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Monday, March 30th, 2015 - 2:47 AM
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Fuelwood consumption shoots through the roof

unnamed-11Thimphu residents queue with jerrycans for kerosene at the fuel depot in Thimphu

Kerosene, on the other hand, has shown a steady decline over the years

Resource: Over the last three years, fuelwood consumption in the country has increased almost tenfold.

From just 474 truckloads of fuelwood in 2011, the consumption has sharply increased to 4,478 truckloads in 2012, and 4,108 truckloads in 2013.  Last year, 390 additional truckloads of fuelwood from the Natural Resource Development corporation (NRDCL) were supplied for commercial purpose in urban areas.

NRDCL officials said industrial wood demand has also increased over the years.

“It’s difficult to say what caused the rise in fuelwood consumption,” said Mani Gyaltshen, assistant marketing manager.

Trees are cut, as and when there is demand from consumers.  However, for Thimphu (Wang) region, stocks are kept for emergency.

A truckload of fuelwood costs Nu 7,306 in Thimphu.  In Bumthang, it can be availed at Nu 3,320 and Nu 4,272.

On the other hand, kerosene (SKO) import decreased since 2011 until 2013, according to data with the department of trade.  Records for 2014 are yet to be compiled.

In 2011, 5,607 kilolitres (kl) of kerosene were imported for quota, which decreased to 5,547kl in 2012.  The import further went down by 569kl in 2013 from the previous year.

SKO used in the industries have also gone down drastically.  The 120kl SKO used in the industries in 2011 decreased to zero in 2012.  In 2013, 12kl of SKO were used.

While both fuelwood and kerosene are used for heating in the urban area, in the rural areas, they are mostly used for cooking purposes.

The department of forest and park services (DFPS) issues fuelwood extraction permits for consumption in the villages.  According to DFPS records, consumption of fuelwood has fluctuated over the years.  It was 5,424 truckloads in 2013, 4,664 truckloads in 2012 and 9,574 in 2011.

Briquette production has also fluctuated over the years.  In 2013, 381 metric tonnes (MT) of briquettes were produced, which increased to 804MT the following year.  It was 381MT in 2012.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

Swiss software company to upscale operations at IT park

IT Park: In another welcome move for the IT park, a Swiss company piloting there plans to upscale operations and form a highly skilled Bhutanese team of software engineers.

The company, Selise, is a software company that develops web applications for start up companies but its major source of income is from developing applications for multinational companies in the insurance, telecom and government sectors. It also has operations in Bangladesh, Europe and the USA.

This development comes on the heels of another software company from Bangladesh announcing in October last year its intention to open a office at the park and eventually rent commercial space.

Selise CEO Julian A Weber said that the company is currently on a recruitment drive in Bhutan and following its completion would look to rent commercial space at the park.

Thimphu TechPark chief operating officer Tshering Cigay Dorji said that the company expects to rent about 2,000 sq ft of commercial space within a year from now.

Currently, Scan Cafe, another international company, and Bhutan Telecom are the only two commercial tenants at the park. Scan Cafe has leased 10,000 sq ft and Bhutan Telecom 3,300 sq ft of the total 40,000 available.

Selise has already been operating at the park’s Bhutan innovation and technology centre (BITC) for the past eight months. There are other companies, including two foreign and one local call centre operating from the centre currently.

“Companies want to operate from BITC first because it is a furnished space and we allow that for a period of one year,” Tshering Cigay Dorji said.

“We’ve had a very successful eight months,” said Julian A Weber. In that time, the company developed an e-commerce mobile application for a Swiss company.

It was also pointed out that the application was entirely developed by its Bhutanese software engineers.

“This is not the typical BPO (business process outsourcing) kind of work, this is real high class type of engineering,” he said.

The company currently has three Bhutanese employed. Mr Weber also explained that the company had competed against major Indian firms like Amazon to recruit the three and convince them to work at the IT park.

Mr Weber said that when he found out about Bhutan in 2012 it was realised that there were no local opportunities for highly skilled Bhutanese software engineers. Besides being attracted by the government’s support and incentives, the company also saw itself creating such opportunities for Bhutanese software engineers.

Based on its experience so far, the company plans to upscale operations to about 10 Bhutanese employees. “Yes, we want to upscale now because of this great experience,” Mr Weber said. “Now our goal is to find more people,” he said. The company will be looking to recruit university students and graduates and even high school students if they meet the required skills.

Mr Weber acknowledged that finding talent may be a challenge and that the company is pursuing tie ups with universities and schools, and could contact Bhutanese working in India as well.

But he said that the talent does exist. “You do have the talents, there’re just unexplored, maybe they themselves don’t know they have this talent because there’re no challenges,” he said. “With developers it usually the case that you’ve really smart young students, then they go into certain companies where they do a very monotonous type of work and then they actually become useless,” he added.

While Selise’s global team can handle all projects, the goal is still to create a strong team in Bhutan that delivers high quality products in a short time period.

With India and China both large suppliers of IT skills, Mr Weber said services in Bhutan should focus on providing niche skills and going the extra mile in terms of quality. He said that he had found that government support, openness, and flexibility to be “outstanding” so far. He explained that while the high capital investments of moving to Bhutan had initially dissuaded the company, these costs had all been reduced.

However, he said the cost of internet connectivity has to be reduced and its reliability increased.

Tshering Cigay Dorji said that while internet connectivity has “drastically” improved compared to the past two years, the park is working with the telecommunications companies to further improve it. “Connectivity problems are quite rare now,” he said.

Another area of improvement required is better air connectivity. For instance, Mr Weber pointed out that there is only one flight a week between Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Mr Weber said that there is a big opportunity for Bhutan to attract data centres and that improvements in these areas would attract such companies.

Meanwhile, Southtech pvt ltd the Bangladeshi software company has already formed a Bhutanese team that is currently being trained. The company will be inaugurating their office at the IT park next month. The company is expected to eventually lease 2,000 sq ft of commercial space.

The IT park was developed as a 250,000 sq ft IT-focused mixed use area spread over 18 acres. The first phase of th project comprises 50,000 sq ft. By  Gyalsten K Dorji

Mandarin exports exceed last year’s figures

unnamedAn overview of mandarin export depots on the bank of the Amochhu in Phuentsholing

Trade: Despite frequent strikes in the bordering Indian states and Bangladesh, mandarin exports have already exceeded last year’s figures.

As of last week, around 15,000 MT of mandarin has been exported to Bangladesh since November, last year.

About 12,791 MT of mandarin was exported to Bangladesh between the end of 2013 and early 2014.

Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) officials said mandarin exports have been going smoothly these days with the situation improving in the border towns.

The market in Bangladesh, according to BEA, is not favourable.

“Despite the poor market about 25 to 30 truckloads of mandarin leave Phuentsholing everyday,” BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said.

The poor market situation is attributed to the political unrest in Bangladesh. BEA officials said cost of transportation also increased as a result.

Mandarin exporters said transportation cost from the Bangladeshi border town of Burimari to Dhaka increased almost threefold this export season. During the last export season, exporters paid about Nu 20,000. Dhaka is around 485 km from Burimari.

Burimari is the most active trade route used by Bhutan to export horticulture and mineral products to Bangladesh. It is also used for the import of garments and melamine products. It is about 132 km from Phuentsholing to Burimari.

“As transporters have to take risk owing to the political unrest, they started to demand extra,” Tshering Yeshi said. “Exporters in Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar has been affected more with frequent strikes in Assam this season.”

The floor price this season has been fixed at USD 10 for keel (small sized mandarin) and USD 13 for meel (large sized) just as previous years.

Exporters said although mandarin yield has been good this season, the poor market and frequent strikes in the beginning affected them in terms of earnings. The increase in transportation came as another hindrance.

Despite the low yield last export season, exporters said they earned more.

“Last export season it was better in terms of earnings but this time with more yield, there is more competition that further affected earnings,” exporter Nim Tshering of Druk Phuensum exports said.

Exporters said owing to the good yield, they could export more consignment this year although they recorded a drop in revenue. Just as the frequent strikes started to improve in the border towns, exporters said the market started to show some improvement but the sudden rise in transportation came as a blow.

The transportation cost, however, dropped last week with vehicles ferrying mandarin from Burimari to Dhaka now provided a security escort by the Bangladeshi government.

“It now dropped to about Nu 50,000 from Nu 60,000 to Nu 80,000 charged earlier,” another exporter said. “It will not drop further as the Bangladeshi transporters have colluded.”

Despite several issues affecting mandarin export every year, exporters said they don’t have a choice but to export mandarin to Bangladesh.

“It’s time the government explore other markets beyond Bangladesh,” another exporter said.

Penden exports’ proprietor Sangay Penjor said he has exported about 100 truckloads of mandarin so far.

“Until the end of the export season, I will be exporting about 50 more truckloads,” he said, adding for him, market was better this season despite the poor market.

The export season that began since November last year is expected to end by February 15.

From 23,198 MT of mandarin exported to Bangladesh in 2008, exports in 2009 and 2010 declined by about 15 and 30 percent respectively, records with BEA show. By 2011, it picked up to 21,517 MT while in 2012 about 23,721 MT was exported, the highest in the recent years.

However, exports dropped drastically to 12,791 MT in 2013, the lowest since 2003.

Similarly, in terms of earnings the highest revenue was fetched in 2012 at about USD 10.5M. In 2013, revenue earnings from mandarin export dropped by almost half of the previous year. Exporters earned about USD 5.6M in 2013.

By Kinga Dema, P/ling

Treading the last mile

We have come a long way since the Millennium Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York a decade and a half ago. The world leaders signed a declaration at the summit to create a more prosperous, peaceful and equal world. Global peace and prosperity has come to mean so much else since.

Bhutan, a sincere member of the world body, took a solemn pledge that day. As a developing nation that opened up to rest the world only very recently, all the eight development goals that the august body of leaders set down had relevance to this small country. Progress had to be made. Time was running short.

Less than one year to the evaluation deadline, Bhutan is an example to the rest of the world. It shows that our commitments to the goals and declaration have been strong, leadership firm and focused. Exactly 10 years after the world leaders ratified the declaration that we know as Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Bhutan reminded the world of the need to add Happiness as one of the development goals.

When countries around the world are racing against the deadline to achieve the eight MDGs, Bhutan has achieved almost all of them. This has been possible because even as we are an aid-dependent country, we have made sure that every bit of support that we receive from donor countries is directed towards bettering our society. And we have had the blessing of peace and wise leadership of our kings.

We have been able to achieve significant progress in achieving the MDGs, particularly in the areas relating to poverty, educational attainments, maternal and child health, high-risk diseases and environmental sustainability because we have included them as high-priority themes in all our Five Year Plans.

Among our many development partners today, we are known as the nation that has reclaimed its soul because we have reduced our poverty level from 23 percent in 2007 to 12 percent, three percent beyond the MDG target. We have attained 100 percent universal primary education. Improving maternal health and reducing child mortality are on track. But there are a few places we must reach, some steep hikes we must undertake before we achieve all of the MDGs.

Where we are lagging a little behind today is with the goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women. But here too we are making rapid progress. Bhutan achieved complete gender parity at primary and secondary levels in 2009. Ratio of girls in tertiary education has risen sharply from 54 percent in 2007 to well over 71 percent today.

These are all positive signs of development that should encourage us to work a little harder. Walking the last mile will be tough, of course, but walk we must as a leader.

FCB quarterly supply to schools to ensure quality

DSC07203The warehouse in Phuentsholing has started receiving the schools’ stock for the first quarter

This reverting to an earlier system is the result of a demand from school authorities at the AEC

CPS: All schools should check the quality of Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) supplied  consignments on a quarterly basis.

The decision is a follow up on issues school authorities raised at the annual education conference (AEC) in Punakha last month.  The issues were raised, while deliberating on the school-feeding programme under the centralised procurement system (CPS).

FCB took over the centralised procurement of nine food items last July and had supplied the stock at a go.  School authorities pointed out that this had led to wastage and storage issues for schools.

Last month, FCB had received a food order note from the government to procure the nine non-perishable food items to be distributed twice a year.

But education ministry and FCB officials met earlier this month, where it was again agreed that the rations would be supplied on a quarterly basis, as was initially planned, to ensure quality of food.

“The first quarter delivery will be done in two phases – from January end to April, and the second phase would be from April to June, so that storage issues won’t arise,” FCB’s general manager of institutional supply, Megraj Gurung, said.

FCB officials said they have however already procured enough stock to last until June for delivery.

The meeting also decided that all schools are required to check the quality of stock on delivery and, if found unsatisfactory, schools could return them to the warehouse in-charge for replacement.

Megraj Gurung said although schools would no longer face quality or storage issues, FCB will have to ensure that the quality of the stocked items are maintained.

“Splitting the delivery in two phases means additional transportation cost, which the ministry will have to bear,” he said. “For the convenience of schools, education ministry agreed to bear the additional cost.”

The CPS was implemented in July last year, in collaboration with FCB, following the World Food Program (WFP) supply model.  The government covered 55 schools with three meals through a stipend of Nu 1,000 a student, while 27 schools were provided meals through WFP supply and central procurement.  Of the Nu 1,000 stipend, 60 percent was released to FCB, and the remaining 40 percent to the dzongkhags for procurement and supply of perishable food items.

Principals, attending the annual education conference last month, said the system needed to be revisited if not changed.  They complained that non-perishable items supplied by FCB were in excess and didn’t meet their requirements.  Other issues raised were problems of storage, poor quality of lentil, salt and soya chunks supplied, and insufficiency of the 40 percent budget for perishable items.

However, FCB officials said they received only a few complaints from schools last year.  On verification, issues were mainly to do with storage in schools after the supplies are delivered.

Citing a complaint on lentil quality from one of the schools in Gelephu, officials said that the stock was delivered in proper condition, and that the quality issues arose much later.

“We dispatch the same commodity to all schools throughout the country and, should there be issues, complaints should come from all,” Megraj Gurung said, adding FCB was doing its best not to compromise on quality of any food items.

FCB officials said they follow WFP parameters to ensure quality of food commodities.

The total schools FCB will cover this year is 109, which would keep increasing every year until WFP phases out by 2018.  FCB officials said they expect about 5,000 more students annually.

In terms of number of schools to be covered, Phuentsholing has the highest number of schools, followed by Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu.

Meanwhile, the WFP warehouse in Phuentsholing has started receiving stock for the first quarter, which will be distributed to other FCB warehouses, from where it will be distributed to the schools.

Once the food commodities reach the respective regional warehouses, FCB officials said the distribution order would be issued simultaneously, after which the ration would be transported to schools.  Except for a few schools, officials said, most were near the road point.

By Kinga Dema, P/ling

Four sentenced for armed robbery

Crime: Two minors and two students were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three and half years to five years for armed robbery by the Tsirang district court on January 23.

The sentenced are between the ages of 17 and 20. They were found guilt of having robbed a group of labourers in Reserbroo on January 1.

The main culprit, a repeat offender and also a school drop out and his accomplice, also a school drop out, were given a prison term of three and half years each. Both are minors.

Whereas two students aged 18 and 20, were given a prison term of five years each.

“All four of them were charged with robbery, armed robbery and criminal conspiracy which falls under the felony of third degree as per the Penal Code of Bhutan, section 46,” the court’s verdict stated.

Three mobile phones, two mobile chargers, four sim cards which are recovered from the culprits were handed over to the victims.

The robbery happened on the night of January 1 when the culprits went to celebrate New Year with their friends at Patshaling.

“The main culprit, a 17-year-old boy, knocked the door of a camp house where a group of labourers lived and asked for water. After that, he asked for a mobile phone to call one of his friends,” says the investigation report. Immediately after taking the phone from a labourer, the boy took out a knife and asked all the labourers to hand over their mobile phones and money.

According to the victims’ statement to the police, the culprits snatched four mobile phones, four mobile chargers, four SIM cards, a halogen light and Nu 6,000.

The culprits have 10 days to appeal to appeal the court’s verdict.

Reserboo is about 16 km away from Damphu town.

By Yeshey Dema, Tsirang

Five dzongs nominated for World Heritage list

5.-View-of-dukhang-and-adjoining-structures-of-Wangduephodrang-Dzong-from-first-courtyard-taken-by-JC-White-in-1905View of the Wangduephodrang Dzong courtyard taken by JC White in 1905 Photo: Assessment Report, Department of Culture

Culture: The Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Paro, Trongsa and Dagana dzongs have been nominated for the first ever World Heritage tentative list of Bhutan,

The culture department’s conservation of heritage sites division head, Nagtsho Dorji, said the UNESCO has encouraged the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritages around the world.

“The five dzongs witnessed significant political events and cultural development throughout the history after the unification of the country,” Nagtsho Dorji said.

She explained that these dzongs have witnessed important historical events and continue to do so. She said that these dzongs today hold a significant status and illustrate the peak of collective architectural achievements of the people of the country.

“However, the dzongs are in the tentative list and currently, we are deliberating with experts from the World Heritage and Reconstruction on this issue,” she said.

The submission to the tentative list was announced during a workshop on structural issues related to traditional Bhutanese buildings especially dzongs, held on December 24 in Thimphu.

The workshop aims to deliberate on measures to strengthen and reinforce traditional Bhutanese buildings among the experts from different countries that have similar and rich traditional architecture.

“To receive concrete recommendations on such measures, the department has identified Wangduephodrang dzong and focused on structural issues related to reconstruction of the dzong after it was destroyed by fire on June 24, 2012,” Nagtsho Dorji said.

Built in 1638 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and largely extended in 1683 by Gyalsay Tenzin Rabgye, the dzong has stood the test of time. Having retained its history through hundred of years, the dzong stood as an epitome of Bhutanese traditional architecture.

“Therefore, cautious measures and strategic planning are necessary during its reconstruction,” Nagtsho Dorji said.

The department is placeing high importance in retaining the existing walls left by the fire and in order to rebuild the dzong at the original location, it will be rebuilt over the existing surviving walls.

“Therefore, it is critical to examine strength of the remaining walls and look into appropriate and feasible measures to strengthen and reinforce the dzong’s stone masonry walls in the manner of respecting traditional materials and techniques,” she said.

Experts were invited to present recommendations and to identify measures for the remaining wall as well as new walls to be constructed.

“The reconstruction works began immediately after the command by His Majesty the King during the same year and the works are expected to complete in 2018, at the end of the 11th Five Year Plan,” she said.

The project team has been undertaking the reconstruction of the southern end of the building,  since October last year.

However, for the reconstruction, the design also includes increase in height of some buildings and partial extension of dzong’s outline.

“For this design, we need more deliberation and concrete decision should be reached whether such changes from the original design will impact the stability of the buildings or not,” an official said.

At the end of the reconstruction, the dzong is required to house 15 shrines, living spaces for around 100 monks and office spaces for more than 30 different sectors of the Wangduephodrang administration.

Experts from Italy, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, UK, Portugal and India presented their recommendations to the guests, stakeholders including the steering committee members for the Wangduephodrang dzong reconstruction project chaired by home minister Damcho Dorji during the workshop.

 

By Thinley Zangmo

Athang connected by farm road

unnamed-1The village of Zawa

Connectivity: More than 17 households of Zawa chiwog have been connected to the Athang gewog center in Wangduephodrang with a farm road inaugurated, yesterday.

The cost of constructing the road was Nu 830,000 and was funded through the gewog development grant (GDG).

The 2.7 km road was constructed by the Zawa community contract group that is comprised  of village members, and took one month and eight days to complete.

The road will connect two villages of Zawa chiwog, Zawa and Yultama and about 17 households.

The community contract group is formed of members from almost every household, and this, according to the gup of Athang was to ensure transparency and so that the work would be completed on time and to a high standard of quality.

Zawa is located closest to the Athang gewog centre. Athang is the remotest and least developed gewog in Wangdue.

“What used to take about an hour’s walk otherwise, will now take just about 20 minutes to reach the gewog centre,” said Tsagay, a resident of Zawa. The Athang gewog centre is located about 10 km from the Wangdue-Tsirang highway road at Kamichu.

Tsagay said the farm road will also allow villagers of Zawa to bring their  agriculture produce to the nearby Punatsangchu hydropower project labour camps at Kamichu.

Villagers said Zawa has very fertile land and much is grown there, however, withtout a farm road, it was a challenge in reaching their produce to the market.

The Athang gup pointed out that as per the government’s financial estimation, a one kilometre farm road is estimated to cost Nu 2.5M, however, when the work was awarded to community, the 2.7 km farm road was completed with less than Nu 1M and in one month.

To provide equal development through GDG, the gewog divided development activities into five years for the five chiwogs. Lucky dip would decide in which year a chiwog receives development.

Zawa chiwog was first to be chosen and opted for two farm roads, each costing Nu 830,000: a 2.7 km road from Athang gewog centre till zawa village and another 2.3 km farm road towards Jarochen, which is half way completed.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

Thromde to increase community participation to keep Thimphu clean

Waste: The thromde along with the city’s tshogpas will require Thimphu residents to conduct a cleaning campaign of different zones of the city every weekend, starting with Taba residents today.

According to a thromde official, Yeshi Wangdi, the objective is to have the community participate in keeping the environment clean because there is minimal community participation when it comes to waste management.

At least one person from each household will have to volunteer to clean the surrounding areas of their residence.

The volunteers will be registered by the thromde.

Yeshi Wangdi said the cleaning campaign will be coordinated by the tshogpas in their respective zones while the thromde will assist by providing collection trucks, hand gloves and sacks.

“There is no continuous cleaning campaign. Most of the time the cleaning activities are carried out by the volunteers wherever there is waste problem occasionally,” Yeshi Wangdi said. “There is no system so we want to have a system, we will start with residents in Taba and soon it will be a routine.”

He said the idea was first discussed by the thromde and tshogpas. The tshogpas then discussed the idea with the residents of their respective zones and got positive feedback.

“If we ask the public to come for cleaning town areas, the number of volunteers turning up is very minimal, moreover, even if people turn up, the cleaning is not very effective but we found people sincere and willing to clean their respective areas,” he added.

The zones identified by the Thromde are: Babesa, Jungshina/Hejo/Pam-tsho/ Langjophakha, Changzamtok/Changbangdu/Olakha/ Changedaphu, Taba and Dechencholing, Motithang, Changangkha and the core Thimphu area.

By Dechen Tshomo

Five students detained for Dharina burglary

They had sold the copper from the stolen wires to two scrap dealers in Dechencholing

Crime: Thimphu police have arrested five students of Dechencholing middle secondary school for malicious mischief and larceny, in connection with the theft of electrical wires in Dharina, above Dechencholing, Thimphu.

According to the building owner, Karma Jimba, electrical wires and miniature circuit breakers (MCB) worth over Nu 500,000 were stolen from a building that was under construction.

Police found that the first break-in happened on January 15, followed by another two on January 16 and 17.  The culprits were arrested on Friday, January 23.

One of the accused, less than 12 years old, was handed over to the parents because, as per the Child Protection Act, a child under 12 cannot be detained.  He will attend the trial with the rest of the accused.  Three others were 15 and one 12 years old.

Three policemen in casual dress were sent for four days to Dharina and Dechencholing areas to gather information.  People with criminal records from the area were also investigated.  The policemen checked all scrap dealers in Thimphu and found 27kg of copper from a scrap dealer in Dechencholing.  They found that the boys sold the copper wires to the dealer for Nu 10,000.

The boys confessed to police that another 20kg of copper from the last incident was sold to another scrap dealer in Dechencholing.  The dealer has left for pilgrimage.

Police said they would seek arrest warrants for the two scrap dealers today.

A police official said, despite repeated requests to scrap dealers not to buy scrap that is likely to be stolen property without verifying, the two scrap dealers bought the scrap from the boys.

“The scrap dealers didn’t abide by the law and they’ll be penalised,” the official said. “Buying stolen items encourages youth to steal.”

Copper fetches Nu 250/kg in Thimphu and more than Nu 100/kg across the border in Phuentsholing.

The students told police that, after stealing the electrical wires, they went to the riverside and burned the cover of the wires, and then rolled the copper to sell.

The warning “I will kill you” on the wall, the boys, told police, was written “ just for fun.”  Police confirmed that it didn’t have anything to do with “hard feelings” for the owner or anyone else.

Police found a hammer, a knife and a pair of gloves from the boys.

The boys told police that the two smaller boys were kept outside the building to keep watch, while the three older boys went inside the building to steal the electrical wires.

Four of the boys are in the custody of the women and child protection unit at the Thimphu police station.

By Dechen Tshomo