Dorji Khandu

Journal of a Young Parliamentarian

The road to Laya: the future is now for Layaps

A lot has been done under the vibrant leadership of this nation to keep alive the unique and pristine culture of Laya: a hidden and remote village in Gasa dzongkhag.

Today Laya is much evolved but we could still preserve our true image of being unique to other parts of the country. The community has become sensitive to the risk, the development possessed on their age-old culture and traditions.

Laya holds a vital reverence in the heart of the nation’s history and it should continue to live in all time to come. The people of Laya and Gasa led by Goen Wotsho Lam were the first to receive and host the founder of this nation, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in around 1616.

The community of this historical and cultural importance cannot afford to be left without having access to basic infrastructure like road, which the community had been waiting for a long time. I hope the wait will not get longer anymore.

I would like to share my views and the potentials of this highland community, if the place is to be connected with motorable roads. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to the past two governments for prioritizing road connectivity to Laya since 2009.

Incumbent Khatoed-Laya MP shared with Business Bhutan that the gewog center (GC) road from Gasa to Laya gewog center is scheduled to complete by 2022.

The total stretch of road from Gasa till the gewog center is around 36.60 km. So far, more than 25.50 km or about 70% of the road is complete. The construction of the road has almost reached Tongshodra and only about half of the kilometres of the surveyed stretch remain for the excavation works; it is expected to complete within two-months time.

As per the latest statistical information shared by District Engineering Sector, the construction of GC road is done phase-wise; in the first and second phases, 10 km each was constructed, and currently, the third phase of 6 km is under construction.

The first phase of road construction from Gasa to Chamsa Chhu awarded to M/s. Samphel Drakpa Construction Pvt. Limited with a total budget of Nu. 11.50 million is complete.

In the second phase of road construction from Chamsa Chhu to Sawagang awarded to M/s. Yeshi T. Denker Construction a total budget spent was Nu 29.40 million.

In 2016 the dzongkhag awarded the third phase to M/s. Yangki Construction for a period of 15 months to build 6km of road construction from Sewagang to Tongshodra; to date more than Nu. 13.50 million payments were made with 95% work completion. The contractor was imposed with a penalty due to the delayed work.

The monsoon, harsh weather condition and limited choice of bidders delay the construction of the farm road from Gasa to Laya every summer. Clearing of blocks created by flash floods and landslide cost the dzongkhag a minimum of Nu 500,000 every monsoon.

With the change and development coming to the place, the road to Laya has become essential to the highland livelihood and to end isolation from the rest of the country sustainably.

The highland of Laya holds the huge potential of being tourist hotspots or one of the most sought tourist destination in the country. Today the place falls within some trekking routes like Lingzhi-Laya trek.

There other trekking routes from Laya to Wangdue or Bumthang via Lunana. These opportunities, if explored would bring in the standardization of farm stays and ultimately lead to improvement of the living standard.

While better services can be provided to the visitors, there are other opportunities: commercialize local textiles and yak products. It would also help the community exhibit their indigenous lifestyles and products.

The improved connectivity in Laya would mean reaching of required amenities to the community and the people will be encouraged to stay back in their homeland instead of resettling in lower places of Punakha and Wangdue, where they foresee future in towering building and urban enterprises.

The place is known for having unique culture and traditions in the country and it is important those be preserved before it fades away completely from the community.

The unique dresses of Layap women: Auley, Layapi Kha, rituals, yak herding can be strengthened if we bring basic development like roads to the community. The rest would flow with improved connectivity. Road to Laya would be an inspiration for the residents to preserve and promote local culture.

The road to Laya would reduce the pressure on timber required to build a house in the highland. People would move to other resources, which would reduce dependence on the timber. This will enable them to protect the catchment area of Mochhu, one of the ultimate sources of Punatsangchhu Hydro projects.

Laya and its people through the practice of yak herding play one of the important roles in strengthening our security. They had been our guardians in the form of herders since the time immemorial.

What could be the result if most Layaps settle in low altitude areas and stop herding yaks? Currently, most of them move to the places where basic amenities required for daily lives are easily accessible: on the plains of Punakha.

The herders protect our border areas even more than the armed personnel. There is a risk of herders from the north encroaching our area and pastureland when the number of our yak herders decreases. I would say that when it comes to border security, highlanders are more important than security personnel in the border area. We should focus on keeping them with their community, along the borders.

The road to Laya should not be stopped for any reason. I would like to share that there is no compromisation in border security with road construction. Should the road to Laya be a concern, we should equally be concerned and challenged by road in Shana, Paro.

It takes only six hours to reach Phari (Tibet), a Chinese autonomous region from Shana, Paro. Phari in Tibet is the nearest border town to Paro border. However, it takes three days journey from Laya till Phari, Rham, and Neyro to reach the nearest border town in the north.

There are a lot we can win from the road to Laya and the people of Laya have high expectations from the government of the day to expedite the remaining 4th phase of 10.60 km road construction from Tongshodra till Gewog centre without much delay.

The road to Laya was one of the major pledges of the current Government and should consider as the top priority. Although the preliminary survey has been carried out recently, more needs to be done to complete the remaining 30% of the road to Laya.

Laya has a population of more than 1,000 and 262 households. Elderly citizens of the native also reflect upon their contribution made during the construction of the country’s first highway from Phuentsholing to Thimphu in 1962. It was on an agreement that the community would be connected with the road in the future. Thus, the much-awaited future has come for the Layaps today.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own based on the information collected from the relevant agencies, which have been verified to the extent possible through consultation and literature review. 

 

 

 

 


Gratitude to T-Cell for Improved Services

For improved communication services it’s important we extend our gratitude for their effort to connect the highlands

I had a fruitful meeting today with the Managing Director of Tashi Cell and offered heartfelt appreciation for installing a mobile network in the Lunana and Laya gewog and to appraise to install a 3G communication tower at Lunana gewog.

I also thanked Tashi Cell for installing a 4G network tower at Laya Gewog recently and requested Tashi Cell to install 3G towers at Wachey and Uesana; only Chiwogs that are not connected with Internet services amongst 1500 Chiwogs in the country. Moreover, with the advancement of ICT most official corresponding works of Local Government are done through Social media applications such as WeChat.

Managing Director assured that they will look into the issue and will consult with BICMA for installation of 3G network at Lunana. He also shared his concern about the high power consumption of the battery for installing 3G. Moreover, due to the lack of electricity supply, they are facing a tough time to recharge the battery. However, they assured that they would look into the matter seriously and render their services to the public.

The people of Wachey, Lunana, and Gasa Dzongkhag would like to thank Tashi Cell for your wonderful contributions made in the gewog by installing a mobile Network. It was helpful to have your input, as people of Wachey could now enjoy improved communication services, connecting with the world in a minute and easily.

Communication has become more convenient and the change in place evident with the installation of the network. We are seeing a vast improvement in the way people connect with others. With the change and communication made much easier in Lunana, we also look forward to your support in providing 3G/4G Network service at Wachey under Lunana Gewog to enhance connectivity services to the people of Lunana. We really appreciate your support and cooperation in helping this transition go well and we look forward to your continued support.

Lunana Gewog lies in the extreme northwest of the country with a total area of 1716.26 sq km and is located at an altitude of 3400 metres above sea level. It has a population of over 1000 with 192 households, the Gewog consists of five chiwogs and thirteen villages. With regard to telecommunication facilities and its coverage; about 80% are connected with the B mobile network and 20% with Tashi Cell.

In 2016, the TashiCell network was installed after B-mobile in two chiwogs of Wachey-Threlga and Uesana, which is located between Ganjula and Kechela.


Lunana is connected with 3G and 4G but elders could not make use of service

The remotest gewog in the country, Lunana was connected with the B-mobile network in October 2011. But people availing the service experienced frequent network problems since the start of 2016.

Following frequent network failures, Bhutan Telecom sent two separate technical teams for the inspection and installed a terrestrial radio link at Lunana with a total cost of Nu 21.4 million (M) in 2017; of the total cost Nu 5.5M was a subsidy from the government.

On 16 March 2019, Bhutan Telecom successfully launched the third generation mobile network (3G) in Lunana as part of the Company’s corporate social responsibility initiative.

The people of Lunana Gewog, Gasa Dzongkhag would like to thank Bhutan Telecom for your wonderful contributions made in the gewog by installing 3G Network. It was helpful to have your input, as people of Lunana could now connect and communicate with the people in the country and outside. Communication has become more convenient and the change in place evident with the installation of the network. We are seeing a vast improvement in the way people connect with others.

During my recent constituency visit, the majority of the elders and others have raised the issues with regard to 2G network services. Currently, in Lunana, only Smartphone that can support the 3G/4G network can be used but not the keypad mobile phones. Elders who cannot use smartphones and those who cannot afford are facing problems and denied of the communication service.

Being people’s representative, it’s our responsibility to address issues raised by the people by approaching relevant agencies and ministries and raise voice in the parliament.

On 27th November 2019, I had a fruitful meeting with Regional Director, Mr. Sangay Choedra of Bhutan Telecom Limited and had a pleasure of extending my heartfelt appreciation for installing the 3G network at Lunana gewog and to appraise installation of 2G network because most elderly people could not use a smartphone. Moreover tourist guide, tourist and traveler also requested for 2G network considering the benefit of battery durability and long battery life in absence of electricity or charging facilities in the area.

I have received a positive response from the Regional Director. He said that after installing 3G-network at Lunana gewog they discontinued 2G-network. However, upon the request of the people, Bhutan Telecom will look into the feasibility of reinstalling the 2G-network for the people of Lunana gewog. On top of that, he said that 2G-network is power-consuming equipment and it needs 48 batteries to run the machine.

The good news shared by the official concerned is that they have provided 4G Network services in Lunana recently. Moreover, they are planning to provide 3G-network service at Lungo Chiwog of Laya gewog in April 2020.

With the change and communication made much easier in Lunana, we also look forward to your continued support in providing 2G Network service in Lunana Gewog to enhance connectivity services to the people of Lunana.

 

 

 


Shama Foundation brings smile among little Highlanders

Lungo Extended Classroom (ECR) is one of the most remote and northernmost schools located at an elevation of more than 4000 meters above sea level; high up in the Himalayas in Gasa dzongkhag. Laya Central School is the parent school of the ECR. The school benefited the localities of Lungo Chiwog over the years.

Currently, 24 students are studying under Lungo ECR with two teachers and three Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD) facilitators. The school remains closed for almost four months in a year because of the short summer and long winter season.

The ECR was fully funded by the government of Bhutan; thus, providing free education to the children of Lungo. However, the ECR was not equipped with necessities for years.

With help from UNICEF, they could set up a safe playground for the ECCD students and brought toys for the class in 2018; the heating system in the classroom for the children remained as one of the major challenges.

Due to its unfavorable geographical location and weather, at Lungo ECR, the temperature during the peak summer season climbs hardly above 10 degree Celsius. The students have to carry their pack lunch and during lunchtime, one can see students taking cold packed lunch, which was prepared early in the morning by their parents back home.

It’s a problem faced by every student studying in the ECR and also a major challenge for the kids enrolled in ECCD (children from age of 3-5) without a proper heating system in the classroom, making it difficult for both children and the facilitator to run the centre.

Thus, to overcome these challenges, we wrote a letter to Shama Foundation seeking support to purchase micro-oven that can be used for heating pack lunch and a panel heater for the ECCD classroom.

Shama Foundation is a Non-profit Organisation dedicated to the cause of social welfare, education, and health care. The foundation has benefited the needy societies in Bhutan with an immediate response.

As per our request, Shama Foundation provided financial support to purchase two panel heaters and a microwave oven for the ECCD centre in July 2019. We purchased the items from Thinley Norbu Enterprise, Olakha, Thimphu and delivered to Gasa. However, the parcel was stranded in Gasa for weeks due to heavy monsoon that made mule tracks unsafe for travel.

In the last week of August 2019, with the help of Lungo Tshogpa, panel heaters and oven could finally make its way to Lungo ECR. When we see small kids with cute happy smiles worn on their faces enjoying the warm atmosphere of the classroom; it does not doubt bringing happiness in the hearts of people who are involved in making this miracle happen.

We are very much obliged to the founder of Shama Foundation, Mr Surya and his wife, the representative of Shama Foundation in Bhutan, Ms. Dorji Wangmo and Lungo tsogpa for helping us with the transportation.

Once again, I am overwhelmed in all humbleness and gratefulness to acknowledge with my deep appreciation to all those who were involved in making this project happen in Lungo Extended Classroom in Laya, Gasa.


Twist of fate for Zhemgang’s Flagship Program

The celebration of feathered friends at Tingtibi in Zhemgang highlighted the potential of the place being one of the best birding sites in the region during Bhutan Bird Festival held from 11-13th November 2019, otherwise the town slept throughout the year.

Zhemgang’s dream of exploring their richness in Eco-tourism could have received a huge boost if the government had not removed the dzongkhag’s tourism flagship programme in June this year.

The decision to remove the flagship programme came under the scrutiny of the National Council and opposition party; rightful institutions under the sacred constitution to maintain checks and balance of the government.

A confused discourse took place on social media platforms questioning government’s intent and biasness while replacing Zhemgang dzongkhag with Sarpang for the flagship programme.

The Government was adamant about its decision and disregarded the decision passed by the parliament.

The decision of its kind based on the past precedent, as told by the Prime Minister was not healthy because we cannot afford to continue with flaws of the past to make the decision appear politically right. It’s everyone’s duty to uphold the constitution and its important institutions.

The change could have been for better or worse reasons but the removal of policy that was passed by the parliament undermined the wisdom of important institutions: national council and the assembly.

If the Cabinet was to make the final decision, redoing all works done by the elected representatives, our role of being people’s representative is at stake.

The government should be reminded that the Parliament, which consist of the Druk Gyalpo (His Majesty the King of Bhutan), the National Council and the National Assembly, shall ensure Government safeguards the interest of the nation and fulfils the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, Bills and other legislation, and scrutiny of State functions.

All said and done, now it seems that the Government is trying hard to reconcile and heal the political wound they have created with their shortsighted decision.

The three days festival may have contributed to local economy, but not in terms of the development in the district; important infrastructure development required to trap tourism potential of the district, which the dzongkhag had been planning for long time to attract increased numbers of tourists.

As per the Bhutan Poverty Analysis 2017, the poverty rate in Zhemgang stands at 25 percent, one of the highest poverty rates in the country while Sarpang fares better with 12 percent. On contrary budget approved for Zhemgang and Sarpang were 701.266 M and 741.903 M respectively in the Financial Year 2019-2020.

When Zhemgang was excluded from the focus group of tourism flagship programme, it became controversial. Some saw the move as being politically motivated.

But hope for Zhemgang still alive with twist in the tourism flagship program. As per Tourism Council of Bhutan, the plan would be implemented as a circuit-based programme instead of focused dzongkhag approach in its flagship programme. All dzongkhags will get equal opportunities or priorities depending upon their capacity and feasibility. As per TCB, every dzongkhag will have one or two projects in consultation with the local government and the private sector.

TCB plans to brand four dzongkhags—Zhemgang, Gasa, Lhuentse, and Sarpang in the current fiscal year. The promotion and branding of other dzongkhags will follow.

Although Zhemgang is considered as a paradise for botanists and bird watchers the  dzongkhag has received only 1,263 international tourists (332 arrival and 931 bed nights), which is 0.14 percent of tourist arrival in the country. Considering the dzongkhag’s rich biodiversity and the unique attraction, the number of tourist arrival was a concern and the dzongkhag does not have star-rated hotels and has only four village home-stays.

Zhemgang is most suitable for bird watching, river rafting and the government allocated Nu. 27 million to support the recent bird festival and to develop birding infrastructure.

The captive Siberian Rubythroat (a new bird species) set free by the Honorable Prime Minster during the festival may breathe fresh air of Zhemgang and rapid growth of Eco-tourism in the region is very much anticipated.

The decisions we take will have a long-term impact, for better or for worse, on our country and our people. I wish the Government of the day would take their decision wisely as per the law and by upholding the sacred constitution of Bhutan.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author based on literature review and do not necessarily reflect the position of National Council of Bhutan. 

 


Madanjeet Singh Memorial Lecture

Speech by Hon. Dorji Khandu, Member of Parliament of Bhutan, at the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh 4th Memorial Lecture on the theme: The Role of Young Parliamentarian in the Regional Cooperation

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Auditorium, Pondicherry University

Date: 16th April 2019, 10:00 am

 

Today we are gathered here to celebrate an icon of our time, and a great soul whose work in literature, art, humanity, and leadership is unparalleled.

Prof. Gurmeet Singh, Hon’ble Vice Chancellor, Pondicherry University

Mme. France Marquet, Principal Trustee, Madanjeet Singh Foundation

Shri Mani Shankar Aiyer, Chairperson, SAF-India Chapter

Prof. Venkata Ragotham, Dean, SSS & IS

Prof. A Subramanyam Raju, Head UMISARC & Centre for South Asian Studies

Dr. S.I. Humayun

Professors

SAF Scholars and Students

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have the honor and privilege of extending to you the warmest greetings of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and the people of Bhutan. I would like to thank the Pondicherry University and South Asia Foundation for the warm reception and generous hospitality extended to me since my arrival in Chennai.

I would also like to convey my sincere appreciation & gratitude to Mme. France Marque for inviting me to be part of today’s event. More so, I am extremely pleased to be sharing with the August gathering today, my views on the role of young parliamentarians in the regional cooperation as to celebrate the legacy of late Madanjeet Singh.

Having served in UNESCO for about half a century, his name is synonymous to this esteemed organization itself. It is beyond doubt that everyone gathered here would share the same opinions as mine every time we remember late Madanjeet.

As part of its celebration and to keep alive the tradition, the university has been inviting outstanding alumnus of recognizable personalities to participate and deliver during the Madanjeet Singh’s memorial lecture every year.

To this, I accolade the university and its faculties for such meaningful arrangement. And, I’m once again honoured to be standing here with you all today. Frankly admitting, I’m neither qualified nor an outstanding personality yet, but being one of the recipients of the prestigious South Asia Foundation Scholarship and reaffirming my position now as one of the youngest parliamentarians, I am deeply humbled to pay my gratitude and tribute to the late Madanjeet Singh. This occasion, therefore, is rare as gem and special as my very own living.

Your Excellency:

Now, though the geographical structure of Bhutan may be less known to many of you, yet again this may equally be an occasion to share a glimpse about my root. Something that interests me and I’m sure it will also be of interest to you all.

I was born in a Highland community called Laya and to put it simple, I’m a son of nomads. We rear one world-famous animal species called Yaks.

Laya, my village, though a popular destination for tourists, is still not opened to a motorable road. To my vanity, I was among the first to hold a university degree from my village. My graduation then was a piece of news that stormed media. Quickly enough, I became quite a celebrity in my own country by default of being a nomad graduate.

As saying goes, with difficulties come blessings, frankly speaking, my degree was the most prestigious scholarship bestowed directly from His Majesty the King and that was how I earned my first engineering degree from Thailand.

My position among young politicians in my country was not without sacrifice and hard work. It was difficult to convince people to vote for a young fresh graduate and even worse when the total voter is just over 2000.

In 2013, I have contested for the first time when I was just 26 years old. I tried but did not succeed. Nevertheless, I stood up again for my dream and I am living that dream today, representing my people in the truest sense.

Your Excellency:

I would like to share that Bhutan’s house of review is led by one of the youngest chairpersons since democracy was instituted a decade ago. Many young MPs won seats in the parliament, including young women MPs.

As per the latest IPU report 2018, Bhutan is the only country in Asia, where the share of Young MPs under age 30 is approaching at 9.1 percent after Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, and Finland) with 10 percent, and also the share of Young MPs under age 40 & 45 are 54.6 percent and 80 percent respectively.

As we move on to confront the common challenges of eliminating poverty, boost gender equality, address youth issues, managing environment and natural resources, adaptation and mitigation of  climate change and building resilience to natural disasters, take measures to counter terrorism, promote human rights, invest in renewable energy, and among others in the region, I would like to reinforce that the solution is in enhancing regional cooperation and even more important to include young parliamentarians in this movement.

Despite youth making up 35 percent of the population in South Asia it is less encouraging to learn that only minimum percentage of them are in the parliaments and their potential to promote socio-economic growth and enhancing gender equality are a shortcoming.

Recently, I was attending the 140th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly at Doha in Qatar from 6-10th April. IPU research has revealed that in 2018 only 2.2 percent of parliamentarians were under 30 years old and 15.5 percent under 40 in lower chambers and unicameral parliaments in the region.

As per the IPU report, promoting the participation of young people in political life is becoming a higher priority worldwide. Over one-third of the 169 targets established as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate to young people and the importance of their empowerment, participation, and well-being.

Twenty targets across six SDGs-relating to hunger, education, gender equality, decent work, inequality, and climate change-specifically focus on youth. Young people’s participation is also vital to the achievement of two additional SDGs: on peaceful, just and inclusive societies and on partnership and implementation.

I believe that young MPs have a crucial role to play in eliminating poverty and addressing youth-specific needs and interests. Sometimes the brightest ideas emerge from young minds, especially on issues they face in real life situations.

Working towards the common goal of achieving SDGs requires the partnership of government, the private sector, civil society and citizens to save this planet for the future. The right way is to include young parliamentarians in these strategic plans and foster mutual learning to support each other in the region.

At times, I have this pertinent thought popping up in my mind every time that if we, the younger generations do not care about our future, who will and who should? Because we have longer years to live and we have futures to make. We have the responsibility, logic, need, and rationale to serve our country in specific and the world at large better. If then, why don’t we act from now on?

Climate change is hitting us hard and that is due to an insatiable desire for so-called ‘unsustainable development’, a concept propagated by some western thoughts, and therefore the world is deeply cornered in four walls.

If a cat is cornered by a dog and it has nowhere to escape, it fights back. Similarly, nature and our world has already begun fighting back on us like a cornered cat.

As the world become warmer, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense, Glaciers have begun melting, sea levels are rising, prolong droughts are putting pressure on food crops, many animal and plant species are being driven to extinction and polluted airs have begun causing lung cancer.

Worst of all, small countries like ours suffer the most impact out of others’ carelessness. Though Bhutan maintains 72 percent under forests cover and though Bhutan is a carbon neutral, for how long can we remain carbon neutral? An avalanche of Indian and Chinese pollutions alone can engulf tiny Bhutan’s effort of environmental conservation.

It’s hard to imagine what we as individuals can do to resolve a problem of this scale and severity.

That is why, as I stand here today, especially as a young Parliamentarian who cares for the world, groomed with the support of South Asia Foundation Scholarship (SAF) beyond engineering to serve the world better, I will voice out for world happiness. I will protest for peace and tranquility in the region. I will commit myself strongly for legislative proceedings that can make the world better.

It is never too late for us to take action and fight like our lives depend on it -because they do. In fact, Climate change is a global problem, felt on local scales, that will be around for decades and centuries to come.

Your Excellency:

Generally speaking, to sum up, increased regional cooperation is the answer to all these problems. Like today, we must continue to exchange our views and think through global solutions to regional and country-based issues.

To conclude, I would like to highlight the need to encourage young parliamentarians in political processes to understand better the issues related to youth like unemployment, inequality, discrimination, and lack of access to quality education that is pressing in the region.

Your Excellency:

To empower young parliamentarians, there is a need to give them a voice in the policy and decision-making process of their respective governments; provide them with required skills and knowledge to engage their governments more effectively and in issues significant to young people.

May I end my speech paying tribute once again to Shri Madanjeet Singh for playing a part in giving me the opportunity to become the leader I am today. 

Tashi Delek! Thank you all.


Thank you JICA Bhutan

This is to express my heartfelt gratitude for the JICA Bhutan’s winter camp held in Khuruthang, Punakha for the students of Lunana Primary School under Gasa Dzongkhag last week.

The initiative came during the time of the year where the students from the most remote Highland community would otherwise be idle and their time passed without any fruitful engagement. They would have perhaps been repeating the same old routine of helping parents with household chores for the girls, and the boys going after the herds.

The winter camp that helped students explore various lessons, skills, arts, sports, and diverse cultures through fun-filled activities would have helped the students from the school among glaciers move deep into learning literature, experience lives beyond highlands and define themselves as special children.

As the camp enabled the children to experience new opportunities, the noble initiative from JICA Bhutan would have helped them acquire important skills of getting along with friends, refine their personalities and enhance healthy living and development.

Above all these children would have made good memories during the camp, which they will cherish in their entire life.

Knowing about the officials involved in the camp, I am confident that they have had a positive influence on the children and have made differences while growing up as an individual.

With my due respect for the first ever winter camp held for the students who descended from above 5000 metres and letting them learn the best wisdom under the warm winter sun of Khuruthang, I hope this noble initiative be continued hereon.

The students come from one of the most remote highlands in Gasa Dzongkhag. The school going conditions of those students are very different from the rest of the students in Bhutan.

The unique culture and traditions, people and scenic aroma of the place remain unexplored and the place is everyone’s wish today. The camp would have taught them the diversity of the place, culture, and people.

 


Soul of Gasa Lamai Singye upset with Punakha to Gasa road quality, Galem drives a low clearance car

Blacktopping works of Punakha to Gasa secondary national highway (SNH) started on November 2016 and the works have been split into 3 phases. The contract works of Base course & Bitumen sealing on Punakha (Shartem Draphu) to Trashithang (8.70 km) and Trashithang to Damji (Paniko)  (7.80 km) were awarded to M/s Hi-Tech Company Pvt. Ltd. with an approximate contract value of Nu. 22.69 m and Nu. 22.54 m respectively. The Paniko to Goenteygang Road  (10.21 km) was awarded to M/s Biky Construction Pvt. Ltd. with an approximate contract value of Nu. 39.56 m and Goenteygang to Baychu Road (9 km) was awarded to M/s Tshering Samdrup Construction Pvt. Ltd. with an approximate contract value of Nu. 48.78 m.

The roads, despite being crucial for ensuring administrative ease, economic development through tourism and livelihood enhancement through connectivity, the quality and work progress of the aforesaid roads have remained a major stumbling block thus disappointing the people.

If one gets to ply on this road, it is noticeable that the quality is no better than farm roads elsewhere – marshy and sinking areas have continuously obstructed blacktopping and those blacktopped are to be mended now and then. Worst of all, lack of timely and proper monitoring has led to quality compromisation.

The standard design pavement as regulated is not suitable because of the difference in soil bearing capacity, different high altitude, weather situation and high traffic intensity as the Dzongkhag being one of the most sought tourists and trekking destinations in the country.

As per the Road Act 2013, Road Rules and Regulations 2016 and Road Classification in Bhutan 2017, the secondary national highway to be blacktopped with AC/PMC 25 mm, which could not sustain the harsh weather and the road stretch with adverse weather conditions and soil properties causing a huge impact on the quality of blacktopping. The problem couldn’t be solved despite increasing the thickness of AC to 40 mm as per BoQ of the contract awarded.

Numerous literature and studies oppose applying of AC or premix carpet in the marshy area owing to its nature of losing bitumen because of continuous water sipping occurring in such conditions.

The works at second and third phase stretch of road in Gasa has begun since December after monsoon stopped the work for months. In most location, the roads could not be blacktopped because of the marshy conditions throughout the year (due to rain during summer and ice & snow during winter).

During my inspection with a team from Dzongkhag in November 2018, we found that the applied PMC and the thickness of blacktops were not uniform and the stretch completed with blacktopping had to undergo repairment within a few months of completion. The change in the standardization of pavement design is the need here.

The pavement design specifications are not standard and a proper assessment is required, keeping in mind the differences in soil properties, geological stability, traffic parameters, and also the climatic conditions.

The situation does not remain a stand-alone and I am confident many other Dzongkhag roads classified under the secondary national highway (SNH) would have faced similar problems.

My perspectives and concerns over the quality of road blacktopping from Punakha to Gasa are evident from the audit finding in the Annual Audit Report 2017 which states “The Regional Office, DoR, Lobeysa had not directed the contractor to rectify defects noted in the resurfacing/Blacktopping of Punakha-Gasa Secondary National Highway (SNH) between chainage 21km-35km. The defective works requiring rectifications was pointed out during the previous audit as well, but were not carried out at the time of audit in September 2017.”

Unless there is a change in the Road Pavement Design and immediate intervention of resurfacing or re-blacktopping of the roads with Dense Bituminous Macadam (DBM) as in Primary National Highway, the ongoing blacktopping from Punakha to Gasa will disappear like morning dew. Having had an engineering background and witnessing the field issues personally, I could guarantee that this project will neither save the Government’s budget nor will it benefit the public. Being a bona fide citizen of the Drukyul, I am concerned about the quality of our development activities and do not hesitate to raise my voice for the people of Gasa in specific and the nation in general.

Nonetheless, the question and answer session with the Minister for Ministry of Works and Human Settlement in the 11th sitting of the 22nd session of the National Council was an assuring one and I, on behalf of the people of Gasa remains indebted to Ministry and soon enough, a positive outcome is anticipated.

A durable road condition with smooth blacktop can reunite the adorned souls of Legendary Gasa Lami Singye and Changyul Bhum Galem.  


Personal Welfare scheme for Gasaps

Rationale

Growing up close to the community and having learned my early education at Gasa, I have experienced and seen all sort of difficulties and hard work the people of Laya and remote Dzongkhag of Gasa had to pursue to earn their living.

For giving me the best experience and wisdom that helped define myself better as an individual, I realized that the time has come for me to give back to my constituents. The initiative is voluntary and it is only because I see myself as Gasap always. We shall endure and progress together.

Since death is inevitable to all, I feel it will be comforting to prepare ourselves for any uncertainty and to accept this truth of life with bliss. In this regard, it is quintessential to start so-called Welfare scheme for Gasaps to extend our solidarity and support in times of adversity and bereavement amongst our people.

In discharging my responsibility as people’s representative, I vow to surrender my annual discretionary allowance entitled to the Member of Parliament solely for this Welfare Scheme in the hope to set positive precedence.

 

Objective (s):

  • The welfare scheme aims to develop and promote further goodwill and cooperation amongst the people of Gasa, thereby enhancing community vitality.
  • Support all Gasaps by providing Semso (cash) during the times of bereavement to direct relative as reflected under the beneficiaries of the scheme.
  • Extend moral and physical support or assistance required by the family members of the deceased.

 

The Scheme’s Benefits

A member shall be allowed to avail the following welfares of the scheme:

  • Semso amount Nu 5,000 /- (five thousand only). The benefit will be made available only in case of the demise of a direct family member namely- parents, spouse, and children.
  • Provide travel and transportation services support, especially during the cremation. This service will be available from next year after procuring a utility vehicle (Bolero).

  

Eligibility 

  • Only the registered citizens of Gasa district will be eligible for the welfare scheme.
  • All Gasaps shall automatically become a member of the scheme and doesn’t require formal registration.
  • No registration fee required.
  • The scheme does not require any contribution from the members.
  • Benefits or welfares was paid from 10th May 2018 and will be available until 10th May 2023.
  • The benefit can be availed only by one member of a household. It can either be head of the family, household or a direct family member of the deceased.

The welfare services can be availed by calling directly to me or through Gewog Gups. I will try my best to reach the Semso and transportation personally. However, in my absence, I will seek support from the local government officials to reach the welfare on time.

I am happy to share that the welfare scheme was well received when presented to the people of Laya, Khatoed, Khamed and Lunana constituents.

I wish this welfare initiative intended exclusively to benefit the people of Gasa will relieve beneficiaries during such hard times. In my future endeavour too, I shall care to continue with the scheme unconditionally.

 

 Beneficiaries since 10th May 2018

Gewogs Beneficiaries 2018 Remarks
Khaoted 2
Khamed 2
Lunana 1
Laya 7

Read Dzongkha Version Here (View in PDF)


Legalization of Paris Polyphylla

The Natural Resource and Environment Committee and National Council members convened a consultation meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests on 12th September and Legal status of Paris Polyphylla was one of the issues discussed amongst others. In this article, I will briefly share the summary of the comprehensive presentations made by MoAF officials pertaining to the legal status and the way forward.

What is Paris Polyphylla?

Paris polyphylla is an Asian species of plants native to China, Taiwan, the Indian Subcontinent, and Indochina. It produces spider-like flowers that throw out long, thread-like, yellowish green petals throughout most of the warm summer months and into the autumn. In the fall, the flowers are followed by small, scarlet berries. It is a perennial, which slowly spreads, and survives in leafy, moist soil in either complete or partial shade. This flowering plant usually grows up to 90 cm (3 ft) high and spreads out about 30 cm (1 ft) wide. Its leaves grow in a single whorl below a flower growing in two whorls.

In Bhutan, it grows at an altitude up to 3300 meters and grows well in moist and humus-rich soil, under the forest canopy of full shade-partial shade. Rhizome is made up of modified stems of plants that usually grow underground, contains roots, and shoots from their nodes, and it grows in a creeping manner. Paris Polyphylla is known as Dou Sethochem or Dochu Kewa in Dzongkha, Thoksampa in sharchop kha and Satuwa in lhotsham kha.

The Paris polyphylla collection has been legalized with collection permit issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests based on the Forest & Nature Conservation Act 1995. The collection can be done through management groups or individual basis as interim measure instructed by MoAF.

Rhizomes are allowed for collection from October to November after the fruits are fully ripened. Flowers during April & May and the collection of a plant during these months would seriously affect the sustainability of it in the wild.

With the legalization of the collection of the Paris Polyphylla, MoAF encountered some constraints such as the formation of the management group is not possible as it grows sporadically over a large area, Illegal collection by outsiders makes the resources unsustainable, Untimely collection of rhizome (before maturity) in this manner is likely to pose threat to its sustainability in the wild and It takes about 6 years to fully mature rhizome (3 layers of branch whorl).

The forest department issued an office order that anyone found collecting the roots of the plants without a permit or outside the harvesting season would be penalized.

Fines & compensation are as per the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations 2017, Section 417- the commercial taking of restricted non-wood forest products. A fine minimum of Nu 5,000 with possible extension up to Nu 50,000 depending on the degree of offense and compensation at a fair market value of the forest produce involved will be imposed. The market value was fixed at Nu 3,000 a kilogram for dry and Nu 1,000 a kilogram for fresh roots. The fines and penalties were standardized for illegal collection to discourage illegal practices.

As part of the long-term sustainable harvest, the MoAF has started domestication Trial at Bjemina – where plants growing well but rhizome formation has not taken place and Deptsang, Shingkharlauri – nursery sells plants and plantation doing well. They have also done the upscaling of domestication and enterprise set up for product development and diversification.

Paris Polyphylla has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicines for years. The plant can be used as a pain reliever, antiphlogistic (removing heat), antispasmodic, diphtheria, for fever, headache, wounds, and burns, among others.

There are few field Manual or Guidelines for the sustainable production and management, guidance and instructions for nursery development, cultivation and domestication of Paris polyphylla such as Guidelines for resource assessment and management of Dou (2012) and A field manual on Nursery management and cultivation of Dou (2012).