Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cultural impostion?

If you were to visit Darjeeling or Kalimpong these days, you would think that the college students in these regions were not going to classes but to celebrate ethnic day in the campus.

Three times a week, you will see them trooping into colleges, sporting colourful ethnic costumes. The Bhutias and Tibetans in their chubas, ethnic Nepalis of the region in Daura-sural for men and Chaubandi Choli and Pharia for the girls and so on.

It’s all right if the ethnic Gorkhas of Darjeeling district want to flaunt their ethnicity by attiring themselves in garments that actually is the national dress of Nepal. Incidentally, the citizens of Nepal themselves don’t wear the national dress when they go to their offices, except on national events. That too is applicable only to the civil servants.

But the point is why impose such regulation, which is actually an offshoot of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha’s (GJMM) political campaign for a separate homeland, on our Bhutanese students studying there when it is not applicable to students of other nationalities such as Bangladeshis and Thais?

This is politicising education, by imposing the dress code. If the Bhutanese are found not wearing Ghos and Kiras to college, they are not allowed to attend the classes by the volunteers of Gorkha Janmukti Vidarthy Morcha, a student wing of the GJMM.

In fact, the Bhutanese students thought that they didn’t have to comply with the regulation as they were foreigners just like the Bangadeshis and Thais. But no; the Yuva Morcha or the youth wing volunteers summoned the president and some executive members of Bhutanese Students Association to their office and warned them that they are not exempted.

What is the rational behind forcing only the Bhutanese to wear the national dress? Darjeeling district is not providing free education for our children. In fact, our children are contributing to the local economy by using educational facilities located in their region.

We like to send our children to schools and colleges there because we share similarities when it comes to climate, food habits and to some extent cultural life and language. The Bhutanese at one time used to go to Kaliphu and Dorjeeling more often than any other place in India for business. Our association goes a long way back.

But the recent belligerence displayed by GJMM to our students, away from their parents and home, is an uncalled-for act which almost gives the feeling that Bhutanese students have been singled out specifically from amongst other nationalities to deliberately hassle them.

Wearing the national dress may not pose that much of a problem. But forcing them to participate in GJMM’s rallies is political coercion and they have to take part out of fear for their life and limb.

The Royal Government had already had a first round of talks on this issue with the West Bengal government, following which the Bhutanese students were told by the home ministry not to wear the national dress for fear that they might come under attack from other disgruntled elements than the volunteers of the GJMM.

With the examinations looming ahead of them before the winter vacation, the Bhutanese students are in a dilemma. Perhaps the best solution would be not to send our children, no matter what, to Darjeeling region for studies in future.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Something should be done

Even as Bhutan fell by four points at 49 from last year in the corruption perception index (CPI), the third annual Anti-Corruption Commission’s report is due for review today at the National Council’s agenda today.

According to the report already in circulation, the complaint against the local government (LG) is reported to be the highest with of course Thimphu Dzongkhag leading the pack with 34.9 per cent and Chukha coming as second with 11.5 per cent. Paro and Wangdue are in the third position with 5.7 per cent each.

Gasa and Lhuentse received the lowest complaints against their local governments with just 0.5 per cent each.

After the LG, corporate governance is the second highest in the list of complaints with the abuse of authority and embezzlement following close after. Most of these usually occurred in areas such as award of contracts for construction, procurement and human resources, where nepotism, deception and bribery are most common place.

Though not open, yet corruption in terms of underhand dealings is obvious in construction and supply of materials. Some are even straight cases of pilferages from the construction sites, where materials supplied are not fully used for the work in hand.

Nepotism, one might say, is as old as humanity itself. It extends to the whole spectrum of the society. So why blame only the civil service? Anything from appointment and promotion to trainings and easy postings fall under the category of nepotism. Merit, most often, doesn’t work.

Some years ago, there was this unique case of a man, in one of the ministries, who sent his own wife on training. It so happened that there was a female staff member in the same ministry who had the same name as his wife’s. While his wife didn’t have the academic transcripts which would have qualified for the training, the other staff had the required educational qualifications.

So, he did the simplest thing. He switched the academic transcripts from their personal files and sent his wife on training. It was easy enough. But it didn’t last long. The discrepancy, if one might say, was discovered earlier than expected.

This is just one such example. There would be hundreds of such cases, if one only has the patience to dig. Award of contracts for procurement and supplies are areas where it is not even possible to dig through the layers of underhand payment and bribes that accrue to the man who has the authority to swing the contract to the favourite candidate. Every thing is legal – just a manipulation of certain clauses. (highlight this para)

Some one said that one should know how to use the law to his or her own advantage. Nothing wrong really with the law as such. They have been framed with all the good intention in mind and for the greater benefit of every one. But one has to have the ingenuity to find the loopholes in them.

Embezzlement, though it doesn’t head the list, is still rampant from lowly misuse of money at the level of cashier or accountant to wholesale siphoning of project funds. We don’t have to go too far. Just look at some of the bridges, roads or government buildings around the country or in the capital itself. How many times they had to re-built and crosschecked to find out whether they confirmed to the initial designs; and of course how many times new funds had to be injected to bring them to the standard that they were supposed to be in the first place.

And who suffers? The general public for whom those infrastructures have been constructed. Who is at the receiving end whenever such infrastructures fail? The government, of course. The government initiates such grandiose projects for the benefit of the people. The government gets the blame.

There certainly must be something that can be done to avoid this.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Need to halt global warming

Climate change is not an abstract threat. Glaciers in the Himalayas and the Alps are retreating by two metres every year. Ice caps are melting, raising the sea level.

The melting glaciers cause flooding in the low lying countries while rising sea level threatens to submerge the Maldives and other low-lying coastal areas. This is the result of hundreds of years of carbon emissions, which is cooking the earth. So much so that north of England will soon be producing red wine, after almost 600 years, thanks to warm autumn that the region is experiencing now.

It is very much likely that the low fertile land today might turn into unproductive barren wasteland. The farming pattern may also drastically change. The climate change will also adversely affect the natural habitats of both humans and animals.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, which recently ended in Male, Maldives, called on world leaders to reach a binding agreement at next month's Copenhagen conference on the issue of global warming. The issue of global warming had been a matter of concern for developing countries. But then, the developing countries can do nothing about it on its own.

It is the developed and industrialised countries that have to cut down its carbon emissions that are heating up the planet. US had never agreed to either the Montreal or Kyoto Protocols. Neither did the emerging Asian industrial giants like China and India.

The industrial giants flood the markets of the climate vulnerable nations that also have to suffer the adverse effect of global warming as a direct consequence of massive industrial activities, with their mass-produced goods.

The decision of the ‘V-11’ countries, of which Bhutan is a member, to “green” their economy is a step in the right direction towards achieving “carbon neutrality.” Scientists say rich countries must cut carbon emissions by 25-40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent Earth's temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above its average temperature before the industrial revolution. The rise of temperature by 2 degree Celsius means the Maldives will be submerged completely.

But so far, reduction pledges only total 11-15 per cent.

One may think that it is a moral, financial, social and human rights issue. But such issues pale in comparison when it is a matter of trade in the stock exchange. The ‘V-11’ nations want the developed nations to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5% of their gross domestic product annually by 2015, to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy.

The issue of funds from wealthy states, like Western European countries and the United States, to developing nations to fight climate change has proven a major sticking point in negotiations.

The developed nations also have to commit to maintain emission reduction targets consistent with limiting global average surface warming to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at well below 350ppm.

The current level of carbon concentrations is 387 ppm. To reduce that to 350 ppm, the world would likely need to develop new technologies or strategies to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

To drive home the point that something serious has to be done about global warming, President Nasheed of the Maldives and his cabinet members, last month, donned the diving gear to hold the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting in a symbolic cry for help over rising sea level. Nepal is planning to hold its next cabinet meeting on Mount Everest.

Celebrating children’s Day

This year, the birth day of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was celebrated as the Constitution Day and also Children’s Day. And appropriately so.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo often said that children were the future of Bhutan, and that it is important to enable them to bear the responsibilities efficiently and effectively.

It is important that we define who is a child on this day. The age-old adage says that the child is the father of man. The definition may not go down well in the present world context.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Biologically, a child is anyone in the developmental stage of childhood, between infancy and adulthood.

The age at which children are considered responsible for their own actions has also changed over time, and this is reflected in the way they are treated in courts of law. In the Roman era, children were regarded as not culpable for crimes, a position later adopted by the Church. In the nineteenth century, children younger than seven years old were believed incapable of crime. Children from the age of seven were considered responsible for their actions.

Surveys have found that at least 25 countries around the world have no specified age for compulsory education. Minimum employment age and marriage age also vary. In at least 125 countries, children aged 7-15 may be taken to court and risk imprisonment for criminal acts. In some countries, children are legally obliged to go to school until they are 14 or 15 years old, but may also work before that age.

Whatever it is, the children are our hope for the future. Many parents consider them as the staff to lean on in old age. All the more reasons why they should be provided with an enabling environment in which to grow and develop into responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Bhutanese children are getting better education and healthcare, thanks to the vision of the Druk Gyalpos, and the support from International Organisations.

With the changing family and societal structures, new difficulties have arisen for children. Children can be in conflict with the law, they can be in a difficult circumstance, and many times, one usually follows the other.

There have been increasing reports of Children being abused and children living hard lives, in poverty, without education, or without family or a proper roof over their heads for the sake of education.

This is a sign that such problems, while not as severe as other countries in the region, do exist in Bhutan as well.

While education has not been made compulsory for children in Bhutan for various reasons as cited by the government, the existence of a National Commission for Women and Children in the country that dedicates efforts to bring relief to those children who are less fortunate than the others is heartening.

Bhutan was one of the first countries to become a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the government has shown that it is committed to the cause of bringing a smile to the young faces of the nation by honouring the clauses of the convention.

It is a continuous work, in which the media, the government, families, schools and societies, all have a role to play.