Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - 12:32 PM
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Need to tackle the symptoms first, not the malaise

Night is a time of behaviours dark and wild and bright.  Night is a time of privacy.  This day in the country, however, what is time of peace for one is also a time of violence for a growing number of young people.  We live in a time of change that compels us to look deeper into our own souls.

Our small and happy society is no longer at peace with itself.  This is no exaggeration.  We should be able to accept this much, at least.  For why are the police beginning to frisk people after 10pm?  Crime rates may have gone down by numbers appreciable, but intensity has grown by much more.

Where have we failed as parents and elders?  And why?  We need to ask these questions.

The initiative the police have taken is welcome.  We need to protect innocent citizens from wanton acts of violence, fuelled by disillusionment, drugs and others intoxicants that our young people are increasingly resorting to.  A thing about promises is that they often fly beyond reality.

What our young people need today is a place where they can comfortably be and prosper as their skills allow them to be.  These are the times when jobs are scarce.  It is, therefore, the responsibility of the government of the day to create employment opportunities for our young people in the light of the fact that we are a country with a predominantly young population.

Our demographic change stands at an interesting stage.  Our window of opportunity is small.  We are running short of time.  Statistics from National Statistics Bureau tells us so.  The burden of economy and welfare will fall on our young people, who are running riot in the streets, trying to make sense of their own purpose.

The police have issued a communiqué with pictures of weapons our young people carry to protect themselves and to eliminate the hurdles standing in the way of their personal dreams.  These are loud and harsh cries from parts of our society that we have ignored for far too long in the process of development.

Frisking is a good initiative.  But how police deal with it will matter much more than the initiative itself.  There is only a thin line between privacy and authority.  Any little shift in balance will cause differences and divisions that will have us in a trouble and require us to look at our own well-thought out actions.

Initiatives to make our society safe and peaceful are welcome.  What the people are worried about is that law enforcers could cross the leeway with powers they are bestowed with.

Getting at the leg first will not solve the problem until we delve deep into the heart of the problem itself.  There must be reasons why our young people roam the street with weapons all day and night long.

The bamboo alternative

bamboo-houseCompleted bamboo community center at Pakpay, Samtse (photo courtesy: SFED)

To take pressure off the forest, a study suggests the viable use of this tree in constructions  

INBAR: Bamboo could be an alternative to timber and save it from the pressure it’s under from increasing building and temple constructions within a few years, say forest officials.

A 2014 study by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) stated that the bamboo construction sector is viable economically, socially, and technically in the country.

Using bamboos for constructions of houses or its parts could provide community forest management groups with new livelihood and income earning opportunities, and reduce the burden on timber for construction, the report said.

This could help bring long-term financial sustainability, as well as pave the way for expansion and replication of bamboo sector development across the country.

In Zhemgang, community groups earn annual incomes of about Nu 180,000 from selling bamboo shoots, culms and finished products.

The Social Forestry and Extension Division (SFED)’s bamboo and cane focal person, Tshewang Dorji, said, “Employing modern techniques, bamboo could make construction cheaper, more durable with stronger resistance to earthquakes.”

He said the idea of bamboo for housing emerged after the 2009 earthquake hit eastern Bhutan.

“Over the years, people have also realised that bamboo could become a potential source of income,” Tshewang Dorji said, citing the success of Radhi villagers in Trashigang.

Until 2006, Radhi villagers in Trashigang cultivated rice and wove raw silk textile for income, which has since then shifted to selling bamboos.

A pole now earns them Nu 100, a rhizome Nu 75.  Some even earned as high as Nu 10,000 a year from the sale.

However, the INBAR report points out that the scale of construction would be limited without significant improvements to resource base management and development, strengthened capacity to design and build with bamboo.

Tshewang Dorji said that, while the nurseries in the country were mandated to grow bamboo saplings, the SFED distributes imported seeds to the nurseries.  Farmers can also avail bamboo saplings for free.

The division planted six hectares of three varieties, suitable for house constructions, in Samtse in 2012, and will be ready for harvest in a year or two, forest officials said.

The use of bamboo for many generations and its applications has been mostly restricted to non-structural and lower-grade buildings.  Tshewang Dorji also said that there was a social stigma attached to building bamboo houses.

“We’re promoting bamboo structures in the country now to save timber, and the environment, because bamboo takes only three to four years to be ready for harvesting, while the trees take ages,” he said.

As part of the INBAR study, bamboo houses were constructed in Zhemgang, Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang and Samtse dzongkhags, to set up demonstration value chains for bamboo construction.  The division built a gazebo in Thimphu and similar structures in other dzongkhags.

Officials said the bamboo prospect would only grow while timber availability would become scarce over the years. Balancing the constitutional mandate for forest conservation and the expected need for timber will become increasingly challenging, say forest managers.

In 2013 alone, the Forest Resources Management Division (FRMD) issued more than 200,469 cubic feet (cft) of timber permits for repair or construction of 53 temples, monasteries, dzongs and institutions.

Dzong renovation in Wangdue and Pemagatshel took 169,141cft of timber.  Another 169,691cft was given to build classroom in monasteries, schools, and residences for mostly religious institutions.

Roughly 10 percent of forest in the country is viable for commercial timber harvesting.  Current estimates show a total of about 3.8Mcft of standing timber available for harvest annually, which is higher than the useable timber for sawn boards and finished wood products.

The annual timber demand estimated over the next five years could be as high as 10Mcft, including close to six million cft for rural needs.  This amount is much higher than the available timber for harvest.

The forest department’s forest resources potential assessment last year, which assessed potential forest areas that could be utilised for sustainable commercial harvesting, showed 11.27 percent of the area has the potential to become production forests after removing forests on steep slopes.

The INBAR report also pointed out that there was a need for guidelines or codes of practice for using bamboo in construction, which could eventually form part of the country’s existing building code.

The only guideline in place is a chapter on bamboo in the works and human settlement ministry’s “Guidelines for Planning and Development of Human Settlements in Urban and Rural Areas of Bhutan to minimise environmental impacts”.

By Tshering Palden

Two bridges due, one year overdue

DSC01387The Rongthongchhu bridge is expected to be completed next month

Plagued by flash floods, the Rongthongchhu and Bamridrangchhu spans will be completed this year

Bridge: Two bridges, one at Rongthong, and the other at Bamri, will now be completed this year after a delay of more than a year.

The two bridges were supposed to have been completed by March last year.

The Rongthongchhu bridge is now expected to be completed by March, and the Bamridrangchhu one by the end of this year.

After project DANTAK awarded the contract to an Indian government contractor, M/S Mohan Bajaj, work commenced on both bridges in 2009.

The project manager, Gopal Yadav, said the design for Rongthongchu bridge was disapproved by project DANTAK in 2009, following which they had to redesign it, which took seven months.

“While carrying out survey, we encountered a hard rock that would increase the height of an avertment on one side. The design had to be changed,” he said.

Recurrent floods during the rainy season, coupled with frequent strikes in Assam, further affected the construction of these bridges.

“The first flash flood in 2010 stopped work at Bamridrangchhu bridge for almost four months,” he said. “We were carrying out the foundation works, when the flash flood resulted in the base being filled with soil up to 6m from one side.”

In 2012, when the concreting works were underway, the bridge was again hit by another flood that washed away a major portion of the foundation.

“The steel fixing we’d carried out had all been damaged and we had to redo the foundation works. We lost about five months there,” he said. “We couldn’t work during the rainy seasons, with the water level rising and chances of flash floods remaining very high,” he said.

Because materials have to be procured from Meghalaya and Kolkata, the project manager added that frequent Assam strikes further delayed the constructions.

“At times, our trucks are stranded for weeks because of strikes,” he said.

Only the abutments of Bamridrangchhu have been erected so far, while Ronthongchhu bridge is undergoing staging works, where shuttering plates are being laid.

Observers claimed the construction has been suspended for over a year now and the site has remained abandoned.

“It won’t take long for Bamridrangchu bridge since we need to work on the super structure only. The materials are already here. We’ll continue the works after we complete Rongthongchhu bridge in March,” he said. “But, we’ll be able to start by August only. We have to wait for the rainy season to pass.”

Residents of Rongthong said that, even if the bridge is completed, chances of it getting washed away by flash floods is very high.

“In the early 2000s, project DANTAK had constructed a similar bridge ,only to be washed (away) by a flash flood a few months later,” a resident, Sangay Dorji said.

Currently, vehicles use the existing bailey bridges to cross the two rivers.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

Kushuthara – A Pattern of Love

review1A scene from Kushuthara

The film about a relationship that transcends death and endures in another lifetime

Review: Based on a tragic story of a young village girl, who falls in love with a stranger, who fails to keep his promise to return to her, Kushuthara – A Pattern of Love tells the story about the rebirth of this love.

Directed by Karma Deki, the feature film was premiered during the Bhutan International Festival on February 14 in Thimphu.

Shot in Minjey gewog in Lhuentse, the film brings out the culture of weaving the intricate pattern textile called Kushuthara, considered the finest fabric, and a prized wedding garment, in the country.

One of the skilled weavers in Minjey is Chokimo (Kezang Wangmo), who catches the eye of Charlie (Emrhys Cooper.)

Charlie, a photojournalist from the US, is on an assignment to document traditional textile production in Lhuentse, when he first meets Chokimo.  Charlie gets a strange feeling that he has been in this place before and feels drawn to her.

Chokimo is married to Bumpala (Bumpa), who is a farmer in the village.

Chokimo has memories of the past life, and soon she reveals these memories to Charlie, entangling them through a series of events, unfolding their journey and story of the film.

The film explores the Buddhist concept of karma and rebirth of two individuals in this lifetime, to accomplish what was left incomplete in their previous lifetime.

Shot in January 2013, the film was screened in various international film festivals across Asia and Europe.

The film is a story that reflects many of my own life experiences, Karma Deki said. “It’s a story that is from the fabric of my own culture, a story from my heart.”

Karma Deki hopes the film will give international audiences an opportunity to get a glimpse at life and love in a remote village in one of the more secluded cultures of the world.

The first version of Kushuthara was released in 2007, highlighting the aspects of traditional culture by focusing on weaving.

“On the surface, it’s a typical boy-meets-girl theme, but it’s a story about how one single thread weaves the past and present lives of two people,” Karma Deki said.

The 1 hour-32 minute film is shown in Blu-ray HD format and presented in Dzongkha with English subtitles.  Bhutan Infotainment produced the film.

By Thinley Zangmo

Fire almost guts traditional house

actionsResidents mopping up the last remnants of the fire

Mishap: A two-storied traditional house in Khapti village in Samkhar gewog, Trashigang was almost razed to the ground during the wee hours of February 14.

No casualties were reported, but the house owner is reported to have lost more then 50 percent of his belongings to the fire.  The owner was away when the fire occurred.

According to Samkhar gup, Sonam Dorji, the fire occurred at around 2am, when the family members, a middle-aged woman and her three children, were asleep.

The fire had started somewhere from the ceiling, and it was only when the heat started intensified that the woman woke up to find the house on fire.

“Police and firefighters reached around 3am and we could contain the fire by 5am,” he said. “We could only save the items that were on the ground floor.”

The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, but villagers suspect it could have started from an electric short circuit.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang

Fire guts half of Sarpang bazaar


Breaking news: About half of some 100 shops that make up the Sarpang bazaar were completely gutted in a fire that started around 8pm today.

Police suspect the fire started from a shoe shop that’s located at the end of the market. Residents said they experienced power fluctuation during the day and that the shopkeepers were burning candles to light their shops. Since it was windy, they suspect the fire to have started from one of the candles.

Three fire brigades and hundreds of policemen, army personnel, firefighters, locals and Desupps managed to contain the blaze by 10pm. Arrangements are underway to evacuate the shop residents to the dzongkhag’s multi purpose hall. No casualty has been reported.

Focus point


No budget for revised TA/DA

With agencies entering budget control mode, belts are liable to be tightened

TA/DA: Civil servants returning from tours could see their travel and daily allowance (TA/DA) claims slashed by half.  Some are already living with this, with agencies entering a budget control or adjustment mode.

There are four months left for the next fiscal year, but some government agencies have run out of the TA/DA budget, while some are adjusting with the little they have.  Others are adjusting with budgets meant for other purposes.

While the TA/DA rates were increased, daily allowance by more than 100 percent and mileage by Nu 2 a kilometre, the actual budget has not increased.  The TA/DA budget was finalised based on the previous rates.

Agencies that have to have their men out in the fields, like the forestry department, are the hardest hit.  To ensure that the budget is not exhausted,  sometimes, the department pays half the amount.  District forest officer of Thimphu, Phento Tshering, said some of his staff spend 15 to 18 days a month in the field, for work such as marking and patrolling. “We were able to pay only for seven to eight days, so that the budget doesn’t finish in the middle of the year,” he said.

In-country DA for civil servants from S1 to S4 level increased from Nu 300 to Nu 750.  Those from P5 to P1 level saw their allowances increase from Nu 500 to Nu 1,000 a day.

The regional office of revenue and customs in Thimphu in September last year asked its department heads to strictly monitor travel and approve them within the limited budget.  This was because the department saw almost half the total  of Nu 2.367M allocated utilised in the first quarter of the year, which, a notification the department issued stated, was a major concern and alarming.

“We have three quarters to go. As past experience shows, a major portion of budget is used at the last quarter, tax collection and PIT collection season,” stated the notification.

The election commission of Bhutan has finished  a major portion of the current year’s budget. “Travel budget is completely finished,” said an official, adding that they would face problems in the coming months.  However, he said, important events were not compromised because of the shortage. “But now we might have to. We’ll have to refrain from travelling  in the coming months,” he said.

Dzongkhag administrations, where staff are involved in a lot of travel, are also adjusting.  Trongsa dzongkhag has sacrificed porter and pony charges.  Dzongrab Kinley Gyeltshen said the dzongkhag called a meeting of sector heads to discuss what they could sacrifice. “We also decided that we’ll tie up two to three works in one travel, so that expenses on the TA/DA are minimised.”

However, officials said this problem could remain only for the current financial year.  Wangduephodrang DFO Kencho Wangdi said the new rates would be considered while proposing the budget for the next fiscal year. “I think there’ll be no problem from next year.”

A dzongkhag official described the increment in TA/DA as giving “a half full plate”. “We have to provide adequate allowances to motivate people. But the budget isn’t enough due to the revised rates,” he said. “This is a common problem for all agencies and dzongkhags.”

He said some dzongkhags are adjusting TA/DA from “work charge”.  This means that, if an engineer visits a farm road construction site, the TA/DA for the engineer will be adjusted from the cost of the project.

However, some feel that a lot will be solved if agencies prioritise their travel plans. “We have to prioritise work plans if the budget is to be sufficient. If you make unnecessary travels, then the budget won’t be sufficient,” trade director, Dophu Tshering said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said he was not able to comment without a proper study on the issue.

According to the pay commission report, the government expenditure towards travel has averaged Nu 1.38B a year during the last four years.  It constituted over 18 percent of the total budget outlay for salary and allowances.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, travel expenditure of agriculture and forest ministry was the highest at Nu 252M, which constituted 38 percent of their pay and allowances.  They were followed by the home and cultural affairs ministry.

This excluded travel expenditures of the same sectors at the dzongkhag and regional levels.  At the dzongkhag level, travel budget on an average constituted about 20 percent of pay and allowances.

Meanwhile, the pay commission report stated most of the gewogs and villages were today connected by motorable roads.  However, while there was very limited need to use the porter and pony system for transportation, civil servants continued to claim porter and pony charges, the report added.

It recommended that expenditures on travel must be controlled, and overall travel budget for the government be kept within a maximum ceiling of 15 percent of the budget for pay and allowances.

By MB Subba

Frisking to become routine late at night

A measure necessitated by the increasing number of violent incidents involving youth

Law and order: The police will begin frisking youth for weapons, if found in groups of two or more after 10pm, it was pointed out by the police chief at a press conference on Thursday.

However, individual youth found after 10pm will also be frisked and questioned, if acting suspiciously.

Police chief, brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, said that a proposal to ban the sale of knives to youth, and to impose a restriction on youth loitering late at night, will also be submitted to the home ministry, shortly.

The police chief said that such measures are being pursued, given the increasing number of battery or violent incidents involving youth and the kinds of weapons being found on them.

At the press conference, weapons seized from youth were displayed and included a wide variety of knives, swords, an axe and even a broken bottle.  Other weapons included knuckle dusters, a nunchaku and a motorbike chain.

“We’re really concerned with the different types of youth crime that is coming up,” the police chief said.

There were 75 battery cases including youth in 2014 and 18 of these included stabbings.  There were also 12 cases of malicious mischief involving youth recorded by the police, last year.

The police chief pointed out that there have already been six battery cases involving a stabbing and five malicious cases recorded this year.  He said that, while there were other offenses, the police was more concerned about violence.

The police chief also pointed out that the forming of groups or gangs is reemerging.

The police began tackling the gang issue when it first disbanded two large prominent gangs, each with around 400 members, in Thimphu in 2010.  There were a total of 53 gangs in Thimphu alone at the time.

If a weapon is found on a youth, the youth will be handed over to the parents or guardians with a warning.  A second offense would lead to arrest, detention, and being charged to court.

The police chief said that, irrespective of age or gender of the youth, a second time offender would be arrested and charged to court. “Let the case be acquitted, we don’t care, we’ll fight against it,” the police chief said, adding that a strong message had to be conveyed.

The police chief pointed out that police personnel would distinguish between those carrying knives as part of tradition and culture, such as a villager having a knife tucked into his kera, or a woman carrying a knife to cut doma.

He said that the general trend being observed is that parents or guardians were not looking after their children. “Our children are loitering as if they don’t have any parents or guardians,” he said. “Everybody is out in the streets with daggers and knives … middle of the night you’ll find children shouting in the streets and fighting with bottles.”

On whether the police had taken any measures to increase the personal security of personnel. who come in contact with armed youth or adults, the police chief said that the police force would prefer an approach of increasing public cooperation. “We don’t want to get armed with sophisticated side arms,” he said.

However, it is now compulsory for all personnel on patrol to carry a baton.  But the police chief said that not everyone did follow the requirement, as a gentler approach was preferred. For policewomen, pepper spray has been provided.

The chief said that the next step would be to arm personnel on patrol with stun guns, but that this would indicate that they were afraid. “We’re not here to fight a battle, but here to request the cooperation of the general public.”

By Gyalsten K Dorji


Central schools to open from Monday

Regardless of infrastructure shortcomings 

Education: Despite many central schools not having additional infrastructure ready, with the construction of some infrastructure not yet even started, classes in the newly established central schools will commence from February 16.

The beginning of the 2015 academic session will see the commencement of 24 pilot central schools.

For instance, Dorokha central school in Samtse will go ahead with its present number of classrooms and accommodate all students in its existing hostels.

On Monday, measurements for student uniforms will be conducted and submitted to the dzongkhag for tendering.

Mendrelgang central school in Tsirang, which was formed after merging Mendrelgang MSS and primary school, requires about 18 additional classrooms to function as a central school.

Tsirang district education officer, Sangay Chophel said since the two schools have been merged due to proximity, it would not be possible to accommodate all students in the classes.

The Primary school’s U-shaped structure will be dismantled to make way for new structures.

“For the time being we might have to conduct regular classes in temporary sheds,” he said. “It would take a month or two before we’ve all the stationaries and uniforms ready.”

Mendrelgang will have the highest number of students at 1,115, according to the education ministry’s enrolment projection.

Of the 24 central schools, only three – Pakshikha in Chhukha, Wangbama in Thimphu and Zhemgang central school – will have classes XI and XII.

The Wangbama and Thrimshing central schools are the only two new schools, while eight of the schools have been merged or upgraded.

For Wangbama central school, three sections each of class IX and XI students will be brought from Genekha LSS, Chaamgang Yangtsegatsel LSS, Khasadrapchu MSS and Kuzukchen MSS.

Students for class XII will be brought from Thimphu thromde schools that have excess students. It will have just an arts stream this year.

Wangbama principal, Sonam Drukpa said pre-primary to VII classes would continue in the existing Genekha LSS, which is about three kilometres away from Wangbama.

“We’ll function from two locations,” he said. “It’s not a big challenge but without the new structures ready, it will take time to set up culturally.”

The education ministry has recently announced vacancies for 80 supporting staff to be placed in these central schools. Of the 80, 23 each would be recruited as cooks, caregivers and sports instructors. Another 14 would be hired as washers, nine as sweepers and two caretakers.

On February 4, the government also approved a budget of Nu 208M for supply of uniform, stationary, bedding, shoes, socks, and sports items, among others.

The ministry’s policy and planning officials said all the items that would be provided free of cost in a central school were supposed to be ready when students join school on Monday. But due to the tendering procedures, there will be a one-two month delay.

Initially, the plan was to provide uniforms, shoes and socks to day scholars, officials said, but because of huge cost implications it was decided to provide only day meals and stationaries.

The officials also said there will be an increase in the number of boarding students.

“We may not take 80 percent of the enrolment as hoteliers, until the new infrastructures are ready,” he said. “Capital works will take time, in terms of acquiring land, surveying, master planning and tendering.”

By Nirmala Pokhrel