Sunday, May 29, 2016

Words of Hilarity and Awakening!

The following is how the Notice Board by the gate of Sangchoekhor Monastery in Paro, is worded:


The words may have gone a little wayward – but strangely, the spellings were spot on!

I was nonplussed – how can it happen that a person with such atrocious language skill be capable of spelling every word of the long winding notification without a single mistake? Puzzling!

But even more puzzling was the fact that such an inarticulate Notice Board continues to stand by the gate – without redemption.

I know that thousands would have passed under the archway of the Temple’s gate - to prostrate and to murmur prayers for success, long life, great wealth, good health and immediate rebirth into the world, after death. Millions of Ngultrums worth of Dalda would have been turned to smoke and soot - to demonstrate their religious fervor. Millions more would have been placed before the Lhakhang’s alter, by way of Gep. Copious amounts of Suja and Desi would have been served the many monks residing in the Lhakhang – as an act of religious complicity.

And yet, it is obvious that not one single chivalrous Buddhist has yet passed through the gate – one with the rudimentary qualities of a true Buddhist – to offer to remedy a Notice Board badly in need of rewording.

Rotary Foundation offers 10 (TEN) Scholarships for degree in water and sanitation

Dear Readers, 

I am happy to reproduce the following announcement by The Rotary Foundation, USA. The scholarship is offered for a Master's degree in Urban Water and Sanitation, Water Management, or Water Science and Engineering.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu would be happy to act as your sponsor club for this sponsorship. Please log on to the link indicated and read up to see if you qualify. If you do, please write to us at any of the following e-mail address:

        Rtn. Yeshey Dorji             :  yesheydorji@gmail.com
        Ms. Tshering Choden       :  teecho507@gmail.com
 
Please note the application dateline.

Readers who have Facebook or Tweeter account, please spread the word among your circle of friends.

BEST OF LUCK!


Yeshey Dorji
Co-Chair : 9th RI District 3292 Annual Conference 2016-2017
Chair       : Vocational/Youth Services
ROTARY CLUB OF THIMPHU
RI District 3292
__________________________


The Rotary Foundation and UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education are working together to tackle the world’s water and sanitation crisis and are offering up to 10 scholarships for graduate study at UNESCO-IHE's Delft campus in the Netherlands. The partnership aims to increase the number of trained professionals who can devise, plan, and implement water and sanitation solutions in developing areas. The scholarships also are designed to promote long-term productive relationships between Rotarians and skilled water and sanitation professionals in their communities.

Scholars will receive a Master of Science degree in urban water and sanitation, water management, or water science and engineering. Graduates work with their Rotary club sponsors on a related project to benefit their local community. The application deadline is 15 June. For more information, review the application toolkit and scholarship terms and conditions.

If you have questions, please contact grants@rotary.org.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Do Not Lose Sight Of The Woods While Being Distracted By The Tree

More than a month back, I sought an appointment with a Member of the Cabinet, in the hope that I could speak to him about some concerns I had. He promised to get back to me – but never did. I did not call him again because firstly, I know that he is a very busy man and can do without me pestering him time and again and, secondly, it is improper that I keep calling a Member of the Cabinet, at will.

I had, or have, 3 plus 1 specific concerns that I wanted to discuss with him. Of the 3, I will today discuss one of them. But first, I want to start with the plus 1 concern – not really a concern but a point of view.

I wanted to begin by offering him my point of view that if he truly desires to make a difference during his tenure as a Minister – he needed to dream small but achieve big. I wanted to tell him that this country has seen no dearth of dreamer of lofty dreams – but few have achieved anything meaningful. I wanted to caution him against that one fundamental human failing – that of overlooking the small important things that bring big changes, in our pursuit of big dreams that have, slowly but surely, put us on the road to destruction and ruin. I wanted to tell him not to lose sight of the woods while being distracted by the tree. Perhaps he should be satisfied seeing his reflection on the crystal waters of the free-flowing rivers, rather than the blurry outline on the murky waters of the hydro-power dams.

I wanted to tell him that perhaps there is a need for a change in the way we think and do things. Perhaps we need to look backwards to take us forward rather than look forward to be pushed rearward.

Perhaps the time is here for us to amend our outdated laws and rules that are out of tune with the changing times, rather than frame new ones that are most often done with poor understanding and in a state of confusion as to their purpose and intent.

I wanted to remind the Minister of a strange case where the author of the book’s foreword wrote that the rules and regulations contained in the book needed to be read and understood by every Bhutanese, while the agency that promulgated the rules and regulations marked on its cover: “STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL”.

And now, coming to 1 of the 3 concerns I wanted to discuss with the Minister, had I got that appointment I sought. I wanted to apprise him of the case pertaining to the rule concerning the transfer of vehicle ownership and the payment required to be paid for the purpose.

I wanted to clarify to him, if he did not already know, the difference between “TAX” and “FEE”. I wanted to point out to him that conceptually, “TAX” is collected as a measure of realizing revenue, while “FEE” becomes payable for a certain service rendered or performed. The act of amending the record of the ownership of an old vehicle from one to another – the act of printing a different ownership certificate is a service and thus should be subjected to a FEE and not a TAX. Therefore to levy 5% TAX on the transfer of ownership of vehicles is incorrect.

Frankly, I am concerned not so much with the legality of the issue – as much as I am with the huge loss of income the government is suffering. Because of the requirement of payment of 5% TAX, no one is willing to transfer the ownership of vehicles – even when the property has changed hands. But the truth is that our country needs to collect – even the smallest of TAX or FEE.

This is one quixotic case for the record books: a case of the government wanting to collect vast amounts of TAX but losing huge amounts of income through none-realization of FEE. There are thousands who have chosen not to transfer the ownership because it is unreasonable to pay TAX on something that should not be taxable.

I am one among them.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Will Shorten Distance to Takila

In September of 2015, Bhutan submitted our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn, Germany. The document contained very serious commitments by Bhutan – to combat climate change – through environmental conservation and protection.

On the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris on December 10, 2015, Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji singed a joint declaration with the EU wherein Bhutan reiterated its COP 15 pledge to remain permanently carbon neutral. In appreciation of this extraordinary will and commitment to “keep the planet safe for life to continue”, EU tripled its assistance to Bhutan - from € 14 million (2007 - 2013) to € 42 million (2014 - 2020).

On 19th February, 2016, our Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay captivated the audience at the TED Talks in Vancouver, Canada where he declared:

“Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that's carbon neutral. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative”.

He went on to say:

We must keep our parks awesome. So every year, we set aside resources to prevent poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in our parks, and resources to help communities who live in those parks manage their forests, adapt to climate change, and lead better lives while continuing to live in harmony with Mother Nature”.

Generating over a million page views (1,311,270 as of 11:02:52AM; May 24, 2016) on the TED page, it has sparked keen interest among the world audience on Bhutan’s most recent environmental protection and conservation initiative – BHUTAN FOR LIFE.

One of the billionaire audiences who sat in the third row during the TED Talks in Vancouver was so impressed that he said he came to Bhutan to see for himself what the realities were on the ground. Whole lot of donors to Bhutan’s environmental NGOs and the BHUTAN FOR LIFE initiative have recently visited Bhutan and trekked the Shingkhar-Gorgan Road areas – to see what this controversial road was all about.

During a number of meetings I assured them that the road wasn't going to happen. I informed them that Shingkhar-Gorgan road would pass through the TNP – something that is forbidden by law. If constructed, the road would dissect the worlds only proven high altitude tiger migration corridor. If we go ahead and do this road, our promises to the world community would be just that – empty promises made without intending to keep them.

Some have put out the misinformation that the road would help avoid Thrumshing-La Pass that at times hinder flow of traffic, particularly during the winter months. The truth is that Singama-La Pass – over which the Shingkhar-Gorgan road has to pass, is even higher than Thrumshing-La. Thus someone has to be seriously stupid to say that the road would serve as a better alternative to Thrumshing-La. Namling is now stable and no longer a cause for worry for travelers.

Those who are quick to point out that Shingkhar-Gorgan road will help cut down travel time between east and west, a better point would have been made – if one were to point out that, by contrast, the country’s poorest Dzongkhag – Zhemgang don't have roads – let alone roads that need shortening. If the government has money available, let us look at the possibility of improving road connectivity in the remote Zhemgang villages.
The beautiful Singma-La Pass. One can see that the pass is way above the tree lines - meaning it is over 4,000 Mtrs.

 Thrumshing-La Pass at under 3,800 Mtrs. As opposed to the barren top of Singma-La, you can see trees atop the Thrumshing-La Pass. This means that this pass is much lower than Singama-La.

View of the beautiful Shingkhar Village from atop the Singma-La.

There is something insane going on about this road. I am told that some one has written in the Facebook that the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will open up the opportunity for people to visit the World’s largest statue of Guru Rinpoche in Takila.

You would break a law, imperil a rare tiger habitat, cause irreparable damage to a pristine ecosystem and bring ruin to the environment – just so you can get to visit the World’s largest statue of Guru Rinpoche in Takila?

At this scale of insanity, next thing would be that the same people would want the Tawang-Doksum-Guwahati road – on grounds that they can get to go to visit the Kamakhya in the shortest of time!

Friday, May 20, 2016

R.I.P Ada Rachu

From out of the ashes rose the Ada Rachu rule and to ashes it has rightfully been assigned. Even before one could finish saying “this too shall pass”, the Ada Rachu rule has been given its just burial, in the process, leaving a bunch of sycophants scurrying off to bury their heads in the sand.

It is a sign of disrespect for someone to suggest that the distinction of the Bhutanese Royalty is hinged on a piece of striped cloth. Their station, regal bearing, their uncommon intelligence - are distinctive enough. And, most of us recognize our Royalty anyway - without the need for Ada Rachu to distinguish them.

I hope this will encourage  people to contemplate deeper - the implications of what they are putting out.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In Celebration of Teachers’ Day - Remembering My Teacher

I was kept too busy to post an article on Teachers’ Day. I wanted to post my following mail – written on 21st March, 2016 to my old teacher - after having been totally disconnected with him for over 46 years. I started to look out for him ten years back – finally I traced him through a Church in England.

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

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your mail and please accept my apology for the delayed reply.

I did not really think that the person on that Church’s web site would turn out to be you - but I asked any way, since I was in search of you for the past 10 years or more. In truth, there is no specific reason why I was looking for you - except that over the years, as I grew older and wiser, I have come to develop a huge respect and regard for you - as an immensely dedicated teacher who, I came to realize, had given so much to that small school in Gawpey, and its students. I was fortunate to be your student and somehow I believe that without you coming into my life at a time and space that you did, even if for a very brief while, I would not be the person that I have grown to be.

In particular, without your punishing ways and unrelenting attention, I would have never made it through my studies - considering that I had discontinued studies for three years – to sell tea and peanuts to Nepali workers crushing stones by the roadside - before joining Gawpey! Consider that after having missed schooling for three years, I had to relearn grammar, including adding sums all over! You single handedly resuscitated me and put me on the road to education and learning. With your uncompromising and strict disciplinarian ways, I went on to excel in my class, year after year! You pushed me so hard and remained so steadfast to my need for special attention that I not only passed my exams in my first year in Gawpey (Class III), but I passed it with flying colors – with a class position of 4th in my final exams.

Once in a while I think of the times when I was studying in Gawpey - as your student. I reminiscence of the times when you singled me out for special punishment - duster on the head or cane on my butt - the habitual mischief-maker that I was. One time you kept whole of my class standing in the sun – all day long - because someone had hidden the school bag and all the books of Gado Tshering – now Gup Gado. If you recall, you were a bit surprised that not one student dropped to the ground - in exhaustion or as a result of heat stroke.

I still find it hard to believe that you had the time and the tenacity to set all the question papers for the whole school - from Class II upwards --- and mark them all too. The dreaded weekly inspection of our exercise books would cause me to contemplate absconding from school … since I was subjected to vigorous amounts of whacking on the butt – because I could never keep my books clean.

Thank you for asking about me and about my life’s journeys. The following is not the whole story – but the most significant of it.

I have not been the typical success story that every one would want to write back home about. But by my own reckoning, I have done pretty well in life - better than most - not perhaps the run-of-the-mill variety of financial or entrepreneurial success, but the kind that fills one with intellectual and psychological satisfaction.

I started life in the Bank of Bhutan – at a salary of Nu.123.00 per month (US$1.83 at today’s conversion rate) – net Nu.121.00, after deduction of health contribution of Nu.2.00.

Because of my late mother’s failing health, I sought an obtained employment in the Export Division of the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Forests. I was posted in Calcutta, India since my mother required treatment in a particular hospital there. During my tenure there, I headed the export section of the Division and played pivotal role in the Trade & Transit Agreement with Bangladesh. I was part of the team that determined land and riverine routes through which to conduct export/import trade from and to that country. The variety of products we exported those days – to countries such as Switzerland, Germany, US, Singapore, Dubai, Sweden, and Pakistan etc. is unmatched even today.

I was cheeky enough to try and export gum rosin to South Africa at a time when the whole world was baying for the blood of the apartheid regime in that country. The entire world had set a complete and total embargo on the country.

Talking of apartheid, one new human conduct came to be described by an American journalist – as a result of some incident in Bhutan surrounding the selection of our archery team to the Olympics (the journalist was in Thimphu at that time). The totally infuriated journalist coined the term “apartheid in reverse”.

I trained in diverse disciplines such as insurance, standardization, pre-shipment export cargo inspection, export-import documentation, shipping and forwarding, stevedoring, and chartering etc.

I must be among the very few in Bhutan who has traveled around the glob on one single ticket and continuously for 48 days.

After resigning from the government, I pioneered the computer trade, desktop publishing, office automation business, ham radio etc. I am the first in the private sector to host a web page when Internet was introduced in Bhutan, in 1999.

Currently I am the only photographer in Bhutan who earns a living making photos. There are a number of books to my credit. Two more are due for publication.

After a long and joyous journey, there is one thing that never changed – you tried but you couldn’t either. You may recall that you used to send me to the Pachhu way down in the valley - with a large metal bucket, to carry it back fully laden with boulders from the river bank – in an attempt to make me improve my spelling. Everything else in life has taken a 360-degree turn – but my spelling skills still remain the same – atrocious!

Please convey my best wishes to madam Joyce – I remember that she was working at the Gidakom Hospital – when you were dating her.

Please accept my lifelong respects and hope that one day you will come back to Bhutan and I am able to see you once again.

I still vividly remember that last walk you made me walk with you – in the garden just before you moved to Ugyen Academy. If that walk was not necessitated, may be my life would have been completely different. But whether it would have been as fulfilling or as rewarding as it has been so far – I will never know.

Yeshey

Thursday, May 5, 2016

HeForShe

I was the 1,001st Bhutanese man to sign in to support HeForShe UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality. You can sign too at the following:


Our primeval census law that denies citizenship to children born to Bhutanese women who cannot name the father of the child, or fathered by none-Bhutanese, is an affront to the Bhutanese women. This law drives our women to such desperation as naming their own fathers as the progenitor of their fatherless children. Thousands of children born to legitimate Bhutanese women are denied their birth right to citizenship and education, because their mothers are unable to name their fathers or that they have been fathered by a none-Bhutanese.

There is nothing dignified or honorable about this law. Every lawmaker - men or women - should hang their heads in shame that such a disgraceful and gender prejudiced law should be allowed to continue to humiliate our women.

Kuensel writes that eighteen Parliamentarians, including the Speaker of the House, signed up in support of the Movement. Now let us watch and see if they will go beyond merely being a statistics, or do something to restore dignity and equality to the long-suffering Bhutanese women.

Free Seeds To Grow Fodder For Wildlife

According to what The Journalist newspaper reported in their 1st May issue, the gewog official of Tashicholing is supposed to have said that the government do not offer any monetary compensation to the farmers for damage caused by wild life but that they do distribute free seeds.

In effect, what the gewog official is saying is – that the government distributes free seeds to grow fodder for the wildlife. Small wonder then that the government is clueless about the nomenclature “human-wildlife conflict”. This is truly appalling!



Rural-urban migration is causing villages to be emptied of young people - old and the infirm now mostly populate the village homes



Villagers are forced to use stuffed tigers from China to keep vigil over their crop during day, while they try and catch some sleep and respite from night-long vigil in an attempt to ward off wildlife


Fertile farmlands are left fallow and whole villages are overgrown with bushes

It is time we forget huge hydroelectric projects and massive road widening works. They are destined to cause us problems that we are in no position to handle. Instead, let us focus on manageable issues that are fundamental to our survival as a nation state.

Lets get serious about the long term effects of Goontongs!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Finally Delivered

Dear Evelyn,

I am happy to let you know that we have finally been able to deliver and distribute the 68 blankets and T-shirts you contributed to the disabled children at the Draktso School for the Disabled in Kanglung, Trashigang. I am sorry that it took so long but your gift was so bulky that it was not possible to send them through friends traveling to the east. On the other hand, we did not want to risk sending them by public transport for fear that they may be damaged in transit. Finally our Community Services Director sent his pick-up truck to transport the gifts.

The gifts were finally distributed to the children last weekend. As you can see from the photos - the children were elated by the gifts.




Draktsho Children bearing gifts of T-Shirts and Blankets

It is our hope that the smiles you see on their faces will more than compensate for your act of charity. The Rotary Club of Thimphu thanks you for your generosity.

By the way the balance 30 odd T-shirts are still with me and will be given out, as and when we come to know of children who may stand in need of them.

You may be happy to know that the Rotary Club of Thimphu will soon embark on a fund-raising initiative to create an “Education & Life Skills Fund”. This fund will be used to support children with academic excellence to pursue further studies and for grown up people to acquire life skills. In due course, we will call upon you to draw on your skills at fund-raising and to seek help to spread the word among your vast network of friends. I hope you will be forthcoming.

Bye and take care

Yeshey

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ada Rachu - any one?

Every one dozen year or so, Bhutan seems to unfailingly go through a phase when we see the assemblage of like minded men who come together to attempt and pass some strange and regressive rule.

Some two and a half decades back, one District Court Judge in Gaylephu actually summoned me to his court and required that I change the color of the ink used in the printing of our official letterhead. That time I was working in the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Forests. There was no rule that prohibited the use of certain color - in the printing of official stationary. The Thrimpon decided to enforce the requirement on his personal whim and fancy. It didn't work.

Then few years later, a rule was passed which prohibited the use of yellow colored vehicles. All those who owned or had ordered yellow colored vehicles had to repaint their cars to something else. That too did not work.

Then came the rule that required every Bhutanese to be in national dress, every waking and walking hour of the day. I was personally fined a few times - for being caught in pants. Some zealous police officials actually went as far as to gather up youth who were caught in pants - drive them and offload them across Dochu-La Pass, strip them of their shoes and socks, and made to walk back bare-foot, as punishment in an attempt to enforce the law. It never worked.

Some one dozen years later, the Thimphu City Corporation passed a ruling that required every business signboard in Thimphu to be uniform: paint, ink, lettering, format, and physical size. That didn't work either.

Then another one dozen year or so later, the same City Corporation required that all building roofs in Thimphu City be painted uniformly in one single color - blue. That didn't work either.

Now comes this Ada Rachu rule. Lets see how long this stricture will last.

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.
We are more than the sum of our knowledge, we are the products of our imagination."

Ancient Proverb

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road - Yet Again!

FLASH BACK: Vancouver, CANADA: 19th February, 2016; 9:30 - 12:10 PM (Pacific Standard Time) 

Our Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was the first speaker of the Session 12 on the concluding day of the TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada (15th - 19th February, 2016).


Within hours of his riveting talk at the conference, a friend sent me a link to the TED website where his talk was featured on the front page. It was heartwarming to see our Prime Minister speak with such skillful eloquence - nary a hint of hesitation nor of faltering - notwithstanding the presence of the assembly of people who, in his words:

“….. some of you here are worth more individually than the entire economy of my country”.

He spoke of our Gho and Kira, of our flourishing culture and of GNH, and free education system and the smallness of our population and economy - all of them with the deftness of an accomplished orator.

Amid laughter and applause, 7 minutes and 14 seconds into the talk, he declared:

“Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that's carbon neutral. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative”.

Then, 12 minutes and 55 seconds into his total 18 minutes and 47 seconds speech, the Prime Minister proclaimed:

“But it is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. But the beauty is that we've connected them all with one another through a network of biological corridors. Now, what this means is that our animals are free to roam throughout our country. Take this tiger, for example. It was spotted at 250 meters above sea level in the hot, subtropical jungles. Two years later, that same tiger was spotted near 4,000 meters in our cold alpine mountains. Isn't that awesome?

We must keep it that way. We must keep our parks awesome. So every year, we set aside resources to prevent poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in our parks, and resources to help communities who live in those parks manage their forests, adapt to climate change, and lead better lives while continuing to live in harmony with Mother Nature”.

The Prime Minister then went on to talk about another of Bhutan’s conceptual ideas - Bhutan for Life - an environmental conservation effort intended to improve our environment even better than it already is - for the benefit of the earth that is growing sicker by the year.

FAST FORWARD To: Lhuentse: Mid-Term Review Meeting


Shingkhar-Gorgan road to commence this year
 
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay assured the people of Lhuentse that construction of the much-awaited and controversial Shingkhar-Gorgan highway will commence this year. Lyonchoen said:

We will look into the reasons why the clearance was delayed and if the road is not illegal, work should start this year”.

His Excellency the Prime Minister was clear on this day that the construction work on the Shingkhar-Gorgan road will start this year - “if the road is not illegal”.

A great relief to those of us who know that the construction of this road is not only very, very illegal but also environmentally disastrous!

FAST FORWARD To: Lhuentse: Mid-Term Review Meeting




Dantak to construct the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway
 
The construction of the 56-km Shingkar-Gorgan highway has been awarded to Dantak, according to the Prime Minister in the mid-term review held in Lhuntse yesterday.

For the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, the government has allocated a budget of Nu 779mn and the project was awarded to Dantak because they have more machineries. The authorities are waiting for an environment clearance from the National Environment Commission (NEC) to proceed with works.


A rather disconcerting report - that the construction of the road has been awarded to the DANTAK. It is also confusing that “The authorities are waiting for an environment clearance from the National Environment Commission (NEC) to proceed with works”. The procedure is that they must first obtain clearance from the Department of Forestry and Park Services, which I know have been denied them, time and again, based on the rules that are in place.

FAST FORWARD To: RCSC Website: Same day: March 23, 2016




Secretary for National Environment Commission Appointed….
 
In line with the 56th Commission Meeting held on March 22, 2016, Chencho Norbu, Director General for Department of Forest and Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests has been appointed as the Secretary for National Environment Commission with effect from April 1, 2016.

I was crestfallen by this announcement but after a fretful sleep, I woke up to realize that the transfer is not so bad after all. As the Secretary of the NEC, he has even more teeth - to ensure the protection of our nature and our environment.

Forestry Director General Chencho Norbu has been admirably unshakable and steadfast in his opposition to the construction of the illegal Shingkhar-Gorgan Road.

Bhutan’s promise and declaration at the COP 21 and that of our Prime Minister at the TED Talks in Vancouver are based on the premise that they are good for humanity. It is now time to transcend the spoken words and demonstrate to the world community that those promises and declarations were made in complete sincerity and with the intention to translate them into action on the ground.

Our conservation and environmental protection laws that are in place explicitly do not permit the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road, not through the areas it is proposed. Thirty six Kms. of the total 56 Kms. of this road goes through complete wilderness. Even worst, the road has to pass through Singmala Pass that is at an elevation of over 4,000 Mtrs. - which is even higher than Thrumshing-La which is at 3,780 Mtrs. In fact, if this road is done, it will be the highest elevation road in Bhutan - even higher than the current highest point - Chele-La Pass at 3,988 Mtrs.

If the government has 779 million ngulturms to spare on a road that is illegal as well as useless for anybody, I would like to suggest that they spend it on building a bridge over the Mangdechhu in Rindibi, Zhemgang - where nine men died during May of 2014, trying to cross the river on a poorly equipped and unauthorized ferry service.

Since 2011, I have been opposing this road - on the grounds that it is not beneficial, illegal, and environmentally disastrous. The Agriculture Minister of the erstwhile DPT government, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, offered to resign from the Cabinet, should this road happen. The DPT government finally abandoned the foolhardy idea in 2013, realizing that they were acting against the law. And yet, this road keeps popping up, time and again.

Is there something that the Bhutanese people do not understand about the need for this road? Why is there such pigheadedness about this road, in spite of being fully aware that its construction is illegal, it passes through geographical conditions
and landscapes that are perilous, and will not contribute to the economic or social betterment of the people in the area?

What exactly is the matter?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Strange Problems Of Our Hydropower Projects

Indian newspapers report that in the past two years, Jaypee Group has been selling off their assets - cement factories and power plants - in a bid to bring down their Rs.75,000 crore (US$11.00 billion) debt to lenders. Most recently, they sold one of their cement units that would help them shrink their debt by Rs.16,500 crore. But that is not enough - not by a long shot. Lenders to the group are jumpy and want more done. They want to see some more assets sold. Considering that almost two-thirds of the group’s debts are in default, the bankers have called the situation “grim”.

The "grim" picture of one of our biggest hydropower contractors.

Strangely, while the Indian media and the judiciary are on a blitzkrieg hounding away at poor Vijay Mallya the liquor baron for his bad debt amounting to Rs.9,000 crore, there is an eerie hush on the hefty borrowings amounting to Rs.75,000 crore by the Jaypee Group - two-thirds of which are said to be in default!

So what does this mean for Bhutan? In case you did not know, Jaypee Associates - part of the Jaypee Group for whom no dream is too big - is among the biggest Indian contractors hired to build many of our troubled hydropower projects. They have contracts that run into thousands of millions, awarded to them by many of our ongoing hydropower projects.

In addition to the fact that our self-liquidating hydropower projects have been contracted out to contractors whose financial standing is now proven to be in serious doubt, if not downright dangerous, we have recently been informed of some seriously inexcusable disasters in the hydropower sector.

It was reported that the Dagachhu Hydropower Project - barely a year old - had to be shut down for two months!! The why for is not important - what is appalling is that a brand new plant is required to be shutdown - as a result of design/construction flaw.

There was a major mudslide at the Mangdechhu Hydropower Project site - causing loss of life to some workers.

A cave-in occurred at the surge chamber of Punatsangchhu-II’s powerhouse - killing six people. How does such a thing happen? How can any one - sane or insane - explain away such a terrible occurrence?

What is the probability that, in future, entire roof of the powerhouse of one of our many projects will not cave in, for whatever reason? Imagine the consequences of a whole mountain coming crashing down on top of a power plant!

Not to forget that the mountainside of the PHPA-I dam site is sinking and sinking and sinking.

And, as if we did not have enough misery dogging us, the Bharatiya Rashtrawadi Party (BRP) State president Ajad Ali of the Indian state of Assam has some mouthful to say about our hydropower projects.

He recently said, “After commissioning of the Kurichhu Hydro Project (60 MW) in 2004, people of Lower Assam are the worst victim every year. Just imagine the disaster that will come upon us, if all the dams (over 80 planned) are commissioned at some point in time,” said Ajad Ali.

This is a clear indication that Assam views our hydropower dreams as a threat to the Assamese people downstream.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On this International Day of Women, Give Bhutanese Women Equality

On this International Women’s Day I would like to offer Greetings to all the Women of Bhutan, and to those all around the world.

There are huge moral and social issues that challenge women around the world. In Bhutan, the issues are not as varied or as condemnatory. In fact our social and religious beliefs make no distinction between a Woman and a man.

But one of our laws do - it vilifies our Women! This law is an insult to our Women - it degrades them to someone lesser than a man. Our primeval law that disallows citizenship to children born to Women who cannot name the father of the child, or fathered by none-Bhutanese, is an affront to Women of Bhutan.

It is a law that has forced many Women in Bhutan to resort to unlawful acts of deception. This law has forced hundreds, if not thousands of Women around the country to name their fathers (grandfather of the children) as the father of their fatherless children, so that they may qualify as a Bhutanese and be entered into the national census records. At one level this could be branded as incest and, at another, it forces a citizen to commit an act of willful crime. Thousands of children born to legitimate Bhutanese mothers are denied their birth right to citizenship and education, because their mothers are unable to name their fathers or that they have been fathered by a none-Bhutanese.

There is nothing dignified or honorable about this law. Every lawmaker - men or Women - should hang their heads in shame that such a disgraceful law should be allowed to continue to humiliate our Women.

Therefore on this International Day of Women, let us make a promise to make the abolishment of this law our defining issue for this decade.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bhutanese Children of Unknown Fathers

Here is something that should bother every Bhutanese with a conscience:


This is an issue I have been bringing up once in a while. One of my 8 Lunar New Year Wishes this year concerns this issue. No self respecting society should allow such gender inequality - not particularly in a country that prides itself as a GNH country.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rural-Urban Migration: The Impending Crisis II

One and a half decades back when a Thimphu-based UN Consultant requested me to do a paper on “How to be prepared for Rural-urban Migration”, one of my principal recommendations was that all government schools in Thimphu municipal area - Primary to Higher Secondary - should be auctioned off to private operators and the money raised from it should be used to establish large central schools in remote Dzongkhags. My paper never saw the light of day - it got dumped in the digital dustbin, on grounds that it was too radical.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since, but my recommendations are as valid today as it was fifteen years ago. The situation hasn’t improved - infact, it has gotten worst. Today the pace of rural-urban migration has increased by leaps and bounds. As a result, every classroom in Thimphu schools are packed like cans of Sardines. The situation is so bad that some Head Teachers of Thimphu schools resort to switching off their phones during admission time. And yet, succeeding governments refuse to be decisive about the issue and, instead, continue to take the bull by the rump. Schools after school are built in Thimphu Thromde to keep pace with the burgeoning demand. As a result, Thimphu Municipality today outstrips every other Thromde, Gewog and Dzongkhag - in number of schools and student enrolment. Take a look at the following:

Thimphu Thromde (municipality) has a total of 32 schools (whole of Thimphu Dzongkhag has 45). By contrast, whole of Zhemgang Dzongkhag has only 31 schools. The overall student strength of schools under Thimphu Thromde outnumber all of Bumthang, Dagana, Gasa, Haa, Lhuentse and Trongsa Dzongkhags put together!

Trashigang, Bhutan’s most populous Dzongkhag has student enrollment of only 11,598, while Thimphu Thromde has a staggering enrollment of 24,067 students – that is more than double the student strength of entire Trashigang Dzongkhag. As a percentage of enrollment, Thimphu Thromde is miles ahead of every other Dzongkhag - at 13.9% of the national total, while the next highest - Samtse Dzongkhag - trails at 9.1%.

So then, why am I bringing up this issue? Trust me it is not to expose the colossal investment in educational facilities in one city, as opposed to the rest of the country, although it beats me why our planners and lawmakers do not see this immense disparity. My father did - when he visited Thimphu few years back. Ten minutes of being driven around the town, he exclaimed:

“My God, I now understand why there is no money for developmental activities in the rest of the Dzongkhags. There cannot be enough money in the Gyalpoi Baangzoe to finance all the fanciful activities that are happening in and around Thimphu”.

If some of you read my 10-articles series on rural-urban migration published in the Kuensel few months back, you would have read that I blame our education system as the No. 2 cause - after wildlife predation - that trigger rural-urban migration. However, I also believe that same school system can come to our rescue - not only to halt rural-urban migration, but to reverse the trend and, over time, restock the villages with farmers and farm hands who will go on to bring about a revolution in farm production.

But for that we need the will to take the bull by the horn, and set into motion the first baby steps! The baby steps can begin at schools, colleges and other institutions of learning.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rural-Urban Migration: The Impending Crisis

The spectacle of the avalanche is a sight to behold - it starts with a fluffy ball of snow coming dislodged and rolling down the mountainside. As it cascades downhill, the ball grows bigger and bigger while at the same time gaining velocity and mass. Within minutes, the whole mountainside begins to hurtle down with a thunderous roar that can be heard hundreds of miles away, in the aftermath, bringing ruin and destruction to everything in its path. The landscape is laid asunder and the geography of the land is altered beyond recognition.

That is exactly how the rural-urban migration starts: it begins with a trickle but slowly builds up into an exodus, in its wake, altering demographics and turning producers into consumers.

While porcupines merrily raise families in a labyrinth of burrows built underneath the ground of fertile lands abandoned by migrating farmers, most of these migrants end up eking out a living by the roadside - inside shanty ramshackles, tinkered together with metal sheets salvaged from castaway asphalt drums. Equal numbers of these escapees become burdens to relatives in urban centers, who are themselves buckling under a lifestyle and a system that denominates everything in terms of money. Some are forced into that shadowy zone between the honorable and the doubtful. Young, muscular hands that should be commandeering plough handles in rural farms, now don water spray guns in carwash centers and grip and navigate steering wheels of trucks and buses. At the end of day, they lumber back to their shanties and crawl into their beds - tired and spent - to dream fretful dreams of their urban dreams gone sour. But I fear that they still think that they are better off - from a life that is even worst than that they have now.

The allure of the glitz and the glitter of life in urban centers is not the reason why the strong and the mobile have chosen to move away from their traditional rural homes and way of life. It wasn't a choice that they made willingly. It was an option that was open to them - an option they chose to prefer over the meaningless toil and struggle that had become their daily, and nightly routine.

This swelling number of forced migrants to the urban centers represents an important and critical human capital gone to waste. From being producers, they have now become consumers thereby putting pressure on our already scares resources and infrastructure. Over time, they will lose their most important life skill and their inherent strength - farming and farm work. Their locked and barricaded homes in the villages will rot and crumble - their fallow lands will be overgrown with trees and bushes. The possibility of reverse migration will become harder, if not entirely impossible. A whole lot of homeless, landless floating population will be created that will see no reason for hope or optimism.

The old, the infirm and the weak occupy most of the village homes that are still inhabited. They grow what little they can but there is no guarantee that they will harvest the yield of their toil and hardship. They will bang empty tins and rattle bamboo bells all night long – to ward off wild boar and deer and porcupine. During day they will holler and howl curses at the marauding monkeys. They will buy stuffed tigers from China to scare off the monkeys, which will eventually get shredded to smithereens, once they become wise to the falsehood. The monkeys are reported to have become so daring that they walk into village homes in broad daylight and walk away with bundles of corn hung out to dry. All that the old ladies in the homes can do is shriek with fright.

This pathetic and almost surrealistic condition in the villages and urban centers is caused by a malady called “rural-urban migration” - a man-made sickness brought about and perpetuated by a misnomer called “human-wildlife conflict”. It is the result of a conservation policy that is out of tune with the changing times and one that got stuck in a time warp.

Rural-urban migration is not a trend that is unique to Bhutan. It happens elsewhere in the world. But what causes it in the land of the GNH is pretty unique and unparalleled!

Bhutan's case of human displacement as a result of encroachment by wildlife must be the first of its kind in the world. It provably goes down well with the chilips - in tune with our unfailing claim to uniqueness, in everything we do or say. Elsewhere in the world opposite it true - human encroaching into the habitat of wildlife, thereby causing conflict and endangerment. Bhutan's record of shrinking cultivation of farmlands is proof that there is no encroachment into wildlife habitat.

In Bhutan whole villages are emptied as a result of rampant and uncontrolled predation by wildlife. And conflict is not allowed - by law! Our laws give primacy to wildlife, over human life and well-being. The country is already paying the price - and it will get worst over the years.

It is time that we end our apathy and do what we must - to halt, if not reverse, the rural-urban migration. We are in no position to afford the consequences that are not too difficult to imagine. If we do not do something now, it may be too late for us.