If only Wangduephodrang Dzong was insured in 2009 the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL) and its foreign insurance partners would be paying for the reconstruction of the Dzong.
In late January 2008 a fire at Gasa Dzong which nearly burnt the whole Dzong down created national outrage and concern for safe guarding Dzongs against natural calamities. A month later the former Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA), Karchung Tshering said that the MoHCA will be putting up a proposal to the RICBL to insure all Dzongs and the Nangtens inside.
At the time he said that the Home Ministry would collect data of all Dzongs before submitting the proposal. However, time passed by, the elected government came in and nothing more was heard of the proposal.
Today the former Deputy Secretary who is now posted in the Ministry of Education said, “After the Gasa Dzong incident I had put forth the matter in one of the ministry’s meeting, of having all Dzongs insured, but failed to receive any response. Not having the Dzongs insured has cost the country dearly,” said Karchung Tshering.
He said his proposal might have been overlooked due to the budget constraints, however, he said it would have been good had the Dzongs been insured.
There was hope again in 2009 for insurance of Dzongs. According to the CEO of RICBL, Namgyal Lhendup, after the Gasa Dzong fire in 2008, the institution in 2009 received a letter from His Majesty’s Secretariat to propose to the cabinet insurance for all Dzongs that would cover natural calamities.
“The proposal made by RICBL never went through the Cabinet owing to various factors like high premium costs, inability to give the value of the Dzongs, and lack of budget,” said the CEO.
Again in the same year, the verbal discussions with the finance ministry was to no avail said the General Manager of RICBL’s General Insurance section, Wangchuk Namgyel.
Wangchuk Namgyel told The Bhutanese that, should there be such a catastrophe as Wangdue Dzong, the RICBL would not be able to assume such huge risk, and so to spread the risks the Dzong would be re-insured in India and worldwide. The technical term for such a practice is called cross insurance.
The MoHCA minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji said,”We have had a few discussions with the government and financial institutions but not at a formal level and these discussions have been going on since 2009.”
“Insuring the Dzongs now will be unsustainable as the premiums will be very high and it will be very costly for the government,” added the minister.
He said that government had looked at the possibility of not only insuring Dzongs but also all 7000 lhakhangs and monasteries which would be very difficult due to the costs involved.
Records available with the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) show Dzongs were insured since way back in 1983 and the highest premium paid by the finance ministry was for Tashichhodzong.
The estimated worth of Tashichhodzong was Nu 50mn at the time and the annual premium was Nu 92,000. Wangduephodrang Dzong was then valued at Nu 8mn and the annual premium was Nu 16,400.
Then in 1987, the insurance of all Dzongs were taken over by the home ministry from the finance ministry.
In 1988, the RICBL proposed to the home ministry for the earthquake insurance of the Dzongs as the earlier scheme was only for fire, but, there was no response from the ministry’s end.
“May be the government found the price too high,” said an RICBL official, he explained, for an instance, the value of Class A structures was proposed at Nu 2.9 per Nu 1000, Nu 3.7 for Class B and Nu 5.5 for Class D.
Then in 1993, the insurance for all Dzongs were stopped owing to budget constraints.
Ironically it was not only lack of insurance or budget that hampered Wangduephodrang Dzong but also sheer bad luck.
In early 2009 when the GoI’s Nu 200mn budget for renovation of Wangdue Dzong did come under the 10th plan it had a provision for an advanced fire fighting system similar to the one in Tashichhodzong and Punakha Dzong with smoke detectors and proper warning systems.
Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS) head Nagtsho Dorji said, “Unfortunately, the fire system which was to be installed at the last phrase of the project could not be set up because tragedy struck.”
With Dzong insurance and fire fighting systems being no longer applicable with the Wangdue Dzong burning down the Home Minister is determined to make some fundamental changes to Dzong maintenance and safety.
Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, said, “I will be putting forth the need for a separate maintenance division to the government. Several times in the past this issue had been reflected by the Dzongdas during their Dzongda’s meet. The request had been turned down by agencies because the thought of it was not considered feasible then.”
Lyonpo Minjur Dorji said he was going to request for all the stakeholders to give their contribution on strengthening the capacity.
The home minister said that he also plans to have a meeting with all the Netens (senior clergy members) and the Dzongdas together, to come to a common understanding on how to manage such systems, which will be resilient to disasters.
Kuenzang Choden and Tashi Wangmo