Sunday, June 23, 2024

Goongtong, Satong, Yuetong

I cannot remember how I ended up being a Member of the UNDP’s SENetwork but already by 2006 - that is roughly 18 years back - I was called upon by the organization to write an article on how the country might prepare itself to meet the challenges that is likely to be posed by the emerging trend of mass movement of pastoral population to urban centers. I refused to do so on the grounds that that was the wrong approach to solving the problem – instead, I submitted an article on “How we might work towards counteracting the problem”.

The UNDP decided that the solution I suggested was just too radical and felt that it would be imprudent on their part to publish the article which would be tantamount to endorsing my idea. Fine - but pussy-footing around an issue is no way to solve a problem. And so, the problem was allowed to fester year after year - unchecked.

The term employed to describe the emerging malice then was: "Rural-Urban Migration".

Sometime around 2010-11, the term “Goongtong” was coined.

Around 2015-16 when I began to frantically push the issue of Goongtong to the fore - I coined one additional term - “Yuetong”.

This year, the Members of the Parliament added one brand new nomenclature to the malice that they now agree has reached alarming proportions - “Satong”.

In 2016, I highlighted the problem of Goongtong with the following two articles, in addition to few others.

Beginning January of 2015, I had already authored a series of 10 articles on Goongtong (funded by the BCMD) that was published in the Kuensel – titled “A Malady Called Rural-Urban Migration:

The ongoing discussions in the Parliament on the twin subjects of Education and Farming seems like a good opportunity to see if we may, for a change, transcend the superfluous verbosity and get down to brass tacks! But I suspect that as usual, this too shall be one that flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Ban on commercial harvesting of timber in the country was introduced in 1979, necessitated by compulsion. Nearly half a century has passed us by since - times and situations are no long the same - the country’s physical boundaries have contracted and the Mt. Everest has grown taller - but the Forestry Department has remained immobile and stuck in a time-wrap.

It is heartbreaking how we speak of hundreds of thousands of millions of Ngultrums ….. and yet people in the core areas of the country’s capital city - Babesa - are wailing cries of woe - that they lack a simple daily necessity - drinking water. Imagine the plight of the rural folks far removed from the glare and pomposity of the Dashos and Lyoenpos in Thimphu.

Can we, for a change, shelve the astronomical and the gigantic, so that we are left with time and resources to confront, and tackle, the manageable and the doable? It would help.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Welcoming the Winds of Change

As of this post, I have a total of 75 posts related to our hydroelectric power projects. And I am not embarrassed or ashamed that 99.99% of those posts are negative posts - posts that unabashedly chastise our largest and most infamous hydropower undertakings. But I take pride in the fact that they also happen to be among my most popular posts. In terms of readership, three of my posts on the subject rank 4th, 6th and 7th highest read posts on my blog which, as of today, comprises of a staggering 1,127 posts.

Winds of Change?: The advent of a new era in our hydroelectric power aspirations

Notwithstanding my unrestrained, high-octave tirades against our more recent hydroelectric projects, I dare believe that I remain absolved of any wrong doing because I have made it clear that my revulsion for the projects is for the perilous, debilitating manner in which they have been done in Bhutan - NOT hydropower projects per se.

But now I sense that the gentle winds of change is sweeping in - to stoke the fires of our abundant hydroelectric potential - I am truly encouraged!

Harnessing the power of the sun cannot amount to more than a mere stop-gap arrangement - something of a fill-in-the-gap kind of thing - something to tide us over our immediate and burgeoning domestic demand. In my thinking, the real deal still remains the unbridled power that the bountiful nature has gifted us with - the energy and power of the free-flowing WATER.

The recently announced MoU between DGPC and Adani Group of India to explore the possibility of undertaking the construction of the Wangchhu Hydropower Project is a most welcome news. I hope it happens.

While it is as yet unclear as to what will finally be tinkered between the DGPC and the Adani Group – if at all, my own aspirations would be that the collaboration undergoes a marginal upscaling and that it is implemented as a staggered, multi-stage undertaking.

One: implement the 180MW Bunakha Reservoir Hydroelectric Project (BRHEP)
          for which DPR has already been approved for construction during February of 2014.

Two: A couple of years down the line, when major dam construction work is nearing completion,
          start work on the 900MW run-of-the-river scheme Wangchhu Hydropower Project
          at the tail end of the already much abused Wangchhu. I think no one should be in any
          doubt of the multi-faceted benefits to this approach of project implementation.

We also hear that the ill-fated 600MW Kholongchhu Hydroelectric Power Project in the East of the country is likely to happen – in collaboration with the TATA Group of India. That would be great as well. If that arrangement materializes, I am encouraged to believe that another equally valuable opportunity for partnership - one that is not yet in the scheme of things, could be considered for the mutual benefit of both the partners.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

The World’s Most Inhospitable International Airport

I have tended to make fun about our claim that we are unique. Truth be told, as I grow older and wiser, I am beginning to think that I may have been wrong all my life – I think we are indeed a unique country populated with an incomparable breed of unique humans. This realization began unravelling in me - one after the other - when I found myself completely lost at the Arrival area of Paro International Airport, yesterday.

Upon arriving at the airport bang at 11:00AM when the DrukAir flight on which my son was arriving from Bangkok, I got held up because the electronically operated gate that bars me entry into the Arrival area would not open.

The nonchalant woman inside the gate’s cubical looked at me blankly - even as I looked at her inquiringly - it was obvious that we were stuck. Sadly, energetic thinking is not in our unique nature - if it was, the woman could have let us pass through the Exit point located just behind her - which was wide open and inactive at that time of the day.

Even as a long queue of cars began to snake behind me, I noticed an officious looking man in Gho, with a name tag on a lanyard dangling from his neck approach the dysfunctional gate – as if he was on a leisurely stroll at the Park. But he did manage to lift the horizontal bar of the gate and we finally gained entry into the Arrival areas of the airport.

Problem 1:
The airport authorities have obviously failed to think of putting in place a suitable power back-up system, in the event of electrical/mechanical failure, which is not unusual.

Problem 2:
The fact that someone else is required to come to override the electronic circuitry every time there is a power failure can only mean that the woman manning the gate has not been suitably trained in the manual bypass operation of the gate.

Once inside, I tried to find out if the flight had landed. Everyone was clueless - I asked a number of people. I looked around and I was sure that all of the close to 100 people standing on their legs all over the open parking space - like they were pawns on a Chessboard - had any idea at all. And the reason? - the country’s one and only international airport DOES NOT HAVE A FLIGHT INFORMATION BOARD! As a result, you do not know if a flight has landed, if it is landing on schedule, if not what is the new ETA, if a flight is delayed or, if a flight is cancelled entirely.

All that you can do is - like the Maheng (water buffalo) in a famous Bhutanese parable - look up to the sky every time you hear a distant drone of an approaching aircraft.

Are we so pathetic? We do not have the decency to install an Information Board to keep our guests and visitors informed of the status of a flight. How much does it cost? How technologically complex is the process?

Are we proud to be able to force our visitors to pay four times the airfare they would have had to pay elsewhere - for the same flight hour and distance? And to what end? – to find themselves in a vortex of void and cluelessness?

For sure I think there may be some logic behind the concept of the imposition of SDF of US$100.00 per person per day. But if the tourists are already paying US$100.00 per person per day to be able to experience the sights and sounds of the Last Shangri-La, what is the logic behind asking them to pay additional fee of Nu.1,000.00 per person - to take a passing peek at Taktsang at the end of an arduous uphill trek of 3-4 hours? Isn’t Taktsang part of the sight for which they have already paid a daily Tax of US$100.00?

Coming back to the Arrival area of Paro International Airport - why is it not possible for the authorities to make it a little bit more hospitable? Why can’t they create a covered waiting area? Why can’t they put chairs for waiting people to sit on, as they wait? Why can’t they provide overhead roof – so that people who are waiting can be protected from scorching sun and lashing rain? Why aren’t there any toilets within easy reach?

Why can’t the authorities build a covered walkway for the tourists and the visitors – so that they can walk to their waiting transport under the cover of an overhead roof? How difficult is it to create these most basic amenities?

Doesn’t the alphabet “D” in the SDF stand for “development”? Wasn’t that imposed in order that we may develop, and improve things for the benefit of the visiting tourists, to make the country and our tourism infrastructure appear hospitable and welcome - to improve their experience? Doesn't SDF need justification?

Who is responsible – Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority? Department of Air Transport?, Paro Dzongkhag? Department of Tourism?, or Department of Immigration?

Is it possible that we can plead with the PDP government to consider allocating, at the most, one hundred thousandth of that famous Nu.15 billion ESP they keep dangling at us - to improve things at the Paro International Airport?

Talking of which ..... why aren’t the ABTO and the GAB taking up the issue with the authorities? Why is the lackadaisical attitude allowed to perpetuate for generations? For how long can we hope to continue to pull wool over the people’s eyes?


Friday, June 7, 2024

Tiru’s Morphology

We must be among the only human race who choose to call our paper currency: Ngultrum/Ngueltang or, in plain English, Silver Coin. For a while I attempted to find out how such a bizarre thing could have come to pass - but after a while I gave up - it was simply beyond me. I decided that it must be because of our penchant for wanting to be unique.

But for those of us with a conscience, problems do not go away because we choose to side-step the issues - it will continue to haunt us to the end of our time. So, I decided to shift focus - instead of trying to find out WHY, I decided to find out WHAT?

WHAT should be the correct nomenclature?

While I was racking my brains between why and what, I am made aware of a German Tibetologist and coin collector - David Hollar - writing about a misspelling that he discovered in our Nu.10 banknote of 1981. I am hugely intrigued - thus I decide to run through the entire gamut of our banknotes - from the earliest ones issued in 1974 to the present day. That is when my attention was drawn to something that I had never before noticed - the use of the term “Rup” on the obverse of four of our earliest banknotes: Nu.1, Nu.5, Nu.10 and Nu.100.00. The scripting of the PROMISE TO PAY is worded as follows:

I am referring to our following earliest four banknotes issued in 1974 and 1975:

What the dang hell is "Rup"? Is it Rupee like the term used on our Nickel Tikchang of 1966? I consulted a Bhutanese scholar but he totally disagreed …. he opined that it could very well mean “Tikrup”. I asked another respected scholar and he told me the same - that the term “Rup” is short for “Tikrup” - that the term "Tikrup" or "Tiru" has been in use in Bhutan from ancient times - to mean: money. He went on to say that the oldest written record of the term he has come across so far appears in the Namthar (biography) of Yoenten Thaye who was our 13th Je Khenpo - from the year 1771 to 1775.

This was most revealing! How could I have missed it? When I think of it, even today the use of the term "Tikrup" or "Tiru" is more common, while “Ngueltang” is only occasionally used, if at all. For instance, if one were to listen to a conversation between a seller and a buyer in the market place, in all probability one will most likely hear the use of the term "Tiru", rather than "Ngueltang". In all likelihood, they are more likely to exchange the value of a merchandize in the amount of "Tiru" - rather than Ngueltang.

Listen carefully and in 90% of the cases you will hear it said:

Tiru Nga - instead of Ngueltang Nga!

I can bet that a Khengpa will most likely say: “Tiru khai thek bi-yai”

On the other hand a Ngalong is unlikely to say: “Ngueltang khae nga gobey"

A Sharchop will most assuredly say: "Sharchokpa baka bu tiru cha na om la"

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Will Of Karma

I have said this again and again and again – that in life nothing happens by accident. If anything – things happen because of Karma. If Karma wills it, it can engineer a calamity in one corner of the earth so that another corner might benefit as a result. So it was with the BHUTAN2020 Safe Water Project – launched by the Disaster Aid Australia (DAA) in partnership with the Rotary Club of Thimphu – in 2018.

My private and personal offer of Thanks in gratitude to the principal players of Phase I of BHUTAN2020 Project

The Rotary Club of Thimphu’s single largest project – BHUTAN2020 – can be said to be a child of Karma - born of tragedy and misfortune. It was never meant to be – but for a devastating natural calamity that struck Nepal in 2015 and yet another minor one in September of 2017.

I believe that without the guiding hands of Karma, one of Bhutan’s most meaningful humanitarian projects would have never happened. Please read all about it here:

Another evidence of the hand of Karma is that – in 2017 when the fire that set ablaze the idea that eventually lead to the conception of BHUTAN2020 project …. His Excellency Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was the Chief Guest for the Rotary Conference held then. Today, seven years since, when another Rotary Conference was inaugurated on the 1st of June, 2024, His Excellency Lyoenchen Tshering Tobgay is yet again the Conference’s Chief Guest.

I get this eerie feeling that COVID-19 was engineered by Karma - so that it can disrupt the Conference that was scheduled to take place in 2020 – in order that it can be postponed until 2024 when the stars would come together to create a favorable condition when His Excellency Lyoenchen Tshering Tobgay could once again be re-elected to office so that he may, yet again, inaugurate the 2nd Rotary Conference as its Chief Guest.

And, I believe that Act 3 of Karma has been the passage of a rare event – that of the convergence in Thimphu - of all the three principal actors in the BHUTAN2020 Project saga. Present in the recently concluded Rotary Conference in Thimphu on 3rd June, 2024 were: Mr. David Langworthy MAICD OAM™, the past CEO of Disaster Aid Australia (DAA) who had the courage, and the guts, to put such a monumental show on the road; Mr. Brian Ashworth the incumbent CEO of DAA whose unwavering tenacity and selflessness to deliver and see through a promise that was not his own and, above all, the presence of the most eminent Mr. Rhett Butler AM™, inventor of a patented water filtration system known as the SkyHydrant that is at the center of the project BHUTAN2020. Mr. Butler heads the SkyJuice Foundation – an Australia-based not-for-profit organization that aspires to provide safe drinking water to every child on this planet earth.

The launch of BHUTAN2020 Safe Water Project in Toronto, Canada in 2018

And, last but not the least, Karma keeps me alive and kicking – so that I may live long enough to tell this tale of boundless kindness and generosity that benefits tens of thousands of Bhutan’s school children, including the communities domiciled in the peripheries of their institutions of learning. Beyond the tens of millions that flow into Bhutan ceaselessly year after year – it is a story of success and achievement that is worth emulating across boundaries and generations.


™ AM        =  Member of the Order of Australia
       MAICD   =  Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors
       OAM       =  Medal of the Order of Australia

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Three Centuries Of Errors …… and Counting!

Recently a coin collector and Tibetologist from Germany - David Holler - noticed a spelling mistake in our 1981 Nu.10 banknote and wrote as follows:

Bhutan: Spelling mistake on banknote
In the Tibetan script of the 10 Ngultrum banknote from 1981 (P8) there is a misspelling in the promise to pay.

David Holler is referring to our following second-generation Nu.10 banknote issued by the Royal Government of Bhutan but signed by the then Deputy Managing Director Mr. Yeshey Dorji of the Bank of Bhutan.

Thankfully, in the third generation of the Nu.10 banknote, signed by the then Chairman of the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan – HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck, His Majesty’s Representative in the Ministry of Finance, the Promise to Pay was correctly worded as follows:

But what Mr. Holler seems to have missed out is the uncommon manner in which the Promissory Note is worded, as follows:
A word for word English translation of the above Promissory Note would read as follows:

Promise is hereby made to pay the bearer a sum of the face value of Ngultrum 10

It would appear that Mr. Hollar omitted to pointed out the mistake contained in the country's first Nu.10 banknote, as follows:
The banknote bears the signature of HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck, His Majesty's Representative in the Ministry of Finance but the organization on whose behalf she signs is designated the Department of Finance, as follows:
The organization should have rightfully been named the Ministry of Finance, as follows:
The above errors are minor design flaws – what is truly shameful is the manner in which we have spelt the word: NGULTRUM. It should have been correctly spelt as: NGUELTANG:

Nguel = Silver
Tang = Coin

That being said, calling our paper currency “Ngultrum” or even “Ngueltang” would be totally incorrect - because our banknotes are neither silver, nor coin. Regardless, if I were to choose between the two words, I would opt for the word “Ngueltang” since it has the backing of the legitimacy of history behind it - the history behind the emergence of one of the three earliest of our monies - our metal currency. It is too lengthy to deal with the subject here - I will do so in my book, when it is eventually released.

Another discrepancy: History records that the term “Ngultrum/Ngueltang” was coined when we issued our paper currency for the first time in 1974. But the country’s earliest Postage Stamp issued in 1962 is proof that the term was in existence more than a decade earlier, if not more. The following is the history of the morphology of the term:

To be fair, perhaps it is in our genes to commit errors – and allow it to perpetuate for centuries thereafter. Look at one of the following earliest of our metal currencies. Of the nine alphabets hammered on it, most likely sometime during the late 1700s, eight of them are foreign alphabets. Only one: SA is our own.

In a number of cases, the coins’ dies were wrongly engraved – resulting in the following coin’s alphabet “SA” being rendered in a mirrored state:
A large number of coins were over-struck, as follows:
Even our earliest milled silver coins were not without problems. Look at the following Silver Thala of 1929/1930. The word “Druk” is wrongly rendered while the date of minting was depicted wrongly – as “Sa Druk Lo” while the actual striking took place during “Sa Drue Lo”.
An erroneous issue of our 1950 Tikchang is considered one of Bhutan’s rarest coins – for the reason that it was struck with the wrong date of “Sa Druk Lo”. The Calcutta GoI Mint where the coins were minted, had mistakenly used the wrong die - the correct die should have been the one with the year of minting marked “Chaag Taag Lo”. The mistake was detected and the minting of the coin was hastily halted.
Of all the calamitous errors, the following coin of 1966 is the most deplorable - you can see the reason why:
The above is the coin for the reason for which my coin book will stop at 1955.