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Sunday, April 26th, 2015 - 9:38 PM
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A planning setback?

industrial-areaA portion of the Gelephu industrial area

No construction zone rule delays plot allotment in Gelephu thromde

Gelephu: Gelephu thromde will have to wait for another month before they could allot plots in its industrial area.

The area needs re-planning after the final Gelephu airport map declared a no construction zone, which is affecting almost half the demarcated plots ready for allotment.

Officials said about 32.26 acres of the 86.30 acres of proposed industrial area was affected as it fell under the  “no construction zone’ for flight funnel path that expands over a kilometer in length from the airport until the Army Welfare Project area in length and 350m to 600m width.

The affected area constitutes five units of two-wheeler workshop, 16 units manufacturing units, six units of car washing centres, seven units of medium automobile workshops and 5.22 acres of the six acres allotted for a cricket field.

This has resulted in the delay of plot allotment, according to thromde officials. Officials said the thromde was ready to lease out the plots and were waiting for the National Land Commission to issue the new proposed lease rate. The thromde tshogdu, proposed Nu 4 a square foot in the industrial area after people requested the thromde not to raise the lease rate from Nu 3, which is applied to old lessee.

An official attributed the need to re-plan to the lack of coordination between the Department of Civil Aviation and the works and human settlement ministry. Planners didn’t know there was a no construction zone and the area up to the fence of the airport was demarcated as industrial area. But after the final map, it said at least one kilometer should be declared as no construction zone.

However, officials said the thromde is targeting to finish re-planning works in a month’s time. This, according to officials would be adjusted from the reserved plots of about 20 acres in the industrial service centre (ISC) and another 6.71 acres next to the cricket field, which will now be shifted to a new location.

“We’re in the process of mapping and plotting which is expected to take about a month. It’ll then be endorsed in the thromde tshogdu, demarcated and leased,” said Gelephu thromde’s executive engineer, Chophel Dorji.

Meanwhile, the thromde has received 70 applications for varied categories in the industrial area. The highest is for automobile workshops, 25, eight for car wash service, 10 for light manufacturing industries, 12 for warehousing, five showrooms, seven for wood-based industries and wood fabrication unit and three for miscellaneous.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

28 houses to receive claims

IMG_20140325_120608Debris: A roof blown off by the March 21 windstorm

Insurance: Of the 60 houses damaged by the March 21 windstorm in Samdrupjongkhar, only 28 qualify to claim insurance from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB).

Although 52 houses in the dzongkhag were insured with RICB, 24 households did not qualify for claims.

“Some of our clients cannot make claim since the damage were mostly related to CGI sheets that were blown off from the roof,” said the RICB branch manager, Ugyen Dorji. According to the claim conditions, a client cannot make insurance claim if the damage worth is less than five percent.

Four of the affected houses were not insured while the other four structures that suffered damage were a school and three monasteries.

“Of the three monasteries, two are community owned and one is a private property. So the monasteries and the school will not fall under our purview,” said Ugyen Dorji.

Most of the insured houses fall under class 4 scheme that covers insurance up to Nu 60,000.

There are four classes in total under rural insurance scheme. Class one covers up to Nu 300,000.

Ugyen Dorji said that only one damaged house falls under the class one category. However, the damage caused to the house was only partial.

Even as the claim amount is yet to be paid finalised, Ugyen Dorji said the official figure stands around Nu 0.5M.

By Tshering Wangdi, Samdrupjongkhar

To become food and nutrition secure

Policy: To address issues related to food security and nutrition, which has bearings on national health, economy and security, it requires a coordinated and concerted approach.

Recognising this, and that past and present policies related to food and nutrition are implemented independently, without coordination, the food security and nutrition policy (FNSP) was formulated. The policy, proposed during the 2009 agriculture conference, was drafted in the following years and endorsed by the cabinet in January this year.

“The policy highlights what needs to be done to enhance food and nutrition status in the country,” Pema Thinley, planning officer with agriculture and forests ministry said. He was making a presentation on the policy during a high level stakeholders’ consultation on maternal and child nutrition in Thimphu on March 24.

“Food security is looked after by agriculture and forests ministry and nutrition by health ministry,” he said. “The policy will try and harmonise the missing links and gaps and coordinate food security and nutrition.”

This will be done with several offices and ministries taking responsibilities outlined in the policy, with agriculture and forestry ministry and health ministry taking lead in food security and nutrition.

A FNS technical taskforce, for monitoring and evaluation has been proposed to “collate existing knowledge and scientific evidence for food and nutrition security, carry periodic review of implementation of the policy and at levels, produce an annual report, and monitor and evaluate implementation of food and nutrition security programs by different sectors”.

The findings in the policy document are based on existing documents and studies like vulnerability analysis and mapping 2005, Bhutan poverty analysis report and Bhutan living standard’s survey, among others. “No comprehensive study on food and nutrition has been done,” Pema Thinley said.

In terms of food security, at the national level, the document states a national food security reserve, comprising of rice, oil and sugar, is currently maintained through the food corporation of Bhutan (FCB). The reserve has a total of 1,658MT of food distributed and marketed through 20 regional and local depots.

There are also two reserves. The  SAARC food security reserve and SAARC food bank with 180MT of rice each. Both are maintained by FCB.  There are also community grain silos storing food grains.

At the individual level, the average calorie intake of a person is 2,555kcal a day. “This is high,” Pema Thinley said. “The minimum requirement is 2,124kcal a day.”

But there are, he said, in food insecure dzongkhags like Pemagatshel, Samtse, Gasa and Samdrupjongkhar intake as low as 1,883kcal.

Stunting rate has decreased from 56 percent in 1988 to 37 percent in 2008. Anemia is a major health problem with 80 percent of 6-36 months children, 50 percent of and adolescent girls and 28 percent of men anemic (Anemia survey, 2002).

It also states that infant and young children feeding practices are not optimal among mothers and caregivers.

The policy’s goals and objectives are outlined broadly in four categories of, ensuring availability of safe and adequate varieties of food to meet food requirements at all times, enhancing physical, economic and social access to safe, affordable and adequate good including resources to acquire food by households and individuals, promoting appropriate consumption practices and enable optimum utilization of food by all sections of society, and sustaining conducive and stable environment for availability, accessibility and utilisation of food.

Pema Thinley said, in 2012, about Nu 7B worth of food was imported. “Our studies and assessments show that we have capacity to increase production by about 35 percent,” he said.

Increasing investments in food productions, supporting commercialisation and mechanisation, promotion of farmer’s groups and cooperatives, farming of staple crops high in micronutrients and integrated pest management, were some of the ways to upscale sustainable production and productivity.

The policy also outlines other means like promoting sustainable utilisation of agriculture land, maintaining of at least three months food reserves at strategic locations, creating enabling business environment, implementing microcredit programs for food security and efficient distribution mechanisms.

The policy also states that interventions in markets and price stability of food commodities should be ensured through mechanisms like institution of food price regulatory mechanism and diversification of food trade to break monopoly and control over food supply.

By Kinley Wangmo

Man injured at road widening site from blast

accidentDid miscommunication cause the mishap?

Mishap: A 37-year-old man was injured when his van was passing through a blast site at the road widening site in Lamperi yesterday.

The van’s windshield was broken, and injured the man on his temple. The driver was returning to Trongsa from Thimphu.

The man said he reached the stretch at 5:30pm and since there was no one to warn him of the blasting, he followed the WagonR that was crossing the stretch.

“When I crossed few metres, I heard a blasting sound,” he said. “I managed to stop the vehicle immediately and huge debris of the blast fell on the road.”

But Construction Development Corporation’s site engineer, Pema Lhazom said the incident occurred at 5:20 pm after the vehicle crossed the stretch when it was closed for traffic.

Pema Lhazom said the blast was conducted after she consulted with the police on duty. “He told me to go ahead with the blast but after the incident occurred, I found out he wasn’t even on the site.”

CDCL’s chief executive officer, Phuntsho Wangdi said the incident, although unfortunate, occurred because of a communication gap. “We accept our fault and we will repair the vehicle and bear his medical expenses.”

Meanwhile, the driver, who was brought to Thimphu referral hospital’s emergency unit in an ambulance coming from Bumthang, was sent home after he was kept under observation for a few hours.

By Tashi Dema

Bhutan is ‘now’ polio-free

The country will receive the polio-free certification from the World Health Organisation today

Health: It has been almost three decades since Bhutan recorded the last clinically compatible polio case. And for that achievement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will award polio-free certification to the country today.

Timely vaccination or immunisation programmes and strict monitoring played crucial role to make Bhutan polio-free, said health officials. Bhutan polio immunisation coverage stands at 99 percent.

“The last polio case was reported in 1986, after which we didn’t have any case,” Dr Dorji Wangchuk, director general of public health, said.

Although the country had managed to eradicate polio some 30 years ago, Bhutan had to wait until India achieved polio-free status “as we could import the disease from India and the neigbouring countries,” Dr Dorji Wangchuk said.

Along with Bhutan, India will also be certified polio free today.

India reported the last polio case three years ago. Now the entire Southeast Asia region of World Health Organisation (WHO) is closer to achieving polio-free certification.

WHO will now officially remove India from its list of polio-endemic countries, leaving just Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

The health minister Tandin Wangchuk is in New Delhi to receive the polio-free certificate.

Poliomyelitis is a serious disease that cripples the life of an affected person. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, usually in the legs. Among those paralysed, five to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become paralysed.

There is no cure for polio but it can be prevented by vaccination.

In 1979, Bhutan launched the expanded programme of immunisation and achieved universal childhood immunisation by 1991.

Health officials said Bhutan conducted the national immunisation day in 1995 and sub-national immunisation day from 1996 to 2002 in high-risk districts. Even without a single case since 1986, precautionary measures were put in place, especially in places near the borders.

In 1998, Bhutan initiated acute flaccid paralysis surveillance, the core strategy to detect the transmission of wild polio virus and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus.

Health officials said Bhutan was able to eradicate polio with support from partners like WHO, UNICEF, JICA, GAVI, and Japan Committee for Vaccines World Children.

Officials also acknowledged the dedication by the national certification commission for poliomyelitis eradication and health workers in the country.

“We would like to thank all mothers who brought their children for timely immunisation,” said health officials.

Meanwhile, inactivated polio vaccine will be introduced July next year in line with the global polio endgame strategic plan 2013-2018.

Health officials said that the existing polio surveillance and high immunisation coverage will be continued until polio is globally eradicated.

By Kinga Dema

Temporary mine shut down imminent

miningSuspense: Khariphu villagers wait for the investigation team on March 24

Update: Kuenphen Norden Mine at Khariphu in Mewang gewog, Thimphu will have to close by next week if the complaints against it by 13 households are not resolved.

The mining division under the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) has put on hold its submission of note to the ministry for the renewal of the lease.

The division had approved the final mines feasibility survey report of the mine and was in the final process of renewing the licence. With the formal evaluation processes complete, the division was about to submit a note to the ministry for approval.

Mining division head Sangay Tshering said: “We had to hold the submission of a note to the ministry on the renewal of the mining lease because media reported that 13 households had complained to the dzongkhag.”“Of course, it is up to the ministry to grant approval or not.”

He said now that some people complained against the mine, the division would hold the note until the issues are resolved.

Thimphu dzongkhag’s investigation will be completed only after  a week past the expiry of the mine’s lease on March 31.

Thimphu dzongrab Dorji Gyaltshen who led a team including experts from DGM and National Environment Commission a week ago to the chiwog said it would take another fortnight to submit the report.

Villagers said those who complained and those who gave their clearance to the mine erupted in a violent confrontation during the meeting with the investigation team.

Observers said if the complaints are not genuine and the investigation finds no evidence of the mine’s impact on the water resources, then delaying the lease renewal could incur loses to the government in royalties, rent, and other fees, and the mine operator’s payment  for the employees, and machine hiring charges.

The mine operator, Kuenzang Gyaltshen, said he could incur heavy loses should he shut the mine.

He has four earthmoving machines including a hired excavator, and pays more than Nu 0.1M as monthly salary to his 25 employees.

“I’m hoping it wouldn’t get to that because I have submitted all required documents and clearances and most people in the community gave their clearance,” Kuenzang Gyaltshen said.

He said the mine was under regular monitoring and that he did everything to help the community.

The mine’s management would approach the mining division today to seek advice and explore their options.

The management waited for the investigation team yesterday but they were informed in the evening it was not coming.

On March 24 afternoon, 10 women, who did not give their clearance, waited at the archery range for a meeting called by the village chupon (messenger) for hours but no official turned up then. Mewang gup Tandin said the gewog had not called a meeting that day.

The women said the mine’s management broke their promise of helping the community during the 10-year lease period.

“After the dzongkhag investigation began the mine’s management did not give me trucks to ferry my timber unlike before because I refused to sign the clearance,” a villager said.

The mine has an environment clearance until September this year. The mine would have to close if the case is not resolved before the expiry of the lease.

A different investigation team is expected to visit the mine tomorrow.

By Tshering Palden

Employment in agri sector declines

Poor growth in the sector attributed for rural-urban migration

Labour: Since the country’s labour force is predominantly dependent on the agricultural sector, its diminishing role as the contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) mirrors a decline in employment over the past decade.

The newly published Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Acceleration Framework report on “youth employment in Bhutan” shows that the total employment share agricultural sector has provided decreased to 60 percent in 2011 from 75 percent in 1999.

The country’s current labour force is estimated to be 329,478 of the total population. About 62 percent of the force is engaged in agricultural activities, mostly subsistence farming, for employment.

The sluggish growth in the sector including the underemployment has been identified as the driving force towards rural-urban migration, especially among the youth, the MDG report states.

Agricultural growth is seen as a longer-term solution to addressing rural-urban migration and youth unemployment in urban areas.

“Cottage, small and micro industries in particular are instrumental to play in terms of agri-businesses.”

The agricultural linkages that is weak in rural areas, the report states, makes it difficult for people to develop a thriving micro, small, medium enterprise in this sector.

Meanwhile, budget allocated to the sector during the last few Five Year Plans that has decreased steadily is a cause of concern. From 44 percent in the 4th Plan, it has come to 2.3 percent in the current Plan.

In the more developed economies, agriculture tends to become more productive over time.

“However, in Bhutan public expenditure on agricultural development as a percentage of total expenditures has been gradually in decline from the 5th Plan onwards,” the report states.

The MDG report also states that a need exists for smart investments in agricultural activities to make the sector a more productive enterprise. It states a scope exists for improved marketing, including branding of a wider spectrum of produce for export, which will require an organised effort, including the reassessment of entire value chains.

In 1998, agricultural sector contributed 76 percent of the total share of employment. However, the employment share by the sector decreased to 60 percent in 2011.

Although agricultural sector still remains the main employer today, the MDG report shows that its contribution to total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shrunk to under 20 percent.

It contributed 28.2 percent to the total GDP in 2001 and it went down to 19 percent in 2010 with a steady drop each year.

The country’s current unemployment rate is 2.1 percent as per the Labour Force Survey in 2012. This sums up 6,904 unemployed.

The youth unemployment rate is higher by three times at 7.3 percent. Considering the jobseekers registered with the ministry until December 2013—the country so far has 8,981 jobseekers.

By Rajesh Rai

Bond could tighten liquidity

Investment: The recent move by the Druk Holding and Investments to float corporate bonds worth Nu 1.2B of the Dungsam cement corporation (DCCL) could further worsen the liquidity crunch and constrain access to credit.

Economists and financial experts believe that by floating corporate bonds, DCCL is absorbing money from the economy and reducing the amount of money available for credit with the banks if banks chose to invest in bonds.

This could also question the very purpose of Economic Stimulus Plan (ESP), which has the objective of improving liquidity in the market.

When Dungsam absorbs Nu 1.2B from the economy, liquidity is being reduced to that extent, an economist said.

However, another economist said that it all depended on whether banks were interested to invest in the Dungsam bonds. “It is always advantageous for a bank to go for lending then invest in debt instruments that offers a fixed rate of return.”

While lending, he said, more credit could be created instead of investing in bonds.

Moreover, even if the money were to be absorbed by Dungsam, it does not stay idle, the money has to be deposited back into the market and it completely negates the issue of any reduction in liquidity, he said.

Another economist said, even if the bank does not invest in Dungsam bonds, there would be a reduction in liquidity.

“If I had Nu 500,000 in a bank, I would willingly withdraw that money and then invest in the bond,” he said. When there are several such withdrawals, the deposit money available in the banks for lending would decrease and hence there will be a reduction in liquidity, he said.

Similarly, institutions and other corporations would also be willing to withdraw their money from the banks and then invest in DCCL bonds.

For an institution or an individual, the rate of return offered by the Dungsam bond is relatively higher than the interest rates offered by the banks on deposits.

“So it does not make sense for an individual to deposit his money in the banks earning a lower interest rate, while he could invest it in the bond and fetch a higher return,” he said.

While Dungsam provides a 10 percent interest rate annually, banks offer around 7.5 percent for a deposit that has a maturity of more than five years.

The issue of bonds crowding out on the private sector has also been discussed in the last Parliament session where National Council members argued whether the economic stimulus plan would really serve its purpose.

While the government is injecting the economic stimulus fund in the market, it is also absorbing money by floating treasury bills.

The other issue, an economist said, was that bond could also lead to outflow of Rupees if DCCL uses that money to buy equipment and pay off loans it has taken from Indian financial institutions.

DCCL which was built at a total cost of Nu 10.8B has a loan component of Nu 7.7B of which, it borrowed Nu 2B at an interest rate of 10 percent from Indian banks for which the payment will have to be made in Rupees.

The remaining was sourced from the local financial institutions and its subsidiary companies.

Today, three months after it has been commissioned, DCCL has been running on less than half its total production capacity and the sale of cement is yet to pick up pace in both the local and the Indian market.

Demand for cement has dropped in the domestic market with the freeze on construction loans and the aggregate demand in the Indian economy has also dropped as a result of huge current account deficit.

The company is also meeting stiff competition from the numerous cement factories in the northeast.

Officials from Druk Holding and investment said that the bond was approved by the government and then floated accordingly in the market.

The bond will close its subscription next Monday.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

Cordyceps exclusively for highlanders

cordycepAt display: Highlanders sort cordyceps

Highlanders convince authorities to reduce permit fee and royalty

Update: Highlanders will have all the yartsa goenbub (cordyceps) to themselves.

Unlike in the past, where a rule allowed other communities, based on request, to harvest cordyceps, the agriculture ministry will not allow anyone except highlanders to collect the prized fungi.

Forest and agriculture officials removed the clause that empowered the ministry to consider a community’s request to pick cordyceps while framing the rules and regulations recently.

Last year, based on the clause, forest officials allowed people of Lhenkhebji and Belpa in Wangduephodrang to collect cordyceps after people of the two villages requested the ministry.

Officials from department of agriculture and marketing cooperatives (DAMC) and the social forestry division (SFD) said that the clause was removed as it contradicted with the 2004 Royal kasho that legalized harvesting cordyceps by highlanders.

Officials from DAMC said the clause gave too much discretionary power to the ministry.

SFD’s chief forest officer, Gyaltshen Dukpa, said that allowing communities to pick cordyceps led to conflicts within communities during harvesting season. “We will consider the communities only if the government instructs us.”

Meanwhile, following discussion on permit fee, royalty and number of people allowed to collect cordyceps, officials said they decided the permit fee at Nu 510 a person and the royalty at Nu 8,400.

Three people from a household will be allowed to collect cordyceps.

Local leaders from cordyceps-harvesting areas who met with relevant agencies last week disagreed when officials proposed to increase the permit fee to Nu 1,000 a person and royalty to Nu 22,500, and to reduce the number of people allowed to collect cordyceps to one.

Gyaltshen Dukpa said the royalty fee will be increased by 20 percent every two years and households without three people will not be allowed to hire their permits like they could in the past years.

He also said civil servants; armed forces, monks and children below 12 years will not be eligible to collect cordyceps.

But the question of whether gewog leaders as the elected representatives and salary earners are still eligible, remained unanswered.

Forest and agriculture officials said that they did not discuss on it [eligibility] since local leaders who are also highlanders should be eligible.

But some gewog administrative officials said local leaders should not be eligible.

During the stakeholders’ meeting last week, Laya gup Kinley Dorji said civil servants should not be allowed to pick cordyceps while gewog officials who go for patrolling duty or security should be allowed.

Meanwhile, DAMC officials said highlanders must sell all the cordyceps collected at auction. They can, however, sell the remaining fungi outside paying the royalty and service charges.

By Tashi Dema

Let’s eat our own

Agriculture is Bhutan’s mainstay. And this requires the country to give it a boost, not just in terms of policies and dreams, but in shape and weight that is real.

We are an agricultural country with over 79 percent of population involved in the sector. Yet the irony is that we do not produce enough to feed ourselves. This must necessitate us to think, earnestly and in good faith.

Not being able to produce our own and to consume our own is to rely on others who might exploit us any which way they want time permitting.

But we have a good news to savour on yet. Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) signed an agreement of collaboration this week to make better Bhutan’s small private sector to complement the government’s effort to enhance Bhutan’s agriculture sector.

But one swallow does not a summer make.

The agriculture ministry has done much to encourage the farmers to produce as much as they can. Yet the nation’s dream of 100 percent food self-sufficiency continues to be a dream. This tells us that we are rather good talkers than doers we ought to be.

Where is Bhutan’s private sector – the main driver of country’s economy – today? And what energy has it been given to grow? When every raise, privilege and elevation is for the civil servants, where is the space for the growth of private sector that is now to play the central role of helping the government to boost the country’s agriculture?

ICIMOD comes with a promise to improve farmers in the rural pockets of the country, particularly the highlanders. This is welcome because the highlanders are our guardians in the north where territorial limits are becoming an issue just like in the south centuries ago.

But must we never omit this that time lost cannot be regained just like words once let out cannot be called back. ICIMOD may give Bhutan technical assistance to identify products, train our farmers, help us establish supply chains, and get to the market. We hope that BCCI will do its part to identify business prospects for our farmers.

All these succeeding, the future looks good for Bhutan. Bhutan will be able to grow organic fruits and vegetables in massive quantities and export to the ICIMOD member countries, eating ourselves enough besides.

We have talked enough. Now is the time we gave food self-sufficiency the real chance.