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Focus point


Accidental and leaked letters muddle secretaries’ issue

Govt says the October 24 letter is misinforming and misleading the public

CoS: The government claims that the letter that was supposed to inform the Prime Minister of malicious reports by ENERTIA foundation against one of the senior civil servants was not even closely read, let alone signed and submitted by the economic affairs minister.

Following the surrendering of three government secretaries to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), this letter dated October 24 was shared on social media.

In a press release, the Office of the Prime Minister issued yesterday, the government claimed that the letter was written by the secretary of economic affairs ministry and was e-mailed to the minister.

Subsequently, during a meeting between the minister and secretary, the press release states that the secretary had suggested that ENERTIA’s allegations be brought up to the Government of India for intervention.

However, the press release states that the minister had instructed the secretary to keep the matter of seeking “GoI intervention” on hold because it involved a foreign entity and facts of the allegations were not established.

“The minister did not find it necessary to attend the letter dated October 24,” the press release stated. “The government deeply regrets that a material of internal correspondence has been leaked to the media creating misinformation and misleading the public.”


October 24- The letter of malicious report

According to this letter (apparently written by the secretary, which the government claims that its endorsement were not sought), executive publisher and editor of ENERTIA, A Prakash Iyer, had earlier written to Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk informing him about the hydro vision conclave in Thimphu.

Going by the letter, A Prakash Iyer also asked the minister to send letters with copy to ENERTIA, inviting the two Indian union ministers and other concerned officials from India to join the conclave.

The minister had then directed the secretary to inform A Prakash Iyer that it would not be possible to invite dignitaries from India at short notice and suggested to hold the conference in 2015 or 2016.

However, A Prakash Iyer responded informing that it was not possible and that he would go ahead as planned. “By doing so, he has undermined the royal government institutions and is also taking us for granted,” the letter states.

The letter also states that project authorities, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Druk Holding and Investments were asked not to support the conclave.

“He (A P Iyer) is subtly trying to send messages to the ministry that if we get in the way of his conference, he could create problems by playing with Indo-Bhutan sentiments and politicising the matter,” the letter states. “…It is important that we register our protest with government of India.”

The letter also supposes that the Cabinet secretary has already informed the Prime Minister and the matter being taken to foreign ministry and the Office of Attorney General.

However, the minister did not sign the letter and the government claims that the content and the language was that of the secretary.

Dasho Sonam Tshering did not comment saying the case was with the RCSC.


September 3- ENERTIA’s letter to minister

The October 24 letter had emerged from another letter that was addressed to Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk and signed by A Prakash Iyer on September 3. This September 3 letter was also shared on social media.

In this letter, ENERTIA has accused the economic affairs secretary of openly attempting to sabotage the hydro vision conclave and his involvement in BHEL commission.

“We hope you will correct the situation and sack this Dasho Sonam Tshering …” the letter reads.

AP Iyer has also written that the foundation registers a strong objection and protest against Anti-ENERTIA and anti-India stance and actions of attempt to derail the Hydro Vision conclave.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said he had exchanged several correspondences with ENERTIA and accepted that he received this September 3 letter.

“My initial reaction was that it was a reckless allegation and did not pay any attention,” he said about the letter from ENERTIA addressed to him. Lyonpo said that he even told the secretary that there was nothing to worry  about and there are no actions to take based on this letter.


December 2- CoS letter to Indian Ambassador

On December 9, a letter accidently landed through fax into the hands of one of the ministers, according to the government.  It was the letter the foreign secretary Yeshey Dorji had written to the Indian Ambassador on December 2, with reference to a letter the Cabinet secretary, the chair of the committee of secretaries (CoS) had sent on October 10, instructing him to write to the Indian government.

Kuensel learnt that the decision to write to the Indian Ambassador was based on decisions of the four sittings of the CoS.

The letter to the ambassador conveys the “government’s shock and deep concern over the political inferences,” made in the articles published by ENERTIA that “have serious implication on Bhutan’s domestic politics as well as relation with India.”

“Such political overtures by an NGO based in India are a matter of grave concern to the royal government,” the letter states.

The letter to the Indian Ambassador also states that the article published undermines mutual trust, understanding and close cooperation that has steered the economic ties with India in hydropower sector.

“…the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to request the Government of India to kindly take all necessary actions against the publishers and authors of the ENERTIA magazine and the ENERTIA foundation to the fullest extent of Indian laws, rules and regulations and to ensure that such bilaterally harmful incidents do not reoccur in future,” the letter reads.

Meanwhile, every CoS meeting was minuted, and all minutes state that the decisions of the CoS be informed to the Prime Minister. As per procedure, the Cabinet Secretary as the chair of CoS was required to inform the Prime Minister about the discussions and decisions.

Also, secretaries concerned were required to report to their respective ministers on issues discussed pertaining to their ministries.

In this case, the economic affairs secretary was required to report to the economic affairs minister on the discussion and decisions. It was not mandatory for other secretaries to do so, if the issue does not pertain to their ministries.

By Tshering Dorji


Early border meeting to discuss robberies and abductions

Security: Following the recent spate of robberies and abductions, the southern border districts have asked districts in North Bengal and Assam for an early border district coordination meeting to discuss the issues of recent looting and kidnappings, home ministry officials said.

Director General of Bureau of Law and Order, Sonam Tobgay, said authorities on both sides of the border are constantly in touch to address the issues.

“The details of the incidents have been shared with Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district authorities where the recent robberies have occurred,” he said. “Our counterparts have always been helpful in resolving this kind of issues in the past and they’ve also given their assurances.”

In the latest incident on December 18 evening, the third this month, a family of four, including children, was robbed at Bagalpara, between Birpara and Madarihaat on their way to Samtse from Phuentsholing.

In another incident earlier this month, on December 9, two men were robbed of their belongings and cash along the highway, while travelling to Lhamoizingkha.  However, they didn’t report the incident out of fear. The shopkeepers there are now transporting their goods in buses instead of their vehicles.

Two days later, a former policeman was beaten up and robbed of Nu 3,000 while he was travelling to Samtse from Gomtu.

Most incidents, victims said, occurred on the highway within a stretch of about 2-3km between Nimti and Alipurduar.  Almost all have mentioned the Alipur flyover bridge.

As of yesterday, Kuensel had reported 10 robbery cases including attempts. However, there were also some that were not reported to authorities. There were also 11 abduction cases to date, of which three are yet to return home.

The bureau of law and order is also preparing a public advisory that it would distribute soon for those travelling along the border roads, including control room numbers that the Indian authorities gave them.

“The travellers can call these numbers if they are in problem,” Sonam Tobgay said.

He said while authorities are urging their counterparts in India to expedite investigations, the authorities have also alerted the bureau on certain things such as advising citizens to travel in groups or to avoid travelling when there are strikes in these districts.

A three-tier institutionalised mechanism exists to ensure peace and security at the border areas.  The first one, at home secretary level, is held annually, alternately in New Delhi or Thimphu.

Border districts coordination meeting between districts of North Bengal and Assam, and bordering districts led by the director general of Bureau of law and order to address and maintain law and order along the border areas is the second.

To help each other on issues of security and border management, the quarterly districts coordination meeting is the third and held between district authorities including Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar.

North Bengal was safe to travel until recently, home ministry officials said.

The highway is the most frequently travelled route for Bhutanese travelling to Darjeeling or Kalimpong or Siliguri, from Phuentsholing and Samtse.

By Tshering Palden

Additional reporting by Rajesh Rai from Phuentsholing 

Blacktopping of first GC road in Trashigang begins

DSC03166County Road: Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay inaugurates the ceremony to blacktop Riju-Bartsham road, the first gewog centre road in Trashigang to be blacktopped

The 20.5 km road is expected to benefit people of three gewogs

Road: Driving to Bartsham from Riju in Trashigang dzongkhag, along the well-maintained gewog road, is not as bad as other gewog roads. And it will get better with the road getting blacktopped soon.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay yesterday inaugurated the ceremony of blacktopping the 20.5- kilometer (km) GC road making it the first GC road in Trashigang to be blacktopped. The government of India (GoI) through the small development project (SDP) grant is funding the work. A budget of Nu 35.9M has been committed for the work.

Speaking to people who had gathered for the inauguration, Lyonchhoen said it was a historic and auspicious day since the road, which was built in 1974 is being blacktopped as the country celebrates the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King.

Lyonchhoen asked the people and the local government to take ownership of the road while it is being constructed by cooperating with the Department of Road officials, monitoring the work progress and reporting corruption, if any, to the government.

Blacktopping began from the gewog centre in Bartsham towards Riju yesterday

“The road, which was built 40 years ago, should last for another 40 years after the blacktopping,” Lyonchhoen said. “Government would provide budget, the contractor must built quality road and the DoR official must monitor the quality of road as per the specification of the tender documents.”

The Riju-Bartsham GC road is the first blacktopping project in Trashigang and the first to be inaugurated in the east.

Department of Road’s executive engineer, Sherub Phuntso, said GoI has released 30 percent of the budget so far. The remaining budget would be released as the work progress.  “GoI might have decided to fund this road first by looking at the number of beneficiaries. People of three gewogs would be benefitted,” he said. “The other reason could be because the road is stable and was constructed a long time ago.”

Blacktopping will begin from the gewog centre in Bartsham towards Riju, where the GC road begins, diverting from the Trashigang-Rangjung road for logistics reasons.

Meanwhile, when the work is completed, travel time is expected to reduce by about 30 percent. Currently, it takes more than an hour to drive to the gewog centre where the ceremony was held. About 30 vehicles ply the road every day.

Since it is an uphill ride from Riju to the gewog centre, he added that blacktopping would be executed from the latter even though the ground breaking was carried out at Riju. It would also become easier to carry out the logistics.

Bartsham gup, Sonam Dorji, said it would directly benefit about 470 households in the gewog. “Since the road also connects Bidung and Ramjar, people of these two gewogs would also benefit,” he said.

Construction of the first seven kilometers of the GC road was taken up by project Dantak in the early 1970s. In the early nineties, DoR took over the road and resumed the construction until the gewog centre.

The blacktopping is expected to complete by January 30, 2016. Soon, DoR would begin blacktopping the Chazam-Yangnyer, Kharungla-Kangpara and Khentongmani-Udzorong GC roads funded through the GoI project tied assistance programme.

“Tenders for some packages under PTA have been floated and are under evaluation,” Sherub Phuntsho said. “Evaluations would be completed in a month’s time.”

In the 11th Plan, 1,700 km of blacktopping will be carried out on 105 gewog centre roads.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

Need to strengthen border security

Abduction and robbery along the southern borders of the country is becoming a major national concern.

A 14-year-old student was abducted from Gelephu on the night of December 16. The number of people kidnapped from the Bhutanese soil has reached 14 with this incident. Counting from 2012, that is.

This is a big number. Of the total kidnapped, three have yet to come home to their aggrieved and worried family.

This year, as of December 10, Kuensel has reported nine cases of robbery in the south of the country. We believe it is safe to say that there may have been more such cases that went unreported.

Bhutanese people living near the borders do not feel secure. They are vulnerable to threats they do not know where they are coming from. We need to find the perpetrators of the crime and why they are doing it?

We are doing what is within our capacity to react to such threats to our people. That’s the stand of the government. We have deployed thousands of security personnel at the borders to make sure that our people are safe. Our outposts have been strengthened. Still we continue to lose our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews…to abductors from across the borders.

We are grateful for all the support that we have received so far from the Indian armed border guards Sashastra Seema Bal. We conduct regular meetings with our neighbour in the south, India, to ensure that there is peace and security at the border areas. Safety, security, coordination and cooperation, among others, are always at the heart of the bilateral discussions so that people on both sides of the borders are safe.

But we continue to lose our people to nameless abductors almost every month. Could we be failing in border management? What we know is that we are waking up to a new security challenge facing our people, especially in the south.

If discussions and meetings are not stopping faceless abductors from crossing the borders and taking away our people as and when they wish, it is revealing about the need for us to look for other workable solutions.

What is clear is that border management has to be strengthened. There is a problem. We cannot leave our people to fend for themselves.

From driving to dairy to National Order of Merit

BHIM-KARKI-AT-HIS-COWSHED-copyMan at work: Bhim Bahadur Kari in his dairy farm (pic courtesy Tshewang Dhendup, SJI)

A success story of a dairy farmer

Profile: About two decades ago, Bhim Bahadur Karki was a civil servant. He was driving officials around in Thimphu. His salary of Nu 757 (in 1992) was barely enough to make ends meet.

He decided to quit his driving job and leave Thimphu- a decision he is still proud of. With his resignation benefits, he built  a cow shed, big enough to house about half a dozen cows. He then borrowed Nu 70,000 from Bhutan Development Finance Corporation (BDFC) and bought seven pregnant cows from Guwahati, Assam.

Today Bhim Bahadur in not only milking the benefits of his decision, but is a medalist for what he is doing to his community in Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar. Bhim earns an average of Nu1,800 a day today and between Nu 50,000 to Nu 60,000 a month becoming one of the most successful dairy farmers.

On December 17,  Bhim Bahadur, 52, was one of the recipients of National Order of Merit (Silver) among six individual farmers who were awarded medals along with nine agriculture and livestock cooperatives and forest management groups by His Majesty the King during the 107th National Day celebrations in Kanglung.

The farmers and the cooperatives were recognised for their contribution to the national economy and towards the goal of food self-sufficiency through agriculture, and conservation of forests and natural resources.

Sharing his success story after the celebrations, Bhim Bahadur said he started with seven cows and selling 40 to 50 litres of milk everyday for Nu 6 a litre. It was a good beginning. Today, Bhim Bahadur runs the Dewathang milk marketing cooperatives, which has more than 100 members with a daily production of 750 litres.

Bhim Bahadur alone contributes about 50 litres of milk daily from his 15 cows. The cooperative buys milk from farmers in Orong and Dewathang areas paying Nu 35 per litre and sell it to Samdrupjongkhar, providing farmers a ready market.

“I always advice my colleagues and members of the cooperative to work hard if they want to be a successful farmers like me,” he said. Bhim Bahadur is now a proud father of four children and owner of two buildings: a three-storied and a two-storied building in Dewathang.  “Had I stayed in Thimphu driving around, I wouldn’t have educated my children,” he said. “They are all serving the government in the civil service now .”

Behind Bhim Bahadur’s success is his silver medalist wife Yangzom, 61. Yangzom retired after serving 30 years as a nurse and supported her husband. “I have all these because of the wholehearted support from my wife,” he said.

On the award, Bhim Bahadur said  His Majesty’s recognition will encourage people like him to work hard  towards a dairy self-sufficient Bhutan.

Recognising farming as one of the national goals to achieve food security and food self-sufficiency, His Majesty said farming was very important as more than 63 percent of the country’s population depend on farming for their livelihood.

His Majesty the King, who is visiting Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar this week to grant land kidu, granted land kidu in 11 dzongkhags. As of this year, about 123,000 acres of land were handed over to people in 133 gewogs.

Another silver medal recipient, Pema Tenzang from Raling community forest management group in Samdrup Jongkhar, said he was overwhelmed by the recognition. “This is an encouragement to work even harder,” he said. “We will prove it. His Majesty’s recognition will not go in vain.”

Pema Tenzang was recognised for the 211 acres of community forest reserve he initiated. The group with 62 members plant trees in slide-prone area.  “When farmers receive medals, it is an inspiration and motivation for all to work harder,” he said.

Meanwhile, back in Dewathang, Bhim Bahadur was busy feeding his 15 cows and milking them in his farm where he also grow fodders along with more than 100 mango trees. “I didn’t want to waste even a piece of my land,” he said over the phone last evening.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Kanglung

Additional reporting by Kinley Wangmo and Sangay Choezom, Sherubtse College

Unused govt. land will be taken back, says NLC

The NLC circular follows directives from the Supreme Court

Land Act: Following Supreme Court directives, the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCs) recently issued a circular to all dzongkhag and local government administrations to monitor the land, allotted to government institutions and Gerab Dratshang within the Thromde for specific purposes, and which has not been used for three consecutive years from the date of allotment.

The circular states that if the land has not been used for three consecutive years, it shall be deemed that the landowner has the intention to abandon the land.

Dzongkhag and local government administrations are directed to monitor such cases as per section 219 to 222 of the Land Act 2007 and report to the secretariat.

Section 221 of the Land Act states that upon receipt of such report, the secretariat shall issue a written notice to the landowner stating the requirement to use the land.

If after 180 days (six months) of serving the notice, the landowner continue to leave the land vacant, registration of such land shall be annulled from the thram and the thram holder shall be informed accordingly. The land shall be taken over as Government land or Government Reserved Forests land, according to section 222.

Commission officials said NLC is trying to implement various provision of the Land Act 2007, which could not be done earlier with lack of information.

“We now have comprehensive information on the data base about land across the country, so we’re able to take decisions,” an official said.

While there are increasing numbers of government institutions asking for land, officials said there are institutions, which have not utilised land allotted to them. “We’re trying to meet the needs of land for public interest and make best use of it.”

However, NLC doesn’t have the figures of unutilised allocated land.

Commission officials said if a government institution has an acre of land and have utilised just half of it and has no immediate plans to use the remaining land, it would also be taken back.

Once taken over as Government land or Government Reserved Forests land, it would depend on the soundness of justification from the institution to get back.

Although the section applies to urban land, the same will be followed in rural land allocated to institutions, according to commission official.

The commission will be more stringent in applying various provisions of the Land Act such as illegal encroachment of state land, officials said.

This was one of the findings of the Royal Audit Authority in its recent performance audit that NLC needed to stringently apply various provision of the Land Act.

Currently the local government is carrying out ground verification of illegal encroachment. The findings, of how much of state land was encroached across the country, will be submitted to NLC by the end of this month.

After the commission develops strategies, local governments would be directed to implement or vacant the encroached land. “Our biggest task in the 11th Plan is to remove illegal encroachment,” a NLC official said.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

Hot stone bath biz in Bangay Bazaar

bath-1On the Amochhu bank: Wooden tubs for hot stone bath

Besides being a lucrative enterprise, it’s also a public service

Entrepreneurship: The mandarin export season has made Bangay Bazaar in Phuentsholing a happening place.

And it is not only the export business that flourishes here.  Amid the many shops and restaurants opened around the vicinity where orange depots are located, there is a small board that reads “hot stone bath.”

Its owner, Namgyel, has set up a stone bath hub a few metres ahead of the board.

The business has lured both young and old, including ailing residents, who come for healing purposes.  Most customers say it was befitting to have a stone bath at Bangay Bazaar.

Orange dealer Tez Bdr, who soaked twice recently, shared that the bath was comforting.

“I had a backache, which was gone the next morning,” the supplier said, adding that it was the fastest relief he experienced in years. “I’m planning to visit again.”

The owner of Pelden exports, Chimi Dorji, is a regular customer at Namgyel’s stone bath.  Every evening, he calls to fix an arrangement for the hot bath.

“Old people like us really benefit from this stone bath,” he said.

Most customers believe the Amochu water is rich in mineral content because a number of small streams that flow down bring minerals and deposit it in the Amochu.

According to the owner of the stone bath hub, Namgyel, he has seen some clients, who were complaining of gastritis and piles, feeling better with continuous hot stone bathing.

An average of around 10 to 12 customers visit the bath centre everyday.  The maximum Namgyel has reported is about 30 to 35 customers a day.

“Since the place is busy throughout the night because of the orange export season, we try to entertain them as much as we can,” the owner said.

Namgyel said it takes at least an hour to ready the hot water.  The stones have to be heated until they turn red, so that the water remains clean when the stones are placed inside.

There are three wooden tubs, each with a capacity of four, three, and two people.  Clients pay Nu 200 for an hour.

However, the owner said, he is not very stringent on the timing.

Namgyel said, he doesn’t charge the old and the poor, who usually come for healing purposes.

Along with the Bhutanese and Indian customers, orange importers from Bangladesh, have also started to come for a hot stone bath.

Namgyel was the first to start the hot stone bath business last year, where he earned more than Nu 0.3M.

One more centre has now opened but it’s yet to provide service to its first customer.

By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing

Picture story

The Director-General of Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency (TICA), Suchada Thaibunthao, presented a cheque of USD 44,004.22 to ambassador Kesang Wangdi in Bangkok on December 11.
It was presented on behalf of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Srindhorn for the Collaborative Project for six schools under the ongoing children and youth development in Bhutan.
The project started in 2012 with three schools of Wanakha LSS, Genekha LSS and Yurung MSS in Paro, Thimphu and Pemagatshel respectively. Three more schools from Wangduephodrang, Dagana, and Sarpang were identified for the project.


Bumthang gets SDP funds

Budget: The Bumthang dzongkhag administration has started groundwork preparation to begin works for four projects following the release of small development project (SDP) funds worth Nu 26.63M.

The approved activities include bridge construction in Toktohphay between Kurje and Thangbi in Chokhor and building of staff quarter for basic health unit (BHU) in Ura.

The other two projects include a river protection wall along the Tang river and a farm road construction in Zhicha under Chumey gewog.

“A detailed survey and design works of these projects are being conducted for tendering the works,” Planning officer, Chedup Dorji said.

He said tender award for construction of BHU staff quarter in Ura and Toktohphay bridge is expected to complete by December.

“The construction of Zhicha farm road and river protection wall in Tang will be done as and when the survey and designs are completed,” Chedup Dorji said.

Chumey gup, Tandi Phurba said the release of SDP funds would help expedite the execution of stalled developmental works. Earlier, local leaders were concerned of achieving the 11th Plan activities after works worth Nu 57.2M were dropped during the budget discussion.

The farm road would mean that villagers in Zhicha would not have to walk across the Chumey river. “Once, the road is built, people from Zhicha will no longer need to carry potatoes to Domkhar on their backs,” Tandin Phurba said.

For actual works to begin, the dzongkhag would however have to wait until the Government of India releases the first 30 percent of the funds. “Only upon further directives from the Gross National Happiness Commission, the dzongkhag would announce the tender results to begin the works,” the planning officer said.

This year Bumthang proposed seven projects of which four were approved.

“The remaining activities, which were dropped in current fiscal year including the blacktopping of the district court road, staff quarter and garage construction in Wangdi Choling hospital will be proposed in the next fiscal year,” Chedup Dorji said.

Starting this year, all SDP activities will be proposed every fiscal year.

By Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang