Friday, July 31, 2015

The Khazanchi Doctrine: Cost + Revenue = Income

In the article by Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) dated July 29, 2015, headlined “Deadline extension could cost the government time and money”, the reporter writes:

The government could lose a revenue amount of more than Ngultrum 47.7 billion as a result of extension of completion date of the Punatshangchhu I hydropower project to 2019”. (http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=52407)

In response, R N Khazanchi the Managing Director of the Punasangchhu Projects I & II states:

“The plant would operate for 35 years and even if the project is completed three years later, it would earn the government the same amount of revenue, only the time was being delayed. It cannot be considered revenue loss; it is the same amount of income being deferred to a different date”.

Now, what the person responsible for managing and overseeing Bhutan’s two biggest hydro-power projects costing over Nu. 200.00 billion is propagating is too complex an economic theory, above and beyond the understanding of people of lesser intelligence. This intricate and conceptual philosophy needs to be explained in plain English so that people have a grasp of what is being said.

What the Managing Director is saying is simple:

1.  Cost over-runs and mounting interest costs is inconsequential and has no bearing on the profitability
     of the projects.

2.  Completion of project in time is not important - as long as it is completed - even if ten years later.

3.  That the government of Bhutan will derive the same amount of “income” from Punasangchhu-I even after

     three years of delay and project cost escalating to Nu. 120.00 billion, from its initial estimate of
     Nu. 35.00 billion.

4.  The Managing Director talks of “revenue” and “income” in the same breadth meaning that he wants us to

     believe that they are one and the same.

Wah re wah Khazanchi Bhai, kya dialogue mara!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Neither ill will nor malice

Omair - a friend and an author based in Delhi wrote an interesting article today, on India-Bhutan relations and what ails it:

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/prime-minister-narendra-modis-historic-visit-to-bhutan/article7480714.ece

Omair has visited Bhutan a number of times and traveled extensively within the country. He understands, more than some Bhutanese, the principles on which India-Bhutan relations is founded.

In his mail to me informing me of his article in The Hindu, he reassures me that the ongoing disaster with our hydro-power projects “….. has more to do with dysfunction within India's foreign policy apparatus rather than any ill will - mistakes rather than malice - …..”

I would like to think so too and I am tempted to believe him. However, as they say in the comic books - the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Thus, if malice were not intended, the Big Brother will prove it in the manner in which they go about correcting the mistakes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Yet Another Disastrous DPR In The Planning?

Even while the country is still reeling under the shock and frustration of discovering the pathetic quality of DPR carried out in the Punasangchhu-I project, resulting in losses amounting to billions of Ngultrums, the ugly word has yet again resurfaced - this time related to the ecological and environmental disaster that is being contemplated - in the form of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.

KUENSEL (issue dated 20/07/2015) reports that: “DANTAK hopes to complete DPR for Shingkhar-Gorgan highway by October”.

This is very strange - how can a DPR (Detailed Project Report) be done on a project that still hasn't been cleared for implementation? The erstwhile DPT government scrapped the project - because they realized that they would be breaking a law if they went ahead with the project.

The proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan highway passes through the core areas of the Thrumshingla National Park (TNP). Our laws prohibit any construction within a protected park area. Additionally, the Thrumshingla National Park is an important habitat for the near-extinct Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) - that the whole world is trying to save and salvage.

The world will not be sympathetic to a country that professes to champion the cause of environmental conservation, and yet, vandalizes an important habitat of a species that is nearing extinction.

We can certainly do without this road - it benefits no one, it passes through complete wilderness and, above all, the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) of the Department of Forests and Park Services who must give environmental clearance before this road can happen, has sworn never to allow this project to take place - because it will be the very antithesis to their being - should this road happen.

One environmentalist I spoke to few days back is aghast at the idea of doing this disastrous road. He cannot think of anything else - except political gimmickry. In his opinion, since the road passes through Lhuentse which is where the Agriculture Minister’s constituency is, he thinks that the highway may be in partial fulfillment of his campaign pledge. The environmentalist is of the view that the Agriculture Minister hopes to be able to influence the WCD (a Division under the Ministry of Agriculture) to issue the environmental clearance that is required before work on the road can begin. Such a charge is premature and can only be proven - if and when, the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway happens.

However, I do not believe that to be true. Political brinkmanship of this magnitude is still not something that our politicians are capable of - not as yet - I mean I hope not. Also, even beyond being the Minister of the Department that must do all it can to uphold the law, His Excellency the Agriculture Minister cannot forget that he is one of the trustees elected by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, under Article 5, to protect and safeguard the environment:

“Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the adoption and support of environment friendly practices and policies”.

In defense of his opposition to the foolhardy idea of this road, all that the Minister need do is quote the relevant laws that are already in place. The then Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho offered to resign from the Cabinet - should the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway happen!

Ancient Fir forest that will be desecrated if the highway goes through


It is said that the highway will require 26 zigs before it can reach the Singmala top giving us an idea of the geological make of the area

Total wilderness between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa - there is not a single village in between

Total wilderness between Shingkhar and Singmala - there is not a single village in between

 Total wilderness between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa. Additional 30 KMs climb from Pelphu Goenpa to Singmala. They have already built a road (16 KMs) from Gorgan to Pelphu

 Total wilderness at the top of Singmala


 No villages between Shingkhar village to Singmala
 
It will take another 30 KMs of digging into the mountain side before the road reaches Singmala top from Pelphu Goenpa


Saturday, July 25, 2015

India Finds Bhutanese Electricity Too Expensive!

TheBhutanese newspaper reports that Tata Power Trading Company (TPTC) is facing hard times selling electricity generated by Dagachu Hydropower Project. The company is unable to sell our electricity in India at the contracted rate of Nu. 2.90 per unit. TPTC has a 15 years contract with Dagachu Pydropower Project to purchase and sell electricity in India.

So, are we expecting inflation in the Indian energy market to go up by 400% - as in the case of the construction cost of Punashangchhu-I project? If not, how are we expected to profitably sell our electricity to India when the cost of generation will touch close to Nu. 6.00 per unit by the time the Punasangchhu-I is done?

If this is the situation we are faced with, how can we say that “loans from hydro-power projects are self-liquidating”?

Given this bleak scenario, it means the government’s decision on the financing modality of upcoming hydro-power projects at 70:30 debt to equity ratio is also unsound. In fact, it is time that we now suspend all further loans for new hydro-power projects - until all the projects that are currently in the pipeline are completed and commissioned.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Punasangchhu-I: Nu.93.75 Billion and Rising!

BBS, Bhutan’s national broadcaster reports:

India approves PHPA I’s new cost estimate of Nu 93.75B (http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=52340).

That is very bighearted of India. But what of Bhutan, the bigger stakeholder in the project? Bhutan’s share is 60% - so what does Bhutan say? Does Bhutan approve too? Does Bhutan accept the cost escalation from its initial estimate of Nu. 35.00 billion to its current Nu. 93.75 billion?

And what of the losses? Is Bhutan required to bear the losses resulting from decisions made by the Indians - even while they were categorically pointed out by the Geological Survey of India that the new dam location was geologically unstable? The relocation of the dam site has not only delayed the project by years, it has also taken up the cost of the project by Nu. 4.5 billion. This does not take into account losses running into billions - through loss of revenue as a result of delayed project completion. The project completion date has now been moved to 2019! If past records are anything to go by, this too will be further pushed back.

The other issue I have been raising is that of the unit cost of generation of the Punasangchhu-I. How can anything remain profitable when its cost of production has gone up by 400%? The Punasangchhu-I was started with a cost estimate of Nu.35.00 billion. It has now gone up to Nu. 93.75 billion. By the time the project gets done, if ever it gets done, the cost would have escalated to somewhere around Nu. 120.00 billion.

Already, the cost of generation - at the estimated project completion date of 2017 - is said to be around Nu. 4.00 per unit. The project completion date has now been pushed back to 2019. An educated guess would be that the project would not get done even by 2022. This means the unit cost will go upto something like Nu. 6.00 per unit.

By contrast, Bhutan’s electricity is currently sold to India at an average rate of Nu. 2.00 per unit.

One does not have to be a mathematical wizard to understand what is happening with our famous hydro-power projects!

Even worst, because of the unstable nature of the mountainside, the Punasangchhu-I project will now be using a new and, ENTIRELY UNTESTED, atleast in the Himalayan region, technology of dam construction called Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC). A complete departure from the tried and tested method of Conventional Vibrated Concrete (CVC).

As of now, it is anybody’s guess - may be it will work, may be it will not. However, even if the dam holds up, we still need to pray to God to come to our rescue - because looking at the figures, it is simply impossible to pay off the loans - from selling electricity generated by this doomed project, if ever it will.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Surprise about the Geological Surprise in Punasangchhu-I

In his most recent post on his Blog: www.kbwakley.blogspot.com, K B Wakley makes some shocking exposé, pertaining to the oft-quoted “geological surprise” in the Punasangchhu-I hydro-power project.

It has now been proven, from records secretly filed away in some dingy corner of one of the offices in the Economics Affairs Ministry building, that the now famous “geological surprise” was actually “envisioned” and a foregone conclusion!

The project authorities were well AWARE THAT THERE WOULD BE GEOLOGICAL SURPRISES at the dam site of the PHPA-I. And, yet, they went ahead with the dam construction and caused losses amounting to tens of billion of Rupees.

Going by the audit report submitted by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) to the Ministry of Economics Affairs, it becomes clear that:

a.  The Geological Survey of India (GSI) had clearly pointed out the “presence of weak
      geological features in the new dam axis and envisioned geological surprises” at the
      Punasangchhu-I new dam site.

b.  In spite of the GSI’s recommendation to extend the right bank drift at least up to RD 135 m - 140 m,

     the project authorities ignored the GSI’s recommendations.

c.  The work on the dam construction should have been started only after GSI’s thorough investigation,

     which began on 29th April 2009. Shockingly, the project authorities had already
      awarded the work to the contractors on 27th March 2009 - even before the investigation began!
     The GSI’s final investigation report was submitted only in November 2009 - seven
       months after the work on the dam started!

It is now clear that the dam construction of Punasangchhu-I was done in great haste and without proper investigation. The unstable geological make of the location was clearly pointed out by the GSI. And yet, they went ahead with the construction.

One can see that the project authorities have been blatant in their irresponsibility. The two governments of Bhutan and India should now have no problem in fixing accountability on those responsible for this disaster that is still ongoing. And, it is still not too late to heed my New Year’s Wish:

http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2015/02/my-new-year-wish.html

For Bhutan, the cheaper way out is still the closure of the projects.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

MARG: Magazine of the Arts

The following is the cover of MARG, a magazine published in Mumbai, India. The cover features my photograph of a novitiate monk shot at Dechenphodrang Lhakhang in 2003.


One of the articles inside titled A Passion for Preservation: Photography of Yeshey Dorji is on me and my photography, authored by Ms. Madeline Drexler, Editor of Harvard Public Health magazine and fellow at the Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

This special Volume 66 Number 4 of the magazine is entirely dedicated to the arts of Bhutan. It will be launched in Bhutan during the upcoming Mountain Echoes literary festival to be held in Thimphu, during third week of August, 2015.

About MARG

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lessons in Photography

Well, I think I will take a break from forever playing the messenger of doom. Acting the perennial soothsayer is no fun, particularly when one is most often reminded that the dogs may bark but the marauders will march on, regardless.

Lets turn to photography for a momentary respite from all the gloom and doom.

As usual, I woke up early only to find that whole of Thimphu valley had been blanketed under an all-encompassing swath of white mist. I quickly brushed, washed, brewed tea, gulped few sips of the steaming hot tea, grabbed my camera bag that is forever packed and ready, and ran out the door to start my car. Looking at the surreal scene in front of me, I was sure that there would be great photo opportunity at the Kuenselphodrang where the Buddha Dordenma statue sits in solitary bliss, surveying the valley below, with a look of infinite kindness and compassion.

Buddha Dordenma under construction at Kuenselphodrang, Thimphu: 17.07.2015

When I reached Kuenselphodrang, the statue and everything else was completely covered in mist. Nothing inspiring there. I parked my car by the roadside and waited and waited and waited. The mist adamantly hung on - like in animated suspension - concealing everything. In the meantime, my throat was getting parched from lack of the customary four mugs of hot black tea. I looked at my car dashboard to check the time - it was 7:33AM. I decided that I would quickly run back to my house and get my flask of tea that was sitting on my office desk.

As I reached Motithang, I saw an elderly man wiggling up the desolate road leading up to the Motithang gas station - with a empty gas cylinder strapped on him back. A most fitting scene, to be included in an article that I plan to do soon - on the common man's hardships of getting cooking gas refill. I was tempted to stop and photograph the person: the brilliant virginal morning light striking the solitary man wobbling up the desolate road, the downcast sweeping branches of the weeping willow shimmering tender green in the mini park to his right, made the whole scene even more alluring. But heck, I needed to grab my thermos and get back to Kuenselphodrang or I will miss my photo opportunity.

Thus, even while the temptation was great, I refused to stop to photograph the person. I rushed back to Kuenselphodrang - only to find that the darn mist had completely lifted and exposed the Buddha in all its stark nakedness!!! I cursed a foul “J----a” and sat down to drink tea, in complete defeat.

For those of you who are into photography, this is an IMPORTANT LESSON in the pursuit of photography - NEVER EVER BE DISTRACTED. If you are on to something - stick by it. Don't move away - let the hell freeze over - but stay put and get your shot. I was distracted when I ran off to get the flask of tea, in the process I missed a great photo opportunity. My loss was further aggravated by my second mistake - that of not stopping and shooting the gas man. In an attempt to get what I did not know was already a lost cause, I lost that other opportunity as well!

Despite a disastrous morning with multiple missed opportunities, I was still intent on getting something out of the morning’s sojourn. Even with the harsh light, the Buddha statue looked imposing in the morning sun. So I photographed a few frames. In the following photographs, there is another lesson for those of you who are aspiring photographers: a subject may look pretty all by itself … and yet, sometimes including something else in the frame can hugely improve the image. Notice that in the second photo of the Buddha, I included three morning joggers in the frame:







As you can see, the image is much more interesting - and the Buddha is no longer lonesome!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Self-liquidating Geological Surprises

On 14th July, 2015, our national broadcaster - BBS makes the following extremely alarming announcement:

Bhutan heading towards a debt crisis?

The news report carries the following graphics:

 
http://www.bbs.bt/news/?p=52123

Quoting some source based in the UK, the BBS report makes one thing clear - that our external debt is more than our entire GDP and that we are listed among 14 other countries headed towards a debt crisis. We share the dais with the likes of Greece!

But Parliamentarian Karma Tenzin, a member of the Public Accounts Committee of the NA is unimpressed with the report. He is confident that Bhutan would not enter a debt crisis. He told the BBS that:

“……….. most of the government borrowings were concentrated on hydropower, which are self-liquidating.

Bhutan is blessed that Karma Tenzin is a Parliamentarian and not an accountant.

The self-liquidating hydropower projects such as Punasangchhu I & II are suffused with “geological surprises” after “geological surprises”.

The project’s original cost estimate of Rs.35.00 billion has seen close to 300% escalation - to somewhere in the region of Rs.97.00 billion, currently. It is my belief that the project, if it ever gets completed, will cost somewhere in the region of Rs.120.00 billion - nearly 400% cost increase. Strangely, the government is quite content on blaming the delay and cost escalation to - “geological surprises”. The project authority does one better - it says the cost escalation is attributed to “inflation”. Inflation of 300 - 400%??? Preposterous!!!!

Progress on the dam of Punasangchhu I has been AT A STANDSTILL EXACTLY TWO YEARS. In the meantime, interest on the borrowed debt of now close to Rs.97.00 billion Rupees is mounting. Irrespective of all that, no decision is yet made as to what happens to the resumption of the dam construction.

And now listen to this: one knowledgeable person in affairs of hydropower projects tells me: “it is simply impossible - the dam at its current location CANNOT BE BUILT. If they do, both the Punasangchhu I & II are doomed!”.

Cost escalation is not unique to Punasangchhu I & II - all our other projects suffer from it - by the billions. Inflation is blamed for it. Tell me, when estimates are prepared, isn’t inflation factored in? Isn’t that a standard norm - to provide for inflation - particularly where construction of long durations are involved?

This is the state of our self-liquidating hydropower projects. But obviously this is no reason for alarm - we can always pray to God for a miracle!

Koencho Sum Khenno!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Many Casualties of Bhutan's Hydro Power Projects

Business Bhutan’s front-page article of July 11, 2015 headlined “MINING FIRM OWNED BY PDP STALWARTS THREATENS TO TAKE GOVERNMENT TO COURT” finally exposes the hydro-power projects in Bhutan for what they really are - a monumental swindle designed to bring this country to its knees, under the burden of debt and bankruptcy. It is sad. But I know that this is not the end of it - there will be many more dead bodies that will litter the wayside - before we hit the hydro-power cul-de-sac.

The mindlessness and absurdity is simply unbelievable, almost sinister! What manner of insanity and witchery holds sway over us that we allow ourselves to be ensnared into these deathtraps called hydro-power projects?

Even while anyone with any iota of commonsense can see that the country has already sunken neck-deep into the quicksand of debt and destruction, the government still talks of saving the hydro-power projects - supposedly “in the interest of the country”. And how does the government go about saving the hydro-power projects and the country? - in a very ingenious way - by shifting the burden of responsibility on the hapless Bhutanese mine operators!

Only last year I remember that the government had, on the floor of the Parliament - no less - eloquently defended the colossal project cost escalation running into tens of billions of Rupees recorded by the Punasangchu Hydro Power Projects I & II, as “geological surprises” - effectively exonerating the Project authorities of any culpability. The government’s act of chivalry towards the Indian project managers and contractors, despite such colossus losses, is certainly admirable.

However, today the government finds that they had failed to read the fine print in the contract and are obligated to remedy their failure. In its attempt to “fulfill the written contractual obligation” to the Punasangchhu Project authorities, the government does something that no self-respecting government should do - it arbitrarily seizes the Bhutanese owned mines, cancels its licence and hands over the mines to the Indian contractors!

Even worst, to rub salt to injury, the government offers the mine operators compensation less than half what is justly due to them.

Obviously the government has been had - it does not matter whether it is the past or the present government. Government of the day has to take on the onus of remedying whatever fault that needs rectification. It is acceptable that the government has to eat humble pie - but it is lame that it should do so by exacting the cost on a mining company that has been issued a legitimate licence to do a legitimate business.

I can understand that the government may stand in need for a private company to bail it out of a sticky situation. And, perhaps, a private company is duty bound to heed the call of duty and put the interest of the country and the government above and beyond, self-interest. But by the same token, the government needs to be responsible enough to own up to its failures and not act the bully by passing on the cost of its failure to a legitimately licenced business activity. It should do its part - by accepting that the mining company is not at fault and thus, cannot be victimized in the process. The mining company deserves to be given their due compensation. That is the honorable thing to do.

Please bear in mind that Bhutan will be subjected to losses running into more than a hundred billion, by the time Punasangchhu Hydro Power Projects I & II are done. Therefore, it does not seem reasonable that the government is reneging on paying out less than 0.20% of the overall losses that it is willing to absorb, caused by the Indian project managers and contractors. It is particularly unfair, given that the same government seized the mines from the private Bhutanese owners - in order that it can hand it over to the Indian contractors - to fulfill its “contractual obligations”.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bhutan's First QSL Card

It is called wireless and yet, no other communications device uses as much wire, as does the wireless transmitter/transceiver! Even the ground on which the antenna is hoisted is strewn with copper wires running to all directions - for better signal reception.

 The "wirelessness" inside a Ham Radio Shack containing radio sets and other paraphernalia

Bhutan started to take its baby steps towards modernization sometime towards the end of 1950's, and yet, by 1955, someone in Bhutan was already sending voice and data over the airwaves - exactly 60 years ago! A wireless instructor in the employ of the Royal Government of Bhutan by the name of N. Chhawna from the Indian State of Mizoram was happily communicating with people as far away as USA - in 1955, using wireless radio equipment.

Records available in various archives confirm that the following were two of Chhawna’s and, by default, Bhutan’s earliest QSO’s. The top one is a QSL Card logged with an amateur with the CallSign VS2BD - Edward B. Powell - operating from the erstwhile Federation of Malaya that ceased to exist as a country as of 15th September, 1963. Like Malaya, Sikkim was deleted from the countries’ list as of April 30, 1975 and Tibet saw its demise as of May 30, 1974.

Two of Bhutan's first QSL Cards

 The Card at the lower end was logged with an American ham radio operator using the CallSign W8PQQ - his name was Albert H. Hix from Charleston, West Virginia, USA. This Mr. Hix was an enigma in ham radio. This really ancient ham radio operator logged his first QSO on November 9, 1935. His very last QSO was on June 10, 2003 - meaning he remained active on the radio for 68 years! Upon his death on 25th June, 2003, he had accumulated 10 footlockers filled with close to 135,000 QSL Cards! This is an incredible average of almost 6 Cards every single day of his life as a radio operator!

The earliest recorded ham radio operation from Bhutan by a Chilip is credited to Mr. Gus Browning of USA. He is supposed to have first operated from Bhutan in July of 1963. He writes that he was back in Bhutan again in February - April, 1965. Frankly, there are so many inconsistencies in his operations; supposedly made from Bhutan, that I am not quite sure they are all true.

 Gus Browning with his wife and daughter

His wife Peggy writes that she too was here in Bhutan with her husband in 1965 and worked for a while at the Hospital in Langjopakha. I have been showing Peggy’s photo to people who worked at that old hospital of the 60’s - to see if they recognized her. No luck yet. My own aunty was a nurse during that time at the hospital across the Tashichoe Dzong’s cantilever bridge - but she says her memory fails her.

 Mrs. Peggy Browning, Gus Browning's wife photographed around the time she was supposed to have visited Bhutan

NOTE:
QSO : When two radio operators (hams) establishes radio contact, such a contact is called a QSO;

QSL : A written confirmation is required, to validate a radio contact between two operators.
           Such a written and signed confirmation, in the form of a printed Card, containing full details
           of the contact, is called a QSL.

Friday, July 3, 2015

My Progressive Demotion

At the end of day on 30th June, 2015, my term as the Club Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu ended. The installation ceremony of the incoming officials for the year 2015-2016 was held on that evening. On this night, the incumbent Club officials handed over their pins and insignia and the Charter Certificate, and responsibilities, to a new set of Club officials who took over the management and administration of the Club and its affairs - until end of June, next year.

For the outgoing officials, it was a moment for reflection and introspection - on what they have achieved and how they have been able to serve the community and whether they have been able to live up to the Rotary spirit.

For those who have been elected to take up the reins of the Club and its affairs for the next one year, it was a moment to talk of new goals and directions they would set for the Club and its members – and to pronounce their will and determination to reinforce the ideals of selflessness that is at the core of Rotary spirit of giving and service.

As a pivotal mover and shaker in my capacity as the Club Secretary, I was happy to terminate my term of office - happy in the belief that I have made a difference and that I have given the very best that is in me. At long last, I now have the opportunity for a little rest and respite - from the weighty responsibilities of playing the efficient Club Secretary.

Looking back and recalling my involvement in the Rotary Club of Thimphu - from its inception in 2012, I am a little aghast that I have been steadily demoted in my position in the Club! :)-

It began with my appointment as a Charter Member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, when it was formed on 24th of April, 2012. To this day I am clueless as to who bestowed upon me the honor of being nominated a Charter Member.

Even while I was traipsing in the jungles of Sengore and Yongkala in Mongaar photographing wild birds - without my knowledge, I was appointed Vice President of the Club!

Vice President Pin

In 2014, inspite of my very vehement protestations, I was appointed Club Secretary - a position one notch down the post of VP.

 Club Secretary's Pin

In the same year, I was named a Paul Harris Fellow and received my Pin “in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world”.

My Paul Harris Fellow Pin

Early this year I received my Bronze Pin in recognition of my sponsoring two new Members to the Rotary fraternity.

 Membership Sponsorship Pin

Upon relinquishing my position as the Club Secretary, I am now an ordinary Member wearing the ordinary Rotary Pin :)-

Ordinary Rotary Pin

But that is the way the cookie crumbles :)- I am very happy though - because I am honored to be a Rotarian and I work tirelessly - in the service of my Club and the community! I am glad that we have a bunch of great Members who stand by each other and who make a great team!

Tourism Industry's Death Knell

The FINANCIAL -- IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, will invest $3.5 million in Bhutan’s Zhiwa Ling Hotel to support its plans to refurbish and increase room capacity and boost tourism in the country. This is the first ever external borrowing by a private Bhutanese company.

http://finchannel.com/index.php/business/travel-news/item/46179-ifc-invests-in-bhutan-s-zhiwa-ling-hotel-supports-growth-and-boosts-investments-in-tourism

A very encouraging news indeed! Not so much because the IFC’s investment in the Zhiwa Ling Hotel demonstrates that it sees potential in the property, but because, even more important, it is a re-validation of what I have always said - that tourism is Bhutan’s most important industry that gives employment and economic benefit - across the broad spectrum of Bhutanese society.

Obviously, the World Bank sees it. Why then, don't we see it? Why do we fail to recognize how vitally important the tourism industry is to Bhutan? Why, particularly in the face of the reality that is now staring at our faces - that hydro-power - the wolf in sheep's clothing - is slowly but surely leading us down the path of doom and destruction?

It is a strange thing! Despite its potential, scant attention is paid to tourism and its development in the right direction. In fact it is as if there is some sinister conspiracy afoot to destroy it completely. Even our National Council seems to be onto the game of destroying the industry by calling for its liberalization.

In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, our tourist arrivals are already on the down-slide. The final nail on the coffin is the recently initiated Wangdue-Trongsa road-widening work - a sure death knell for Bhutan’s tourism industry.

The road widening work between Simtokha and Mesina - a distance of 59 KMs - has been going on for over one and a half decades! It is still a work in progress. Regardless, the government proudly announces that the work between Wangdue and Trashigang - a distance of 492 Kms - will be completed in just three years.

The mountainsides will be hacked and dug up; Kms. upon Kms. of mounds of mud and soil and boulders will be piled up by the road side that will hinder traffic flow for hours on end. Road surfaces will be strewn with gaping potholes that will cause havoc to vehicles. Lush green vegetation and millions of trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow and mature, will be rendered asunder. The environment that we have sworn to protect will be devastated. Strings of heavy earth moving equipment will lie idle by the roadside, like zombie guardians keeping watch over empty burial grounds.

The Bhutanese people will wait with hope and mounting desperation - like the proverbial Maheng waiting for its pound of salt from Tibet - but the salt will never arrive.

In the next few years, it will become apparent to the Bhutanese people that this was yet another mistake we had the opportunity to avoid. By then it will be too late - irreparable damage would have been caused and we would have completely destroyed our tourism industry.

For long years, hundreds upon hundreds of Kms. of our national highway will remain dug up, unfinished and unpaved. Dozens of road building contractors will remain unpaid for their troubles and banks will institute legal proceedings on them for failing to service their loans.

All that I can say then would be that - I told you so!
----------------------------------

UPDATE: 
Today morning’s Kuensel headline:

Road widening caused slides 
Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa

The recent landslides and flood that rocked Trongsa is due to road widening project. This is the view the residents and the dzongkhang’s damage assessment team holds.
“The business community says that the road widening works actually caused the floods and multiple landslides,” said a hotelier from Trongsa.

Trust me you haven't seen anything yet!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kolkata, Chennai, Chilipthang etc.

We had a visiting Rotarian from Chhenai, India who attended our Weekly meeting this Friday the 26th June, 2015. The Rotary norm is that any visiting Rotarian can attend any meeting of around 33,000 Rotary Clubs in over 200 countries around the world. Infact, if a Rotarian attends a Rotary meeting anywhere else in the world, it is akin to attending one’s own Club’s meeting. The host Club Secretary would sign a Visiting Rotarian’s Attendance Slip - to authenticate that the visiting Rotarian attended their Club meeting.

Rotary meetings are most often followed by what is called “fellowship”. Once the serious business of Rotary is over and the gong is sounded, Members loosen up and indulge in lighthearted banter and camaraderie - quite often accompanied by copious amounts of boozing. It hasn't happened yet - but I know that there is no escaping it - there will come a sozzled night when yours truly will have to be looking down the barrel of an alcohol breath analyzer. It does not help that our Meetings are always held on Fridays - coinciding with the ZERO TOLERANCE DAY declared by our men in blue.

The visiting Rotarian told us that Kolkata in West Bengal, India was originally a village named Kalikata which was later changed to Calcutta by the British - now, once again, back to being Kolkata. He tells us that his own city - Chennai was originally called Madraspatnam. The British changed it to Chennapattnam. Over time, it came to be known as Madras. Then in 1996, the state government changed it back to Chennai.

So, what about name changes in good old Land of the Thunder Dragon? Plenty - I think we have changed the names of few hundred of our villages, mostly in the South: Kilkhorthang, Rilangthang, Sergithang, Norbuthang, Dzamlingthang, Gawaithang etc. etc. and etc.

But the name of one small place in Chukha has adamantly remained unchanged over the past four decades, since I can remember: AWAKHA!

For those of you who do not know the meaning, the English equivalent of the name is: EATSHIT!

Any chance that this derogatory name will some day catch someone’s fancy and have it changed to something a little bit more dignified? I bet the Brits could have done much better - but history has it that these uppity, uppity chilips found the Bhutanese lot too barbaric, and the land entirely useless for anything! Had they colonized us, we would not have had to suffer this shame - may be they would have named the place - Chilipthang!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pretty Faces Are In Rural Bhutan!

I am not a portrait shooter because the modern faces do not appeal to me. However, as a photographer, I cannot stop looking hard at faces - because I am always looking out for a subject to shoot. Sometimes people think that I am rude for staring :)- They do not know that I am not looking at them but at a potential subject to shoot.

But rural faces I love! Look at what a jewel of a face I found recently - in a village not too far way from the madding crowd of Thimphu.






What a natural charmer she was! The lighting conditions were not the most ideal --- otherwise she would pop out of the screen!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How True Is The Claim?

"Bhutan sets its first-ever Guinness World Records title
  with Most trees planted in one hour"

I think this claim is not true. I believe that this is not our first Guinness World Record Title. I think we have four earlier Guinness World Records, that I know of:

1. Both our monarchs - His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel
    Wangchuck (listed in 2012) were listed, at different times, in the Guinness Book of
    World Records as the youngest reigning monarchs of a sovereign nation.

2. Late Lyonpo Dawa Tsering as the longest serving Foreign Minister of any country.

3. Goongloen Lam Dorji of the RBA - as the oldest and the longest serving Chief of Army.

And, if it can be considered a record, my photograph of the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) entered the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the rarest Heron in the world.

Do any one of you know of any other records the Bhutan holds in the Guinness Book of World Records.

PS:
We have this terrible habit of making untrue claims. I remember Bhutan Today newspaper claiming that they were the first private newspaper in Bhutan. The truth is that the first private newspaper was started by a person popularly known as "Kuenphen Karma". I think he started his failed paper sometime during late 70's or early 80's.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

WATER: Thinking Beyond Hydro-power Projects

In recent times, both the KUENSEL, as well as the BBS, have been unfailing in the regularity with which they reported on our hydro-power projects and how there is a need to review the hydro-power policy that has obviously failed to meet our expectations. It would appear that the realization has finally begun to dawn on a number of people that the much-touted egg, whether in a single basket or multiple baskets, is turning out to be nothing more than a thoroughly rotten egg!

Unfortunately, the writing on the wall is that reviewing or even reformulating our hydro-power policies isn’t going to help us in the least bit. By now it is obvious that what is needed is a complete reversal of policy.

As I hinted in my earlier post titled; “WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: III”, there is a need to look at our rivers as something more than merely a force to drive turbines to generate electricity. There is an URGENT need to move away from our traditional thinking - of using our river waters merely to turn turbines - and explore other possibilities the waters hold for us. The reasons are simple:

1.  The hydropower projects are becoming a dangerous tool in the game of attrition that is
     being played out.

2.  Over time, we may loose right of ownership over our own river systems.

3.  Something that is rather strange is that imported cooking gas (LPG) and kerosene are currently found 
     to be cheaper as fuel for cooking and heating - rather than electricity or wood. In a
     country that claims to generate thousands of megawatts of cheap electricity, how did
     we allow such a situation to develop?

4.  We pride ourselves as a net exporter of power. Shamefully, we are required to import
     power from India during the winter months.

It is becoming increasingly clear that water will, one day, be one of the most sought after resource in the world, over which wars are likely to be fought. At a time when the world community is experiencing shortage of drinkable fresh water due to global warming caused by climate change, we need to be judicious in the management of our river waters which are mostly fed by the melting glaciers. Once the glaciers recede and turn to moraine, we are in trouble because there is nothing that will substitute water. Unlike other countries in the world, we do not have access to saline water that we can desalinate. When our river systems dry up, we are in serious trouble.

A plan needs to be put in place - to ensure that we have a long-term strategy to guarantee water security. However, that isn’t likely to happen if we allow hydro-power plants to be installed on every one of our rivers. If we allow that, it is clear that they will all be turned into factories designed to manufacture hundreds of billions of debt, which will be the end of us.

Mrs. Indira Gandhi will surely rest in peace because her long-term foreign policy objectives towards Bhutan would be so much closer to realization. It was her, soon after her second coming to power in 1980, who clearly spelt out India’s ultimate objectives in engaging Bhutan. She was explicit in her directives to her people: “come up with a plan to execute a final assault on Bhutan to make it completely beholden to India”. Her reason: "even a Lilliputian Bhutan has become a security threat for India" - as she declared during one of her campaigns in the general elections of 1980.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Minor Revolution In The Making

Away from the clamor and din of hypocrisy that is the order of the day in the nation’s capital city of Thimphu - a cauldron simmering with broken dreams and dashed hopes - a quiet revolution has been taking form in the remote villages of the country’s poorest and least served Dzongkhag - Zhemgang.

A chance encounter during my recent trip to Zhemgang gave me both hope and despair. Hope because what is afoot is nothing short of revolutionary! Despair because I suspect that they do not have the wherewithal to pull this through successfully! The idea is monumental! If this succeeds, it can be replicated all around the country.

In what must be a first in the country, a small group of sixteen unemployed youth have come together to form what they call the “Khengrig Ngamsum Cooperative”. These youth, both men and women, in the age group from 18 to 38 years have all gone back from the urban cities to their villages in Zhemgang - to be members of this cooperative conceived and initiated by an enterprising Khengpa named Thinley Wangdi.


 Thinley Wangdi, the spirit behind the movement



Fourteen of the sixteen founding Members of the Khengrig Namsum Cooperative. They were attending a training course at the Rural Development Training Center, Zhemgang - the construction of which was funded by the HELVETAS.

These youth have a simple business idea: to be a bridge between the farming community in Zhemgang and the consumers. They have taken a Nu.3.2 million loan from the BOIC and disbursed the money among farmers - to till fallow lands, to provide fencing, water supply, for seedlings and to purchase and supply farm tools.

They wish to encourage mass production of food grain, vegetable, poultry, piggery, diary farming etc. - to achieve certain amount of economy of scale, so that these items can be marketed at competitive prices to consumers. Initially, they hope to target what they consider a captive market - schools, the Dratsang, the armed forces, vegetable vendors etc. They hope that in the next 3 years, they will create a situation where not a kg. of vegetable need to be imported in Zhemgang Dzongkhag.

They hope to create a market for farmers, thereby encouraging them to grow more, for economic gains. This, they hope, will help restock the villages with able-bodied men and women to produce more to meet the growing demand for food in the urban centers.

They hope that the same business model will be followed elsewhere in the country: to help reverse rural-urban migration, to generate employment opportunities, to curtail imports, to help achieve food self-sufficiency over a period of time.

This group of sixteen is fired by hope and determination and a will to do something for themselves, by themselves. They have a dream for the country. Unfortunately, successful ventures are not always brought to fruition based on determination and idealistic dreams. They need finance, experience and expertise, knowledge of marketing and distribution, collection and storage, sorting and packaging skills and the ability and network for timely delivery to buyers and consumers. They need to understand the concept of costing. Above all they need to understand and work within the concept and ethics of cooperative partnership.

This is a phenomenal idea and every Bhutanese has a responsibility to help make this idea a success. We cannot stand by and allow such a revolutionary idea to come to naught - because the concept holds great promise for Bhutan.

I will be devoting a portion of my time and resources to try and make this endeavor a success. Please let me know if you wish to be a part of this groundbreaking movement. You can contribute in many ways - expertise and monetary. Please write to me at: yesheydorji@gmail.com. I will be approaching my friends with philanthropic bend of mind to take part ownership of this initiative that has the potential to revolutionize farm production in Bhutan.

In the coming days I will be going back to Zhemgang to study this project a little more in-depth - to see that they are on the right track.