Friday, 16 May 2008

Lowered dolam rate raises porter hackles

Civil servants and villagers in Zhemgang dzongkhag are resisting the dzongkhag’s revised ‘dolam’ (official walking distance covered by a porter in a day) rate, which has been shortened by almost half and subsequently reduces daily allowance claims payable to porters and officials.

With only three of the dzongkhag’s eight gewogs connected by road, material for development programmes in the other gewogs have to be carried by man and beast. The revised ‘dolam’ could make things difficult, say civil servants.

The health assistant for Tshaidang BHU, Sangay Tenzin, told Kuensel that he could not get anyone to carry the medical consignment because people were not willing to accept the revised fare. Likewise, the principal of Shingkhar lower secondary school said that people are not bringing the world food programme (WFP) rations on time.

Tshering Choki, 30, from Tshaidang village is a porter, who carries government consignments and baggage of civil servants to earn an income to buy basic necessities. The mother of five starts her journey at seven in the morning and reaches Tshaidang Zam three hours later. After spending a few hours there, packing her deliveries and buying a few essentials from the only shop, she returns home and delivers the items to the concerned individuals who employed for the purpose. “My load mainly consists of basic essentials like rice and gas cylinders for civil servants in the village and stationery for the BHU and school,” she said. Tshering earns Nu 150 a day as porter charge and Nu 300 when she takes a pony.

But she is not willing to continue her business since she has been told that her porter charges had been reduced to Nu 75 and Nu 150 respectively for the same distance. Tshering told Kuensel that people in her village had refused to carry election equipment during the recent National Assembly elections.

Although the revised ‘dolam’ came into effect from April 1, the dzongkhag asked officials to enforce the rule by the end of March.

Village leaders are coming up with their own ideas to deal with the situation. While Nangkhor gup, Rinchen Drakpa, told Kuensel that he decided not to appoint any porter if they are not paid Nu 300 from Buli to Nimzhong, which was reduced to a day’s journey from the then two-day journey, Bardo gup, Kunzang Jurmi, has requested teachers and civil servants to pay the old rate to villagers until the problem is resolved by the dzongkhag yargye tshogchung (DYT).

The dzongkhag accounts officer, Til Bahadur, told Kuensel that the administration had decided to revise the ‘dolam’ to reduce the travel budget, which was growing insufficient by the year.

But it would not affect villagers because porter-pony charges were based on the revised ‘dolams’ approved during the 78th National Assembly session, said Til Bahadur. “The dzongkhag has not made any changes on the porter-pony charges, but only shortened the official claim route,” he said, adding that, in the existing system, a half day’s journey was taken as a full day.

Til Bahadur said that the dzongkhag’s travel budget has been reduced from the coming financial year. In the present financial year, Zhemgang dzongkhag allocated Nu 3.3 million as travel budget for the engineering section alone. This has been reduced to Nu 2.5 million in the 2008-09 travel budget. “Without the revision in dolam, we would surely run out of funds,” said Til Bahadur.

However, some officials told Kuensel that the revised route was implemented without consulting the people, who knew the ground reality. “A 20-minute walk is considered half a day and some full day walks are considered half a day,” said a dzongkhag official, who did not want to be named.

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