Dorji Khandu

Journal of a Young Parliamentarian

We cannot breathe in peace unless we electrify Lunana

It gives me immense pleasure to share that the plan to set up a mini-hydropower plant in Lunana looks positive. I learned from my visit (October 10, 2019) to the site that pre-feasibility study of the project is completed.

The Government has allocated 7 million in the financial year 2019-2020 to conduct DPR of the project. 

Since people of Lunana had raised this issue consistently during my constituency visit, I asked Honorable Prime Minister about the need to provide power supply for the people of Lunana in the 23rd session of the National Council. The response was positive and hopeful. 

With such a level of commitment from the highest authority, I am optimistic that project execution will begin soon. 

Lunana Gewog under Gasa Dzongkhag has five chiwogs with 13 villages. Over 1000 people are residing above 3,500 metres above sea level. Only one community, Ramina is connected with the road in the gewog, and it takes over one week to reach Lunana on foot. 

There is no electricity power supply, as it was not feasible to extend grid electricity to Lunana. The solar home lighting system is used to lighten Lunana today. Firewood plays a vital role in warming up cold high altitude homes and for cooking. 

The absence of electricity has led to depleting the limited forest coverage in the place, according to Druk Green Power Cooperation’s inception report on Lunana mini-hydropower project. 

An independent feasibility study conducted by Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPC) in 2018 established that a mini hydropower project of 300 kW is feasible on Chuzachhu – a tributary of Phochhu near Toenchoe village. 

However, the feasibility study recommended further investigations on the topographical survey for waterways and transmission line, geological and geotechnical investigations for major structure, and socio-environmental assessment, among others. 

Therefore, the Department of Renewable Energy, Ministry of Economic Affairs (DRE) in its 12th FYP has provisioned to undertake feasibility and development of power supply to Lunana community. In this respect, DRE has assigned Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) to conduct the preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the mini-hydropower project in Lunana as deposit work within the current financial year 2019-20. 

A multidisciplinary team from DGPC and DRE has been deputed to Lunana to carry out site survey and investigation from September 9, 2019, till October 13, 2019. 

As per the inception report, the rapid river runoff at Toenche has the potential to produce over 415 KW of energy, which would be able to provide power supply to more than 200 households. 

The inspection report and survey also anticipated power demand of the Gewog at about 500 KW. Essential establishment of assessment was made and planned to carry out lean season flow measurement of Chuzanchhu, useful data to understand the power potential of the project is also in the plan. 

As per the report, the proposed project is expected to reduce the dependency of Lunaps on firewood, thereby helping to conserve the catchment area of Phochhu River, one of the ultimate sources of Punatsangchhu Hydro projects. It will improve people’s health and sanitation with the supply of clean and reliable energy for cooking and heating.

The report stated that appropriate environmental management plan would be formulated as part of the environment and social impact assessment of the project. The local people have shown strong support and anticipation of the project during the consultation. 

The proposed mini-hydropower project is expected to electrify 10 villages except for Wachey village (14 HHs) located on the other side of Kayja La pass (El. 4,650 masl). It has not been considered mainly due to longer transmission length and the requirement to cross the high pass. 

Based on the request of the Department of Renewable Energy (DRE), DPR study of Lunana Mini-Hydropower Project has been conducted by Druk Green Consultancy (DGC) in close coordination with DRE, for providing an off-grid electricity supply to Lunana community and institutions.

The total cost of the project is estimated at Nu. 605.24 million and Nu. 662.93 million without and with Wachey village electrification respectively at December 2019 prices.

Since the cost difference is approximately about Nu. 57.69 million, I would highly recommend the Government to consider including Wachey village in the proposed project instead of providing an alternative, independent power source in the form of micro-hydro (at least 33 kV). The comprehensive cost-benefit analysis needs to be carried out to choose the best option considering the reliability, long-term maintenance cost, human resources requirements and other related costs in the future.

Bhutan achieved 99.97 per cent of households connected with electricity as part of Bhutan 2020 vision document. The remaining 0.03 per cent constitutes 200 households in Lunana. To this, Bhutan Power Corporation’s chief executive officer said, while 99.97 per cent is as good as 100 per cent but we cannot breathe in peace unless we electrify Lunana (June 25, 2018, Kuensel).

Moreover, providing reliable power supply in Lunana was one of the major pledges of the current Government and should consider as the top priority in the 12th FYP. The feasibility study has been carried out recently and the detailed project report (DPR) was submitted to the government in January 2020, but more needs to be done to make a dream come true for the people of Lunana.

As per the report, providing basic amenities like reliable electricity in the region which are located closer to the national border, would encourage local communities to stay in their ancestral home which is strategically essential for maintaining border security and also discourage rural-urban migration. In view of the above all, the report highly recommended the government to consider the development of the project to enable socio-economic development of the remote communities located close to the northern border.

Having worked as an engineer and after visiting the precarious sites of Raphstreng and Thorthomi lakes in Lunana, the protection of the catchment and the need to reduce pressure on the environment has become crucially important. 

As the representative of the place and having experienced the hardships of the highland myself, I hope the last place remaining in the country without power supply would soon be connected with reliable power supply for the benefit of one and all. 

Thank you!

References:

  • Druk Green Consultancy, Project Department, Druk Green Power Corporation Limited. (2019). Lunana
    Mini-Hydropower Project Inception Report (p. 24) [Inception Report].
  • Druk Green Consultancy, Project Department, Druk Green Power Corporation Limited. (2020). 500 kW
    Lunana Mini-Hydropower Project Detailed Project Report (p. 21) [Detailed Project Report].

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 actual image of being unique to other parts of the country. The community has become sensitive to the risk, and 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 the necessary infrastructure like road, which the community had been waiting for a long time. I hope the wait will not get longer anymore.

I want 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 centre (GC) road from Gasa to Laya gewog centre is scheduled to complete by 2022.

The total stretch of road from Gasa till the gewog centre is around 36.60 km. So far, more than 25.50 km or about 70% of the road is complete.

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 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 vast 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 entirely from the community.

The unique dresses of Layap women: Auley, Layapi Kha, rituals, yak herding can be strengthened if we bring necessary 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 crucial 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 territory and pastureland when the number of our yak herders decreases. I would say that when it comes to border security, highlanders are more critical 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 want 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 significant 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. I appraised 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 would 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 see a vast improvement in the way people connect with others. With the evolution and communication made much more accessible 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 appreciate your assistance 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, and the Gewog consists of five chiwogs and thirteen villages. Concerning 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 16th 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 the 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 see 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 concerning 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 were 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. I 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 older people could not use a smartphone. Moreover tourist guide, tourist and traveller also requested for 2G network considering the benefit of battery durability and long battery life in the 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 more accessible 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.


Thank you JICA Bhutan

This article 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 essential 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 will continue 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 beautiful aroma of the place remain unexplored, and the location is everyone’s wish today. The camp would have taught them the diversity of the area, culture, and people.


Gasa Lamai Singye upset with the road quality

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 tasks 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 roads as mentioned earlier 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, the 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 significant 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 findings 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 bonafide 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 favourable outcome is anticipated.

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


Gasa Road Black-topping Work Progress Monitoring

The success of the project plays a key role in achieving growth and development of the district and the nation. Therefore, the monitoring and evaluation of projects are important if the project’s objectives and success are to be achieved.

Today I joined with DYT monitoring committee, contractors and DoR officials to monitor and inspect the road-blacktopping project from Shatam Draphu to Gasa.

As pledged, I will ensure to monitor the work progress of the major projects in the dzongkhag consistently. This will not only add value to the overall efficiency of project planning and management but also in the implementation by proposing corrective action to the variances from the expected standard.


Gasa to grow Mountain Hazelnut

Mountain Hazelnut Venture Private Limited (MH) is a Public-Private-Company-Partnership (PPCP) and Bhutan’s first 100% FDI Company. In an MoU with the Royal Government of Bhutan, both parties committed to enabling MH to plant 10 million hazelnut trees on the fallow and degraded land. MH creates long-term partnerships with farming households and community groups through which MH supplies hazelnut trees and technical support at no charge and guarantees to buy back the nuts upon harvest. MH then processes and exports the hazelnuts to international markets to optimise pricing and generate foreign exchange.

While MH is a for-profit company, its social objectives include significantly increasing household income for tens of thousands of farming households and community groups in rural farming communities and long-term direct and indirect employment for thousands more Bhutanese. MH currently employs approximately 800 nationals and besides, provides income for more than 1,200 people who provide goods and services to the Company.

To date, MH has planted over six million hazelnut trees in fallow orchards in 18 Dzongkhags across Bhutan. The Company serves over 11,000 farming households and community groups through MH’s field team over 200 highly trained hazelnut experts.
Mountain Hazelnuts Company has partnered with over 40 households in Gasa Dzongkhag, to plant hazelnuts on approximately 30 acres in the Khatoed and Khamed Gewog.

I, being an elected representative of Gasa, am very enthusiastic about supporting this beautiful project and looking forward to helping my constituency by providing an alternative cash crop option to promote sustainable development in Bhutan.

The success of this project will significantly contribute to the growth of Good to Great Gasa initiatives whereby rural communities in Gasa can generate reliable income and improve their livelihoods. Besides the revenue from the collection of medicinal herbs and growing organic vegetables, a secure income from hazelnuts will have positive spillover effects on education, gender equality, continuity of traditional lifestyles, and rural development.

Visit Mountain Hazelnut’ official website (www.mountainhazelnuts.com) to learn more about Mountain Hazelnut.