The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Slavery in the full swing

Security clearance (of another sort)

Clearing for Safety: The roadside is cleared of bushes twice a year

Sarpang-Gelephu Highway 17 September, 2010 - The coming of autumn, when leaves turn brown, brings worries to local leaders of the four gewogs in the southern district of Sarpang.

It means it is time for them to clear the bushes and undergrowth on either side of the 32-km Sarpang-Gelephu highway.

The people of the four gewogs of Bhur, Dekiling, Sompangkha and Gelephu, through which the road passes, have to clear the bushes 150 ft to the north and 300 ft towards the south of the road, twice a year. This is done for security reasons, because of the porous border shared with the Indian state of Assam that has a few insurgent groups.

“The residents have to contribute labour, ranging from four days to seven days in June and October, to clear the epitorium bushes,” said Dekiling gup Gomchen. “But since they are paid only Nu 35 to 40 a day, it’s difficult to convince them to work.”

“Who’d want to work in such heat for Nu 40 a day?” said a farmer from Bhur gewog. According to the father of three, they get Nu 200 when they work in the fields; but, when they are contributing labour to clear the highway bushes, they are paid way less than the daily wage rate of Nu 100 a day.

Gup Gomchen told Kuensel that the dzongkhag had allocated Nu 700,000 as a budget to clear the bushes and, when the budget is divided between the four gewogs, it is not sufficient to pay the wages.

A villager from Darjaythang said the national council candidate for the dzongkhag told them that they will not have to contribute labour to clear the bushes last year, but they still had to work this year. “People refuse to cooperate because of that,” a gup said.

Gups from Sarpang say that they have raised the issue in the gups’ conference and also to members of parliaments, when they were in the dzongkhag for the midterm review. The matter was even discussed in the dzongkhag yargye tshogdu (district development committee meeting).

Sarpang dzongda Kunzang Wangdi told Kuensel that the dzongkhag could not tender out the clearing work because of security reasons. “But we’d asked the gups and tshogpas to look for communities, who are willing to clear the bushes for Nu 700,000 if people don’t want to do the work, but no one has come forward until now,” he said.

The government is looking into the possibility of developing the roadsides into pastureland, according to the dzongda. “The ministry of agriculture had sent investigation teams twice,” he said, adding, “Until that happens, people will have to contribute labour.”

The dzongda said that although the dzongkhag understands the inconveniences the farmers face, the gravity of the problem depends on the farmers themselves. “If they work with sincerity, they’ll get Nu 100 a day,” he said. “The farmers here come to work at 10 am and leave by 2 pm.”

By Tashi Dema

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