RMA: While the government is doing all it can to promote electric cars in the country, the central bank feels it is not a priority, at least at the moment, as far as the economic situation is concerned.
The central bank, the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), recently directed local banks not to provide loans for those waiting to buy electric cars and utility vehicles.
However, a Rupee counter value would be provided if the individual could produce the entire price of the car.
With the economy already reeling under the pressure of a huge current account deficit and increasing liabilities, an official from the RMA said that, the central bank did not treat electric cars as a priority because there were already several other pressing issues that needed immediate focus.
Taxes should be revised and the government must identify, segregate and stop non-essential imports, said the official who didn’t want to be named. “Electric cars are not essential commodities.”
The official said that there are many cars in the country, parking spaces are limited and the country is still a net carbon sink. The environment is in good shape, but not the economy, he said.
Sanctioning loans to buy vehicles, electric or utility, he said, would add up to the deficit in our current account.
Bhutan’s current account deficit is at 25 percent of gross domestic product.
With India, the deficit in current account has reached Rs 14B. In other words, Bhutan exported goods worth Rs 27.8B and imported goods worth Rs 41.8B.
The central bank official said that the economy was flooded with bank loans, that is the root cause of almost all the economic problems the country is experiencing today. RMA also directed bank to stop sanctioning mortgage loan and loans for purchasing land.
Providing more loans would therefore worsen the situation, the official said. There might also be instances of defaults in repayments.
“For us, correcting the current account imbalances is the priority,” he said.
By Nidup Gyeltshen
Disaster: A windstorm on the afternoon of March 19 that lasted for an hour left behind a trail of damages in five dzongkhags.
In Trashigang, 18 traditional houses in four gewogs were damaged with roofs of some houses entirely blown off, as of yesterday.
Kadham village in Radhi suffered the most damage with six households affected. Corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) roofing of four two-storey traditional houses was entirely ripped apart. The rest reported partial damages.
Two roofs of the five traditional houses at Chaling in Shongphu were completely blown off while the rest reported minor damages.
The windstorm also caused minor damages to roofs of five traditional houses at Ritsangdhung and Younphupam in Kanglung. Two houses in Udzorong reported severe damages with the CGI roofing blown off.
However, no damage on human lives has been reported.
Dzongkhag and Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan ltd. (RICBL) officials are still assessing the damages.
In Samdrupjongkhar, roofs of about nine houses were blown off in Phuentshogang, Samrang, Pemathang, Samdrupcholing, and Martshala. Several houses in Dewathang also reported damages, said dzongkhag officials.
Samdrupjongkhar dzongda Goling Tshering said a team from dzongkhag has been deployed to assess damages.
Besides houses, damage to crops in Dechenling, Norbugang, Choekhorling, and Dungmin gewogs were reported in Pemagatshel.
In Zhemgang, three houses in Bardo gewog were also affected with their roofs blown away.
Meanwhile, the central district of Dagana reported damage to eight houses, including three temporary structures.
The roof of a traditional house in Drugeygang gewog was blown away while a single-storey house in Kana and six two-storey traditional houses reported partial damages.
RICBL’s branch manager in Dagana, Karma Tenzin said they started assessing the damages caused by the windstorm together with dzongkhag officials.
“With shortage of manpower, we would be able to assess damages only in Drugeygang gewog today,” Karma Tenzin said.
As per preliminary reports Tseza gewog was the worst affected.
RICBL officials said as only CGI roofs and wooden planks were damaged the compensation would be less than Nu 10,000 per household.
Apart from the three gewogs, insurance officials said that they have not received any damage report from other gewogs, as of yesterday.
The Dagana dzongda said they are still gathering information on the extent of damages.
Last year, RICBL has paid a total compensation of Nu 5,24,229 for damages to houses by windstorm, fire, earthquake, and wildlife. Of the total compensation, a majority went for damages caused by windstorm that affected 31 traditional houses.
About Nu 454,000 was paid for windstorm damages, followed by fire, which amounts to Nu 20,573, for three houses. Five households affected by earthquake were paid a compensation of Nu 33,547. A house that suffered wildlife damages was paid Nu 15,701, records show.
By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang & Dawa Gyelmo, Dagana Additional reporting by Tshering Wangdi
Project: A month after the launch of “Clean Bhutan” project, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay launched the “Green Bhutan” project yesterday at Ramtokto, Thimphu.
The project, Lyonchhoen said, will beautify towns in the country with plants and flowers. He planted a rhododendron tree to launch the event. “We will dedicate this as a gift to our Fourth Druk Gyalpo on his 60th birth anniversary next year,” he said.
A plant specialist with agriculture ministry’s nature recreation and eco-tourism division, Raling Ngawang Drukdra, who heads the project, said they will improve the aesthetic beauty of Thimphu city by planting viable native and exotic plant species along the highway and in available government lands.
Citing the example of maple tree, he said the deciduous tree changes three colours in a year and planting the tree would make the city aesthetically beautiful.
The project has three members as of now, two senior forest rangers and the plant specialist.
Raling Ngawang Drukdra said since forest take a long time to show impact, they will transplant trees from forest and plant it along the highway and all available government lands in the city.
“We will transplant chirpine, maple, oak and euonymus trees,” he said. “Fruit trees will also be transplanted to attract birds.”
The plant specialist said the “Green Bhutan” project will also try to inculcate the culture of growing trees around the private homes in Thimphu town, which would make the city green.
“All city dwellers have a role to play in making the city green,” he said.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said people must support the project officials to make the project a success.
By Tashi Dema
UN officials, foreign diplomats and cabinet ministers light butter lamps at the national memorial chorten in Thimphu yesterday to mark the International Day of Happiness
Grant: The Japanese government extended its support to promote Bhutanese crafts and textiles by providing easy access to micro-grants for rural artisans and interested youth.
For this, the Japanese government provided USD 348,840 or Nu 21M as grant for activities to be carried out in 2014-2015.
An agreement was signed between the government and UNDP Bhutan that will mobilise the grant. The economic affairs ministry is the implementing partner.
With the grant, the project titled ‘scaling up of income generation through traditional crafts and textiles production and marketing’ will begin this month.
UNDP officials said the project would promote Brand Bhutan to maintain authenticity of Bhutanese products by making micro-grants accessible, refinement of design and marketing of the products.
The UNDP deputy resident representative, Hideko Hadzialic said the project is designed for rural artisans to generate income and help them come out of poverty.
“Having a high quality product is not enough, the next step is ensuring these products find a unique position in the market,” Hideko Hadzialic said.
UNDP officials said to promote Brand Bhutan it requires public-private partnerships and more involvement of young people for increased production capacity, innovative marketing, and sales at a larger scale.
“Through this project, we would like young people to be interested in Bhutanese handicrafts, culture and textiles,” Hideko Hadzialic said.
UNDP would promote the industry of textile and handicrafts that has the potential to create more job opportunities both in the urban and rural.
UNDP is also planning to work closely with local producers to understand their practical needs like raw materials and production capacity, and also involve potential buyers to buy the products in the market.
Gross National Happiness Commission’s director, Thinley Namgyel said the project goes well with the Plan that focuses more on self-reliance.
“Although Brand Bhutan existed since the 10th Plan, there wasn’t much headway due to several challenges,” Thinley Namgyel said.
“We’re hopeful that this time we’ll have something concrete where Bhutan will be recognised for our authentic products,” he said. “Accordingly, we hope to develop and market the products.”
By Thinley Zangmo
Interested in Bhutanese nurses
Health: Shorter travel distance, competitive costs and credible hospitals in Bangladesh will be an advantage if Bhutan wished to explore the neighbouring country as a destination for referred patients from Bhutan.
The chairman of Janasheba Foundation, a non-profit organisation with University of Science and Technology in Chittagong, Ahmed Iftekharul Islam, proposed the possibility to Bhutanese health officials during a recent visit to the country.
He said Bangladesh has credible hospitals where kidney transplantation is an “everyday affair”. “Some of the doctors here (Bhutan) studied or were trained in Bangladesh, which means our hospitals are credible,” said the chairman. “Considering the competitive cost and shorter travel distance, it is a ready success if government explores this.”
The chairman said the Foundation would be offering scholarship for Bhutanese medical students wanting to study medicine in the university.
However, exploring Bangladesh as a referral destination was not the sole objective and the Foundation is exploring to help bring in professionals to assist Bhutan in developing its own capacity to make kidney transplantation possible within the country.
The chairman said pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh has also shown interest in assisting local entrepreneurs and the government in manufacturing at least the listed essential drugs within the country.
“Looking at the market size in Bhutan, companies may not want to invest but as a part of corporate social responsibility the pharmaceutical companies will be more than glad to assist Bhutanese to develop skills,” said Ahmed Iftekharul Islam.
Bangladesh is self reliant in pharmaceutical catering to its huge population and exports medicine to 95 countries.
The foundation had also proposed to facilitate sending nurses from Bangladesh to Bhutan for in-hospital training and in return, invite Bhutanese nurses to work in Bangladesh.
Nursing services in Bhutan will be looked up as a model in improving the nursing care in Bangladesh, he said.
Bhutanese nurse were “confident and humane” and despite the limited number of doctors, the health system is well supported by nurses. “They (nurses) can work independently even in absence of doctors,” he said.
However, director general for department of medical services, Dr. Ugyen Dophu, said nothing has been committed and confirmed. Dr. Ugyen Dophu said he asked the chairman to approach the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry for engagement of local entrepreneurs.
During his two-day visit, the chairman met with the few health officials, including the Bhutan medical council’s.
By Tshering Dorji
Wildlife: While electric fencing might protect crops from depredations of wild animals, farmers in Trashigang ask, “what about losing livestock to the big cats?”
In a sensitisation meeting on safety aspects of electric fencing earlier this week, farmers of Bidung, Yangneer and Bartsham complained to officials of Sakteng wildlife sanctuary (SWS) about tigers and common leopards prowling in their village and killing livestock.
Karchung from Bidung said farmers have not only lost cattle to predators but are also worried about their own safety.
“We are afraid that we might encounter predators, that too in the village,” he said. “Are we liable for legal actions if we kill the predators?”
The wildlife sanctuary officials said people have the right to defend if predators threaten their lives. “But such incidents must be immediately reported to the forest offices,” an official said.
The villagers, however, will face serious legal implications if they hunt the big cats under the pretext of self-defense.
“You cannot hunt the predators like tiger outside of your fields or homes,” the official said.
Statistics maintained by the forest office in Trashigang show at least five cattle are lost annually to wild animals. Since 2003 Bidung, Bartsham, Yangnyer and Udzorong have lost 70 cattle to the cats.
“At the beginning of this year, predators killed three in Bartsham,” a forester in Bartsham, Karma Jamtsho, said. Last year, about eight livestock were killed in Muktangkhar and Ngalung villages.
Trashigang division’s chief forestry officer, Dendup Tshering said livestock depredation is not a serious issue in Trashigang.
“If people lose over 100 livestock annually, then it will be considered a serious issue,” Dendup Tshering said.
Foresters, meanwhile, said the predators mostly attacked livestock grazing on free range or those left untethered at night.
Although the villagers suspect tiger, foresters said it must be the common leopard.
Farmers also complained of not receiving compensation from the government. In Bartsham, only three of the five who lost livestock received compensation ranging from Nu 1,250 Nu 7,500 last year.
Tiger and leopard are categorised under schedule one of the protected species in Forest and Nature Conservation Act. A fine of Nu 500,000 would be levied for attempting to injure tiger, and Nu 1M for killing it. A fine of Nu 10,000 would be imposed for killing common leopard.
By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang
A highlight of the discussion yesterday at the Imagine Change local forum in Thimphu was on a concept called sustainable consumption, that is “largely unexplored” in the country.
Although only a handful of local participants attended, hopefully not an indication of lack of interest in the concept, it should be explored even as we discuss the New Development Paradigm.
The first question that springs is should Bhutanese be concerned about sustainable or unsustainable consumption? Are we consuming too much that we have to curb our consumption habits and patterns? And what are we consuming?
These questions would be irrelevant about a decade or two ago, but with increasing income, better living standards and more disposable income, the culture of consumption, for that matter, unhealthy consumption, it is relevant.
We have never had so much choice before. Bhutanese shops, including those in rural shantytowns are laden with goodies. Our businessmen are bringing in newer selections from new places every day. Nobody is looking into what is being sold and what is being consumed. We are bombarded 24 hours a day with media advertising that encourages consumption.
We know that, in the interest of the free market and consumer rights, the government will not implement bans on food or other consumables and through experience we know it didn’t work. But it is time to relook into what and how we consume.
Sustainable consumption is defined as the consumption of goods and services with minimum impact upon the environment, are socially equitable and economically viable whilst meeting the basic needs of humans.
If we go by the definition, our consumption needs to change at the earliest. We have a glaring deficit balance in trade and that includes food trade. Take meat for example, we imported Rs1B worth of meat, which is more than the combined revenue of two hydropower project. In energy, we spend more buying fossil fuel than what we earn from the sale of hydropower. Garbage is an issue while overflowing landfill is becoming a bigger problem.
If consumption was becoming unsustainable, our policies, for long, were fueling it. For instance, while traffic congestion had been a problem, our banks dished out vehicle loans. Local vegetable production was not encouraged until we were hit by the Rupee crunch.
It is therefore, a good time to discuss change. There are already some initiatives like promoting electric cars, ban on vehicle and construction loans, even if it is due to reasons besides unsustainable consumption.
The government will play a major role while behavioral change should be encouraged through education and awareness.
An efficient public transport system or one that runs on electricity will reduce cars and fuel import. Today we complain of Nakey (fern) price when we do not hesitate to pay higher price for canned sausages.
Local produces are expensive and therefore cannot compete with cheap imports, but like the expert pointed out, if government can subsidize or support local farm produce, it will lead to sustainable consumption as the farmer will be encouraged to grow and dependency on import would be reduced.
Jobs: The government will spend Nu 20.14M to train 200 jobseekers in India in the field of beauty and spa under its overseas employment programme.
The cost of a six-month training works out to Nu 107,000 per person.
The labour ministry has signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Institute of Wellness Studies (IIWS) in Noida, India.
The proprietor of IIWS, Manav Dhingra, said that all the trainees will be employed in 5-star hotels upon completion of training.
“We guarantee 100 percent employment,” he said.
During the training period, each trainee will receive a monthly stipend of Nu 3,200.
About 452 jobseekers sat for interview in the three-day selection process that ended yesterday. From the 200 selected, only 16 were male. Of the total, 128 were class XII graduates and 69 were class X graduates. Only three university graduates were selected.
“I opted for the training because I have always been interested in hair styling,” said 25-year-old Kuma Tamang. He has been jobless since he completed class XII four years ago.
“I know the basics in spa and therapy but I want to learn more,” said Dechen Wangmo who is a university graduate. “I want to set up a business of my own later.”
This is the third time the ministry is sending Bhutanese jobseekers to be trained in beauty, hair, and spa at IIWS. According to IIWS, about 80 percent the100 trainees of 2010 and 2011 batch are still working in high-end hotels in India.
To maintain the full employment status, the government will send 30,000 jobseekers to work overseas.
Except for the nine jobseekers who were sent to work in Sheraton Hotel in Qatar last year, government hasn’t been able to send jobseekers to Nasser S Al Hajri Corporation in Saudi Arabia and Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories in USA.
An employment official said that the CVs of the applicants have been forwarded to HR director of Shin Nippon.
The four overseas employment agents in the country too have not been able to send any jobseeker overseas.
By Rajesh Rai
Power: In the past few days Samdrupjongkhar experienced recurrent power blackouts owing to bad weather conditions.
On March 19, most residents were in and the shops closed by 7pm because of blackout. While power in Dewathang was restored around 8pm Samdrupjongkhar town had to wait for 11 hours.
Manager of electricity and services department under Bhutan power corporation (BPC), Kinzang Chophel, attributed the blackout to unexpected bad weather, especially during early hours and towards evening.
Two hailstone incidents, one at around 9am and the other at around 3pm, and stormy wind coupled with rain hit the town that day.
“The blackout in Samdrupjongkhar town was because of the disturbances in two distributor lines that connects Samdrupjongkhar substation to Dewathang substation,” Kinzang Chophel said. “There are two distributor lines of 33KV and 11KV connecting the substation in Samdrupjongkhar town.”
A corrugated roofing sheet, Kinzang Chophel said, was blown away in the evening hitting the 33KV line while prayer flags and trees struck the other line. Both the incidents happened near Dewathang.
“An electric pole was also damaged and we could not carry out maintenance works at night for safety reasons,” Kinzang Chophel said.
Apart from the power lines, beetle nut trees fractured by the wind, also landed on roofs.
This blackout was preceded by another blackout which other five eastern districts of Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Mongar, Lhuntse, and Trashiyangtse also experienced.
The blackout was for about an hour and while power was restored, the incidents between Samdrupjongkhar and Dewathang continued to blackout Samdrupjongkhar.
Apart from blackouts the dzongkhag has also been experiencing power fluctuations.
Kinzang Chophel said the fluctuations were caused by a faulty line, somewhere between Tingtibi, Zhemgang and Nganglam, Pemagatshel substations.
The initial blackout, experienced by the eastern districts, began around 4:30pm because of a faulty line at Matanga substation under Samdrupjongkhar.
Power officials said since the Kurichhu hydropower is the feeder station of the east, the break down at Matanga affected all eastern dzongkhags because they are all interconnected. The Kurichhu station is connected to an Indian station in Rangia and any major power breakdown can be restored from there via a 132KV transmission line.
“We requested them at around 5 pm to release electricity through the transmission line and power was restored at 5:30 pm,” Kinzang Chophel said.
Residents have, meanwhile, been exasperated since dependence on electrical devices, both at home and office has increased.
Gyalley, a civil servant who was recently transferred to Samdrupjongkhar had to eat in a restaurant because he relies on electricity for cooking.
Cubicles in offices in Samdrupjongkhar were empty and works were stalled.
Meanwhile, power officials said, if bad weather persists, a blackout could happen anytime.
By Tshering Wangdi/Samdrupjongkhar