Students of Samtse perform a dzongkha dance

A year of celebrations and inaugurations

Even as the nation and people welcome the new day of a new beginning of the Earth Female Hog year today, there is one event from the Earth Male Dog year people will not forget.

It is the historic celebration of the 111th National Day in Samtse.

The celebration, the fourth Samtse hosted, was the biggest event in the country. Samtse hosted the national day celebrations in 1981, 1991, and 2002.

The celebration surpassed all previous national day celebrations in terms of preparation and presentation. The unique cultural dances performed by students and villagers, the helicopters used for the first time in a National Day, and the crowd of more than 40,000 people made the day special.

It was the presence of His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Holiness the Je Khenpo, together for the first time in a national day event that people would remember the day for. Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, HRH The Gyalsey, and the members of the Royal Family joined the celebration.

During the celebration, The Gyalsey’s gracious bow to greet His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo at the tendrelthang was an inspiration and stole people’s hearts.

Damchu-Chukha bypass 

As Bhutan and India celebrated 50 years of diplomatic ties—several events were organised in the Dog year to observe the year and its significance.

Of them all, the launching of the Damchu-Chukha bypass in July is the most significant.

The 29.2km bypass had cut Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway short by 19.2km saving time and fuel.

The launch was important for Bhutan, as people had been eagerly waiting for its completion since its construction started in March 2010. Project DANTAK executed the work. The vulnerability of cutting huge rocks at the site that shared proximity with the hydropower dam had led Project DANTAK to manually break the rock and not use blasting. This led to the project missing several deadlines. Construction of three bridges also took time in the overall completion of the project.

The Director General of Border Roads Organisation, Lt Gen Harpal Singh, attended the inauguration event as the guest of honour at Damchu. He had played a pivotal role in deciding the project in 2006 when he was with Project DANTAK in Bhutan.

 

Newborn murder case

As the Earth Male Dog year brought jubilations and celebrations, many across the country would not forget the tragic incident in Phuentsholing. A newborn baby boy was thrown from a window of a hotel in Goedoe Lam on the night of April 15.

Police patrol team had discovered the baby.

The baby was thrown alive after being delivered, forensic reports revealed.

Police arrested the deceased infant’s 24-year-old mother from Haa, who worked as a sweeper in a primary school, a teacher and principal of the same school. People took to social media forums to express their horror.

Initially, the mother had denied that she delivered the child. The two men also denied of knowing about the woman giving birth despite the three being together in the same room.

After the detention of the suspects, the case got more complicated without proper conclusions, and the police eventually sent a team to Sertena in Haa for further investigation. The findings gave the country another shock.

The 24-year-old reportedly had an affair with a 19-year-old student. The baby was born out of this relationship, the woman later had told police. She was in a relationship with the teenager since he was 16. The woman was later sentenced to life for voluntary manslaughter and statutory rape, as the boy was 16 when she had a physical relationship with him.

 

Potato and cardamom

Unlike the previous years, potato growers saw a great relief in the dog year. The farmers did not have to suffer losses due to late entry for auction at the Phuentsholing auction yard.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) built more parking spaces for trucks loaded with potatoes.

The harvest and price were both better last year. A kilo of potatoes also saw a record high average price of Nu 47.

In the first week of November, FCBL auctioned 23,996 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes worth Nu 499.15 million (M).For the same period in 2017, the year of the Fire Female Bird, FCBL auction yard auctioned 13,729MT and did a business of Nu 202.26M. In 2016, FCBL recorded auction of 15,034MT potatoes worth Nu 370M.

Meanwhile, it is the online auction yard at the FCBL that highlights the success of potato trade. With another grading machine, there were two machines now, and online auction picked pace.

Online auction traded 1,443MT potatoes worth Nu 37.6M in 2018. This is an increase from 1,147MT of potatoes worth Nu 17.3M traded online in 2017.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) hassle ensued for the cardamom throughout the year in 2018. Due to the introduction of a computerised system called ICEGATE since July 1, 2017, Indian customs offices along the trading border areas asked exporters clearance certificates from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Plant Quarantine Services of India (PQSI). Bhutanese exporters were unable to get quarantine clearance.

PQSI did not issue this clearance for Bhutan and it also did not recognise Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory (BAFRA) certification the exporters get in Bhutan.

The issue was raised in several meetings in Phuentsholing in the past but no measures were taken. Towards the end of the dog year, the new government was able to resolve the problem.

Cardamom price, meanwhile, did not fare well. Although a kilogram of cardamom fetched above Nu 700 per kg in the initial days, the market dropped and a kilogram did not fetch more than Nu 500.

Although many pointed it was due to the quarantine certificate, which restricted exporters to export cardamom to India, many still said the cardamom market in Phuentsholing is filled with traders from across the border that manipulate the price on a daily basis.

 

Housing 

The government’s project to provide Bhutanese living across the border affordable apartments was highly anticipated. Just before dissolving, the former PDP government even inaugurated the housing colony in July 2018.

However, the affordable houses were only allotted in December. A total of 506 Bhutanese living across the border were allotted new apartments at various areas across Phuentsholing. More than 70 tenants who got houses in Toribari colony cancelled their allotments citing distance and high rent as major factors.

Demolition of the Gol Building was also one of the primary highlights in Phuentsholing in the dog year. The six-storied building was built in 1968 and had become an iconic building.

As the building was old, concrete pieces from it also fell apart and damaged vehicles in two separate occasions. It was time the people were relocated. All tenants of the Gol Building were allotted affordable houses near the town area. About 48 tenants got new allotments in July 2018.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

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