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Friday, March 27th, 2015 - 5:52 PM
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Rise in rice import

One of the reasons was the growing number of construction activities in the country that employed more expatriate workers  

Trade: Lack of investment, inadequate government support and lack of access to small credit were some major factors contributing to increase in rice import in recent years.

Royal Monetary Authority’s annual report published recently showed that import of rice had increased from Nu 853M in 2011 to Nu 1.2B in 2012.

Agriculture department’s joint director Ganesh Chhetri said agriculture was prioritised in many areas, but when it came to money required for the sector, it received a paltry sum.

Since the fourth Five-Year Plan, government’s allocation of money to the agriculture sector decreased steadily, reaching just 2.3 percent in the current plan.

The sector received 44 percent in the fourth Plan (See graph).

“The only problem is money,” Ganesh Chhetri said.

This, he said was proven when it came to vegetable production.

Agriculture officials said last year, with an additional budgetary support of Nu 23M to improve vegetable production, export of vegetables increased three-fold from 973 metric tonnes (MT) to 2,822MT in 2013.

In terms of value, vegetable export increased from Nu 16M to Nu 53M that same period.

To further tap the full potential, the department is writing another letter to the government seeking additional budget to increase export and reduce imports.

“There is potential to increase exports to Nu 120M with a similar amount of budgetary support,” Ganesh Chhetri said. “When it comes to rice, government policies are not very favourable. There is no subsidy at all.”

However, he said efforts were being made to improve agriculture infrastructure like irrigation and mechanisation.

“The general notion that Bhutan has less arable land contributing to less production is wrong,” Ganesh Chhetri said. “Given the size of country’s population, we have enough arable land, we just have to use them optimally.”

Around 12 irrigation schemes were completed since 2009. In the 11th Plan, the agriculture department intends to construct an additional 42 new ones.

“Once this is complete, local production will improve,” he said.

Another reason for increase in rice imports, Ganesh Chhetri said was because of expansion in the construction sector, which employed expatriate workers.

“The per-capita consumption of rice for expatriate workers are almost double that of the Bhutanese,” he said.

With more construction activities in the pipeline, especially in the hydropower sector, import of rice is only expected to increase further.

The country recorded around 60,000 expatriate workers last year.

Ganesh Chhetri said emphasis on rice production came only in 2009 when India stopped rice exports to other countries.

In 2008, because of excessive demand of rice in India, rice exports abroad were suspended temporarily.

“This also questioned Bhutan’s food security,” agriculture officials said.

Agriculture officials also said the country’s southern parts, characterised with vast flat land, held much potential in rice cultivation, but until that realisation dawned on the authorities, most remained uncultivated.

“It is partly also because rice cultivation is becoming increasingly tedious because it is labour intensive,” the agriculture official said. “The occupation has become less attractive over the years with increase in incidents of crop damage by wildlife.”

By Nidup Gyeltshen  

 

Spare Merak the effects of logging

Timber: Coming of farm road to Merak last year brought with it its own set of problems for the nomadic community in the northern part of Trashigang.

Herders of Merak were disappointed with authorities issuing series of timber extraction permits.

They were particularly angered with authorities issuing permits for timber extraction especially from a place located on a higher altitude where timber source was scanty.

Some northern herders said people from lower valleys of Radhi were extracting timber from places like Sagchung and Tsiga under the gewog since the arrival of farm road last year.

“Everyday, at least one or two truckloads of timber are felled in Merak,” a herder from Merak, Nima said.

Highland herders also alleged people from lower valleys were cutting down both young and old trees.

“While bigger trees are felled for timber, the younger ones are taken for prayer flags,” he said.

Merak mangmi Jurmey said they were worried about the implications felling of timber in their area would have on their gewog resources.

“In places like Sagchung, excessive logging has almost wiped out the trees that stood there,” a Merak resident, Dawa said. “What we have today is the only forest available in the entire gewog, which if exhausted, there’ll be nothing for our children.”

Save for trees in places like Sagchung and Tsiga, Merak otherwise has no source of timber for future since, besides shrubs, nothing else grows in Merak and higher up.

The herders said the urgency to control logging in Merak stems from the fact that trees in higher altitudes normally took longer time to mature.

“What takes for trees in lower altitudes about 7-10 years to mature, takes more than 20-30 years to mature in place like Merak,” Nima said.

Another herder from Merak, Wangda said depletion of forest cover was detrimental to the quality of tsamdro (pastureland) essential for the livelihood of the semi-nomadic community.

“Since remains of the felled trees litter our tsamdro, cattle grazing ground is affected, which adversely affects milk production and our income directly,” he said.

Timber extraction has also disturbed the Red Panda habitat, highlanders claimed.

“Since, the logging activity, Red Pandas had been pushed further away to the peripheries,” Dawa said.

Initially, Red Pandas lived in Shetemey.

“When logging began here, they were forced further to Sangchung and now to Wongarjab, several hours walk away after its former home was destroyed by logging,” Dawa said.

Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary officials said timber extraction in Merak emanated from lack of reliable timber extraction sites in northern Trashigang.

Sanctuary officials said as conservationists, they were as much, if not more, concerned with timber extraction in Merak than the herders themselves.

“We’re compelled to relent because it’s the only place of northern Trashigang with forest cover,” a sanctuary official, under anonymity, said. “Since national policy provides every Bhutanese equal right over natural resources, the sanctuary has no authority to deprive anyone that right even if it means compromising our conservation efforts.”

By Tempa Wangdi

 

Case involving non-national co-workers in dungkhag court

Crime: An Indian national, who was working with a Bhutanese construction company, has filed a case against his non-national co-worker at the Gelephu dungkhag court recently.

Ajay Kumar Pandey from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, alleged that his partner removed him from the business without refunding about Nu 2M he had invested in the project.

The 42-year-old said he invested the money with Bijay Chokhani, whom he alleged was an owner of a company in Siliguri that was working in partnership with Mindu Construction.

They were working on the new Gelephu regional hospital construction.

Ajay Kumar said he took charge of the overall work and started investing, after drawing an agreement with Bijay Chokhani.

He said he spent the money on miscellaneous expenses, like maintaining several old buildings at the construction site, which were used as offices and residences, electric and water bills, apart from advances for labour payment.

Ajay Kumar said he first met Bijay Chokhani when he was working at Daranga in Assam.  He was brought to Bhutan to work with a construction company at Darachu last year, where he worked for about a year, before coming to the new site.

He said, while he has most of the paper documents with him as proof, important ones, like the agreement and hand receipts, were removed from his room, after cutting the lock without his permission.

“I suddenly received a call that my lock has been cut by a hexa blade,” he said. “When I returned immediately to find that my documents were missing, I lodged a complaint with the police.”

He said the contractor physically abused him when he asked about the money.

“I’ve spent a large amount,” Ajay Kumar, who has rented a room in Gelephu, said. “How can I go back home empty handed?”

He said he has also sought help of the Indian embassy.

The proprietor of Mindu Construction, Mindu Tshering, said he did not have anything to comment on the issue, because the case was between the two of his employees.

He confirmed that Bijay Chokhani was his labour contractor, while Ajay Kumar was his former employee.

Bijay Chokhani could not be contacted for comments, as he was out of station.

The dungkhag court has, meanwhile, issued an order to Bijay Chokhani to report to the court on February 18.

By Tshering Namgyal, Gelephu

ACC’s bid for autonomy put on hold

Assembly members said it should first try to resolve issues mutually with RCSC

Assembly: Following recommendations of its Good Governance Committee, National Assembly on February 12  directed Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to mutually try to resolve human resource issues.

What transpires from the meeting is to be submitted in the next session.

As amending Acts would take time, members suggested the two agencies thrash out any standing issues between them and be accommodating to each others interests.

The committee had submitted six recommendations with regard to giving ACC autonomy.

One recommendation was that RCSC and parent organisations should issue no-objection certificate to civil servants opting to work for ACC.

The committee recommended amending section nine of the RCSC rules and regulations, which would allow technical graduates to seeking employment without eligibility certificates.

It also asked the house to direct the Pay Commission to look into raising allowances for ACC employees to encourage graduates to take up jobs at the Commission.

However, finance minister Namgay Dorji said raising the allowance for one constitutional body would set precedent for others such entities.

“That could hamper meeting our goals of self-reliance considering our current financial situation,” he said, adding delinking ACC from RCSC would have financial implications.

Drametse-Ngatshang Parliament member Ugyen Wangdi, who worked at the commission said delinking ACC from RCSC could create more problems.

“A 20-percent salary increment for employees for a few years was not enough to lure people to work for the Commission,” he said. “It’s evident from the continuing shortage.”

He also agreed what ACC employees earned was not commensurate with the risks the job entailed, including their relationships with others that soured in course of their work.

Another member shared with the members his knowledge of how despite advertising the post of a legal officer three times there were no applications.

The report also required amendment in RCSC rules to allow ACC’s contract employees to attend short trainings including job-related ones.

While some members said the contract employees were specialists and highly paid, others added their skills needed updating from time to time.

Acknowledging the significance of ACC, members said RCSC should be more liberal while interpreting the laws and guidelines. The two organisations have met in the past to discuss the issues.

Home minister Damcho Dorji pointed out some conflicting provisions in ACC and RCSC laws.

“While the commission is authorised to recruit people, it has to consult with RCSC,” he said. “The issue should be discussed properly and resolved when the RCSC’s new chairperson takes office.”

ACC had submitted to Assembly that RCSC laws were restrictive when it came to their meeting human resource needs.

It had, therefore, asked to be delinked from the RCSC for the same purpose.

Speaker Jigmi Zangpo said only after exhausting other means would the National Assembly resort to amending the ACC Act.

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said other organisations seeking autonomy has lessons to learn from the deliberation.

Agencies eyeing for autonomy, like the ACC were tourism council, national referral hospital, Royal Institute of Management, Centre for Bhutan Studies and National Statistical Bureau.

By Tshering Palden

Picture story

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck opens “Czech Castles,” an exhibition on the culture of Czech Republic, at the Royal Textile Academy yesterday in Thimphu. The exhibition will be open until March 23.

 

Nganglam-Kurigongri highway construction delay continues

Roads: A spillover project of the 9th Plan, construction of the 43.3km primary highway, stretching from Nganglam to Kurigongri, is expected to complete by June this year, project officials say.

Exceeding the last deadline by almost six months, the construction of another 400m stretch is all that’s left to reach Kurigongri.  But the remaining rocky stretch of the steep cliff needs to be power drilled, an arduous task that’s attributing to the slow progress.

Even with heavy crawler drill machines, drilling of only about 2.5m can be done on an average in a day, project engineer, Thinley Tenzin, said.

“We’re doing our best but we stumbled across an additional 700m of rocky cliff that had to be drilled,” he said. “Given the geographical terrain of the site, this is one of the toughest drillings that requires heavy investment in the machines too.”

Besides the additional 700m, the length of the highway was extended by about 7.3km earlier.  The difficult landscape had made it impossible for the survey team to measure certain areas during the first survey.  This expansion of the highway, he said, was a major factor that slowed the project’s progress.

Frequent breakdown of machines and remoteness of the site to get the machines repaired were other problems the project faced, where huge investments had to be made.  For instance, the crawler drill machine alone costs about Nu 0.5M, according to Thinley Tenzin.

“When the formation cuttings are underway, if pressure from the drilling machine is more, there’s high chance of rocks falling off the cliff,” Thinley Tenzin said, explaining the working conditions.

When the project first started, they had to bypass the project to opt for better options, he said. “We spent quite some time back then,” Thinley Tenzin, said.  The numerous strikes worsened the situation.

Executed from August 2006, Nganglam to Kurigongri road construction is one part of the Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway.

Works to build the first 8.7km was given to Tshering Constructions for Nu 15.53M.  Thereon, the department of roads (DoR) took over the construction until 18km, which cost about Nu 40M.

Rinsons Constructions then got the construction works worth Nu 180.93M.  The negotiation of the rates between the two parties had also contributed to the extension of the project.

“The previous government wanted the highway to come through during their tenure but we couldn’t make it,” the project engineer said. “If there are no further complications, the remaining work should be completed by June,”

From Gyalpoizhing in Mongar, construction of the other half of the highway stretching 32.46km of road is also underway.  The road will lead to Kurigongri confluence and connect the two eastern dzongkhags of Pemagatshel and Mongar.  About 27.6km of formation cutting works have been carried out to date on this stretch and is expected to complete by September.

By Tshering Wangdi, Nganglam 

Actions speak louder than plans

Those attending a talk on government performance and management system yesterday could not have agreed more with the speaker when he said the difference between developed and developing nation is the gap between rhetoric and action.

The speaker, Performance Management Division Secretary, Government of India, Dr Prajapati Trivedi, shared the Indian experience, but it was easier to relate to them.

The message was that implementation is the key to better performance, a familiar message we have been hearing for quite some time.

In fact, just recently, during the 106th National Day celebrations, His Majesty the King informed the nation that Bhutanese are good at writing plans, speaking well and expounding ideas, but implementation fell short of commitment.

His Majesty pointed out that there were gaps between commitments made and output delivered, how were We unable to deliver results of expected quality in a timely manner.

These reminders come at a crucial time when the government is gearing to implementing the 11th Plan and is emphasising a performance management system.  A common grievance among people is that we are yet to improve our service delivery.  This is because we are not meeting the expectations, when it comes to implementing our grand plans.

The government’s initiative, which had already kick-started with a steering committee and a task force is, therefore, expected to ensure that ministries, departments and even individuals perform.

The performance management system, which Dr Trivedi calls a success in India with 80 ministries, should bring a sea change in the country’s governance.  Given our advantage of being small, it should work even better at home.

A performance management system would ensure that organisations and individuals have clear written missions, goals and responsibilities.  Most Bhutanese organisations today are vague, when it comes to specific, time-bound goals.  Individuals even function for years without clear responsibilities.

To start with, we can even begin with assessment of performance from the top.  It would be a fine example if, for instance, the 10 ministers and government secretaries start with specific targets for the remaining months of the fiscal year, strategies to achieve them and make these known to the public.  They can be followed by director generals and directors, dzongdas, gups and other civil service leaders down the line.

Dr Trivedi says the beauty of the system is that cuts across political parties, as it is not a political ideology but a system to improve governance.  A system like that would ensure continuity in implementing government plans.

Politicians will come and go after every five years, if we have a good system for our bureaucrats, who implement the plans, the end users, our people would benefit from such a system.

In theory, the performance management system sounds too good to resist.  The reality, quite often, is different from theory.

Growing menace of illegal wildlife trafficking

IMG_0191Participants comprising officials from the armed forces, forestry and customs discuss need for forensic lab

The seizure of a tiger’s skin from a Gelephu hotel last November highlights the threat 

Conservation: In what nature conservationists call an appalling and horrific incident, a royal Bengal tiger, last seen on a camera trap set by Royal Manas national park (RMNP) officials in March last year, ended up in a Gelephu hotel.

Officials of the forest surveillance and protection unit caught three Indian nationals trying to trade the tiger’s skin in a hotel in Gelephu last November.

Forest officials confirmed the identity by comparing stripes on the skin seized from the poachers with those on the camera trap videos.

Presenting the statistics of common wildlife exports and smuggling of wildlife species in Bhutan at the workshop to prevent wildlife crime in Paro, the forest surveillance and protection unit head, Karma Tenzin, said, curbing poaching and smuggling of wildlife species posed a challenge, mainly because of the porous border.

“Because of the porous border, many places like Bji gewog in Haa, Tsento gewog in Paro, Umling in Gelephu and Nganglam in Samdrupjongkhar also serve as transit routes for many illegal wildlife trafficking,” he said. “A lot of medicinal plants are smuggled from places like Lingzhi in Thimphu.”

Bhutan was also being used as a transit route to smuggle ivory, tiger products and sandalwood to China.  The products are smuggled from India.

Foresters have seized the skin of a common leopard from Changlimithang, when people were trying to trade it last week.  Common leopard was also one of the most seized wildlife products.

Forest officials also cited other challenges, like lack of proper documentation of baseline of species, multi-tasking job responsibilities for foresters, ambiguities in rules and regulations, lack of intelligence-led enforcement approach, and the want of a forensic laboratory in the country.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, wildlife conservation division’s chief forestry officer, Sonam Wangchuk, said a baseline study would be conducted soon.

Citing the example of discretionary authority of a forester to fine between Nu 5,000 to Nu 50,000 for violation of rules, Karma Tenzin said it was important to straighten the ambiguities.

A police officer attending the workshop also raised the concern if the forest and nature conservation rules would empower forest officials to apprehend and fine people, as some courts do not accept it.

Foresters argued that the Forest Act, 2006 has a clause that empowers the ministry to frame their own regulations, and the minister, who was a cabinet member, signed the regulation.

Meanwhile, while foresters debated on what could be done to solve the lack of forensic laboratory and forensic capacity to confirm whether a an apprehended wildlife product is real or fake, some participants suggested sending specimens to India.

Wildlife Trust of India’s (WTI) executive director, Vivek Menon, said WTI has one of the best forensic laboratory and conservationists in Bhutan could use it.

He, however, asked whether laws in Bhutan could allow wildlife product samples to be sent outside country.  He also asked the protocol and guidelines to send samples abroad.

By Tashi Dema

Who should restore vandalised chortens?

IMG_7933One of the hundreds of vandalised chorten in Trashigang

Dzongkhag officials feel the local community can manage provided they don’t inter precious relics 

Crime: It’s not hard to miss the hollowed out chortens along the trails in the backwoods of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.

The two districts are home to over 287 vandalised chortens of the total 761 that have been robbed off relics across Bhutan between 2008-12.

A large number of vandalised chortens still remain in a dilapidated state for want of restoration, which is a challenge financially for the communities.

A dzongkhag official in Trashiyangtse said, only a handful of chortens could be restored, although over 51 have been vandalised since 2006.

“We’ve instructed the respective gewogs to restore the vandalised chortens, even without relics,” the official said.

But the communities have also been instructed to leave out those located in the far-flung places, he said. “No financial support from the government would be provided, as restoration is community’s responsibility,” the official said.

No new relics are also to be used while restoring, save for those recovered.

“So, restoration is entrusted to the communities, since it’s affordable when new relics aren’t installed,” the official said.

Yallang has restored four vandalised chortens to date with financial help from the government.

Yallang gup, Chesung Wangdi, said, although the community would take responsibility to restore the chortens, restoration works would need the government’s financial assistance.

“Even when done frugally, restoration of a chorten might cost at least Nu 10,000 for just the nanzung,” Chesung Wangdi said.

The community can contribute labour, he said.  Bidung was able to restore only eight of the 70 chortens vandalised.

“We’re planning to restore the chortens on our own with minimal use of relics and nanzung,” Bidung mangmi, Sonam Phuntsho said.

But some gewogs like Khamdhang have been unable to restore any of their vandalised chortens for lack of finance and clearance from the crime investigation team.

“Since, it’s a crime under investigation, we’re apprehensive about carrying out any restoration works without prior notice,” Ugyen Wangdi said.

The vandalised chortens, he said, would be repaired only after they get further directions from the home ministry.

Discussions on whether to use relics like gold, silver, antiques and cats-eye (dzee) are also held among local leaders, since relics are the sole attraction for vandals.  Instances of some chortens being dug up again for relics after restoration were reported in Yallang.

“If chortens bared of relics are as sacred as those with relics, provided they have sokshing (a piece of wood that acts as a relic), then zung must be done away with,” a villager from Trashigang, Nima said.

Another villager, Chesung Wangdi, said, repeated vandalisms have left many people discouraged from taking up restoration works.

But, with or without relics, villagers said there are hundreds of chortens that await restoration.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Less than half cross cut off point

Which translates to 5,216 students being ineligible for higher studies in govt. schools

BCSE: More than half the class X students, who appeared the board examinations last year, will not continue their studies in government high schools this year.

With the education ministry fixing the cut off point at 61 percent, government schools will have only 5,009 seats in class XI this year.  This means education for some 5,216 students will not be “free” anymore.  Only 48.9 percent of the 10,225 students who passed the examination will be enrolled in government schools.  Last year, the cut off point was 61.40 percent.

The cut off point is decided based on the existing policy of admitting at least 40 percent of class X passed students and the intake capacity of government schools.

The education ministry mandates all higher secondary schools to maintain a minimum class size of 34 students and a maximum of 40.

Bhutan council for school examinations and assessment (BCSEA) officials said the pass percentage of 95.93 percent is a drop by 0.93 percent from the previous year, when they declared the results yesterday in Thimphu.

National topper (Photo courtesy: BCSEA )

 

LCSCE Toppers (Photo courtesy: BCSEA )

While the 434 students, who failed the examination, may get a chance to repeat a year, as pledged by the government, the declaration of results has left some 5,216 students from across the country with just a basic education.

However, private schools take in a little more than 3,000 students annually.  The annual education statistics, 2013, showed there were 3,471 students enrolled in class XI last year.  Should the same number of students enroll in private schools this year, some 1,745 students will be entering the job market, where 7,797 jobseekers are already waiting to be employed.

 

Although scoring 40 percent and “passing” class X may not mean much, given the cut off point, council officials said students “did well” in all subjects, with a pass percentage above 96 percent, except for economics, which saw a 94.93 pass percentage.

While students on an average scored between 52-59 in other subjects, the best performance, according to the council, was in computer applications, with an average score of 76.84 percent, and Dzongkha with a mean score of 63.92 percent.

The council’s secretary of examinations, Kinga Dakpa, said students have been performing consistently well in Dzongkha, although others reports, for instance from the Dzongkha development commission, say otherwise.

“Reports say the quality of Dzongkha is declining, but students have been faring well, especially in written examinations conducted by the council,” Kinga Dakpa said.

Of the seven subjects, students scored the least in science with a mean score of 52.49 percent.  However, the education ministry’s announcement for admission to class XI states that all high schools must have at least one section of science stream.  But it also states that, “schools are not allowed to start any stream with less than 20 students, in order to ensure optimum utilisation of resources.”

While all admissions will be merit based, the education ministry’s announcement states students opting for science stream should have a minimum of 40 percent in mathematics and 55 percent in science, with pass grades in all three science subjects.  For science, merit order listing will be based on the sum of science and mathematics marks.

For students opting commerce stream, they should have a minimum score of 40 percent in mathematics, and the merit listing would be based on their mathematics marks.

No similar specifications have been listed for arts stream, but for admission at the Taktse higher secondary school, the subject marks requirement is a minimum of 60 percent in Dzongkha and 50 percent in English.

From the total 10,659 students, who appeared the examination, 10,393 were regular candidates, 249 were supplementary candidates, 16 were private failed candidates, and one was a complementary candidate.  A complementary candidate is one, who failed in Dzongkha and has to reappear the paper, but is allowed to go to class XI.  This is allowed only for those who fail in Dzongkha.

All students, council officials said, should collect their mark sheets and pass certificates from their respective schools by the first week of March.

 

Results

Two students, Tandin Wangmo from Lungtenzampa middle secondary school in Thimphu and Tashi Wangchuk from Bartsham middle secondary school in Trashigang, share the top position this year, with each scoring 92.40 percent in their class X examination.

Motithang higher secondary school’s Deki Tshomo Rinzin stood second with 92 percent, while Mani Kumar Chhetri from Peljorling higher secondary school in Samtse stood third with a score of 91.80 percent.

Of the 92 students, who appeared the examination from the schools for language and culture studies, Tendel Zangpo topped with 86.40 percent, Norbu is second with 80.60 percent and Sonam Tenzin from Dzongkha development training institute in Thimphu stood third with 79.80 percent.

Sonam Pelden