NRDCL: For the past two years, residents of Dangchhu have waited for the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) to construct a bridge over the Dangchhu river.
The hope is now turning to frustration for the people of Dangchhu.
Following the Wangduephodrang dzong fire in 2011, the gewog decided to give timber from a place called Chendeyna, which is about an hour and half walk away from the gewog centre.
Dangchhu gup Sonam Dorji said the people then issued a public clearance to NRDCL, which then extracted timber from the area.
While surveying the road to transport the timber, it was found that having a bridge over the Dangchhu river would benefit about 30 households, a school and also to transport the timber.
Hoping for a bridge, the locals rendered help.
While nothing in writing was issued, NRDCL agreed to construct a bridge during a meeting chaired by the former Wangdue dzongda at Dekiling hotel in Bajo in 2012, where the dzong’s project manager, NRDCL officials from Thimphu, and the gewog gup were present.
“We even submitted three application letters requesting for the bridge earlier, as they asked us,” said the gup.
Local leaders said that they have not yet received a clear response from NRDCL, let alone the bridge. NRDCL has extracted around 40,000 cft of timber from the area, which also will be used to construct a farm road for the village.
Gup Sonam Dorji said people were also not happy because the gewog spent Nu 500,000 to divert water from the river to help school students pass through during the summer season. But this diversion was damaged by NRDCL when it dragged timber through the river, locals claimed.
The issue was raised by locals at both the gewog and dzongkhag tshogdus, with the home ministry, the works and human settlement ministry, other agencies, and NRDCL. However, no clear response has been received so far, said gewog officials.
Locals said that if NRDCL is concerned about the estimated cost of more than Nu 8M, then they should not be as the gewog has already purchased materials to construct the bridge and that the corporation would only have to pay for the labour.
The materials to construct the bridge have been scavenged from an older bridge near Chimmi Lhakhang that was initially given to Phobjikha. However, after receiving funding from Japan, the materials were given to Dangchhu.
Local leaders said it was also agreed that the bridge would be built before the farm road is constructed. But construction of the farm road is already being tendered with funding of Nu 8.8M from the Government of India’s small development program.
NRDCL’s chief executive officer said the construction of the bridge was a requisition from the people, and the understanding was that it would be constructed jointly. However, when the requisition was put to the company’s board, it was not approved.
Following which the steering committee, which comprises of the home minister and Wangdue dzongda raised the matter with NRDCL on why it could not build the bridge.
NRDCL reasoned that it was due to the high cost of building the bridge and the company’s poor financial status.
“It is not that, NRDCL would sell the timber taken from Dangchhu, but it was for the dzong construction and also NRDCL is a corporate company, which is currently running under loss from every corner,” said an NRDCL official. “Chances are there that if the company’s financial status gets better, it might take up the construction.”
NRDCL officials also said that if there is a good volume of timber coming from that area then construction of the bridge would be supported, if not the company cannot as it is facing financial difficulties.
“We have already constructed a farm road for the gewog,” said an official.
However, the Dangchhu gup said the road was used to transport timber and it does not benefit the village.
Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue
As Bhutanese make their annual visit to Bodh Gaya in numbers, travel agents cash in on the rush
Tourism: Bhutanese from all parts of the country have gathered in Phuentsholing to leave for pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, India. This is a good time for ticketing and travel agents in the border town of Phuentsholing. Business runs high.
More than 100 Bhutanese leave for pilgrimage to India through the agents a day. Agents make their package alluring, with offers to take pilgrim to other sacred sites in India.
Bhutanese pilgrims, mostly elderly people, pay Nu 1,250 per ticket to Bodhgaya, an 18-hour journey from Phuentsholing.
There are about 13 ticketing and travel agencies in Phuentsholing. They have their stalls in front of the office of Road Safety and Transport Authority.
Agents said that, sometimes, more than 300 Bhutanese travel to Bodhgaya in a day. That’s about five or six buses a day. Events like special prayer ceremonies determine the rush. Agents negotiate with transporters in Bihar, India.
“Business this year has been better than last. More people are going to India,” a travel agent said.
Tandin, a pilgrim from Thimphu, said that visiting Bodhgaya was like a dream come true for her.
“I’m happy that I’ll finally be visiting Bodhgaya this year,” Tandin said. With Tandin are about eight Bhutanese, who are travelling together.
Along with Tandin, there are about eight of them who had planned the trip together.
This is the season of the year, when many Bhutanese go to Bodhgaya through Indian travel agents. The tour packages are sold for Nu 10,000 to Nu 15,000 per person per trip. On an average, pilgrims spend about Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 in India.
Some Bhutanese pilgrims said the trips are not always worth the money they spend. They complain that, sometimes, the tour is badly organised, uncomfortable and unsafe, especially when the group is a big one. Although accommodation and food is taken care of by the agents, some said that they hardly get three meals a day. Several accidents have also occurred during such trips.
“The organisers should be responsible and they should ensure smooth trip for pilgrims,” a pilgrim said. “People work hard to save whatever they can so that they can go on pilgrimage beyond Bhutan.”
A travel agent, who organised tours to the sacred sites in India, said that, when organising tours in huge groups, it was difficult to make everyone happy.
“Package tours to India are very popular among the Bhutanese,” said one of the agents. More than 300 Bhutanese pilgrims go to India through him.
Kinga Dema, P/ling
Poultry: Tsirang Poultry Cooperative (TPC) has decided to increase the price of egg to Nu 1,750 per carton to encourage poultry owners to bring eggs to the cooperative.
“We get orders everyday from the youth cooperative in Thimphu, but due to the shortages here, we aren’t able to supply,” Juma Kanta, the cooperative’s accountant, said.
TPC’s chairman Pema Wangchuk said that, because of middlemen, the cooperative was not able to collect the eggs from farms in Tsirang.
“Members of the cooperative are selling their products to the broker, who gives more than we pay them,” Pema Wangchuk said.
Due to drop in egg production in recent months, shops in Damphu charge Nu 330 per tray of eggs. Winter is a lean season for the production of eggs.
The dzongkhag’s livestock officer, Dorji Wangchuk, said that the initiative taken by the cooperative is to route the eggs through one channel and to stop price fluctuation.
Pema Wangchuk said that, if people are found buying or selling eggs without seal, or taking eggs to other dzongkhags, their consignments will be disposed off and fined.
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has announced that transporting poultry products from one dzongkhag to another shall be done under the in-country movement permit issued by offices concerned.
Pema Wangchuk said that, being a member of the cooperative, they get feeds, day old chicks, trays and cartons at cheaper rate. They also get bonus at the end of the year.
TPC has 95 members.
Yeshey Dema, Tsirang
SRBEP: The people of Kengkhar in Mongar will soon stop using traditional stoves for cooking. Construction of biomass cooking stoves (BCS) has begun in the village.
Of the 66 planned, construction of four BCS has been completed.
Pema Tenzin, 34, no longer uses a tradition stove to cook meals at home. Choden, Pema Tenzin’s wife, says that she no longer has to go collect firewood from forest. “I can now keep the house clean and free of soot and smoke.”
Kengkhar gup Karma Dorji says that the Sustainable Rural Biomass Energy Project (SRBEP) was started with support from the department of renewal energy. Non-formal education (NFE) instructors were trained to construct efficient stoves.
The project has three major components, to provide improved fuelwood stoves for efficiency, to generate power from biomass gasification, and to produce wood briquette. The first component of the project is being undertaken in Trashigang. By the end of 2015, all the 20 dzongkhags will have improved fuelwood stoves.
Jigme Tenzin, an NFE instructor, said that SRBEP is specifically designed to counter greenhouse gas emissions, promote efficient use of energy, and to reduce consumption of fuelwood in in the country.
Tshering from Murung chiwog said he was not interested in the project, until he came to know that new stoves consumed less firewood. The stove has two holes and a smoke pipe.
To make the stoves cheaper for farmers, the project will sponsor the metal component.
The project was started in 2013, with the support from GEF, UNDP and Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.
Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar
Wildlife: At least one new water bird species known as the Common Moorhen (gallinula chloropus) was discovered in Bhutan’s nationwide annual water bird survey, yesterday.
“Common Moorhen was spotted in Gyalpozhing around Kurichu dam site in Mongar yesterday while scouring the river bank,” Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) chief researcher, Sherub said. Sherub is also a popular “birder” in Bhutan.
Common Moorhen is the third water bird species discovered in Bhutan after the maiden water-bird census was conducted in February 2014 to study bird diversity and distribution. The Long-tailed duck (hyemalis) and Lapland’s Spurwing were discovered in Bhutan during the survey, last year.
The Long-tail duck was spotted in Bajo, Wangdiphodrang and the Lapland’s Spurwing in Kholongchhu in Trashi Yangtse.
“With the discovery of the Common Moorhen and two others last year, Bhutan’s bird list records at least 692 bird species now, from 689 in November 2013,” Sherub said.
According to UWICE, forestry officials from parks and territorial divisions scoured the major water-bodies and wetland across Bhutan like Kholongchhu, Punatsangchhu, Phobjikha, Jomotsangkha in Samdrup Jongkhar and Kurichhu in Mongar to record water birds, yesterday.
The water bird census will be conducted annually for few years to record water birds since migratory birds in South East Asia pass through Bhutan.
The census will be conducted in January every year before the birds start migrating back to their summer roosting grounds.
“The few birders from UWICE are appointed to coordinate the water bird census across the country,” UWICE assistant researcher, Rinchen Singye said.
Besides discovering new water bird species, the study will also help in identifying threats to its existence and habitat.
“The census will also help Bhutan discover new water bird species because we never know how many of water birds still exists in the country, which might be unknown to us,” Rinchen Singye said, adding it can be possible that the study might identify a new water bird species every year.
It is also to create awareness among the locals so as to make informed decisions pertaining to conservation of species and its habitat according to UWICE.
“The other objective is to connect with the global organiser through data collection and it’s sharing to frame global strategic conservation plans and policies,” Rinchen Singye added.
The census will also help experts determine how many birds migrate from the northern to southern hemisphere using Bhutan as their migratory route.
The institute also expects to discover the water birds’ response to climate change and impact of changing weather patterns on migration, population and habitat of the birds.
“The study will enable experts to know whether the climate change is affecting the water birds’ migratory pattern,” Rinchen Singye said, adding such findings will be crucial in attempting preemptive measures to save the species and its critical habitats.
Last year, 16 water bird species including the Blue-Whistling Thrush, Crested Kingfisher, White-capped Water Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Green Sandpiper, Solitary Snipe, Ibisbill and Common Merganser were spotted in Chamkhar.
This year, 12 water birds species like the Crested Kingfisher, White-capped Water Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Green Sandpiper, Solitary Snipe, Isisbill and Common Merganser were spotted, as officials combed the same riverbank.
Though international experts estimate existence of over 770 bird species in Bhutan, UWICE has so far recorded only 692 birds, which includes yesterday’s discovery of the Common Moorhen.
Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang
In recent times, the media – particularly Kuensel, has been reporting on a brand new social malady called Goongtong – the apathetic case of abandoned households in the rural areas of Eastern dzongkhags. Other than arousing a mild sense of curiosity generated by the term itself, the tragedy that is Goontong does seem to have created much flutter among the authorities. If it did, there is no sign of it.
Goongtong is a term derived from the combination of two independent words: “Goong” meaning household, and “Tong” meaning empty: empty household. It is a form of human adaptation necessitated by changing conditions within the sphere of their traditional dwellings.
Unfortunately, it is a change that reflects an act of desperation, the forfeiture of the rights of the humans – to live peacefully and in comfort within the confines of their own habitat. The mass movement of human population from the villages to the urban centers and roadside shanties is the result of a society that is increasingly becoming unthinking and insensitive. It demonstrates the abject failure and utter indifference of the policy makers to be responsive to the changing realities in the remote villages. Clearly, this is proof that policy makers in Thimphu are far removed from the realities of the lot in whose name and cause they profess to make the rules and regulations.
There are a number of other reasons but at the core of it, the problem of Goongtongs is caused mainly by, what the “educated” lot have grandiosely termed, “human-wildlife conflict”. Incredibly, the coinage “human-wildlife conflict” is a complete misnomer and a myth that has helped perpetuate the Goongtong malady. The fact that such a colossal misconception finds ready acceptance among the so-called “educated” lot is simply astounding. Is it possible that the country may be accruing some financial benefits from allowing this fallacy to be perpetuated, at the cost of the poor villagers? If not, how is it possible that the bureaucrats and the lawmakers and the environmentalists are doing nothing to contain this potentially dangerous situation to snowball into a disaster?
For anyone with a heart and a mind, it should be clearly evident that the case is not that of human-wildlife conflict. It does not exist. In fact it is a complete walkover – by the wild animals. They come, they plunder, they vandalise and they walk away – scot-free! If the villagers respond, they are fined and penalised. So where is the conflict? A conflict situation arises when two parties have the freedom and the right to react to other’s acts of aggression. The situation in the villages is that the humans are the passive watchers while the wild animals have a field day. Clanging empty tin cans and nightlong vigils and ingenious means of warding off the wildlife has not helped – leaving the villagers only one way out: to accept defeat and abandon farming as a means of livelihood.
As a result of the unchecked increase in the population of wildlife, an imbalance has been created – primarily because our laws give complete protection to the wildlife.
A good conservation policy aims at maintaining a balance, an equilibrium – because we know that when the balance is tipped in favour of one or the other, chaos follows. That is why there is a term known as “culling”. It cannot be that the humans have begun to encroach into the habitats of the wildlife – not in Bhutan. Records do not suggest such a scenario. In fact the reverse is true – the wildlife is now on the verge of taking over human habitat. They have begun to prey on the crops of the humans – because they represent easy pickings.
The wildlife are picking up a dangerous habit – that of feeding off the crops of the humans. Over time, there is a real danger that they may lose their natural instinct to hunt for food. Instead they may become habitual foragers in the fields of the humans – thereby proliferating the incidences of Goongtongs – mostly in the Eastern part of the country.
The government and the concerned agencies need to revisit its laws and Acts that have so far given complete and total protection to the animals – thereby upsetting the rules of co-habitation between humans and animals. Certain rules and laws may have been necessary during the time they were promulgated. However, we are now dealing with a situation that is no longer the same. All rules must undergo change – to suite a given situation. They must be appropriate.
If annual migrations of rural population out of their homes and villages are to be halted, one of the things we must do is to review and amend the laws that give animals primacy over humans. Let us give the poor villagers a fighting chance. If we don’t, the consequences can be too costly for the country.
Photographer & Blogger
The world-renowned environmental education UK project is about to take a bow at BhIF
After an impressive run for 14 years in the United Kingdom (UK), Eden Project, the famous environmental education attraction from the UK, is making a foray into Bhutan, landing as Edenlab.
Edenlab, the international creative partner of Eden Project UK – one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations – will stage interactive, immersive artistic events and installations to promote environmental sustainability and wellbeing during the first-ever Bhutan International Festival scheduled in Thimphu from February 14-23 this year.
Edenlab’s creative producer, John Hendicott, describes the arrival of Edenlab in Bhutan as ‘building a relationship and promoting collaboration and cultural exchange’. “It’s not about participating in an event and disappearing after that. It’s about integration and learning from each other. It’s about sharing and collaborating. It’s about cultural exchange and building a legacy together. That’s what music and arts are all about,” he said.
Edenlab, he said, also envisages Bhutan as a perfect place, because of the shared common goals. “We share a lot of the same ideas about our relationship to nature and sustainability, especially when we think about Bhutan being carbon negative and Bhutan’s commitment to maintain 60 percent of its total land area under forest cover. It’s also about art as an expression and reflection of current values, social and environmental. It’s these things we think are important as well,” he added. “From our time here so far, we’ve also met a lot of creative young people, who seemed very keen to collaborate, and we look forward to doing exactly that during Edenlab’s 10-day visit to Bhutan.”
As Edenlab’s main mission is to inspire behavioural change, Mr Hendicott said, “It’s not just about people coming and seeing our events, but it’s about participation, so that they take something away; a new perspective, greater insight or a new way of relating to the natural world. It should inspire them to reflect on issues that will be critical to our futures. Looking after the planet means looking after each other.”
At an earmarked space during the 10-day Bhutan International Festival, Edenlab will hold engaging public events, such as informative art installations, exploring people’s connection with nature. Edenlab artist, known as Mileece, will wire up a diverse selection of plants from all over Bhutan to measure their electro-conductivity. Visitors are then invited to interact with the plants by touching or breathing on them, and the interaction sets off a series of sounds and light responses, demonstrating the sentience of plants, and how our connection with the plants stimulates and therefore changes their conductivity.
“It’s basically the investigation of our relationship with plants. Plants are alive the same way as we are,” explains Mr Hendicott
Another engaging programme is the multi-award winning dance room Spectroscopy (dS) – a high-impact and accessible digital installation. Fusing rigorous methods from computational physics with state-of-the-art computing, dS uses real-time 3d capture to interpret people as fields, whose movement creates ripples and waves in an invisible sea of energy.
“The results are interactive graphics and soundscapes, all arising in direct response to the motion of dancers’ bodies. People can see how they interact with the molecules in the air,” Mr Hendicott said, describing it as a biology lesson brought alive through arts.
Besides participating in the festival, Mr Hendicott said they are also keen to explore other potential areas for long-term relationships in Bhutan.
Popular musicians representing Edenlab, such as Nick Mulvey, Dizraeli, and Bellatrix, are also expected to host live music events and performances during the festival.
Edenlab will also build two large geodesic domes in the Centenary Park in Thimphu to host Mileece and dance-room Spectroscopy. Both artists will be holding workshops and talks throughout the festival for anyone who is interested in participating. The Founder of Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit, is also scheduled to deliver a talk at the TEDx Thimphu during the festival.
Former editor of Bhutan Times
Breaking News: Foreign Minister Rinzin Dorji will be on “authorised absence” to prevent controversy and conflict of interest when the Office of the Attorney General prosecutes him on behalf of the government.
He will be on authorised absence until the case is resolved.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay will take over the portfolio of Foreign Minister.
The idea is to focus on existing edifices, given limited manpower and other resources
Circular: Construction of new religious structures, including lhakhangs, temples, choekhangs, tshokhangs, chortens, tshamkhangs and drashas, is frozen for the next two years.
The home ministry issued a circular last month, notifying all ministries, dzongkhags, religious organisations, corporations, private agencies and individuals not to accept applications for new constructions.
The decision was made after the department of culture (DoC) faced difficulties in managing and maintaining the existing religious structures, which are more significant, when compared to the newly constructed ones.
Chief architect with the department, Nagtsho Dorji, said it was necessary for the department to take stock of the needs for new constructions and reconstructions in existing religious structures.
“We have to get a clear idea on how many religious structures need reconstruction,” she said. “Over the years, we’ve seen a rise in new lhakhangs and chorten constructions,” she said.
According to the circular, there was a need to carry out a thorough assessment and review of the existing situation on the requirement of constructing new religious structures.
Ground assessment and review was required, because there are already thousands of religious structures that required huge resources in terms of manpower, time and finance, for maintaining it in terms of renovation and reconstruction of the existing structures.
“The maintenance work has been exacerbated by the earthquake in 2009 and 2011,” the circular stated. “Securing financial support has also been an issue with the dzongkhag as well as the department.”
Nagtsho Dorji said the government funds 90 percent of the constructions.
In the last five years, the department of culture approved construction of 88 new lhakhangs and 22 choekhangs. Another 69 approvals were given for reconstruction.
“This is a huge number and every application cited “damage by earthquake” as a reason for the reconstruction or renovation,” an official of the heritage conservation division said.
The department does not have a record of the total number of religious structures, but officials estimate that there could be over 2,000 lhakhangs and 10,000 chortens across the country.
While the heritage conservation division encourages renovation, it receives at least six applications a day for renovation of various religious structures. Officials said the stress is more on heritage point of view and its preservation, which is possible through renovation.
Culture department officials said it was crucial for the department to properly assess and review the need of new religious structures. It expects that a review will be done in another two years.
However, Nagtsho Dorji said that, if there were any genuine constructions to be carried out, the department would verify and approve them.
The department has also notified all dzongkhags to not accept any budget proposal for religious structure construction for the financial year 2015-16 and 2016-17. The finance ministry will also be informed about it.
While freezing new constructions for the time being, the department encourages investments in the maintenance of existing lhakhangs. The freeze is expected to help secure financial support for maintaining old lhakhangs.
By Nirmala Pokhrel
BDBL’s capacity to provide basic financial services is its unique selling point
Management: The government has not reversed its decision to hand over operation and management of the community centres from Bhutan Post to the Bhutan Development Bank ltd (BDBL).
The opposition party, in a press conference held on January 21, had said that the government should reconsider its decision, on grounds that quality of services offered at the community centres would deteriorate.
Information and communication minister, DN Dhungyel, said that the decision to transfer management stands for the moment. Lyonpo added that any reversal of decision or not would be made by the cabinet.
The minister met with the finance minister, representatives of Bhutan Post, BDBL, and the Department of Information Technology and Telecom, to discuss modalities of the transfer, yesterday.
It was determined at the meeting that between one to three months will be given to Bhutan Post and BDBL to allow for the management transfer to take place. During that time, Bhutan Post will continue to provide whatever services are currently offered at the centres.
The minister acknowledged the opposition party’s argument that having BDBL represent other financial institutions, while also managing non-financial services, may present a conflict of interest situation.
The services of other financial institutions like Bank of Bhutan, Bhutan National Bank, the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan, and the National Pension and Provident Fund, which are currently offered at some community centres, will continue to be provided at the centres after management is transferred.
“There could be conflict of interest in the initial phase, but the very idea of the government to transfer community centres from Bhutan Post to BDBL is to give the basic financial services, which are required by the people,” he said.
Lyonpo pointed out that BDBL is a state-owned enterprise and mandated to reach rural communities. He said that financial institutions, like Bank of Bhutan and Bhutan National Bank, have to determine their locations based on economic viability. He added that, if the commercial banks want to introduce their services in more community centres, BDBL would not block the move.
It was also pointed out that rural communities are more in need of financial services currently, rather than a variety of them. “Today we’re talking about having a basic service, not a choice; choice could be given once the basic services are covered,” said lyonpo.
Lyonpo Dhungyel denied that the management transfer is to meet the ruling party’s pledge of a bank in every gewog. The opposition party had made this argument during their press conference.
Lyonpo said that the primary focus is not on fulfilling the pledge, but to provide the financial services that are required and necessary for the people. “How the government decides to give those services to the people, in line with the norms, is the government’s prerogative,” he said.
The opposition party had also pointed out that, as per the agreement between Bhutan Post and the government, the former would hand over management of community centres back to the government only if business failed “drastically”.
While many reports that the community centres were being underutilised have been published, there were some positive developments occurring. For one, pensioners were able to reduce significant travel time and costs by collecting their pensions from community centres.
“In general, out of the 187 odd community centres constructed and in operation at the moment, it is viewed, that they aren’t optimally utilised,” said lyonpo Dhungyel.
Other services, like 45 G2C (government to citizen) and G2B (government to business), although demand was limited to only between 4-5 of these services, printing, scanning, photocopying, among others, are also available at the centres.
“BDBL may not be comfortably doing all those things that were done by Bhutan Post but it won’t be impossible for them to do it as well,” said lyonpo Dhungyel. He acknowledged that Bhutan Post had made improvements for the community centres, and that it was not because Bhutan Post had failed in its task that a management transfer is taking place. He said that it was because the government is of the view that BDBL will do a more efficient job as it would be providing critical financial services that people are more in need of.
Lyonpo also pointed out that Bhutan Post would now not have to divert resources to the community centres, and rather focus on its core businesses.
The minister also said that Bhutan Post would be refunded for the costs it had incurred above the subsidies provided by the government. Bhutan Post was provided Nu 28M to run the centres between 2012-16. In a recent letter to this newspaper, the agency pointed out that this subsidy ran out mid-way last year, and it spent an extra Nu 12M for the operation of the centres.
It has not yet been decided for how long BDBL will operate and manage the community centres once it takes over. Lyonpo Dhungyel said that this would be worked out once modalities for the management transfer are finalised.
By Gyalsten K Dorji