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Saturday, April 18th, 2015 - 2:44 PM
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FCB to market affordable local rice

ricemill-1Agriculture officials inspect the rice mill at Chuzergang in Sarpang

As part of a five-year contract, the corporation will run the mills set up by MoA 

Food: Local rice is expected to inundate the market soon, should things work out as agreed in the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the department of agriculture and two agents of Bhutan Food corporation and Chharu Tshondrel, a farmers’ cooperative based in Samtse in September this year.

As part of the five-year MoU, FCB will produce large amounts of local rice, as it has taken over rice mills established by the department in four regions, including the existing mill at Chuzergang in Sarpang, which was run by Chuzergang agriculture farmers’ cooperative (CAFCO) before.

Other mills are at Bajo for Wangdue and Punakha districts, at Tsirang for Tsirang and Dagana dzongkhags, and the one at Phuntshothang for Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag is being installed.

However, for Samtse, the mill will be opened in Phuentsholing and run by Chharu Tshongdrel.  According to the understanding, the agents can run the mills free of cost for the first three years.

FCB’s agriculture marketing department’s head, Sangay Wangdi, said, the corporation has identified about nine varieties of paddy, and the prices fixed between Nu 11 to 20 a kilogram based on the quality.  For paddy from Chuzergang, the corporation will increase the price by a ngultrum to the previous price fixed by CAFCO where milling would start soon.

However, he said, the other mills would resume production only after installation.

Sangay Wangdi said the local rice would be packaged into five, 10, 15 and 20kg packs and made available for sale at reasonable rates in all FCB retail outlets.  Although the prices for rice are not fixed, as of now, he said it would be done after a meeting with department of agriculture, department of agriculture marketing and cooperatives and the agents.

He, however, said the price would be kept as minimum as possible.

Agricultural officials said, except for Chuzergang, the mill houses in other regions are under construction, after which the machines would be installed.

Agriculture department’s joint director, Ganesh Chettri, said the idea was to create avenues to make local rice available in the market.

“In fact, local rice is already readily available with the farmers, but the problem is, not all reach the market,” he said. “This attempt to commercialise will help increase local rice products in the market,” he said.

While the total production that’s expected to be available is not known, he said a significant quantity is expected to hit the market.

“Chuzergang alone has a capacity to produce about 1,000MT, considering its vast stretch of paddy field,” Ganesh Chettri said. “With farm mechanisation measures and market in place, most targets are expected to be met, but that would also depend on what prices the agents offer.”

By Tshering Namgyal 

 

Jobseeker numbers grow by the day

Between Oct. and Nov. this year, registrations with MoL jumped by more than 25 percent

Unemployment: With the dust of competition to land a job in the civil service settling, the job market is thronged with unemployed university graduates, recent figures with the labour ministry show.

As of October this year, 1,332 jobseekers (all general graduates) were registered with the labour ministry.  In a month’s time, November end, the number of jobseekers in this category increased by 26 percent.

There are 1,821 general graduates looking for jobs today.  The increase in number of job seekers is also attributed to those university graduates back in the market after not getting through the civil service examinations.

Chief employment officer with the department of employment, Kinley Dorji, agreed graduates are starting to register for employment opportunities now.

“Also, it may be because we’ve asked them to register with us for the unemployment benefit scheme,” he said.

Kinley Dorji said, the ministry is currently working on the unemployment benefit scheme and said they are looking forward to expanding the programs.  As of now, there are three unemployment benefit programs.

This year, a total of 2,407 university graduates attended the national orientation program, out of which 2,114 were fresh graduates.  A total of 2,072 were unemployed from this lot.

Out of the 3,567 registered graduates, 3,332 had appeared the preliminary examination to contest the initial 538 civil service slots.  However, only 1,614 made it through the prelims.  Later, only 1,400 graduates sat for the main examination.

Meanwhile, the overall number of jobseekers increased to 4,830 in November.  These include master’s degree holders, technical graduates, those who have completed classes X and XII, classes IX and below, and others.  The number was 3,902 in October.

Technical graduates seeking jobs have also risen to 597 last month, from 405 in October.  Among jobseekers, women outnumber men in the country, with 2,665 of the total being women.

Besides more number of women graduating each year from tertiary level education, Kinley Dorji said the increase could be mainly attributed to the increasing number of female students in the secondary level education also.

National Statistics Bureau statistical yearbook of 2013 states, unemployment rate has dropped to 2.1 percent in 2012 from 3.7 percent in 2007.  The 2.1 percent constituted 6,904 as unemployed in 2012.

Labour ministry’s projections indicate around 120,000 job seekers will enter the labour market during the 11th Plan.  There should be about 82,000 new jobs created in five years.

Employment is identified as one of the national key result areas of the 11th Plan.  After the new government took office, an initiative called “overseas employment program,” was put forth to begin soon.  This program aims at sending about 5,000 Bhutanese overseas for employment, annually.

Kinley Dorji said the ministry has asked aspiring employment agencies to submit their proposal by the end of the first week in January next year.

Meanwhile, Trashigang, with 689, has the highest number of registered jobseekers, followed by Mongar and Samdrupjongkhar.

By Rajesh Rai

RICBL starts to pay out compensation

IMG_1351Most of the damaged houses in Haa were compensated

It will cost about Nu 20M to settle the claims of 882 households in 14 dzongkhags

Windstrom: Eight days after the December 15 windstorm, the Royal Insurance corporation of Bhutan limited (RICBL) has completed field assessment and started distributing rural insurance claims since yesterday.

The distribution started from Haa dzongkhag, where as of yesterday, 113 households were paid Nu 2.2M in compensation for windstorm damages. “We’re yet to pay claims for affected houses in Sombaykha and Gakiling gewogs,” RICBL officials said.

RICBL’s executive director, Sonam Dorji, said the windstorm, as per the damage assessment, would cost RICB about Nu 20M, and has affected 882 households in 14 dzongkhags, including Wamgrong and Sakteng.  In most cases, the roofs of houses were blown off with minor damage to houses.  The number might go up, but negligibly, he added.

As per assessment, the maximum claim would cross Nu 100,000 and minimum Nu 5,000, with the average around Nu 20,000.

Starting today, RICBL officials said they would distribute compensations for affected houses in some gewogs in Paro, Bumthang, Khuruthang Tashiyangtse, and would continue in other dzongkhags in the following days.

Sonam Dorji said, RICBL put in extra effort and managed to complete the entire damage assessment and started releasing the claims within eight days.

The company’s chief claim manager, Sangay Dorji, said, as per the field assessment report, there were also some affected houses, who failed to pay insurance premium for 2013, which he attributed to the increase in the premium.

Rural insurance premium has increased from Nu 60 to Nu 975, based on the category of houses.  The government pays a subsidy of Nu 150 to Nu 250, in addition to the rural premium, for every house.

However, officials are yet to compile how many houses have not paid the premium and will not receive compensation.

A local leader in Haa said that, following the windstorm damage, he was expecting people to understand the importance of paying the premium. “With the increase in premium, the compensation has also increased,” he said.

Rural insurance is comprehensive and not commercial.

RICBL officials said this was the first rural scheme RICBL was carrying out, after the company took over the rural scheme starting this year.

Comparing the effectiveness and speed between the former and the current assessment, RICBL officials said all the schemes were conducted through dzongkhag, and based on the dzongkhag’s assessment, RICBL disbursed the payments. “It took months, as the money released from RICBL has to go to the dzongkhag, and then to the gewogs, before it reaches affected people,” one said. “After we took over the scheme in 2013, assessment and disbursement has really improved.”

Officials said, after the 2009 and 2011 earthquakes, there were many assessment and compensation issues, which delayed payment.

However, the premium collected is still routed through the gewog and dzongkhag. “We’re looking at possibilities, where the premium could be paid directly to RICBL,” officials said.

RICBL officials also said that, for 2014, the gewog should collect premium from people within December 31.

The December 15 windstorm has also affected about 34 lhakhangs, 13 schools and extended classrooms, five basic health units and outreach clinics and two gewog offices were also destroyed by the wind that hit with a velocity between 30 to 40km per hour.

By Dawa Gyelmo

Two women charged for larceny

Thimphu police will forward the case of two women alleged of shoplifting and pickpocketing to court today.

The two women, aged 27 and 34, were alleged for stealing groceries and cosmetic from a shop in Olakha and also a customer’s purse on November 21.

Police officials in Changjiji said after receiving complaints, they verified closed circuit television (CCTV) footage and found the two women committing the crime.

“We learnt that the two women stay in Changjalu but could not find them,” a police officer said.

But on December 10, one of the two women visited a shop in Motithang where the shopkeepers recognized her and informed police.

Police sources said police could not detain the women, as the 27-year old woman had nine-month old twins and detaining them would pose unnecessary problem for the minors.

“But the women were released after a guarantor stood as surety,” a police officer said.

PP admissions pressure on Bumthang schools

The minimum age criterion has raised the hackles of quite a few parents

Education: While schools in some parts of the country worry about dwindling pre-primary (PP) admission, some dzongkhags like Bumthang are faced with increasing admission pressure.

This year, schools in Bumthang started strictly following the national education policy, which states that every child, who has attained the age of six at the start of the new academic session, is entitled for PP admission.

When the policy was implemented, schools admitted about 170 children to class PP this year, and turned away some 60 children, who had not turned six.  The previous year, when the policy was not strictly followed, the 18 schools in Bumthang took in about 230 children.

However, the rule wasn’t found to be practical, for there were several children, who hadn’t turned six by a month, a week or a day, in some cases, and while they were refused admission in some schools, they were admitted in others.

Gangrithang primary school’s principal Jamtsho said, until 2012, the school management boards and a committee had made a system that a child, who had turned five years and six months could get admission.  In 2012, when the policy was not strictly followed, the 18 schools in Bumthang took in about 230 children.

“This year, with strict policy from the ministry, we had to admit only those who were six as of March 31 and it upset the parents,” he said. “Parents did cooperate with us after we showed them the letter we received from the ministry, but their concern was that, next year, their children would be late for school.”

Some parents, who were not able to admit their children, had informed local leaders about the issue and requested something be done with the rule.

Chumey gup Tandin Phurba had raised the issue during the dzongkhag tshogdu last month, and requested the admission age be changed to five and half years instead of six. “The teachers could also study their capabilities before admission,” he said. “Some children are losing several months just because they could not get admitted as they were short by a month or a week and it’s a big disadvantage for them.”

A resident, Pema, 34, said his niece, who lives in Thimphu with her parents was admitted to one of the private schools at the age of four and she’s doing well in her studies. “If big towns or private schools can admit children at four, I think age six is too late,” he said. “I’m sure there are schools that don’t follow this rule strictly, and there are parents who change the birth dates too; there needs to be uniformity, even with private schools.”

However, as the rule to admit children at the age of six is an internationally accepted rule, the chances of changing it are slim.  However, the dzongkhag tshogdu decided to discuss with the education ministry and during the annual dzongkhag education conference.

Dzongkhag education officer Lamdra Wangdi said the request couldn’t be accepted immediately as they’d be violating the education policy, but they’d discuss with principals and could come up with an understanding at the school level.

“In the past, we’ve had several parents complaining, several cases of exception and cases of some parents changing their children’s birth dates,” Lamdra Wangdi said, adding that some issues even went to the anti-corruption commission.

He said, there were also cases where a child who was not eligible had been admitted to a school in another dzongkhag and, after mid-term, was transferred to a school in Bumthang.

“It’s not even right to alter the policy but even if we change the age limit to five and a half, the problem of being short by a day, a week or a month will continue,” Lamdra Wangdi said. “However, we’ll be discussing thoroughly and maybe come out with a solution, which will be strictly followed.”

By Sonam Choden, Bumthang

 

Bus fare discount a farce, say passengers

IMG_5762A resident boards the bus to Mongar in Trashigang bus depot

They feel the markdown for students is being paid for by a hike for the rest

Transport: Public transport users from all villages in Trashigang are disappointed with the recent hike in bus fares across the country than being pleased with the 10 percent concession for students in public transport.

The public transport fare was last revised in 2011.  The road safety and transport authority (RSTA) notified on November 29 this year that, due to increase in fuel and other operating costs, fare for all public transport services is revised by 10 percent on the existing rate from December 1.

“However, fares for students from classes pre primary to higher secondary school shall be maintained at the existing rate,” the notification stated.

This means, students travelling from anywhere in the country are entitled to a discount of 10 percent on the old fare.  Although the government’s pledge to provide concessional fare for students using public transport including air travel was fulfilled, the concessions do not extend to college students.

With the hike, the new rate for Trashigang residents travelling to Thimphu reaches Nu 733 from Nu 667 a person on a coaster bus, up by Nu 66.

Similarly, the coaster bus fare from Samdrupjongkhar to Trashigang has also increased from Nu 218 to Nu 239.

The fare hike is applicable to all types of buses, including 15, 30 and 58-seater and to all destinations including Phuentsholing and Gelephu.

Although the news of fare hike is yet to spread in Trashigang villages, those who boarded the public transport after the hike are disgruntled with the news.

A villager from Merak, Luri, who travelled to Thimphu recently, felt the hike for people like him was more to make up for the concession provided to students.

“The general understanding is the government has no money to pay up, and the bus operators would never bear the losses incurred from discounted students’ fare,” he said.

Bus operators from Trashigang said none could bear the losses incurred from the concession given to students, given the soaring fuel price.

“Unless the government can bear the concessional money, we can’t make such arrangements on our account,” a bus operator from Trashigang, Sonam Wangdi said.

Residents said the hike in the fare for others was driven by the students’ concession. “The people are used to realise the pledges the party promised during elections,” he said.

Another villager from Trashigang, Chimmi Dorji, called the concession for students as bogus. “If the government is trying to provide concession to students at the cost of others, then that isn’t discount,” he said. “We’d rather forgo the discount for our children.”

Meanwhile, villagers are also wondering whether the senior citizens, pregnant women, mothers with toddlers and people with special needs will be given designated seats in public transport outside Thimphu.

The government pledged designated seats in public transport during its campaign.

While the government had meant designated seats only for Thimphu city public transport, villagers understand it for transport services across the country.

“Designated seats are more important for public transport plying to Thimphu from other places, because even referred patients use the buses often,” a resident from Trashigang, Yeshey Wangdi, said.

Even pregnant women travel in buses to Thimphu for delivery, he said.

To date, buses plying from Trashigang to Thimphu, Samdrupjongkhar and other places do not have such designated seats.

“We received no such notification from RSTA, so whether it’s old or young, they get a seat only after buying a ticket,” Sonam Wangdi said.

By Tempa Wangdi

A man who doesn’t drink (water)

IMG_2518Azha Rinchen

Instead he quenches his thirst with suja (butter tea with salt)

Time out: On a wide expanse of pale brown field, farmers of Lakhu, a tiny village in Punakha ready the soil for mustard plants, occasionally taking quick breaks between works to drink water or alcohol.

One among them drinks neither.

A popular character among villagers of Lakhu, Azha Rinchen, as he is fondly addressed is known  for his quick-wit, complemented by his sense of humor and fine conversational skills.

In his late 40s, the scrawny man has a neat shave that plays up his lower jaws to make it jut out slightly, pulling the corners of his lips down toward them, smacking his face of a perpetual frown.

Besides his physical features and character, the other unique thing about this man is, he never drinks water.

After a tiring work in the fields, Azha Rinchen quenches his thirst with a medium-size Chinese flask of suja (butter tea with salt), which he drinks aplenty at long lengths.

He prepares a potfull (medium-sized) every day. That is his regular dose.

“I used to drink water when I was little, but then it always upset my stomach,” he said, scratching off his worn out handwoven cap and rolling them between his hands with an air of respect and mild submission.

“I don’t remember when I stopped drinking water all together,” he said. “I never felt the thirst for it.”

This attribute continues to baffle many doctors and people who come to know about him.

“He must be super human to be able to live without drinking water,” a doctor said.

Another doctor requesting anonymity said suja, which Azha Rinchen consumed in substitute for water, contained salt, an antidote of hydration that does not quench thirst.

“Salt water will basically pass through a body cell and do nothing, but cause dehydration,” he said.

Drinking suja, he added made a person more thirstry instead of quenching it.

“If one doesn’t respond to this by drinking pure water, the body could undergo damaging results,” he said. “It’ll start drawing water from other places like blood.”

A nutritionist said water was crucial for proper functioning of body organs, as a transporter of nutrients within the body and also to regulate body temperature.

“Not drinking water and substituting it with other liquids could stress out vital organs like kidney and liver,” he said. “This could result in their failures.”

One doctor, however, disagreed with what his colleagues had to say.

He said drinking suja could substitute water.

“Body tissues directly absord fat and salt before it passes on to organs like kidney and liver,” he said.

Besides, he said vegetables and fruits contained huge amounts of water, which was sufficient.

Azha Rinchen said he did not remember how many times a week he ate vegetables and fruits were a treat.

What the doctors said mean nothing for Azha Rinchen, who dreads drinking water.

Narrating his experience, Azha Rinchen said during a harvest season, he had forgotten to bring along his flask of suja and with his home located a little far away, rushed to the nearest shop.

“I bought myself a bottle of Coke,” he said.

For Azha Rinchen water is not an option at all.

“Many people advise that I drink water and list many benefits of it to convice me, but I never listened,” Azha Rinchen said. “Even without drinking water I look as good, or rough as any other villager and I can do what they can.”

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

Picture story

Participants of Camp Raven in RBA, Lungtenphu use skills to unfurl flags. The 10-day camp ends on December 29.

 

 

Dungsam to go commercial by Jan 1

This however, does not mean the plant will be able to sell in the Indian market

Industry: During its board meeting yesterday, Dungsam Cement Corporation board members settled on January 1 for the cement plant to enter commercial phase.

The plant’s chief executive officer, Dorji Norbu, said so far, Dungsam cement was in its project phase, which after January 1, would enter commercial phase, meaning the entire construction of the plant was completed and it would begin selling cement.

However, it would sell cement only in the domestic market.  Sale in the domestic market was made possible after Bhutan Standards Bureau issued the plant a temporary license.

Without a license from Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the plant would be unable to sell in the Indian market.

“We’re still strongly pursuing the license from BIS,” Dorji Norbu said.

However, today, the plant is still selling some amount of clinker to India.  Sale of clinker does not require a license from BIS.  Sale of clinker, Dorji Norbu said earned around Rs 3M daily.

“Once Dungsam starts full production, it’ll stop selling clinker, since all the clinker will have to be converted into cement,” he said.

Dorji Norbu said he was unsure when officials from BIS would visit the plant to test the cement and approve it for production. “This isn’t under our control,” he said.

Once Dungsam starts selling cement in the Indian market, it will roughly earn a gross revenue of Rs 6B annually.

However, since it would be required to pay some amount of loans it has taken from domestic and Indian financial institutions, the net revenue would work out roughly to Rs 4B annually.

The government is pinning its hope on Dungsam as one source of relief for the Rupee shortage the economy is facing today.  The plant will also create about 2,000 jobs.

The plant has a total borrowing of about Nu 7.7B.  Of the total, Rs 2B, at an interest rate of 10 percent, was borrowed from Indian banks, for which the payment would have to be made in Rupees.

The remaining Nu 2.1B was borrowed from the local banks and Nu 3.6B from the subsidiary company of Druk Holding and Investments, after the plant experienced cost overruns.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

Private land for public good

Failure to bridge the gap between govt. and market rates delay acquisition

Thromde: Despite Cabinet approval several, development plans in Thimphu have been frozen on paper for about a decade, with landowners not willing to accept the government’s compensation rate.

The government rate, calculated at the Government Property Assessment and Valuation Agency (PAVA), is much lower than prevailing market rate.  For instance, a decimal of land in Hejo, near Trashichhodzong, according to landowners, costs at least Nu 400,000 while PAVA’s rate is Nu 98,611.

The Land Act, the Constitution, the land rules and regulations and the local government Act, allows the government to acquire private land for public purposes and the same rules also states landowners should be paid “fair compensation”.

Most development plans include sites identified and approved for “national level importance” that were proposed in the Thimphu structural plan and approved by the Cabinet in 2003.

The plans include a proposal to develop a diplomatic enclave in the Hejo-Samteling local area plan, to the south of the India House estate, for which about 31 acres of land was identified and earmarked.  The area, if developed, would house 16 embassies, with each being allotted 1.5 acres.

Of the 31 acres, 22.49 belongs to 80 private owners, and the remaining 8.5 to monastic institutions.  Despite several rounds of consultations with the public, the thromde failed to acquire the land, as landowners refused to accept the PAVA rate.

Another plan that failed to proceed was a modern transport terminus, so-called ‘city gateway project’, at Olakha, below Damchen fuel depot, which was to replace the existing bus terminal at Lungtenzampa.  The project covers six acres, which consists of 36 plots, ranging from two to 72 decimals that belong to 25 landowners.  There is also a plan to construct a stock exchange building, for which a site has been identified at Jungshina.

Planners are concerned that if the problem persists, it would not only hamper planned development activities in the country, but also affect public service delivery.  Thromde officials said it would be unfair for people to expect market rates from the government and pay taxes based on government rates. “To determine a fair compensation is the problem now,” an official said.

They argue that PAVA rate should be the fair compensation, since it was studied and analysed, considering more than eight factors, such as the open market rate, official rates recorded during transactions, inflation, rates adopted by financial institutions and real estate developers.

Officials said prevailing market rates were very artificial, influenced by speculation and short supply of land, and with majority caused by a few landowners hoarding huge acres of land.

Landowners, on the other hand said the compensation rate was very low, and most asked for land substitution, or to be compensated as per the prevailing market rate.  Private legal experts representing landowners said if land acquisition rate was based on PAVA’s one, it would be an unfair compensation. “The fair rate should rather be a rate lower than prevailing market rate and more than government PAVA rate,” a legal representative said.

“There should be certain benchmark to fix the fair compensation,” another said.

A Parliament member, on condition of anonymity, said, since landowners are parting with their land for public interest, the government should pay more than the PAVA rate, while landowners should not expect the government to pay the market rate. “The land are located in prime areas worth paying more than the PAVA rate,” he said.

Landowners also question the government’s logic in acquiring private land, when it (the government) was leasing land to private and business houses. “Government owns many land in the city, and several were leased out. On the other hand, government is thinking of buying land at higher cost for development activities,” a landowner said. “How rational and reasonable are the planners about their plans?”

Thromde officials said development sites were identified, based on suitability and there was not much government land in the city, where these projects could come up.

To this, a landowner said suitability was always questionable and that such developments should rather come up in the city’s periphery. “If several infrastructure comes up in peripheral areas, it could also help balance development,” he said. “People flock to where there is development.”

Meanwhile, thromde’s urban planners said in most local area plans (LAP), about 1.5 to 3 acres of land were earmarked and identified for development of neighborhood nodes, which could provide amenities like bus stops, taxi stands, fuel station, basic health units, police post, post offices, banks and recreational spaces among others.

However, implementation of these projects, officials said, could not proceed because of lack of resources and budget constraints.

Other projects include reconstruction of Lungtenzampa bridge, pedestrian bridges over the expressway and a bridge to connect Taba and Pamtsho.

“Since these projects are of national importance, it is only appropriate that relevant central agencies take up these tasks,” a thromde official said.

By Dawa Gyelmo