Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - 12:04 PM
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Feel for public properties, facilities

We care not, if we know not the value of a property or a facility, until we are charged certain fees for it.

This is true with most public facilities, be it a park, a playground or a public toilet and properties like government quarters, pool vehicles and office belongings.

When it comes to caring for public properties, the public is anybody but the individual himself or herself.

Until water metres were fixed, to turn a tap off after use was the responsibility of the next-door neighbour or that of a family member but one’s own.

For those living in government quarters, rents for which are comparatively lower than those of the private ones, watching walls fill up with inscriptions, breaking a basin or a flush in a toilet or bringing down a door was no big deal.

The government would fix them as they would little things like glasses and some even expected changing of bulbs and latches.

No wonder the rush for government apartments and quarters that came cheap and at minimal cost of maintenance.

National Housing Development Corporation builds and provides affordable accommodations and facilities for civil servants and its officials have complained about the way in which their structures looked derelict.

They also complain about residents flushing diapers and sanitary napkins that blocked septic tanks.

Housing officials have also claimed much money was also spent on maintenance and repair of the structures.

Housing officials believe its recent move to get people leasing its various apartments across the country to repair and replace facilities that fall apart on their own might save cost of maintenance and repair.

Through what money it can save, the hope is to be able to build more affordable housing.

The corporation has so far been caught between the responsibility of having to build affordable, or low income housing for people, while at the same time being cash-strapped to fulfill the mandate.

But that is only taking care of a minor aspect of the public housing issue.

The challenge has always been with respect to inculcating this sense of ownership among residents benefiting the advantages of low rents and it is not one that can be solved immediately.

This challenge is not just confined to public and government housing, but it spreads to the most basic of public services and facilities extended to the public.

To respect and feel a sense of ownership for public properties and facilities as one would his or her own is an issue.

The onus probably falls on parents to part this valuable lesson to their children and teachers can reinforce this in schools.

Sow the seed today and the fruits will follow, although rather slowly.

Old town, ageing buildings

IMG_20131206_104211One of the buildings undergoing maintenance work in Samdrupjongkhar town

The thromde recently carried out a detailed survey of the structures under LAP 1

Structure: Weatherbeaten buildings without roofing, faded walls with plants growing out of them, rusty window panes and pothole-ridden roads are some infrastructural flaws crying out for major renovation work in most streets of core Samdrupjongkhar town.

Having stood their shelf life, almost every building has undergone several minor maintenances over the years, but, still, water leakage is a perennial problem for the tenants.

The thromde, with the help of nine on-the-job trainees of Jigme Namgyal polytechnic, recently did a detailed survey of buildings falling under the local area plan 1, under which Samdrupjongkhar town falls.

The survey was carried out to identify old structures and to streamline the taxation system as well, considering that many extensions have taken place on thromde land, but which are not reflected in the records.

Thromde’s development control division will scrutinise and verify how the structures are integrated with the overall structural plan.  The legality of the plan is validated here.

“We came across so many temporary constructions storing their goods on government land without any permission,” an architect with the division, Wangda Dorji, said. “We’re conducting ad-hoc inspections.”

According to the survey, there were 66 buildings in LAP 1, most of which were built about 25 years ago, and do not have the mandatory traditional roofing.

Many tenants said besides leakages, plumbing is also an issue and that they feel unsafe whenever renovation works are carried out.

In 2012 and 2013, the thromde had approved the construction of eight buildings.

Wangda Dorji said, last year, the thromde had asked all house owners to build roofs, but the rupee crunch, compounded by the country’s weak economy, hindered these constructions.

With the survey done, the next focus of the thromde would be renovation of structures, but the thromde lacks technical capacity to carry out the work.  At present, the thromde has involved an engineer with the Asian Development Bank, who physically monitors major work, like the demolition of buildings.

To date, the thromde has renovated one building and is also pushing to enforce the rule that requires every house to have traditional roofing.  This issue was recently pushed during the thromde tshogdu also.

“The buildings should be painted, roofed, repaired and some buildings even call for proper toilets,” Wangda Dorji said. “We’ll recommend the owners on what needs to be done.”

However, too few inspectors and building executives challenge faster inspections.  The existing two inspectors are handling three constituencies each under the thromde.

The thromde has proposed for six more building executives in the 11th Plan.  As per a survey done by the Bhutan Statistics Bureau, a majority of buildings in Samdrupjongkhar don’t have the seismic requirements and are vulnerable to earthquakes.

By Tshering Wangdi/Samdrupjongkhar

Lauri seeks bifurcation

Separate gewog status entails future road connection and power supply

SJ/DT: A contentious issue deliberated on at the recent Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) was the bifurcation of Lauri into two different gewogs.

If the gewog consisting of 563 households and 18 villages is bifurcated, then those villages without proper road and no electricity would gain access to these facilities, Lauri gup, Pema Dendup explained.

In 2011, Samdrupjongkhar MP, Jigme Wangchuk, had also raised in the summer parliament that Zangthay and Dungmanma villages should be moved from Lauri to form another gewog for equal distribution of developmental works in the dzongkhag.

Gup Pema Dendup reasoned villagers had raised this concern during the gewog tshogdus, mainly because of the distance from the gewog centre.  The nearest road point is a nine-hour walk away for a regular commuter.

Even for minor official work, like getting permits and filing taxes,  villagers have to walk for hours and, without a proper road, the journey becomes even arduous, they said.

“When we have to call for zomdus, a lot of villagers don’t turn up, primarily because of the distance they have to walk,” Pema Dendup said.

Dophu, 52, who lives in a far-flung village, said it takes him a whole day to get to the gewog centre and return. “I start my journey at 6am and, by the time I get back home, it’s almost 11pm,” Dophu said.  But Dophu is still happy about his village getting electrified soon.

Unlike other gewogs, Pema Dendup said villagers of Lauri also don’t have any market nearby to sell their farm produce.  The nearest marketplace, Dungkhag town, Jomotshangkha, is more than 60km away.

Penjor, from one of the most remote villages, Zangthay, said, if the gewog was bifurcated, then future generations would reap the benefits of farm roads and other development activities.

“Our travel time will also drop drastically,” Penjor said. “The new government has also pledged a sum of Nu 2M for each gewog, and this will help our villages immensely.”

However, DT chairperson, Phuntshothang gup, Sangay Wangdi, said it would be difficult to create another gewog, because Bhutan already has 205 gewogs, and having one more could complicate things.

“Bhutan has 205 gewogs and, if we agree to their demand, a lot of changes will have to be made,” Sangay Wangdi said. “We also have to do some groundwork and find out how many people are for and against this proposal.”

Samdrupjongkhar dzongda, Goling Tshering, said, their mandate is to listen to what people have to say, look into their needs and put it up to the concerned authority, if there are possibilities.

“But I feel there’s a slim chance of the bifurcation happening because the government is already mulling over reducing the number of gewogs,” Goling Tshering said.

Lauri gewog, with a population of about 4,800, has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

By Tshering Wangdi/ Samdrupjongkhar

In Pictures: Post No Bills!

Going by the state of the posters, property owners are not very appreciative of the film industry’s easiest and cheapest way of advertising

Photo: Lhaki Wangchuk, Kuensel


Caretaker fined

The caretaker of Gelephu tsachu, from whose house foresters rescued a Tokay Gecko in October last year, paid a fine of Nu 100,000 on January 8.

Foresters of Gelephu range office took the tshachu (hot spring) caretaker, Harka Bahadur Subba, to court after he refused to pay the fine. Harka Bahadur Subba paid the fine in cash after the dungkhag court conducted evidence hearing.

But the case is not over, as forest range officials alleged the caretaker of having two Tokay Geckos with him. The foresters have submitted confidential documents, audio recordings and photographs that indicated the caretaker of having two Geckos.

Defendant Harka Bahadur will submit his rebuttal on January 15.

Meanwhile, Harka Bahadur Subbha, over a telephonic interview, denied having two Geckos.

He said the one he owned was taken by foresters and he would say the same thing in his rebuttal. “The foresters have taken away my cell phone and did not return it.”

Forest officials said the cell phone was lost when they brought the caretaker to the forest range office then. “Our office would replace it with a new one,” a forester said.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

The dirty job of keeping toilets clean

IMG_0320Sanitation woes: Devotees wait for their turn to use the toilets near the wangkhang in Phuentsholing

Thromde officials are at their wits end as devotees show a total lack of potty training

Wang: Phuentsholing thromde officials are going berserk trying to maintain sanitation at the ongoing Mipham Kabum wangkhang where about 15,000 devotees from across the country have gathered.

Unlike in the last wang, this time, organisers constructed 21 toilets and 14 by thromde, along the wangkhang.  However, the makeshift toilets have become dirty and remain unstable. Many devotees, thromde officials said are seen relieving in open areas, such as the riverbank and the car parking near the wangkhang.

All 35 toilets are made of thatched bamboo with a cemented drain as the base and tarpaulin sheets as roofing.  The river washes away the waste from the toilet.  Many toilets have also run down with the doors partially broken.

“The toilets stink and it’s very dirty inside,” Ratna Maya, 37, said. “The thromde should make it compulsory for all the devotees to use the toilet.”

Thromde officials said the toilet pots are filled with solid waste, clogging the drain and blocking the toilets. “Everyday, people damage the toilets,” a city official said. “We have to keep doing maintenance work everyday.”

Devotees said many people break the bamboo sticks from the toilet door to use as an alternative for tissue paper or water. “It has caused holes on the walls, making us feel uncomfortable to use the toilet,” said one. “

There are also some devotees, who choose not to use the toilets at the wangkhang at all. “I don’t use the toilets here as I can’t withstand the stench, and nor are any toilets clean,” 68-year old Dema said.

One of the volunteers from Youth Development Fund (YDF), Tshering, 15, said they see some elderlies taking small bamboo sticks to the toilet. “We try to stop them, but they don’t listen.”

Another volunteer Khandu said the devotees also refuse to use the toilets and instead relieve themselves in the open, causing the area to reek with the nauseating stench of human waste.

“Now, people can’t differentiate between the parking area and toilet areas,” a devotee Dechen Norbu said.

Phuentsholing thrompon Tsheten Dorji said, although the city sweepers clean the toilet everyday, devotees continue to dirty them. “The inspectors are there everyday and we even try putting sand, but people still don’t listen to us,” he said.

By Deki Dolkar & Meera Ghalley, Phuentsholing 

Picture story

The Ninth phase of the police youth partnership program (PYPP), which began on December 26 last year ended yesterday. The 15-day program saw 54 students learning about community police, crime prevention, child rights, drug education, fire and traffic safety, first aid and emergency responses, and driglam namzha among others. PYPP was initiated in 2008 as an intervention program to prevent youth crimes and delinquencies through improved relationship between the youth and police.


No movement on stalled land issue

NLC: There are no new developments on the Bhutan Education City (BEC) land issue, according to a senior land commission (NLC) official, who said the commission would decide the issue on “an appropriate time”.

The prime minister, in the recent meet the press session, on December 28, said the education city board and the commission would meet soon, within a week, to resolve the issue.  However, there has not been any such meeting so far.

“There are no developments,” the senior official said.

The official, who chose not to be named, said that it would meet only with education ministry and not the BEC board, because it was the ministry that wrote to the commission regarding the land acquisition.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in another meet the press session, said his government had requested the commission for a “speedy resolution” on the education city project.

He had expressed concern that one of the biggest projects initiated by the previous government could be compromised because of the legality of the land.

The government, in October last year, had asked the land commission for a decision “at the earliest possible.”  The government then requested the commission to decide whether to proceed with the allocation of land, or to finalise the decision on whether it was allocated, or if it can be allocated.

While land commission is sitting on the legality issue, the Cabinet, which did not receive a response from it as yet, asked the education city board to discuss the matter with the commission.

Meanwhile, BEC secretariat yesterday announced vacancies for senior executive position levels, including marketing and public relation officers for “immediate recruitment”.  International Finance corporation in a publication recognised Bhutan Education City Project as one of best public private partnership projects in the emerging markets last year.

The project was awarded a “bronze medal” (third position) in East Asia, Pacific and South Asia region out of 130 nominations.

The Bhutan Education City Act 2012 states ‘the government shall be responsible for any acquisition of land for the purposes of designation or expansion or for any other purposes in relation to the City in accordance with the laws.’

Land commission had first exchanged letters with Druk Holding and Investments limited, and later with the education ministry, on the acquisition of land for the project.  The commission was under the impression that the land could be for an education institution like a government college.

The Royal Education Council identified the 1,000-acre site for the project, between Thimphu and Paro, during the first interim government’s time in late 2007.  It is to be leased for 30 years to foreign investors, who will build the infrastructure.  This would be leased to reputed institutions.  The foreign investors would also bear the responsibility of attracting international institutions to set up base in the education city.

By Tshering Palden

Cost of poaching

Forest officials destroyed 121 snares in Thimphu region in 2013, and 18 in Bumthang

Conservation: While on the one hand, the country’s wildlife conservation policies have cost many farmers’ their livelihood, on the other hand, some farmers involved in rampant poaching of wild animals undermines conservation efforts.

Records maintained with forest officials showed poaching was not only confined to wild animals that came in conflict with humans, but also solitary animals that lived away from human habitation.

Forest director Chencho Norbu said the reason for poaching was to earn quick money.

In Thimphu region alone, in 2013, forest officials destroyed 121 snares set up to kill musk deer. In Thrumshingla, Bumthang, 18 snares were destroyed.

Foresters seized three musk deer pods from Wangduephodrang and two from Gasa.

Chencho Norbu said going by the trend of wildlife poaching, especially musk deer, it was alarming.

Citing the example of Soe Yaksa in north Thimphu, he said highlanders claimed the musk deer had vanished in recent years.

“Locals there said they do not even see the droppings now,” he said. “This would pose a serious problem to the ecosystem.”

Conservationists said musk deer was not only a prey for top predators like tigers, leopards and bears but its presence also balanced the natural world.

Wildlife conservation division’s chief forest officer Sonam Wangchuk said musk deer only fed on young shoots of plants and lichen and mosses.

“Moss and lichens are normally found away from human habitat, in the sub-alpine and temperate regions,” he said.

Musk deer traps, conservationists said had negative impact on the ecosystem, as other animals, including monal pheasants fell into the traps as well.

A forest official said poachers, while setting up traps normally cut off tree branches and that disturbed the habitats of musk deer and monal pheasants.

“The branches fall on the forest floor and cover the trails of these animals,” he said.

Another forester said the way poaching has been carried out in the recent years question people’s faith in religion.

“The way these animals are killed in snares is painful to even look at,” he said. “The animals were mostly hung as nooses around their necks tightened each time they struggled to free themselves.”

Besides musk deer, bear is the most poached wild animal and the country is also used as a conduit for smuggling tiger and elephant parts between the neighboring countries of China and India.

Foresters have also caught poachers trying to smuggle sandalwood between the two countries.

In December last year, poachers were arrested both from Jigme Dorji National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.

In 2012, about nine school dropouts were caught trying to poach musk deer and it was found out they were looking to make easy money.

But foresters said the only solution to the illegal hunting was to pin the middlemen or the end market.

“To do that foresters need assistance from people, both in rural communities and urban areas,” Chencho Norbu said.

Foresters were also trying to find out what background the poachers came from and whether they had other sources of livelihood.

“Our studies indicated that poachers do not come from economically-deprived families,” a forest official said. “They drive vehicles and most poachers are taxi drivers.”

Sonam Wangchuk said it was not just imposing fine but important to educate and win hearts of the rural communities to look at the need from conservation for ecosystem, species and habitat.

To curb poaching forest officials said they needed collective efforts from gewogs and dzongkhags. “Gewog officials will know how people in their locality become rich,” Chencho Norbu said. “Gups should make efforts to convince them why the activities they engage in is bad and illegal.”

He also said they needed help from roadside workers, herders and tour guides, who play an important role.

“They should inform foresters of strangers visiting in their locality,” he said. “Such people only visit the forests for a purpose.”

By Tashi Dema


Picture story

His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen with the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee and his daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee. The President hosted a dinner in honour of Their Majesties on January 7.