Resource: Almost three months after Nima from Merak in Trashigang opened a furniture house in the locality, it is non-operational. His band saw and panelling machines  lie idle in his furniture house.

Nima had to run to many offices to get a permit to fell one standing tree in his village. He needed the timber for his newly-opened woodcraft and furniture house. But the tree was barely enough to make a choeshum (altar).

Nima will still have to run around from one office to another the next time he wants to harvest timber.

Harvesting timber in Merak is difficult as the gewog falls under the jurisdiction of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS).

Nima’s twin, Dawa, had to undergo same ordeal in order to get a permit for two logs, which later turned out to be unusable since most of the wood had decayed.

“I went to the park office in Phongmey but the officials turned down his request,” Dawa said.

He said that the park officials advised him to transfer the furniture licence to his wife.  Despite doing that even, his business hasn’t progressed.

Last year, Dawa was given a permit for two logs but he said the wood was unusable. “So I gave up the furniture business idea.”

Nima, however, said he wants to continue since woodcraft and furniture has good scope in Merak. “We do not even have handcraft pieces to put up for sale for tourists visiting our village,” he said. “If this materialises, we will have some souvenir items for the empty handicraft shops.”

He also said such an enterprise would also help impart skills among the villagers, especially the youths in the highlands who have dropped out of school.

The gewog even helped him secure a loan of Nu 165,000 from the rural enterprise development scheme (REDS) of the Department of Cottage and Small Industry of the economic affairs ministry. “He has even bought a band saw and paneling machines,” an official from the gewog said.

REDS started in 2006 with funding support from the UNDP to provide monetary support to purchase machinery and equipment for potential entrepreneurs operating from rural areas to either start up new businesses  or expand their existing firms.

The scheme is targeted at creating self-employment and job opportunities with use of local resources to alleviate poverty by raising the income level.

But the official said that the gewog’s support and scheme haven’t paid off yet since the rural entrepreneur is facing difficulty in getting timber from Merak. “His equipment and house has been lying idle.”

The brothers said that park officials told them that if they want permits to extract timber in large quantities, the application would have to be routed through the Department of Forests and Parks Services. “If not, we were asked to buy timber either from the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd in Mongar or sawmills from Rangjung,” Nima said.

But both gewog officials and entrepreneurs felt that getting timber from Mongar or sawmills located in far-flung lowlands like Rangjung won’t be viable for new rural enterprises. “It will be costly and we cannot afford to mobilise timber from such far places at huge costs,” Dawa said.

They also said that the wood from sawmills wouldn’t be good enough to make masks and other religious items like drums.

Gewog officials and the brothers feel the people of Merak should be allowed to extract timber from their forest.

Gewog official also said that the implementing agencies should show better collaboration in implementing schemes for rural empowerment. “While the government is creating opportunities, other agencies impede people from availing such rare economic opportunities,” he said.

The official added that the government and implementing agencies should ensure people do not suffer from such procedural hassles at the time when the schemes are formulated. “This case is just one example of many such schemes and plans which cannot reach the needy because of official procedures.”

However, an official from SWS said that he has issued permits for whatever number of timber the park is authorised. “They should put up an application if they want more and we will issue permits as per the authority empowered to the park.”

Tempa Wangdi