Budgetary constraints hamper fire security in most Dzongs

In early 2008 after the Gasa Dzong fire the then Wangdue Dzongda, Kinzang Dorji is quoted in a media interview as saying, “the fire security system in Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is well-maintained and properly checked. We, however, would like to upgrade the system if we have the budget.”

While the Wangdue Dzong fire has come as a disastrous reminder of fire security in Dzongs what is cause for alarm is, fire security systems in most Dzongs are similar-to or worse than that of Wangdue Dzong.

The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA) officials said the ministry’s plans to install security features, like smoke detectors in all the Dzongs under the 10th plan failed to take off due to budget constraints.

Currently only Tashichhodzong has the most advanced fire-fighting system with smoke detectors that are monitored by computers. Punakha Dzong and the newly constructed Chukha Dzong also have slightly better fire security systems than most Dzongs.

With one dzong in almost every Dzongkhags in the country and in the light of the Wangdue Dzong fire, despite having a fire hydrant, there are growing concerns about fire security among Dzongdas and the MoHCA.

With this in mind Dzongdas many of whom have been raising fire security in Dzongs in the past plan to bring it up again in the annual Dzongdas conference on 5th July, 2012.

In the past concerns expressed by Dzongdas to improve fire security with more advanced systems were shot-down due to budget constraints.

Paro Dzongda, Chencho Tshering said that Paro Dzong has a few small fire hydrants and water tanks but he said that it was time to revamp them and that Dzong maintenance is also required.

Dagana Dzongda, Tenzin Thinley said that the Dagana Dzong only has small fire extinguishers and in order to have computerized fire system the main constraint would be the budget. “We hope that this would come as an outcome of the meeting,” he said.

Mongar Dzongda Sherab Tenzin said the issue of fire security of Dzongs will be brought out in the conference.

The head of Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS), under the Home Ministry, Nagtsho Dorji said that all the Dzongs had fire fighting mechanism in place but not advanced ones like that of Tashichhodzong and Punakha Dzong.

She said that rest to the other Dzongs just had water tanks and fire hydrants installed, this fire security system in the Dzongs had been jointly built by the ministry and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP)’s fire fighting division with funding from the GoI.

“Yes, initiatives have been taken under the 10th FYP but this has been subjective because there was a need of budget, so had the budget come through such systems would already have been installed,” said Nagtsho Dorji.

Gasa Dzongda, Sonam Jigme said that the Dzong has one Elementary Support Personnel (Meysup) to make sure the lights are off after office hours. He, however, said that Dzongs are usually built places where access is difficult so it would be important to improve the access.

Renovation is currently underway at the Lhuentse Dzong. Since the Government of India (GoI) is supporting the renovation works, the Dzong authorities are hopeful that the project will cover the installation of fire alarm system and smoke detectors.

“We have requested the fire services division under the police to come and take an estimate for the same,” said the Lhuentse Dzongda, Tshering Kezang.

The newly constructed Chukha Dzong is fully equipped with computerized fire alarm system with smoke detectors, according to Chukha Dzongda, Tshewang Rinzin. “Fire Hydrants and hoses set are in place.” Though the Dzong may have smoke detectors it does not have a nearby fire engine to fight any potential blaze. The Dzong has requested for a fire engine.

“The Mongar Dzong’s fire security system is not advanced,” said the Dzongda Sherab Tenzin. He said the system is fairly good as replacement of the water pipeline to exclusively fight fire was just carried out.

“One could have the best of technologies to keep away fire hazards but if there is no proper vigilance, the vulnerability would be the same. More than anything, vigilance is important,” said the Dzongda.

The Trongsa Dzongda Dawala said that though computerized smoke detectors were recently installed in Trongsa Dzong he felt the necessity of a separate sector for Dzong maintenance. He had raised the requirement for it at the last Dzongda conference and the Dzongkhag Midterm Review.

“This is under consideration by the government,” he said.

Most Dzongdas said they have pushied for a Dzong maintenance team but there has been no progress on it.

The Home Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji also stressed and supported the need for a separate Dzong maintenance section. He said that he himself would be pressing for the need to have such a section.

Some Dzongdas said though the RBP trains monks and other civilians to fight fire these were very basic trainings. They said the Department of Disaster Management can train some people so that they have more expertise

However, fire security in all Dzongs eventually boils down to money which the government is short-of right now.

The Home minister, Minjur Dorji told The Bhutanese that in the absence of a disaster management act, there was no way to get enough budget for fire security system. “Once the National Assembly passes the Disaster Management Bill, all agencies need to have some disaster fund integrated into plans and programs of every Five Year Plans that would come after the 10th FYP,” he added.

Currently the Home Ministry is preparing the 11th FYP. Under the Dzong conservation aspect, there are some projects where fire fighting will be a component.

Earlier the government made efforts to ensure fire security in Dzongs. In 2007 Dzongkhag staff, monks, and RBP received training on fire drills and the use of firefighting equipments.

After the Gasa Dzong fire, in 2008, the ministry issued a circular to all the Dzongkhags and advised them on measures to strengthen Dzong fire security systems and to install new security features like smoke detectors in all the Dzongs in the 10FYP (hampered by lack of budget).

Nagtsho Dorji said that the fire experiences in the past were largely from carelessness of the staff. “However, in the past few years the ministry in collaboration with the Dratshang Lhentshog has managed to move-out kitchens from the Dzongs. The drill system also plays a role in vigilance and the Dzongkhag works on it,” she added.

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  1. We are happy that the Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs is now serious about fire accidents. All Dzongdags must raise their voice to have proper system to avoid such disaster because they are directly responsible for the security of their respective Dzongs.  
    Having smoke detector is a good system but how effective will that detector be is a concern. Will that be an automated one? Will water simultaneously flash after detecting smoke? Otherwise having smoke detector without this facility would be like having a watchman to shout for help whenever there is smoke.  In Wangdue, sacred relics were saved because organizations like (RBA) Military training team, Punatshangchu and Desups were there to react promptly. Similar manpower will not be available in other Dzongkhags. Hence, in addition to all possible technologies, the concerned Ministry must have a quick reaction team in every Dzongkhag. Today’s scenario is very different. A fire brigade is located away from the dzong, and by the time fire fighter reaches the site, the dzong may be over.  I feel there should be a security officer in every dzong to look after all security aspects. Since RBP is now under Home Ministry, why not have one police officer for one dzong. Dzongdag and Lam Neten should concentrate on their own works. The security officer should have a team of not less than 20 soldiers to secure the dzong and attend immediately to any disaster till volunteers join them. The team should have their accommodations near the dzong. Jus my personal opinion.

  2. My fellow citizens and officials, please do NOT talk and let us citizens  not fall into the TRAP of big talks.

    Just buy 5 to 10 fire extinguishers in each Dzong and train the people living there.
    Do NOT talk about smoke detectors and computer systems.  MY FOOT !!!

    Just give Fire Extinguishers and make sure they are filled and workable.

  3. 1. Not to point to anyone, but the fact is we Bhutanese are very reactive and not so forward looking, that’s why we have to pay hefty price. We are very reactive, indeed!. Some school children died because of low nutrition (or may be suppliers are bringing all those outdated – date expired food stuff at a real cheap price, who checks all this, do the BAFRA, or the Dzongkhag authorities/Dzongda check whether food suppliers are not date failed stuff; do the trade and Customs check it; do the officials at the MOE H.Q do periodical monitor. It is a real problem for our schools kids in the remote schools deprived of the most basic thing called a food to eat). These could have been prevented had we been little thoughtful and concern to those less privilege than us. Though late than never, thanks to MOE for increasing the stipend but it came at a real heavy cost: A BIG LESSON TO OUR DECISION MAKERS. Likewise many students in India are suffering, who is bothering despite their repeated plea, MOF is only concern to raise the perks of the elected members forgetting those people suffering in India. They will only revise after another ugly event.

    2. It is a billion and billion dollar loss in terms of its physical architecture and immeasurable loss of the ancient treasures and its artistic values to the nation. Rebuilding W/Dzong would mean diverting a huge amount at the cost of other 20 Districts, and most embarrassingly almost begging the GOI. How long are we going to depend on GOI and other friends, anything we get from others have their own seen and unseen strings attached, we all know this theory. Our neighbours and donor agencies will be only happy to help us and they have their own agenda – both genuine and vested. The point is we are too reactive in the sense, we can now after this tragic event in a foreseeable future see a big Fire Fighter Trucks equipped with modern facilities in each Dzongkhag and around other important infrastructure – at what cost- after losing this kind of unimaginable treasure. Let us stop defending ourselves, accept the fact. We are reactionary, many things which could have been prevented are responded aftermath.

    3. Likewise, small things though, are we more proactive in ensuring our public toilets and cleanliness of the city and town- who bother about this?. We already had a complaint in newspaper by one of the Korean tourist that what she read in the tourist advertisement in the website was different than what she saw a dusty Thimphu with its unbelievable public toilets.

    4. A little bit more proactive and the broader and progressive thinking of our elected leaders will do wonder (instead of thinking to make themselves more and more comfortable).

    5. Another proactive thing that our elected leaders could initiate is the minimum TA/DA for the lowest rank of employees. They get Nu. 140 to 200 a day, whereas the minimum expenditure is Nu.450 650 (Breakfast Nu.75; mineral water Nu.15; tea Nu.5; Lunch Nu.85; Mineral water Nu. 15; Dinner Nu. 85; and the room charge Nu. 150). Who is bothering for these people, who will initiate the revision and table this kind of issue in the NA, lest they too should be the NA member so that they can discuss these issues similar to that of pension benefits for the NA members? With such prevailing condition, while on tour they are at the mercy of the officers who are on tour. The moment some unusual things happen for this lower rank of people, then another reaction will be to raise their benefits- we are reactionary- need little change to become proactive. Whether officers or lower staff both need to sustain. It may be high time time to take proactive initiative in raising their TA/DA for this category of people. We are reactionary and this is not accidental, we know Bhutanese are capable of taking proactive initiative but since such things are not directly concern to the immediate needs of the elected leaders themselves – our elite decision makers, they seemed to be more relaxed a true reflection of the characteristic of the elite leaders.

    ****** Lets move beyond our own need and are able to see the other side of the bank. It will save us costing dearly.

    How many of us, if we are the elected members of the elite/privilege group of decision makers will put ourselves in the shoes of the recipients????

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