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67 days without a new Covid-19 community case; Phuentsholing is hopeful

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:08

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

It may take a long time for Phuentsholing to return to pre-pandemic times, but without a single community case for the last 67 days since August 12, the journey has already begun.

There are more people in the town, especially during the weekends.

Although students from Classes IX to XII have been shifted to Punakha, all schools have opened and more than 2,500 students studying in Pre-Primary to Class VIII levels are attending regular classes. 

All games and sports, including those indoors, have resumed. Swimming pools, which had been closed since the first lockdown, have opened.

Businessmen also say they have started to recover, but they are still reeling from the impact of the last lockdown.

A micro-shop owner, Ratna Subba, said she was able to pay her overdue rent only a few days ago.

“She said that it is difficult to even think about the last lockdown in Phuentsholing. “Only the affected areas should be cordoned off and marked,” she opined.

Although it is not as bad as the time right after the relaxation in August this year, a restaurant owner, Sarita Gurung said there still aren’t many people in the town.

“Recently, there were more people in the town because of the dusshera festive mood,” she said.   

“Otherwise, the number keeps fluctuating. Sundays are good.”

As per official records, more than 8,000 people have left Phuentsholing since the lockdown started in mid-April through today. However, that figure includes many who were stuck in Phuentsholing during the lockdown, including those who left temporarily, for official purposes and other reasons, and have since returned to Phuentsholing.

A shopkeeper, Namgay, said most people who have left Phuentsholing may not return. “Those who left and returned are people who had businesses here or those who are permanent residents,” he said.

Namgay stays in the core town area, which was most affected during the lockdown. “When there were community cases near our building, we were not even allowed to come out on the balcony…However, the cases kept on emerging despite people being inside their homes.”

He opined that the last lockdown in Phuentsholing was like “torture.” 

A businessman said that Phuentsholing’s economy will take many years to recover. “If there are people in the town today, they are from Samtse. Phuentsholing won’t boom again until the seven days’ quarantine is lifted.”

He said that while no one wants to spread the virus, the seven days’ quarantine and the Sorchen driver-switching point should be lifted when there are no community cases. 

“People should be able to move after doing RT-PCR. It’s much affordable even for the government. The same protocol could be resumed if there is an outbreak.”

The businessman was of the opinion that if the border areas are properly monitored, there wouldn’t be any need for the seven days’ quarantine.

Testing and inspection

Every day, hundreds of people from select areas are tested for Covid-19.

On October 18, a total of 293 samples were collected from flu clinics, quarantine facilities, and enhanced surveillance areas (ESA). No community cases were reported.  

Four samples were received from Samtse, 15 from Sipsu, 42 from Lhamoizingkha. Officials said all tested negative.

Authorities are also conducting rigorous checking in the town. Police personnel are listing the names of those who are not complying with the protocols.

As per the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF), Phuentsholing residents “comply well on the use of facemasks.” However, there are still a few residents who don’t use facemasks properly.

On October 18, RBP recorded four individuals for improper use of facemasks in the town. On October 14, RBP recorded 19 people for improper use of facemasks in the town, and the majority were at the lower market. 

The Regional Inspection Team (RIT) also carried out a surprise inspection of driver switching and trans-shipment areas at Sorchen. Five operators of the heavy vehicles were found not to have been tested for Covid-19 within 14 days.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Categories: Bhutan

Elephants rampaging paddy fields in Pelrithang every night

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:07

Nima | Gelephu

Farmers in Pelrithang Khatoed in Gelephu have to spend sleepless nights guarding their paddy fields from elephants.

Farmers move in a group, shouting and banging old galvanised steel sheets to chase the elephants away.

Elephants are also posing a threat to the lives of residents because the paddy fields are located close to their homes.

Residents said that the elephants intrude in their homes, which are mostly temporary structures, in search of salt and food.

Pelrithang Khatoed tshogpa, Sangay Dorji, said farmers have reported more damage to paddy fields this year because they weren’t able to replace their electric fence wires. “We are only a month away from harvesting paddy crops and it’s disappointing to lose our crop to the elephants.”

He said villagers have requested that the gewog help them replace the electric fence wires. “But there were no wires in the gewog. Most of the electric fences are currently non-operational.”

The tshogpa said farmers will have to keep guarding their fields until they complete the harvest in November and December. “We have not been compensated so far, even after losing acres of paddy field to wildlife. This is discouraging the farmers. We work hard and in the end, we lose it to wild animals.”

He said more than six households reported damages last week. “One household in Pelrithang Khatoed grows at least five acres of rice. However, more than 30 percent of the crop has been lost to the wild animals.”

A resident, Indra Lal Bhandari, said that the attack from the elephants has only just begun.

“We could lose more until we harvest the crop. Sometimes, the elephants won’t move when we try to chase them away. It’s disappointing to face the same problem every year,” he said.

Another farmer from Pelrithang said that it would be better to discontinue working on the farm. “We are able to harvest only a little of what we grow. Most of the rice is lost to elephants and other wildlife.”

He said that the voltage used for the electric fencing does not work against the wild animals. “Increasing the voltage could keep them away. More than 50 decimals of paddy fields were destroyed last week.”

Gelephu gup Ugyen Wangchuk said farmers depend on an alarm installed with the support from the wildlife fund. “There are minor damages every year. The place falls within the town area, and the affected households can’t get any compensation.”

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Categories: Bhutan

DHI BizAP digital skill-up freelancing for de-suups

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:07

Thukten Zangpo

The Druk Holding and Investments Limited’s (DHI) second round of the Business Acceleration Programme (BizAP) on digital skill-up freelancing, exclusively for the de-suups, kicked off on October 18 in Thimphu.

As per the command of His Majesty the King, de-suung skills programme was launched as a token of appreciation for de-suups for serving the nation during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is intended to provide de-suups with opportunities to enhance their capabilities and competencies so that they can find gainful opportunities and participate meaningfully in the process of nation building,” DHI’s press release states.

It added that the programme is an iteration of the successful BizAP training and focuses on equipping the participants with skills in digital fluency in areas such as website development, mobile app development, digital marketing, complemented by skills in freelancing and the gig economy.

The gig economy uses digital platforms to connect freelancers with customers to provide short-term services or asset sharing.

During the event, chief executive officer of DHI, Dasho Karma Y Raydi, said that the programme will be a leap from doing traditional conventional business to digital business towards the digital gig economy.

The de-suung’s steering committee member, Nim Dorji, said the programme will match and respond to emerging needs in the country and the region.

He added that the objective is to make the de-suups skilled in order to compete locally and globally in diverse programmes.

It was found that 1.1 billion (B) out of a 3.5B global workforce are involved in freelancing. The South Asia region is already a hotspot for the burgeoning global freelancing market.

“The internet-connected world provides multiple opportunities through various established platforms to bring together the supply of local skills and the global demand for services,” the press release states.

Of the twenty-five who graduated in April this year, 12 are undergoing an after-care programme in a start-up centre, four got full-time jobs, and four are working part-time for Singapore-based digital marketing and accounting firms.

The three-month long after-care programme provides support to participants to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed that involves apprenticeships, internships, and similar support activities.

The after-care programme participants are also provided internet access, payment access, and other resources.

One of the participants in the after-care programme, Jigme Tenzin, said that the team has designed the website for the United Nation Development Programme and housing.

He plans to apply for a freelance job with the Cloud Accounting and Refruit companies in Singapore, and wants to open a company that will provide website services, e-commerce app development, and do digital marketing.

DHI has partnered with Forward School, a Malaysia-based tech and future-skills school, to provide a bespoke programme customised for the unique needs of Bhutanese.

The previous DHI BizAP programmes focused on accelerating start-ups and advanced stage business proposals. Sixty-one entrepreneurs were trained in three groups, of which 44 were awarded funds amounting to Nu 21.6 million.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Categories: Bhutan

Observing and documenting climate change 

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:05

Tashi Phuntsho

A team of officials from the tourism, environment, and forest sectors are at Jumolhari, observing and documenting the impact of climate change on communities and their resilience to it.

Calling it an awareness programme on Bhutan’s climate journey, officials will document the changes in vegetation, culture, climate, and overall impact on tourism.

A research ecologist with the Bhutan Ecological Society (BES), Joshua Goldberg (PhD), said the first step towards solving any real problem is to first recognize what the problem is. “This trip to the highlands will make the participants understand the real problems here and provide us with an opportunity to interact with communities in areas already undergoing climate change, and where the impacts of future change are predicted to be severe.”

He said that by gathering observations into a compelling narrative of how climate change is acting in this sensitive area, the study will have the opportunity to catalyse mitigation efforts among national and international stakeholders.

He said that it’s only when the issue has been identified, that meaningful mitigation or resolution efforts can take place.

The research ecologist also said that how the global process of climate change will impact Bhutan, in particular, remains poorly understood. “Most of the global climate models make predictions at a scale that has little meaning for Bhutan’s complex topography and varied microclimates.”

He also explained that there is limited historical data and very little local research to support adapting the techniques used internationally to a local context. “We need to improve our understanding on how Bhutan’s climate has changed up to the present to inform projections of how the climate will change in the coming century.”

According to Joshua Goldberg, once there is a grasp of how climate changes, more targeted, effective climate interventions to support local communities and ecosystems can be developed. “This will require the development of a dynamic, cross-disciplinary research community to study climate change from multiple angles.”

He said that this is not to say that Bhutan should await further study to start climate change mitigation measures. “A variety of measures may realise immediate impacts for individual livelihoods, community well-being, and environmental health, while also building towards a more climate resilient future. We should encourage these kinds of interventions that realise multifaceted benefits.”

The Association of Bhutan Tour Operators (ABTO) board director, Tshewang Rinchen, said the association’s members have seen many changes in landscape, environment, and settlements all over the country, including along the trek routes.

He stated that the Jumolhari trek is one of the most popular treks in the country and there are changes that can be seen that may be attributed to climate change and tourism. “As we make observations of the effects on the communities, we have to marvel at the resilience of people, their natural way of overcoming these effects, and their willingness to help us make observations and find solutions.”

A ranger at Jigme Dorji National Park, Leki, said that it’s always good to have people from different organisations come together for a common goal.

He said through the awareness programme, youth can be sensitised to the impact of climate change and how slight changes in weather patterns or temperature can disrupt the intact ecosystem, which can have devastating implications on the livelihoods of the people.

He said that through basic data collection, they can document some impacts of climate change and at the same time suggest some mitigation measures to the decision makers.

Ranger Leki shared some of his experiences on the impacts of climate change and global warming that are happening in the alpine region, and shifting of vegetation along the altitudinal gradient. “There is more vegetation now on the mountain slopes due to increase in temperature, which is one of the prominent impacts of climate change. It reduces the area of grassland cover that is crucial to yak herders for their livelihood.”

He also noted that low-elevation bird species like the Indian roller and black-capped kingfisher can now be seen in Soe and Lingzhi. “Some migratory birds migrate from lower to higher areas earlier each spring and delay their migration by a week or so when they migrate from their summer habitat to their winter habitat. Some studies suggest that this change in migration pattern could be due to a rise in temperatures.”

An official from the Tourism Council of Bhutan said they are undertaking an assessment or observation on climate change to contribute to Bhutan’s ambition to act decisively on climate change.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Categories: Bhutan

After the rain comes the thoughts

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:00

It is the season, as farmers say, to reap gold by the handful. Rain around this time of the year is what farmers dread. It could rob farmers of their golden harvest. Unfortunately,  their worst fear has come true.

Even as we write this, it is raining throughout the country and there is no sign of stopping. The weather forecast says rain for the next two to three days. In the rice growing regions – from Paro to Punakha to Trashigang – farmers are trying to save whatever they can of their annual paddy harvest. 

The paddy fields, where usually farmers are seen threshing paddy at this time of the year, are flooded. Draining out excess water alone is not enough if the paddy is harvested and laid to dry. Not much will be recovered and the quality of rice would be affected.

There is not much farmers can do when it comes to the vagaries of nature. However,  there are now means to plan our work. Information on weather is available and is updated on a daily basis. With improved technology and expertise, our weather forecasts are fairly accurate. On October 17, the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NHCM) forecast rain for three days, until today. If we had checked the weather and planned accordingly, the damage could be have been minimal.

Weather forecast for all 20 dzongkhags is broadcast every evening on national television and other mediums like newspapers and websites. Not many of us follow or plan our work based on the forecast. It has not been in our culture. However, that does not mean that we should be as ignorant as ever. 

It is here education or technology comes handy. If the sons and daughters of farmers alerted their parents of the rain forecast, it could have saved them a year’s harvest. We  have, unfortunately,  forgotten to take education beyond classrooms or not reaped the benefits of technology. For example, the weather Apps on our mobile phones are updated hourly and it is fairly accurate.  The irony is that we all carry the latest smartphones, but cannot use them smartly.

As farmers and officials assess the damage, it will not be the last. Climate change and unpredictable weather patterns are realities that we must live with. It may be untimely rain this autumn. It could be delayed monsoon next year or excessive rain in a short period of time. What we also know is that Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We are already feeling it with extreme weather and changing rainfall patterns.

There are accurate, reliable and timely hydro-meteorological information to help not only farmers, but provide a basis to our planning and decision making. How much is it used in our planning and policy making? 

At a time when climate change and its impact is dominating global discourse, our own agencies like the NHCM, mandated to study, understand, generate information and provide services on hydrology, climate and the cryosphere needs to be more recognised to play a bigger and vital role. What if they cautioned farmers of the incessant rain these few days? 




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Categories: Bhutan

Bjagay Menchhu’s growing popularity

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 08:00

Phub Dem | Paro

Known for its healing properties, Bjagay Menchhu in Paro is a hotspot for those who seek a natural cure from soaking in medicinal water.

Legend has it that a vulture (bjagay) with a broken wing was seen dipping its injured wing in the spring water from time to time. After a week, it is said that the wing had completely healed and the bird flew away.

People from across the country with complications such as fractured bones and arthritis, come to the menchhu every day.

The menchhu is located at Jiwphu, about 10 kilometres towards Chelela from Paro. On weekends and holidays, the menchhu is packed with visitors.

People from across the country with complications such as fractured bones and arthritis, come to the menchhu everyday




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In the past, people made makeshift camps at the site, heated stones using wood fires, and used the stones to heat the medicinal water in wooden tubs. People with bone and joint problems soak in the tubs for an extended period, lasting from a week to several months. 

The community began tapping the benefits of the menchhu only in 2017. The menchhu received a significant facelift under a project initiated with support from UNDP’s Global Environmental Facility – Small Grants Programme (Gef-Sgp) that same year. The project installed solar-powered water heating systems and water heating stoves, which helped reduce the use of firewood.

The project included the establishment of guest rooms, proper bath facilities, and toilets, as well as electricity. The menchhu pond was also fenced to protect the spring water and the wetlands. Other project activities included landscaping and waste management.

Nidup Tshering, a member of the CF who currently manages the menchhu, said that it costs Nu 1500 for a tub and a room per day (eight hours). Up to five members in a family can share the room and the bathhouse. 

He said that visitors can use the bathhouse from 8 am to 5pm during summer. “After 5pm, the service is open to day visitors. For day visitors, who don’t stay overnight, the use of one bathhouse for three hours is Nu 1000.”

There are eight tub compartments and rooms.  

The menchhu gets more than 15 visitors in a day, which earns about Nu 450,000 a month.

Nidup Tshering said that there were many incidents where people who came barely able to stand can walk on their own after soaking in the menchhu for some days. The tubs remain mostly booked. 

He said that the place is ideal for any season and people visit the site throughout the year. “Even doctors and hospitals refer their patients to the menchhu for a soaking treatment.”

Most of the users are victims of accidents with extreme cases of broken bones and injuries. 

Chimi, one of the regular visitors at the menchhu, said that she has tried every medication and treatment to cure her broken legs. She could walk only after soaking in the menchhu.

Chundu, a customer from Haa, was suffering from joint pain for a long time. He said that medication and treatments could not cure the pain. “The pain went away after soaking in the menchhu for a week. The water has amazing healing power.”

 

Benefit to the  community

The Bjagay Menchhu community forest has 208 members from Jew and Wochu, under Lungnyi gewog. 

The facility is outsourced to a local who has hired a few staff members to provide services like heating the stones, filling and cleaning the tubs in the evening, maintaining the toilet facilities, managing the waste, and running a canteen.

Nu 540,000 goes to the CF annually.

Nidup Tshering said this money will be used to renovate the menchhu and plant trees in the area. 

The menchhu has also created employment opportunities for locals. Today, seven youth from the locality are engaged in managing the menchhu.

“During winter and summer breaks, students from nearby areas help manage the menchhu as a part-time job,” Nidup Tshering said.

Sustainable management of the menchhu, he said, is a priority.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Categories: Bhutan

Spinal Muscular Atrophy – A Rare Disease

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 07:58

The image of a girl being carried up a flight of stairs by her mother is how thousands of Bhutanese became aware of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) last week. The powerful image was shared more than a thousand times and seen by at least one hundred sixty thousand people on Facebook. This image also led to the start of an online petition that is the most signed in the history of online Bhutanese petitions. The girl is 13-year-old Palden Dakini Dorji, the only known Bhutanese with SMA Type 2. The country has seen only two SMA cases till date and Palden’s is the first case. The second case is SMA Type 3 that is less severe.

It is estimated that 1 in 40 people carry the faulty SMA gene, which means there could be more than 17,000 Bhutanese carriers at the moment. There is a 1 in 4 chance that a child will be born with spinal muscular atrophy if both parents carry the gene.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic neuromuscular disease that causes muscles to waste away. It destroys motor neurons in the spinal cord so muscles do not receive nerve signals to move and they become weak and shrink. There are four types of SMA: Type 1 affects babies and is so severe that they do not make it past their second birthday, Type 2 sets in when a child is between 6-18 months, Type 3 appears after a child’s first 18 months, and in some in early adulthood, and Type 4 appears in adults in their thirties.

Palden has had SMA Type 2 for the last 13 years of her life. She weighs only 13.5 kilos. She was diagnosed with SMA at 9 months in Kolkata, India. As Bhutan lacks the expertise as well as diagnostic facilities, Palden’s parents sought diagnosis in Kolkata after repeated bouts of pneumonia, and weakness in her legs. Floppy legs are the first sign of SMA in babies. They are also physically weak, have difficulty feeding, and are prone to respiratory distress. Experts say it is possible that there have been SMA caused baby deaths in Bhutan, but they may have been misdiagnosed as respiratory failure.

There are three types of treatments for SMA, but none are available in Bhutan. Treatment is also extremely expensive for SMA. And of the three options available to Palden, the safest and most practical is Risdiplam/Evrysdi produced by the Swiss healthcare company, Roche. Risdiplam can be administered orally. A bottle of Evrysdi costs Nu. 600,000 and an annual treatment is anywhere between Nu. 5 – 7M. The dose will increase with her weight, as will the cost.

Ugyen, Palden’s mother, has been running from pillar to post for the last 12 years, trying to help her daughter. She resigned in 2020 after 17 years in the civil service as it became difficult for her to juggle work and care for Palden. A normal flu makes Palden sick for months making her miss school. Ugyen homeschools Palden when she cannot attend school. “She is very bright and catches up well when she goes back to school,” shares Ugyen.

Palden goes to Yoezerling Primary School in Paro. Ugyen says she is incredibly grateful to the school for being supportive of her daughter’s needs. The school has sponsored her tuition for the last 8 years – supporting her since Montessori days. Palden is even allowed to leave the classroom and head to the Principal’s room whenever she needs to rest. Ugyen shares that when she’s not around, the Principal, Dendy, also the proprietor of the school, personally helps Palden to the restroom, and feeds her.

Covid-19 has made life difficult generally, but for Palden, it has been doubly challenging. Before the pandemic, Palden and her parents would travel to Kolkata three to four times a year for review. Since the pandemic, Palden has not had a single review. Palden is not undergoing any SMA treatment, but she is on daily medication. Palden has been taking a mix of medicines and multivitamins to help her breathe and improve bone health (children with SMA suffer from low bone density). All medical expenses are borne by the family. It appears that Palden did not qualify for a referral.

The online petition for Palden is appealing for compassionate use treatment offered by the healthcare company, Roche. The petition to Roche currently has more than 11,200 signatures. Ugyen says this treatment is the only way to help Palden survive long-term since it is impossibly expensive otherwise. The family is also considering crowdfunding as many well-wishers have expressed the desire to donate towards interim treatment while waiting for Roche to respond.

Ugyen says she is hopeful that something good will happen for Palden now. “It’s been a very lonely journey for the last 12 years,” says Ugyen. “I’ve been looking for help everywhere including in online forums.” It is through an online group that Ugyen found her “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of Lucy Frost. Lucy is from the United Kingdom. She has a 10-year-old son, George Frost, who also has SMA Type 2, but he has received treatment and is living a healthier life than Palden. Ugyen says the photos she saw of George amazed her and made her reach out to Lucy first.

Lucy runs a UK-based charity called TreatSMA, and has helped Ugyen launch and produce content for the SMA Bhutan social media accounts. She also made Ugyen aware of Roche’s compassionate use treatment and continues to actively seek help for Palden. “I cannot bear the thought that my child can receive the treatment just because of his location. It is unfair. I know Palden’s condition can be stabilised and even improve. This is why I want to help her,” expresses Lucy.

George is among the 200-300 children and young adults from across the globe that participated in Roche’s Risdiplam trial. He says when it became difficult for him, he would think about other children like him that would benefit from the trial. He adds, “I did not participate in the trial for not all children to receive the medicine because of where they live.”

Despite Bhutan not having any expertise or facilities to treat SMA, Ugyen did reach out to the Health Ministry. Health Minister, Dechen Wangmo, has been personally involved as well. She shares that the Ministry has tried to help Palden avail of the compassionate use program since 2020, but were unsuccessful as Bhutan was ineligible. She adds that they sought to support the two SMA cases through the Ministry’s Essential Drug Program (EDP). However, it was too expensive and had to be excluded as it would have affected the budget for routine essential medicines. Lyonpo said: “Since the petition to Roche is the only option left for the family, we are really hopeful that they have some luck with it and we support them fully.”

Find more information on spinal muscular atrophy on SMA Bhutan’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, and on www.treatsma.uk.

Contributed by

Namgay Zam




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Categories: Bhutan

Incessant rain damages paddy crops across the country

Kuensel Online - Wed, 20/10/2021 - 07:54

Phurpa Lhamo, Phub Dem and Choki Wangmo

Heavy rain since October 17 has damaged harvested paddies and ripe standing paddy crops in many parts of the country.

The incessant rain ruined paddies in the western, eastern and central dzongkhags as farmers started harvesting their paddies. In the south, farmers have not yet harvested the crop, but the rain has damaged it.

Farmers in Punakha and Wangdue, who expected a bountiful harvest, are distressed. Their paddy crops are floating in rainwater in the fields. They had left it out to dry before threshing.

Wangdue




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In Thangoo, Wangdue, farmer Karma harvested more than two acres of paddy and had left it to dry. “I harvested everything just before the rain started.”

Karma was in his paddy fields yesterday morning to attempt to drain the water filling the fields. “It was no use. There was so much water in the fields.”

Farmers said that once paddies are soaked in the rain, the rice inside will be damaged and will rot easily.

“The rice will also break and cannot be sold,” Karma said. “It is worrying. Our whole year’s yield has been damaged.”

Wangdue’s assistant agriculture officer, Domzang, said local leaders and agriculture officials will assess and compile the damages.

He said that as the impact is nationwide, a way forward will be discussed accordingly.

In Bjena gewog, the rain also damaged most of the ripe paddy crop.

Bjena gup Khandu said that the rain has damaged a maximum of one acre and a minimum of two or three decimals of paddy fields for each household.

He said that in Ngawang village, desuups and local government officials visited the fields to help drain water from the fields.

 

Punakha

In Punakha, paddy crops were seen floating in the fields. Worried farmers shared several videos and pictures of the damage on various social media platforms.

Punakha

In the Bumtakha-Tempakha and Jangwakha-Sewla chiwogs of Chubbu gewog, landslides caused by the heavy rainfall damaged paddy fields belonging to seven households.

According to Chubbu gup Sonam Tobgay, the damage was reported on October 17.

 

Paro

Heavy rains since Sunday have destroyed harvested paddy crops in several parts of Paro. Paddy fields are flooded with rainwater and harvested paddies are floating over the terraces.

Many farmers who had left the freshly harvested crops in their fields to dry before threshing have been seen rushing about in their gumboots to save their rice by diverting the rainwater.




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Lham, a farmer from Kichu, was anticipating a bountiful harvest this year. She had recently harvested the paddy crops and was planning to thresh them this week.

Her paddy terraces are flooded and much of the crop has been washed away by storm water as the irrigation canal is too small to drain the water. “I will collect what is left and feed it to the animals.”

She said that other rice fields are flooded, but she expected the crop would be suitable for consumption. “We have informed the gewog extension officers and expect some help.”

Another farmer, Gaki, and her daughter were seen draining water from her rice terrace. She also left her harvested rice in the field to dry.

She said that farmers could at least harvest and collect rice if it stopped raining. “But if the rain continues, the storm water would wash away the harvested and ready-to harvest paddies.”

She said the crops are submerged in rainwater. “They will start germinating if it continues to rain. The rains have ruined everything.”

According to local residents, a similar incident happened a decade ago but they never received any compensation.

Farmers said crop insurance could compensate for the loss.

The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tandin, said most farmers do not have crop insurance, although the dzongkhag conducted an awareness programme.

He said that gewog agriculture extension officers are compiling damage reports. “The rain could put a dent the expected rice production of the dzongkhag, as well as the quality.”

 

Tsirang

With the paddy harvest just weeks away, the incessant rain has crushed the hopes of farmers in Tsirang whose crops were damaged overnight.

Although local government leaders have yet to assess the damage, residents said that heavy rainfall and windstorms would impact the yield this year.

According to sources, almost all paddy-growing gewogs in Tsirang reported damage to their crops.

Sergithang in Tsirang

A resident of Tsirangtoed, San Man Subba, said that the damage to crops in Sergithang and Tsirangtoed, popular rice-growing gewogs in the dzongkhag, has been significant. “A whole year’s hard work and tending in the fields, wiped out overnight. We are disappointed.”

In Tsholingkhar gewog, most of the crops were limp, with the paddy rice head stock submerged in the water or mud.

Gup Passang Thingh Tamang said the chiwog representatives were told not to go out to assess the damage yet. “We will get the records of the damage soon.”

Kilthorthang gup Beda Moni Chamlagai said that damage to crops has been reported from all chiwogs in the gewog.

 

Dagana 

The situation is no different in Dagana.

According to Goshi mangmi, Santa Bahadur Subba, 11 acres of paddy  riceand millet were damaged in Balaygang, and about eight acres in lower Goshi.

Since the crop insurance scheme has yet to be implemented, farmers are devastated.

The dzongkhag agriculture officials said that they have not received any official reports of crop damage yet.

 

Zhemgang

In Buli, more than two acres of paddy plants that were harvested on October 15 and 16 were drenched in rainwater.

Nine households from Buli were harvesting their paddy crops when it started to rain on Friday evening.

While farmers in upper Kheng were preparing to harvest the crop, lower Kheng farmers were planning to harvest in two weeks’ time.

Gewog agriculture extension office has asked the farmers to temporarily stop preparing for the harvest until the weather forecast improves.

Additional reporting 

by Nima

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Categories: Bhutan

Team Orong Gewog wins Mewang Gyalsey Archery Tournament

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 14:56

Team Orong Gewog won the 4th edition of the Mewang Gyalsey Archery Tournament. In the finals played over the last two days, they defeated team Dhuk-Tipa by two straight sets.

The finals for the tournament, which started last year, had to be rescheduled due to the country’s COVID-19 situation.

More than 20 teams participated in the annual tournament.

Sonam Tenzin

 

 

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Categories: Bhutan

Incessant rain affects paddy growers

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 14:54

Paddy growers are facing a tough time as continuous rain lashed in most parts of the country’s western and central regions causing damage to the matured crop ready for harvest. The continuous rain in the last two days has dashed the hopes of farmers.

It is the paddy harvest season and this is exactly what people had feared for; unseasonal rain damaging their hard work.

Dodo, 66, from Lungni Gewog had been looking over his paddy with pride. But within a few days after harvesting paddy from his two-acre land, his joy was destroyed along with his harvest.

The immediate thing he has been doing is draining out excess water from the field. He fears that if the rain lasts for another two to three days, the impact could be widespread.

“I fear that the paddy production would drop by half this time. If the weather improves by today, we can segregate the ones that are not affected. But if it continues then we wont be able to harvest any this year,” said Dodo.

“There is nothing we can do now. All we can do is make drains to drain out excess water. We were able to rescue some of the harvests,” said Tshering Zam, a farmer.

And the situation is similar in all the ten gewogs in Paro.

“It is our one year stock and the main source of income and now it is ruined. I can’t imagine the damage the rain has brought in. It saddens me,” said Lham, another farmer.

“I am little relieved as I could harvest half. But I am worried if the downpour continues,” said Gaki, a farmer from Lango Gewog.

Meanwhile, officials are assessing the damage.

“We have been continuously sensitizing people to insure their crops. But in Paro, no one has insured so far. However, our gewog agriculture extension officers are visiting every household to assess the damage. We will submit the report to the dzongkhag and the ministry,” said Tandin, the dzongkhag agriculture officer.

Similarly, the untimely rainfall wrecked havoc to paddy growers in Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology forecasts light to moderate rainfall across the country tomorrow.

Namgay Wangchuk, Paro

Edited by Sonam Pem

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Categories: Bhutan

Weringla without Drungpa, administrative office and court

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 14:49

People of Weringla Drungkhag in Monggar are troubled by the absence of a Drungpa and a proper administrative office. The Drungkhag also does not have a court. 

The Drungkhag Administration currently functions from the staff residential quarters. It also houses the Drungkhag court. The old structures were demolished in December last year for the construction of a new office. Officials say it is inconvenient for them as they have to work in cramped spaces.

The Drungkhag also has been without a Drungpa for the past six months. The dzongkhag agriculture officer is the officiating Drungpa. The dzongkhag office is about a 100 kilometres away from Weringla drungkhag.

A resident of Weringla, Tshering says it is difficult for the people since they have to travel all the way to the dzongkhag office for any official work right now.

“It would be beneficial to have a Drungpa in the drungkhag office since we will not have to go to the dzongkhag office” he said.

Lekpa from Damkhar-Weringla Chiwog feels the same. He said, “Right now, we have to travel all the way to the administration office for any work. We have to spend so much as travel fares.”

The vacancy for the Drungpa’s post was announced in February, but there were no applicants. The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs is planning to announce the vacancy once again.

As for the new Drungkhag office, its construction began in April last year and was supposed to be finished by July. But it was delayed due to the pandemic and the monsoon season. The contractor has now been given a six-month extension to complete the works.

Similarly, the pandemic delayed the ongoing construction of a new drungkhag court. Works were started in February last year and was expected to be complete within a year.

Sonam Tshering, Monggar 

Edited by Yeshi Gyaltshen

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Categories: Bhutan

Will India’s looming power crisis affect the country’s power import during the lean season?

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 13:47

With the possibility of the 1020 MW Tala Hydropower Plant having to undergo major maintenance this winter, the limited power generation during the lean season will hit hard the country. Tala contributes more than 45 per cent of the total power during the dry season. While we import power from India in such a situation, India is on the brink of an unprecedented power crisis today. 

As India’s economy picked up after the second wave of the COVID pandemic, demand for power rose sharply. Power consumption in the last two months alone jumped by almost 17 % compared to the same period in 2019. At the same time, global coal prices increased by 40 %. In a country where 70 % of the electricity is generated using coal, coal stocks are running critically low.

Bhutan exports its surplus energy to India. About 80 % of the total power generated is surplus during the peak seasons. At the same time, Bhutan’s annual domestic consumption growth is recorded at five per cent.

The hydropower plants across the country generate over 410 MW during the dry season. Of which, 190 MW is from Tala hydropower.  Close to 400 MW is used for domestic consumption. However, there have been instances where Bhutan had to import small quantities of energy for a short duration during the lean season in the past years.

According to the Director of the Department of Hydropower and Power Systems, Karma P Dorji, this is being done to meet the country’s technical requirements.

“Whenever there is a shutdown, whenever there is annual maintenance to spin the machine, we do require some inputs or power from Indian sides.”

With a major rectification work planned for the Tala hydropower plant for a minimum of three months this winter, Bhutan is set to lose 190 MW from Tala.

“Of the 400 MW, 70 to 75 per cent is actually being used by the big industries. So in that sense, household consumption will not be affected even if we shut down Tala. But then of course if we don’t import, then obviously we will face a situation whereby we may have to shut down some of these industries from an operation. And that’s exactly what has been happening around the world,” he added.

The department, however, said this situation is not an option that they can afford.

“Obviously we have requested the government of India because there is a provision in the bilateral agreement or the 2006 umbrella agreement, which says should there be any supply constraints, the government of India will actually support us in meeting those requirements,” he said.

As per the sustainable hydropower development policy, it states that in the event of a power deficit scenario, the supply of electricity will be prioritized first to essential public institutions and services, individual households, general commercial establishments and then comes industries.

Samten Dolkar

Edited by Sonam

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Categories: Bhutan

Tala Plant could be temporarily shut down in winter

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 13:13

The Tala Hydropower Plant (THP) in Chhukha could be shut down for three months in winter. A group of international experts is currently analysing an inspection report of the plant’s headrace tunnel. According to the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), the plant would be shut down if the expert group recommends a physical inspection of the tunnel.

The DGPC used a remotely operated vehicle equipped with underwater cameras and sonar technology to inspect the tunnel in March. It was initiated since late 2018, pieces of concrete debris started appearing at the distributor and nozzle injectors in the powerhouse.

A distributor is a part of a turbine that contains and guides the water from the inlet to exit. The nozzle injectors control the water flow to the turbines.

The DGPC’s Managing Director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said, “Dewatering and refilling of the headrace tunnel have to be undertaken slowly, and this exercise could take one to two months. In case the physical inspection reveals that rectification works are required, it could take another month or so depending on the extent of the measures.”

“If the plant needs to be shut down, it will be scheduled during the leanest river discharge winter months so generation and revenue losses are minimized.”

The expert’s analysis is expected within this month.

The 1,020 MW THP is the country’s largest plant and a major contributor to domestic revenue. Its daily revenue generation during the peak season is about Nu 55 M.

At the moment, although all the six units of the plant can run at full capacity, only three units are operational. Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that the river discharge has reduced and is sufficient for operating only three generating units.

“The present partial generation of around 600 MW is only due to low river discharge, which is normal during this time of the year.”

Sangay Chezom

Edited by Sonam Wangdi

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Categories: Bhutan

New fire van to improve services in Punakha

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 12:21

The lack of appropriate fire-fighting equipment has delayed effective and prompt fire-related emergency response in Punakha. However, the new fire van is expected to improve the services. Last year, the district recorded seven fire disasters including three house fires which claimed a life.

Unlike the old fire-fighting vehicle, the new fire van has a faster system that will effectively manage fire disasters. It is equipped with a petrol engine and a water tank with a capacity of 300 litres. It does not require additional man power for management.

“Almost all the settlements in Punakha are scattered with narrow and poor road conditions in Punakha. So, this fire extinguisher equipped vehicle can easily reach the inaccessible locations during any fire related disasters,” said Lt. Col Chador Namgay, Officer Commanding of Punakha.

“The existing fire vehicle requires more people to operate it. Likewise, while battling a fire disaster, we end up wasting time  joining pipes and doing other things. And that compromises service delivery,” said Dawa Tshering, Fire in-charge of RBP.

With the old fire-fighting van, providing faster and effective response was difficult.

“A temple was gutted down completely late night in Kabesa about eight months ago. But we could not make it on time to battle the fire as the place was far and the road was narrow. By the time our fire vehicle reached the site, the fire had completely engulfed the temple,” said  Lt. Col Chador Namgay.

The government funded the new fire van worth over Nu 2.7 M.

Changa Dorji, Punakha

Edited by Sonam Pem

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Categories: Bhutan

Biogas use gaining popularity in Pema Gatshel

The Bhutanese Expression - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 12:02

A few years ago, five households of Bartseri in Pema Gatshel decided to try biogas. They were the first ones in the district to opt for the alternate source of clean energy. Today, looking back, the people say it has been a wise decision. 

For Sonam Deki, collecting cow dung and feeding them into the biogas digester has become a daily morning routine. Sonam’s family started using biogas from 2014 after her husband volunteered for the biogas masonry training conducted in the district.

“The tanks and other parts are in a good condition. They didn’t suffer damages so far. I only had to change the stove once. But even if the plant gets damaged, I will repair and continue using it,” said Sonam Deki.

Like Sonam, the other women from the households with biogas plants said there are many benefits of using biogas.

“Unlike LPG, we don’t have to spend a penny on biogas. Moreover, the dung can be used as manure,” she added.

“It involves some hard work while constructing a biogas plant. But after that, the benefits are many. We no longer refill our LPG cylinders frequently,” said Karma Yangden, a resident.

“I hardly refill my LPG cylinder once in a year. Besides, the risks from using biogas are lesser,” said Tshering Zangmo, another resident.

As per a record maintained with the Bhutan Biogas Project, in a year, a household using biogas can save some 2000 kilograms of firewood, more than 2500 litres of kerosene and about 1500 kilowatts of electricity.

Meanwhile, officials say biogas is gaining popularity in Pema Gatshel. Since the first plant in 2014, almost 400 biogas plants have been constructed in the district.

Thinley Dorji, Pema Gatshel

Edited by Sonam Wangdi

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Categories: Bhutan

Selection of contract teachers based on merit: MoE

Kuensel Online - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 07:38

Graduates question selection process

Chhimi Dema 

Graduates with a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) in Dzongkha are questioning the selection process after only five of them were selected as National Contract Teacher (NCT).

The ministry floated vacancies for 237 teachers on a consolidated contract. Out of that, 124 vacancies were for Dzongkha language teachers. Only five out of the 38 graduates with PGDE in Dzongkha were selected. The results were declared on October 8.

A graduate said that he approached the Ministry of Education (MoE) to crosscheck his scores, but he was denied access to the scores, on the grounds that the results were confidential.

The MoE’s Human Resource Division, he said, told them that selections were based on interviews, and no points were awarded for prior training and experience. “If the selection was based solely on the interview, then our training and experience have no value,” he said.

The MoE’s announcement issued on August 3, stated that candidates with B.Ed., PGDE and teaching experience will be given additional weight as appropriate.

Another graduate said: “It is not that we have to get the job, but we are unhappy because the selection process is unclear.”

The graduates said that some of their friends who applied for positions as substitute teachers were selected for NCT.

Some of the selected are also sitting the Bhutan Civil Service Examination (BCSE), they said. “If they get selected, they might leave the position they secured.”

A graduate said that for quality education, experienced teachers are better, but some of the graduates selected by the MoE do not have any experience. “This hampers the quality of education, and graduates who are interested miss out on an opportunity.”




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Selection based on merit 

The MoE’s chief human resource officer, Dhendup Tshering, said that selections are based on fairness, transparency, objectives, and principles of merit.

“In the process of open competitive selection wherein there are many aspiring and potential candidates, there is no assurance that only those candidates with PGDE will get selected,” he said.

The candidates, he said, must prove to the panel members that they are not only qualified, but also competent to become a teacher.

Dhendup Tshering said that the selection process by the ministry is the same as BCSC, except that a written test is not conducted.

During the selection, 10 panel members were formed to interview 686 shortlisted applicants. Each panel had five members consisting of teachers and education officials with a teaching background.

Dhendup Tshering said that for uniform assessment,  those on the panel were briefed on the standard assessment format, containing marking criteria developed by the Royal Civil Service Commission.

The Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations 2018, chapter seven, states that two extreme marks awarded to the candidate by the panel members shall be eliminated, and the average of the remaining shall determine the final marks.

“The two extreme scores awarded to the candidates were considered as outliers,” Dhendup Tshering said.

Candidates with a Bachelors of Education and PGDE and teaching experience were given preference while shortlisting, he said, but the selection was based entirely on the performance of candidates in the selection interview.

He said the assessment had marks for certificates of merit and individual achievements based on documentary evidence.

“If those candidates with PGDE are given the advantage for selection by default, the whole system of meritocracy is disrupted, and even more, there is a risk of complacency,” he said.

Five candidates were selected as substitute teachers and NCT.

The candidates were allowed to apply for substitute teacher and NCT positions simultaneously, Dhendup Tshering said, as consideration for the duration of the contract and also noting that there is no assurance whether they will be selected for NCT, as it is based on open competition.

The contract term for a substitute teacher is three months and 14 months for NCT.

Dhendup Tshering said that the graduates were informed that the final result containing the consolidated score would be shared with the graduates, but not the score sheet with details from individual panel members.




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Categories: Bhutan

Fuel prices increase again

Kuensel Online - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 07:35

Pema Lhamo and Samten Wangchuk | Interns

Price of fuel increased to an all-time high with petrol costing Nu 81.54 a litre, an increase of Nu 3.86 and diesel increasing to Nu 80.06 from Nu 75,02 a litre in Thimphu.

As of yesterday, remote Gasa recorded the highest fuel price hike, where the price of petrol increased to Nu 83.20 a litre and diesel increased to Nu 81.61 a litre. Gelephu recorded the lowest fuel price at Nu Nu 75.80 for a litre of petrol and Nu 76.11 for a litre of diesel.

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited’s depot manager, Megnath Subedi, said fuel price fluctuates at midnight of every month. “The principal companies do not share the reasons price increase.”

He said since fuel is imported from the Middle East countries, it is understood that prices of fuel at the source increased.

Taxi drivers and private car owners waiting to refuel at the depot said they are unhappy with the price hike.

A taxi driver, Tshering Norbu, 39, from Trashigang, said he has been driving taxi for the last 15 years. “The price hike will impact taxi drivers like me, who have to depend on Road Safety and Transport Authority to increase taxi fare but keep paying more fuel price.”

He said he ordered an electric car two years ago although it was more expensive. Tshering had not yet received the electric taxi. “I think electric cars would be more convenient for taxi drivers like us.”

People availing taxi services are also worried about the fuel price hike.

Sonam Dorji, 23, who regularly uses taxi to go home, said taxi drivers are already charging different fares blaming the fuel price hike. “I am worried they will increase the fare now.”

He said price of essentials would also increase after the fuel price hike. “Common people are going to suffer.”




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Categories: Bhutan

Dzongkhag administration requests LG to increase internet speed in schools

Kuensel Online - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 07:35

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Tsirang dzongkhag administration requested local government officials to increase the internet speed in schools so that the Royal Soelra, CodeMonkey, can be implemented.

The request was made in the recent dzongkhag tshogdu held on October 14.

The dzongkhag’s senior information and communication technologies (ICT) officer, Tshering Dorji, said that with the current internet speed of one megabit per second (mbps) in schools, it is difficult to start the CodeMonkey programme.

His Majesty The King granted the Royal Soelra to the children of Bhutan in July this year so that students can learn coding.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) has released about 100,000 CodeMonkey codes for students in the dzongkhags as of last month.

However, Tshering Dorji said the programme cannot be implemented in most schools in the dzongkhag.

“I am requesting that local government (LG) members and the gewog administration increase the internet speed in the schools, since the gewog administration has the budget to do so,” he said. “The dzongkhag does not have the budget for it.”

According to the ICT officer, if the internet speed is increased to 3mbps, which might cost around Nu 4,000 a month, the programme can be successfully implemented and students will benefit. “From November to June, the gewog administrations have to pay Nu 32,400.”

He explained that one mbps, which costs Nu 1,350 per month, is sufficient only to send and receive emails.

The dzongkhag’s chief education officer, Rinchen Gyeltshen, said CodeMonkey is a gift from the throne that offers paid coding lessons through games. “The education sector tried to secure funds to increase the internet speed but it is difficult.’

He said it would be helpful if the gewog administration shares its WiFi facilities with schools located near the administration.

An official from the Department of Information Technology and Telecom said in an earlier interview that through the Digital Drukyul Flagship programme, the department is building fibre optics infrastructure to identified schools and other government offices to facilitate high-speed internet connectivity.

The target, he said, is to construct about 2,500kms of fibre optic links by the end of the year. “As of now, about 500km have been completed.”

Meanwhile, it was learnt that besides the problem of slow internet speed, many schools lack computers, ICT teachers, and ICT laboratories.




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Categories: Bhutan

Increase in vehicle theft cases in Punakha

Kuensel Online - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 07:34

 Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Almost a month after police in Punakha received a complaint against a woman for allegedly selling a vehicle she had hired, police are receiving similar cases on a daily basis.

As of yesterday, the police have registered 26 cases and retrieved 25 vehicles. Five suspects: four women and a man had been detained.

Police sources said the case first came to light on September 22 when a man from Shengana filed a written complaint, stating that a woman had sold his Bolero, which was taken on hire for Nu 250,000.

Registered as a ‘breach of trust’ case, the woman was questioned and later released on bail.

Police received three more similar complaints on October 8. The cases were, however, registered on October 11 after a further eight people lodged similar complaints.

A Bolero owner, Kado, whose vehicle was also sold, said he rented out his Bolero for Nu 35,000 a month to a woman, who claimed she was supplying vegetables to desuups. “I received payment during the initial months but then the woman refused to receive my calls or pay the monthly hiring charges.”

Police sources said all five suspects used the same modus operandi to hire the vehicles. “For light vehicles, the five suspects claimed the vehicle would be used for desuup duty,” an official said.

According to the officials, Punakha police located and retrieved 18 vehicles between October 11 and October 12 through the Check Post Management System (CPMS).

According to the traffic in-charge in Punakha, Sherab Yoezer, they have traced another three vehicles through the CPMS, and asked the drivers to report to the police station. “The vehicles were retrieved from Paro, Haa, Thimphu, and Dagana.”

He said most of the vehicle owners are based in Punakha and are from different gewogs. Four owners of light vehicles are monks in the Punakha dratshang.




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Who are the suspects?

The suspects, four women and a man, are based in Thimphu. Of the five, two are a couple and the other three women are married.

They are aged between 31 and 41 years old and are from Tashiyangtse, Zhemgang, Paro, Samtse and Punakha. All suspects claimed to be engaged in business.

Police sources said a 31-year-old female suspect had sold eight vehicles, a 39-year-old female suspect had sold nine vehicles, a 40-year-old female suspect had sold six vehicles, and the couple had sold two and had kept one with themselves.

According to sources, the 40-year-old woman had a prior conviction where she was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for forgery and deceptive practices in Thimphu.

It was also learnt that the male suspect has been named in an ongoing case of larceny by deception in Thimphu. “The wife was also convicted of a similar case in Paro,” a police source said.

Punakha’s officer-in-command, Lt. Colonel Chador Namgay, said all suspects had denied working together and denied committing the crime. “But the suspects had been each other’s witnesses when forging car rental agreements and sale deeds.”

He said that the bank accounts of all suspects have been frozen and will be investigated soon.

Meanwhile, it was learnt some vehicle ownerships have been changed two times.

A buyer said Road Safety and Transport Authority officials should have asked for the identity card copy of the old owner and the sale deed records, which were both provided by one of the suspects.

In one of the sale deeds forged by one of the suspects, details on the vehicle loans and vehicle registration details had been issued.




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Categories: Bhutan

Looking for alternatives 

Kuensel Online - Tue, 19/10/2021 - 07:33

The price of fuel in the country has hit an all-time high with a litre of petrol priced at Nu 81.54 and diesel at Nu 80.06. It will have repercussions that reach beyond those who own vehicles or those who rely on vehicles for a livelihood.

The increase in fuel pricing comes at a difficult time. Inflation is already high, with the rising cost of essentials attributed to the increasing cost of transportation. The pandemic is impacting the country. It is the low- and middle-income group that is affected the most.

We have no control over the fuel prices. Fuel pricing is a result of what happens in the global fuel market. The outlook is not good, with experts predicting a crisis in the energy market. From crude oil to natural gas and electricity, generated from various sources, the energy market has become unstable globally.

What we do have control over is policies that could reduce the impact of global energy demand, uncertainties, and fluctuations. We have, for decades, emphasized alternatives. However, the clean and sustainable transport system that we have talked about for years is not translating into action.

The fuel price hike comes as a good reminder. It is time, for instance, to make authorities implement the electric vehicle project seriously. We need an efficient, clean, and sustainable transport system. We have to rely less on carbon-intensive fuels like petrol and diesel. There is an imbalance in the energy trade. We import more fossil fuels than we export electricity.

The electric vehicle project, which started seven years ago, has not made much progress yet. Many taxi drivers who ordered electric vehicles through Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System are still waiting to drive their electric taxis.  We cannot keep blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for our inefficiency.

Improving the public transport system is another step towards providing a local solution so that owning a car is not a necessity for everyone. Owning a car has become a necessity because we lack alternatives. A reliable, affordable, and efficient public transport in the cities, between dzongkhags and gewogs, could be an alternative.

The demand for fuel will keep increasing. We have the highest number of vehicle ownership per 1,000 people in the SAARC region. With almost 20 new vehicles hitting our roads a day, even during a pandemic, the demand for fuel will only grow.

In Thimphu, the present city bus service, even with a lot of improvements, has not been able to cater to the increasing population. The plans to improve the reliability and efficiency of urban transport are there, but the plans take time to translate into action.

As a country championing the environment and the people’s wellbeing, using more energy-efficient modes of transport and improving transport choices for people would complement our claims.  As a landlocked country, our dependence on land transport will continue, but there are other means to curtail the dependence on fossil fuels. 

An efficient public transportation system fueled by clean energy could be a solution.




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Categories: Bhutan