It is not confirmed but forestry officials believe that the blanket of smog hanging over the eastern districts of Trashigang, Mongar, Trashiyangtse and Pemagatsel may be a result of deliberate fires lit by tseri or shifting culivators in the remote interiors of the dzongkhags.
A hazy view from Trashigang town
The blanket was the worst in Pemagatsel, which, a forestry official described as thick and low on May 7. It is a bit clearer now, he said.
First noticed about a week ago, forest officials, trying to solve the mystery, contacted their extension agents in remote geogs and villages for any reports of forest fires. There were none.
I checked with all my extension agents, said Jigme of Trashigang forest range office. I was worried about some fire-accident prone areas like Ozorong geog. He also checked with forestry offices in other dzongkhags, but none reported a forest fire.
But the district extension forest officer of Pemagatsel, reported that smoke seemed to be rising from the interior of its two geogs, Khar, and Yurung, where Tseri cultivation is practised extensively.
Forest officials say that April is the month when tseri cultivators burn the hillside to prepare the area for maize cultivation. This year, however, April was unsually wet with frequent spring showers. The cultivators may have had to postpone burning for more favourable and dry weather like it is now, said a forestry official.
According to the Pemagatsel dzongda, the dzongkhag officially has more than 5000 acres of registered tseri land. The official figures show that tseri land in the dzongkhag has decreased by more than 30 percent compared to the past.
The district agriculture officer of Mongar, Tandin Dorji, said that tseri cultivation in Mongar had been drastically reduced. Tseri cultivation was practised over a small area south of the dzongkhag.
Tseri cultivation is still practised in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse mostly in the interior parts of these dzongkhags.