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Monday, March 30th, 2015 - 7:01 AM
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Book on the Constitution making process launched

Book launch: The president of the Bhutan National Legal Institute, Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, launched the book “The Constitution of Bhutan: Principles and Philosophies”, coinciding with His Majesty the King’s 35th birth anniversary at the Supreme Court complex today.

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Dagachhu hydropower project commissioned

Hydropower: Coinciding with His Majesty the King’s 35th birth anniversary, the 126 megawatt (MW) Dagachhu hydroelectric project was commissioned earlier today.
The commercial flow of energy from the Dagachhu project to India began at 12:30am today. A total generation of 14.3MW was recorded.

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His Majesty The King in Sarpang

Sarpang: His Majesty The King visited Sarpang Town, where 81 shops and huts were damaged in a fire on Sunday, and met with the people.

His Majesty also granted a separate Audience to the heads of the affected families. His Majesty commended the government, armed forces, BIFA and Desuups for wholeheartedly assisting the office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon in administering relief efforts immediately after the disaster.

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A slump in the saddle of the Horse Year

Yearender/Economy: The economy, in the year of the horse, did not gallop; probably the venom of the serpent from the snake year (2013) hobbled the horse.

The country’s GDP growth plummeted to an all time low at 2.05 percent, from 4.6 percent in the previous year.  The slump in growth rate was largely attributed to a lower investment level and sluggish growth in the construction sector.

But in nominal terms, Bhutan’s GDP increased from Nu 97.5B in 2013 to Nu 104.4B last year, even if government investment decreased by 22.5 percent, and private investment by 38.5 percent, in the same year.

Import restrictions, which continued until mid year, continued to curtail consumption, but it increased at an unprecedented rate as soon as imports were lifted. Loan restriction continued until September, decreasing private investments.

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Of lofty dreams and ground realities

Yearender/Hydropower: The horse gave up the race half way.  It in fact neighed at the 10,000 MW by 2020 dreams.

The hydropower dream that was under vigorous consideration was dead in the water, as the year progressed.  It was officially believed that 10,000 MW by 2020 would be no longer achievable, and this opinion was confirmed during the empowered joint group meeting held in Delhi on September 18.

The Indian counterpart showed a lack of interest to finance the projects, proposed to be built on an inter-governmental model, because of cost factors.  For instance, the Indian government had declined to finance the 2,640MW Kuri-Gongri, the 2,560MW Sankosh and the 540MW Amochu projects, which are planned in the 2020 vision.

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Record land kidu granted

Yearender/Land: The year of the Wood Male Horse will go down as a historic year for thousands of poor and landless farmers in rural Bhutan.

In one year, His Majesty the King granted land kidu to 25,815 beneficiaries in Zhemgang, Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar, taking the kidu recipients to 102,336 people in 13 dzongkhags since His Majesty initiated land reform in 2010.  This is about 15 percent of the population.

In Samdrupjongkhar, on December 24, about 15,328 acres of land was given to 9,758 beneficiaries from 11 gewogs.  In giving the kidu, His Majesty always made it a point to remind the people of the importance of land. “If people stand to benefit from land, and can use it to improve the lives of their children and future generations, then it’s always better to put this land in the hands of the people, and help them prosper, rather than letting it lie fallow,” His Majesty said while awarding the kidu.

His Majesty reassured the people that this would not be the last land kidu granted to them, and those, whose land issues were not yet resolved due to various reasons, would also be taken care of.

Earlier on December 22, His Majesty granted land kidu to 9,339 beneficiaries (thram holders) from 11 gewogs in Pemagatshel.  A total of 20,969.578 acres was granted as kidu to the people of Pemagatshel.

The kidu was granted to those landowners, whose lands were marked as excess land, and reflected against their old thram during the national cadastral resurvey programme (NCRP).

Majesty also granted kidu to exempt the excess payment, which landowners had to pay.  A total of Nu 9.429M would be refunded and Nu 244.314M, which is due for payment, was granted exemption, according to the statistical summary on the grant of land kidu compiled by the land commission.

In September, while on a royal visit to Zhemgang, His Majesty granted land kidu to 6,718 households, including those who were eligible for land substitution in Zhemgang.

Land reform was one of the first initiatives of His Majesty the King upon accession to the Golden Throne.

During the 86th session of the National Assembly, His Majesty said that the biggest kidu for the people of Bhutan was related to land, and that he would personally visit the people in every dzongkhag to resolve any land related kidu.  Upon royal command, the National Land Commission carried out a nationwide cadastral resurvey.  The first land kidu, following the re-survey, was granted in Lhuentse in 2009.

A total of 123,071.982 acres of land have been granted in 133 gewogs to 102,336 beneficiaries in Lhuentse, Bumthang, Mongar, Wangduephodrang, Haa, Dagana, Punakha, Trongsa, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar since 2010.

Ugyen Penjore

The farm is back in focus

Yearender/Agriculture: The Horse Year saw plenty of work on the farms and the markets.

It was also a rewarding year for some farmers in the eastern parts of the country.  For the first time, large number of farmers received national merit silver awards on a national day for their work in agriculture and livestock cooperatives, and community forest management groups.

The country produces more vegetables than it ever used to.  Self-sufficiency in vegetable is not a far-fetched dream any more, with investments and initiatives producing promising results.  In 2013, the country was short by two percent of its 100 percent self-sufficiency target.  Winter vegetable production is one of the main forces behind reducing imports in vegetable.  Pest infestation was at a minimum.

To reduce the dependence on imports and a Nu 4.2B deficit in the balance of food trade, the agriculture ministry charted an elaborate strategy; establishing mega farms, slaughterhouses, dairy farms, piggery, fishery and turkey farming, among others.  Areas have been identified and the processes have already begun.

The country, however, has much to do before it could cut major imports in agriculture produce, mainly rice, oil seeds and meat.

Bogged by labour shortage, irrigation problems, and increasing human wildlife conflicts, more fields were falling fallow each year. Thus, the ministry to boost food security had to cultivate about 2,000 acres of fallow paddy fields last year after constructing 13 irrigation canals.

A major breakthrough in the agriculture sector is the Bhutan Electricity Authority’s approval of the electric fencing.  This has led to a mass adoption, about 200km covered, of the locally improvised technology effective against wild boars, monkeys and elephants.  Talung chiwog in Haa installed more than nine kilometres of electric fencing, covering 212 acres of registered land, and about 900 acres altogether.

However, human-wildlife conflict still remains the issue with farmers across the country, with some resorting to using stuffed toy tigers to scare monkeys.  This idea was picked up by other farmers, and the international media was quick to pick up on the ingenuity of our rural folks.

The People’s Democratic Party’s pledge of giving a power tiller each to every 1,040 chiwogs in the country started with the eastern districts.  A power tiller in each gewog of Mongar and Lhuentse – dzongkhags the NA speaker and agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji represent – were provided.

But their representation had little to do with it, as the ministry decided to give it to the east first, because it required them and only a few had been given to them in the past. The machines from Japan, no doubt, will help address farm labour shortage, feminisation of agriculture and optimise land utilisation.

Work is also ongoing to implement the food security and nutrition policy.  But the only way forward for rice sufficiency is to look at rice as a cash crop and let farmers earn more profit.  Government subsidy should come in to realise this goal.

Tshering Palden

Online migration making headway

Yearender/ICT: While information and communications technology continues to advance, the past year showed that our legislation and capabilities to counter cyber crime have remained more or less static.

Despite it being a crime, several locally made pornographic movie clips were shared by users of a mobile application – WeChat.  When the issue first surfaced, the police and the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, the two most relevant law enforcement agencies, repeatedly pointed out that no action could be taken until a written complaint was received.

While a few arrests were made eventually, both the public and police are in agreement that existing laws on cybercrime need to be updated, in terms of harsher penalties and proactive enforcement.

In August, a high level meeting, involving the prime minister, resolved that the InfoComm and Media Act would be updated to solve these legislative shortcomings.  It was also decided that the police would receive the necessary support to enhance their undermanned and under-equipped cybercrime unit, and that the Office of the Attorney General would also establish its own specialised cyber crime unit.

It what many felt confirmed the IT park’s white elephant label, its major shareholding company, the Assetz Property Group (APG), pulled out of Bhutan, citing a number of reasons, including difficulty in attracting tenants.  Druk Holding and Investments purchased APG’s share and assumed full ownership in October.

However, there have been positive developments at the park this year.  One of its commercial tenants already employs 250 Bhutanese youth and plans to employ even more.  A Swiss software development company currently piloting at the park also plans to upscale operations this year, while another from Bangladesh recently opened an office there, with plans to upscale as well.  Local companies, like Bhutan Telecom (BT), have also begun renting commercial space at the park.

There are around 300 Bhutanese youth employed at the park today, which, its advocates say, is enough reason to vindicate it off its white elephant label.

The effort to transition to an e-government gained valuable political support the past year.  The prime minister took over the under utilised G2C (government to citizen) service, developed between 2010-13 at a cost of USD 1M, to ensure it reaches its full potential.  An assessment is currently underway to identify and prioritise core services, and to develop an accountability system to ensure agencies deliver these services within a certain time.

Despite opposition to the move, the government also decided to transfer management of its community centres from Bhutan Post to the Bhutan Development Bank ltd, as part of an effort to bring banking services to all gewogs.

The government also began recognising agencies for better e-service delivery, and civil servants for contributions to the IT sector.  A website competition and the awarding of prizes for “IT champions” was introduced this year.

In a bid to secure its data and be more efficient, the government began using Google Apps, an online office suite, in June.  While there was initial reluctance among some agencies and civil servants to switch to their new Google accounts, by December, more than 80 percent of an activated 4,355 accounts were being actively used.  The government is paying around Nu 1,900 or USD 30 for each account in its first year of subscription.

The past year also marked the fourth year of the Chiphen Rigpel project designed to make Bhutan an IT-enabled society.  So far, more than 100,000 Bhutanese have been trained under the project.  The Nu 2.05B project ends this year.

Bhutan’s first ever international IT and training event, which saw IT personnel from seven countries attend, was held in the past year.  The event will be held annually to help in knowledge transfer, and to attract foreign direct investment in the IT sector.

More recently, a tier-III data centre, which guarantees that its services will be available through 99 percent of the year, was recently opened by BT in Phuentsholing.

While attending the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) plenipotentiary conference in South Korea in October, the information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel, declared that Bhutan would bridge its internet broadband connectivity digital divide by 2020.

Gyalsten K Dorji

Spiritual wellbeing of country strengthened

Yearender/Religion: Preservation of Bhutan’s rich spiritual heritage, consolidating and sanctifying historical monuments, and strengthening the spiritual wellbeing of the country, were the highlights of the religious activities in the year of the wood male horse.

His Majesty the King, on July 10, placed the first sachu bumter (religious vessel for land stability) into the ground of the Wangduephodrang dzong utse (central tower), re-sanctifying the site that once housed the fortress.  The 17th century fortress that used to house more than 200 monks was completely destroyed in a fire in June 2012.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo consecrated three renovated historical dzongs, a half dozen new monuments constructed for the wellbeing of the country and sentient beings, and many religious institutions across the country.

On April 12, His Holiness consecrated the 16th century Lhuentse Lhuendrup Rinchentse dzong.

A month later, His Holiness, on his first visit to Gasa, consecrated the Kagong lhakhang in Gasa Tashi Thongmoen dzong.  The lhakhang was renovated after a fire in 2008.  After a week His Holiness consecrated the 365-year old Daga Trashi Yangtse dzong, along with newly built goenpo Tshepamey Thongdroel.  Built in 1651, the dzong had undergone major renovation since 2010.

During his 52-day religious tour to the eastern, south central and central dzongkhags in April and May, His Holiness consecrated the newly built Dragmar Neykhang in Tshenkhar gewog in Lhuentse, ancestral home of the Wangchuck dynasty, the Kuenphen Yoeselcholing monastic school in Gyalpoizhing, Mongar, and the newly constructed dratshang and Lhamoi goenkhang at Phumethang goenpa in Shingkhar gewog, Zhemgang.

His Holiness also consecrated and sanctified several newly built monasteries, such as Tara Lhaden Zhingkham lhakhang at Pangrizampa, Thimphu, Bajo lhakhang and Wachen dzong, both in Wangduephodrang, the Penden Tashi Choeling tshulakhang in Phuentsholing, and the renovated Euto Goenpa lhakhang in Shaba, Paro.

In September, His Holiness consecrated the eleven one-storied elderly home for retired monks in Limukha, Punakha, and the first Choeji Drukpa Kuenley thongdroel at Chimi lhakhang on December 1.

His Holiness also presided over Moenlam Chhenmo (Great Prayer ceremonies) in Chukha, Haa, Tsirang, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, Gyalpoizhing in Mongar, Autsho in Lhuentse and Zhemgang.

On May 15, Her Royal Grand Mother Ashi Kesang Choedon Wangchuck, and Khentse Yangsi Rinpoche inaugurated the Shechen Dharma Society in Thimphu.  The society will look after dratshangs, shedras and nunneries, which were established under rinpoche’s initiative in his previous life.

In December last year, five dzongs of Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Paro, Trongsa and Dagana have been nominated for the first ever World Heritage tentative list of Bhutan.

His Majesty the King, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, and members of the royal family graced the final day of the five-day Sipa-Chi-Dhoe offering ceremony in Punakha on January 5 this year.  The five-day kurim, presided over by His Holiness, is performed once every 12 years.  The offering this year is dedicated to the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

His Holiness appointed khenpo Karma Rangdrol and lopon Karma Gellay as the lam neten of Trashigang and Zhemgang Rabdey dratshangs.  His Holiness on November 10 conferred Toedtse Jim, or official recognition scarf, on a Japanese monk, Hakuho Kiyokawa, for his successful completion of Buddhist studies and three-year retreat in Bhutan.

The horse year was also an opportunity for Bhutan to clarify its position on the proselytisation issue at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in September.

Thousands of devotees received blessings and offered prayers to the kudung (mortal remains) of the late 14th Kunzig Shamar rinpoche, Mepham Chokyi Lodro, which was brought to Paro on July 27 en route to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Thousands of devotees attended the cremation ceremony at the Shar Minub monastery, as wished by the late rinpoche, on July 31.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Cementing ties, expanding role

Yearender/Foreign Affairs: Bhutan not only consolidated its diplomatic relations, especially with India, in the past year, but it also made a significant expansion as a member of the international community.

The close diplomatic relations and shared spiritual heritage between Bhutan and India were once again displayed the past year, with visits being exchanged at the very top levels of leadership.

His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen visited India in October.  While in India, Their Majesties graced the 167th Founder’s Day celebration of Lawrence school in Himachal Pradesh.  Lawrence school is Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen’s alma mater.

Their Majesties also visited sacred sites in Bodhgaya and Varanasi at the invitation of the Indian government.

Displaying India’s priorities in the region, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, chose Bhutan as his first foreign visit after being elected in May.  While in the country for a two-day state visit in June, Prime Minister Modi received an audience with His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, addressed a joint sitting of parliament, inaugurated the new supreme court building in Hejo, and unveiled the foundation stone for the 600 megawatt Kholongchu dam, among others.

Likewise, India’s support for Bhutan was once again displayed when the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee visited the country four months after Prime Minister Modi’s visit.  In a break from protocol, His Majesty the King personally received the president at Paro airport.

While here, the president pointed out it was in India’s interest to see a strong, vibrant and prosperous Bhutan.

India also appointed a new ambassador to Bhutan.  In August, Gautam Bambawale replaced VP Haran as the 16th ambassador to Bhutan.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited India twice in  the past year, once for Prime Minister’s Modi’s swearing-in-ceremony in May, and for the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January, this year.  At the summit, lyonchhoen announced that Bhutan was open to clean and green businesses. Lyonchhoen also met with the Indian prime minister, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon.

Ban Ki Moon expressed appreciation for Bhutan’s participating in UN peacekeeping.  Bhutan significantly expanded its international role by contributing to UN peacekeeping in September, when three armed forces personnel were deployed to serve under the UN flag.  In November, six more police officers, including a woman, were contributed as part of a gradual expansion in participation.

Ban Ki Moon encouraged Bhutan to send more peacekeepers, especially woman officers.

At the request of the USA, lyonchhoen also met with US secretary of state John Kerry.  This was the highest-level meeting between the two countries so far.  The US secretary of state commended Bhutan for its transition to democracy, and for its sustainable development initiatives.  He also said the USA would explore how it could expand its support for Bhutan in education.

In April, the government announced a suspension of all efforts to expand diplomatic relations, and instead concentrate on consolidating existing ones, on grounds that home affairs, such as the economy, needed addressing first.

Lyonchhoen paid a state visit to Japan at its government’s invitation in July.  There, he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and received an audience with His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince Naruhito.  The Japanese government agreed to provide 1,450 power tillers “in principle”, and to help in setting up charging stations for electric vehicles in Bhutan.

Lyonchhoen also agreed to discuss and consider a Japanese proposal to establish an embassy in Thimphu, but at a later date.

In November, lyonchhoen travelled to Nepal to attend the 18th SAARC summit, where he called for more economic integration. The following month, lyonchhoen was in Bangladesh to renew the bilateral trade agreement and, in a move to liberalise trade, the duty free trade list was expanded.

Bangladesh also gifted Bhutan with a plot of land for the construction of a permanent Bhutanese embassy there.

The 22nd round of border talks between Bhutan and China were held in China in July, and the joint technical field survey report on Bayul Pasamlung located in northern Bhutan was endorsed.  An expert group met in Thimphu in October to discuss modalities on conducting a survey of disputed areas in the western region.

 

Gyalsten K Dorji