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Friday, May 29th, 2015 - 2:10 PM
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A farm road that brought villagers back home

IMG_1234Where there is will, there is way: A section of the 7.5km farm road villagers built on their own

The village of Lul in Kashi gewog sees a new lease of life thanks to its own initiative

Migration: Villagers of Lul in Kashi gewog, Wangduephodrang had all the reasons to move back to their abandoned houses almost five years after they migrated to the lower foothills in search of better opportunities.

Located about 40km from the dzongkhag administration centre, Lul is the least populated and most remote village under Lingkhabji chiwog in Kashi.  The village comprises eight households.

Save for one household, it was around 2007 when the rest moved to nearby villages near the gewog centres that had better access to market and road.

Lul tshogpa Phub Dorji said, some even moved to towns, hoping for a better livelihood, without a road or income opportunities back in their village.

“Since then, we worked as sharecroppers, mainly growing rice, and thought life was better on the other side,” he said. “Now we’ve realised that what we left behind was gold.”

It was in 2012, when villagers decided to move back.  They requested the government to construct a farm road.  However, their request failed, as they were just eight households.  For the government to fund a farm road, it should at least benefit 20 households.

Without any option left, villagers decided to build a farm road at their own expense, and start producing agricultural produce on a large scale.  The villagers availed loan from the Bhutan Development Bank and requested for an excavator from the dzongkhag.

Phub Dorji said, except for rice, the land in their village was favourable for growing all kinds of vegetables.

Villagers said after obtaining forestry, environment, and community clearances, cost of construction was estimated at Nu 3M.  The six households could contribute only Nu 550,000 through loan, while two refused to contribute, as they stayed in Bajo town.

The excavator driver came to their rescue.  He told the villagers that, since the government provided the excavator, they could just pay for the fuel.

The cost of construction of the 7.5km road then dropped to about Nu 650,000.  However, they were still short of Nu 100,000.  The tshogpa then volunteered to contribute his two-year salary, in addition to his contribution of Nu 100,000.

Within two and a half months, they completed clearing the farm road that not only brought them back to their village but also helped them start afresh.

Aum Tashi Bidha’s family was the only one left behind when others left.  Now, with a farm road and her neighbours back, she is hopeful of a good agricultural yield.

“Although we grow all kinds of vegetables, it was difficult to take it to the market in absence of manpower and road,” Aum Tashi said.

“So far, we’ve been growing vegetables just enough to sustain ourselves,” she said.

Aum Tashi said the villagers availed a loan of Nu 100,000 each, for which they have to pay a yearly installment of Nu 28,500.

“Last year, we managed to pay, borrowing from a friend,” she said, adding they were now cultivating potato to pay their next installment.

Villagers are worried, as they don’t have other source of income to repay their loan, apart from cultivating potato on a large scale.

However, they remain optimistic, now that they have gifted themselves a farm road.

To help maintain the farm road, villagers also collect fees from vehicles passing by.  Villagers said the money could also be utilised for construction of drainage facilities, which they couldn’t do earlier due to shortage of fund.

By Dawa Gyelmo,  Wangdue 

Daga Trashi Yangtse dzong consecrated

his-holinessHis Holiness the Je Khenpo consecrates the Daga Trashi Yangtse dzong

The renovation work that began in 2010 was largely funded by GoI

Heritage: His Holiness the Je Khenpo consecrated the 365-year-old Daga Trashi Yangtse dzong yesterday.  His Holiness also consecrated the 40ft by 45ft Goenpo Tshepamey thongdrel chhenmo, which was unfurled to thousands of devotees.

Built in 1651, the dzong has undergone major renovation since 2010.

Under the renovation project, damaged windows and other wooden components of almost all sections of the dzong, including shabkorutse, dzongkhag administrative block and lamai zimchung, maintaining the traditional architecture, was replaced.

The drasha (monk’s residence), with a capacity to house more than 170 monks, with 12 toilet, a multipurpose hall, dining hall and common kitchen for rabdey dratshang, was also constructed below the dzong last year, as part of the project that alone cost Nu 30M.

Relaying of stone slabs (doleps) of two dochels of dzongkhag administration block and rabdey block, and installation of proper drainage was also done as part of the project.

The project was scheduled to complete in June 2013, but work was delayed as installation of fire hydrants, which was not in the master plan, had to be done, besides finishing work took time.

“The fire hydrant plan came after the fire hazard of Wangduephodrang dzong,” project manager, Kinley Gyeltshen, said.

The project was carried out by 80 permanent workers, including skilled (carpenter and mason) and unskilled, with labour contribution with wages by people of 14 gewogs of Darkar Lung Sum, according to the project manager.

The conservation project was carried out with the government of India funding Nu 125M.  During the restoration period, the dzongkhag administration functioned from the guesthouse.

Daga Trashi Yangtse dzong was built by Zhabdrung’s  dronyer, Druk Namgyel on the command of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.  Zhabdrung deputed Druk Namgyel to Darkala, present day Dagana, to bring the area under Drukpa rule, and to build a dzong to defend the country from the invading armies of the south and Duar areas in the present-day Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

The purpose of the military expedition was achieved, and Druk Namgyel began laying the foundations of the dzong in 1649.

A strategic site on a ridge overlooking an expansive valley was chosen, and construction began with labour contribution by the people of Darkala.  Two years later, in 1651, the dzong was completed and formally named by Zhabdrung as Darkar Trashi Yangtse dzong, the fortress of the realm of white auspicious flag of fortune.

Among other sacred relics, the dzong houses a buffalo horn measuring about 4 feet 5 inches.  The horn is believed to have been discovered by Daga Penlop Tempa Thinley in the early 16th century.

The consul from the Indian embassy and home secretary were also present at the consecration ceremony.

His Holiness will preside over the dzongkhag’s third weeklong annual Menlam Chenmo that will start from today at Daga Higher Secondary School ground.

By Tshering Namgyal, Dagana

Ninth body found

Panbang: It took more than eight hours to identify the body of a man, who went missing since the boat mishap in the Mangdechhu on May 10.  The body was found at Jerangang in Panbang yesterday.

Sources in Panbang said, this was because the body was swollen and decomposed.

Police search team, who stopped for lunch, saw the body swaying on the waves of the river.  Police then informed Panbang dungkhag officials, who went to confirm it with binoculars.  The dungkhag officials then asked the river guides of Panbang (RGoP) to retrieve the body.

Dungkhag officials, together with relatives and officials of Shingkhar and Bardo gewogs, identified the body.  At around 9pm, the body was identified as 21-year old Leki Dorji from Zangling in Shingkhar.

Panbang dungpa Therchung Kencho said the body was cremated.  It was arranged by the dungkhag.

The dungpa said, although dungkhag initially decided to conduct the search only on weekends, search teams in small numbers were sent to comb the riverside to ensure bodies are found, on time, in case the swollen river brought them downstream.

Three men are still missing.

By Tashi Dema

Saving the shrinking Kharul lake

Untitled-1Members of a study team inspecting the lake (Picture courtesy: NEC)

A Nu 750,000 plan has been proposed to protect and preserve the rich water body

Ecology: With heavy accumulation of sand along the periphery, Kharul lake in Lhamoizingkha, Dagana is shrinking.  It’s religious, spiritual and environmental significance calls for it to be preserved.

A study conducted on the protection and preservation of Kharul lake, earlier this year, made this conclusion.  Officials from the national environment commission (NEC), department of geology and mines, culture department and labour ministry conducted the study jointly.

The study states a decade back the lake measured about 19,700sqm and, at present, the size of the lake has been reduced by the deposition of sand.

NEC’s secretary Ugyen Tshewang said the lake is connected by two small streams from the north, and has an artificially created drainage, which is the only outlet.

“During monsoon, there is heavy amount of erosion from the two small streams and deposition takes place in the lake,” Ugyen Tshewang said. “Even by looking at the topography surrounding the lake, we can draw conclusion that size of the lake was much bigger than what it is now.”

The lake is also known to have a rich aquatic ecosystem, Ugyen Tshewang said, where starfish, sea horse, seashell and other sea creatures are found to be still surviving.

“The survival of these sea animals is threatened when the lake is becoming shallower from debris.”

The Kharul lake, officials said, is believed to be over 50 million years old.

Locals believe in the existence of protective deity of the lake, for which they conduct annual rituals and pay respect to the lake.

A seashell found at the lake’s periphery

To protect and preserve the lake, NEC officials said, construction of a small height dam, built from natural materials like wooden peg or boulders, has been proposed.

The commission has proposed to Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation Nu 750,000 to carry out this project.

“As soon as we get the fund, works at the lake will commence,” Ugyen Tshewang said.

Besides the dam, Ugyen Tshewang said, there were plans to develop the space surrounding the lake into an attractive tourist spot. “The forest is dense and there’s plenty of space,” he said.

By Thinley Zangmo

Hazelnut plantations razed by forest fire

IMG_2061Charred: A hazelnut sapling in Bidung

Disaster: Besides acres of forest and structures that were lost to the April 22 forest fire, almost 3,000 hazelnut trees worth Nu 0.59M belonging to farmers of Bartsham and Bidung in Trashigang were charred.

Hazelnut accounted for 76 percent of the 3,844 fruit trees that were consumed by the fire.  Most trees belonged to 15 households of Tsigtum, Lemphang and Kakaniwog in Bidung, while 100 trees belonged to a household under Muktanghar, Bartsham.

Mountain hazelnut venture’s (MVH) field monitor from Bartsham, Tenzin Wangdi, said that it costs around Nu 200 a sapling to get it to a place like Bidung and Bartsham from the nursery at Lingmethang and Ngatsang in Mongar.  The saplings were provided free by the venture on the understanding that farmers would sell the nuts to them.

Officials from hazelnut venture, who visited affected plantation areas, have plans to replenish the plantation sites with saplings again for free.

Restoring the affected plantations could cost the project Nu 200 a sapling.  It is estimated to cost over Nu 0.20M, if the venture were to replenish around 2,000 saplings.

Gewog officials said the villagers are skeptical to restock the plantations.

“They feel the plantations will be vulnerable to forest fire, because it breaks out often,” Bidung mangmi, Sonam Phuntsho, said. “Moreover, some of the villagers will be unable to fence the wide area of plantation again.”

“The wooden fences were easily flammable, and we propose use of barbed wire if we are to start the plantation again,” Kinzang, who lost 600 hazelnut saplings, said. “The fire charred all the saplings,” Kinzang said, adding that, save for a few, most are unlikely to regenerate.

Kinzang said the suggestion has been made to officials from the venture.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer DC Bhandari said they could not promise monetary compensation to farmers, who have lost either hazel nut trees or other fruit trees.

“We’re yet to hear from the department of agriculture on the damage report forwarded recently,” DC Bhandari said. “If no direct compensation can be made, dzongkhag will distribute free fruit trees as part of the compensation plan.”

About 44 households of 10 villages such as Dori, Jelung and Tsigtum have also lost 912 fruit trees, including mandarin, apple, pear, walnut and persimmon.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Why FCBL should expand

Wholesalers and retailers should look upon the corporation as a mentor than a competitior 

There is a reason for retailers to fear the Food corporation of Bhutan (FCB) encroaching in the retail grocery business, because FCB has the support of the government, and is a seasoned organisation that has been in these kind of business for decades, with mammoth experience in wholesale and retail grocery undertaking.

FCB already has established and strategically located depots nationwide to cater the needs of these retail outlets.  However, it is worth noting that FCBL also has numerous social mandates.

a) It expected to stabilise the prices of the basic commodities (such as rice, oil, sugar, pulses and slat) for the nation in case of erratic demand and supply situation.

b) It also shoulders the responsibility of marketing cash crops, originating from our marginal rural farmers, like potatoes, oranges, cardamom and seasonal vegetables.

c) It acts as the logistics wing of UN WFP in feeding annually some 37,000 vulnerable school children of Bhutan.

Finally, and most critically, is its mandate to hold the national and SAARC food security reserve of some 1,400MT of various food commodities to meet the basic needs of the general public, in case of emergencies and disasters in the country.

Although it is a quasi-government organisation, the bitter fact is that government imposes this mandate over FCBL with little or no financial compensation, except for the cost reimbursement they receive for assisting WFP in terms of logistics.

I fear if FCBL receives any substantial support from the government to sustain its social mandate.  FCBL, like any other corporation, is expected to make profits and sustain on its own without any financial support from the government.  On the other hand, the government expects FCB to contribute towards its national exchequer at par, if not at premium, in comparison to other corporations like BTCL, BPC, RICB, etc.  And when it fails to project a healthy profit and loss account and stable balance sheet, it is looked upon as a liability-child of the government-offspring – no wonder DHI is not interested in FCBL.

I believe FCBL deserves an opportunity to venture in some commercial initiatives that might sustain its supplementary social mandates.

It is worthy to mention that 1400MT of food can suffice the basic food needs of the entire Bhutanese population for almost a week.  With a supply chain background, I can understand the challenges and cost implication of maintaining these massive inventory levels in a logistically confronting country like Bhutan, whereby you are frequently required to rotate the stock to avoid expiry and damages.

I applaud FCBL for succeeding in this venture and other social mandate, yet remaining commercially competitive.  I am sure fellow Bhutanese citizens will join me in this appreciation, for we know how many times we have benefited from the FCBL fair price depots around the country, and escaped the exploitation from short-sighted vendors.

Many might still think that FCB has an edge over other wholesalers and retailers, and is able to sell products at a much lower price than others, mainly because they get subsidy from FCI and RGoB.  Well, that was the story of the past; as far as my knowledge is concerned, FCB stopped receiving any kind of subsidy from FCI and RGoB long before, except for sugar (to be validated).  For all other commodities, FCB competes with other wholesalers and retailers in the open market.  A lot of credit goes to their prudent supply chain planning and execution.

From the demand-side perspective, consumers today prefer to shop at FCBL depots instead of other groceries mainly because of price benefits.  FCBL values quality products; they have a separate unit dealing with the quality control manned with qualified and trained professionals – well, I wouldn’t say that they are fully developed, yet they have recognised the importance of such a unit.  I wonder if any other wholesaler and retailer in Bhutan has a separate quality and quantity inspection unit (other than BAFRA).

Another pertinent issue I have observed in our country is that we do not have a standard weights and weighing scales regulation.  We are so easy-going that we tend to accept any iron ball that is inscribed 5KG to be really 5kg.  If we see a bag of rice labelled 25kg, we take it for granted to be 25kg without questioning.  There is no regulatory authority to calibrate the weights used by different wholesalers, retailers and shopkeepers in Bhutan.

The weighing equipment used by our traders all over Bhutan, be it digital weighing scales, beam balance or spring balance, are never certified by authority and are questionable if they truly represent the weight they claim to be.  I think SQCA needs to ponder this issue and resolve it at the earliest possible.  The fact is that, because of lack of a standard weighing scale, our shopkeepers today can use customised weights to manipulate the weight of loose goods and meet their own self-centred goal of profit maximisation at the cost of our poor and innocent customers.  Consumers look at FCBL in this regard as an epitome of a fair and just grocer.

To all the small and medium scale retailers and wholesalers, I urge you all not to look at FCBL as your competitor, but see them as your mentor and source of inspiration, and try to grow with them.  Try to indulge in such a business, which is built on ethics and values of customer satisfaction and services.  I believe that such a business will survive any kind of competition.

I urge all competitors of FCBL to share some of FCBL’s social responsibility, and try to serve our humble community with improved services and products, so as to benefit the common people, in addition to your commercial goals.

In summary, I truly believe that, if FCBL is able to expand its retail chain nationwide, it will not only benefit the common people, but also bring a paradigm shift in retail business in Bhutan, from profit orientation to social welfare, and eventually add more value to our His Majesty’s and the government’s vision of a Happy Bhutan built on the philosophy of consumer satisfaction and GNH.

 

Contributed by  Bhanu B Adhikari

 UN MONUSCO,  Congo, Africa

Picture story

Indian government released a commemorative stamp celebrating the 999 years of Drukpa lineage coinciding with the Buddha Purnima on May 14. The spiritual head of Drukpa Kagyu, Gyalwang Drukpa, and spiritual regent of the lineage, Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche, took part in the ceremony. Diplomats from various countries and followers of the lineage were also present

    

Eighth body found

Family members question legality of the boat service operation

Update: Another body of a man that went missing following the tragic boat mishap in Rendibi, Zhemgang on May 10 was found yesterday a few kilometres downstream.

This takes the  number of dead from the mishap in Mandechu to eight.  Four are still missing.

Bridge construction workers in Sangseri, Pantang, saw the body and pulled it to the riverbank.  Officials and relatives were later called to identify the body.  He was identified as twenty-seven-year-old Rinchen Lethro from Langdurbi.

His father, who went back to Langdurbi after the search was called off, returned to Zhemgang to cremate the body.

Meanwhile, some relatives of the 17 people on board have raised questions on the legality of the boat operation,  saying that they need answers from the government, whether the man operating the boat was doing so legally.

People from upper Kheng told a member of parliament that the government should answer how the boatman could operate without a license.

A woman, who lost her husband, said both government and boatman were at fault. “The incident would never have occurred if the government gave us a proper bridge,” she said. “People resorted to boat, as the suspension bridge was too weak.”

The woman said, survivors have told her that the boatman never told passengers that the boat was overloaded. “He should have taken turns.” She said her husband resigned from the army on kidu, since there was no one to work in the village. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to support my aged parents and two sons.”

People of remote Langdurbi and Khomshar villages, who took two days to reach the nearest road head in Gomphu, travelled via Rendibi after the Gomphu-Panbang road opened to traffic, and got a suspension bridge over Mangdechu.  But only people could cross over the suspension bridge.

Some contractors used a motorboat to cross the river and ferry construction materials.

Bardo gup Kunzang Jurmi said the contractors stopped operating the boat, and the boatman from Phangkhar started the business in his wooden boat, charging Nu 25 a person to cross over.

“But the gewog never knew about the boat operation until the accident happened,” the gup said.

He also said people opted to travel via the boat, since the bridge was weak, and also because it was only a few minutes walk from the road head. “People always opted for short cut.”

But there were other people from Langdurbi, who said the boat benefitted, and that there was no use blaming the boatman.

A relative of a deceased said, he explained to people that blaming the boatman would not be fair, as people preferred the boat to get to the other side.

Member of parliament from Bardo-Trong, Lekey Dorji, said, the quality of rural infrastructure is poor everywhere, and people say that they resorted the boat, since the suspension bridge downstream shakes and trembles. “Home minister visited the suspension bridge and thought it needed more props to prevent it from swaying and trembling,” he said.

He also said, there was a similar case in Therang, which connects to Shingkhar and Bardo gewogs, where the suspension bridge has been dismantled, and a temporary wooden bridge put in place. “A slight rise in water level would wash away the bridge, jeopardising the lives of people,” MP Lekey Dorji said.

Zhemgang dzongda Karma Dukpa said the dzongkhag was not aware of the boat operation.

By Tashi Dema

Dungsam to explore hydro projects

Cement: To augment sales in the domestic market, Dungsam Cement Corporation limited (DCCL) is eyeing the country’s mega hydropower projects.

Mangdechhu and Punatsangchhu II, put together, can procure more than double the Dungsam’s total 20 percent domestic target, which is 272,000 metric tonnes (MT), of cement’s total production.

Dungsam has a capacity to produce 1.36 million (M) MT of cement annually.  It can also produce 1MMT of clinker at the same period.

The projections made by DCCL officials show that Mangdechu alone has the capacity to procure 502,869MT of cement in a year.  Punatsangchhu II can procure 133,578MT of cement in the same period.

Currently, these two power projects, including the Punatsangchhu I, buy Indian brand cement such as JayPee and Ultratech, including Bhutan’s Penden cement.

Although Mangdechhu and Dagachu have already started procuring Dungsam cement, the two Punatsangchhu projects have not.

After receiving the cement certification by the bureau of Indian standards (BIS) in April, DCCL officials have also had dialogues with the Punatsangchhu projects’ management.

DCCL has made an offer to the managements, in which quality, quantity, and price have matched.

Dungsam cement’s chief executive officer, Dorji Norbu, said the corporation presented its products to Punatsangchu I and II on May 3.

“We gave them the hard copy of the BIS license,” he said. “They’re supposed to register our product.”

After the registration, a discussion will follow, and the supply order will eventually be awarded, Dorji Norbu said.

At present, Dungsam plant is running under 80 percent of the total capacity.  It has been able to sell 500MT in a day, officials confirmed.

Located in Nganglam, DCCL started its commercial production in January this year.  Until today, officials have confirmed Dungsam has produced 48,719MT of cement.

About 70 percent of the total cement production is sold in the domestic market, while the remaining 20 percent is exported to India.

DCCL officials said that the situation would reverse soon.

“At present, there’s a slump in the Indian market as well,” CEO Dorji Norbu said, adding that the ongoing elections had affected the market condition. “But sales are slowly picking up.”

DCCL officials also said, about 354,709.3MT of clinker have been produced until today, out of which about 90 percent has been exported to India.

Meanwhile, with 80 percent of the total cement production targeted for export in India, DCCL will much benefit the country’s economy in Indian rupee (Rs) inflow.

Assam and northeast India are Dungsam cement’s major markets.  However, it is also targeting North Bengal and East Bihar.

Dungsam produces three types of cement such as portland pozzolana cement, portland slag cement, and ordinary portland cement.  About 36 percent of total production is portland pozzolana, while 34 percent is slag, and 30 percent ordinary.  All these cement types will come under the brand name ‘Dragon Cement’.

DCCL was constructed at a cost of Nu 10.88 billion (B).

Running in full capacity, Dungsam can fetch total gross revenue worth Rs 6B annually.  It could contribute to the government around Rs 4B annually, after deducting its repayment on debt.

By Rajesh Rai

Shechen Dharma Society launched

DSC_8082In memory: Her Royal Grand Mother Ashi Kesang Choedon Wangchuck inaugurates the Shechen Dharma Society dedicated to late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche yesterday

Religion: Her Royal Grand Mother Ashi Kesang Choedon Wangchuck and Khentse Yangsi Rinpoche inaugurated the Shechen Dharma Society in Thimphu yesterday.

The chairperson of the society, Adzom Gyalse Rinpoche, said the society was established to pay homage to His Holiness late Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche.

“Rinpoche came to Bhutan in the form of Yangsi to continue his work for the well being of the people,” he said. “It is a privilege for us to work under late Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche’s reincarnation to spread dharma in the country and to spread His Holiness’ teachings.”

The society will look after dratshangs, shedras and nunneries, which were established under Rinpoche’s initiative in his previous life.

To preserve his teachings and for those who have not the opportunity to see His Holiness, the society will translate Rinpoche’s recorded teachings in 10 languages into Dzongkha and distribute to the youth.

For the sustainability of the annual drubchhens in Kichu in Paro, Kuje in Bumthang and annual rituals for the well being of the country, the society will coordinate the events hereafter.

One of the Society’s main tasks will be to preserve Rinpoche’s monument at Paro Satsam chorten and memorial Chorten constructed at Kichu by her Royal Grand Mother.

The Dharma Society was registered with the religious organization last year.

Yangsi also donated Nu 0.3 Million to the reconstruction of the Wangduephodrang dzong.

The office will function under guidance of Rabjam Rinpoche and has eight members including a chairperson.

By Tashi Tenzin