When loss is gain

Our gain

Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, launched When Loss is Gain yesterday, at the closing session of Mountain Echoes 2012, a literary festival that keeps getting bigger and more successful each year.

When Loss is Gain is written by H.E Pavan K. Varma, India’s ambassador to Bhutan, and a prolific writer who has already authored no less than 16 other books. This, however, is his first work of fiction, and one that you will most probably read continuously, in one sitting, from cover to very enjoyable cover.

The story, set mostly in Bhutan, is about the profound transformation in the lives and fortunes of a couple of Indians who accidentally meet in Wangsisina.

The book is already a commercial success in India; a French edition will be released soon; and there’s excited talk about making the story into an international film.

In short, the book has projected Bhutan to India and the world. And in doing so, it will, in some ways, transform the lives and fortunes of Bhutan and her people.

Your Excellency: congratulations … and thank you.

Reckless power

The minister for economic affairs, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, is in New Delhi. He’s meeting his counterparts in the Indian government to discuss the hydropower projects currently under construction. And he’s attending the empowered group meeting that will consider future hydropower projects, including those that will be developed as joint venture projects by public sector companies of the two governments.

I hope that Lyonpo Khandu will remember the question that I had submitted during the last session of the Parliament. I didn’t get to actually ask it due to time constraints. But, as required, I had submitted my question in advance, in writing, so he knows that the opposition party has serious concerns about the joint venture hydropower projects that the government is negotiating.

Here’s my question:

The Government has reportedly allowed Indian Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) companies to build and operate 4 big hydropower projects under a build, operate, own and transfer (BOOT) mode as joint venture partners with Druk Green Power Corporation.

Will the Hon’ble Minister please explain why the Government should go ahead with the joint venture projects when the demands of the PSUs violate the Government’s sustainable hydropower development policy and create excessively favorable conditions for themselves?

Hydropower is a valuable resource. It is the cornerstone of our economy. And it is its main driver. So we must develop it. But we must do so carefully. We must ensure that each and every hydropower project contributes meaningfully to our economy, benefits our people, and strengthens our sovereignty. We must be careful. We cannot be reckless.

But that’s exactly what the proposed joint venture projects are: reckless. The government seems to be willing to ignore and violate important provisions of the sustainable hydropower development policy for the Indian government PSUs. Those policies were carefully developed just 3 years ago, so undermining them basically amounts to recklessly compromising the interests of our country and people.

The government, for example, has allowed the Indian PSUs to own 51% of the joint venture projects although the policy explicitly states that, “For Public-Public partnership, the RGoB undertaking shall have a minimum of 51% shareholding.”

What that means is that Indian government PSUs will have managerial and decision-making control over the joint venture projects. That is not good. That is reckless.

But that’s not all. The government seems to be giving in to even more demands of the Indian PSUs. These demands would create even more favorable conditions for Indian PSUs by simply ignoring even more of the government’s hydropower policy.

For instance the PSUs have demanded that the joint venture projects be exempted from paying royalty power to the government. Hydropower is a natural resource that belongs to the State. So royalty must be collected for exploiting that resource. That’s why the hydropower policy requires that, “A minimum of twelve percent (12%) of electricity generated shall be made available free of cost to the RGoB as Royalty Energy during the first 12 yeas of commercial operation of the project and a minimum of eighteen (18%) thereafter …”

The PSUs have also demanded that they enjoy ownership of the joint venture projects for 35 years. That also violates the hydropower policy according to which “The project shall be allotted to a Developer for a concession period of thirty (30) years, excluding the construction period.”

And the PSUs have demanded payment of “fair market value” of the projects when they are handed back to the government at the end of the “concession period”. What does the hydropower policy say? “At the end of the concession period, the entire project shall be transferred and vested in the RGoB at no cost and in good running condition.”

If joint ventures with Indian PSUs make sense, go for it, develop our hydropower resource, strengthen our economic base, and reinforce the strong ties of friendship that we enjoy with India.

But if the joint ventures don’t make sense, if they aren’t attractive enough, if they compromise our own policies, if better partnerships are available, then take a step back, pause, review the situation, and do what’s best for our country and our people.

There’s no need to be in a hurry. And there’s certainly no need to be reckless.

Jai Hind!

Good wishes

I spent a couple of enjoyable hours watching India’s Republic Day parade broadcast live from New Delhi on Doordarshan TV. The spectacular procession, along the Rajpath and past India Gate, showcases India’s military might, cultural diversity and national integrity. The annual event is also a celebration of the Indian freedom movement and the successful rise of India in all spheres of the global arena since its independence 65 years ago.

The chief guest at the Republic Day parade is typically a foreign head of state or government chosen carefully to reflect the important strategic, economic and political relationship between India and that country.

This year’s chief guest was Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

India’s 63 republic days have featured chief guests from about 40 countries. Of the forty, only a handful have received this honour on more than one occasion. France leads this very exclusive pack by being the guest of honour four times.

Bhutan has received the honour three times, in 1954, 1984 and 2005. And the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is the only person to have attended India’s Republic Day as chief guest twice while holding the same office.

This special privilege, this unique honour, that India, a big and powerful country, gives Bhutan, a small kingdom, during its most important national day is significant. It is a reflection of the deep and enduring friendship between our two countries.

So today, on the joyous occasion of the 63rd Republic Day, I offer my Indian friends – in Bhutan, in India and the world over – my heartiest congratulations and good wishes for continued peace, progress and prosperity.

Jai Hind!
Pelden Drukpa Gyelo!

“Good wishes” – excerpt from the President of India’s Republic Day Address

UN Security Council

Coveted seats

“In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” US President Obama recently announced in India’s Parliament.

And just like that, after years of demanding a permanent seat in the Security Council, India’s bid received a powerful boost.

India is the world’s second most populous country. Its economy, already among the biggest in the world, is one of the fastest growing. And it is playing an increasingly important role in global affairs.

So the US president’s pledge is timely. His assurances are good for India, and indeed, good for the world. Obama should fulfill his promise. He should push to make the UN’s anachronistic Security Council more relevant and effective by allowing today’s world leaders to take their rightful place in the Council.

Coincidentally, India’s friend and neighbour, Bhutan, is also vying for a seat in the UN Security Council, albeit as a nonpermanent member. The prime minister announced Bhutan’s ambitions during his visit to New York in September. And, since then, he has already visited several countries to lobby for their support.

In this connection, about two months ago, I posted a poll that asked, “Should Bhutan lobby to join the UN Security Council?” Of the 249 readers who took part in the poll, an overwhelming 70% (or 174 votes) answered “Yes”. The rest said “No”.

The poll results show that you, the reader, clearly support the government’s initiative to join the Security Council. This was also evident from the comments that you left on my post that introduced the poll. Most of you felt that there would be no harm in trying for the seat, and that, if we do get in, the membership would enhance our stature and international standing.

One commentator, Sonam Ongmo, offered more information about Bhutan’s aspirations for Security Council membership by way of her blog, “Dragon Tales”. And, lest the opposition opposes, she provided this lesson from Canada:

Canada lost its bid to run for a non-permanent security council seat after its vote count went down from by 30 percent in the second round of voting. Canada’s Foreign Minister has blamed its Opposition leader for the loss because of a lack of support and for being critical of the notion that Canada was not deserving of that seat.

I get the message, loud and clear.

Incidentally, I too think that serving in the UN Security Council is a good idea. But, only if the journey to the Security Council is not costly. And, if the adventure does not lull us into a false sense of success.

Independence Day

Celebrating India

Celebrating India

Earlier today, I celebrated India’s Independence Day at the India House. H.E Ambassador Varma hosted a reception at his residence, and treated us to an unforgettable evening of Kathak, one of the main forms of Indian classical dance. Their Royal Highnesses Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Dasho Ugyen Jigme Wangchuck were the guests of honour at the festivities.

To all my Indian friends – living in Bhutan, in India and many other countries – I offer warm greetings and a hearty tashi delek! during your 63rd Independence Day.

INC, UPA: Congratulations

smt-sonia-gandhi

Jai Ho!

Her Excellency, Shrimati Sonia Gandhi

President, Indian National Congress, and

Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance

Your Excellency:

I have the great honour and pleasure to convey my humble congratulations to you on the success of the Congress Party and of the UPA during the recently held parliamentary elections. The People of India have indeed chosen wisely.

I would also like to submit that the praise conferred upon you and Shri Rahul Gandhi for the astute leadership with which you have guided the Congress Party and UPA to victory in the elections is fully deserved.

I take this opportunity to wish the Congress Party every success in its forthcoming five years of government so that the friendly People of India may enjoy enduring peace, prosperity and happiness.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.


Tshering Tobgay

Leader of the Opposition Party

National Assembly of Bhutan

19 May 2009