Saturday, July 14, 2018

COMPENSATION: The Subliminal Bhutanese “Soch”

One word that has always intrigued me that every news media in Bhutan - whether print or visual - used unfailingly: COMPENSATION. I have always been bewildered why anyone would write or say that the farmers, who had suffered occasional natural calamities, would be compensated by the Dzongkhag or that they are awaiting compensation from the government.

Why do the farmers deserve “compensation”? Why should they be compensated for a natural calamity?

For all this while I had concluded that the media people had used the term incorrectly - a wrong choice of word. Until yesterday.

Yesterday evening General Manager Dilu Giri of Druk Hotel, finally opened up my mind. In reference to another matter that we were discussing, he quoted the late Indian politician Bal Thakery who founded the Shiv Sena, as saying that he may die but his “Soch” must endure. The Indian term “Soch” means - a thought process, a belief, a conviction, a principle, attitude, a deep-seated way of thinking.

I finally got it!

The Bhutanese news media were right all along! They had unwittingly articulated the subliminal Bhutanese “Soch”. It was an unerring manifestation of the true Bhutanese “Soch” - that of seeking compensation where none is due.

These days, in my capacity as the Club Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I am in the middle of implementing projects that run into millions and millions of Ngultrums. And the stoical Bhutanese “Soch” is hindering my work and turning me into a taciturn desperado.

The Bhutanese “Soch” does not seem to recognize the fact that battling and circumventing adversities, and succeeding in the performance of ones duties is part of the mandate of an officer put on the chair of responsibility. The Bhutanese “Soch” clearly indemnifies the head of the household from the responsibility of putting more food on the table more often than feasting on what is already in the plate.

The Bhutanese “Soch” seems to promote the idea that if something fails because ideal conditions have not been met, it is not the fault of the person. Creating the ideal conditions, being inventive, being creative, taking the initiative and walking that extra mile to perform one’s duty seem to be alien to the Bhutanese “Soch”.

Pray, tell me, how far can the Bhutanese society survive with this kind of “Soch”?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tengney Police Namgay II

Recently I was at the Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School, Thimphu - to inspect the broken down girls’ toilet that the Rotary Club of Thimphu is repairing to bring it back to use. There I met the lady Vice Principal Madam Chador who informed me that the dreaded Tengney Police Namgay has recently been promoted to the rank of a commissioned officer by His Majesty the King.

It was so heartening to hear the news. I wanted to congratulate him – but I did not know how – I didn't want to attend the celebrations (it was in progress as I was speaking to the VP) because I hate ceremonies.

I am glad he got the much deserved promotion – if any one has earned it -  Tengney Police Namgay has certainly earned it.

I Blogged on him a couple of years back. You can read the article at:


Congratulations Officer Namgay!

I Am Clueless!

I am constantly trying to understand what draws readers to my Blog --- if there is a pattern to their logic --- what holds their interest.

I am clueless!

Look at the following for instance – this morning I woke up to find that readers are reading my old – very old articles:

24th November, 2011       A Matter of Perception
13th November, 2012       Fishless in Punakha
2nd May, 2013                  Kabney & Patang
29th September, 2015       My Final Post On Keeping Chamkhar Chhu Undammed and Free-flowing
11th March, 2018              The Baby Steps - A Potential Global Revolution


Why do they go so far back to read my old articles that are buried in hundreds of pages of newer articles?

I am clueless!

Monday, June 25, 2018

BHUTAN2020 Initiative Launched in Toronto, Canada

Room #718B at the Rotary Convention Hall in Toronto, Canada that seats 550 will this day miss one speaker from a little known country in the Great Eastern Himalayas - Rotarian Yeshey Dorji, Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Secretary Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. My Canadian Visa never came through and thus I could not make the trip. Perhaps the Canuks think I am some kind of thug whom they have decided to declare persona non grata. In not issuing me the Visa in time, the Canadians have denied me the rare honor of being the first Bhutanese ever to speak during a Rotary Convention where anywhere from 30,000 - 70,000 delegates from over 200 countries would congregate.

Image courtesy of RID 5370
Bhutan flag goes up during the opening day of the universe's
largest convention - the Rotary Convention - currently being
held at Toronto, Canada. The image was mailed to me by
Rotarian Lorraine Faherty of Damariscotta, Maine, USA.
I was supposed to speak during one of the Break-out Sessions of the Rotary International’s 2018 Annual Convention that began in Toronto, Canada a few days back. Fifth among six speakers on the topic “Safe Water, a Basic Human Right”, I was supposed to speak on “The Bhutan Experience: what has been done, what will be done - the partnership with Government - the need for safe water".


Well it does not matter - I am expendable. The cause is not. And the cause will see the light of day today – a momentous day for Bhutan and the Bhutanese children. Last of the Break-out Session speakers on this day in Room #718B - David Langworthy, CEO and Founder of Disaster Aid Australia (DAA) - will officially roll out the “BHUTAN 2020” initiative during this Break-out Session.

The words and images at the RITCON that launched
the BHUTAN 2020 initiative today.

BHUTAN 2020 is an initiative underwritten by Disaster Aid Australia, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Thimphu, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Bhutan. This initiative aims at delivering 120 SkyHydrant Water Filter Systems to 120 of Bhutan’s central schools by the year 2020. In the second phase, if things work out well and should the partnership endure, the initiative’s coverage will extend to every school in the country – representing 80% of Bhutanese children.


Map showing installation sites of 20 SkyHydrant
water filters by July 2018. Ten of the twenty
Dzongkhags would have been covered.
This is a colossal project that requires dedication and tireless hard work from all collaborating partners. An initiative at this scale is something that not even the government had dared attempt so far. The initial funding for the first phase of 120 central schools by 2020 is pegged at a staggering $1 million. I am a little jittery about this – but CEO David Langworthy assures me that the deal is, for all practical purposes, firmly in the pocket! The man should know.

On the part of the DAA, they have already begun work on this initiative in right earnest. Of the 120 systems targeted, 10 of them are already scheduled to arrive Bhutan next month, accompanied by two DAA DART Members, a water engineer and a videographer. They will train local installation team to handle site assessment, installation and maintenance of the systems.

Even more interesting, I am told by DAA that they will be featured on a Global Christmas Carol TV program that will be broadcast in December, 2018 - to an audience in excess of 1 billion viewers worldwide! Our BHUTAN 2020 Initiative will be featured in that broadcast.


The much coveted SkyHydrant Water Filter Systems
- from Australia with love

On the part of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, they are scheduling a training program for 60 of the school Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Caretakers around the country, including few professional engineers in their employ. The training is timed to coincide with the arrival of the DAA team from Australia. The WASH Caretakers will be trained by the DAA DART Members – in site assessment and maintenance of the systems, once installed, while the engineers will take on the installation task.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu and the Kingdom of GNH are going places! And I, your faithful man Friday, is experiencing bouts of Atychiphobia. Because I get this feeling that the enormity of the enterprise is still outside and beyond the fathoming of most people involved in this endeavor.

THANK YOU
When I proposed to our Club Members that we invite CEO David Langworthy to Bhutan to look at the schools that he is supporting, I never imagined that the visit would culminate into this colossal project. Now that it has, I must remember to thank the following who played a part that lead a rank outsider to dream up, commit and implement a project that will touch the lives of tens of thousands of children across the country.


Druk Air Corporation, our national flag carrier --- they have always been forthcoming to our requests for carriage of the water filters on board their aircraft – free of cartage charges.


Druk Hotel, Bhutan's premier hotel of choice - for providing free accommodation to CEO David Langworthy, during his stay in Thimphu.


Drubchhu Resort, my preferred hotel of choice in Punakha – for providing free accommodation and meals, during the visit of the CEO to Punakha.

Principals of Damphu Central School, Lobesa Lower Secondary School and Dashiding Middle Secondary School – for the cultural programs and invitation to meals, during the CEO’s visit to their schools to inspect the installations.

The Minister, Secretary, Director General and Chief Aum Jamyang Choeden – for rolling out the welcome wagon to the CEO. I believe that it was during the farewell dinner in Druk Hotel hosted by the Rotary Club of Thimphu in honor of the CEO that the idea of BHUTAN2020 began to ovulate.

DAA DART Member Andrew Gunn – for scoring a perfect 6’er when he batted for Bhutan (a light hearted banter between Andrew and me) upon his return to Australia after his first visit. Please keep batting!

Last but not the least, Rotarian K K Looi of Malaysia who first brought the much coveted filter to our attention – rest is history.

Thank you all.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

I Am Hugely Encouraged !!!

Between 18th to 24th June, 2018 a total of 2,914 readers visited my Blog. Of this 2,766 readers chose to read my article titled “Please Surrender Your Subsidized LPG Cylinders”.  Of this total, 2,262 readers were Bhutan based.

The article was so popular that it got listed as one of the top 10 articles ever, since May 2010. The following are my other top 10 most read articles.

 

I am hugely encouraged that in 6 days, the article drew such a huge crowd. But that is hardly of any consequence. What is important is this:

Did it make a difference in the way the Bhutanese people think? Did it encourage some LPG users – to give up their subsidized LPG cylinders, for the sake of those who are less fortunate?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Something to Brood Over

One of the world’s youngest democracies has got to be among the most muddled. The staggering amount of contradictions and discrepancies that direct the functioning of our democratic process is, simply, hilarious! It is impossible to list them all --- but I can begin with one that you might find worth brooding over.

You may have noticed that in recent weeks and months, a number of political parties have been hard at work announcing the names of their candidates – some new and others, thankfully, in replacement of old ones that are being put out to pasture. The leader of the pack is ofcourse good old ruling party PDP – they are replacing close to 50% of their candidates. Now that has got to be unprecedented in political history any where! Do I think it is suicidal? I do – but I certainly admire the guts of the party leadership – this is very gutsy and it could sink them. But I suppose they know a thing or two that you and I don't.

But this is not the point I am trying to make. What intrigues me is the names of some of the new candidates announced by some political parties. They contain names of some senior civil servants who have been superannuated, or were on the verge of being superannuated. Why does this intrigue me? It intrigues me because of the simple concept behind superannuation.

Being superannuated means you have reached the end of your productive age – that you have outlived your usefulness. There is a law that says that when you reach the superannuation age, you have to be put out to pasture. Thus, enlisting superannuated persons by political parties to contest elections as their candidates may be in contravention of the law that says that a person of certain age can no longer be employable in the government. The question is: what happens if the superannuated political appointee wins the election and forms part of the government? Is reinstatement back into the system permissible?

I am not saying that the political parties are recycling old waste. But what I am hinting at is that if we are to move forward, if we are to bring dynamism into governance, a change in perspective, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things, I think the political parties must look elsewhere and not keep scrapping the bottom of the same cesspool.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Please Surrender Your Subsidized LPG Cylinders

If anything is constant – it is the process of education and learning. I got to realize this in the morning today, on my way back from Paro.

A young girl flagged me down at Chuzom looking for a ride home. I was all alone and so I stopped and told her to hop in. As we approached Thimphu, she asked if I could drop her off to her house in Simtokha.

I said; “sorry I am running late for an appointment so I will have to drop you off at Olarongchhu.”

I heard her call a friend seeking for a loan. I realized that she did not have money to pay for the taxi ride home. So I asked her;

“How much would a taxi ride cost you?

She said; “Nu.100.00”.

So I gave her the money. For me it was cheaper to give her Nu.100.00 rather than take a diversion to drop her off at her home.

As I continued my drive, the realization hit me that there were people out there who did not possess Nu.100.00. For God’s sake --- that is less than the price of half a bottle of beer I drink. Even more disturbing – I realized that to someone poor, Nu.100.00 meant a hell of a lot of money – the difference between reaching home or being stranded in the middle of a highway.

When I reached Motithang, I headed straight for BOD. There I inquired about exchanging my subsidized LPG cylinders with those of none subsidized ones. The girl said not a problem --- you can take anytime you want. I said;

“But I want to surrender my subsidized cylinders so that they can be issued to more deserving users. What do I do?” She said, nothing we give you the new cylinders at a reduced price.

I am told that the price difference between the subsidized and none subsidized LPG is only Nu.200.00. But the incident of the morning taught me that Nu.200.00 can be a big deal to someone who is poor and does not have the money.

I decided that I am going to surrender both my old cylinders when they run out - and take the none subsidized ones. It is my hope that two villagers in some remote corner of the country who may be short of Nu.200.00 may yet have his/her chance at owing a LPG cylinder.

I know that the world is an unfair place – but that should not be the reason NOT to do our part – however small. I know that it is the rich, the highly salaried in the country – the Ministers, the Secretaries, the Directors and the politicians who get to import cars duty free, and buy chocolates and whiskey and perfume – at quota rates - while the lowly paid peons and the drivers and the clerks pay over 200% duty to buy their cars and booze.

If this was a fair world, you would not be buying LPG for cooking your meals or heating your homes – you would be using the much hyped hydro-electricity at much cheaper prices. But the sad thing is that we cannot afford our own electricity to cook and to heat – and thus we are forced to hanker after subsidized LPG.

I urge all those of you who think you can afford to pay additional Nu.200.00 a month, please opt for the none subsidized LPG cylinders. Doing so will help some poor villager finally get their subsidized LPG that they deserve.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project-I in Colombia?

It seems like "geological surprises" are not so uncommon - it is happening elsewhere too - not just in Bhutan.

The US$2.8 billion Hidroituango mega dam being built on the river Cauca in Colombia is all poised to collapse. For a full report, please read the following:


What is striking about the above case is that it is so, so similar to our own PHPA-I project that has been languishing in a state of limbo for years.


The case of Hidroituango dam should serve as a lesson for all Bhutanese who hanker after hydro-power projects.

I still say that it is time that we did a rethink on the doomed PHPA-I. We are still not late to avert an imminent catastrophe.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Stinking Stench and an Alpine Rumpus

Over few hundred miles apart – one bang in the center of the capital city Thimphu, another at the extreme fringes of the country’s northern border – two stinks have apparently been fomenting for some time. I wasn't aware until very recently.

The Stinking Stench: The foul stench of raw sewage is unmistakable as you pass the Secretariat of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS). Quite evidently, the building that houses the Ministry and Departments that set out building codes and construction and design standards has a leakage in their sewage system. You can see the raw sewage filling the drainage system below the building. Such irresponsibility is not only pathetic, it’s demoralizing in a nation that prides itself on environmental stewardship.

The Alpine Rumpus: Now, this stink has the potential to turn deadly. It needs immediate attention and I hope that the government will look into the problem with wisdom and foresight. Unfortunately this is an election year, and I suspect that the politicians are likely to flaunt the cause as something of a political opportunity rather than as a problem that needs solving.

The issue surrounds the curiously formed, crinkly, half-worm-half-grass oddity known as Cordyceps sinensis. The most expensive among the traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) is all set to turn a trail blazer – one that history is likely to quote as the event that marked the beginning of provincial conflict in the country. An intense discord has apparently been brewing for the past few years among the highlanders – the inhabitants of the high altitude Gewogs of Lunana, Sephu, Laya etc. Central to the discord is the right of harvest of the highly priced Cordyceps sinensis, or Yartsa Guenboop.

Cordyceps sinensis as it appears when right out of the ground


Cordyceps sinensis: dried and dust

The one that got away: A moth caterpillar that never made it as a Cordyceps sinensis - it escaped the spores that would have germinated it into Yartsa Guenboop

During my recent trip to Lunana, I was witness to a conversation between a government official and a Gewong Tsogpa of Lunana. Apparently, there is a rule that says that only Lunaps can harvest Yartsa Guenboop within the territorial boundaries of Lunana Gewog. Similarly, Lunaps cannot go and trespass into other Gewogs. I am not sure where there is fairness in this strangely divisive rule – but the problem is that people are unwilling to adhere to these conditions. It seems that the Sephups and the Layaps are “poaching” into Lunana territory. Lunaps are not taking it lying down – they are ganging up to chase away the plundering neighbors.

While Layaps are smart and move away when chased (only to come back hours later under the cover of darkness and stealth), the Sephups are in no mood to listen. They stand their ground and insist that they have a right to harvest a common, naturally grown bounty that belongs to the whole nation and the people of Bhutan – not merely to the Lunaps. Upon insisting that they leave, the Sephups are said to have threatened that when this is all over, they will take a similar stand: that Lunaps will not be able to access Sephup territory, or there will be murder and slaughter. The Lunaps of northern regions of Lunana must exit through Nikachhu for their daily essentials, and Nikachhu is under Sephu Gewog.

KUENSEL of 28th May, 2018 reported that the BHSL chopper made 10 sorties to the harvesting areas on 27th May, 2018 alone to defuse the dangerous atmosphere that was brewing among the highlanders. That day, I was still in the harvesting areas in Lunana, but I have no idea if the government officials from Thimphu managed to chase away the Sephups. But of one thing I am sure: This is not a boundary dispute. It is about the right of ownership of a mystical oddity whose potency has the magic to cure hair loss and to correct erectile dysfunction.


 Cordyceps sinensis is harvested at altitudes above 4,800 Mtrs. A Yak herder's camp opposite where I was camped at 4,988 Mtrs. in Lunana

Before the harvesting and collection of Yartsa Guenboop was legalized in 2004, I was among the very, very few who advocated in writing the need for the legalization of Cordyceps collection. I did so because during those days, Bhutanese collectors were being penalized and fined and jailed for collecting the worms, while the Tibetans across the border plundered the bounty without let or hindrance, in the process making millions from its sale. Little did I know that years later, legal Cordyceps collection could result in the country’s first case of provincial conflict.

Time is now for the Government to rethink the policy. Clearly, there is a real danger that this could escalate into something that the country does not need – least of all on our northern borders.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Are Our School Drinking Water Safe to Drink?

Combined with snow, ice, freshwater lakes, running streams, rivers and ground water, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. With an average flow of 2,238 m3/s, Bhutan generates 70,572 million cubic meters per annum, i.e. 94,500 m3 per person per year, the highest in the region.

And yet, Bhutan suffers, what I call, “the problem of plenty”. Most of our waters are at the bottom of ravines and gorges, while our settlements are on hilltops and plateaus. Plentiful water is most often inaccessible to us.

Even worst, over the past few decades, we have been choking our life giving rivers with hydro-power dams that churn out debts amounting to hundreds of billions, at 10% interest. Over time, I fear that our water resources may no longer remain under our control.

But there seems to be a greater water borne threat that we seem to ignore - drinking water that we supply to our school children. How many of the water supplies in our schools are really safe for our children to drink?

With generous financial support committed by Disaster Aid Australia (DAA), the Rotary Club of Thimphu has begun the arduous journey of reaching safe drinking water to every school in Bhutan. The DAA has committed Australian Dollars one million by the end of 2020 – to achieve that goal.

Is the RGoB willing to commit 1% of that commitment made by the Australian NGO - to realize that goal? There is a need to go beyond the talk!

Since we started to install SkyHydrant water filters in schools, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has carried out some tests - to determine the quality of water that are being consumed by our school children. The following are the test results derived from one beneficiary school and other water sources in the vicinity of the installation. Look at the following results. The test was carried out early last month by the Health Assistant of the BHU in the vicinity of the school.

Sample drawn from the drain close to the school - totally infested with bacteria

Test result of one village close to the school. High level of E.Coli content - unfit for drinking unless treated

Test result of another village close to the school. Some level of E.Coli content - drinkable after treatment

Test results of the water quality at the Basic Health Unit that conducted the test - No E. Coli but presence of foreign particles visible

Test results of the water at the school where DAA donated SkyHydrant water filtration system was installed - No E. Coli and no foreign particles visible

I fear that water supplied to our school children may not be safe. Does Ministry of Education test water quality in schools? Does Health Ministry do it? Do the schools themselves do it? What are the results?

We keep talking of falling quality of education among our children. Could it be directly linked to the quality of water we supply to the school children?

Please spare a moment to give it a thought.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

100 Rotary Peace Fellowship on Offer

The following announcement is made for the benefit of Bhutanese scholars aspiring to go for further studies.

Every year, the Rotary selects up to 100 professionals from around the world to receive fellowship to study at one of the Rotary Peace Centers.

You still have one more month in which to make your application for the Rotary 2019-2020 Peace Fellowship.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu will be most happy to endorse applications from Bhutanese applicants. However, please note the dateline for application submission. Please read up at the site indicated below, so that you know what you are supposed to do. Please do not ask us to do your work for you – the first test of your eligibility is your willingness to do your part.

www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/peace-fellowships

Please submit your application to us at:

rotarybhutan@gmail.com

You will need the following information:

Our Club No. is    : 84427
Our District No. is: 3292
Best of Luck!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Electrifying Figures

At the end of 2017, the global renewable energy generation capacity stood at 2,179 GW. Of this, 167 GW was added in 2017 alone.


Of the total power generation increase added during 2017, solar and wind accounted for 85%.

The growth in renewable energy generation in 2017 was 8.3%.


HYDRO-POWER: This sector has seen the lowest growth in the last decade - meaning this technology is now old hat. Hydro-electric energy is fast losing steam and nations around the world are not investing in this antiquated technology any more!

The global energy capacities at a glance:

1.  Hydro            :   1,152 GW
2.  Wind              :     514 GW
3.  Solar              :     397 GW
4.  Bioenergy      :     109 GW
5.  Geothermal    :      13 GW

6.  Marine           :    500 MW

Figures are by: International Renewable Energy Agency

The installed capacity of hydro-electricity may seem huge, compared to other renewable energy sources. However, you have to remember that hydro-electricity generation began as far back as 1882.

By comparison, wind power came into commercial existence only in 1940. Power from the sun began to be harnessed commercially only in the 1970’s.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Run-In With Our Men In Blue

Few days back (11.04.2018), I had a run-in with our Men in Blue – next to the Thai Pavilion below Namgay Heritage Hotel. The less than cordial tête-à-tête that followed by the way side was rather peculiar, and revealing at the same time.

MiB: “Wai Lobey, aanina parking betha mecho la” (Sir, you cannot park here).

Me: “Who says so?”

MiB: “I say so.”

Me: “And who are you?”

MiB: “I am the Traffic Police – can’t you read here?” --- gesticulating across his chest.

Me: “Just because you are a traffic police, you can say any old thing?”

MiB: I am not saying any old thing --- I am saying you cannot park here.

Me: “Where does it say this is a NO PARKING zone? Where is the sign board … where is the
         color coded line that will tell me that parking is not allowed in this place.”

MiB: “It is not my job to put up NO PARKING signs, or draw color coded lines to designate an
           area as NO PARKING zone – it is the City Corporation’s. So please go yell at them.”

Me: “If the City Corporation has not put up the sign or drawn a line to show that a place is a
         No Parking Zone, why do you volunteer to designate the area as a No Parking area?.
         Obviously the City Corporation does not consider this a No Parking area”

MiB: “Because this is a 2-ways traffic road.” Excuse me?????

Me: “I will not recognize this as a No Parking Zone if there is no sign that says as such.”

MiB: “Oh really? Then show me where is the White Box that tells you that you can park here?”

Me: “Are you telling me that we can park only in areas where there are white boxes drawn?”

MiB: “Anyway, traffic management is my responsibility and duty. So I am telling you,
           you cannot park here.”

Me: “Wai police – you are a law enforcer – your responsibility is to enforce a law that is in
          place – you have no authority to legislate new laws at your whim and fancy. The fact that
          there is no law – sign board or white line on the road – means there is no law so you
          cannot tell me what you are telling me.”

The back and forth argument went on for over half an hour, to no avail. But the fact that the MiB did not ask me to surrender my documents or driving license, is proof that the bugger knew he was not entirely within his rights, in giving me a hard time.

At times the arguments verged on the ridiculous. But I understand --- our MiB has to deal with some real nut cases – day in, day out. Their work is certainly not easy and they have all my sympathies. But I fear that I have not seen the last of this incident – it is bound to come up again and again, until the bakers are taught to bake palatable cakes.