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Saturday, May 30th, 2015 - 10:19 AM
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Irrigation, human-wildlife conflict will continue to be a concern

AM

Q&A: Your first priority as the agriculture minister?

To go through all Acts, policies, plans and programs of the ministry and also to meet and discuss with different professionals working for the ministry.

Human-wildlife conflict seems to be worsening every year, will you be able to resolve it in the next five years? How?

It’s true human-wildlife conflict is worsening and we will continue to assist our farming communities to resolve the issue. The quest to find new paths for conservation and sustainable development is a worldwide issue and presents many obstacles. One major challenge in a country like Bhutan, with large populations of mega-fauna living in close proximity to rural communities, is the conflicts that arise between humans and wildlife. The loss of crops, livestock, and/or human lives to wildlife represents social and economic costs that jeopardize livelihoods and exacerbate poverty.

Annual crop loss ranges from 0.3 to 18 percent of total household income. On average farmers spend about two months a year guarding their maize and rice from wildlife. Farmers also reported livestock depredation by wild predators totaling 2.3 percent of their domestic animals over the past year.

During the 11th plan we will continue to work on this and as far as possible we plan to reduce the incidences of human-wildlife conflict through:

(i) construction of solar-powered electric  fence in all affected areas in the south depending on the resources

(ii) provision of free electric fence energiser for locally designed electric fence through cost sharing model, where farmers will be asked to buy the locally available materials like wooden fence poles, wires and other materials. We expect to provide free electric energisers by end of 2013 to all interested farmers

(iii) undertaking of ecology and behavioral aspects of the main conflict species in order to develop a preventive management of conflict. Telemetry study on elephant movement using GPS collars through which we hope to map out elephant habitat, movement patterns, choice of habitat etc. for better management of human-elephant conflict

(iv) gewog level insurance programs for livestock and crops will continue with the endowment fund

Meanwhile, we will also explore other methods to reduce/solve the human wildlife conflict

 

There is a drive to increase vegetable production. Where does Bhutan going organic fit in?

The drive to increase vegetable production in the country in the past year has been to meet the immediate needs to meet the food supply in the country in the event of the Rupee crisis. Production plans have been developed for all major dzongkhags with potential to produce summer and winter vegetables. This is mainly targeted to meet the market demand the urban population and major markets.

Organic promotion has been initiated in all 20 dzongkhags in varied crops and NWFPs depending on their natural potential to mainly meet the household food basket and local market demand. This serves to fill the gap between the weekly supplies of imported vegetables that come to the market and contribute to rural income generation and local food security and nutritional needs. In this promotion program, kitchen gardens and vegetable production is the first entry point where people choose to try out organic methods they have learnt from the trainings.

The program of increase in vegetable production does not enforce or prescribe conventional ways with fertilisers and pesticides use. It is the choice of the farmers to grow food in the way they feel is best grown considering the economic costs and sustainable methods they know. Information is given with training to the people how best to manage their crops and the options and technologies available in the production.

Coincidentally, without the intervention of any government programs people usually choose to grow vegetables organically in many places and resorting to chemical use only as last resort. NOP and NPPC has also been promoting the use of biopesticides and bio-inputs such as neem oils, trichoderma, Bt etc in vegetable and fruit production to reduce the use of agro-chemial in our food systems.

In the case of armyworms, this year, dzongkhags like Bumthang and Gasa informed us early in their occurrence and the problems were controlled well with the use of neem oil. Regular crop monitoring and early information is important in any crop to safeguard against pest and disease problems.

There will be need for more research and trials of alternative methods on a more vigorous scale using safer and natural inputs and manipulating production timing to avoid the most problematic seasons but organic vegetable production can be done in most places without much problem.

We need to understand that vegetables produced in Bhutan even in conventional ways at the most may have been sprayed once or twice in the life of the crop at seedling stage when most prone to pest attack, while what we import may have 12-14 sprayed on one crop and we may consume this within 48 hours before the withholding period is reached. As long as we are producing safe healthy food and working on finding ways to reduce the use of agrochemicals in our food we are on the right path to move towards organic ways, we cannot expect it to happen overnight.

The move towards organic fits in well with the increased vegetable production following IPM, GAP and organic ways as fresh vegetables is the most important component of our food. Later we can move to other more difficult things like fruits and disease prone crops.

 

Lack of adequate irrigation channel, loss of crop and livestock to wild animals and pest infestation is driving farmers out of the villages. How big a challenge is this to the ministry?

Both issues on irrigation and human-wildlife conflicts are a concern for the ministry not only within the next five years but will continue to be so beyond.

Addressing children’s issues

Meeting: Is child marriage a tradition or abuse of children’s right?  Is making students learn by beating acceptable?

These are some of the issues 70 representatives from South Asian countries, civil society organisations, United Nations, international non-government organisations, child governing board members and child representatives from SAARC will deliberate on when they meet in in Thimphu to discuss issues and challenges that are harmful practices against children, based on tradition, culture, religion and superstition.

The director general for the South Asian initiative to end violence against children (SAIEVEC), Dr Rinchen Chophel, said this is the third technical consultation in Bhutan on the theme, and it is based on the fact that the biggest challenges faced in South Asia, as well as globally, are related to issues.

He said that, while many of these thematic areas do not come out as openly as others because it is accepted within the society or culture, there are certain practices that actually are harmful to children’s environment.

Citing an example of child marriage, which is practised even in Bhutan, he said girls are assumed ready for marriage and take family responsibilities once they reach puberty.

“While this is an accepted factor, it does not recognise that the girl has a life to lead, a childhood to spent and grow both physically and mentally to cope up with the challenges of leading a family,” the director general said.

He also said that there are other factors, like the girl child’s right to education and other opportunities that she needs in her life before taking family responsibility. “Traditionally there’s no second thought that these things are important for girls,” he said.

The director general also said that, when disciplining a child, we take it for granted that children should be disciplined.  But we have to understand that if people think that it is all right to beat a child to discipline, it is all right to beat an adult.

“If it’s wrong to beat an adult, we can’t assume that it’s all right to beat a child,” Dr Rinchen Chophel said.

The other issues, dowry, acid throwing, bonded labour, female genital mutilation are not so open or common in Bhutan but practised in neighbouring countries. “All these things are detrimental to the rights of a child and to the society that’s trying to create a better environment for the children to grow up and it’s important to address the issues,” the director general said.

The four-day meeting starts on September 26.

By Tashi Dema

Picture story

About 100 participants from Draktsho Vocational Centre, Changangkha middle secondary school and Ability Bhutan Society went through general health checkup to mark the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day for the first time on September 22.

The program is conducted worldwide to honour late Ms. Shirver, “an extra ordinary woman for her extra ordinary movement, impact and dedication to help people with intellectual disabilities around the world”.

Called ‘Med fest healthy athletes program’, it was held at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck national referral hospital where health professionals found the local special athletes had vision and hearing problems.

Special Olympics Bhutan, under the aegis of Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth, who conducted the program, is in the process of looking for supports for the athletes in terms of providing hearing aids and spectacles. The program was funded by Christmas Record Grant.

Bhutan loses opener to Lebanon

Football: The U-16 team’s bid to the 2014 AFC qualifiers started with a good hammering by Lebanon on Saturday.

Ali Kharoubi of Lebanon scored the first goal in the 11th minute and Amin Al Debek doubled the lead in the 32nd minute. The game was finished eight minutes into the second half when Lebanon made it 3-0. There was still time for Lebanon’s substitute Ralf Khayat to add the fourth before Bhutan replied.

Samten Norbu got a consolation on stroke of full time to make it 4-1. The scoreline looked better when into the dying minutes of the injury time, a Lebanon defender was sent off for taking down a Bhutanese player from inside the box. Ngawang Tshering successfully converted the penalty making the score 2-4.

“This gave the score line a more flattering perspective for the boys from the Himalayan kingdom,” reported the AFC.com.

The winners of the ten qualifying groups and the best five runners-up will join hosts Thailand in the finals of the 2014 AFC U-16 Championship.

Bhutan’s Under-16 football team, arrived in Kuwait on September 17 and will play its second match today with Tajisjitan.

 

Picture story

Damphu higher secondary school beat BNB 3-2 in the final yesterday to win Tsirang’s month long monsoon football tournament.
The winners took home a cash prize of Nu 15,000 besides trophies and certificates. The runners up took home Nu 10,000.

Focus point

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Public account committee reviews audit report

DSC_0011PAC chairperson Tharchen presents the audit report

Parliament: Yesterday’s joint sitting of Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) review of the annual audit reports did not have much time for intense deliberations, since the first half of the morning went into presenting the report.

Presented by the PAC chairperson, Tharchen, who is the Trongsa councillor, the report took longer than usual, as it reviewed the audit reports, starting from 2008 to 2011.  The review of the annual audit report 2012 was presented in the second part, followed by the committee’s recommendations.

While the previous government had said that it had resolved all the pending irregularities since 1982 with the Royal Audit Authority (RAA), according to the PAC’s review, a total irregularity of more than Nu 469M was still unresolved between 2008 and 2011. The unresolved irregularity for 2008 amounts to Nu 17,000 and pertains to outstanding advances of Nu 7000 by the home ministry, and fund misuse of Nu 10,000 by the former Dumtoe gup in Samtse.

The unresolved irregularities in 2009 are more than Nu 13M, with the labour ministry (Nu 3.2M), education ministry (Nu8.7M), foreign ministry (Nu 0.16M) and the rest pertains to Chukha, Punakha and Haa dzongkhags.

Irregularities for 2010 amounts to Nu 93.8M, with the maximum with the health ministry (Nu 87.8M).  The foreign ministry has an unresolved irregularity of Nu 2.3M from misuse of cash by the embassy in Bangkok.

Unresolved irregularities in 2011 amount to Nu 363.1M, with Nu 76.4M booked against mismanagement by the road safety and transport authority.  Under fraud and corruption, the embassy in Bangkok has three cases amounting to Nu5.56M.  Under shortfalls and lapses, the Bangkok embassy again has three cases amounting to Nu 186M.

One of the recommendations of the PAC was that RAA resolve all the pending issues from 2008-10 with the concerned agencies by April 30, 2014.  Audit issues pertaining to 2011 and 2012 must be resolved by November 30, 2014.

On the 2012 audit report, the speaker led the discussions on fixing accountability, specifically with regard to the Nu 114M irregularity with the construction of domestic airports under the information and communications ministry.

The information and communications minister, DN Dungyel, said that all cases pertaining to the construction of domestic airports have been forwarded to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and others cases have been resolved substantially.

Councillor Tharchen pointed out that it was the ministry’s fault on assigning the task of preparing the Bill of Quantities (BoQ), administering the work, verification and payment of bills on a single individual, the ministry’s deputy executive engineer, Gyem Dorji. “We don’t understand why the ministry had given the whole responsibility to a single person on all the three projects of the airport construction,” he said.

Supporting his views, the speaker suggested that certain degree of accountability must also be placed on the ministry.

The Khar-Yurung assembly member, Zanglay Dukpa, said the audit did not hold one person accountable. “While direct accountability was placed on Gyem Dorji, supervisory accountability was also held on the director general of civil aviation,” he said.

Pemagatshel councillor Jigme Rinzin added that, during the time of auditing, the auditors and the officials from the concerned agencies together decide on whom to place the accountability, and that parliament cannot direct the agencies to hold another entity accountable.

Nganglam assembly member Choida Jamtsho said the decision of accountability should be best left with RAA. “Once the case is forwarded to the ACC, it’s in the ACC’s court to decide,” he added.

Some members suggested the house to discuss the PAC’s recommendations instead of the entire report. “It’s the PAC’s responsibility to present the report,” a councillor said. “But the report doesn’t necessarily need the discussions on all the issues, rather it’s the recommendations that need more discussion.”

The council chairperson, Dasho Sonam Kinga, also said that it would be wrong to mention names of the person held accountable, because it was the court that would ultimately decide whether the person is actually at fault.

One of the recommendations of the PAC is to conduct a special investigation on Penden Cement Authority limited (PCAL), since significant irregularities were observed, mostly on fraud, corruption and embezzlement.

The company lost more than Nu 1.5M to fraud, corruption and embezzlement, another Nu 1.4M to mismanagement, and more than Nu 0.9M for violation of laws and rules.

North Thimphu Assembly member, Kinga Tshering, suggested designating a project risk officer in the agencies, with the help of the Royal Civil Service Commission, to avoid unnecessary expenditures and prevent corruption.

The discussion on the PAC report will continue on Monday when parliament resumes.

By Tshering Dorji | Thimphu

The Punatsangchhu situation

IMG_4221The sliding area at Punatsangchhu dam site as of yesterday

Delay, with cost implication, is inevitable, but the good news is that there are solutions

Hydropower: While the assessment report of the sinking situation at Punatsangchhu-I’s dam site is yet to be finalised, the country’s biggest hydropower project under construction could face a delay of almost a year and cost escalation.

Managing director of Punatsangchhu hydropower project authority (PHPA), RN Khazanchi, said the report of explorations is “partially” complete.

In July, it was found that the right bank of the project site had sunk, with the loose rock-face gradually moving down to the base of the dam site being excavated.  A thick shear zone was also found inside the hill earlier.

Two teams, Central Water Commission (CWC) and Geological Survey of India (GSI), were assigned to conduct the drilling and seismic tomography data assessments.

“GSI is consulting with their counterparts in New Delhi,” he said.

From Pg.1

The deputy director general of GSI in Kolkata, M Raju, in a telephone interview, said the team would return soon to check on developments at the site.

“The team will review the current situation and discuss with design engineers to make further recommendations to the project management,” he said.

While waiting for the final report that will suggest remedial measures, among others, managing director of Druk Green Power corporation (DGPC), Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said, at present, going by the normal schedule, a minimum of one year delay was expected.

DGPC will take charge of the project on completion.

“It’ll definitely be delayed, but the period might change, depending on what measures the project takes to accelerate the works,” he said. “So it may be less than a year.”

Local hydropower officials said the delay would mean additional cost that could run into millions.

An illustration of the area

Factors like inflation, idling of work at the site and increasing of interest amount, among others, would follow, which would shoot up the overall production cost.

Increase in cost of generation also meant the price of power that would be sold to India would also be high.

“While it will be delaying benefits for Bhutanese, it’ll also not be cost effective to Indian counterparts, who’ll buy the electricity,” one power official said.

“It will also impact the project’s financial viability in the sense it’ll be more expensive because they’ll have to invest more money to address this issue,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

With the delay, what would be the revenue forgone?  He said it was not possible to put a monetary figure on it right now, because of lack of facts on costs and tariff for now.

 

Shift of dam location 

One criticism that followed after the situation arose, which was first realised in July, was on the change in the location of the dam site, from the one specified in the detailed project report (DPR) prepared by consultancy firm WAPCOS.

Based on the recommendations made by the authority, the former Cabinet had approved the shift to present dam site.


Sequence of “distress” observed

July 9- signs of slide in steel ribs in gallery

July 11- cracks on highway appear (140m downstream of dam)

July 17 – PHPA starts monitoring right bank by installing “total station” on the left bank

July 19 – Hill movement noticed

July 24- 26 – Maximum vertical movement – 3.65m
Maximum horizontal movement – 3.87m

July 28- Aug 2- Geological survey of India and Central Water Commission experts visit and assess the slide area

Project facts

Commencement of project: November 11, 2008

Estimated completion budget: Nu 94B

Commission date: December 2016

Capacity: 1,200MW

Total approach roads completed: 27.95km

Temporary bridges built:  Six bailey bridges

Two permanent bridges completed: Power house bridge and steel bridge on Wangdue-Tsirang highway at Hesothangka

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, at the time, from the geological assessment that was done, the conclusion drawn was that it would be approximately 30m to meet the bedrock, a must to lay the foundation for a dam construction.

This was good, considering the earlier estimations that suggested almost double the depth.

The new figure obviously meant less cost and time saving.  on consultation with Indian government, it was finalised.

“But later, when drilling started, the bedrock was found more than 70m deep,” he said, adding it lead to increase in quantum of work.

There were also other benefits of location change like generation of more power and possibility of completion before schedule.

 

The situation today

Power officials said, considering the region, the situation at the project was not new.  Project officials also cited some projects in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim in India that encountered a similar problem.

Chief engineer Amit Gupta of WAPCOS, the consultant for the project, said such a situation was not unnatural while carrying out hydro projects.

“There are technical solutions with which we can overcome the problem,” he said.

However, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, while there are remedial measures for such surprises, it was “indecision” that Bhutan should avoid.

Citing examples of projects in North India that lost more than five years because of delay in deciding on remedial measures and additional costs, he said Bhutan should take positions immediately to implement remedial measures and get the works completed as soon as possible.

“We know it’s a reality, Nu 35B has already been pumped in, but we also know we have to finish it and, even with additional cost, project can’t go at loss,” he said.

What next?

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, based on whatever additional studies were being carried out, a thorough discussion must be held to arrive at a solution, which everyone is convinced of.

Some also highlighted a need for third opinion in the matter to “ensure safety and quality to mitigate future risk”.

Others also expressed concerns on whether the remedial measures adopted would really ensure safety in the long run.

Dasho Chhewang Rinzin explained that, should the Punatsangchhu-I dam break, besides being catastrophic to people living downstream, it would also affect hydropower projects like Punatsangchhu-II and Sankosh, while plans are also on for Punatsangchhu-III.

“So definitely any remedial measure that you come up for Punatsangchu I has to be permanent in nature,” he said, clarifying that delay in this project would not affect Punatsangchu-II.

“It’s good that we found out now,” he said. “Say we built the dam and faced this problem, it would be a different situation that we may not be able to address.”

Right now, he said, the main thing was to understand geological conditions under the surface.

“From the landslide, everybody is sure there’s a large shear zone in the area,” he said. “Now we have to find out how bad it is to come up with the best solution.”

By Tshering Palden &  Kesang Dema |Thimphu

One Bhutanese in 30 is a civil servant

CSS: Of every 30 Bhutanese, one is a civil servant, the latest civil service statistics (CSS) report, as of June 30 this year, reveals.

According to the CSS, civil servants make up 3.39 percent of the country’s population.  The total population, sourced from the national statistics bureau’s projection from 2006 to 2015, is estimated at 733,015.

As of June 30 this year, regular civil servants numbered 23,970.

RCSC commissioner Pirthiman Pradhan said the country is reaching a stage, where the growth in the size of the civil service may not be high.

He said the strength of the civil service has been growing at five to six percent every year, as of now. “How long this growth will continue at this rate will only depend on the plans, programs, and activities of agencies,” Pirthiman Pradhan said.

But he also pointed out that Bhutan’s pace of growth in the civil service strength is not very different from other countries.  Recruitment also depends on the development and expansion of public services and agencies.

Meanwhile, the number of university graduates trying to join the civil service has also been increasing each year.  But jobs in civil service dropped to 538 this year, from 597 in 2012.

A total of 3,486 graduates sat the preliminary examinations last month, compared to last year’s 2,623.

The CSS report shows that class XII and X graduates make up 6,009 civil servants working in the supervisory and support category, and operational position category.  This constitutes a quarter of regular civil servants.

Commissioner Pirthiman Pradhan said the other two position categories are executive, and professional and management position category.

“Class X with plus certificate and vocational training or any additional requirement falls under the operational position,” he said.

Those with Class XII with certificates, trainings, and diplomas of various durations, commissioner Pirthiman Pradhan said, fitted in the supervisory and support position category.

He explained that university graduates, who start their career after having appeared and made it through the civil service examinations, are the ones under professional and management position category.

In the executive and specialist, as per RCSC, in-service recruitment takes place.  This means that only an in-service candidate, through an open competition, can progress into the executive category.

However, there is no open competition when it comes to the specialist position category.  Those candidates with required qualification, experience, and desired performance fall under this category.

There are 14,899 class X students and a total of 7,163 class XII students across the country, according to the “projection” made by the labour ministry in its labour market information bulletin 2012.

The bulletin also projects that 10,372 class XII and X graduates will be looking for jobs, and this could go up by several hundreds in 2014.

The number of civil servants, as of June 30 this year, was 24,856 including 886 on contract, according to the report.

From December 31 last year, the number of civil servants increased by 576 over the six months this year.

The report, however, states that, “there was a net increase of 541 civil servants from January to June this year”.

By Rajesh Rai

To-do list to realise self-reliance objective

List includes programs to enhance rural livelihood, promoting industrial sector and those of private ones 

Report: Inclusive social development, accelerated green economic development and strategic infrastructure development would be made to meet the 11th Plan objective of self-reliance and inclusive green socio-economic development.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji while presenting the Plan report on September 19 said that to have regional balance, Millennium Development Goals (MDG) should be achieved by 2015.

The 11th Plan report stated that poorest villages in Bhutan would be identified to alleviate extreme poverty. There were 126 poorest villages identified in the 10th Plan.

Referred to as rural economy advancement program (REAP), programs that emphasise diversifying crop cultivation to enhance food security and nutritional intake would be made for sustainable livelihoods.

It would also include programs that enhances generating supplementary income through skills development in non-farm livelihood activities

In the 10th Plan, REAP was implemented in 10 villages of Thangdokha, Sanu Dungtoe, Mandokha, Lopokha, Lauri, Ungar, Samcholing, Reti, Lamtang, Pam and Chaibi.

“In the 11th Plan, it would be implemented in 116 villages,” the Plan report started.

To achieve balanced regional development, urban infrastructure would be developed in regional hubs of Kanglung and Nganglam, construct and improve national highways and roads connecting hydropower projects and strengthen air transport facilities.

“Two dry ports in Phuentsholing and Jigmeling or Nganglam and four industrial estates, Bondeyma in Mongar, Dhandum in Samtse, Motanga in Samdrupjongkhag and Jigmiling in Sarpang would be developed,” the Plan report stated.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the landless and the socio-economically disadvantaged groups, particularly those in remote communities to deliver socio-economic facilities for whom it would cost the country dearly would be resettled after working closely with gyalpoi zimpon’s office.

“Socio-economic facilities are roads, drinking water and electricity,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said.

The Plan report also stated that Nu 2M would be allocated to each gewog every year to empower local government and ensure that local governments have common facilities such as utility vehicles and power tillers.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said enabling environment would be created for private sector development, enhance economic diversification with focus on non-hydro sectors for import substitution and export promotion and create employment opportunities for youth.

He also said the government would provide financial and human resource assistance to five non-hydro sectors to create special economic development.

“Sectors identified are under agriculture, tourism, small cottage industries, including cultural, construction and manufacturing industries,” he said.

Ample economic opportunities are also in the offing with three new hydropower projects under construction and seven new ones slated for the 11th Plan.

The report also stated the economic opportunities such as enhancing local trade and commerce, greater participation of Bhutanese private sector, greater employment opportunities, aligning project’s corporate social responsibilities with communities’ needs and local government’s plan would be optimised.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji also said financial institutions would be injected with Nu 4B to solve the current lending issue.

By Tashi Dema