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Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - 6:27 PM
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Bodhgaya gifts holy tree sapling

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Visit: On behalf of the government and the people of India, the union minister of state for youth affairs, Sarbananda Sonowal, presented Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay with a Bodhi tree sapling at Bodhgaya on Saturday.

Receiving the sapling on behalf of His Majesty The King and the people of Bhutan, Lyonchhoen said the sacred gift was very significant especially at a time when the people of Bhutan are celebrating the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

“The year 2015 is a very important and significant year for Bhutan because we have enjoyed 60 years of peace, prosperity and happiness. During his reign, he has established strong ties of friendship between the people of Bhutan and India,” Lyonchhoen said.

During the last 60 years, Lyonchhoen said that Bhutan saw an unprecedented socio-economic development. More importantly, Bhutan witnessed the flourishing of Lord Buddha’s teaching.

“I am honored to receive this sacred gift on behalf of His Majesty The King and all Bhutanese,” Lyonchhoen said. “This will further strengthen the ties of friendship between our two countries and further strengthen the ties of history and spirituality that we celebrate among our two people and our two countries.”

Economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, said “It is very significant because we happen to be one of the four countries only in the world to have received the sacred Bodhi tree.”

The union minister of state for youth affairs said that the President of India during his visit to Bhutan in November 2014 announced that a sapling of the scared Bodhi tree would be gifted to Bhutan in 2015.

“Teaching of Buddha spreads the message of peace, non-violence and universal brotherhood across the world and has universal significance,” he said. “This unique gift will undoubtedly reinforce the bonds of peace, compassion and harmony between Bhutan and India.”

Also known as Jangchub shing, the Bodhi tree is where Lord Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Lyonchhoen and his delegation arrived back yesterday after a nine-day official visit to India.

By Tshering Wangdi, Bodhgaya

Four apprehended for armed robbery

Crime: Tsirang police apprehended four men from Reserboo in Tsirang for robbing a construction labourer in Reserboo two weeks ago.

The culprits are between the ages of 18 and 20. The robbery happened on the night of January 1 when the culprits went to celebrate New Year with the friends at Patshaling.

“The main culprit, 17-year-old boy, knocked at a camp house where a group of labourers lived and asked for water. After that, asked for a mobile phone to call to one of his friends,” says the investigation report. Immediately after taking the phone from a labourer, the boy took out a knife and asked all the labourers to hand over their mobile phones and money.

According to the statement from the victims to the police, the culprits snatched four mobile phones, four mobile chargers, four sim cards, and Nu 6,000.

The police managed to recover three mobile phones, three chargers and four sim cards from the culprits. Out of four culprits, two were repeated offenders, said the police.

By Yeshey Dema, Tsirang

Agents leave pilgrims dissatisfied

A man in early 50s was referred to Thimphu hospital on Saturday night because of damage on his right eye after a fight while returning from a pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, India.

The man was the coordinator for the travel agent took more than 250 people Bodhgaya in five buses. The fight happened with his assistant, who was also helping as a guide for the pilgrims. The fight occurred on the way to Phuentsholing from Bodhgaya.

Travellers said that the reason for the fight was because the assistant  smoked inside the bus.

“The guide hit the coordinator in the face,” said a passenger. The blow hit the coordinator’s right eye.

The fight occurred around 4AM on the way to Phuentsholing. Phuentsholing hospital referred the case to Thimphu hospital the same evening.

Pilgrims said that the tour was not handled professionally.

“The trip wasn’t pleasurable as expected,” said one pilgrim. “It was nothing like the package promised us.”

Dorji, another pilgrim, said that the tour management was poor. “This trip went wrong right from the beginning.”

The pilgrims said that the travel agent did not stick to timing. One of the five buses got late and the journey started very late.

By Rajesh Rai

Focus point

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Dwindling sharecropping tradition

picThe labour intensive paddy cultivation is discouraging sharecroppers

Although their increased demands are being met, lands are fallowing

Agriculture: With only a small parcel of land and four mouths to feed, Kakam, a young and energetic mother, decided to cultivate more rice.  She asked a landowner to let her work on her fields and offered 50 percent of the harvest.

Every autumn, it was a pain for Kakam from Rinchengang village in Wangduephodrang to see the fruit of her hard work getting divided.  The landowner would come in a van and take her share.  Kakam and her workers would help carry the owner’s share to the roadside.  Kakam requested for a bigger share.  Over the next few years, she gave 40 percent of the yearly harvest.

Kakam was getting older.  Her daughter had married a policeman and left.  Hiring hands was expensive.

She decided to hand over the land.  The landowner offered her 70 percent of the harvest.  Kakam continued for a while until the young men, who helped her, left the village.  They were good masons and renovation of lhakhangs and dzongs provided better opportunities.  She couldn’t cultivate the land, even if the owner offered 90 percent of the share.

Today Kakam lives on the money her daughter sends her monthly, besides her own small paddy field.  She has a kitchen garden to supplement.

The Punatsangchhu valley is fertile and paddy thrives.  But cultivating the staple food is becoming difficult.  In the upper valleys like in Shengana, fields are left fallow.  Others are beginning to see the same fate too.

The landless, or those who owned little, thrived on sharecropping.  Landowners, who mostly live in the Wang valley in Thimphu, are happy to take their share without having to toil in the sun and rain. “They (sharecroppers) used to be very grateful to us for letting them cultivate our land,” said a landowner.

But that was a long time ago.  The tables have turned. “Sharecroppers are unwilling to work even if we offer 80 percent of the share,” Tashi, a landowner in Rubesa, Wangduephodrang, said. “Back then, landowners were demanding, as agriculture was the main source of livelihood,” he said.

The number of sharecroppers is dwindling as they find opportunities in small towns and employment outside agriculture.  Cheaper imported rice, shortage of workers, increasing daily wage, and children leaving villages are responsible for the change.

According to a village elder, while many were granted land kidu by His Majesty the King, some have resettled in other dzongkhags.  Besides they see opportunities outside the village.

A sharecropper in Punakha, Karma, said it was cheaper to buy white rice (imported rice) than work on other’s lands, when they could earn more on construction sites.

“The expenditure always exceeds the income. Forget working on other’s land, even to work on our land has become expensive,” he said. “Paddy fields were like gold back then, but not anymore.”

Daily wage for women, crucial during transplantation season, range from Nu 450 to 500 a day, excluding food.  Hiring power tiller cost Nu 500 an hour. “There is no profit and you’re doomed if wild animals destroy the crop,” said Karma.

This could be the reason behind the increasing price of local rice.

The mangmi of Baap gewog in Punakha, Kuenga Penjore, said every year, more and more people want to hand over the land to their owners.  He said it has forced those owning about 15-17 acres to leave almost 40 percent of their lands fallow in all the five chiwogs he represents. “The young are going to school and there are no hands to work,” he said.

In one of his chiwogs, the owner is paid only Nu 4,500 for the two-acre land he had let a sharecropper cultivate.  That is not even 15 percent.  The owner is planning to start a farm.

On the left banks of Phochhu, Changjokha village boasts of flatland and ample water.  Around four varieties of rice are grown here.  Sharecroppers, like Kinley Bidha, 70, are offered to cultivate other’s land without any thojo (share offered to landowners).  The farmer feels mechanisation has helped a bit.

Most paddy fields belong to the dratshang and landowners in Thimphu. “From equal share in the past, sharecroppers pay only a minimum, as landowners don’t want their field to be left fallow,” she said.  Those cultivating dratshang land now give only 340 dres (dre is a measuring can) from 200,000 dres of paddy harvest. “Still some refuse to work.” This is about 510 kilogrammes from three tonnes of paddy.

Unless farming is mechanised, people will not return to the villages.

 

What officials say

Punakha’s district agriculture official, Tashi Wangdi said Punakha has less fallow fields compared with other districts.  According to 2013 record, about 6,000 acres of wetland have been cultivated.

He said, while they don’t have records of how much land were given for sharecropping, but the majority belonging to dratshang was given as sharecropping.

Wangdue’s district agriculture official, Sonam Zangpo, said as per the record, 3,948 acres of wetland and 4,192 acres of dry land have been cultivated during the last season.  He said across Wangdue, 421 acres of wetland and 725 acres of dry land were left fallow, according to the 2013 record.

Decreasing number of sharecroppers and sharecroppers returning lands to landowners could be one of the reasons for increase in lands turning fallow.  However, there were various other factors contributing to increase in fallow lands such as, rural urban migration, wildlife attack, irrigation problem, labour shortage and increasing labour charges.

Officials said the decreasing number of sharecroppers is one reasons for fields turning fallow.  They agreed that rural-urban migration, wildlife attack, irrigation problem, labour shortage and increasing labour charges are other factors.

By Dawa Gyelmo and  Ugyen Penjore

 

ACC looking into origins of dubious Lungtenphug holdings

Update: The Anti Corruption Commission is investigating the origin of the 33-decimal land at Lungtenphug belonging to former Chang gup Naku’s daughter.

The commission had, in October, issued a freeze notice on the land, together with 11 landowners.  The land in question, according to sources, initially measured 19 decimals only.  A complaint letter to ACC states that there are no proper documents with the Thimphu thromde, under which the land falls, to authenticate the source of the land. “Since the land records available with the thromde had undergone cosmetic surgery before handing over by the erstwhile department of survey and land records, the records doesn’t reveal any history of the plot,” the letter to ACC stated.

The letter quotes a former tshogpa, Dhomchu, who, it states, had raised concern when the former gup registered the land in his daughter’s name. “The tshogpa reiterated that, during the new sathram compilation time in 2000-02, when Naku was the gup, the tshogpa had objected to the registration during the survey as well as in one of the meetings at the dzongkhag level.”

The former tshogpa, who is now 84, said he couldn’t remember anything, as it happened a long time ago. “I can’t remember what I said yesterday. How will I remember what I raised in a meeting many years ago?”

Another former tshogpa, however, verified that his colleague had told the zomdu (meeting) that the land would brew problem in future as it was registered without proper legal procedures. “The gup had then claimed that the land was dropped from his daughter’s thram,” he said, requesting anonymity. “The land actually wasn’t in the present location.”

On verifying the chagzag thram with the National Land Commission, it was found that the land originally measured 12 decimals.  The 12-decimal land, according to the chagzag thram, was gifted by one Namgay Bidha.  Kuensel couldn’t trace Namgay Bidha, who is believed to have expired now.

It is not known if the land was purchased from others and increased from 12 to 33 decimals.  The daughter, Namgay Wangmo, in whose name the land is registered, didn’t want to comment.

However, sources said that Namgay Bidha, a former Thimphu landowner, had migrated to Shar Phayul in Wangduephodrang a long time ago.  ACC and land commission officials had gone to Phayul to investigate.

The land records at Thimphu thromde didn’t mention anything about the origin of the land.

Some sources said that the land belonged to  the dratsang, Tharagonpa lhakhang above Lungtenphuarmy camp.

By Ugyen Penjore

Agriculture to support central school initiative

IMG_0593Farm exhibition: Students of Nangkor HSS sell their SAP produce on World Food Day (File photo)

The ambitious program aims at no less a lofty goal than food self sufficiency

SAP: The school agriculture program (SAP) has been identified as one of the means to sustain the central and autonomous schools, agriculture ministry officials said.

The SAP task force, including officials from education ministry, will soon visit the schools to identify the necessary infrastructure for a quick start to the program in those schools.

The livestock and vegetable programme was revisited after the inception of the government’s central school initiative last year.

School agriculture programme coordinator with the council for renewable resources research of Bhutan (CoRRB), BB Rai, said earlier it was left to the schools to have the programme, but now it was mandatory for these schools.

The programme was initially started to promote dignity of labour among students in the eighth Plan, and has now grown to make students ‘work, produce and consume.’

“The programme’s advantages are that the students learn farming, eat fresh vegetables, and the school earns its revenue,” BB Rai said.

The schools will create a fund for the programme in the first year through the sale of their  farm produce, and then build on it thereafter.  All schools will have a minimum of 50m2 (metre square) of vegetable garden, and rear livestock, such as pigs, chicken and cattle or fish, according to the geographic and climate zones the schools are located at.  All materials, including seeds, tools, and animal feed among others will be provided to schools.

The large scale farming in schools is also expected to help meet the country’s food self-sufficiency, as local production meets only 60 percent of the demand.

If it goes well, it will help meet nutrition requirements to about 30 percent of the country’s population. “The school agriculture farming is able to meet about 20 percent of the vegetable requirements in the schools to date,” agriculture officials said.

The government spends about Nu 4M on the programme annually.

The produce will also be sold at lower prices to the schools. “Schools can buy more goods with limited budget because of this programme,” BB Rai said.

While imparting education remains the programme’s primary goal, it also aims to supplement the school mess with vegetables, meat and dairy products.

As an incentive, certain portion of the proceeds from the sale of the sale to the school mess would go to the students.

Selected SAP club members or students, who are studying the agriculture subject, will be trained during winter vacations, 20 each year, to become master students in the next academic year.

A batch of students would receive training in College of Natural Resources (CNR) in agriculture starting next week.  A group of 22 teachers have completed advance agriculture training Rural Development Training Centre in Zhemgang recently.

“Students need not plough the large fields, it will be mechanised and only at later stages they might have to do it themselves,” BB Rai said, adding that the policy is to make it more attractive and not to expose them to drudgery.

Under the programme, 18 teachers were trained in herbal gardening in ICIMOD’s innovation park in Godavari, Nepal this winter.

“They’ll start herbal gardens in their respective schools, from this academic session,” he said.

The programme has covered 250 schools, almost half of the schools in the country, as of December last year.

Of the 250, 68 have piggery, 45 poultry farms, and 220 grow vegetables, besides dairy farms too.

CoRRB also has 35 primary schools identified for the ‘vegetables go to school’ project with the Asia Vegetable Research Development Centre in Taiwan.

 

Agriculture and Food Security (AgFS) subject for HSS

 

Students in 30 schools have the option to study agriculture and food safety as an optional subject, including 10 higher secondary schools starting the syllabus for class XI this academic session.

This year class XI students in 10 identified schools would have the option to learn farming through a syllabus developed by CoRRB. The agriculture and food safety subject launched two years ago in 20 schools across the country.

By Tshering Palden

Picture story

Dharmik yatra: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay began his spiritual pilgrimage in Varanasi yesterday. Lyonchhoen visited the Bodhivrisksha, Kashi Vishwanath temple, Chaukhandi stupa, Dharmarajika stupa, Dhameka stupa and the Mulagandhakuti Vihara temple.

      

Bhutan to source 2,000 cows from India

Amul’s expertise is being sought to make the country self-sufficient in milk and milk products

Dairy: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, during his official visit to Gujarat, sought Amul Dairy’s expertise to source 2,000 cows from India.

Minister of economic affairs, Norbu Wangchuk, confirmed this, saying, Bhutan needs more cows, since the agriculture ministry is making efforts to make Bhutan self sufficient in milk and milk products.

“If we look at the import figures, milk and milk products are two of the most imported food items, which puts a drain on the economy,” he said. “Government puts in a lot of effort to reduce food imports, out of which milk and milk products are our primary focus.”

Lyonpo said the government has asked Amul to see how they could assist with the supply of the cows.

“Immediately, a team from the department of livestock will come to India and examine the quality of cows to take to Bhutan,” he said. “With this, farmers need not look for cows elsewhere.”

Lyonpo said farmers would be getting these cows under the Business Opportunity Information Center (BoIC) or the agriculture program.

Lyonpo said there was an overwhelming response from the rural pockets for taking up cottage dairy farming under BoIC, a channel through which government supports small enterprises to take up agriculture activities.

“The challenge for these farmers is to get good quality cows,” he said. “We want to connect them to the experience of Amul and also latch onto the resources that Amul has.”

By Tshering Wangdi, Varanasi

Bhutan GDP growth bound to rebound

The govt. though can’t claim credit for this projection; it’s mainly due to Dagachu

WB Report: The World Bank (WB) has projected Bhutan’s economic growth at 7.9 percent for the current fiscal year – higher than the government’s 6.8 percent target, and is further estimated to increase for the next few years.

The estimate comes at a time when the government has announced a number of economic reform programmes, such as the relaxation of economic development policy.  The latest WB projection is higher than that of last year when the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 5.5 percent.

Titled “Global Economic Prospects: Having Fiscal Space and Using It”, the report, which was released earlier this month, however does not attribute the growth to the government’s reform programmes.  It says the growth will be propelled by the completion of Dagachu hydropower project.

Further, from the lowest growth rate of just two percent in 2013, Bhutan’s GDP is projected to grow from 8.4 percent next year to 8.6 percent in 2017.

The report states that the region’s smallest economies, including Bhutan, will be lifted by strengthening growth in India, which is the country’s biggest development partner.

Bhutan also has a few things to cheer about on the economic front as compared to its neighbours.  The country has six percent of its population paying income tax – the highest in the SAARC region.  Only about one percent of people in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan pay tax.

However, remittance inflow into the economy is the lowest among the SAARC countries, contributing only two percent to its GDP.  In the region, Nepal is the biggest receiver of remittances, with about 29 percent of its GDP comprising remittances, followed by Bangladesh with 11 percent.

The share of tax in GDP increased from five percent in 2004 to about 9 percent in 2012, the highest in the region.  The contribution of direct tax in the GDP is lowest in the Maldives, with only 1 percent.

On the other hand, Bhutan’s suffers from the biggest current account deficit by a large margin, in comparison with any of its neighbours in SAARC.  The country’s current account deficit increased from 13.9 percent to 25 percent of its GDP in 2013.  It decreased to 21.9 percent last year, but is projected to increase to 27.9 percent in 2017.

A current account deficit arises when a country imports more goods, services and capital than its exports.

Bhutan’s public debt ratios exceed 90 percent of GDP, which means 90 percent of the country’s economy comprises borrowings, both internal and external. “But the ratio should decline once the hydropower projects start to produce and Bhutan’s electricity exports to India increase,” the WB states.

“Deficits in India should gradually decline, as revenues improve in line with activity, and as the government rationalises subsidies and reduces its stakes in major public corporations.”

Bhutan ranks low on some of the common yardsticks of efficient tax administration.

The WB report states that factors that impinge on low revenue mobilisation include low literacy rates, large rural populations, large informal economies, and poor governance.  Bhutan has increased the size of its financial sector in the past decade and has managed to boost tax ratios.

“In Bhutan, where revenues depend to a large extent on hydropower, revenue sources must be diversified for stable and increased revenue generation,” the WB report states.

Bhutan will be one of the smallest economies in the world that will experience larger growth in 2017, but India’s 7.0 percent expansion will be the fastest among the world’s 50 largest economies.

Meanwhile, the WB estimates that growth in South Asia rose to an estimated 5.5 percent in 2014 from a 10-year low of 4.9 percent in 2013.

Regional growth is projected to rise to 6.8 percent by 2017, as reforms ease supply constraints in India, political tensions subside in Pakistan, remittances remain robust in Bangladesh and Nepal, and demand for the region’s exports firms.

“Past adjustments have reduced vulnerability to financial market volatility. Risks are mainly domestic and of a political nature.”

MB Subba