Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Of Puja, Pollution and God Who Gets Dumped: Part II

For the past three years, I have been hollering for the National Environment Commission (NEC) and other relevant government agencies to do something about the annual dumping of hundreds of Vishwakarma statues into our river systems. My concern is that, unlike in the olden days, the present day statues are made of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster of Paris and painted with chemical dyes that contain harmful and toxic agents. These idols pollute our rivers.

We never fail to talk big about our environmental conservation efforts and the pristine nature of our ecosystem. The truth is that despite repeatedly pointing out the ill effects of the practice of dumping statues into our river systems, the authorities have remained stoically unconcerned. The best I have seen the NEC do is post a notice on their website that reads as follows:

This is for the general information to the public that washing and cleaning of clothes/vehicles and dumping of any kinds of wastes by the river banks or into any water bodies are prohibited under the Waste Prevention and Management Act of Bhutan 2009 and National Environment Protection Act of Bhutan 2007.

Therefore, everyone is informed to stop carrying out these activities. Henceforth, anyone found violating these Acts shall be liable for both civil and criminal penalties”.

As far as the NEC is concerned, they seem to believe that they have fulfilled their duty once a notice is posted on their website.

Yesterday was Vishwakarama Puja and yet again I suppose our river system will suffer another round of the annual abuse.

Now, however, the Ministry of Agriculture & Forests, in collaboration with the Food Corporation of Bhutan, seems to be taking some action. Yesterday morning, as I was passing by the vegetable market, I saw the following scene. Seems like atleast one arm of the government is so fed up that they are now auctioning off the idols as vegetables.

It is a start.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dasho T. Yonten (A51TY): Silent-Key

Dasho Thuji Yonten (A51TY) went Silent-Key on 28th August, 2012. He was 75 years old. He was not only the first Director of Bhutan’s Civil Wireless; more significantly, amateurs around the world knew him as the first Bhutanese Ham radio operator to be heard on the world amateur radio bands. Available records show that he became active, for the first time, in January of 1972. His initial CallSign was AC5TY which he subsequently changed to A51TY.

The country prefix "AC5" is a mystery - I do not know how that came to be. May be the decision to adopt it was influenced by the country prefixes of our two closest neighbors – Tibet and Sikkim. Tibet’s country prefix was "AC4" and Sikkim was known by the prefix "AC3". However, both these countries ceased to be DX nations when China took over Tibet in the early 1950’s and Sikkim was annexed by India in the mid 70's. Consequently, their country prefixes were deleted from the official DX records - Sikkim's on 30.04.1975 and Tibet’s a year earlier – on 30.05.1974.

Bhutan seems to have got our current country prefix – "A51" – sometime in 1972 as a result of which Dasho Yonten changed his CallSign to A51TY. The prefix "A51" in the CallSign is the Bhutan country prefix and the alphabets "TY" stands for the initials of Dasho Thuji Yonten.

Two of his following QSL Cards are among the most prized by the world amateur community.

Having gone off the air since his brief emergence in 1972, Dasho Yonten coming back on air was something of a world event. After 1972, the next time he was heard on the amateur bands was 28 years later - on 27th April, 2000. That event was broadcast over the DX News network, on 29th April, 2000, as follows:

“The second happy news is that Yonten, A51TY has been back on the air since 27 April at 12.01 UTC. He made his first CW (with RW0JR) and SSB (with VK9NL) QSOs on 20 metres”.

Records show that it was Mr. Jim Smith from Australia who got Dasho Yonten to come back on the airwaves - in order that amateurs around the world could get an opportunity to exchange a QSO with an extremely rare operator - A51TY - from the world’s second rarest DX country at that time.

The photo below shows the QTH from where Dasho Yonten is supposed to have operated his amateur radio in the early 1970's.

PS: When a HAM radio operator goes Silent-Key, it means he is no more.

Draft ECB Social Media Policy 2012

I finally managed to get hold of a copy of the Draft of the ECB Social Media Policy 2012. As I said in my earlier post on the subject, ECB’s website does not carry a copy of the Draft. I am told that it is available on Facebook. But I am neither on Facebook nor on Tweeter. So I did a bit of legwork and managed to locate a hard copy with a friend.

I read the Draft - my conclusion: A set of confused and contradictory document, but a dangerous one, nonetheless. In particular, there is one sentence in the Preamble that bothers me:

“……. hereby adopts the ECB Social Media Policy 2012 to ensure proper usage of social media by the ECB, election officials, Political Parties, Candidates and their supporters as well as the media agencies in all matters related to elections, during or outside the Election Period”.

The extension of the rule to cover “supporters of the political parties and their candidates” and the coverage of a period “outside the Election Period” bothers me. I have not been able to get hold of a copy of the Election Commission Act so I am not sure if their authority and mandate encompasses periods beyond and outside the election period and whether they can impose their will on the common voters and the supporters of political parties and their candidates.

I read Chapter 16 Election Code of Conduct of the Election Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008. The Act does not mention anything about “supporters” of a political party or their candidates. The closest reference the Act makes is when it states:

      290.  No candidate or political party shall permit any other
                 person to carry out election campaign on his/her or
                 its behalf, except by person authorized under this Act.
But "any other person" referred to above need not necessarily be a supporter of a political party or its candidates. But even here, it holds the political party responsible to ensure compliance of the rules on behalf of the "other persons"

According to the Draft ECB Social Media Policy 2012, it prohibits supporters from promoting and canvassing on behalf of the party they support.

This effectively renders every voter in the country as: APOLITICAL. This is ridiculous and can cause a lot of problems. Every individual with any intelligence ought to have a party that he/she supports - for whatever reason. If he/she does not, then the person is no better than a zombie. I most definitely support a party that I believe has the wherewithal to take this country forward and I definitely intend to canvass and speak on its behalf. The ECB cannot take away that right from me.

The act or the intention behind an individual supporting a party fulfills a fundamental duty of a voter - the responsibility to vote in a party that he/she believes is good for the country. The ECB cannot throttle my endeavors to promote a party that I believe is the most competent and able.

I do not believe in the hype that social media will influence the outcome of the 2013 elections. It may - marginally but only in the urban centers. However, the bulk of the voters are in the rural villages. Their votes will be the bigger influence. We cannot cite the examples of impact of social media in other countries because our level of Internet connectivity and basic literacy rate is way, way below those in other countries. Thus, my objections do not arise from the fear that the Internet savvy, the well heeled and the well connected will be the movers and shakers of the 2013 elections.

I object because the ECB is, through the proposed Draft Social Media Policy 2012, trying to infringe on our individual rights and our privacy. This is dangerous and every Bhutanese must object to the contemplation of such a draconian and undemocratic rule.

I am aware that what the ECB proposes will be near impossible to implement. We neither have the technical skills, nor the financial resources, to implement what is being proposed. Therefore, I know that even if the rule gets passed, it will be among the many rules that will remain unenforceable.

I bring up the issue because I am appalled at the thought that the ECB is proposing something that totally contradicts their mandate. It is a dangerous idea. The ECB is a constitutional body that carries the express mandate to protect and enthuse the practice of wholesome democratic culture. It is preposterous that the same institution should propose a rule that would result in the deprivation of the most fundamental rights that democracy grants to the people.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

ECB to Empower Bhutanese ISPs to Monitor their Users’ On-Line Activities

If recent Kuensel reports are to be believed, indications are that the Election Commission of Bhutan is toying with some dangerous ideas that are likely to result in the infringement of our individual freedom and privacy. The most recent Kuensel report says as follows:

"The draft social media rules and regulations now require ISPs to implement a “necessary system to monitor and detect cases of violation of the electoral laws through the social media”.  It also requires ISPs to implement a system that can “lawfully intercept” and provide “necessary information on the identity of a social media abuser using its services”. In case of violations on the contents of a website, ECB can order ISPs to block that particular website".

I don’t know if they are empowered to legislate laws that infringe on the individual rights and privacy of the Bhutanese people and I don’t even know if the above has become law. I visited their website and tried to read the new rules and regulations being proposed. I don’t see it posted on the website.

But for now, I am concerned that the ECB thinks they have the right to grant sweeping powers to the ISPs to monitor the activities of the their users. The other concern is whether the ECB can actually ORDER the ISPs to block particular websites. Under what authority or law does the ECB have those powers?

Where do I find information on the matter? Please help me understand this matter. I sense a real danger here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Funny Signages

One of the catchiest business names I have ever come across happens to be the one at Thimphu’s Hong Kong Market area. The business is named: HER ASSET BROKER & REAL ESTATE. Whichever way I look at it, I am convinced that there is nothing straightforward about what is on offer. But I dare say that, as dubious as it may sound, the owner of the business must be pretty sure that he has something worthy to offer. Without that conviction, he cannot be so bold as to declare his firm as a brokerage for her asset.

To be fair, the Chinese are even more creative in naming their businesses. See the following for proof.

But the Japanese take the cake – when it comes to being cryptic. One notice in a Japanese hotel room reads as follows:

This room has hot air and also cold air. If you feel hot, cool yourself"

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I was amazed to read today's (6th September, 2012) Kuensel’s front page report headlined “Is this a case of conflict of interest?”

The article starts off with; “With the ACC investigations into the Gyalpoizhing land case now with the office of the attorney general (OAG), questions are being raised on whether it can, as the advisor and legal representative of the government, also prosecute the government”.

Have I entirely misunderstood the matter concerning the case revolving around the allocation of land in Gyalpoizhing? I was under the impression that the investigation pertained to certain persons being allotted land where they were not entitled to; that the Dzongkhag Committee exceeded their mandate in allotting land to those people, among a number of other allegations.

Since when did the present government become a respondent to the Gyalpoizhing land case? What are the allegations against the government on the basis of which it now has to face prosecution?

Is this a deliberate attempt on the part of the national daily to mislead the Bhutanese people?