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Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - 9:07 AM
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Forest fire in Mongar contained

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Forest officials and locals in Mongar’s Dremetse and Ngatshang gewogs, yesterday contained the forest fire that damaged more than 3,000 acres of forest since March 9.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Those involved in battling the fire said strong winds, and lack of water and steep terrain made it difficult for them to control the fire. But, as of yesterday, they managed to contain the fire in the two gewogs.

Officials said, students of Yadi higher secondary school and community volunteers helped prevent the fire from spreading towards the workshop area in Yadi, Ngatshang.

By Dechen Tshering

India approves four hydro projects

Power: The country’s target to harness 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020 got a huge boost with the government of India giving the green signal for the construction of four hydropower projects.

This was decided at the 12th Empowered Joint Group (EJG) meeting held yesterday in the capital.

The four projects are the 600MW Kholongchhu, the 570MW Wangchhu, the 770 MW Chamkharchhu and the 180MW Bunakha, all of which will be undertaken as joint venture projects between public sector companies of India and Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) with 50 percent equity shareholding each.

However, the financing would be done on a 70 percent loan and 30 percent equity basis.  This means that DGPC and the public sector companies from India would be investing 15 percent each to make the 30 percent equity. The two investors will also have to seek 70 percent loan.

Economic affairs secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering, said one of the most significant outcomes of the meeting was that the Indian government agreed to provide the 15 percent equity grant to DGPC.

The Kholongchhu Project, the secretary, said would start immediately after an inter-government agreement is signed. The signing, he confirmed would take place by April this year.

The other three projects are yet to complete its formalities like internal and financial reviews after which fund has to be approved.

Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SVNL) will be DGPC’s partner for the Kholongchhu project, which is worth over Nu 26B and the Nu 46.4B Wangchhu hydropower project.

The Nu 29.5B Bunakha project would be undertaken as a joint venture between DGPC and Tehri Hydro Development corporation limited.

The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation will partner DGPC in the Nu 47.7B Chamkharchhu project.

The review for the 2,560MW Sunkosh project will be done in July, while the 2,640MW Kuri-Goongri project is already in the advanced stage of signing.

By Tshering Dorji

Pay commission’s report ready

Salary: The pay commission, established to look into the possibility of revising salaries of civil servants, has completed its report, whose findings will be known, once submitted to the cabinet for review.

The commission sought an additional month’s extension beyond February 12, to complete and present its report to the government, during the last parliament session.

Commission’s chairperson, Druk Green Power corporation’s managing director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said, the report has been completed and is ready for printing..

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, however, couldn’t share any details of the report.

“The report isn’t yet ready for review now. All I can say is that it has been completed. Our term is over and I’ve no further comments,” he said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji, over a telephone interview, said that the cabinet has not yet received a copy of the report.

“We’ve given them an additional one month’s time to work on the report, and I’m sure it’s been completed by now,” lyonpo said, adding it would be submitted any time soon, and the cabinet might review the report next week.

“After the cabinet reviews the report, we’ll see if it’s worth letting the public know,” the lyonpo said.

If possible, the lyonpo said, recommendations of the report would be implemented before the coming summer session of parliament, but most likely it would be implemented only after being tabled in the parliament session scheduled for June.

It should be tabled in parliament, where various issues, comments and suggestions could be discussed, the lyonpo said.

Areas, the pay commission had been asked to look into, included introducing housing allowances for civil servants, revising salary and benefits of local government officials, introducing rural posting allowances for civil servants, and reviewing the recommendations of the first parliament on pay scale for the prime minister and ministers.

Meanwhile, the revision in salaries is being eagerly awaited, as commodity prices soar in the market.

Inflation, since the last revision in salaries has averaged 22 percent.  Estimates show, purchasing power of the ngultrum being eroded by almost 11 percent in just one year.

Hopes for an upward revision in salaries have been restored in the market, with the recent increase in government revenue through the raised export price of Chukha’s electricity tariff.

The revision in Chukha’s export price will fetch the government half a billion in revenue in the form of Rupees annually.

Government revenue will also increase, with Dungsam expected to contribute a net revenue of Rs 4B annually, and Dagachu, another few billions.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

Picture story

His Majesty the King yesterday granted an audience to 175 students who received government scholarships to pursue professional undergraduate courses abroad

 

Dungkhag shift: Final decision with people – PM

Gelephu: Nine months after he promised to move Gelephu dungkhag (sub-district) to Chuzagang, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on March 11 said the government would go by its Wangtse Chirpel policy and let the people make the final decision.

In a meeting at Norbuling middle secondary school, where hundreds of people, including village tshogpas, local government leaders and officials from dungkhag, attended, lyonchhoen said the People’s Democratic party had made this pledge, based on the need of the people.

“People should finalise the decision to shift the dungkhag,” lyonchhoen said. “The government will take it up immediately if a resolution to shift it comes to us through the gewog and dzongkhag tshogde.”

Home minister Damchoe Dorji said the government’s decision to shift the dungkhag headquarters was taken for security reasons, and in favour of the four gewogs – Sershong, Tareythang, Chuzagang and Umling – which have high potential for economic development considering vast area of flat land. “Development takes place when there is a dungkhag,” lyonpo said.

Although the move would benefit the communities, some people said there was a need to finalise to location of the dungkhag first.  While some felt the dungkhag shouldn’t be relocated a few said a bridge over the Mao river would be enough.

To this, lyonchhoen said the government is in the process of looking for funds to construct a bridge, which would however be difficult. “The bridge construction is in the plan and but it’s uncertain, because it depends on the availability of funds,” he said.

However, he said, the government’s plan to blacktop the road until the gewog centre would have more impact for the people.  A ropeway over the Mao river, he said, would be started soon to address the problem for the time being.

A dungkhag was promised to some 100 people when he met them on June 29 last year. “If the dungkhag is here, you’ll get two benefits: one – you get good road, and second, you get a bridge,” he had said, adding that, with the establishment of a dungkhag office, people need not have to go to Gelephu.

By Tshering Namgyal, Gelephu

The burglary plague

The  recent spate of burglaries has forced many to change their perspective on crimes committed in the capital – a fairly safe city until recently.

Speak about an apartment or an office being broken into, and there will follow numerous stories of theft, both petty and serious to recount.  These include both cases reported to police and those that go unreported or unknown.

Burglary is becoming common by the year among urban dwellers.  Nothing is spared, and we have reports of government and private offices, homes and even monasteries being ransacked.

Just recently, a single mother of two was left devastated when she was robbed of her family heirlooms worth millions.  The latest is the 140-tola korm (butter lamp) used for offerings which disappeared from the Tango monastery.  Two doors were broken and no fingerprints found.

Until recently, it was petty thefts, targeting cash or personal and domestic possessions, not a serious concern. But there is a reason to worry, as robbers now are after antique craftworks and jewellries.

The motives may be to make some quick money, but the implications are enormous as our sacred heritage, for instance Lhakhangs and chortens, are robbed of their nangtens.  Families are left devastated when they cannot recover their valuables.

We have long realised that the zungs (relics) placed inside chortens were not safe, neither are the monasteries and lhakhangs.  The precious antiques offered by people are quickly smuggled out of the country.

Selling and buying dzee (cat eye), the reason behind chorten vandalism, is rampant in the country.  Dzees fetch hundreds of thousands of Nu. and need not be smuggled out of the country.  Is our legislation strong to prevent transactions of nangtens?  Who monitors it?  Do we verify the source of dzees?  How many lhakhangs have close circuit television despite hosting priceless nangtens?  These are some of the many questions to ponder.

A bigger concern, however, arises because it is happening even as the Royal Bhutan Police is trying harder than ever to prevent crime.  They are involving communities, students and even farmers, through their various initiatives to collaborate with the public.  Community police stations are also extended.

The hands of the law can reach only to an extent. Therefore, prevention could solve a lot of the problem.  We know it has now become a genuine risk to leave a house empty, even if locked. Many still risk losing even after knowing all these.  How many deposit their jewelleries with the banks for safekeeping?

There is also a need to strengthen post robbery investigations like fingerprint authentication. Prolong investigations could become harassment for detained suspects.

Class X and XII graduates looking for jobs increase

Employment: In just two months after the board exam results were declared this year, class X and XII graduates looking for jobs have increased by more than 52 percent compared with last year’s figure about the same time.

Out of the 1,774 jobseekers registered between January and February this year, 1,184 were class X and XII graduates. Until December 2013, the total number of jobseekers stood at 2,253. The number has reached 3,437 today, which is an increase of about 38 percent.

Taking into account those jobseekers registered with ministry last year, there are 8,981 jobseekers across the country today.

Although Shin Nippon biomedical laboratories ltd in the USA and Nasser S Al Hajri Corporation (NSH) in Saudi Arabia offered requirement under the overseas employment programme, not a single Bhutanese has been sent for the job so far.

The four Bhutanese employment agents have not been able to send Bhutanese jobseekers for employment overseas. Neither have the several mega-hydropower projects in the country been able to take in young Bhutanese jobseekers.

There are, however, more than 50,000 foreign workers in the country according to labour ministry record.

“We are looking at ways to engage more Bhutanese in the construction sector,” said Lyonchhoen in the recent meet-the-press session in Thimphu. “Agriculture ministry has already started working on ways to engage more educated Bhutanese in commercial farming.”

Lyonchhoen also highlighted that the government is now ready to implement the economic stimulus plan, which he said will provide opportunities to thousands of youth to set up their own businesses and be self-employed.

“We are confident that we can provide jobs to all our youth,” said Lyonchhoen.  But jobseekers would take the jobs available in the country.

By Rajesh Rai

The escalating cost of paddy cultivation

IMG_8616Local rice being dried before its taken to the mill

Agriculture: Development doesn’t necessarily bring prosperity.  While the cities and towns are flying high in their new-found opulence, far-flung communities in the dzongkhags are going dry.

And the increasing rural to urban migration makes the matter worse by scraping food out of people’s mouth.

Growing rice – the staple food of the Bhutanese – is becoming difficult, especially in places like Trashigang.  So, the cost of a kilogram of rice continues to rise from year to year, posing formidable challenge to the poor to put food on the table.

For a large number of people in the rural areas, whose daily income is Nu 125, Nu 75 a kilogram of rice is brutal.

In Trashigang, for instance, a kilogram of local rice costs no less than Nu 65.  The price has been rising continuously since 2008. In places like Rongthung and Rangshikhar in Trashigang, a kilogram of rice can cost anywhere between Nu 70 and 75.

However, government reports claim that production of rice in the country has increased over the years.

In Radhi, the rice bowl of the east, the price of rice has gone up as high as Nu 65 a kilogram.  Just about five years ago, a kilogram of rice did not cost more than Nu 37.  Radhi produces two varieties of local rice – Sorbang and Sungsung.  In 2008, a kilogram of Sorbang rice cost Nu 37.  Today it is Nu 60.  Likewise, a kilogram of Sungsung rice was Nu 45 six years ago.  It is Nu 65 a kilogram today.

And the price of rice will continue to increase due to shortage of labour in the villages.  Rural to urban migration has left no able-bodied people in the villages, which has triggered rise in the cost of labour, threatening the overall production of rice in the dzongkhag.

Currently, the cost of labour in Trashigang has reached Nu 200-250 a day.  Just a year ago, the cost of labour stood at Nu 150.

Apart from rural to urban migration, booming construction industry and availability of cheap substitute from India are the leading factors that contribute to increase in the price of local rice.

As land in the rural areas of Bhutan are increasingly left fallow due to shortage of labour, time may not be far when rural people’s stomachs will be stuck to their bones.

The only recourse, the farmers say, is the national dream – urban wellbeing and rural prosperity.

By Tempa Wangdi

Sarpang to get a new dzong soon

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay during his visit to Sarpang said the construction of new Sarpang dzong is ready to take off. Location of the dzong, however, is yet to be finalised.

The government of India has already released Nu 20M of the Nu 200M committed for the project.

According to the dzongkhag’s planning officer, three tentative locations have been identified. The dzongkhags tshogdu decided on the present dzongkhags administration area in Sarpan Taar as the location for the new dzong.

“The government is ready to begin the work if decision on the location is finalised,” said Lyonchhoen.

By Tshering Namgyal, Sarpang

Picture story

The three day annual Punakha Tshechu ends today