put in place through a standby credit facility with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) where the RMA can lend INR.

Upon the request of the Bhutanese government, the Indian government extended the settlement period and reduced interest rates of the two-rupee standby credit facility as financial assistance from India.

Bhutan lent INR 3B in June 2012 and INR  4B in March 2013. The two-rupee standby credit, at an interest rate of 5 percent, expired on June 30 this year and was extended by five more years with a reduced interest rate of 2.5 percent.

According to the Bhutan Trade Statistics 2021, Bhutan’s imports from India grew by over 35 percent to Nu 71.2B including electricity last year from previous year.

However, Bhutan also received INR 24.4B from the sale of electricity to India.  The country receives INR from exporting electricity and as grants for the five-year plans.

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The country also has to pay for the debt in INR or USD. As of March, this year, the country’s Rupee debt stood at Rs 154.9B and convertible currency debt at USD 884.2M (equivalent to Nu 67.2B).

In the past when the country was hit with a rupee shortage, Bhutan sold convertible currency to replenish the Rupee stock. An arrangement with the RBI has also been made where the RBI would facilitate the exchange of USD for INR and vice-versa.

Every year, Bhutan sells USD 300M to 400M from its reserves to buy Rupee. In 2021, Bhutan sold USD 600M for Covid-19 purposes.

During Lyonchhen’s recent visit to Bumthang, he informed that the government will implement three phases of interventions if the country’s economic situation does not improve.

Lyonchhen said that the government will stop importing non-essential commodities in the first phase, stop goods that are important but could not be disallowed from being imported in the second phase, and import only essential items in the third phase.

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Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the government wants to inform the people and ask everyone to express solidarity to choose essential items over non-essentials.

In case the country faces reserve shortage, Lyonpo said that the government will rationalise certain items which are not essential at present and import would not be necessary. Import of non-essentials are also on the rise. For instance, in just 14 months, Bhutan imported 5,065 vehicles.

“If people continue to be complacent and continue to feel we are in a normal situation, no matter what kind of rules or arrangement that RMA brings in, the country at large will suffer,” he added.

Meanwhile, the President of the Trading Association of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, said that the businesses are not facing any INR shortages, as per their requirement they are able to exchange. However, he added that with declining reserves, businesses will not be able to get the INR soon.

Health ministry vigilant against monkeypox

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 12:04

Nima Wangdi

With international borders opening for visitors from September 23, Bhutan strengthened its surveillance against monkeypox spread, according to officials of the health ministry.

Neighbouring India already has reported four cases.

With the disease spreading rapidly in many countries, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease to be public health emergency of international concern recently.

South-East Asia Region countries are asked to strengthen surveillance and public health measures.

Officials from the health ministry said the ministry developed a monkeypox management guideline and adopted it on June 2.

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“Recognising the significance of prevention and control plans, all district health officers, chief medical officers, medical superintendents and other relevant agencies have been informed to implement measures immediately,” an official said.

Officials said any rash-like illness during travel or upon return should be immediately reported in the health declaration form at the point of entry.  “Clinicians or health workers should report suspected cases immediately through the national early warning alert response system.”

The same facilities used for isolation and quarantine for Covid-19 will be used for the monkeypox. According to officials, the ministry informed all health workers to keep updated with the latest events and information on monkeypox through reliable sources as part of the career up-gradation through self-learning.

They said that every case detected would be isolated to prevent further transmission with surveillance initiated at the point of entries.

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“The Ministry of Health shall proactively communicate disease and outbreak information related to monkeypox and potential public health implications to the general public in a timely and transparent manner,” the official said. “The effort will be also put in to address vulnerable populations like kids as they are also considered to be a risk-group population in a community.”

Meanwhile, there is no specific treatment approved for monkeypox viral infections as of now. However, online sources state antivirals developed for use in patients with smallpox may prove beneficial.

WHO South-East Asia Region’s Director General, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Sing, said that with cases concentrated among men who have sex with men, it is possible to curtail further spread of the disease with focused efforts among at-risk populations.

More than 18,095 cases of monkeypox have been reported from 75 countries until July 25 and five died.

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In the WHO South-East Asia region, five cases have been reported, four from India and one from Thailand, according to WHO.

WHO stated that engaging and protecting the affected communities; intensifying surveillance and public health measures; strengthening clinical management and infection prevention and control in hospitals and clinics; and accelerating research into the use of vaccines, therapeutics and other tools, are among the key measures that need to be scaled up.

Monkeypox virus is transmitted from infected animals to humans via indirect or direct contact. Human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with infectious skin or lesions, including face-to-face, skin-to-skin, and respiratory droplets. Transmission can also occur from contaminated materials such as linens, bedding, electronics, and clothing, that have infectious skin particles.

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA stated monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘Monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox.

Fuel price increases 

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 12:01

Dechen Dolkar

Petrol price increased by Nu 1.57 per litre and diesel by chhetrum 59 per litre from midnight after the independent fuel pricing committee reviewed the appeal on the domestic fuel price model.

At Lungtenzampa, Thimphu petrol now cost Nu 92.92 and diesel Nu 109.78.

The independent fuel pricing committee comprising members from different sectors reviewed the appeal from the fuel dealers and department of trade. The   recommendations was submitted to the ministry of economic affairs.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the ministry decided to endorse the recommendations of the committee.

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The domestic price module is a price mechanism for fuel that is charged by the local fuel distributors. It was developed in 2016. The ministry revised the domestic fuel pricing model in June, removing the five components out of 11 components.

In the new pricing module, MoEA removed five components, which include working capital, product loss, financial cost, operating cost, and transit insurance.

The committee has reinstated the product loss and operating cost components.

The official from the ministry said that the increase in fuel price is attributed to the reinstated components on the fuel dealer.

The fuel dealers will get 44 chhetrum for per litre of petrol and 26 chhetrum for per litre of diesel on the product loss component.

The official said that it is as per the International Organization of Legal Metrology and is standard and maximum permissible or tolerable limit.

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Similarly, for the operating cost, the dealers will get Nu 1.068 for per litre of petrol and Nu 0.256 per litre for diesel.

The official also said that the department of trade has also recommended updating the shrinkage charges according to the temperature rise. The committee has considered the recommendations.

“Shrinkage charges are taken into account of updated temperature since over the years there is a change in temperature because the temperature in Phuntsholing is different from temperature in Gasa,” the ministry official said.

The official said that if the expenses are required to be provided to the dealers it should be provided but if it is unreasonable, the ministry ensures that there are no undue benefits for the dealers at the cost of consumers.

The official said that the department of trade is also considering the option of calibrating the transportation cost depending on the fuel price in future.

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The committee has also reinstated the loading and unloading of LPG in which the average cost will increase by Nu 28 per cylinder and kerosene will increase by Nu 6.8 per litre.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that revision of the domestic fuel price module is not to bring down the fuel price but to rationalise the mechanism.

Lyonpo said that there are no measures to reduce the fuel price since we are the price taker.

Mongar local leaders ask for additional budgets

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 12:01

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Block grants, which range from Nu 10 million (M) to Nu 17M depending on the size of the gewogs, are not enough to carry out construction of critical infrastructures like of bridges. 

This was raised at the recently concluded Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) session of Mongar. 

Balam Gup Tshewang Dorji said that the gewog centre (GC) road was severely affected by the recent flash flood. The gup said that maintenance works, including the installation of hume pipes costing more than Nu 100,000 annually, were proven ineffective. 

The only solution to the problem, the gup said, was to construct concrete bridges. 

“We understand that the government is facing budget constraints, but the need to improve the road is genuine. It would be difficult for the gewog to manage the budget of Nu 7.5 million (M), which is required for construction of the bridges, from the block grant.”

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If the block grant was to be used for construction of the bridges, then little would be left for other activities, he added. 

Sherimung Gup Dorji also appraised the DT about the need to build a bridge at Khadrak, about 18 kilometres away from gewog centre towards Yarab.

The bridge, he said, would benefit not only the 111 households of Senakhar and Jabgang chiwogs but also the increasing number of tourists who visit Aja Ney every year. 

More than 3,000 domestic tourists visited Aja Ney last year.

Those travelling to Yarab use small vehicles to pass through the wooden bridge at Khadrak. The local leader stressed on the need to lay Granular Sub-base (GSB) on the road and build a permanent bridge.

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He said that it was beyond the gewog’s capacity to build the bridge with the block grant of Nu 15M. 

Gongdue gup Tshewang Tobgyel stressed on the need to blacktop the GC road between Daksa (Gongdue Gewog Center) and Werringla Drungkhag. 

Local leaders from other gewogs also raised similar issues. 

The DT resolved that blacktopping of the Daksa-Werringla road and building a concrete bridge in Balam gewog would be proposed in the 13th plan.

Thimphu to try electric city bus

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 12:00

Staff Reporter

Come January, residents of Thimphu can travel in a modern electric bus on the main city bus route.

City Bus Service and Kuenphen Motors last week signed a contract for the supply of an electric bus and two charging stations.

The 27-seater bus with air conditioning will operate on Thimphu’s trunk line. “It is as powerful as the new diesel buses that have lately entered service on CBS’s main line, but being fully electric, it is quiet and will require less maintenance, which means greater reliability,” a press release from CBS stated.

The bus will charge overnight, and stage short “top-up” stops during the day at the 150kW DC and 30kW AC charging stations.

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City Bus Service Manager (OMD) Pasang Tshering  said, “We, along with other government agencies, have been through a thorough planning stage to reach this point.”

The new electric bus is intended to be the first step in the electrification of Bhutan’s passenger bus fleet. The experiences and lessons learned from operating it will be used in planning the next stages in the development of public transport in Thimphu, and in other cities.

Kuenphen Motors is one of the local suppliers of electric taxis and charging equipment for a GEF-UNDP-supported project that aims to add 300 electric taxis to Bhutan’s taxi fleet by the end of 2022.

Both initiatives are part of a broader push to modernise Bhutan’s transport system. “Increasing congestion and deteriorating air quality pose a growing threat to the nation’s cultural richness and heritage and damage the balance that its people have traditionally enjoyed with nature,” the press release stated. “Improved public transport and reduced reliance on private vehicles  and import of fossil fuels are part of the solution.”

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CBS recently introduced the real-time bus information App Gakyid, and Smart Card ticketing. It has also put 34 new diesel buses in service to make using public transport more attractive.

The electric bus project is supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), with funding from the Austrian Development Agency.

Fire guts two shops in Tshenkarla

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 11:59

Kelzang Wanggchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The shop owners in Tshenkarla, Trashiyangtse, lost grocery items and belongings worth Nu 6.5 million (M) when fire gutted their shops on the evening of July 25.

There were no casualties reported.

Khamdang Gup Tashi Wangchuk said the fire that started from a shop razed the shops to the ground while rescue team, comprising of gewog officials, students and teachers of Tshenkharla Central School, de-suups, police, forest officials and locals helped to contain the fire from spreading to another shop.

He said the shops were not insured.

According to the gup, a shopowner lost more than Nu 300,000 which was kept in the shop as it was Bhutan National Bank’s agent.  “The fire is suspected of having started due to the electric short circuit.”

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He said the fire started at 4:30pm and they managed to contain the fire at 8:30pm after the gewog administration connected the pipes to the irrigation canal. “Fire brigade vehicle and the team from Trashiyangtse also reached the site.”

Gup Tashi Wangchuk said that he had requested police officials to keep the fire brigade vehicle at Doksum during such incidents, but the officials told him to write an application to them.

He said the dzongkhag kidu office provided emergency kits such as blankets, tarpaulin, kitchen utensils and Nu 10,000 each to the victims, while Tshenkharla CS and gewog officials also provided rations and other emergency kits.

“The victims are staying in my house . A victim is staying with relatives,” Gup Tashi Wangchuk said.

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Relocate Olakha workshop

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 11:58

On the once outskirts of the Thimphu thromde, at Olakha, there is a problem that has ramifications on the government, the public corporations, state enterprises or the capital’s residents who own a car.

Those operating the automobile workshops at Olakha and their landlords  are entangled in a problem that, for years, couldn’t find a solution. The repercussions are eating into the pockets or government coffers.

Building owners revise rents, workshop operators complain and when lost in the bargain, pass on the cost to those seeking services. The capital city has one vehicle for every two people. Vehicles need maintenance and repair. The cost of maintenance and repair is passed on to owners when market rates determine cost. Maintaining or repairing vehicles has become expensive. The days when vehicle owners would travel to Phuentsholing for a vehicle repair “cum” shopping trip has come to an end with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently the Supreme Court ordered seven operators to vacate the space they rented within six months. This has not gone well with the operators.  They are asking for government intervention. They want the government to provide them state land so that they can continue their business. They also claim that chasing them with an ultimatum would mean about 100 people losing jobs.

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The issue is not as straightforward as they claim. Operators are accused of violating thromde rules to earn more than they pay in rent for the rented property. The thromde recently demolished structures built illegally by operators – some of them encroaching on state land. 

The arguments from both sides are valid. The problem is there is no long-term solution. The only solution is that all the automobile workshops at Olakha should be relocated. The area identified, a long time ago, was the best available, not the best choice. The idea  was to develop it into a ‘model’ service centre with standard service backed by good infrastructure. 

The workshop is everything, but a model today. It is an eyesore, a source of pollution, congested and disorganized to the extent that many doubt if the pothole ridden, dusty or muddy road is a deliberate attempt to spoil more vehicles coming for repair. The Olakha workshop has become like the slum of Thimphu city. It is not at all the vision we had.

The automobile workshop has to be relocated. Where? We don’t know. But the condition it is in today and the controversies surrounding it is a good example of bad planning or shortsightedness.

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It is also a lesson of imposing urban planning decisions on landowners. Landowners didn’t ask their area to be developed into what it is. The decision was imposed on them. That’s why landowners are demanding compensation for the bigger share they sacrificed in the so-called land pooling arrangement.

The government has to find a solution. An easy one is closing it down or providing choices for the operators. With the capital city getting congested by the day, we need to relocate the automobile workshops from Olakha. We could have service centres across the city and identify an area for the bigger repair works. It should be out of the city. Leasing state land could bring down prizes and increase competitiveness.

Norbuling finally gets water

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 11:58

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Norbuling translates roughly to ‘The Land of Jewels’. It is in Tashiding, Dagana.

Perched on a hilltop above Dagachhu, formerly known as Loduma, Norbuling today has 30 households. Most are small-scale farmers.

The village has been facing irrigation and drinking water shortage. The residents are still grappling with this problem but with the Society Switzerland Bhutan-supported project and construction of five water tanks in the chiwog—two 8,000-litre tanks and three 6,000-litre tanks, villagers are thrilled.

Due to lack of irrigation water, farmers said that they could not grow vegetables and crops on commercial scale. There are 69,867 acres of dryland and 0.78 acres of wetland, and 2.303 acres of orchard that are mostly left fallow.

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Thek Bdhr Rai, 58, recalled how as a little boy he had to walk 3km every day with his parents to fetch drinking water from a pond at the end of the village. “We had to carry water in a bamboo container, locally known as gaanti. A single trip would take two hours. It was fun but tiring too.”

A young woman was killed by a falling boulder on the way to fetch water. This story is still told in the village whenever the issue of water shortage is discussed.

Water scarcity took toll on women and children.

Duti Maya Shangang, 58, remembers toiling between the pond and her house, carrying containers of water and her infants on the back.

“Women and children are often the ones responsible for collecting water. For women, the water crisis is personal. They are responsible for finding a resource their families need to survive –  drinking, cooking, sanitation, and hygiene,” she said.

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In a large family, women had to adjust households according to the amount of water available.  “Household chores become tedious and children need extra care.”

Today, women around the world spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water, stated the findings from water.org.

Residents of the village said that the burden was reduced in 2006 with the installation of water taps from the Rural Water Supply Scheme.

The shortage, however, is severe from March to May.

With the new water tanks in place and support from the gewog officials, households are planning to grow vegetables and cultivate fallow land.

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A committee for vegetable irrigation was formed in November last year. The members are guided by the bylaws of Norbuling Sazhing Zhinchung Detshen, formed in 2007.

It was observed that farmers live in poverty without alternative sources of income. The living standard is comparatively low and houses are poorly built.  The major food crops are maize, millet, cassava, and beans.

During monsoon, the farm road goes bad. The village has only one Bolero pickup truck. Mobile network connection is erratic too.

Some villagers blame the delayed Sunkosh Project for delayed development activities in their village.

Built at the cost of Nu 281,000, the project was initiated by the Dagana’s National Council representative, Surjaman Thapa, in collaboration with the local people.

Bhutanese chess players to land in Chennai today for the 44th Chess Olympiad

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 11:57

Thinley Namgay   

Ten chess players and two team captains from the Bhutan Chess Federation have landed yesterday in Kolkata, India, to participate in the 44th Chess Olympiad in Chennai that will begin tomorrow.

Team Bhutan will land in Chennai today.

For the first time, five Bhutanese women players are taking part in this biennial competition.

Bhutan is participating in the Chess Olympiad for the second time after the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Norway in 2014.

Bhutan Chess Federation selected the players in May.

International Chess Federation, FIDE’s trainer Vishal Sareen from India and Chaturanga from Sri Lanka trained the participants for three months. Bhutan’s only FIDE-certified national instructor, Karma Sonam, also trained the players.

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The general secretary of the chess club, Ugyen Wangchuk, said Bhutan’s team members are competent as most players are mostly engineers, who are either employed or self-employed and four are students. “One is a college student and three are school students. The two youngest players are from Dr Tobgyel School in Thimphu.”

According to the general secretary, the chess Olympiad is the most prestigious platform, where all the world champions gather to play. “I am expecting some wins since players were trained by the renowned FIDE certified trainer Vishal, an Indian international master.”

Ugyen  Wangchuk said that most of the players are from other dzongkhags and over-the-board training was not possible. “It was very difficult to get trainers since the federation is quite new.”

Bhutan chess club was started only last year.

The chess Olympiad is also expected to gain experience for the young players to compete in the 2023 youth Olympiad.

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The 44th Chess Olympiad was supposed to take place in Russia, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, FIDE changed the venue.

More than 2,000 players from 180 countries will participate in the tournament that will end on August 10.

Supreme Court orders 7 workshop operators to vacate in 6 months

ཕུར།, 07/27/2022 - 11:56

Workshop operators at Olakha accuse SC of siding with landlords 

Rinzin Wangchuk 

After nearly three years of litigations at various courts, the Supreme Court on July 20 finally decided that seven automobile workshop operators at Olakaha, Thimphu, have to vacate the properties.

The highest appellate court ruled that the operators vacate the property within six months since the land owners have the ownership over the buildings prompting the operators to seek government’s intervention.

Operators said that the court’s decision to vacate the workshops, initially established by Thimphu Thromde through government intervention,  will be detrimental to hundreds of workshop owners who are operating on rental basis. “The government should intervene at the earliest to solve the issue,” one owner said. 

The problem started after landlords were accused of charging exorbitant rents, which the operators refused to pay.

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“The SC directed us to vacate buildings within six months from the date of SC’s judgment. More than 100 employees currently employed by them will become jobless, affecting the very livelihood of employees, their family members and school going children.

The government in 2008 relocated all automobile workshops from Changzamtog to the present location in Olarongchhu. Following the relocation, workshop owners invested in heavy equipment and machineries. “Rather than neutralising and de-escalating the issue, the SC has further complicated the situation without involving the government to find solutions to the matter,” aggrieved workshop owners said.


Different rulings?

Aggrieved operators said that courts have decided with different outcomes exemplifying that there are two laws in the country. For instance, they refer to the Thimphu dzongkhag court’s ruling  on November 30, 2020, which ruled that the workshop owners vacate buildings within four months after building owners  reimburse all the unlawful rent collected to respective workshop owners.  They were asked to reimburse Nu 574,950 each.

This case was pertaining to four workshop owners- Tee Dee workshop, Lungten Workshop, Sangay Workshop and Sangay Engineering Workshop. They then appealed to the High Court (HC), which overturned the lower court’s ruling. HC on July 2, 2021 increased the amount and building owners had to reimburse to workshop owners to Nu 842,901 each while allowing them to run their business until the Thimphu Thromde’s expert team assess and declare buildings as not fit for occupying.

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Aggrieved by HC’s ruling, a building owner appealed to the SC.  In contrast  to the lower court’s judgments, the SC reduced the reimbursement amount to Nu 595,562 for each workshop owner and ordered the appellant to pay within six months.

The building owners had asked workshop operators to vacate their buildings since they wanted to renovate their buildings, expand, or let their children operate them.

Workshop owners said that they were forced to seek intervention from the court after they received an ultimatum to either pay the revised rent or vacate the buildings.

They also appealed to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in July 2019 to investigate allegations of favoring landlords by Thimphu Thromde. ACC then asked the Thimphu Thromde to submit a comprehensive report on “exorbitant” increase in rent of automobile workshops by landlords and on why it returned pooled land to landowners. “However, we didn’t hear the outcome of investigations,” one owner said.


Appeal for government land

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Not satisfied with the SC’s verdict, seven owners appealed to the minister for works and human settlement on July 25 to temporarily allot them vacant government land on lease within Thimphu Thromde.

In their appeal letter to the minister, they stated that without immediate support and intervention from the government, it is assured that about 100 people will lose jobs. They also stated that they are skilled and specialized and have been in this business for many years.

The workshop owners have borrowed money in the course of running business and owe money to various financial institutions. “Therefore, repayment of loan is almost impossible without some reliable sources of income and immediate help from the government,” they stated.

In 2019, the owners through the Automobile Sectors’ Association of Bhutan (ASAB) appealed to the prime minister and ministers for works and human settlement, and economic affairs to allocate them government industrial land on long-term lease. This, according to ASAB, was to avoid ad hoc increase in rent and alleged forceful eviction by the building owners.

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They said that there is traffic congestion due to uncontrolled construction, narrow roads due to heavy flow of vehicles and machinery kept for repair, noise and pollution in the present area, which is limited for growth. The other reasons ASAB stated were shortage of drinking water, as majority of the employees were residing in the area and poor drainage/sewerage system and  absence of waste treatment plant.

They stated that there is also risk of fire, pollution due to cramped workshops and increasing number of residential buildings in the limited space while there is no scope for expansion of workshops business and installation of latest technology and safety measure system.

When the workshops were relocated in Olakha in 2008, there were around 32 operators. Today, there are more than 100 operators in the cramped Olarongchhu area.

Works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering, had said that the government was exploring options to relocate the existing automobile workshops from Olarongchhu to Pamtsho or Namseling or even further.

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Operators are still waiting for government land to operate their business and avoid conflict with landlords at Olarongchhu.