Part V and VI
As with every other places and societies around the world, in Bhutan too blind faith in the practice of religion have been impediments to growth and progress. I do not imply that religious beliefs hinder advancement but certainly religion can be a very powerful force that can bend minds to espouse the most ridiculous of beliefs and attitudes.
Puritanical/dogmatic religious beliefs:
In Tongzhang village in Trashiyangtse, I met Pento and his wife who live in a patch of land that measures only 16 decimals. They have three small children – the eldest aged 7 years goes to the local Community School. Pento has no idea how he is going to support his son’s further education once he finish Class VI – he cannot even begin to imagine how he is going to support his college education – if the boy ever gets to that stage. For now, he supports his family by working as a day worker with the roads department.
I asked him why he didn’t rear livestock such as chicken and pigs to generate some cash. He wouldn’t hear of it. According to him he will not succumb to “Dhig pa ka lai (enterprise of sin)”. He believes that rearing livestock is sinful.
Much later, I met the animal husbandry officer of the gewog. He corroborates the sentiments of Pento. The officer tells me that religion has been the bane of his existence in Tongzhang. It has interfered with his work – in fact he has been so completely frustrated by the strange religious belief that is prevalent in the village that he thinks his presence there is a waste of time. I asked him to explain.
The village of Tokaphu in Tongzhang gewog is the birthplace of the immensely revered Lam Namkhai Ningpo. Apparently some of the Lam’s zealous followers spread the word that rearing of poultry and pigs is sinful and inappropriate for the people of Tongzhang because it is the birthplace of the high Lama. Thus, officer has not been able to convince the people in the locality to accept the free chicks and piglets that his department has been trying to distribute – to supplement their income and to improve their livelihood.
In the traditional Bhutanese society, baby-sitting is a chore performed by the grandparents. That tradition is perpetuated today as well, primarily because Immigration rules do not allow the employment of none-national baby sitters. Thus, old parents from villages now migrate to urban centers, to tend to the children of their children, thereby contributing to Goongtong. Although negligible, I believe that they still amount to a few thousand. Where young couples do not have aged parents to take on the chore, they lure young girls from rural villages to take on the role of baby sitting.
Incidences of displacement and destitution of the old and the aged parents have been reported – in the course of taking up the responsibility of baby-sitting. When old couples move to take up lodgings with their sons and daughters to baby-sit their grandchildren, they lock up their village homes, sell off their disposables and migrate – unmindful of the impermanent nature of life. Sometimes there is sudden and unexpected demise of their son or daughter. That is when they are completely and totally displaced – leaving them only one option – to return to their ancestral home that they have abandoned and forsaken, to attempt and restart life all over again.
In some cases, the old parents get separated because they have two children located at two different places that need help. The old parents go separate ways in an attempt to try and ease the lives of their children. Tragically – at times the separation becomes permanent.
Recalling that we have a reputation for dramatically inconsistent population figures, I wondered: do the gewogs and the local government authorities take into account the demographic fluctuations caused by Goongtongs? Do they use the population figures based on the recorded census data or, on the real population on the ground – after accounting for the Goongtongs?
Divergent census vs real population:
It turns out that for the purpose of the imposition of zhabto lemi/goongdung woola, they apply the census figures. Those households who are only partially Goongtongs see this as unfair because they have to take on the burden of those who have already migrated but who still remain to be registered under their Goongs. The gewog and local government officials attempt to impose zhabto lemi/goongdung woola on the absentee registrants of the Goontongs and also on those who are not Goontongs but whose census is still recorded in the gewogs. However, the absentees remain unimpressed and refuse to contribute on the grounds that they do not derive any benefits from any of the developmental initiatives in the villages. Ultimately this anomaly becomes the basis and grounds for further Goongtongs because the few that remain in the ancestral homes tire of the system and move out of the villages.
All things considered, it would be interesting to understand the implications of applying the census data – particularly if it is applied for seeking and obtaining annual budgetary allocations for development projects by local leaders. Because of the large-scale incidence of Goongtongs, the census figures in the Eastern parts of the country cannot accurately reflect the real population figures. Thus, the census data cannot be the basis for allocation of resources simply because the real figures tell a different story.
It will be interesting to find out whether or not the gewog and the local government officials based their projections to the central government, based on the true population figures. If not, they could be implicated on grounds of obtaining funds based on false and inflated figures.
I also get the sneaky feeling that the gewog and the local government officials deliberately conceal the real population figures – because the truth about reduced population figures could mean reduced budgetary allocations.
Photographer & Blogger
The department is still soliciting funds to set up a national emergency operation centre
DDM: More than a year after the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, the disaster management department (DDM) is still soliciting funds to establish a national emergency operation centre.
The centre is a critical component of the national disaster management system and the disaster management authority led by the Prime Minister has asked DDM to establish it at the earliest.
Establishing a centre with the capacity to cover the whole country requires Nu 400M but, for the first phase, the department is still hoping to receive a budget of Nu 79M.
Three buildings above the Bhutan Broadcasting Service office in Chubachu, Thimphu have been identified for the centre.
DDM officials said if the structures were handed over to the department by April, and funds became available, then a basic set up could be established by July this year.
DDM director Chador Wangdi said the new centre would have basic equipment to at least cover disaster events within Thimphu.
“Although a necessity during disasters, as mobile phones get jammed, communication instruments, such as satellite phones, are expensive,” the director said.
In absence of the centre, the director said an instant command centre that coordinates during any emergency was missing which made it difficult to coordinate even during a small forest fire incident.
“There’s no one to take care of logistics, such as distributing water and food to the fire fighters or any other workers during a disaster,” Chador Wangdi said, adding that the Gross National Happiness Commission was concerned and aggressively mobilising funds for the centre. “Building infrastructure is a major problem at the moment,” he said.
The Disaster Management Act was enacted in November 2013 and its rules and regulations, launched yesterday, mandate the department to establish a national emergency operation centre, including dzongkhag emergency operation centres.
While there were no policies or guidelines in the country before, the government adopted the national disaster risk management framework in 2006.
The 2009 May floods across the country, and the September 11 earthquake took 25 lives and caused damage to properties worth Nu 3B.
Launching the rules and other guidelines yesterday, home minister Damcho Dorji said disaster management planning and implementation at the national or local level did not draw sufficient attention in the past because of the absence of a dedicated and devolved disaster management system backed by legal instruments.
“Nonetheless, the government invested a fair amount of resources in initiating and strengthening the community based disaster risk management throughout the country as a process to enable them to develop their own disaster management plans,” the minister said.
A series of disaster events in the country, culminated in enacting the disaster management act and the rules. The rules and regulations and the guidelines developed through World Bank support are expected to bring about a consistent approach to disaster management.
“While in most cases, disasters can’t be prevented, we can minimise the losses by adopting a holistic approach by integrating all aspects of disaster management from mitigation and prevention until effective response and recovery,” lyonpo Damcho Dorji said.
According to the rules and regulations, dzongkhags’ disaster management plans and contingency plans would be developed and mainstreamed in the five-year plans for resource allocation and implementation.
The dzongkhag disaster management planning guidelines and contingency planning guidelines were developed to facilitate disaster management and contingency planning process by the dzongkhag disaster management committees.
DDM has also trained 20 officials for search and rescue operations, but most of the time they were hard to come by as they were engaged in their own duties.
Therefore, the department has begun training search and rescue teams in the dzongkhags.
“We’ve trained teams of 12-15 members in 13 dzongkhags and equipped them with Nu 600,000 worth of basic kit containing portable searchlight, and ropes,” the director said.
The department will complete training rescue and search teams in all the dzongkhags and thromdes by the end of this year.
By July this year, the department will complete setting up seven seismic stations in Thimphu, Trashigang, Mongar, Samtse, Trongsa, Punakha, and Zhemgang, which, when complete, will transmit real time date to the centre at the hydromet department. JICA is funding the project.
By Tshering Palden
Prize distribution to be held today at the clock tower square.
Celebration: The 5th Indo-Bhutan friendship car rally, which started from Siliguri on February 3 arrived at the clock tower square, Thimphu yesterday completing the 870 kilometer race.
The three-day rally saw a total of 18 cars participating including a female team from Kolkota. But the winners will be announced only today. The Secretary General of Indo-Bhutan Friendship Association and the chief organiser of the rally, Jay P Majumdar, said that except for two new participants, the rally saw the same previous contestants this year. Almost 70 percent of the participants were from north and south India.
This year the rally didn’t see a single Bhutanese participant. Bhutanese officials present at the event said that since the announcement for the rally was done quite late, interested individuals could not get enough time for preparation. Jay P Majumdar said the rally was supposed to take place in December last year but because of some unavoidable circumstances it got postponed. “However, the event was a big success. No injuries were recorded during the rally,” he said.
The prizes will be awarded at 3pm today at the clock tower square. The winner will be given a trophy and a cash price of Nu 100,000. The organiser said that those who stood 6th and below will be entitled for cash prizes.
The first Indo-Bhutan friendship car rally began in 2007. Since then the event is organised after every two years to celebrate the friendship the two country share. This year the event was organised to commemorate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
By Younten Tshedup
Occurrences of ‘adverse geology’ at several sites are a cause of some concern
Hydropower: Officials of Punatsangchhu hydropower project authority (PHPA) II are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that the ‘adverse geology’ it has encountered at several sites doesn’t delay the project.
The project has two years left for its commission and, while the geological problem of loose soil could delay the project, officials said, the problems are under control as of now.
PHPA II managing director, RN Khazanchi, said it had encountered some geological problems, especially on the left bank, the headrace tunnel (HRT) and the tailrace tunnel (TRT).
“The underground tunneling and caverns too have encountered adverse geology,” the managing director said.
Of the 8.6km HRT, 5.6km has been completed. “But the rest is a question mark and we still have our fingers crossed,” he said.
The tailrace tunnel has also encountered similar problems. Of the 3km, the project has reached 1.6km, while the remaining area is poor geology and not hard rock.
Contractors have dug additional entry points to expedite works on the TRT, while they could not make similar entry points in the HRT, because of the highway running near it.
For TRT, the project opened an additional entry point, and another one will be opened for the surge shaft gallery.
“It’s under control, but takes extra time, for which some innovative measures have to be taken to expedite the remaining works,” the managing director said.
“To prevent the problem from getting worse, we had to open some additional entry points for the tunneling, both for the caverns as well as the tailrace tunnel,” he said.
As of today, the managing director said that they had everything under control and the project would be completed on schedule in December 2017.
Gammon India is working on the main tunneling of the HRT stretching 6.6km, while JaiPrakash is doing the rest and the TRT. The HRT is the largest of its kind in the sub-continent with a diameter of 11m.
The tunneling works started in June 2011.
The excavations of four de-silting chambers and four power intake tunnels, each measuring 6.4m in diameter and 2km in length, are completed, besides the cofferdam.
The initial sanctioned cost of the project was Nu 37.78B on March 2009 price level with installed capacity of 1020MW. It is a government of India funded project, on 70 percent loan at 10 percent interest per annum, while 30 percent is grant.
The project is located on the right bank of Punatsangchu along the Wangdue-Tsirang highway between 22km and 35km downstream of Wangdue bridge.
By Tshering Palden
Labour: A technical glitch with the immigration system in Phuentsholing has left hundreds of expatriate workers and their employers frustrated.
Since Monday, the workers and employers have been complaining about the delay in producing work permits due to a problem in the system.
The main problem is with the finger-scanner of the system working for a few minutes and then crashing repeatedly.
An expatriate worker from Falakatta has been waiting in Phuentsholing for about a week now. “I reached here last Friday,” he said, adding that he even got time to go home and return while waiting of the work permit. “I’m still here.”
Meanwhile, the most affected are the employers, who hire the expatriate workers, with expenses on food and lodging shooting up by the day.
Including the labour recruiting agent’s charges, the cost to produce an expat’s work permit adds to Nu 1,200.
A businessman in Phuentsholing town said that, besides the expenses, a lot of their time was getting wasted.
“Employers pay advances and hire workers from across the border, so it’s a loss when they can’t reach on time for work,” the businessman said. “There must be a solution soon.”
But more than anything, the employers’ major concern is about their workers leaving out of frustration. They say there were many cases where expat workers have left in such situations.
Since Tuesday, the workers were already queuing up as soon as the border gate had opened.
Immigration officials said the system’s server was located in the capital with the immigration department, and that they weren’t sure of what caused the system to break down.
Officials said they also could not comment on how long it would take for the system to resume.
By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing
The overall work is painfully slow, posted the prime minister
Heritage: In a simple ceremony last week, project officials of Wangduephodrang dzong reconstruction project, installed the main door and two rabseys of the kuenray, an indication of the work progress.
The progress, however, didn’t impress Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, who visited the construction site a few days after the ceremony. Following the visit, lyonchhoen posted on Facebook: “The good news is that the main door and two ‘rabseys’ of the Kuenrey are now up. The bad news is that the overall progress is painfully slow.”
Project officials at the site, when asked, said that, as per the work plan, the reconstruction progress isn’t that slow. They admitted, though, that the four-storied utse (central tower) construction works are yet to start. This is because the department of culture is yet to finalise what is feasible for the utse.
“The department is scheduled to finalise the utse construction within two months time,” said project officials. They said the three-storied kuenray construction took off only in September, although the overall works were started since February, last year.
Project director, Kinley Wangchuk said last month that the department of culture had held a three-day conference on Wangdue dzong reconstruction, inviting experts from India, Canada and Portugal, and structural engineers from within the country.
The recommendations of experts were presented at the steering committee of the project on January 24. Based on that recommendation, the culture department is working on how to go with the utse construction, keeping in mind its structural and cultural component.
The department will also see what is feasible, in terms of structural analysis, seismic designs, fire protections, plumbing and sewerage.
As of today, the project director said that 40 percent of the kuenray construction works were complete. They have completed the ground floor, and about 50 percent of the first floor. The adjoining buildings, on the left and right side between the kuenray and utse, have come up to the courtyard level.
The kuenray is only one of 10 parts of the entire dzong that face the end part of Wangdue river.
The project director said 70 percent timber works for the kuenray is completed. Timber and stone for both the utse and kuenray were collected and kept in stock, and the wood carving works for the kuenray is in full swing, he said.
The project director said that several retaining walls have to be constructed on the left and right side of the kuenray and utse, as recommended by the department of geology and mines.
More than 320 workers, 23 open-air prisoners and 30 carvers are working on the kuenray construction.
The 17th century fortress that used to house more than 200 monks was completely destroyed in a fire in June 2012. The government had mobilised Nu 1.3B, through various channels, to fund for the dzong’s reconstruction.
Reconstruction works on the dzong is expected to complete in 2018.
By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue
It’s a 100 %FDI venture
IT Park: A 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) company has sought its shelter in the IT Park. It was inaugurated yesterday.
Southtech Private limited, a software developer company was established almost 19 years ago in Bangladesh and it’s solutions on microfinance has been awarded the highest ranking in the world by Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), which provided solutions for financial service providers, policy makers and funders.
Besides being a gold partner of Oracle and Microsoft, it has also developed Core Banking Solutions (CBS) in number of banks.
While the chairman of Southtech, Syed Maqbul Quader did not reveal the size of the investment; he said the highest investment in the IT sector is the brains. “Microsoft was started in a garage,” he said adding as and when need arise, the parent company would pump in funds.
Enthusiastic government, innovative workforce and distance to the parent company in Dhaka, were the reasons the chairman cited for choosing Bhutan as the first country to invest in.
However, the Chairman said that the company got clearance and all formalities done in just six weeks, which he has not experienced in any countries that he visited. “Bhutan’s FDI policy is very much investor friendly,” he said.
He however said that the limited market in the country shouldn’t be a problem to the company as it has already established markets in many countries. He said that the Bhutanese sister company can help cater to international market.
The Chief executive officer, Pema Tashi said the core business of the company would be to provide IT/ITES product and services. “Southtech Bhutan is also a result of the many government initiatives to promote green industry in the country especially in IT sector,” he said.
In addition to it services towards micro financial institutions, Southtech has developed software in the areas of banking, human resource management, retail management, hospital management in number of organisations both inside and outside Bangladesh.
The company has also gathered some clients from the country like Bhutan Development Bank and National Pension and Provident fund.
To provide highly professional IT service and software solutions ranging from simple solution to complex and resource intensive solutions like CBS, the CEO said, may sound ambitious, but are doable.
“The country today spends millions in outsourced software solutions and after sales support. If the software solutions provider can be localised, the country stands to reap huge benefits by stemming the outflow of revenue and increased employment opportunity for our IT graduates.”
The company has already recruited 10 IT and two business graduates under the Guaranteed Employment Programme.
The next two to three months will be spent on providing intensive training on various technology stacks to these young and fresh graduates.
Over a period of three years, the company plans to expand to 30 strong professionals. In the long run company will recruit about 100 professional, mostly Bhutanese.
Meanwhile the information and communication minister, DN Dungyel, who graced he inaugural assured the government’s support wherever possible.
By Tshering Dorji
With the latest price cut, petrol and diesel today are at their cheapest for many years now. The price of petrol, which touched Nu 73 a litre in July 2013, has dropped by a whopping Nu 16 a litre. Diesel prices at one time reached that of petrol in 2013. It is cheaper by Nu 14 now.
The drastic drop is because of the fall in crude oil price. Experts are analysing the impact of the sudden drop in fuel prices on the global economy. Some say it is not good in the long run. But, as of today, benefits of the sudden slump in fuel price are being felt as it trickles down to individuals. In neighbouring India, airlines are competing with airfare price cuts, making travel by air cheaper. Jet fuel, it is reported, is cheaper than diesel.
Experts predict that the crude oil price will not rise in the near future, at least not to the 2013 level, when it crossed USD 100 a barrel. In other words, transportation would be cheaper. Will the fall in the price of fuel benefit individual Bhutanese?
It actually should, as the cost of transporting goods should go down too. As a landlocked country, almost everything imported is transported in trucks. The price of diesel directly influences the cost of transportation. Truckers pass the cost on to shopkeepers, and shopkeepers in turn to consumers in the cost of goods.
Our transporters are quick to increase the cost of transportation, when there is a surge in fuel price. The impact is immediate, sometimes overnight. It is same with taxis and public transport.
The government does not regulate cost of transportation, with the exception of public transport like buses. It is left to the market forces, especially the cost of fuel. Yesterday’s drop in fuel rice is the 10th since August last year. Has the cost of goods gone down? Not really. The expectation is it will, and it should.
The government is also at a loss, when cost of transportation increase. A huge portion of our development budget is spent on transporting materials. Therefore, a surge in fuel price pinches the government’s purse, and our ongoing mega projects. It escalates the cost of development activities.
While we do not hear much complaint, it is worth checking. If transportation cost has not changed with fuel price, it may demand intervention. The increase is automatic, but not the drop.
We should not forget that cost of materials in building infrastructure impacts the construction industry directly, and also has broader impact on the economy. If price of, for instance, stone or sand, doesn’t change because transportation cost has not, house rents will not drop.
It is not often that the price of fuel drops to today’s level. Everybody should reap the benefit, even if it be for a short-term.
Welcome: The Indo-Bhutan friendship car rally enters Phuentsholing yesterday from Gangtok, Sikkim. About 27 cars in the rally organised to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, will arrive in Thimphu today.