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Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - 9:47 PM
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Welcoming Spring

The frost has fled and the chill is gone. And the yesterday’s evening rain settled the dust to bring a perfect morning.

If spring is the other name of freshness and a new beginning; it brings with it ample prayers and hopes. The peach blossoms, plants and flowers, waking from a long slumber, fields starting to wear green and the days getting longer, is indeed the season to look forward to.

Some may say that the peach flower is a political symbol here. But the symbolism aside, it also represents hope, change and new ideas. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, farmers are gearing for the start of new work cycle with added zeal.

A good spring determines the success of a year. And a good year it will be. Farmers will reap later what they now sow. Yesterday’s shower soaking the parched earth is symbolic of a good beginning.

But, as we welcome the Spring of 2014, what do we expect from the year?

In all fairness, the government has spent much of its time preparing and learning the ropes of governance. We have, after a long time, a change in leadership with a new set of elected ministers. We have great expectations from them all. Of course we cannot expect more than what they are trying. We know it has not even been a year since they took the reins of the government.

Although the 11th Plan kicked off officially in July of 2013, not much could be done as the Plan with a massive budget outlay of Nu 214B didn’t receive much in terms of what was committed.

But this Spring, however, is a perfect time for toil. And toil we must. Funds for the 11th Plan and other government initiatives like the economic stimulus plan have already started rolling in. Like the farmer expecting a good yield, we have lots of expectations from the government. The government has to put the economy back on track, streamline the civil service, improve the education system, and address poverty, among others.

Despite the positive symbolism associated with  the Spring season, we have great thinking to do, and earnestly we must.

Let us muster the courage this beautiful season,and wake from the long sleep we had.

Tashi Air plans second aircraft

Aviation:  Despite losses, Bhutan Airlines (Tashi Air) plans to expand its fleet to two aircraft in September.

The move indicates the private airline’s commitment to its international services.

Tashi Air CEO Phala Dorji said that “there’s no turning back” in spite of heavy losses being sustained by the airline. While figures were not released, he said the airline is far from even breaking even. But it was also pointed out that the market is improving.

The airline recently signed an agreement to acquire an Airbus A319 from a leasing company SMBC Aviation Capital. The aircraft is expected to arrive in mid-April and will replace its current A320 on lease from a Lithuanian company.

Bhutanese pilots and cabin crew staff the A319 unlike the present one, it was pointed out. Tashi Air commercial director Ugyen Tenzin said that feedback from passengers indicated that a “Bhutanese ambience” was lacking on its aircraft and that with only one aircraft, reliability was a concern.

Ugyen Tenzin said that a second aircraft will be added by September. He said that tour operators have indicated that a second aircraft will boost their confidence in using Tashi Air. He added that the move also made sense with the tourism sector growing. A second aircraft would also allow the airline to expand its route network to Kathmandu and New Delhi.

The second aircraft will also be leased from SMBC Aviation Capital.

Meanwhile, Tashi Air and Drukair are in agreement that a price war is not in their best interests. Competition between the two led to both airlines dramatically reducing off-season airfares this winter. “We’ll not have a price war, we’ll have the same pricing policy with Drukair,” said Ugyen Tenzin. However, Tashi Air is focused on offering better customer services and more friendly terms of conditions, according to its officials.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

The forbidden bridge in Gasa

IMG_0534No way beyond: The bridge opens only once in three years

Belief: An iron bridge near the Gasa tshachu leads to a dense forest where the local deity Dendup Norzang is believed to reside.

The bridge, about 100m, opens only once in three years. It is for the natives to perform rituals to appease their local deity. And for the rest of the year, the bridge remains closed, especially for outsiders.

The bridge was built sometime in 2002 with a budget of about Nu 0.45M.

Residents feel that their deity, in the recent past, was not pleased with them. A string of events, they said, led to the death of three men.

It started in 1997, when two men died after falling boulders from a landslide hit them when sawing timber.

A few years later, another man died when felling a tree. He was believed to have cut himself with the power chain he carried.

In 2007, a policeman found a shinny stone from the forest. It was offered to the dzong.

The following year, the valley was flooded, which washed away Gasa tshachu.

The locals link the events to their deity as it occurred near that forest.

Locals said the dzong must have caught fire for the same reason.

Villagers stopped going to the area and in a grand ceremony, last year, returned the stone from where it was found.

Goenkhatoe gup, Pema Dorji, believes otherwise.

“The previous government wanted to construct guesthouses for those visiting the tshachu in that area but the locals refused,” gup Pema Dorji said.

The government then wanted to remove the bridge but locals requested it be kept for them.

“Without the bridge we’ve to cut logs to build a temporary bridge and it wasn’t safe,” Pema Dorji said.

Today, the bridge is closed with corrugated galvanized sheets and covered with shrubs.

“We had to close it to avoid people from crossing over to collects woods to pitch tents and firewood,” a villager, Singye Tashi said.

Locals fear any disturbance could lead to predators attacking their livestock.

“Even visitors to tshachu have to make offerings to the deity for a fruitful and peaceful stay,” the gup said.

A new nyekhang at Sonamgang near the tshachu is under construction to perform rituals in future.

The closed bridge has left many visitors to the tshachu curious.

“There’s nothing written on the bridge and I wonder why it’s closed,” a Thimphu resident Rinzin Dorji, said. “They should put up a sign board.”

By Tshering Palden , Gasa

Olakha automobiles workshop roads to improve

DSC_5599The automobiles workshop area in Olakha

Road: The once blacktopped roads are hardly visible with potholes all over. Apart from automobile waste and water seepage, the area is also strewn with litter, and often sewage tanks are overflowing.

More than five years after its relocation to Olakha from Changzamtog , the automobile workshop area, today, is back to the old state.

About 67 automobile workshops operate at Olakha spread on about 13 acres of land.

Vehicle owners complain of the area being too congested and not well maintained.

“The owners don’t seem to be bothered at all,” a corporate employee said. “Lack of proper drainage aggravates the situation.”

Kuenga automobiles’ propietor, Kuenga said workshop owners should be responsible for the automobile waste and water.

“They shouldn’t just depend on the government,” he said. “Seepage from the drainage and water pipes leads to more potholes.”

However, the Thimphu thromde expects some of the existing issues to be solved. Construction of a concrete road has begun at the workshop area since last week.

The new road which would be 350 metres long and 8 metres wide will be constructed by July this year, said thromde officials.

“The blacktopped roads didn’t even last for five years so we opted for a concrete road,” thromde’s head of urban planning division, Sangay Wangdi said.

As a pilot project, the concrete road is built on the middle  lane. “If it goes well, we will do  it for the whole area in the next fiscal year,” Sangay Wangdi said.

Sangay Wangdi held the owners responsible for the waste management. The owners were asked to contribute labour but they failed to do so, he said.

“Last year, we deployed about 100 workers to clean the area as the owners didn’t cooperate,” he said.

Automobiles workshop owners said some customers didn’t park their vehicles properly that also led to congestion.

“At times, it takes really long for spare parts to come, which is why vehicles are parked in the area for a long time,” said one.

Meanwhile, vehicle owners who avail services from Olakha automobile workshops remain hopeful of some change with the construction of the new road.

By Yeshey Dema

Appointments

The former Secretary of National Land Commission (NLC), Dasho Sangay Khandu, was appointed as the Chairman of Druk Holding and  Investments Ltd in accordance with the Royal Kasho issued on 5 March 2014.

He formally assumed the office from March 10.

Former Zimpon Wogma, Pem Chewang, replaced Dasho Sangay Khandu as the NLC secretary.

            

Drukpol 3 – Yeedzin 0

DSC_2139Battling in the rain: Drukpol defenders (orange) deflecting the ball away from their goalpost

‘A’ Division: Drukpol FC hammered Yeedzin FC 3-0 yesterday and registered their second win of the Thimphu A division league.

Yeedzin FC is yet to register their first win of the league.

Drukpol dominated the game right from the start and maintained the ball possession right to the end.

Rinchen Dorji scored Drukpol’s first goal at the 11th minute of the game.

Just a minute left to end the first half, Yeedzin winger made a remarkable cross from the left, but the striker could not translate it to a score.

The rain made the ground slippery and difficult for the players in the second half.

Drukpol’s Tandin Tshering scored from an open space just near the box to double the lead at the 70th minute.

Six minutes later, Tandin Tshering repeated scored one more to take Drukpol’s score to 3.

Druk Star FC will play Thimphu City FC at 6:00 pm today.

By Tshering Dorji

Election Act is comprehensive: CEC

Assembly’s Legislative Committee sought feedback for amending the Act

Law: The Election Act, 2008, is ‘practical and working’ and there is no need to amend it,  according to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of Bhutan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

On March 10, the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly wrote to the CEC, secretaries of the political parties and the home minister for feedback on the Election Act as they were reviewing it for amendment. The committee wrote to the home minister for recommendations from the local government.

The second session of the second parliament passed a resolution to review and amend the Act. The amendment of the Act was prompted while discussing the Anti-Corruption Commission’s report that the Ethics and Credential Committee presented to the house.

Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Lekey Dorji, who signed the letter said the committee is mandated to review the Act and report to the parliament in the next session.

“We are not saying that the Act has to be amended anyway,” said Lekey Dorji, adding that rules and regulations derived from the Act also need to be studied.

If amendments are required, Lekey Dorji said, it would take at least two sessions in the parliament to pass it. The committee has to move the motion to amend the Act and at least three readings will follow to pass the Bill.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said the commission will have to sit down with the committee and find out the sections of the Election Act 2008 that needs amendment. In the letter, the Legislative Committee just sought the advice of the ECB and had not indicated specific provisions to be amended.

The ECB, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, will be open and keen to know the background and details of each issue members of parliament expressed.

“If the concerns are purely to address personal wishes and conveniences of an individual or an entity, we feel that we need not be concerned,” said the CEC.

The current laws, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, have served the national objective of conducting a series of elections that were not “challenged or questioned in the court of law”. The laws, he said, met international standards and successfully guided the conduct of free, fair and democratic elections. “The Act is in full obedience to the Constitution and I personally feel that there is no need for any amendment,” he said.

While some member of the Parliament during the second session suggested severe penalties for those who violated electoral laws, the CEC said penalties levied were fully in accordance with the laws of the land, which are legally valid.

The electoral laws cannot be more comprehensive than the present one, comparing with election laws in other countries, said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

“It is rather more of the need for the candidates and parties having to refrain from deliberate violation of the laws.”

By Tshering Dorji

 

Unemployment benefit scheme to cost govt. Nu 3B

Jobs: The government will not be able to introduce the unemployment benefit scheme for youth as pledged, said labour ministry officials.

The scheme is estimated to cost the government about Nu 3.08B during the 11th Plan.

Under the unemployment benefit scheme, the government promised to provide cash incentives to the deserving unemployed youth until they get employed.

Labour secretary Pema Wangda said the expense was calculated taking the national poverty line of Nu 1,704.84 as the baseline and the total number of jobseekers in the country today. The jobseekers were to be paid for only six months.

“The cost estimated for the scheme is not sustainable,” Pema Wangda said. “The unemployment benefit scheme will be replaced by employment-guaranteed program.”

The employment-guaranteed program falls under the government’s “special support scheme,” which will be allocated 20 percent or Nu 1B economic stimulus plan package.

As most jobseekers were unskilled, the ministry would provide them training to enhance their skills under the employment-guaranteed program. The trained jobseekers will then be provided jobs in the construction, agriculture, hydropower, tourism, hospitality, and information and technology sectors.

The ministry has asked various sectors what skills they require from the jobseekers as it has to match with that of the jobseekers.

The ministry is currently working on the program.

The labour ministry expects to employ about 2,500 youth a year under the program.

The ministry has allocated about Nu 550M to carry out pre-employment activities – the overseas employment program and employment-guaranteed program. The ministry will use Nu 110 from the allocated budget every year.

The ministry will also take up the direct employment program under which unemployed youth will be employed in various sectors like the education, dzong renovation and construction.

Labour officials said that employment will also be generated in the areas of distribution of drinking water in rural communities, maintenance and construction of irrigation channels and including forest plantation works, among others.

Although many programs are in the offing, jobseekers keeps increasing, according to the labour ministry record.

Today there are 8,981 jobseekers registered with labour ministry.

Some 120,000 jobseekers are expected to enter the job market by the end of the 11th Plan. The government will have to create 82,000 jobs to maintain the “full employment” status of 97.5 percent.

By Rajesh Rai

Rehabilitating Radhi’s wetland

IMG_8772Villagers of Khudhumpang constructs a causeway to protect their fields

Flood: When the Gamri watershed project was planned in northern Trashigang in 2008, four gewogs including Radhi was declared as falling under critical watershed.

Watershed specialists from SNV warned farmers and planners to limit construction activities to avert major land degradation in the area.

Six years later, Radhi is in the midst of initiating  rehabilitation works for wetland conservation. A flashflood hit Dekiling village in August 2010. A similar flood hit  Khudhumpang in 2013. There are nine farms roads built or being built in the gewog, which is attributed for disturbing the course of streams running down the heart of the gewog.

Farm roads, a lifeline for villagers  might have eased hardships, but most of the flashfloods and land degradation are also attributed to the construction of  farm roads.

If left without proper sustainable land management plans like improving forest cover, the project is not ruling out possibilities of the entire region to be engulfed by massive landslides in the near future. This also includes some part of Merak and Phongmey gewogs.

Radhi’s maximum landholding of wetland aggravates the situation. Radhi gewog ranger, Gyem Tshewang said that the construction of farm roads disturbed courses of the streams flowing through the villages.

“Disturbing its natural course caused the water from the streams to overflow onto paddy fields and roads threatening both property and lives of the villagers,” said Gyem Tshewang.

A villager from Khudhumpang, Tandin Wangchuk said that the dark side of farm road was that it increased the instances of flashflood in the villages.

In 2013, a house near the Kologchiyay stream in Khudhumpang narrowly escaped the flooding water after the hume pipe, to drain water, was blocked by debris,” Tandin Wangchuk said.

Flooding water from gullies and streams were also scouring away our wetland, he said.

“The ongoing works have been timely,” another villager from Khudhumpang, Karma Dupchu said.

The rehabilitation works was initiated with funding from Global Environment Fund.

“Since, a big causeway is being constructed, the water can easily flow on its previous natural course averting damages to both our property and lives,” said  Karma Dupchu.

Gyem Tshewang said that at least five streams including Mangthariyay and Nagtshang in Tokshimang among others would receive similar rehabilitation works in 2014.

The project will also build live check dams and stone bond check dams in landslide prone areas like Chuthalangnang and Docheyey.

Similarly, the gewog will also initiate sugarcane plantations, orchard, and bamboo development in Radhi as part of Gamri watershed management project plan to curb land degradation.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Farmers complain about dust from project

IMG_1321The sprinkler Samcholing residents allege of being stationed in Langthel

Hydropower: Big projects come to rural pockets of the country as a boon. But they are also the bane.

Farmers in Samcholing village, Tronga, have stories to tell, of a big project and the repercussions they bring, particularly dust problem.

Farmer Wangdi’s cattle refused to graze in the entire village because the leaves and grass are spoilt by the dust from Mangdechhu project.

The 61-year-old farmer blamed the project for it all.  Heavy project vehicles ply the Trongsa-Zhemgang road, knocking up dust that settles on the greens.

“The dust is so thick on the leaves that the cattle don’t eat them,” he said.

Zangmo, 31, said that her cattle don’t take anymore to bakhushing, a common cattle feed. “It’s because of the dust,” she said.

Her two-storey Bhutanese house, located a few metres away from the Trongsa-Zhemgang highway and her kitchen garden are thickly covered with dust.

Farmers say that even the water collected is dust-filled.

“It’s difficult to even dry our clothes outside,” said a farmer.

Yangden, a businesswoman is concerned about the health of her children and parents.

Samcholing village has about 260 households. The highway runs through the village.

The village for long had remained secluded without any income generating opportunities and villages say the arrival of project opened up opportunities galore to make income, but with it came the unforeseen harm, too.

Sonam, 52, said lives of the people in the village have improved drastically as many people could now work as daily wage earners.  Some are employed as security guards. “People now have money and many people have constructed good house for themselves.”

But farmers who own houses along the highway say that the speeding vehicles are causing damage to the houses.

“The cracks in my house caused by earthquake widened because of the tremors caused by speeding heavy vehicles,” Wangdi said. “I have informed the gewog office but nothing came of it.”

A 30-year-old woman, whose house is located below the highway said the noise makes it difficult for her and the children to sleep.

Other farmers said the speeding heavy project vehicles also pose risk to the lives of school-going children.

Mangdechhu hydroelectric project authorities, however, said that they are doing their best to manage the problem of dust in the village.

The joint managing director of the project, Chencho Tshering, said the project has deputed two trucks to sprinkle water on the road, which controlled the problem of dust.

“While the dust is under control, it would be difficult to keep the environment dust-free,” he said. The contractors have their own sprinklers to manage dust in their construction site.

Project authorities said that some people are complaining about the dust expecting the project to compensate them. “But unless dzongkhag agriculture officials file complaints of decrease in crop yield due to dust, the project will not pay anyone,” an official said from the project.

But farmers allege the sprinklers are always stationed in Langthel and do not serve its purpose in their locality. “They sprinkle water only when high authorities visit the area,” said a villager. “We see trucks only once a week.”

Meanwhile, pointing to a speeding eight wheeler truck, Wangdi said the drivers have a bigger role to control the dust and to keep the road in good condition.

“Most drivers do not think of local residents,” he said.

By Tashi Dema