Two girls listen intently as the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa president Lotay Tshering talks about his party’s pledges at a gathering in Digala, one of the most remote villages in Zhemgang yesterday morning.

They were among the crowd of mostly elderly people. About a dozen of them had walked since at 3am from Langdurbi to attend the 9am meeting at Digala community primary school.

Yeshey Chozom, 18, and Sangay Lhazom, 19, both from Digala are excited about DNT’s pledge to do away with the class 10 cut off point and allow those who could not qualify to class XI.

Lotay Tshering said most youth who cannot qualify for higher education are from rural areas, as their parents cannot afford to send them to private school.

A woman, Ugyen, during the meeting at Kikhar, Nangkor gewog said children don’t stay in the village and want to go to towns. “They don’t listen to us,” she said.

The youth who had come to attend the eight meetings at various locations in Zhemgang said this is a good scheme that will strengthen the future of the youth.

Sherub Dorji of Tashibi, a village two hours away from road head, is married today and has a child. He left school after class 10 in 2012. “But I’m tempted to resume my studies should the party implement this,” he said. “There’s no hope with my qualification.”

Lotay Tshering said that investment in youth and their education is necessary to secure a bright future for the country. He cites Singapore, as an example and said it remains a top nation despite its size because of its investment on developing human resource.

This scheme, he said, is expected to benefit more than 5,000 youth annually who otherwise have to seek admission in private schools or hunt for jobs.

Some elders posed questions on the cost of its pledges.

Lotay Tshering said that it has been worked out in advance. For the initial years, the party would pay the private schools to enrol students on government stipend during which time these schools would have an opportunity to upgrade.

The party also pledges to establish central schools in every gewog with a minimum of class 12. But DNT would not close the smaller schools, he said.

Villagers of Digala said while children in central schools get all things for free, the 26 students in the community school only get midday meals.

He said education and health services are primary focus of the party to narrow the gap between the rich and poor. “It is a matter of opportunity, not a question of capability,” he said. “We can deliver given the chance.”

Other villagers asked for road.

“Farm roads with base course and drains will reach every village, and all roads to temples, institutions, and industry will be black topped.”

Lotay Tshering said that the village tshogpa would have an office in the chiwog.

“You needn’t go to the gewog centre with all the difficulties,” the DNT president said adding that today, the problem is that the MPs disappear once the election is over.

Villagers also said that they don’t have access to television or radio network.

The DNT president said that his party would provide 100 percent electricity, drinking water, and TV coverage either by cable or allow satellite dish.

“Before it was a luxury but today it is a necessity to be informed. The government only has to make a policy and it incurs no cost at all,” he said.

While some meetings saw the president speaking more, in others people asked questions. They questioned the president on no examinations until grade six, and privatisation of hospitals, among others.

“Don’t listen to those who try to misinform the people.” He said that Zhemgang being one of most underdeveloped dzongkhags in the country would be prioritised. He said that any development programme would begin from Zhemgang and Dagana.

Besides starting Kuri-Gongri and Sunkosh hydropower projects, DNT has plans to begin small-scale hydropower project including Chamkharchu project in the 12th Plan.

DNT president reached Gelephu yesterday and will campaign in Sarpang before leaving for Tsirang today.

Tshering Palden | Zhemgang