Monday, April 27th, 2015 - 1:22 AM
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TashiCell goes 3G

IMG_0236At the launch: Tashi InfoComm chairman Wangchuk Dorji (right) with managing director Tashi Tshering and general manager for network operations, Ganga R Sharma

Mobile: The nation’s first and only private mobile company, Tashi InfoComm launched its 3G (third generation) mobile wireless network yesterday in Thimphu.

With this, TashiCell operators said subscribers would be able to download and stream multimedia, talk face to face through video call and download large email attachments via devices that support 3G.

To start with, 3G will be available in places like Thimphu, Paro, Bajo in Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Gedu, and Phuentsholing.

TashiCell’s commercial manager Jigme Thinley said the company had plans to continue rolling out 3G network gradually to other dzongkhags in phases.

The company’s mobile network is ‘high speed packet access’ (HSPA+) and has opted to use 850MHz band for its 3G services to provide better coverage, both indoors and outside.

Company officials said most of today’s high-end mobiles devices, provided by companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony, readily supported this band.

However, mid range devices, especially those sold in the Indian markets, may not support this band.

TashiCell is in discussion with a few mobile device manufacturers to address this issue.

Meanwhile, TashiCell’s 3G data cards that support the band will also be made available at reasonable prices.

It will also introduce various mobile-data plans to meet varying needs of different users.  It includes five packages ranging from Nu 20 to Nu 777 with validity of one day to a month.

Tashi InfoComm, after establishment in 2008, has about 145,000 registered customer and covers 20 dzongkhag.

By Jigme Norbu

Four detained for assaulting volunteers

Thimphu police has detained four school dropouts since November 27 for their alleged involvement in extortion from two expatriate volunteers.

In the incident that occurred on the night of November 27 along the footpath above the Thai Temple area and below Kelki Higher secondary school, the four men, aged 18 and 19, assaulted the two expatriate volunteers who were returning home from a restaurant in town.

Officials from women and child protection unit said three men, two aged 19 and one aged 18, confronted the two volunteers, who work for health voluntary overseas and asked for tobacco, doma and ‘other things.’

“When they refused, the boys pushed them,” a official from the unit said. “In the course of the assault, one of the volunteers fell on a 19-year old woman who was with another 19-year old man nearby.” The 19-year old man also joined the other three and assaulted the two volunteers, who sustained minor injuries.

Police said the four would be charged for extortion.

By Tashi Dema

Drastic reduction in Dhamdum industrial estate size

DSC_0868Lyonchhoen studies a map of the industrial estate at Dhamdum, Samtse on December 1

Samtse’s special economic zone has had its original acreage slashed by more than half

SEZ: The industrial estate in Samtse, for which the land acquisition process is on, will be reduced to 245 acres from initial 600 acres.

The estate, located in Dhamdum, towards the northwest of Samtse, is among the three identified special economic zones (SEZ) in the country.

While work on the project has been on since 2006, it was stalled for a number of reasons.  Overlapping of district’s structural and industrial plans, lack of funds, and issues related to private and government agencies’ land holdings were some of the reasons.

While about 600 acres of land was identified during the first study of the estate in 2006, encroachment of new municipal plan reduced the plot size.

The municipality agreed to provide only 175 acres of land to the estate.

Officials with department of industries (DoI) under ministry of economic affairs had found the area, which was beside the river, insufficient and inappropriate, with a need to build embankments to avoid floods.

For now, the department has carved out 245 acres, which was the government reserved forest (GRF) land, and was outside the limitation of the Samtse municipality.

Areas occupied by agencies, such as National Jersey Breeding Program, Central jail, and Bhutan Power Corporation, have now been excluded.

Samtse dzongdag Karma Weezir said the first thing that was required to do now was to demarcate and be clear of the boundary.

“We need to sort out the land issue first,” he said, adding that it was the ownership of the private lands, institutional lands, and resettlement lands that first needed to be solved.

Development of Dhamdum industrial estate has also been listed in the current plan as the “highest priority”, and the Indian government has committed Nu 300M.

Meanwhile, in his first constituency visit (from Haa to Samtse) after assuming office, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also discussed the industrial estate with Samtse dzongkhag officials and how it would benefit people.

He said, with its proximity to commercial Indian hubs like Siliguri and Kolkata, the industrial estate in Samtse would be better than the one in Pasakha.

He said, roads, being constructed to connect Samtse with Haa and Phuentsholing, would serve as plus points for the estate.

However, Samtse dzongda said the site being close to the town, people were worried it would pollute the area and pose health risks.

He said the industrial estate could have only small and medium agro-based projects, service based, mineral-based projects, and cottage industries.

“It must be clean and less polluting,” dzongda said. “It can’t be like Pasakha.”

Meanwhile, lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay also visited the Dhamdum site, where Samtse dzongdag explained the issues pertaining to it.

Lyonchhoen said it needed to be reviewed.

His expressed concerns that while, on one hand, the hydropower projects, such as Dagachu and Punatshangchu I and II would commission soon, making energy readily available, the estate was yet to be developed.

By Rajesh Rai

Far off the issue

They always had one issue in mind, gathered to discuss quite another and still came out rather satisfied.

That was what some, who attended the recent meeting of editors and reporters representing various national language newspapers in the country, felt.

Editors and reporters of the national language newspapers always have a common concern with regards their publication, sustainability.

They discussed the need to standardise spellings of words that appeared in different newspapers during a recent workshop that otherwise accorded them an opportunity to thrash out the issue with the relevant authority, Dzongkha Development Commission, which also participated in it.

Save for a few discerning readers, an average Bhutanese, who picks Dzongkha newspapers to read does not usually peel his or her eyes to compare a word one paper chooses to spell in a particular way with that of another.

Besides gathering information, students and civil servants read Dzongkha papers to improve their own language by learning to use what is supposedly presented in its simplicity by these papers.

What some of the more serious readers look for in these newspapers is content.

Now that is worth a serious discussion.

Do the many Dzongkha newspapers the country has today really provide the kind of content that generates interest among its readers, or encourages discourses?

No abstruse art of mathematical modelling is required to determine that for a paper, not just Dzongkha, to sustain, it ought to have the kind of readership, respect and credibility in a society that advertisers normally look for.

For readership and respect of a newspaper to grow to ought to respect its readers back and live up to the trust they repose in them.

This is where content comes in again.

So far as readers of the national language newspapers are concerned, many of them students and civil servants, what they see is what they already read several issues back in the English editions.

A few of them are mere inserts, which simply indicates the degree of importance given to it, while the contents, many of which are ripped off straight from other Dzongkha papers, simply indicates the disrespect for its readers.

If there is any visible impact of the national language papers, it is in the villages, where it is also most read, among local leaders and non-formal education learners.

If these realities with respect to the national language papers persist, so will the issue of sustainability and more so in this age of new-fangled digital technology.

Taxi drivers eye plot below Imtrat hospital

DSC_4669Thimphu taxi drivers make do with Changlimithang parking lot for now

W.r.to the once disputed former parking space, the land commission’s response is awaited

Update: While Thimphu thromde awaits the land commission’s response on the acquisition of the taxi-parking land from Tashi Commercial corporation (TCC), the taxi drivers association, on the other hand, has requested the thromde for a new area to move to.

The taxi drivers association, on December 2, wrote to the thromde office requesting that an open space below Imtrat hospital in Thimphu be considered as the new taxi parking spot.

This was after thromde handed over the former taxi parking area, adjacent to the fuel station at Lungtenzampa, to TCC on November 27, following the Supreme Court verdict that gave the latter ownership of the disputed area.

Court judgments have gone in favour of TCC since 2007, when the case was first filed at Thimphu district court, up until the High Court in 2008, and Supreme Court this year.

The thromde then notified the taxi-drivers to vacate and shift to Changlimithang parking lot until they acquired the land as per the verdict, Land Act 2007, local government Act and the Constitution of the Bhutan, which allows acquisition of land for public purpose.

The taxi-drivers, after using the area for about two days, moved to Changlimithang, once TCC fenced the entrance on November 29.  But with not many people availing their service from the temporary station at Changlimithang, and their income dropping, taxi drivers finally proposed for the new area.

Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said they have forwarded the requirements to acquire the area to the land commission and also wrote to finance ministry for budget.

The thromde has also written to the court and TCC, requesting sale of the land for public purpose.

The total area is 49.9 decimal, which, if they buy, would cost more than Nu 30M, as per the government rate.

“We’re waiting for a response from the land commission,” thrompon said.

The law also states that the government can acquire private land for public purpose, but on payment of fair compensation.

Inquiring about the fair amount, thromde officials said it would be the rate set by the government, which is Nu 600,000 per decimal.

To this, legal representatives of TCC said that they haven’t given a thought to selling the plot, or considered a price for it.

“We have many projects lined up to start on this area and soon we’ll submit the project plans to thromde,” one said.

By Dawa Gyelmo

Mandarin exports disrupted by B’desh strike

IMG_9545Workers sorts mandarin for export to India at the Toorsa depot

BEA: With the ongoing 72-hour nationwide strike in Bangladesh extended until tomorrow, more than 10 truckloads of mandarin returned to Phuentsholing from the Bangladeshi border, Burimari, on December 2, according to Bhutan exporters’ association (BEA).

The Bangladesh Nationalist party led protests demanding postponement of polls has caused instability in the country, states media reports.  This has left mandarin exporters in Bhutan worried, with exporters unable to dispatch their consignment from Burimari, about 117km from Phuentsholing.

BEA officials said the consignment would be spoilt by the time it reaches Phuentsholing, causing a loss of about 3M to exporters.  Each truck carried about 15MT of mandarin.

The floor price this season has been fixed at USD 13 per box for keel (big mandarin) and USD 10 for meel (small).  The export started from November 30.

About 12 truckloads of consignment that left for Bangladesh over the past three days are still at Burimari, said BEA officials. “They’re still looking for solutions to deliver the consignment,” said the association’s general secretary, Tshering Yeshi.

BEA records show only 63 truckloads of mandarin exported to Bangladesh so far.  Last year, during the same period, about 200 truckloads were exported.

Tshering Yeshi said their counterpart agencies in Bangladesh has denied BEA’s request to provide escort from Burimari till Dhaka. “We were told that even Bangladeshi traders aren’t able to export or import within their own country,” he said. “They suggested we explore markets in India and export to Bangladesh only during weekends, or when there are no strikes.”

Exploring markets in India could affect the country’s hard currency earnings, which amounts to about USD 20M every year, said BEA officials.  “And farmers, whose main source of income is mandarin, will be equally affected,” said Tshering Yeshi.

“Although exploring the Indian market will bring in INR, conditions apply,” he said “Indian buyers want Bhutanese to sell the consignment themselves in India, for which they’d still take some commission,” Tshering Yeshi said, adding this wasn’t acceptable to Bhutanese exporters.

BEA officials said the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal were the only markets, where exporters could possibly export mandarin.

This is why, Tshering Yeshi said, they were in dire need of government’s intervention. “We hope the agriculture ministry and economic affairs ministry will look into the issue for the smooth flow of mandarin export,” he said.

BEA officials said they have also requested the Bhutanese embassy in Dhaka to talk with the Bangladesh government. “We’ve requested them to allow export even on Fridays, although it’s a government holiday and the border is closed,” he said.

Meanwhile, exporters said mandarin being perishable goods, they couldn’t keep it longer at the border.

“Bringing the consignment back to Phuentsholing isn’t a solution either,” said an exporter. “Instead of waiting for strikes to lift, we’re trying to sell it in India.”

“This isn’t the first time, where the export season has met with such issues,” said another exporter. “It’s always one issue or the other every year.”

An emergency meeting has also been called to discuss the issue with the agriculture in Thimphu today, said BEA officials.

About 23721.3MT of mandarin was exported to Bangladesh last export season, which generated about USD 10M.

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Phuentsholing 

“We need a healthy population for economic development”

DSC_5647Dr Samlee Plainbangchang

Q&A: In recognition of his contributions towards improving the country’s health care services, His Majesty the King yesterday conferred the National Order of Merit (Gold) to the outgoing Regional Director, WHO, South East Asia Region, 

Dr Samlee Plainbangchang

Dr Plainbangchang came to Bhutan in 1984 as a consultant and laid the foundations for primary health care system in the country, a project, which received global recognition through the Sasakawa award in 1997.  

As he bids farewell to Bhutan, Dr Plainbangchang shares his thoughts on the country’s healthcare system  with Kuensel’s Sonam Pelden.

Excerpts from the interview:

His Majesty awarded the National Order of Merit (Gold) for your work in improving health services in Bhutan…

I feel proud to receive the award. Through my work in WHO, what I’m very proud of is that I’ve done something for the country and I’ve left something at the country level. The medal is a recognition of my contribution in Bhutan, implying that I’ve done a good job.


How has the Bhutanese health system changed since you last worked in Bhutan?

It has changed a lot. Health problems, those days, mostly stemmed from poor sanitation, lack of safe water and environmental deterioration. People came to health centres with respiratory infection, skin disease and bronchitis. Bhutan had a big problem of indoor pollution, which was the cause of respiratory infection. When I came, the life expectancy on average was 47 years and infant mortality rate was 127.

Today, the pattern of diseases has changed and the population has more non- communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and heart diseases. But while other countries have been fighting malaria and TB, Bhutan has been very successful in eliminating leprosy, as well as seeing a decline in TB.

A very important point is, then, the physical health infrastructure wasn’t complete, like we have today. When I came, the country had 68 BHUs, and not more than 18 district hospitals. But, today, Bhutan has 118 BHUs, and about 30 hospitals but, while you have very good infrastructure, the health facilities are under-utilised today, and very few come to BHUs.

Another development that took place many years ago is we improved the training of community health workers, HA, ANMs, BHWs, and today we have bachelor programs. These are very important moves for health workers and we need more of HA, nurses and BHWs to fill the gap, because health problem is in the rural area and they can take care of the BHUs.

We need doctors but not many. One of the challenges for Bhutan is to rationalise the use of doctors and health workers in order to maximise the benefit of health services.


How does economic development translate into better health care?

Bhutan used to be a least developed country but not any more and the international community to a certain extent, considers that Bhutan can rely on itself. But Bhutan is a small country and vulnerable, because the economic momentum depends a lot on hydropower.

There are two ways in economic development translating into healthcare services. Is it health first or money first. We need to have healthy population, who can contribute to economic development. But if the country doesn’t have resources, particularly for capital investment, then we’ll have to depend on outside assistance for healthcare.

So, Bhutan now will have to look at how to catch up in economic development, so that economic development can feed capital investment into the health or education system.

But if we have a sick population, we can’t have economic development as we wish. We need to have a healthy population, and healthy population needs to come from a strong health system, which needs investment.

If we don’t do this, then we’ll require primary health care system and see how we can we improve the people’s health status without using a lot of money. For this we need education, but educating the population isn’t easy for Bhutan, because our people aren’t well educated, which means we have to also invest on educating the population.

I visited 12 districts in two months of my stay in Bhutan and the first thing I said Bhutan should do is improve its hygiene and sanitation. Health education is very important for Bhutan, but it’s not that easy, because we have to make people understand the value of cleanliness, what clean water means and why it’s necessary to have latrines.

Then, there is immunisation but, if not that, then Bhutan should improve nutrition, which is easy to say but difficult to do. We have to go in a big way in the area of nutrition education. It’s not that Bhutan lacks food, but the issue is about how to eat the food that’s locally available properly so that they can have complete nutrients.

This can be done without much investment. Bhutan should stick to health promotion and disease prevention.


Should Bhutanese health care system be privatised?

On privatisation of health care, I think we have to be flexible. It’s the government’s duty to take care of the people but, as far as health is concerned, the government can’t afford to take care of everyone. By saying that the government has to look at ways of helping the people, and how to finance the health service is the key issue.

Bhutan has one unique characteristic, which is free healthcare. This is very costly in the long term and, if care can’t be afforded, then the government will have to consider bringing in the private sector. We have to bring private sector in a phased manner and, to do that, the regulations have to be in place first. Otherwise, if the private sector comes in a big way without proper regulation, they’ll exploit the people.


You’ve done so much for Bhutan’s health care system because of which  it has been perceived that you have a soft corner for Bhutan. 

I love Bhutan. First, I’m a Thai and Bhutan and Thailand are similar. We’re Buddhists and, because of our religion, we have similar understanding of the way of life. It’s easy to understand each other and the most important thing about Bhutan is that it has hard working, good and committed people. I enjoy working with Bhutanese people, because I can ensure success when I work with people with commitment, even though we don’t have enough of such people.

Challenges and opportunities of migrating labour

At a conference on poverty, panelists point out how remittances from abroad aren’t put to best use

ICIMOD: In their effort to tackle the growing unemployment problem and earn foreign currency, the government is planning to send about 5,000 Bhutanese every year to work abroad as Bhutanese overseas workers.

But this, according to experts, who have millions of people from their countries working in agencies and companies abroad, should be planned carefully, so that remittances are put to good use and sustain livelihood rather than develop a dependency on remittances.

At the ongoing international centre for integrated mountain development (ICIMOD) conference on ‘Addressing poverty and vulnerability in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH)’, in Kathmandu, Nepal, experts pointed out that, while labour migration has been a historical phenomenon in the mountainous regions of the HKH region, very little of what migrant workers send back home is channeled into productive or entrepreneurial activities.  Remittances were used by recipient families to procure food, education, health care, and real estate.

At a session, where experts discussed ‘Labour migration and remittances: Challenges and opportunities for driving sustainable mountain development’, the keynote speaker, (Dr) Chowdhury Abrar of Bangladesh, said remittances were spent primarily on conspicuous consumption, rather than on productive investments. “Remittances should relieve unemployment pressure and contribute to development,” said (Dr) Abrar, adding that there was a huge potential to yield the benefits of the migrants.

In the HKH region, about 30M people work outside their country.  Globally, there are 214M migrants, who remit about USD 440B.  Out of this, USD 350B is remitted to developing countries.

Even with remittance contributing 25 percent to the country’s GDP, the Nepalese government has not provided viable investment opportunities to the returnees, according to Dr Ganesh Gurung, Nepal’s representative on the panel. “Government and non-government institutions should suggest a broad range of feasible and customised opportunities to the returnees,” he said.

The financial institutions in Bangladesh have focused on big investors and had little to offer to small investors, said Dr Abrar Chowdhury. “Not every individual can be an entrepreneur.”

In Bhutan, although details are yet to be worked on, labour officials had earlier said the government would render policy and financial support for the foreign workers to either find a job, or start their own businesses, once they return.

Panelist also pointed out the need for governments to set up linkages with banks in foreign countries to channel remittances to the receiving countries. “If done through proper banking channel, remittances would increase,” said Rana Matloob of Pakistan.

The panelist contended that access to information, new skills, life skills, financial literacy, reintegration plans for returnees, cost saving technologies, and support in entrepreneurial opportunities could transform migration into a choice rather than a challenge for rural mountain communities.

One of the many challenges, the panelist said was abandoned agriculture land when labourers, especially men, migrated.  Dr Gurung said, while people were migrating, looking for greener pastures, land was becoming fallow. “Migrating labour shouldn’t be a challenge to those living in the mountains.”

Meanwhile, participants pointed out a positive development related to labour migration.  Dr Judy Oglethorpe, WWF Nepal, said, as young men migrate to destinations abroad, young women today make a new breed of emerging community leaders. “Young women are being encouraged to take up leadership in the community forest management, with active support from village elders,” she said.

By Ugyen Penjor, Kathmandu


From school dropout to successful muleteer

DSC_0463Time out: Chundu Tshering takes a respite with his mules on the way to Dumtoe

However, with a road in the pipeline, the young entrepreneur has plans to switch tracks

Occupation: In 2009, when he was just 18, Chundu Tshering decided to do what many youth of his age wouldn’t dare to think of.

He quit schooling, returned to his village in Kowkha, Dorithasa in Haa. He then put a herd of mules, belonging to his family, together to operate a business that would cater to mostly travellers.

He had studied up till Class X from Ugyen Dorji school in Haa.

Four years down the line, Chundu Tshering, 22 is doing very well, earning about Nu 80,000 a month during peak seasons, which is from October until March.

His herd carries sand, and luggage of trekkers and travellers, from Haa to Samtse.

At present, his mules have been deployed to carry cement to Rangtse at the construction site of primary school, which is being upgraded.

But this is not the first time.  Chundu Tshering is proud to declare he provided transportation services to build an RNR centre and the Hindu temple in Dumtoe.

A mule can carry 50kg cement, he said, and explained that the charge for 1kg of cement is Nu 30 a day.  This means a mule helps earn Nu 1,500 in three days, and ten mules earn Nu 15,000 for the same duration.

April to September are dry months for Chundu Tshering, but claiming that it’s that time of the year when his mules get to relax, he would continue working on his cardamom harvest.

Cardamom is one of the main cash crops in Sombaykha and Gakedling gewogs in Haa.

Chundu Tshering sold 720kg of cardamom last year.  However, this year, the yield decreased to 560kg.

On the other hand, Chundu Tshering’s only concern is associated with coming in of developmental activities in Haa.

“Road will come soon and I foresee my business coming down,” he said.  But this is not going to stop the young man.

Lyonchhoen’s recent visit, when the villagers were informed of lifting import ban on utility vehicles, Chundu Tshering said he would buy one when the road comes to his village.

“I want to venture into green tea plantation, and also focus more on cardamom,” he said.

It was also his herd, which transported luggage belonging to lyonchhoen and his team from Rangtse to Dumtoe.

Chundu Tshering, the youngest of three siblings, said he is satisfied with who he is today.

“Anyone can study, but I chose to quit,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

By Rajesh Rai

Picture story

Towards an inclusive society: To observe international day for persons with disabilities yesterday, some 50 persons with disabilities from Draktsho vocational training centre in Ronthung accompanied by teachers, residents of Kanglung and gewog officials walked from Kanglung to the centre