Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Confidential Information

The following are my five highest grossing blog posts. Please note that these are page views and not number of visits:

    Shame on UNICEF & Aamir Khan                              Oct 22, 2016        32,636
    Shame on UNICEF & Aamir Khan II                          Oct 26, 2016          9,704
    Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route      Jun 17, 2016          6,947
    Hydro-Power Madness                                                 Dec 6, 2016           4,797
    Wangdue Phodrang Dzong On Fire                              Jun 24, 2012          4,109

    An Uncommon Civil Servant                                       Apr 21, 2017          2,190
    India is Now a Net Exporter of Electricity                   Mar 30, 2017         1,790
    Perfect Bowls for Particulates!                                     Mar 28, 2017            373
    New Zealand Steals Bhutan’s Thunder                        Mar 17, 2017             264
    Shingkhar-Gorgan Road, Yet Again                             Apr 14, 2017             229


    An Uncommon Civil Servant                                       Apr 21, 2017           2,190
    Perfect Bowls for Particulates!                                     Mar 28, 2017               98
    Some Intriguing News                                                  Apr 18, 2017               90
    India is Now a Net Exporter of Electricity                   Mar 30, 2017               44
    New Zealand Steals Bhutan’s Thunder                         Mar 17, 2017               41 

    Bhutan                190,135
    United States      107,382
    India                     24,278
    Russia                   15,389
    Australia               11,594
    China                    10,934
    France                     9,358
    Ukraine                   6,270
    Thailand                  4,942
    Germany                 4,383


My first blog post was on 5th November, 2009.

Friday, April 21, 2017

An Uncommon Civil Servant

Few months back, I was invited to speak to a group of youngsters who were training to be tourist guides. I began my talk by telling them how smart they were - in deciding to train as guides. I told them that Bhutan’s and, therefore, their future is intrinsically linked to tourism, which is good because the tourism industry is the only bankable industry in Bhutan that has the potential to grow unabated. I offered the view that they should not mistake guiding tourists as a routine job - but as the initial steps to acquiring a useful profession. That guiding is merely a stepping-stone to bigger things in life. After all, there are a few billion tourists out there rearing to come and see what all this hoopla about the land of GNH was about.

Along the way, I also fervently pleaded with them to resist the absurd temptation to mimic the American twang and drawl, including sporting the punk’s hairdo and painting their hair pink and blue. After all the Americans come here to see and feel Bhutan and the Bhutanese - not to meet up with a poor example of themselves.

But the most important point I made to them was this:

“Of one thing I am very glad - that you did not opt for the civil service because in my view the best way to irretrievably ruin yourself for life, is to join the civil service."

For seventeen long years I too belonged to that breed of people who are neither civil, nor servants. But fortunately for me, all of those years were spent in the corporate world where the work culture is totally different from that of the civil servants. Thus, I emerged out of the system unscathed and still smelling like roses. My long held view, both inside as well as out of it, has been that the civil servants are everywhere else but! When you most need them they are either taking part in the departmental archery match, or at the crematorium keeping vigil over a dead body, or at the hospital visiting a distant uncles’ sick daughter, or rushing off to pick up or drop off their children. And the rare times you can get them to grudgingly do their job, they behave as if they are doing you a favor.

But today I had an experience that is nothing short of a bolt from the blue - I am totally flummoxed!

I am publishing this small handbook on the wild birds of Bhutan. As per rule I need an official Certificate of Registration from the BICMA, as well as an ISBN # from the CBS & GNH. So I wrote out my application, attached all the necessary supporting documents and drove over to the BICMA office in Olakha to submit my request. I was ushered into the office of the Licensing and Compliance Division where I was introduced to Ms. Younten Dolma, Assistant Communications Officer.  She went through the papers and told me that everything was in order and that my submission would be put up to the contents committee. She said that it would be a few days but that she would get back to me ASAP.

Next day (today) - at about 11.45AM, she called me to say that my Individual Publishing License as well as the Certificate of Registration were ready for collection. I was hugely impressed! Is it possible that a government department and its committee actually cleared my papers within a day of submission? Preposterous! Anyway, I went down to the lady’s office to find that she had the papers all signed and ready to be handed to me. She said the total fee amounted to Nu.1,500.00. She said I could give her the money and that she would deposit the money with the Accounts and bring back the money Receipt for me. Another shocker! - the officer did not ask me to go to the Accounts and pay the money and show her the Receipt - she actually volunteered to do the leg work on my behalf!

She came back to tell me that the Accountant was not at her desk. I said; “fine, you can give me the change and I will take the licenses and go.”

She said; “that is the thing --- I don't have the change and no one else in the office has it either."

I said; “OK no worry --- I can come back for it."

She said; “But one thing I can do - I can transfer it into your account."


“I can MBoB it”.

“From your personal account?"

“Yes. Please give me your bank account #"

So I gave her my account number. Within seconds she showed me the confirmation of the transfer of the sum of Nu.500.00 into my account.

Have you ever experienced this level of service any time in your dealings with the civil service, ever in your life? What do you call this category of extremely uncommon officer?

A public servant as well as a civil servant! And a SERVICE HERO. My Hero!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Some Intriguing News

"Soon, Bengal to export 1,000 MW power to Nepal, Bhutan". 

That is the headline appearing at the "millenniumpost":

The first few para of the article reads:

The Bengal government will soon export 1,000 Mega Watt (MW) electricity to various neighbouring countries including Nepal and Bhutan. Meanwhile, the capacity of the export of electricity to Bangladesh will also be increased.

State Power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay said that his department has set a target to export 1,000 MW electricity to neighbouring countries including Bangladesh. The minister is hopeful that the target will soon be achieved by his department as the state government has constructed various power generation units while many others are under construction.

"We have a target to export electricity to neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bhutan with the development of infrastructure across the state. In the initial level, we are planning to export around 1,000 Megawatt electricity to our neighbouring countries as per their requirements," Chattopadhyay said.

So what is happening? Is this for real?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road, Yet Again

Something fishy has to be going on about this illegal Shingkhar-Gorgan road. I thought that we had buried the issue - but it has reared its ugly head once again. The Kuensel has reported on it yet again, in their 13th April issue. The story filed by reporter Tempa Wangdi makes it clear beyond any doubt that there is more to the construction of the Shingkhar-Gorgan road, than meets the eye.

Is it possible that the road is being pursued – not for the economic betterment of the people of Lhuentse as is claimed, but because of some private interest? Is some private interest behind this relentless push to do the road, even while being fully aware that it is illegal, meaningless and environmentally destructive?

The Kuensel has been candid in reporting the views of the National Environment Commission (NEC) on this issue:

1.  That the NEC will not consider environmental clearance for the road’s construction - until the
     government first sorts out the legality of the road. This means that the construction of the
     Shingkhar-Gorgan road is illegal.

2.  The DoR has falsely claimed that only 18 kilometers of the 37.28 km of Shingkhar-Gorgan
      would pass through the core zone area of Phrumsengla National Park. However, the NEC is clear
      that the road not only passes through the core area of Phrumsengla National Park but
      the entire 37.28 KMs falls in the core zone of the park.

3.  The NEC also pointed out: “In the EIA report, most of the baseline information submitted is

     secondary and sourced outside the project area……”. This clearly means that the DoR has
     tried to hoodwink the NEC by submitting an EIA report assessed (if at all) from an area
     that was clearly not the project area. This has got to be criminal - and a case for the ACC.

Why is a government agency trying to deliberately submit false reports in order that they can do the road?

What desperation drives the Department of Roads and the Ministry of Works & Human Settlement to lie so blatantly to a regulatory authority?

One other thing: the government says that the construction of this illegal road will shorten distance by 100 KMs. What they fail to tell is whether shortening distance will translate into savings in travel time. Also they are very quite on the fact that the road will pass through a geographical area that is unstable and perilous, and that at one point the road has to pass through an altitude that has never been attained before.

Singma-La Pass: If the Shingkhar-Gorgan road gets built, it has to pass through this high pass which is at 4,033M - nearly 253M higher than Thrumshing-La Pass. Singma-La is 153M higher than today's highest road point - Chele-La Pass.

What kind of environmental champions break laws to vandalize the environment? How far can we go with our “Bhutan for Life” when it is clear that we clandestinely scheme and plan to imperil life within the most protected areas?

We have to be careful what we do - if not the world will soon discover that our claims to being a carbon negative country, a land of happiness etc. is nothing more than the drum beats of the charlatans.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Achievers Who Came Along In My Life: II

“Congratulations, Yeshey! It was all due to your guidance and service to TWS that resulted in the great success of Mr. Kaestner’s visit. I really believe that we achieve great things for our country in small steps like these - winning one heart at a time and you made a great contribution to this one!”

This is how an official of the Royal Government of Bhutan wrote to me - to thank me for my part in the success of Mr. Kaestner’s Bhutan visit, during October of 2009. The retired US diplomat Mr. Peter G. Kaestner was then posted at the US Embassy, New Delhi.

Among the world birding community, he is an achiever and a luminary. Mr. Peter G. Kaestner is acknowledged as one of the world’s TOP TEN BIRDERS.

Peter G Kaestner, one of world's top 10 birders at 8,666 life birds

The International Ornithologists’ Union places the total number of known bird species at 10,500. Ofcourse this number does not stay static - while some bird species regularly go extinct, new ones are constantly discovered. Of this many known species, as on last count (as per his mail to me dated 21st March, 2017) Mr. Peter G. Kaestner has recorded 8,666 life birds - a staggering more than 82% of the world’s entire bird species!

Bhutan is listed among the world’s top 10 birding destinations. And this is where Mr. Kaestner got two of his life birds: the extremely rare White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) - in Lekeythang, Punakha on 28th October, 2009, and the Fulvous Parrotbill (Suthora fulvifrons) - in Dochula, the next day.

Having guided Mr. Kaestner for two days, the following was my trip report to the government:

Hi All,

I am happy to let you know that Mr. Peter Kaestner was fortunate enough to sight his life bird – White-bellied Heron on the evening of 28th October, 2009 - the same evening we travelled to Punakha. The original plan was that we would stop over at Dochula and look for his other life bird – Fulvous Parrotbill. However, I changed the plan and decided that we will leave that for the return trip – since the White-bellied Heron was more important for Peter than the Parrotbill.

Upon reaching Punakha past 4.30PM, we decided to go straight to look for the bird and leave the check-in into the hotel for later in the late evening. That was a good decision. Twenty minutes on the road to Puna Phochhu, the bird flew in and landed by the river bank at Lekeythang.

The most beautiful part of the close to half an hour of wonderful viewing of the bird was that Peter actually saw the bird take a huge fish – a
Snow Trout (Yuel-Nya) and swallow it whole. The fish was so big that it got stuck in the slender neck of the bird and despite the bird trying to shake it down, it remained stuck there. I know that the fish will eventually die and then the bird will be able to shake it in – but we decided we had enough and left the bird in the middle of the small rush – still trying to shake the fish down.

Next day he sighted is other life bird - Fulvous Parrotbill, at Dochula.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Achievers Who Came Along In My Life

Life is a long, continuous journey, most often lived in long periods of confusion, followed by realization and finally ending in regret & repentance.

There are many who see merit in renouncing everything in life, so that they can pursue knowledge and wisdom. And yet, for all their troubles, they have not been able to rescue the world or the humanity, from the brink of disaster.

Then there are those who travel to distant pilgrimage sites - in pursuit of higher purposes and higher Gods, while the abodes of their resident Gods are in shambles and in need of urgent repair and renewal. This lot will spend millions to go to Dorjeden, Tshopema, Boudha, Varanasi etc. but will not cast a morsel for the nourishment of the poor and the hungry who line up the streets outside their fortified homes. For these passionate believers in God, charity begins at the feet of the ornately adorned Buddha and Guru statues. No wonder the Buddha is depicted with a curious smirk on his face. The man knows!

Others spend a lifetime amassing wealth and fortune. They cheat, they plunder, they lie through their teeth – they have no time for the sunset or to tickle a baby. They are so taken up making money and hoarding them in chests and bank lockers, that they fail to notice the look of contempt and abhorrence in the faces of their friends and neighbors. Too late they realize that they had become slaves of that one thing that they had all their lives tried to master - MONEY. They were too greedy to spend their wealth to give themselves pleasure - let alone for those of others. And now their time in this world is up and it is time for them to be gagged and bundled and put on the funeral pyre, to be turned to ashes. What a waste.

Then there are those of us who live life one day at a time. We do not hoard for tomorrow - because today is more certain than tomorrow. Our bank accounts may be nearing negative balance - but we have piles and piles of credit - of goodwill and appreciation, of gratefulness and gratitude - overflowing in the hearts of those to whom we gave freely and without condition.

Life is made up of moments and encounters. One remarkable encounter I had was with late Captain Charles E. Brady Jr., NASA astronaut who passed away on 23rd July, 2006.

Autographed photo of Space Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-78

 Captain Charles E. Brady Jr., NASA astronaut

He was a crew member on the Space Shuttle Columbia Mission STS-78 during June-July, 1996. That mission was the longest shuttle mission at that time. It lasted 16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes and 30 seconds.

I hosted him during his Ham Radio trip to Bhutan. I was hugely impressed by him. Perhaps it was due to his time in the infinite space - or he was naturally so. He had a Buddha-like calm and serenity about him. It was so soothing to be around him - life suddenly became even paced and unrushed - as if it held no meaning.