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Saturday, April 18th, 2015 - 1:13 PM
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Are Explosive-related works damaging structures?

Untitled1Deep Impact: Cracks on walls of a house in Wangdue

PHPA II: Villages who put in a formal complaint in 2012 that blasting works at Punatshangchhu hydropower project site damaged their structures, are still awaiting word on compensation.

The villages of Rubisa, Tshogwom, Tshogoam, Daga and Athang gewogs claim that houses and irrigation channel have suffered cracks as result of blastings.

Without clear information, the communities raised the issue during their council representative Tashi Dorji’s visit to the gewogs recently.  They asked him to look into the matter so they could receive compensation, without which reconstruction would be impossible.

The council representative said he would put up the issue to the government.

Wangduephodrang environment officer Dorji Wangdi said following the complaint, lodged in October, a team of officials from Wangdue dzongkhag, PHPA II, Dagar gewog gup and two tshogpas visited Uma Khatoe and Khamoe to assess the damage.

The inspection report stated the team found cracks in the external wall some of which were severe and shift in the position of windows and walls.

In most cases villagers claimed cracks started appearing after the blasting at project worksites began. The report also stated that water supply started to dry up.

“Villagers also claimed the volumetric flow of Oolena source’s water decreased by almost 50 percent since March 2012, due to which they have to depend on rainfall for irrigation and transplantation was delayed,” the report stated.  The water source caters to at least four households. In another case, people of Tohkha claimed their water source dried up to less than half the previous volume.

The cracks, the report stated, were old and, therefore, difficult to attribute to project activities, especially with the earthquakes that happened in the preceding years.

The team had agreed the damages could be because of the earthquake, which vibrations from the explosives could have aggravated.

The environment wing of the PHPA II and the gewog office stationed a seismograph in one of the house for a week to measure the intensities of the explosives.

Officials said because of the absence of vibration standards in the country, it was difficult to ascertain whether the damages were caused due to PHPA-II activities or combination of various factors.

Project deputy chief environment officer Sangay Dorji said after conducting intensity study, they handed the report to dzongkhag, since compensation has to route through the office.

“We will compensate if local government claims that the cracks were caused by the blastings,” he said.

Dorji Wangdi said since dzongkhag officials were incompetent, they forwarded the seismography report to department of geology and mines (DGM) for further interpretation.

On July 29 last year, DGM officials responded stating they had compared the vibrations intensity with that of international vibration noise level standards and concluded that it had no potential to cause damage at the place where the equipment was stationed.

However, DGM also mentioned that the vibration noise level normally is enforced according to national norms. In its absence the department referred norms of Germany and India.

“The issue was raised once again during the dzongkhag tshogdu and it was suggested that the government should look into creating standards for blasting,” Dorji Wangdi said. “Nothing has happened so far.”

Dzongkhag officials said since they don’t have a concrete basis, they couldn’t give recommendation for compensations.

Even in the case of PHPA I it was not certain if its activities were causing damage to communities located near its site. A joint inspection was carried out and the findings were similar to PHPA II.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

Over Nu 100M worth of bonds unsubscribed

tashiairTashi Air (File photo)

Business: Tashi Air has raised Nu 147.7M through corporate bonds, falling short of its target of raising Nu 250M.

The private airline floated 250,000 bonds, each priced at Nu 1,000, for a total value of Nu 250M. Half of the bonds, amounting to Nu 125M, were privately placed with the National Pension and Provident Fund.

The remaining was offered to the public.

However, by the time the transaction was closed on April 24, the public had bought only 22,730 of 125,000 bonds amounting to Nu 22.7M.

In other words, Nu 102.3M worth of bonds remain unsubscribed.

Tashi Air floated the bonds to meet capital requirements of Nu 450M. While its promoters invested Nu 200M as equity, the company intended to raise the rest of the money by offering bonds.

The remaining Nu 250M is required by the company for reserves to establish its international air services and for the lease of its current aircraft.

The airline leased another aircraft this month.

Tashi Air subsidiary, Bhutan Airlines has been operating internationally since October 2013.

Bank of Bhutan (BoB) Securities Ltd. is the broker for Tashi Air.

However, the chief executive officer (CEO) BoB Securities Ltd.’ Dophu Dorji did not comment on how the remaining fund might be raised.

Tashi Air’s CEO Phala Dorji refused to comment.

The term of the bonds is 10 years at an interest rate of nine percent to be annually dispersed or in lump sum on maturity.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Jaiprakash seeks security assurance

PHPA II: Jaiprakash Associates officials have written to Punatsangchhu hydropower project authority (PHPA) II to ensure workers’ security, since they are ‘feeling threatened’ by a group of local youth, and are therefore, unwilling to stay back.

The letter, sent on April 12, states that there has been substantial increase in theft, assault and affray by ‘national youth’ at the project site.  The letter alleges that a gang of four to five people has been seen operating at night using a tipper/Eicher truck to take items from the site, and threatened security personnel and workers who resisted.

Jaiprakash’s project manager, KK Sood, said, “We’ve written to PHPA II to help take appropriate action for safety and security of workers and to help the associate concentrate on work.”

The letter mentions incidents on the nights of April 10 and 11 and names a man, who allegedly attempted to steal scrap from the powerhouse camp and picked a fight with security guards.

Later, the man, caused extensive damages to the powerhouse Annapurna and smashed windshields of about 13 parked buses.

The letter also states that he threatened to physically harm the security guards next time, and that there was a requirement for police assistance.

Besides this, the letter states that illegal scrap dealers in Rurichu, Baychu and Kamechu have been mushrooming and are purchasing stolen items.  Few months back, a security guard at the project site is said to have recovered a truckload of stolen items from a scrap dealer.

Chief security officer of PHPA II, Kinley Namgay, said they have increased patrolling, and at night it has been intensified. “We’re not only conducting foot patrolling but also mobile ones,” he said.

Kinley Namgay said they have sought help from police for patrolling.

 

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

43 houses affected by windstorm

Of that, roofs of 10 houses were completely blown off  

Windstorm: The recent windstorm in Zhemgang damaged 43 houses in three gewogs of Bardo, Phangkhar and Shingkhar.

Of that many houses, roofs of 10 houses were completely blown off, while those of the rest were partially damaged, in that they could be repaired.

The windstorm that began brewing since April 29 first hit 15 houses under Bardo gewog.

Dzongkhag officials said roofs of four houses were blown off. Thrisa village in Bardo, a three-hour steep climb from the nearest road head, was the worst hit in the gewog.

In Shingkhar gewog, a day walk from nearest road point, rooftops of five houses of the total 25 affected were completely blown off that same day of April 29.

Three days later, around 2pm, the windstorm reached Phangkhar gewog, about 8hrs walk from Gongphu in lower Kheng on May 3.

Three houses were affected, out of which the roof of one was blown off.

Meanwhile, of the total 43 houses, one lhakhang and the staff quarter of the community school were also damaged.

The figures are in accordance with dzongkhag officials’ preliminary report. Two dzongkhag teams are working on detailed assessment report of the gewogs the windstorm hit.

So far, affected households were provided the emergency relief kit, while plastic roofs are being distributed to those houses without roofs.

By Tshering Namgyel, Zhemgang

World Bank forecasts 121 % debt to GDP ratio

Report: The country’s external debt is projected to rise to 121 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2016-17. This is according to the recently released World Bank report – Bhutan Development update.

This means that 121 percent of the country’s economy would be built of external borrowings. The size of the country’s economy today is about Nu 99B, which is projected to grow at 7.3 percent in the next fiscal year.

However, after the completion of most of the hydropower projects and debt servicing begins in the fiscal year 2017-18, the debt to GDP ratio is expected to gradually decline to about 29 percent in 2034.

Currently, according to the report, the four hydropower projects that are under construction – Punatshangchhu I, II, Mangdechhu, and Dagachhu – guzzles investment worth 28 percent of the GDP, annually.

Considering the huge hydro-related debt service payments that require Rupee reserve, the report states: “Bhutan’s risk of external debt distress continues to be moderate.”

The report also highlights the risk-sharing agreement with India for hydropower loans. The country’s strong track record of project implementation and rapid growth in energy demand from India would ease the situation, says the report.

Export revenues from the sale of electricity is expected to improve. Since no new hydropower projects are operational since 2006, hydrological flows dictate the export revenue.

On the other hand, exports of minerals and mineral-based products account for more than half the total export. Hydropower export comprises 45 percent and manufacturing just five. This means Bhutan has a large and growing current account deficit, compelling the country to borrow to finance consumption.

Net export of goods and services in 2014-15 is expected to be about 10 percent of GDP.

Despite the weak growth in tourism sector, delay in the Punatshangchhu I construction and credit restrictions, the country’s economy growth has rebounded from 4.6 percent to 6.5 percent in fiscal year 2013-14, says the report.

The report attributes the growth to the 11 percent increase in electricity generation due to good rainfall and improved agricultural production, among others.

The commissioning of Dungsam cement, Dagachhu project, increase in electricity tariff, 20 percent hike in wage rate, and possibility of lifting import and credit restriction and implementation of the economic stimulus plan would contribute to the growth of 7.3 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

 

By Tshering Dorji

One story at a time…

…keep pushing the boundary towards a free press

Press: Lack of depth, rural coverage, misinformation and sustainability were issues Sherubtse college students chose to discuss with panelists invited from Thimphu on the press freedom day on May 3.

To begin the discussion, information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said the media in Bhutan was becoming more free by the day.

Just because freedom of press was enshrined in the Constitution, not everything could change overnight.

On mainstream Bhutanese media neglecting rural coverage, stories lacking research, and quite often laden with misinformation, Kuensel managing editor Ugyen Penjore said Kuensel considered irrigation channel story from a village as important and sexy as any big story in Thimphu.

On misinformation, he said they were usually clarified through corrigendums. “I will, however, take back to the newsroom on lack of research and more in-depth reporting,” he said.

Dasho Kinley Dorji added that lack of research and in-depth reporting pressure was a global phenomenon all journalists faced and that it could be worked on.

The country being a donor dependent one, former journalist Kesang Dema said journalism evolved on drawing a moderate line between critical reporting with little offence to donor agencies, while at the same time safeguarding journalistic ethics of critical reporting.

Bhutan Observer editor said although his paper started with the intention of being rural-oriented, had to compromise because of unfavourable financial situation.

Thereon, the issue of sustainability dominated the discussion.

He said the ministry’s insistence on liberal licensing policy and freedom of press to squeeze in more newspapers led to private news media killing one another. As more newspapers entered the market, the limited government advertisement budget got divided.

“There was not enough money to sustain bureau offices,” he said.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said the word sustainability occurred from Bhutanese media themselves especially from the newspapers.

“Who said we need 12 newspapers, seven radio stations and televisions in a country with a population of 700,000, while even mega cities like New York just have a handful of major newspapers,” he said.

He explained the government tried to stop people form opening more newspapers when Bhutan already had two or three because there was not enough money flowing around.

But the issue, he said was how to stop young enthusiastic people, who came up with an idea of opening media houses.

“So the idea of liberalising the numbers of media houses was to let the market decide the numbers than government thumping down,” Dasho Kinley Dorji said, adding his ministry was now proposing and promoting an advertisement guideline for government to act as an advertiser than acting as a key source of kidu to media firms.

“If the government acts as a professional advertiser, the scenario is that advertisement is not meant to nurture media house,” he said.

The question then switched to safety of journalists to which, Dasho Kinley Dorji said there was no need for laws to protect journalists for Constitution guarantees freedom of press, expression and right to information.

“That is protection for journalists,” he said.

But he said his office was, however, working on forming a media council to resolve the press related issues. He said the media council could also protect individuals from media if she or he was targeted.

Needrup Zangpo, however, felt safety of journalists was a serious issue.

“My colleagues are threatened by individuals and institutions, it goes beyond their relatives, parents and siblings,” he said.

Picking on the Bhutanese RTI, Kesang Dema said in its present form, the legislation proffered no safety for journalists seeking information.

“Journalists might declare comfort in saying Bhutan is safe for journalists because no one has been killed,” she said. “But are Bhutanese journalists safe because they are playing safe, which articulates to, are we really doing enough?”

Self-censorship Dasho Kinley Dorji said was a part of journalism prevalent everywhere.

“Just like some things you say to your friend and some you don’t, so is self-censorship, but you must know how to strike the balance,” he said. “But keep pushing the boundaries with every story, take it step by step as that’s how we evolve.”

By Tempa Wangdi

A plea for behaviour change

RENEW: A 44-year old woman, allegedly beaten by her husband, walked into Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) office in Thimphu last week. She was seeking support since the violence was affecting her school-going daughter.

The woman was sent to hospital to obtain medical report, since it was a battery case, and the matter was reported to police.

Director for counseling department, Tshering Dolkar, said when women come to RENEW, they come with a hope, not to put husband into trouble, but to seek support in changing behavior of the spouse.

“We respect the wishes of women, listen to their story and what husbands have to say too,” she said. “We try and keep the family together and counsel on marriage.”

RENEW provided counseling to 141 perpetrators and 169 victims last year. Officials said sensitisation and awareness helped domestic violence victims to come out, as did creation of women and child protection unit by police.

In the past four months, about 94 reported domestic violence and sought RENEW’s help. Some were men.

Last year 350 reported to RENEW of which 15 were male. Nineteen were minors and three were over 60 years of age. Data maintained  by RENEW shows domestic violence is more prevalent in the 26-30 age group. Last year, 101 victims were reported to be in this age group.

Going by the figures of reported cases, domestic violence has been on rise in the last decade. RENEW officials said it indicates that victims are coming out to report about the matter. The office was established in 2004.

As of April 2014 it has recorded 1,928 cases of domestic violence. From three reported cases in 2005, the annual figures of reported domestic violence increased to 374 in 2012.

Cases of rape, sexual assault, physical assault, denial of resources or opportunities, forced marriages, extra marital affairs, psychological and emotional abuses are reported to RENEW. Cases of gender-based violence are also reported.

Physical assault or battery is the most common case. In 2013 alone, 106 cases were reported.

Cases of will-full negligence, where either of the parents are not taking care of their children, are also common and cases of incest are also coming out in the open.

RENEW officials said working with domestic violence victims is a challenging, since perpetrators are not ‘people from outside’.

RENEW’s director for outreach department, Dr Meenakshi Rai, said since it is private and sensitive, victims take time to report and come to a decision.

Although the Domestic Violence Prevention Act is in place, Tshering Dolkar said it takes time and risk to work in area of domestic violence.

The other challenge was that the forensic unit in the capital was the only one in the country, and this made it difficult for victims to avail medical report.

RENEW has about 2,700 volunteers across country, most of whom are male. The community based support system started in Thimphu in 2005 and by 2010, it was established in all 20 dzongkhags. Most volunteers are teachers, civil servants, housewives and business people.

Officials said victims should contact these volunteers. “Officials in dzongkhag, judges and police have the contact numbers of the volunteers,” Tshering Dolkar said.

Meanwhile, the 44-year-old woman is with her family while police are investigating the case. Her husband is in police custody.

By Tashi Dema

Climate change’s spiritual hope

Talk of climate change and most Bhutanese would not understand what that is or relate directly its effects on them and the resources they depend on.

Every year farmers in the east have been experiencing dry spell, which delays their cultivation works and that in turn affects their harvest time.

For quite sometime, paddy harvests in the east have been affected by unexpected rain.

It spoils the pattern villagers have been used to following, that of seasons, movement of the sun, the wind, basically all the elements.

Of late, those elements have become unreliable.

Confusion reigns among villagers in the rural areas and they find themselves doing frequently what their ancestors did only occasionally, of propitiating local deities they believe live in all things animate and inanimate.

To this day, many Bhutanese still worship deities that are believed to guard the forests, rivers, lakes, hills and mountains and something as small as a stone.

Offerings are made to appease them and in some parts of the east, farmers inflict or impose penalty as retribution for an offence they believe they might have caused the deities unknowingly.

It is these very belief systems that is very much a part of the Bhutanese culture that has, so far, helped the country maintain the untarnished forest cover it has today that is haven for the various biodiversity the country boasts of, all of which together make up the country’s ecosystem.

In time, these belief systems were further reinforced with laws that mandate they be protected and conserved for they are a precious resource meant not just for one generation, but many to come.

That has been the mark of a true visionary leader, an attribute the world is beginning to associate more and more with the wise monarchs the country is bestowed with.

Therefore, when conservationists see the country as a breathing specimen of environmental preservation today and wish us to tell and convince the rest of the world against pursuit of economic gains at the cost of the environment, we are awe struck.

How does a small nation, a minority both in terms of population and voice pursuing a development paradigm completely opposite that of almost the whole world reach them?

What we pursue today is shaped by what our age old customs dictated us just as it is about those in other parts of the world.

Changing mindsets is asking for change in cultures and that is an almost impossible task.

What the small country can be is a representation of hope. Hope that can help change the narrative of climate protection and in turn create a sense of hope for the world.

If happiness, despite initial criticisms and derision from the international community can still find a space in the world, so can this hope to revert climate change.

Development and climate change are two sides of a paper

Excerpts from an interview with United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change executive secretary Christiana Figueres during her recent visit

Q&A: Punatsangchhu I was recently registered under clean development mechanism projects, how about the rest of the hydropower projects?

That decision depends on the executive board of the climate secretariat and will depend on whether the projects comply with the requirements. Bhutan knows very well what the requirements are because it has already presented several projects.

The more interesting question here is about the price of the emission reductions in the market because that is the greater concern a lot of clean development mechanism projects have.

The price of these certified emission reductions has reduced quite dramatically due to lack of demand on the part of industrialised countries. That is where many developing countries, who have projects on the market are suffering due to the low price.

It is our sense the price will remain low for a few years until all governments can agree with each other on how that market and other markets that are being created are going to participate within the new global agreement that will be negotiated next year.

 

 

How has the international discourse on climate change evolved? 

Twenty years ago when the convention was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit, it was very much considered an environmental challenge.

What was known then is that the temperature was increasing but it was still considered within the confines of an environmental challenge. Today we know that is no longer the case.

Today we know the impacts of climate change are so far reaching that this is no longer just an environmental problem. This is now a serious threat to the economy and in fact to the political stability of many countries around the world as well as a threat to the survival of low-lying islands of the world.

The understanding of the threat has grown exponentially that there is now more political attention. Heads of states and governments have now come face to face and have expressed their commitment to contribute in a collaborative way to be able to find a global solution because they know everybody is affected and that only the participation of everyone is going to be effective.

 

Bhutan launched a climate change adaptation project this year. How do you rate Bhutan’s risks and preparedness?

What is important for all these projects is institutional strength because that is the key to be able to both implement as well as monitor and be able to tell at the end of the projects what were the results.

My impression is there is very impressive institutional strength that goes back quite a few years and that has been very carefully built up by the government for several decades. That is the basis on which all these projects, be they this adaptation project or mitigation project, will be able to be implemented. I would not put Bhutan in a list of countries that are low preparation rather with high preparation.

 

What kind of help can Bhutan avail of because there are only adaptation measures?

There are several funds that have been created under the UNFCCC: the Adaption Fund, Least Developed Country (LDC) fund and now there is the Green Climate Fund, which is just being born. The purpose of all of these is to support countries such as Bhutan with their adaption costs. Bhutan has already made good use of these funds and continues to do so just out of the current budget to the LDC fund.

There is a budget of USD 30M for Bhutan, half of which has been used and other half is already being programmed to be disbursed. But those are initial sums and the more important sums will eventually come through the Green Climate Fund based on the experience that has been had with the first family of funds.

So those countries that are able to assign and allocate these funds to specific projects and have been able to implement those projects, show concrete results of the projects will be the countries where they will be given some accelerated access to funds.

 

How would the climate change agenda be pursued post 2015, with sustainable development agenda replacing MDGs?

United Nations is currently involved and dedicated to two major processes. One is the sustainable development agenda the post 2015 and the other one is the climate negotiation and both of these have more or less the same timeline, just by a difference of a few months. The post 2015 agenda needs to be finalised by next summer and the climate agenda needs to be finalised by the end of 2015. So as an integrated system, the UN system is supporting both of these processes at the same time. They are fundamentally very intricately linked with each other because you cannot continue development without addressing climate change. The two are two sides of a same paper, in that all the measures of addressing climate change, which include adaptation, increase in renewable energy, energy efficiency and protection of natural resources, are promoting climate agenda and contributing to the long term sustainability of any nation. By the same token, the post 2015 agenda cannot afford to exclude addressing climate change because otherwise it would be for development, a little bit like just trying to fill a glass having a hole in the bottom with water. You cannot continue to invest in development in countries without addressing climate change because it will wipe out all development.

The only difference is that the climate agenda is legally binding. For instance, Bhutan would not accept in the Post 2015 agenda something that will contradict what it needs under climate and vice versa. From a country’s perspective, every country needs to ensure that these two are being negotiated in consonance with each other.

     By   Tshering Palden

No hard feelings : NC chairperson tells highlanders

IMG_0241First visit: NC chairperson with highlanders

With respect to rumours that he hadn’t visited because of the ‘no’ votes he’d received

Visit: Having given more ‘no’ votes, Merak and Sakteng highlanders have suspected that their National Council representative’s lack of show could have been triggered by that.

“The marginal ‘yes’ votes that I received wasn’t the reason why I haven’t visited Merak and Sakteng,” National Council chairperson, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga, said, during his visit to the highlands recently.

Rumours that claim this to be the reason, he said, were untrue.

Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga was the lone contestant from Trashigang, during the council election last year. The other contestant from Radhi dropped his candidature.

While ‘yes’ votes from Merak marginally exceeded ‘no’s, in Sakteng the ‘no’ votes exceeded.

A total 11,219 ‘yes’ votes and 2,620 ‘no’ votes were garnered by the candidate to secure a seat in the house for the second time.

Following the elections, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga visited the constituency a couple of times, during which he did not visit the highlands.  This led to a speculation that the MP was avoiding the highlands.

The speculation gained firmer ground when, last year, the chairperson returned from Joenkhar in Sakteng without visiting proper Sakteng.

The council chairperson said he wished to visit each gewog in Trashigang once every year.  The National Council election was held on April 23 last year.

“I’ve come here within the one-year time frame,” he said, adding the last time he was in Sakteng he had to leave from Joenkhar for ‘compelling reasons’. “I had to visit Joenkhar then, since it’d have been impossible to visit this time en route to Keliphu-Khasheteng via Sakteng from Merak.”

The council chairperson said, “As I pledged while campaigning, I’d serve you indiscriminate of election results.”

Rather than judging them, he said, he understood why people had to vote ‘no’. “There were influential people disillusioning the innocent voters,” he said. “Everyone knows who they are, and it’s needless to bring up names now.”

This was not to blame anyone, he said, for it also required some amount of luck for one to secure votes.

Norbu Wangdi from Merak said it did not mean there was no support for the chairperson, simply because some chose to vote ‘no’.

“I hope chairperson would overlook what happened in the elections, since we rendered our best possible support, and if votes got divided between yes and no, it’s only natural in a democracy,” Dawa said, adding supporters did try and maximise yes votes.

Sangay Dorji from Sakteng said if ‘no’ votes exceeded it could be out of ignorance and because of the fact that some voters could be easily convinced and duped.

By Tempa Wangdi