Friday, December 6, 2019

Taking Tourism To The Top

Recently in a WhatsApp group chat a number of Bhutanese tour operators were ecstatic that Bhutan beat Costa Rica hands down as the better travel destination - in an Internet poll set up by the Lonely Planet. I thought over it for a moment and realized that the Bhutanese tour operators’ gloating over the result had nothing to do with a sense of achievement - it had to be an expression of a sense of patriotism. After all, Bhutan has been among the top travel destinations for the past many years.

If you ask me, quite frankly, getting to the top can also be accidental. All of us have to be frank with ourselves and admit truthfully whether we have worked hard enough to get there.

But what will not be accidental is BEING ABLE TO CONSISTENTLY MAINTAIN THE TOP POSITION. Now this requires genuine hard work - to consistently remain at the top. No lucky accidents can keep us at the top.

Unfortunately a season of confusion is upon us. The oft-repeated myopia that is the government’s professed “Flagship” programs has become a dangerously fatal distraction for the Tourism Council of Bhutan. In its chase for the cows in the wild, it is loosing focus on the cash cows that sit by its side - calmly churning out milk and butter.

The tourism sector has generated US$85.41 million in tourist revenue, in 2018 out of which US$26.29 million is direct revenue firmly in the government’s pocket. And yet, I am told that the government won’t allow TCB to appoint additional inspectors to help fatten the cash cow in hand. The TCB has few dozen rules and regulations to improve quality in service delivery in the tourism sector - but it has no manpower to help it regulate and enforce the rules. A regulatory authority that regulates the tourism activity in the whole of the country does not even have 5 inspectors to monitor, inspect and enforce regulations. Is this how we are going to take tourism to the top?

Incidences of guides being underpaid and ill-treated have been reported. Hoteliers have for years accused tour operators of none-payment. Tour operators have countered that hoteliers are often unprofessional in heir dealings with them. Tourists have complained of poor quality meals being served to them. I have personally seen a guide so thoroughly drugged out of his mind that he remembered that he was guiding a group for a Tsechu in Bumthang but he could not tell me which Tsechu it was that his group was supposed to attend. I have seen guides not wearing their badges, even when the rules explicitly require them to do so, when guiding tourists.

There are enough rules and regulations to remedy all of the above problems, and more. But through lack of monitoring, inspection, regulation and enforcement, the problems have persisted year after year. The government needs to empower the TCB with adequate number of inspectors to regulate and enforce the rules. The TCB overseas Bhutan's most important industry - it needs the teeth and muscle to keep the industry on track. It needs to be equipped with the most basic tools to make it effective.

The TCB recently introduced drug test for the tourist guides. This is a small but very important move towards disciplining the most vital component in the tourism service chain - the guides. The guides’ role in the improvement of our tourism industry has to be recognized for what it is - critical. The guide is the face and soul of Bhutan’s tourism industry. Lets us honor them but let us also keep them honest. Those who fall by the wayside - well, RIP.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Bhutan Bird Festival: Zhemgang November 11 – 13, 2019

I just returned from the Bhutan Bird Festival that was held in Tingtibi, Zhemgang from 11th to 13th November, 2019. I was invited by the Dzongkhag’s organizing committee to sit on the judging panel which invitation I accepted readily – after all, the event was happening in my Dzongkhag and there is no reason why I should not be a part of the event. I contributed in kind and in cash – to make the event a success. And success it was – I was truly impressed by the superlative effort put in by the organizing committee – they did a fantastic job. It was all too evident from the arrangements they made – the grounds they cleared and leveled, the variety of indigenous products on display, the food stalls serving out Khengpa dishes - very impressive indeed. I dare say that few events would have been organized with this level of efficiency and competence. I hope they do an equally good job next year.

The Billboard of the Bhutan Bird Festival 2019. Don't miss the name of Rotary as one of the sponsors

The Honorable Prime Minister at the inaugural ceremony on 11th November, 2019

One of the most interesting structures at the festival grounds - the unique Bubble Pavilion 

 Cultural show during the festival

I contributed 11 high-resolution images of birds found in Khengrig Namsum areas – out of which 4 of the large prints were paid for by me personally. The large prints of the bird images that were on display attracted considerable attention from the public - with some hilarious and unexpected remarks from the public. I overheard a youth in a group of youngsters who were looking at the photos in the bird gallery comment that: 

“It is funny - I see 11 different bird photos – but strangely they all have the same name: Yeshey Dorji”.

The following are three of the eleven images that were on display at the festival ground:



Obviously the youth confused my name for the names of the birds

I profited too - on my return journey back to Thimphu, I managed to acquire the following four brand new images to add to my collection of bird images:

Asian Pied Starling


 Great Cormorant


 Indian Roller


Jungle Babbler



Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Messenger of Catastrophe

I am currently bedridden - with cough and body ache.

Yesterday evening as I was feeling useless lying in bed, my friend from Chhukha – Sangey Thinley, EDO of Chhukha Dzongkhag sent me a WhatsApp message saying that the near-extinct White-bellied Heron has been sighted near the Sewerage Tanks in Babesa. I replied that it could not be – that the bird must be a Grey Heron that I had sighted in the area about 3 years back.

But even as I lolled in the bed, the thought that it could be quite possible that the bird might be a White-bellied Heron, kept nagging at me. I am aware that Babesa is way out of the range of White-bellied Herons – traditionally, the birds live and feed around 600 -1,000 ft. lower than Babesa’s altitude. But the advent of climate change has caused weird things to come to pass – I recall that a pair of Black-necked Cranes was seen in Gelephu, a few years back.

I just had to confirm - so I got out of bed and headed for Babesa. When I reached there, a bunch of birders were already gathered there and were observing the bird. And it was true – the bird was indeed the rare White-bellied Heron.

A fuzzy image of the White-bellied Heron sighted at Babesa, shot with a mobile phone mounted on a scope - yesterday 29:10:2019 at 05:29PM

Please read more about the connection between Bhutan and White-bellied Herons at the following:


Frankly, it is not surprising that the bird is found outside its range. We humans have screwed up our environmental integrity big time and we are not even sorry for it. We keep aggravating the situation even further, even while being fully aware of the consequences of our actions.

Do you want to get off your high horse and consider for a moment the state of Thimphu’s air quality? What do you want to bet that it is at a dangerously harmful level? Do you want to consider the state of the water quality of Wangchu and Paachu? Would you dare wager that it is almost at a toxic level?

The Druk Phuensum Tshokpa party had the balls to ban the import of vehicles few years back – a very bad move – politically. But politics was furthest from their minds – they had the good of the country and the environment in their hearts when they took that very unpopular decision. And the party suffered for it.

Soon after, the People's Democratic Party came to power and reversed the decision. The result was that during their tenure Bhutan came to be ranked as among the highest in the world – in terms of vehicle ownership. The population of vehicles grew to 1 for every 8 Bhutanese, resulting in deteriorating air quality and punishing traffic congestion.

And we still shamelessly declare that we are carbon negative.

I wish people would realize that an improved environment is the only answer – that it is the only way to resuscitate life that is slowly ebbing away, through ignorance and false pride.

The incidences of White-bellied Heron being found in Thimphu and Black-necked Cranes in Gelephu are indications of the imminent madness that will consume humanity. We human beings need to reorient our thinking or we will richly deserve the coming catastrophe that is looming large before us.

Friday, October 25, 2019

When Karma and Destiny Collide

In mid 2016 the Rotary Club of Thimphu was notified that the Rotary International District 3292 would hold its 2017 Annual District Conference in Thimphu. As the only Club in the host country and as the head of the Club Administration in my capacity as the Club’s Secretary, I had to take on the responsibility of making the arrangements for the Conference, which would be attended by upwards of a thousand participants from across the glob. The Conference was announced during the 2016 Rotary International Convention in Seoul, South Korea. Arrangements began in right earnest. Registration to the Conference poured in by the hundreds, from Nepal and fourteen other countries.

Then mid way, the District abruptly announced that it is not possible to hold the Conference in Thimphu. Logistical challenges were quoted as the reason for the cancellation. I did not buy that for a moment. The entire logistical arrangements were being handled by the Rotary Club of Thimphu – then why would the District be challenged on its account? But the District remained adamant that the Conference could not happen in Bhutan.

We were in a fix! The Club had created an on-line payment system through the Bank of Bhutan and a total in excess of Ngultrums 17 million was already received in Registration Fees, cost of lodgings, meals, conveyance, air tickets etc.

Having to refund all that would bankrupt the Club, in bank transfer charges and deduction of commissions by the bank, for handling on-line payment system. Something had to be done. But the District 3292 was unwilling to consider the fact that we would lose hundred of thousands of Ngultrums.

But I am an unputdownable kind of a person – I am not one to give up that easily!!

I came up with the idea that we could hold a Club level Conference, but with international participation, comprised of close to 200 participants who had already registered and paid up. My proposal was heartily supported by other Club Members. Thus I sent out mails to all the registrants – all 160 of them spread across 14 countries - informing them of the cancellation of the District Conference – but that we were still willing to hold the Conference - provided they were willing to stand by their expression of interest to come to Bhutan for the Conference. They were informed that the Conference would be a Club level Conference but with international participation. Happily 99.99% registrants said that they would stand by their commitment to come. There was only one cancellation - from Australia.

Thus the Conference was successfully held during February of 2017. It saw a total of 175 participants, including 15 from Bhutan. The countries that were represented were: Bhutan, Brunei, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland and USA. Malaysia had the highest contingent - with 99 participants which is more than 50% of the overall total!

But this is not about the success of the Conference – it is about what happens when Destiny collides with Karma. It is about a potentially disastrous journey that began in utter frustration – but  was turned into an event of great meaning and benefit. It is about the partnership that was struck – a partnership that endures – 3 years since it was first established – a partnership between the Rotary Club of Thimphu and Rotarians from Malaysia.

During the Conference one of the Speakers was a Malaysian Rotarian and Vice Chairman of Disaster Aid Malaysia - Rtn. K K Looi, then a Member of the Rotary Club of Utara Subang Jaya. He spoke on something that fascinated me immensely – a gravity activated water filtration system called “SkyHydrant” manufactured by SkyJuice Foundation of Australia. He was talking of a fascinating piece of equipment that I instantly saw was ideal for Bhutan’s type of geographical setting. That Conference talk lead me to establish relationship with Rotarians from Malaysia, including an introduction to Disaster Aid Australia, Melbourne, courtesy of Rotarian K K Looi. Within months four SkyHydrant Filters arrived Bhutan (how that came about is even more interesting – a story to be told another day) – which resulted in an initiative called “BHUTAN2020” launched during 2017 Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada. Under this initiative, Dollar One Million worth of SkyHydrant Water Filters would be installed by Disaster Aid Australia and the Rotary Club of Thimphu, in all of Bhutan’s Central Schools across the country, by the end of 2020. As of now we have installed 42 of these filters. Two more are due to be installed on the 13th and 14th of November, 2019.

The Malaysian connection does not end here – they became major donors to the construction of 95 pour-flush toilets in Bongo Gewog of Chhukha District. Currently a Global Grant project worth US$ 51,000++ in the agriculture sector is at varying stages of implementation, once again in Bongo Gewog. This is all happening with funding from Rotary Clubs and Districts in Malaysia, in collaboration with the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary Clubs in Malaysia is not only the biggest donors to communities in Bongo Gewog – they are the ONLY NGO donors thus far that is bringing change and meaning in the lives of a number of communities in Chhukha District.

Today on 25th October, 2019 the principal sponsoring Club of Malaysia – Rotary Club of Metro Kuala Lumpur celebrates its 25th year of Charter. In a show of appreciation and gratitude, our Club President and the District Governor (Dzongdag) of Bhutan’s Chhukha District travelled to Kuala Lumpur – to participate in the celebrations. The following Plaque is being presented to the Club: 


Plaque of Appreciation

You may notice that in the Plaque is embedded the beautiful Silver Coin Commemorating the Royal Wedding of their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan. My choice of the Commemorative Coin is significant because the presence of our Club President and the District Governor of Chhukha District during the Club’s moment of celebrations is a kind of commemoration of the bond that was established between the Rotarians of Malaysia and the people of Chhukha District. The presentation of the Plaque is also a demonstration of our Club’s sense of gratitude to a comity of people who are selfless in their giving and serving. The following Rotary Theme Logo tells the rest of the story.

The Rotary’s Theme Logo for Rotary Year 2019 - 2020

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The God Still Gets Dumped

It has taken the government 9 long years to do something about the dumping of the toxic statues of the God Vishwakarma into our river systems. I started making noise about the issue in September of 2010. Since then I have written again and again on the issue of the environmental impact of the practice of dumping the statues of the divine architect into our rivers. Please read about them at the following:




It is amazing - the government takes 9 years to act and when they finally do, they decide to take on the burden of cleaning up the pollutants. I am told that over 200 toxic statues have been dumped at the Memelakha dump yard by the Thimphu Thromde. Is that a good job?

The statue of the architect of Gods being dumped into the Thimchhu

According to the RMA, Nu.28.00 billion was loaned for construction of buildings during the year 2018. Currently close to 400 buildings are at differing stages of construction in Thimphu alone. If that is the case, then what happened to the unaccounted 200 odd Vishwakarma statues? Add to that number over a hundred statutes imported by the vehicle workshop owners, saw millers and other metal working establishments? Do you want to take a guess?

The level of complacency can be judged from the fact that the notification from the Forestry Department disallowing dumping of the statues into the river came out one day ahead of the Puja day. Thankfully, there seems to have been some level of monitoring – because half of the statues were prevented from being dumped into the rivers.

How difficult is it to solve this problem? Years back I had reported about tens of thousands of beer bottles being dumped into the belly of the earth in rural Bhutan – nothing has been done about that either. Bhutanese contractors and homeowners and vehicle workshop owners happily fund the conduct of the Vishwakarma Puja in their premises – but they are unwilling to put a little effort into making their merry making into something responsible and environmental friendly.

Will Bhutanese ever grow up to be responsible citizens? I doubt it. As I said in one of my earlier posts, this is a country filled with unthinking people. It is so sad – there is so much we can achieve – and yet no one is willing to work at achieving anything.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

RTI Act - What News Of It?

This morning I woke up to notice that some readers were reading my old posts from 2011 and 2013. It has always amazed me how and why certain readers chose to read some particular posts from the past. I too went back to the two posts to see what was interesting about them. I came back satisfied that peoples' curiosity was justified - they are certainly interesting to read. Please read them at the following:

http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-feedback-on-proposed-rti-bill.html

http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2011/04/normal-0-false-false-false_07.html

The above two posts are related to each other - RTI Act. The other most visited post of mine is the post on Kabney & Patang. For some reason, people keep revisiting the post time and again, persistently. If you notice on the left side column, you will see that the post has yet again featured among the top 10 posts, although it is now 6 years old:

https://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2013/05/kabney-patang.html

However, in terms of visitor visits, the following are the chartbusters:


Monday, September 16, 2019

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industries Seeking To Legalize Its Status

I am hugely intrigued by a report appearing in the KUENSEL of September 13, 2019 that read: BCCI pushes for legal status. What does that mean, exactly?

Is the Chamber seeking to pass a Bill in the Parliament, to legitimize itself, after being in existence for the past 39 years? What is illegal about an organization that is said to represent the interests of the largest of industries and businesses in the country?

In my view the Chamber is wasting its time forming Committees after Committees – to work towards passing of a Bill in the Parliament, to give it legal standing. It would be a mockery for the Parliament to deliberate on a Bill to justify the existence of a private interest group, such as a chamber of commerce and industries.

But I agree with the Secretary General of the BCCI – the organization does not fulfill the mandates of a social/public benefit organization. Thus, it cannot qualify as a Public Benefit Organization (PBO). But it certainly fulfills that of a Mutual Benefit Organization (MBO) since it works towards protecting the mutual interests and benefits of its members and that of the business sector as a whole. Thus, the BCCI should certainly qualify to be recognized and legitimized as a MBO under the CSO Act.

One certainly cannot imagine the legislative house deliberating on an Act to legitimize BCCI. That would be total waste of tax payers' money.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Brand New Sunshine Collection Box for RC Thimphu

More than seven years back, oblivious to an epochal event that was unfolding in Thimphu, I was photographing birds in the jungles of Yongkala, Mongar, Eastern Bhutan. The April month is good for birding - obviously it was also determined that the month is good for establishing new institutions. It was on the 24th of April, 2012 that the Royal Government of Bhutan established the Rotary Club of Thimphu, the one and only Rotary Club in Bhutan.

The entire cost of the formation of the Club, including the cost of hosting the Rotary International dignitaries and expenses for the Club’s Charter gala dinner was borne by the RGoB. In fact the Charter President of the Club was the then Home Minister, Lyonpo Minjur Dorji. Please read all about it at:


To this day I do not know which charlatan proposed my name as a Member. But I have no regrets – my time with the Rotary has been, and continues to be fulfilling. I have served as the Club’s Secretary for the past four RI years.

Since its Charter in April, 2012, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has grown into an organization that has implemented service projects in access of Nu.125.00 million. Our projects have been so meaningful that the then Home Minister Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen once told me;

“Yeshey please do not hesitate to come to me for any support your Club needs. For me the Rotary Club is even more important than a government department”.

Our Club’s services to the society have been recognized beyond our borders. A none-Rotarian in the US appreciates our work so much that she has bequeathed a portion of her estate to the Rotary Club of Thimphu.

The Club has 28 Members as of this year. Year after year, I have put in 14-15 hours of work for the cause of the Club. Now I need a little rest – I deserve it. Thus I will be resigning as the Club’s perennial Secretary, as of June end, 2020. I know that there are other Members who are as keen, and as able, to take over the responsibilities of a Club Secretary. A change of guard is called for. It is proper that other Members too must do their time for the Club and the Bhutanese society.

So far everything is hunky-dory with the Club. But there has been one thing that I have been displeased with – the Club’s Sunshine Collection Box. If there is one thing I wanted to do before my departure, it is that I wanted to improve the look of the Box that takes the seat of prominence – bang in front of the Club President and the Club Secretary, at every Friday Meeting. I have now fulfilled that wish – after working on it for 2 full weeks, the Club’s Sunshine Collection Box has received a complete makeover.



Three sides of the Sunshine Collection Box. This box required the engagement of five players: a carpenter to prepare the wood work, a metal worker to prepare the metal trimmings, a graphic artist to prepare the logo outlines, a laser engraver to engrave the logos and the text on three sides of the wooden box, and finally a laser etcher to etch the Club's name on the metal work.

The Sunshine Collection Box that I lovingly constructed for the Club will serve as a demonstration of my love and care for my Club that I will continue to serve and cherish.

What is a Sunshine Collection Box:
At the end of every weekly Meeting on Friday, Members contribute a minimum of Nu.100.00 into the box. If there are visiting Rotarians, they do too. This money goes to pay for the refreshment  that is served during the Meetings.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Viewshed Analysis

This morning I woke up to find that someone was online reading my article that I had posted 8 years back. I too went to read what I had written. I find that what this reader wrote was meaningful.

Bhutan has some stunningly beautiful architectural monuments. Unfortunately I have been pained to see electrical wires and lamp posts and other ugly structures coming up in and around the structures that spoil the view. I think time has come for us to consider "Viewshed Analysis".

The following was in response to my Blog post on the construction of the ugly Amankora Resort next to the heritage site: Wangdicholing Phodrang:

https://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2011/06/normal-0-false-false-false_16.html

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

Hello Yeshey,

I am afraid I come across as a know-it-all whenever I comment on issues in Bhutan as I have spent mere months there. So, I usually keep my thoughts to myself although I am a follower of your blog and I read each post! The problem of the Jakar Amankora hotel forces me to speak up, however.

For all the talk about protecting Bhutan's culture from foreign influence and controlling the negative impacts of tourism, this is a major, tangible contravention.

There are ways to ensure that if a structure as special as Wangdicholing Palace were to have a development project proposed in its vicinity, it would not be adversely affected. One process would be 'viewshed analysis' which is simply considering the potential visual impact of the proposed development on the historic structure and landscape. The Amankora hotel, which leaves Wangdicholing Palace literally in its shadow, is clearly out of harmony with its historic context. I realize that local administrators in Bhutan don't have access to trained experts and funds to deal with landscape preservation but the monolithic hotel should have been permitted only in a less obtrusive part of the valley.

Since development is happening at such high speed here in my country, we have many processes in place to protect significant structures and landscapes although they don't always succeed. My work now is related to protecting archaeological sites from construction works. I'm working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Culture here in my home province.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I feel extremely inspired and motivated to contribute however I can to the management and protection of Bhutan's historic sites. I hope I can return and do some good work in this area, share what I've learned, maybe even train others. I've had the opportunity for education and experience in this uncommon field, in a setting of rapid development. Nobody in Bhutan right now has this background. I understand and appreciate why there's a continuing backlash against "foreign experts" and I know that non-nationals aren't easily employed in Bhutan (unless sponsored by an NGO, which is my hope) so it would be very difficult to make this happen. But, dreams are not supposed to be simple to achieve, right?

Anyway, thanks for reading all that. I hope you are well and I look forward to your continuing posts and photos.

Take care
------------------------------------

Friday, August 30, 2019

The March Of Money: Part XIII

A curious and enquiring mind is the highest gift nature can endow a person. Such a mind is always questioning, learning, assessing and generally brimming with energy and inquisitiveness. The human civilization owes great debt to these minds.

I too have an enquiring mind that churn information like a high powered blender. When it goes whizzing, I am propelled on a journey that traverses the Cosmos and the Milky Way, and beyond.

Recently I was pushed on a journey of discovery – that of the monies of Bhutan. And look what I have discovered.

Along with the silver Thala two Bronze coins were also ordered on the Calcutta Mint of Government of India, by His Majesty the Drukgyal Ngipa, in 1928. These coins were among Bhutan’s first what are called “milled” coins. Before that all our coins were, what are known as, “hammered” coins.

Look at the superlative quality of the engraving on the coin. The engravings were rendered by an Englishman by the name of Albert Pearson Spencer. Strangely, the word “Druk” is correctly spelt on the obverse of this coin, while there was an error on the Thala milled the same year, same time and in the same mint.

Zangtam of 1928 - Bhutan's first milled coin. Two sizes of these Zangtams were issued. The larger of the two was 26.5mm in diameter while the smaller one measured 25.1mm. The larger of two weighed 7.0g while the smaller one weighed 4.9g

Zangtam is interpreted thus:

Zang  = Bronze
Tam   = Coin

The other unique coin I came across during my relentless search is the following coin. I have never seen nor heard of it before in my life. Coin historians tell me that this type of coin is known as “Gold Washed Coins”.

Gold-washed Maartam

I cross-checked with experts and they tell me that it is indeed Bhutanese in origin. Most likely gold-plated Maartam.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Have We Learnt Our Lesson?

Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited, the country’s biggest cement plant was conceived and initiated by the RGoB in 1982, with grant assistance assured by India. It was not until 2007 – an incredible full quarter century since its conception - that construction on the project began. This project has the potential to single-handedly assure the country all its Indian Rupee needs.

My view is that India delayed Dungsam because Bhutan was dragging its feet on India’s push to do the Punatsangchhu project. I believe that eventually Bhutan succumbed to the carrot and stick cajoling by India. What seemed like a worthwhile compromise was arrived at: Bhutan agrees to do the Punatsangchhu project and India swiftly agrees to make available the funds for Dungsam Cement.

Dungsam Cement starts full steam in 2007 and less than a year later, in 2008, Punatsangchhu-I starts. Since then it has been downhill all the way for Bhutan.

Dungsam Cement is driven into the ground from day one of its coming into production, with all sorts of excuses. Today it is a mortally wounded behemoth. Eleven years after it began construction, the Punatsangchhu-I is now in a state of comatose – a phase of deep slumber. The Project authorities enlisted the help of God – but so far He remains stoically unimpressed. In the meantime, the cost has escalated more than three times, at 10% interest. All that the Project authorities can do is wait for the annual flooding of the Punatsangchhu, and eventual collapse of the right hill of the project’s dam site. Or even a GLOF caused by global warming.

Alas! I fear that history is about to be replayed. In recent times, people have begun to speak of Sankosh and Kholongchhu Hydropower Projects in the same breadth. A situation akin to the early days of Dungsam/Punatsangchhu-I standoff is upon us. Kholongchhu project has been stalled – while talk of Sankosh Hydropower Project is gaining steam.

Quite obviously the bitch that bore the Satan is on heat once again! But hopefully Bhutan has learnt its lessons well. I pray to God that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, at times, God has the tendency to go on an extended siesta.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Being Penalized For Not Using Imported Energy?

For the past many years I have been wailing cries of agony and frustration – at having to pay electricity bills upwards of Nu.9,000.00 per month, during the winter months. For the more than average Bhutanese, that is a whole lot of money. I want to know who can sanely explain that one energy source that is the country’s biggest exportable surplus – is also the energy source that is outside the reach of the ordinary Bhutanese people. Thousands of Bhutanese spend many useful hours – queuing up at the fuel stations – trying to buy energy source that is imported at great cost to our foreign exchange reserve.



From where I stand, it is totally illogical: how is it possible that energy imported at great cost is cheaper than what we say we produce in abundance, at home? Is there something that I am unable to comprehend? What came to mind was a documentary film titled “The Economics of Happiness”. This film also makes the same point that I am making: How is it possible that something produced 15,000 miles away, then trucked and ferried across the seven seas, is cheaper than that which you produce in your own back yard?

Am I so dumb or what? Is there some kind of rocket science involved here that is beyond my fathoming? Before I go completely berserk wondering, and wondering I decided to speak to someone senior in the industry, to try and get a bearing of what the hell is involved. That was a mistake – I came out from nearly an hour of meeting and talking – completely bewildered at the skewed logic of the government.

In plain simple language this officer explained to me as follows:

Bhutan exports 70% to 75% of our electricity production to India

Of the remaining 25% to 30% that is consumed locally, 70% of it is consumed by the industrial sector at Pasakha and elsewhere.

The industrial sector gets power at a subsidized rate of around Nu.2.00/kWH

Domestic and other consumers are charged from Nu.1.28/kWH to Nu.4.02/kWH

I asked this officer two simple questions:

1.  The industrial sector is said to consume 70-75% of the domestic electricity requirement. By implication, the largest share of subsidy allocated by the government goes towards subsidizing consumption by the industrial sector. Now consider that this sector has traditionally declared dividends of upwards of 100-300% every year.

Is it possible that the government is able to provide subsidy to the industrial sector, because it is exacting the cost on the poor domestic consumers? Is it possible that the industries are making such huge profits, at the expense of the poor Bhutanese people? Is the common man contributing to the huge profits these industries are able to make?

2.  I fall under the LV Block-III Bulk consumer category. This means that I meet all my energy needs from electricity generated in country – I do not contribute to increase in import bill. Why am I being penalized for this by charging me a higher rate? Shouldn’t my subsidy be higher because I am meeting all my energy needs from local energy source? Am I being penalized for NOT using imported energy?

This officer replies; “I do not know.”