Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Iron Female Ox Year- Samtse: When the Male Iron Rat relayed the new year torch to the Female Iron Ox, Samtse, given its porous border and the highest number of protocol breaches in 2020, did not see a single Covid-19 case.

As weird as the nomenclature of the year might sound, the year heaped much bigger problems for Samtse—those its inhabitants were least prepared for.

On May 12, 2021, a couple in Tashichholing, Samtse tested positive for Covid-19 on an antigen test. Later, they tested positive on RT-PCR. This was the dzongkhag’s first Covid-19 infection and it was from a busy business centre, a restaurant.

Thereafter, there was no stopping of the virus transmissions and lockdowns.

Samtse then began to see the impact of lockdowns. Doma (areca nut) stock started to rot.

In Tading, several doma suppliers frantically called Kuensel for help. The problems of these few were quickly solved when the economic affairs minister intervened. It was still in May 2021. The problem continued.

By the first week of July, the weight of the Female Iron Ox fell heavy on Samtse farmers as ginger also suffered a similar export problem.

About 7.6 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger belonging to Samtse farmers lay stored in Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard as the export from the dzongkhag stopped. Farmers were desperate because more than 1,000MT of ginger stocks was in the villages. There was 103MT areca nut waiting for export.

A week later, the stocks went up to 120MT of betel nut and 16MT of ginger at FCBL auction yard in Samtse.

The export of betel nuts and ginger were stopped at Chamarchi by the counterpart officials because they were not listed under India’s import list. At a closer look, it was the same problem Bhutan faced while exporting potatoes, oranges, and cabbages.

Amidst the fight against the coronavirus, Samtse came on the spotlight when Norgaygang gup and mangmi submitted their resignation in June 2021. The resignation was not accepted.

The resignation was all related to Chugu farm road in Norgaygang’s Joenpang-Lingarnang chiwog, which the Samtse dzongkhag administration had alleged was built without approval.

The menace of the Ox didn’t stop there.

An eight-year-old girl was allegedly raped in Samtse sending shock waves across the entire nation. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) issued a press release stating its concern about the incident.

“While OAG has continued to prosecute cases referred with utmost due diligence and sought criminal sanctions from the courts, it has now become a grave concern for the OAG and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) with recent cases of the rape of a child as young as 12 and eight years.”

It stated that OAG, in collaboration with the RBP, decided to fast-track investigation and prosecution and pursue the highest criminal sanctions against the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, as more positive cases were detected, especially from Gomtu, elephants also took their chances to maraud and destroy in Samtse. When Tashichholing was under lockdown for the fourth time, elephants took their chance.

Elephants, in herds, ran amuck on the highway, fields and in the courtyards threatening lives, properties and trampling crops.

One July morning of 2021, a 62-year-old farmer from Peljorling A was trampled by an elephant and dragged about five metres. He had a narrow escape.

Later, when Covid-19 situation improved, as the Ox year went by, a herd of 15 elephants destroyed 2.7-acres of paddy that belonged to three farmers in Norbugang, Samtse, on the night of November 22, 2021. The farmers would have harvested and threshed the paddy in about 10 days.

In the wee hours of December 26 last year, an elephant broke into a kitchen in Singeygang village of Tashichholing. An 86-year-old woman and her granddaughter were at the house and they escaped unhurt.

The Iron Female Ox year was truly a year to remember for Samtse.

Samtse also elected nine new gups on December 22, 2021. The other six gup positions were occupied by the former gups.