Issues such as school timing, and delay in the lease of tsamdro (pasture land) continue to plague the highlanders, dzongdags said during the signing of the Annual Performance Agreement between the Prime Minister and the dzongdags of 20 dzongkhags on October 5.
The highland flagship programme was also discussed.
Calling attention to cordyceps as a vital source of income for the highlanders, Gasa Dzongda Rinzin Penjore said that many students skip their regular classes during cordyceps collection season to accompany their parents.
Although many alternatives had been in place to address the issue, he said that there were still some issues. He requested if the government could provide incentives for those teachers who come all the way to the collection spot and teach.
However, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that if the students were capable of collecting cordyceps, they should be sent to collect it because it was their only source of income. He said that there would not be much issue if classes could be readjusted from winter and summer vacation.
“The income they make in two months is equivalent to the annual salary of an officer level civil servant. We should consider the time period.”
The former government planned to lease tsamdro after completion of the payment of compensation by the end of 2016.
However, after more than two years, the delay in leasing tsamdro caused confusion regarding pastureland ownership in Merak and Sakteng.
According to Trashigang dzongdag Chekey Gyeltshen, the highlanders of Merak and Sakteng shared disagreement over grazing rights because the pastures were not allotted. “Due to lack of pasture lands, there are chances of highlanders selling the animals and leaving the place.”
After China and Mongolia, Bhutan has the third largest yak population in the world, which is supported by 1.3 million acres of tsamdro.
The highland flagship programme was replaced with a permanent project under Department of Livestock (DoL).
However, Bumthang dzongdag, Passang Dorji said that while preparing the 12th Plan, officials consulted the highlanders on their basic needs and expectations.
“Until recently, I had no idea about the replacement of the flagship programme. Highlanders are expecting major reform through this programme,” he said.
Lyonchhen however, said that after numerous consultative meetings, no specific programme was found suitable to help every highlander. He clarified that the fund for the highland flagship would be refunded in the development project and all highland dzongkhags would be entitled to the fund.
He said that the project would be inclusive because the highland flagship programme was only piloted for Paro, Haa, and Bumthang. “Flagship programmes are usually for specific duration, however, the highland development programme under DoL is a long-term plan.”
Meanwhile, Haa dzongdag Kinzang Dorji questioned the efficacy of allocating the budget. He said that when budgets route through certain ministry, there were mismatches between the need and assistance provided.
For instance, departments provided solar panel, heater, and mobile phones to the highlanders. However, he said that highlanders would never settle for those luxurious items. “The urban attraction is alluring. Providing some training and equipment is not a sustainable approach.”
There are 29 highland gewogs in 10 dzongkhangs.