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Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - 7:55 PM
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No official word yet on Chukha tariff

Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) has not received any official communication on a reduction in the Chukha export power tariff to India at the moment, the interim government advisor in the ministry of economic affairs, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, has said.

“There is no impact on the revenues from the export of surplus power from the Chukha hydroelectric project to India, at least as of now,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, who is also the managing director of DGPC, said.

In a perspective piece written by the interim government adviser in the finance ministry, Dasho Karma Ura, which was published on July 6 by this paper, he expressed the likely withdrawal of subsidy on the Chukha export power tariff, as was recently communicated to the interim government (IG) through ‘appropriate channels’ by the government of India.

According to Dasho Karma Ura’s article, power from Chukha is sold to the Power Trading corporation of India at INR 1.55 a unit, this is the rate charged to customers in India.  But Bhutan received INR 2 a unit, because the ministry of external affairs, government of India (GoI), gave a subsidy of 45 paise a unit.

According to Dasho Karma Ura’s calculations, Bhutan could lose about INR 910M annually, with Chuka revenue dropping to INR 2.73B annually with the subsidy withdrawn.

While the apprehensions expressed by the interim government adviser in the finance ministry on the likely withdrawal of subsidy on the Chukha power tariff are worrying, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the power purchase agreement with the Power Trading corporation of India for the Chukha power does not have any subsidy component built into the INR 2 a unit tariff.

“It’s hoped that, even if the subsidy that the GoI supposedly provides to the Power Trading corporation of India is removed, it won’t affect the tariff that Chukha gets from the Power Trading corporation of India,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

He also said that the Chukha export power tariff at the moment remains the same at INR 2 per unit, as has been since January 2005. “In fact, the ministry of economic affairs has been in touch with the GoI for an upward revision of the Chukha power tariff from the present NR 2 per unit for some time now,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said. “The ministry hopes for a positive outcome of the consultations.”

A symbol of Indo-Bhutan cooperation, the 336MW Chukha plant is the first mega hydropower project built with financial and technical assistance from India.

An agreement to build the project over the Wangchu river was signed between the governments of Bhutan and India on March 23, 1974.  The project was fully funded by GoI, with 60 percent grant and 40 percent loan at an interest rate of 5 percent payable over a period of 15 years after commissioning.

Chukha was fully commissioned in August 22, 1988 at an estimated cost of Nu 2,465 million with generation averaging 1,800 million units annually.  Its loan was liquidated on December 31, 2007.

On the loss of revenues to the government because of the likelihood that GoI might henceforth not refund excise duty to Bhutan, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the refund of excise duty is governed by the 2006 Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between the governments of Bhutan and India, which expires in 2016.

“If there’s going to be a change in the arrangement for the excise duty refund, the two governments may have to consult further on this,” he said. The private sector development committee has been proposing a new modality of the excise duty refund, which would benefit both the government and the private sector. With India as its largest trading partner, Nepal renegotiated the excise duty refund component in January 2012, making Bhutan the only country in the world subject to duty refund procedure.

By Phuntsho Wangdi

New policy to address an old problem

Except for its mention in the party manifestos, alcohol and its problems or solutions is perhaps one of the issues that’s not yet “politicised” in the ongoing campaigns and discussions.

While the issue may not be as ‘intoxicating’ as the ones that are being discussed today in campaigns and common forums and social media, alcohol, which has been discussed at the highest decision making body, has slowly ailed the country and its people, who are these days referred to as the voters.

Alcohol-related diseases are responsible for causing more than a hundred deaths (of voters) annually in the country, according to the recently released annual health bulletin, 2013.

Soon after the bulletin was released, a draft of the “national policy and strategic framework to reduce harmful use of alcohol” was posted on the GNHC website for comments, making it the seventh policy to be drafted on alcohol.

The draft has cited six policies and notifications issued since 1989 to 2000 to address alcohol problems in the country.  

How this new “national policy” would help address the old problem of alcohol is yet to be seen, but going by the information in the draft, the existing policies have remained on paper.

What it however highlights is the social problems that the country has been reeling under for years that another policy was required to implement the existing policies.  The policy indicates that, this time, it is serious about the issue, and the implementation of this policy would perhaps be another task on the new government’s thing to-do list.

For instance, it states that there are more than 3,000 bars in Bhutan; that alcoholic liver disease was the leading cause of mortality in Bhutan from 2006 through 2010; and that approximately seven percent of road traffic accidents in Bhutan were attributed to drink driving.

It also states that, according to police records, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents increased from 112 in 2009 to 151 cases in 2010; the forensic unit in Thimphu referral hospital reported 1,093 cases of domestic violence in 2010, the majority of which were precipitated by alcohol consumption.

“Incidence of crime related to drugs/narcotics observed a fourfold rise from 2001 to 2005; police reports show an increasing trend in crime committed by adolescents, mostly under the influence of alcohol in urban areas.”

RENEW reported that there were 324 victims of domestic violence victims and 119 victims until July 2011, of which 70 percent of perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol.  The labour ministry reports 1.54 percent of the population as being divorced and separated; and alcoholism, adultery, and domestic violence were the three main reasons for divorce.

It highlights that alcohol use is a predisposing factor for teenage pregnancy, because of its negative effect on negotiating or adopting contraceptives. “Teenage pregnancy, many of them unwanted and occurring predominantly among rural women accounts for 11 percent of all births in Bhutan,” it states.

High school surveys showed that 37.3 percent among grade 7-8 and 48.3 percent among grade 9-10 consumed alcohol, indicating that underage drinking may be common.  Studies by the agriculture and the economic affairs ministries point out that as much as 50 percent of the grain harvests of each household are used to brew alcohol each year. “Alcohol consumption and production could be one of the causes of rural poverty in Eastern Bhutan, where staple grains are used for home brewing of alcohol,” the draft states.

According to the draft, the 7th session of the first parliament held on June 6, 2011 directed to strengthen alcohol use prevention programs, focusing on demand and supply reduction policies to create a GNH nation, free from alcohol menace.

“This document has been developed, based on this directive of the parliament,” the draft states. “The strategy will focus on strengthening the enforcement of existing alcohol policies pertaining to minimum legal drinking age, hours of operations, places of sale, and advertisement and promotion of alcohol products.”

All these policies, it states, were framed by a series of the National Assembly sessions (20th, 30th and 50th), executive orders of the ministries and other relevant acts.  By implementing this national policy that has a vision of “a nation free of alcohol menace,” the goal is to “reduce harmful use of alcohol and its related problems in Bhutan through an effective multi-sectoral response by 2025.”

So, one of the strategies listed to reduce harmful use of alcohol in the draft is to establish a national alcohol control committee (NACC) at the national level, dzongkhag committee, thromdey committee and gewog committee chaired by the prime minister, dzongda, thrompon and gup respectively.  The finance ministry is also to allocate ‘adequate’ funds to support the national alcohol harm reduction interventions.

Among others, the draft policy directs to strengthen enforcement of restriction of alcohol sale timings, designate “alcohol free zones,” not expand domestic market and imports and control alcohol import by reducing import of foreign alcoholic beverages.

To reduce consumption, one of the proposed interventions is to raise taxes, fees and charges for all alcohol products and impose appropriate taxation system and to freeze the sanction of subsidies to business establishments dealing with alcohol trade.

By engaging the local government officials during the annual gup and dzongdag conference and forming a national team to conduct the advocacy, the policy in a year’s time is expected to have all 20 districts and major thromdeys advocated on alcohol policies. The 205 National alcohol control committees will also be established.

According to the draft, the implementation of the national response for prevention of harmful use of alcohol will be subjected to yearly performance monitoring by the national alcohol control committee and an independent team will be instituted to conduct a performance audit.

By Sonam Pelden

Who would Phuentshopelri_Samtse voters go for?

The first woman architect or the former candidate armed with fluency in Dzongkha

Phuentshopelri_Samtse constituency voters have six days to choose a candidate who has impressed voters with his fluency in Dzongkha or a candidate who woos her voters with her impressive Lhotsamkha.

But if it were not the tongue, then the voters would probably go with the candidate who convinces them better of giving Samtse thromde a facelift.

The people of Samtse has been expecting Samtse town, which has remained unchanged for decades to be turned into a real town by the next government.

Its Local Area Plan has been put on hold because the National Land Commission had not approved the demarcated land in the new township.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s 47-year old candidate Rebecca Gurung who holds a degree in architecture said that Samtse cannot just have buildings popping up and that planning is very important. “It is some disputes that have held the structural plan,” she said. “Otherwise the plan is ready and if elected, we’ll work on it to get it implemented.”

Rebecca Gurung, Bhutan’s first woman architect added that the only charm of the town, vegetable market would be removed as per the plan, which as an architect, she thinks is a weakness in the master plan.

Her opponent, 45-year old Dina Nath Dhungyel of People’s Democratic Party said the town would be his first priority if elected. Dina Nath Dhungyel has a Bachelors in Commerce and a Masters in Business Administration.

“As an MP’s first responsibility, I’ll make sure the structural plan is approved,” he said. The youngest in the family, DN Dhungyel said if PDP is elected, the party also plans to have a Thrompon (Mayor).

With poll day just around the corner, would voters continue to judge candidates based on their fluency in the language. If so, then DN Dhungyel once again stands a chance while Rebecca Gurung had cancelled the common forums as well as opted out of live BBS panel discussion.

That act might work against Rebecca Gurung for voters started questioning her ability as an MP, who has to represent her constituency in the national language.

But with her rigorous campaign in villages, the mother of one, who was yesterday campaigning at Norbugang gewog, said she has managed to leave a good impression on the voters.

But could this turn the table on poll day?

DN Dhunggyel, the father of one said he schooled in Paro after Dorokha and picked up the language. “I used to read few pages of Dzongkha newspaper to pick up the terminology,” he said.

While Rebecca Gurung, mostly known as Ribi in the village said she had to leave the panel discussion because she was “not comfortable” and the forum was not serving its purpose. “Why would I want to expose my weakness and act like I know something, live on television,” Ribi said. “What is important is that the person should be a responsible one, which I am.”

Rebecca Gurung was born and brought up in Samtse although she did her schooling in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, India and then Bangladesh. She is not a new face in her village but not many from other gewogs know her as she lived in Thimphu with her husband, who is from Punakha.

DN Dhungyel is not a new face either as he owns early learning centers in Phuentsholing, Samtse and Gomtu. He had also contested from Dophuchen_Tading constituency in 2008 against the former education minister before he transferred his census to Samtse gewog.

But if Rebecca Gurung loses, it would be because of her inactive participation according to some people whom she is yet to meet. “I understand their reaction,” she said.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Samtse

Picture story

In Darjaythang: Farmers in the southern district of Sarpang begin paddy transplantation

Ped-Day’s fate will be decided by the polls as well

PdayOne of the pedestrian days (file photo)

As the nation observed yet another pedestrian day yesterday, certain folks projected it against the ongoing election process, and asked whether the day would be marked once the election was done, and the second democratically elected government was put in place.

Yesterday could be the last pedestrian day if People’s Democratic Party (PDP) wins the mandate to form the government.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) will, however, continue to observe the once-a-month pedestrian day, an initiative that came during their term.

The DPT media representative said Pedestrian Day is not ‘intrusive’, and that it is enforced only in the core areas of towns.

“Moreover, the rule is relaxed for sickness or death or other forms of emergencies,” the representative said. “If PDP lifts the rule, there’s nothing we can do. The losers will be our people, our country and our stature in the world.”

DPT mentioned that doing away with pedestrian day is a “short term gain,” in this case to garner votes, and that it cannot be used to sacrifice the long term interests.

However, the vice-president of the PDP, Damcho Dorji, said that doing away with the pedestrian day was the “first task” the party will take up.

“I hope this will be the last pedestrian day, should PDP get to be the government,” he said.

He added that laws, such as the pedestrian day, which cause ‘inconvenience’ to the people, should be done away with.

“It’s the business community that has been hit the hardest by the law,” Damcho Dorji said, adding the day will, however, be celebrated once a year.

Introducing pedestrian day, it was initially marked every Tuesday, but was later changed to first Sunday of every month.

DPT media representative said people must understand that nowhere in the world will governments go back on the stands taken or laws made.

“But DPT has always listened to the people,” he said, adding about Bhutan’s image globally as a “champion of environmental conservation,” and that pedestrian day was a means to prove it.

The DPT also said that it is because of this image that Bhutan receives development assistance, draws a huge number of high-end tourists, and generally enjoys a positive image everywhere in the world.

It also shared its views over the traffic congestions and increasing number of cars, which has been brought down by the initiative.

In response, Damcho Dorji said that there are many other ways of protecting the environment, and that pedestrian day is not a good initiative.

With regard to traffic congestion, he said the remedy lies in streamlining traffic itself, rather than just stopping the vehicles to ply in the core areas for just one day.

“The pedestrian day didn’t stop the people from buying cars,” Damcho Dorji said.

On June 1, 2012, the cabinet announced that Tuesday would be pedestrian day.

The decision did not go down well with some people and repeated requests being made by the business community led to lhengye zhungtshog deciding observing of pedestrian day on the first Sundays of each month, starting December 2, 2012.

June 5, the World Environment Day, was also observed as Pedestrian Day every year in the country.

In a survey conducted by the National Environment Commission (NEC), out of the 500 people they sampled, 316 people said yes to pedestrian day.

According to the survey, the number of vehicles dropped from around 6,000 to 3,000 on the day in Thimphu, registering a similar drop in fuel consumption.

However, in a survey conducted privately by the Centre for Research Initiatives, about 61 percent of the people interviewed supported the initiative, but only 34 percent wanted it to continue, and 54 percent wanted it to be lifted altogether.  About 1,000 households were interviewed.

By Tshering Dorji

Winning elections isn’t everything

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month and therefore pedestrian day, an initiative of the former government.

This initiative, depending on which party the people elect to form the new government, could remain or forever become part of the past.

The DPT has said that it will keep it going, and the PDP has said that it will remove it.

That will be decided when the country goes to polls for the second time in its history to elect a new government five days from now.

While the tone of the candidate debates have considerably calmed in recent days, because voters themselves have expressed reaching saturation point on the tactics to pull the other down, the electorate say they are confused who to vote for as poll day draws nearer.

This group of voters include what some describe as neutral voters that are not aligned with any particular party, but generally want to cast their vote for someone, who comes across as being good for the people and the country.

This confusion is primarily because of the overload of information in the form of mudslinging and allegations that built up to a crescendo over the past few weeks.

As one voter put it, the environment has become such it appears the country has lost its soul, its strength as society divides even more deeply to align along community and regional lines.

This is indeed a very sad development, considering the fact that many observers from the outside often said that Bhutan is perhaps in the best position to set up a democracy, because of the way democracy came to this land.

The most recent development in the political campaign that has literally blacked out everything else is Indo-Bhutan relations.

It has become so because of the timing of the removal of subsidy on essential items like cooking gas and kerosene.  Many Bhutanese are hurt and angered by the timing, and feel it is a deliberate move to rock the elections.  Some say that, on July 13, it will not be the people of Bhutan but the world’s largest democracy that could win the elections in the world’s youngest democracy.

At the same time, it is unfortunate that Indo-Bhutan relations have been reduced to cents and dollars in recent days. While assistance is an important part, the relationship goes much deeper and beyond what is there at an official level.  Besides very warm and strong ties amongst the peoples of the two countries at various levels there also exists historical, religious and cultural ties that go back centuries.

Unfortunately, these aspects don’t count for some.

Sloth bear preys on chickens in Gelephu

The animal, suspected to be an old one, has evaded the traps set up for it so far

For the past three days, forest officials in Gelephu range and national wildlife conservation division have been on their toes to capture the bear that has been harming chickens in Pemaling village under Chuzagang gewog in Sarpang.

However, they have not yet succeeded in their attempts.  The bear has killed a total of 31 chickens belonging to 15 farmers as of yesterday, since it climbed down to the village on the night of June 25.

Forest officials said it escaped from near the two traps and a cage on the night of July 2 after killing five chickens.  On the second night, it didn’t turn up near the traps, while on July 4, it killed two and injured two chickens.

Farmers said they are worried that the bear might pose a threat to people. “Our chickens are almost finished now and we’re worried that it might attack our calves and then humans,” a villager Kingzang Gyeltshen of Pemaling village, who lost two chickens, said. “Moreover, our school-going children, who walk alone, might get attacked too.”

The 66-year old farmer said such incidents have not occurred in the past.  The bear doesn’t fear humans and eats the chickens at around a distance of 10ft. “Unlike other animals, like wild boar and deer, it’s really terrorising, but we can’t shoot it with our arrow even if we get the chance, because it’s barred by law,” he said.

Pemaling tshogpa, Jambay Dhendup said this had become a serious issue, and something needed to be done before worse happens.

Currently, farmers have started keeping their birds locked in the house to save them from the predator.

Meanwhile, forest officials said the predator is the sloth bear (pang dom), one of the two bear species identified in the country.  The other species is the Himalayan black bear.

The sloth bear would be between 80 to 130 kg and 4-6ft tall, while the mountain bear would weigh between 80-180kg.  Forest officials, who saw the bear, said it would weigh about 80kg and be about four feet tall.

Examining its long fur, officials said, the bear could be an aged one and looking for easy prey.

“Should it be a young bear, it won’t descend below the human settlement,”Sangay Dorji, a range officer who is leading the forest team said. “It’s suspected to be an old one.”

The two additional traps, which reached the site from Thimphu yesterday, were set up last night.

“We’ll only be able to comment on the progress based on the two additional traps now,” Sangay Dorji said.

Forest officials said the bear is a schedule class ‘A’ wild animal, like elephant, tiger and rhinoceros, where no shooting is allowed, unless there is a special instruction from the higher authorities.

“We’ll just capture it and release it into a safer habitat,” he said.

By Tshering Namgyal, Gelephu

PDP no-show at Khamaed-Lunana public debate

LunanaKhamed-Lunana candidates: DPT’s Kinley Dorji and PDP’s Pema Drukpa (right) during a common forum

The candidate went to campaign in Lunana and failed to return because of health issues

The public debate of Khamaed-Lunana, Gasa went solo last evening, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate failing to return from Lunana because of health issues.

This was the first public debate in the ongoing general elections process, where a candidate stayed out.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa candidate, Kinley Dorji, went ahead alone for the debate, which was way shorter than the normal public debate.

Tandin Dorji, the returning officer of Khamaed-Lunana, said the PDP candidate, Pema Drukpa, was informed about the public debate in writing before he left for Lunana.

“When he came with the campaign schedule, we approved it as he has right to go for campaign,” he said.

However, he was supposed to complete his campaign by July 4, and reach for the public debate yesterday.

Tandin Dorji said that Pema Drukpa, however, informed them two to three days before that he wouldn’t be able to make it for the public debate, citing his swollen feet.

“We told him to ask his party workers to write about it to the election commission of Bhutan (ECB),” Tandin Dorji said. “His party workers had done so, but without mentioning his swollen feet, just that he went to Lunana to conduct campaign.”

“While ECB hasn’t accepted the consideration he sought, we’re not sure what action ECB will take,” Tandin Dorji said. “But we’ll report it to ECB soon.”

As per the public election fund Act, if a candidate fails to attend the public debate, he has to refund the campaign fund of Nu 130,000, the returning officer said.

“I’ve reached Thagey, Lunana,” PDP candidate Pema Drukpa over the phone, yesterday, said.  “With swollen feet, I couldn’t walk. Since most people are out for cordycep collection and villages are empty, I took more time than scheduled, and couldn’t return on time.”

Pema Drukpa said he was aware about the public debate and was supposed to reach the constituency yesterday.

“I informed the election officials, and they told me that they’d allow me to conduct public debate through mobile, but Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) people said that it is technically not possible,” he said.

Pema Drukpa left to conduct campaign in Lunana, along with an attendant on June 24, after he failed to go for the common forum in Lunana, along with election officials and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa on June 18.

By Dawa Gyelmo , Wangdue

Box Cutting landslide shuts down Gelephu-Zhemgang highway

With about 200m of road foundation width washed away by heavy landslides in Box Cutting since July 6, the Gelephu-Zhemgang highway has remained closed to traffic since yesterday, stranding commuters both in Zhemgang and Gelephu.

Heavy rains for the last three days caused landslides in about five places, but the one at Box Cutting was the most severe.  Flash flood and debris of boulders, sand and trees blocked the cause way in Shetikhari, Islip, Box Cutting, Serkem and Tamala.

Road safety and transport authority officials in Gelephu said deployment of excavators and pay loaders by road officials in the slide areas managed to keep the traffic open on July 5 and 6. “But with the whole foundation width washed away, we couldn’t clear the block in Box Cutting,” RSTA official Bhola Gyeltshen said.

After heavy rainfall on the night of July 6, Shetikhari causeway remained close to traffic until 11am yesterday. Two excavators were deployed to clear the debris.

In Islip, about seven kilometres from Gelephu towards Serzhong, the loose hills came down and blocked the causeway every time it rained heavily. “But the payloader was engaged to keep it open to traffic,” Bhola Gyeltshen said.

In Box Cutting, only debris blocked the road on July 5 and 6 and, while road officials were trying to clear the block, people travelling to Zhemgang wanted to cross at their own risk on July 6.  RSTA however did not allow.

Sources in Gelephu said that, now with the whole foundation width washed away, they wouldn’t be able to comment when it would open to traffic. “We’ll be able to clear the block only if the weather improves and if it doesn’t rain,” Bhola Gyaltshen said.

Although the roadblocks stranded many people going to Zhemgang in Gelephu, about 40 police constables and an official, who were on their way to Zhemgang on election duty were tran-shifted and walked until Batasey yesterday afternoon.

A businessman from Zhemgang, who was stranded since July 5 in Gelephu, said he is worried if the situation remained the same on poll day. “It would affect voter turn out,” he said.

A Gelephu resident, Ugyen, said his wife and family wanted to go and cast votes in Kheng Goshing, Zhemgang but now, with road conditions worsening, he does not think they should risk their lives.

A taxi driver in Gelephu, Karma Yeshey, said the road conditions in summer also posed threat to the lives of passengers. “A Maruti van was washed away by flashflood in Shetekhari very recently,” he said.

By Tashi Dema, Gelephu

 

Picture story

It took almost two hours for two trailers to pull out a Maruti Van that veered off the road near Tshangkha on the Thimphu-Trongsa highway on July 6 afternoon. The van was on the way to Trongsa from Tsirang. Two passengers, including a drive, escaped unhurt.