Dangerous work

Gammon's bridge

Gammon's bridge

On September 9, 2007 a flyover that was being built in Hyderabad collapsed killing two people. The contractor, Gammon India, was charged with negligence.

On July 12, 2009 a flyover that was being built in South Delhi collapsed killing six people. The contractor, Gammon India, was held responsible for the accident, and was banned from undertaking metro rail construction for two years.

On December 24, 2009 a bridge that was being built in Kota, Rajasthan collapsed killing 28 people. Rescuers continue to search for about 50 workers who are missing since the accident. The contractor? Gammon India, who also happens to be one of the contractors for the Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project Authority.

Gammon India won the contract to build the Head Race Tunnel for Punatsangchu-I. But, given their recent record, the Government would be well advised to reconsider their contract with them.

Nomads

Taken for a ride

Taken for a ride

The Nomad’s festival that was recently organized by the Ministry of Agriculture was a good idea. The event, which was meant to show off our nomadic culture, heritage and traditions, also sought to help our nomads sell their produce while, at the same time, promoting “off season” tourism.

But, the choice of the location is questionable. Transporting 90 nomadic groups from eight dzongkhags to Bumthang was not a good idea. Tourists perceive Bumthang to be too cold at this time of the year. And, Bumthang does not have a large enough local population to interact with the nomads and buy their produce. Hence, the low tourist count, and complaints from the nomads themselves.

If the idea was to spread the benefits of tourism, the festival should have been organized in Trashigang. The winters there are milder and the entire Brokpa community descends to the valleys naturally at this time of the year. So, the festival would have created a rare tourist attraction in the East. In addition, the local population there is big enough to naturally sustain a market for seasonal nomadic produce.

Otherwise, the festival should have been organized in Punakha, where the entire nomadic community of Gasa spends their winters, and is easily accessible to the nomads of Haa, Paro, Thimphu and Wangduephodrang.

And Bumthang? It already receives a disproportionate share of attention. Five of the 15 festivals advertised in the TCB website take place in Bumthang, and the valley already hosts other government-sponsored tourism events like the Mastutake Festival.

So why Bumthang?

Photo credit: Kuensel

Salary fixing

How on Earth could an Honourable Member of Parliament claim that: “From our point of view, the MP’s pay was never fixed and the 20 percent hike was only a hike on an interim and not the fixed pay.”

And, how on Earth could another Honourable Member of Parliament point to the finance secretary’s letter of April 2008 as proof that salaries of MPs were never fixed?

Yes, the finance secretary’s letter outlined salaries and allowances for MPs as an “interim arrangement”. But, interim only till the salaries were finalized. And, those salaries were finalized when we, Members of Parliament, increased them by 20% less that a year ago, on 19th January 2009, during the 2nd Session of the Parliament.

To claim that the 20% pay hike for MPs was also an interim measure, and that another increase is needed to finalise their salaries is outrageous. Their logic is both devious and shameless.

For those of us who have forgotten, the National Assembly’s resolution on the pay increase for MPs reads:

Members of Parliament

Pay increase for the Members of Parliament has been fixed at 20 % of their current pay and the allowance and other entitlements are as presented in the table below.

 

Sl.

Description Existing Revision

1

Basic Pay Nu. 30,000 20%

2

House Rent 30% of basic pay 30% of basic pay

3

Transportation charges of personal effects on initial appointment and on retirement

-

As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

4

DSA for official travel within Bhutan Actual lodging in one room plus Nu. 500 or lumpsum of Nu. 800 As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

5

DSA for official travel in India and abroad In accordance with applicable rules As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

6

Transport (vehicle purchase allowance) Nu. 700,000 for one term Nu. 700,000 for one term

7

Fuel/maintenance allowance Nu. 6000 per month Nu. 7000 per month

8

Driver allowance

-

Nu. 6000 per month

9

Mobile phone voucher allowance

-

Nu. 2000 per month

10

Gratuity

-

1.5 times last monthly salary into number of years

11

Provident Fund 8% each by Governmentand member 11% each by government and member

12

Travel expense on retirement

-

One month’s last pay

13

Discretionary grant Nu. 100,000 per annum Nu. 100,000 per annum

 

It’s actually quite straightforward. We increased the salaries of MPs during the 2nd Session of the Parliament. And, along with that, we also increased the allowances, and awarded new allowances to MPs.

Quite straightforward. Unless, that is, we want to shamelessly, and, perhaps, illegally, bulldoze another pay increase for ourselves. That, unfortunately, seems to be the idea.

Visiting Linda

My previous entry about Paro Airport’s security, prompted Linda Wangmo, a regular contributor, to cry out for help about a situation at our hospital. Listen to her!

Security security…….. Lucky our OL and other big shots do not have to spend a night in our hospital… The ward reminds me of a prison in one of the movies.. The G4s armies. They dont even let me share a simple meal with my ailing mom….

Airport security

Screaming for attention

Screaming for attention

About six weeks ago, I rejoiced that a leading international travel magazine had rated our only international airport the world’s second best airport to fly into. The landscape, approach, fresh air, architecture, service, all would have contributed to the distinction of Paro International Airport.

There is one eyesore though. And, that’s the security fencing around the airport. Razor wire coils fixed on barbed wire fence, several meters high, surround the entire airport. The fence looks ugly. It disfigures the airport’s otherwise peaceful setting. And, it is reminiscent of concentration camps.

But the offensive fence may be necessary, for security purposes.

So today, when I saw that a part of the fence that was damaged during the May 26th floods had still not been repaired, I was simply astonished. If the fence serves an important security purpose, it should be well maintained, and the damaged part, measuring about 50 meters, repaired immediately.

It’s been almost seven months since flash floods breached the security fence. Repair it – now! – before a serious security breach.

Demand for equity

Consider this: in rural Bhutan, our people are undernourished, stunting and wasting.

Now consider this: in urban Bhutan, our people are overweight and obese.

Time to get serious about the equity in the DPT’s Equity and Justice.

Saving Thimphu

Clear signs

Clear signs

The International Institute for Environment and Development, in their book Climate Change and the Urban Poor, have identified Thimphu as on of the world’s 15 most vulnerable cities to the effects of climate change. The IIED warns that climate change could cause floods, landslides and fire in our capital.

This, obviously, is cause for concern. We must take the dangerous levels of our exposure to climate change seriously. And, we must do our best to work with the world to reduce global warming.

But, Thimphu is vulnerable not just because of climate change. We, the residents of Thimphu, are equally responsible for making our city vulnerable to disasters. We generate far too much garbage, and we don’t manage our waste properly. We drive too many vehicles and burn too much timber, making the pollution that hangs over Thimphu clearly visible in the winter. Added to that, Thimphu’s population is growing too fast.

So, while we demand the world to take concrete measures to fight global warming, we must also remember to do our part to protect Thimphu from ourselves.

Active Thimphu

I'm loving it

I'm loving it

Gyamtsho and I went biking today. We started from our home in Taba and rode through Dechenchholing, Samteling, Zilukha and the Royal Boulevard to the Clocktower Square where we had lunch at the Musk. From there, we cycled uphill: to the Memorial Chorten, then, via the Ring Road (above the hospital), to the Buddha Statue in Kuenselphodrang. We then rode back home: downhill towards the Memorial Chorten, along the Royal Boulevard, below the golf course, and on Dechen Lam to Taba.

I’m happy that I got some exercise. And, that I got to spend some time with my son who has already outgrown me. But, I’m also happy because, while biking, I noticed a lot of people playing and exercising today.

I saw children cycling and skating, students returning from karate classes, an all girls cricket team, and people playing basketball, volleyball, khuru, golf, dego, and archery. And along the road to Kuenselphodrang, I saw people walking and jogging, some obviously returning from day treks. I even saw one group flying big, beautiful homemade kites – they promised that they would start a kite-flying club!

Perhaps it’s because today is a Sunday. Maybe, it’s because our students are on holiday. But, there were a lot of people enjoying the outdoors. And, that came as good news, especially since non-communicable diseases are on the rise in urban Bhutan.

Hijacking democracy

BBS reports that the Prime Minister, in his National Day address in Mongar, cautioned the people about threats to our democracy.

On democracy, the Prime Minister said the threats to democracy are mainly from within, reminding the people to be aware of divisive politics for personal gain. He said in many countries in the world, democracy has been hijacked by people who seek power and privilege.

I agree with our Prime Minister. I agree with him one hundred percent. We must never allow our democracy to be hijacked by people who seek power and privilege!

Changemaker Chencho

Ashoka Changemakers have announced their winners – the three most innovative solutions that radically rethink mental health to achieve individual and community well being. And Dr Chencho Dorji’s project, Promoting Mental Health in Traditional Bhutanese Society, is among them.

Dr Chencho’s project has won. Dr Chencho is an Ashoka Changemaker! Well done!