Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Education City

What exactly is happening to the Bhutanese people? Are we slowly going insane? What happened to our capacity to think objectively and rationally?

Take, for instance, the case of the Bhutan Education City project. Everybody seems to be intent on killing it. Why and by what authority? In all frankness I am not so sure of its commercial viability but we should understand that huge investments have already been made - in hundreds of millions.

But what is even more irksome is that the whole project is now being touted as something illegal. From what I know, both the Upper, as well as, the Lower Houses of the Parliament had passed the Bhutan Education City Act. Even beyond that, it received Royal Assent on 3rd September, 2012. So there is no authority in this country who can say that this project is illegal and that it should be shut down. If it has to be shut down, there are procedures to follow - before making such pronouncements. The Land Commission has no authority to challenge a decision passed by the King and the Parliament.

If it has now been determined that the Education City project is commercially not feasible, then it certainly is a good idea to look at other options, but don’t call it illegal and remember that only the King and the Parliament can decide to pronounce its burial.

In the meantime, if we are smart and unique as we claim, let us look at how we can recoup our investment - through better ideas. If the Education City was a bad idea, let us come up with a better one.

I have a proposal: lease some portion of the land to IMTRAT. They have become an eyesore being located bang in the center of Thimphu city. And, lease some portion of it to the RBA and relocate them from Lungtenphu. Also, it would be a good idea to consider moving out the Bhutan Oil Distributors - one of these days, the BOD is going to cause a major catastrophe.

Friday, March 21, 2014

KUENSEL - The Grand Old Dad Among Bhutanese Newspapers

One of the first things Dasho Kinley Dorji (currently the Secretary of the Ministry of Information & Communications) did, as soon as he took over the Kuensel as its CEO some two decades back, was to redesign the Kuensel’s masthead. The paper’s present masthead was conceived and adopted by him.


Before the masthead was adopted, I was among the few Dasho Kinley consulted as to the appropriateness of the masthead. In particular he was in serious doubt whether the sentence “THAT THE PEOPLE SHALL BE INFORMED” was grammatically correct. Of that one I wasn’t sure either - but of one thing I was sure and I told him so - that the background color of the masthead - blue - looked YUCKY! The color did not change and neither did my opinion about it, to this day. However Dasho Kinley went ahead and adopted the current masthead - yucky color and grammatically doubtful sentence et all. As far as Dasho Kinley was concerned, he made sure that he went through the motion of seeking popular opinion but as the top dog of the paper - he did exactly as he pleased - opinions be damned!

Since then, Kuensel never failed to INFORM the people. But the words
THAT THE PEOPLE SHALL BE INFORMED” did not bind them to MISINFORM the people from time to time. Infact, they did so with unfailing regularity.

Look at the following. The Prime Minister dedicates the project to the IVth Druk Gyalpo - but Kuensel says that it is to the Prime Minister.


The following news report in the Kuensel is encouraging. The civil servants are going to be given free plots of land - to grow vegetables. That is a great idea - it will boost vegetable production and one never knows -  this may be one job at which they might excel!


Best of luck to the new breed of farmers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bunakha Reservoir - Damming The Wangchu

Well, it seems like it is finally happening! For the past many years I have gone hoarse making noise that the way to go is NOT TO build disastrous projects such as Punasangchu I & II, but to dam the Wangchu river in order that we can harness the excess water during monsoon which otherwise go to waste. It is shameful that a net exporter of electricity that we claim to be, have to import electricity from India during the winter months.


Power generation at Chukha and Tala drop drastically during the winter months - as a result of freezing of the glacial lakes that feed the Wangchu. As a result there is insufficient water to drive the massive turbines, resulting in poor generation. This means our earnings, (if there is any) suffer during the winter months, in addition to forcing us to import power from India.

The solution to this perennial problem should have been simple enough - dam the Wangchu river so that the excess water that go to waste during the monsoons can be harnessed - to augment the fall in water volume during winter months. This will not only solve the problem of falling revenue from these power projects, but it will prevent us from importing power from India.

Building a dam across the Wangchu river is so much cheaper than building a hydro-power plant. And, the construction is faster - therefore, the return on investment is quicker.

Therefore, the PDP government’s recent approval of the Bunakha project is a welcome move.

Unfortunately, my bubble burst when I realized that the reservoir construction is tied to the construction of yet another hydro-power project - the 570MW Wangchu Hydroelectric Project - at the current projected cost of Indian Rupees 29.5 billion. Add to this cost the customary and unfailing cost escalation of 400% - and the final figure will stand at close to Rs. 240.00 billion. I know that His Excellency Economics Minister Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that there would be no cost escalations. At this point, the only thing I can say is that His Excellency is young enough that he will live to see what a poor soothsayer he made.

Will it not be more beneficial if we simply build the reservoir at about Rs. 5-6 billion, rather than go into another potential Punasangchu I disaster? Some one with some accounting basics should do some mathematics to find out which is more beneficial - return from the increased revenue from increased generation from Chukha and Tala during the winter months - as opposed to investment in a Rs. 240.00 billion Wangchu Hydroelectric Project that may see the light of day - some 20 years from now, if the dam does not sink, yet again.


I know, I know -- I am not entirely oblivious to the real truth that surround hydroelectric projects is Bhutan but I can't help it - I am a romantic at heart and lofty ideals and wishful thoughts are intrinsic to my nature :)-

Anyway, if this is a well-intended gift from India, it has to be the parting bonus from Ambassador V P Haran. Now lets see what the new Ambassador His Excellency Gautam H. Bambawale will bring - as his tofa to the Bhutanese people. Given his background, lets pray that his expertise will be another bonus for Bhutan.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tengney Police Namgay

On the morning of 22nd February, 2014, I was on my way to Paro Rinpung Dzong - but was undecided as to how to approach it - whether on foot over the Paro Ngami Zampa cantilever bridge or, by motor road running through the Paro Tshongdu. While I struggled with the indecision, I had parked my car by the roadside close to the Chortens at Ngami Zampa - to contemplate the merits and demerits of the two approaches to the Dzong.


Then I saw him - the dreaded Police Namgay - the bane of most Bhutanese motorists. He was in civilian clothing, smeared in white paint and he had a surgical glove covering his palms.  He was hovering over a number of people engaged in painting white lines on the paved space that served as parking lot. Intrigued, I got out of my car and walked over to him and asked:

“Wai Lobey Namgay, gachi bedo?”

“Aaaaa …. I am trying to create an orderly parking space saa. In the absence of a properly defined parking space, it is madness at this spot. People park haphazardly and there is chaos every time. As in-charge of the traffic in these areas, maintaining order is a problem. Once in a while I have to pull up some drivers for poor road sense --- but in the absence of a well-defined parking spots, I believe that it is not fair to penalize people. So I am marking out the space for organized parking”.

“OK … but why is a Traffic Police Officer responsible for painting the white boxes?”

“Actually it is the responsibility of the Thromde … but they have this excuse that they do not have budget to do the job. I am so fed up that I decided to take on the job myself with help from some of my johnnies. Those guys doing the painting are traffic policemen. I got the Thromde to give us the white paint … and I encouraged some of my team of traffic policemen to put in the labor. We started the work last Saturday … but it rained in the night and washed away all the paintwork. So we are redoing it today. Once the markings are carried out, the parking will be lot more organized and as you can see, we can now fit in more than double the number of vehicles that would usually occupy the parking area. Once the parking lot is well defined, there is no excuse for anyone to be errant in the way they park their vehicles. If they do, I can kick their butts without feeling guilty about it”.

What a pleasure to come face-to-face with a rare Bhutanese who goes beyond the call of duty! Whenever one refers to Namgay, people have a tendency to say; “Aani Tengney Police Namgay ya?”

A few more Tengney like Police Namgay would certainly be welcome. I salute him for his service and initiative.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Splendid Isolation: An Essay on Bhutan

Madeline Drexler, a friend and a celebrated writer in the US who has recently released an essay on Bhutan, writes to me as follows:
---------------------------------

Hi Yeshey --

I am very curious what the reaction to the book will be in Bhutan. Will Bhutanese readers understand the nuanced picture that I aimed for in this book? Will they be critical? I have no idea. What do you think?

Incidentally, here are the websites where Bhutanese can download the e-book. The first two will cost $2.99 per book. The Scribd site offers a PDF of the book for free -- and if you could post the Scribd link (and the others, if you like) on your well-read website, I would be very appreciative.

Amazon.com:
http://www.amazon.com/Splendid-Isolation-Lessons-Happiness-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B00I8R2532/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391564206&sr=1-1&keywords=a+splendid+isolation+drexler
 
Smashwords.com:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/407155

Scribd.com:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/206230098/A-Splendid-Isolation-Lessons-on-Happiness-from-the-Kingdom-of-Bhutan

Anyway, I hope you are well. More soon…

-- Madeline

--------------------------------

I have read the essay and I loved it. I am amazed how an outsider who lived in Bhutan only few weeks can get to understand us and our confusions so accurately. I loved the title of the book too - "A Splendid Isolation":


To tell you something about the author:

Madeline Drexler is an award-winning journalist, author and travel essayist. She is editor of Harvard Public Health magazine and a senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Among her national honors: the 2012 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Magazine Journalism; the 2012 Clarion Award for Feature Articles; and a 1996-1997 Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT. Drexler’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Nieman Reports, Good Housekeeping, and many other national publications. Her book Emerging Epidemics: The Menace of New Infections (Penguin, 2010), originally issued in 2003 as Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections, drew wide critical praise. Drexler began her career as a staff photographer for The Associated Press.

Madeline has allowed the Bhutanese readers to download the Scribd version and read for free.

ENJOY!

Emerging Sophistication Of The Bhutan Palate

Did you know that there is a meat shop in Thimphu that sells canine meat? Order your supplies from the following meat shop located in Chang Bangdu area:


But please remember that canine meat does not necessarily mean that you are getting dog meat. Canine could also refer to all dog-like mammals such as wolves, coyotes, jackals etc. So please state your preference clearly: dog? coyote? jackal?
wolves?.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

RCT Invites Applications for Rotary International Peace Fellowships

The Rotary Club of Thimphu (District 3292) is calling for applications for Rotary Peace Fellowships from all eligible Bhutanese scholars and students.


Additional details can be found at the Club’s FaceBook Page at:

www.facebook.com/RotaryBhutan
 
Rotary Peace Fellows study at one of the 6 Rotary Peace Centers around the world and can either earn a professional development certificate in peace and conflict resolution or a master’s degree in international relations, public administration, sustainable development, peace studies or a related field. These fellowships cover tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation, and all internship/field study expenses.

To apply for a peace fellowship, please download the Application Form available at:

www.rotary.org/rotarycenters

Please complete the applicant portion of the Form and submit it via email to the Rotary Club of Thimphu at:

rotarybhutan@gmail.com


.........................................................................................................

The deadline for submission of applications is 31st March 2014 
...................................................................................................................

All communications to the Rotary Club of Thimphu may be addressed to:

Ms Sonam Zangmo, Assistant Executive Secretary


Other than one, there is no restrictions on who can apply - nor a limitation on the number of applications. The Rotary Club of Thimphu will be happy to receive and process all the applications it receives.

This is a community service of the Rotary Club of Thimphu and it is hoped that a large number of Bhutanese students and scholars will qualify for the scholarships.

Please rush the applications and BEST OF LUCK!

NOTE: Persons related to Club members are not eligible to apply for the scholarships.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Experience & Capability = Complete Package

From what KUENSEL reported recently, it would appear that if the National Council were to have its way, we will finally see some much needed change in our electoral laws - particularly those that pertain to the experience required to be able to contest in the elections to the Upper as well as the Lower Houses of the Parliament.

As of now, as per Article 23 of our Constitution, any person aged 25 and with a college degree can qualify to contest in the elections. There is no talk of a requirement of adequate experience.


If the proposed amendment is approved by the NA, then we can be sure that our elected Members of the Parliament in future will be better experienced than those of the sweepers working at the Shearee Square Super Store or the Tractor drivers of M/s Kelwang Pvt. Ltd. I had discussed this matter in my earlier post dated May 8, 2013.
 

Here is a Thumps-Up to the Members of the National Council.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Singapore's Rare and Valuable Visitor: Not so Rare After All

My last post claiming the rare and first time sighting of the White-bellied Heron in Singapore aroused a huge interest among the birding community around the world - only to find that it was nothing more than a false ID by me. It turns out that the bird is not a WBH but another heron called the Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana). OBC, London and senior and experienced bird watchers in Singapore and Japan have confirmed this. I took a closer look at the bird's images posted on the internet and find that I was wrong - my apology for the mistake - but certainly the similarity between the two herons is striking. The following images of the Great-billed Herons will show you how similar they are - except that the belly of the GBH is not as white as that of the WBH. It also looks smaller than the WBH.



In comparison, the following image of the White-bellied Heron I photographed in Rurichu clearly show the difference - in that the WBH has a pure white belly while that of the GBH is greyish.


As I said in my earlier post, it would have been fantastic if the bird were to be WBH - I guess it was just too much of a wishful thought.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Singapore's Rare and Valuable Visitor

Historically, the range of the world's rarest of rare herons - White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) - is believed to spread from Nepal and Bhutan in the north to India in the center, into Myanmar in the south. There has been no report of sightings of this bird outside and beyond these four countries. Its global population is said to be anywhere from 50 to 250, of which Bhutan has a recorded population of 28 individuals, found in two locations - Punasangchu areas (both Phu-Chu and Mo-Chu) in the west and Berti, Zhemgang in south-central part of the country. In Nepal, it is said to have gone extinct - as of few years back.

It has so far been believed that the birds do not migrate. One other behavioral characteristic attributed to the bird is that they are very shy and therefore, solitary feeders - generally avoiding human habitat.

If that were true, what is the bird doing in a concrete metropolis such as Singapore? Incredible? But it is true - the lone tourist was sighted by the shores of Singapore on 23rd January, 2014 at 11.00AM by Ms Shirley Koh - a 63-years old photo enthusiast.

Ms Shirley had accompanied her writer husband who wanted to swim at the Tanjong Beach Walk - a man-made lagoon in Sentosa island (Blue Lagoon revisited?). While her husband splashed in the warm water, she was scanning the banks of the lagoon to kill time while waiting for her husband to finish his swim.

That is when she noticed a large bird perched on a boulder that somehow looked familiar. Shirley is neither a bird watcher nor a bird photographer but she had seen the photo of the bird - in the process of doing a calendar project for a local law firm - a calendar comprising of thirteen of my bird photographs. Of the thirteen photographs, one of them was that of the rare White-bellied Heron.

She began to photograph the bird with her point-and-shoot camera: SONY Cyber-shot DCS HX10V. The clarity of the images are such that I am sure she managed to get extremely close to the bird - as close as about 20 ft. - otherwise such a miniscule camera could not have gotten such amazing quality images. All the following incredibly detailed images were photographed by Shirley - with her point-and-shoot SONY Cyber-shot. She sent me the images for validation; if she hadn't, I would have laughed the whole thing away as a joke.






For comparison, here is a photo of the bird photographed by me in Rurichu (Wangduephodrang) - some eight years back. There is no mistaking the bird - it is indeed a White-bellied Heron - beyond a shred of doubt.



Here is a photo of the camera that captured the rare bird with such clarity and detail - it is almost unbelievable. This camera must be something!


I do not believe that the bird is a resident of Singapore - no sightings have ever been reported here before. Singapore simply does not have the habitat to support such a large and shy bird. This could only mean that it is a visitor from some place in the proximity of the island state. Which one? The closest place where this bird is reported is Myanmar - few thousand KMs away to the north. Thus, it is near impossible that this bird originated there. In any event, the heron is not known to migrate. So then, how can the existence of this bird by the shores of Singapore be explained?

Tanjong Beach Walk where the bird was sighted is by no means a secluded spot - the place is buzzing with activity - there are buses and trams carousing around; there are joggers, swimmers and even sunbathers kicking up a racket. Gigantic ships and tankers box the place in - hooting loudly from time to time.

Here are some photos of the location where the heron was photographed:









So what is a shy and solitary bird doing in the middle of all this cacophony? Is the bird deaf, is it blind, or both? If it is neither deaf nor blind, how come it allowed Shirley to come so close? It took me five years to get a decent photograph of the bird - with a 500mm bazooka of a lens. I have never been able to get close to it - no where close to even 500 Mtrs. Every time I approach it, it would fly away. And this bird allows Shirley to photograph it with an idiot camera? This is incredible! If it is no longer shy of human intrusion, how did it become so?

In my view there is only one answer - it is quite probable that the bird is a resident of Malaysia. Since these birds are known to fly close to hundred KMs in search of food - Singapore is within that range from Malaysia. Strangely, how come few thousand birders in the region did not sight the bird before - until Shirley sighted it while patiently waiting for her husband to finish his swim?

Notwithstanding all the questions that remain unanswered, this is an important discovery for the nearly extinct birds. It could be that there are lot more of these birds than earlier believed. This important discovery could alter the bird's demography - and certainly it extends its range to beyond what is traditionally believed. May be even the belief that they do not migrate could be a myth. More importantly, this is good news for the birders in the region - they can finally begin to hope to see and observe one of the most critically endangered birds in existence.

I am going to get in touch with some birders in Singapore and see if a concerted effort can be made to determine the residential address of these birds. May be some ornithological societies in the region can get involved - to gain better understanding of this rare bird.

STRANGE COINCIDENCE: At exactly the same time Shirley was photographing this extremely rare bird, I happened to call her on her mobile. It is almost eerie that even as the rare bird is being discovered in Singapore for the first time, I, one of its most vocal campaigners in Bhutan, happen to call the discoverer at that precise moment. Is there something Karmic about this? Even Shirley thinks this is very strange!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fantastic News Coming Up

Talk to any birder worth his/her salt about the rarest of rare Herons - White-bellied Heron (Adrea insignis) - and you are likely to hear a catchy slogan: “Happiness is a Place” - the “Place” being Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon. And, as an afterthought, names of few other countries could crop up, such as those of Nepal, India and Myanmar. The reason is that these are the only four countries in the world where the bird is known to exist; correction - it went extinct in Nepal a few years back.

As of 2007, the White-bellied Heron has entered the IUCN Red List as a species that is Critically Endangered. It could go extinct anytime. At 28 individuals, Bhutan perhaps has the largest recorded number of these giant birds. These numbers could dwindle rapidly because of the large hydroelectric projects that are being set up in the country. The heron habitats are being imperiled by the gigantic concrete barriers that are being built to dam the Punasangchu river.

The shit hit the fan when, last year, it was revealed that the precious Punasangchu I dam was sinking - even before generating a single unit of electricity. For environmentalists however, even worst news is that as a result, the Heron population will eventually sink irrecoverably. For a nation that is touted as a champion of conservation and environmental protection, it would be the height of irresponsibility to allow these rare birds to go extinct. The environmental destruction that is being caused in the Punasangchu areas is irreversible but that is not the end of the story. Over the long haul, Bhutan’s economy will be totally messed up by these misbegotten projects. But I believe that some Bhutanese people have finally begun to understand the enormity of our problems, consequent upon the sinking dam debacle. I am now encouraged to believe that hence forth we will tread with caution.

As they say, let us cut our losses and run like hell - away from these booby-traps called: HYDROPOWER PROJECTS.

But this post is not about our woeful hydropower projects. It is about the herons, and particularly the critically endangered White-bellied Herons.

I believe that I have some fantastic and exciting news for the bird lovers and ornithologists of the world! If I am allowed to reveal, I will do so in my next post.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

PHALLUS Crazy Wisdom from BHUTAN

In all provability, Karma Choden the author of the book titled "PHALLUS Crazy Wisdom from BHUTAN" must be frantically going mad - supervising the arrangements for the launch of her maiden publication at the Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre which is scheduled for 3.30PM today.


His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche has the honor of launching the book - very apt in my view! I can think of no other personality who has the matching mischievous appeal - as does His Eminence - to validate the relevance and importance of the subject the book deals with. Worship and reverence of the male phallic symbol is integral to our culture and religion.

As I write this post, I am cruising at 39,000 ft. above the Indian Ocean - on my way to Singapore. I had wanted to be a part of the launch - but it coincided with my travel that was planned months back. Nonetheless, I wish Karma the very best and hope that her launch is progressing well and that she is thronged by people making snide digs at her and her lack of prudery in taking on a subject that is supposedly in the male domain.

I have played a small part in the book's making. It was an instinctive decision - I loved the overall packaging of the book; I loved the concept and I loved the fact that a woman was putting it all together. During the process of refining the book and improving its design and debating the relevance of some of the contents, we had hilarious moments - all very jaunty and jolly. But in the final stages of the books preparation, there was one funny incidence that is simply priceless! I hope that its narration will bring loads of laughter to every one - as it does to me every time I think of it.

The back flap of the book's cover needed a small blurb from the author. Karma was required to write something about herself and how come she was inspired to author the book. Not entirely a shy and retiring type of a girl, Karma got on with the job with real gusto.

She started the blurb with; "Karma's fascination with phalluses and the crazy wisdom associated with them started two years back...."

I looked in horror and guffawed at what I thought cannot be the truth. I pointed that out to Karma. Although she did not accept that what she wrote was untrue, nonetheless, she rephrased the sentence to how it now appears:

"Karma's fascination with phallic symbols and the crazy wisdom associated with them started two years back when she had an opportunity to travel all over Bhutan".

I wish Karma a huge success.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Law & Calamity

For me yesterday was a satisfying day - not because I did something noble or useful - but because someone else did. At about 10.30AM I was driving down from Motithang on my way to the Druk Air office in Changlam Plaza. As I was nearing the Labour Ministry office, I saw that a traffic police had stopped a lady driver in a Maruti car heading on the opposite direction to me.

WOW! is it possible that the officer stopped the lady for the reason I hope he did?

I stopped by the officer next to the car and asked him: “Lobey, gachi bedab mo?

“She entered a NO ENTRY zone”, replied the officer.

I was ecstatic! I gave the officer a Thumbs-Up and told him “Great Job - this has been going on for far too long”. He smiled happily while the lady violator glowered at me and drove off.

Some of you may recall that I had raised this issue of the mindless violation of the NO ENTRY zone in this particular area (my post of Tuesday, October 30, 2012 titled “The Bhutanese Way” (http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-bhutanese-way.html).

I cannot understand why some people cannot understand that a particular area is declared a NO ENTRY zone for a good reason. Following traffic rules keep our traffic flowing smoothly. And, discipline on the road saves lives.


 Photos from my earlier post on the subject dated 30.10.2012

Anyway, I had a great feeling - it was obvious that the Traffic Police are finally going to keep a watch over this area. The truth is that every law-abiding citizen should respect the law, without the need for the law enforcement agencies having to crack down on them every time. But, as a close friend told me one day, the Bhutanese people do not understand the rule of law - the only thing they understand is the Taetha - stick/cane!

I drove down to the Druk Air office - a happy and contented man - only to find that the Druk Air’s reservation system was down. The booking assistant at the counter was courteous and apologetic. She offered to make the reservations when the system was up. She took down my email address and assured me that the reservation details would be emailed to me when the system was back on. That email never arrived – meaning that the system was still down.

Then it began to snow ---- and snow --- and snow. So much so that all flights into and out of Paro were suspended/cancelled. All vehicular traffic to Punakha and Phuentsholing was closed - with the result that a friend of mine was stranded in a traffic gridlock - 3 KMs below Dochula while returning from Punakha. I kept myself awake until after 10PM - just in case he needed me to go and rescue him. As I write this post, I am clueless as to what happened to him - whether he was able to pass the Pass or whether he is still holed up in his vehicle where he was stranded last night. It is too early in the morning to find out.

I am a little unnerved - is it possible that enforcing law in this country can be calamitous?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Certification of Dungsam cement

A news article in today’s (10th January, 2014) Kuensel newspaper reported that the Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited can begin to export cement once the collected samples pass the lab test and a "license" is given by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).


This report is inaccurate and misleading. A Bhutanese manufacturer does not require a license from an Indian authority to sell/export its products. Not even Indian manufacturers require a license from BIS to sell their products.

The BIS, which was earlier known as the Indian Standards Institute, is the national standards body in India that issues certification marks for some of the industrial products manufactured in India. It is not a licensing authority.


By the way, during my tenure as the Head of the Export Department under the Export Division of the Ministry of Trade & Industries, I visited the ISI facility in Bombay. During the Q&A session, I couldn't help but question the boss of the ISI: who tests your testing and calibrating machines? I got a huge laugh from the man.

The BIS issues a certification mark known as the ISI Mark. Any product that carries this mark is supposed to be of superior quality since they are supposed to meet the quality and manufacturing standards and practices set by the BIS. It is mandatory for certain Indian products to carry the ISI Mark - Portland cement being one among them. However, not all manufactured goods need to obtain this certification - if some manufacturers wish to do so, they can - but it is voluntary. The ISI Mark looks like this:


As I said, goods that carry the ISI Mark are supposed to be superior in quality and durability but you and I know that it is far from true - 90% of the ISI marked goods sold in Bhutan are fakes - they have been stamped as "BIS Certified" in some dingy by-lane in Siliguri.

In a sense, it makes sense to obtain BIS certification for Dungsam’s Portland cement under appropriate ISI coding - not because we need it but because Dungsam Cement hopes to be able to market their product in India. However, I am not sure that it is wise for Dungsam Cement to suspend production simply because they have not yet been issued ISI Mark by the BIS. There are other certification bodies around the world that can certify our cement as a worthy product. Not all imported goods sold in India carry the ISI Mark. As long as they carry appropriate certification marks of the certifying authority in the country of origin or any one of the recognized certifying body around the world, Indian consumers and regulatory authorities should accept the product.

Bhutan could have Dungsam cement tested and certified by any one of the independent certification bodies around the world. This should be enough for our home market as well as Indian consumers to be satisfied that the cement produced by Dungsam cement is fit for use.

The following are few of the prestigious certification bodies around the world.

Australia       :  ASI
Bangladesh   :  BSTI
China            :  SAC
Germany       :  DIN
Japan             :  JISC
Singapore      :  SPRING SG
USA              :  ANSI

Following are some of the Certification marks from around the world:










Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vehicle Ownership Transfer Tax

There is considerable discussion happening on the sudden re-emergence of the issue of levying 5% tax on transfer of ownership of vehicles. For the record, the PDP government is not responsible for this rule. The government during whose tenure this rule was promulgated must assume the responsibility.

However, playing the blame game is not the answer. I read somewhere that the Hon’ble Prime Minister had come on BBS TV to state that his government is not responsible. That isn’t the point. The point is: Does he and his government feel that this ridiculous rule is unfair and self-defeating? If yes, then his government should do something to rectify it.

Two years back I had complained to the then DPT Minister of Information & Communications - stating that there was no rationale behind levying such high tax on transfer of ownership of vehicles. In fact I said that the transfer fee cannot be called a tax. I also opined that it was not correct that the RSTA should levy the tax based on what they call the “depreciated value of the car” at the time of sale. How often does it happen that a vehicle is sold based on the depreciated value?

I expressed the view that only an idiot would be willing to pay such high tax. Obviously, the government felt that it was one way to generate income for the RSTA. However, as it now turns out - as I correctly predicted - the government did not generate any income from this. On the other hand, lot of people who would have been willing to pay the fee, refused to pay the tax - thereby causing substantial loss of income.

Why not call it an “Administrative Fee” and decide on a lump sum figure of say …. Nu.2,000.00 or Nu.2,500.00 per incidence? I am sure every one will be willing to pay this amount of reasonable fee.

Talking of which, how is the RSTA going to effect transfer of the illegal transactions? Even at 5% tax?

Come to think of it, is there really a rule/law that makes it mandatory upon the seller/buyer to effect the transfer of ownership .... or does the rule/law merely state a rate of tax to be levied ... if and when a seller/buyer decides to change the ownership?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Forgotten Birthday

As usual, I had completely forgotten that yesterday the 19th of November was my birthday. But I do not celebrate my birthday .. so there is nothing unusual about being absent mined about it. But there are some friends who remember and send me felicitations. One such friend from New York writes as follows:
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Hi Yeshey,
Just to let you know that today, 19 November is also the WORLD TOILET DAY! It was initiated about 13 years ago and there was a commemorative event today sponsored by Singapore. It was funny to listen to discussions on what to do about poop and shit.

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Buddha be praised for giving me friends who will not forget to remind me that I was born on a shitty day!



Image from http://www.washadvocates.org

In the year 2001, the WTO declared 19th November as World Toilet Day. But it was only this year that the day was officially recognized as official UN Day. On this day, civil societies and governments around the world promote the importance of clean and safe sanitation for all.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fishing for Fish

The Bhutanese people are slowly beginning to realize that the hydropower projects will, over time, not only ruin our environment but will also be the cause of the loss of our nationhood. Some Bhutanese contractors working on the Punasangchu projects are already admitting that they are being “raped”.

Sometime back, His Excellency Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuck, Minister for Economic Affairs admitted publicly on BBS TV that every one of our hydropower projects have traditionally seen more than 250% cost escalation - starting from our very first project - Chukha Hydropower Project. Punasangchu Project I has already seen cost escalation of more than 300% but the project is barely half done. By the time it is done, the cost escalation will provably touch 400%. At this rate of cost escalation, I wonder what the per unit cost of generation will be? Hydropower projects are profitable as long as unit cost of generation is kept low.

To me it is clear that we will be losing money over these hydropower projects: simply because too many mistakes have been made as a result of which the project is costing us more than the revenue it is likely to generate. And we are not talking of other costs - such as political and environmental. I doubt if we will be able to service the loans obtained from India - for these projects. This is likely to force us to remain perennially in debt - to India. Is this the result of incompetence? Poor design? Poor management? Or, something else?

I have said this before: WE NEED TO STOP HERE or we are DOOMED! Am I wrong? May be - but time will tell.

Anyway, this post is not about hydro-power projects. I think I have made enough noise and, as always, nothing is going to come of it. Today I want to post some photos of a Kingfisher fishing for fish - in Berti, Zhemgang.

I am convinced, as other environmentalists are, that as a result of the Punasangchu and other hydropower projects, one of Bhutan’s rarest birds and a star attraction for visiting birders - the White-bellied Herons (Ardea insignis) are being imperiled. There is a real danger of these birds going extinct - as a result of their habitat being destroyed by these hydro-power projects.

There is nothing I can do for these birds - but bring their plight to the notice of the government. I had heard that there is a small community of these birds living in Berti, Zhemgang - so I visited the place to see how secure the habitat was - for these birds to continue to live and thrive in the area. I am glad that the place is very well suited to these birds and there is hardly any human activity in the areas where they live. I have been spreading the word that since Punasangchu area (the most important Heron habitat in Bhutan) is going to be lost to these birds, we should declare that patch of area in Berti as Heron sanctuary. For a country that is known world over as a champion of conservation, it would be shameful if we allow these birds to go extinct.

For the record, Bhutan boasts the highest number of these rarest of rare Herons. On last enumeration, we have 28 of these birds. The world population of these birds are said to be any where from 50 to 200 birds.

I was seated by the riverbank - waiting for the Herons to show up. After a while, I noticed that a cute little Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) had landed on a boulder at a distance. He than began a series of dives to catch himself some fish. The following series of photos show the cute fellow at work:

He is scanning the pool of water for fish.


He sees that there is plenty of fish in the shallow water in front of him. This day he will certainly not go hungry!


He takes flight and hovers over the pool of water before he dives to catch a fish.



He has a fish!


The fish struggles to free itself from the beaks of the bird. No Chance!


The fish is still wriggling.


After a while, the fish is dead.


The bird than swallows the fish - whole!


He lets out a satisfied BURP!


The bird then flies off to perch on a tree branch - closes his eyes and dozes off for a afternoon siesta. He will wake up after about an hour and start the process - all over again.