Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - 5:50 AM
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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.


NLC seeks more info of thromde

Land acquisition to follow due process, that’s likely to be as long and drawn out as the earlier litigation

Taxi Parking: The national land commission (NLC) has sought additional information from Thimphu thromde to proceed with the land acquisition of the taxi-parking area, which the thromde lost to Tashi Commercial corporation (TCC), following a seven-year court case.

The taxi-parking area, adjacent to the fuel station in Lungtenzampa, was handed over to TCC on November 27 last year, following a Supreme Court verdict in August, which ruled that TCC owned the space.

The thromde then wrote to the land commission on the land acquisition, as allowed by the verdict, land act and local government act, if the area is to be used for the public purpose.

NLC’s secretary, Dasho Sangay Khandu, said the commission wrote to the thromde on December 5, requesting more information and documents.

On December 12, thromde responded to the land commission’s letter, along with some documents.

“However, that wasn’t enough, so we wrote back on January 6, asking the thromde for additional information,” Dasho Sangay Khandu said.

Dasho Sangay Khandu said the parking area is a part of the old Thimphu city. “As per the old plan, based on the land use plan, which is known as the urban plan now, land allotment and acquisition can be done.”

“But we can’t give approval just like that,” the secretary said.

NLC officials said they needed to know the land use plan, and the basis on which Thimphu city has allotted and registered the land in TCC’s name.

Without a proper basis, if NLC were to give approval, it would seem as if the government was bullying private agencies.

Dasho Sangay Khandu said the commission would give the thromde a preliminary approval, which would give them the authority to negotiate with TCC, whether they want cash compensation or land substitute.

If they want land substitute, as per law, they are entitled, all such things have to be looked in by the local authority, then they would submit a proposal to the land commission.  After that the commission would give the final approval.

“The decision for acquisition would be conveyed only after we get all the required information,” he said.

Thimphu thrompon, Kinley Dorjee, said that the thromde’s land management team would provide the documents sought by the land commission.

The total area of the taxi parking is about 49.9 decimals, according to thromde officials, which would cost more than Nu 30M if they had to buy it.

TCC officials, however, said that they don’t intend to sell the land, and that they have their own projects to be implemented on that area.

By Dawa Gyelmo

NHDC maintenance policy spells out both rights, responsibilities

IMG_0196 Changjiji housing colony in Thimphu (File photo)

The policy extends to tenants living in the corporation’s 2,000 rental units across the country

Housing: The National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) has come up with its own maintenance policy that spells out the rights and responsibilities of tenants renting its units.

Corporation‘s managing director Ugyen Chewang said so far, there were no documents specifying rights and responsibilities of tenants.

“It’s better for tenants to know their rights and for us to know ours,” he said, adding that through the policy, tenants would know what services and maintenance they could avail of.

For instance, he said tenants could not expect the corporation to replace minor fittings like bulbs and glasses.

“We would be accessing whether the damage on property was due to tenants’ negligence or natural wear and tear,” he said.

After corporatisation, he said the corporation had to sustain itself and that everything needed to be streamlined.

“It’s better to knock down some houses built in the 60s and 70s than to maintain them,” he said, adding it was more expensive to maintain. “If we touch one thing, another goes off.”

Another official said if electrical switches failed and needed replacement, its cost exceeded that unit’s one-month rent.

Going by the policy, the corporation would provide all fixtures and fittings before allotment of a housing unit and maintenance services would be considered based on assessments.

Between mid-2012 and end of 2013, the corporation officials said it spent about Nu 20M in maintaining some 2,000 rental units across the country.

The corporation has more than 1,000 tenants in Thimphu alone, renting various of its apartments.

The policy also states the corporation would be responsible in addressing social issues in the housing community and beyond, besides providing health and safety rules.

Ugyen Chewang said this was the reason for including the social amenities right from the planning phase.

“We thought there would be some social cohesion and interaction among tenants,” he said.

Housing corporation officials said the policy was “consistent” with the Tenancy Act that is awaiting revision during the upcoming assembly session.

It was, they said, also in tandem with building rules 2002.

During a public consultation on the Tenancy Act about a month ago in Thimphu, some landlords expressed their concerns over maintenance of rental units.

The policy, housing corporation officials said was a strategy within which decisions on maintenance rules were taken.

The policy would also serve as the “ground rules for allocation of resources” for maintaining properties within the corporation’s authority.

One of the objectives of the policy was to ensure safe, secure and equitable services to rental apartments.

The policy states the housing corporation was the owner or custodian of the properties and was responsible to provide technical guidance and adequate resources.

By Tshering Dorji


Approval delays diagnostic centre’s start

Health: A year after a private diagnostic centre was set up at the heart of Phuentsholing town to screen expatriate labourers, the centre is yet to start the screening tests.

LT diagnostic centre’s proprietor, Lobzang Tshering, said, the centre, besides attending patients, was also to screen expatriate workers, and has not begun because the labour ministry is yet to approve the work permit for two non-Bhutanese technicians it has employed.

“We had to recruit more technicians because we didn’t have enough staff,” Lobzang Tshering said. “Since there were no Bhutanese interested for the job, we had to look for non-Bhutanese.”

Lobzang Tshering said the centre would test expatriate workers’ blood, urine and conduct X-rays, the result of which are required to obtain a medical certificate, an important document to get work permit from the labour ministry.

“But today, the hospital has to bear this responsibility, along with other patients,” he said. “If they’re diverted to our centre, then the hospital can attend to the patients.”

Phuentsholing hospital sees almost 800 labourers everyday.  The labour recruitment agents have also complained about the hospital’s delayed service.

Since it was well equipped and with a non-Bhutanese radiologist, the proprietor claims the centre can provide efficient services.

The health ministry approved the establishment of the Nu 10M worth diagnostic centre. “But we’ll be able to operationalise on a full scale only when the two technicians’ work permit is approved.”

The centre will also provide haematology, biochemistry and pathology test services. “We’ll do the test and refer the cases to the hospital,” Lobzang Tshering said.

The centre is however yet to fix the fees for its services. “We’re hopeful the centre will be able to start all the normal test soon,” he said.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Phuentsholing

Indispensable yet underrated

Last week, a team of 25 people, while undergoing a hands-on maintenance and operation training, revived the defunct waste treatment plant at Gedu.  Long an eyesore of the town, the Gaeddu College and the town will now benefit from the plant.

But more than bringing the plant back to use, it is worth noting the initiative of training people to maintain and operate facilities in their locality.  The treatment plant was reportedly built at a huge cost to last for 50 years.  It only lasted 10; probably poor maintenance led to its untimely defunct state.

It also highlights a flaw in our planning process, where we always tend to overlook the maintenance and operation aspects.  We can spend millions to build public facilities and infrastructure, but quite often we forget to keep things going by either not having skilled people to look after them, or provide the necessary maintenance.  Therefore, we see our facilities, especially public ones, not last long.  A good example is the incinerator at the Thimphu crematorium.

Whether it is a recreation complex, drainage system or government buildings, the lifeline is always shorter than those belonging to private.  A shortfall here could be not having enough skilled people to tend to them.  All our “educated” youth want to become engineers and doctors, teachers and Dashos, so there are not many wanting to pick up a trade.

We have an acute shortage of plumbers, electricians and mechanics, but nobody wants to become one because we have failed to recognise and appreciate blue-collar skills.  And we had been saying this for many years now.  We have thousands of energetic youth waiting for the government to create job opportunities.  On the other hand, we have a lot of demand for skilled workers.

The reasons are obvious for the mismatch.  While we cannot get out of the grade mentality, skilled workers are deemed not qualified enough to be paid attractive salaries.  Because they are not engineers or planners, they don’t get trainings.  This section of people is crucial for the smooth functioning of public infrastructure and facilities, and need to be recognized and nurtured.  Our planners and decision makers, most of who have visited or studied in developed countries, know well how expensive it is to hire a plumber or a locksmith.

The only skilled workers thriving are the non-nationals, who charge exorbitant prices even to fix a leaking pipe, as their services are in demand, and service providers very few.

The Gedu training is a lesson that our people, if and when trained, can do the job and that we have to invest in training technicians, plumbers and mechanics.  In other words, another relook at our policy planning.

Need to review preparedness plan

Towards this end the country will implement the FAO-funded emergency surveillance plan   

Avian Flu: Although Bhutan is at present free of the new flu virus, a H7N9, the national centre for animal health (NCAH) officials say, the country is “moderately at risk,” and calls for an urgent review of its preparedness and surveillance measures.

With the emergence of the avian influenza A in China in March 2013, officials said it has become necessary to review the national influenza pandemic preparedness plan (NIPPP), for strategies to tackle new emerging strains.

The centre’s head of laboratory Dr Jambay Dorjee, said, after the virus was first detected in humans in China, intensive research and studies found poultry as the virus’s source.

“That was when a study done to find which parts of the region were affected,” he said. “It was found, the virus has not yet spread to the ASEAN and South Asia countries.”

The study was conducted from April to July 2013.

According to the study, Bhutan was at moderate risk, because of trade of live animals and poultry from high-risk countries like Nepal and India, since there is no direct link with China. “The other reason was migrating of wild birds near China and Bhutan border, which have a high risk of carrying the virus.”

Dr Jambay Dorjee said, although it was confined only in China, it was still found important to have a preparedness plan in place.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation will be funding a project called technical cooperation project in these two regions.

“The project will incorporate emergency surveillance plan in ASEAN and South Asia regions,” he said. “Bhutan has received USD 110,000 for the surveillance plan.”

He said surveillance in Bhutan should have begun from December 2013, but was delayed, following a delay in fund distribution.  But surveillance will soon start this month and will continue until May 2014.

For this reason, a “sensitisation workshop on implementation modalities for emergency surveillance and response to H7N9 in Bhutan” was held in Phuentsholing for two days.

“This is the last meeting held to come to a consensus for the surveillance plan,” Dr Jambay Dorjee said. “The workshop is also to decide how the fund should be utilised.”

He said study on poultry value chains and implementing of risk-based surveillance in the country is also in the plan. “We’re supposed to conduct surveillance and submit the report to FAO by May,” he said. “Then we’ll discuss on how should we respond, if the result tests positive.”

The center has prioritised the southern bordering districts, which has open border trade of live animal or poultry products, districts like Tsirang and Thimphu, which fall under value chain, and Phobjikha and Bumdeling that see animal migration.

The FAO has equipped the center with diagnostic equipment to test blood or serum after collecting the samples. “H7N9 is a non-clinical symptom, which means if any bird is infected with the virus, it shows no symptoms,” Dr Jambay Dorjee said.

However, he said the virus has not yet entered the country and people should not panic.

But Bhutan has seen a series of outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 since February 2010.  Seven confirmed outbreaks of HPAI have been recorded in five districts, with the first outbreak reported in Chukha district in February 2010.

Meanwhile, NCAH program director Dr Kinzang Dukpa said risk based surveillance is still in place, as winter is more prone to such virus.  He said Bhutan is right now free of H5N1, H1N1 and H7N9 for the last one year.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Phuentsholing