The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has defended the government’s decision to allow the duty free outlets to sell tobacco products during the pandemic. The OAG argues that governments issuing executive orders to address exigencies during a pandemic cannot be construed as violations of laws.
It is not sure if critics of the decision are convinced. The next step, it seems, is moving the court.
Even as the debate continues, outlets in Thimphu and Phuentsholing are doing a brisk business with one making about Nu 0.6 million on the opening day. Those aware of the outlets are feeling relieved as there is access to tobacco at a cheaper rate.
However, the government’s decision would be unfair if it delays opening more outlets, especially in the interiors. Nearly a week after the first outlet opened in Phuentsholing and another one in Thimphu, not many are aware of the outlets. There are none in others dzongkhags. People are still resorting to the black market, which has not been affected at all.
If the decision was to get rid of the black market and curb the illegal movement of people across the border, there has to be more outlets and soon. A decision has been made. It seems rational as tobacco smugglers are seen as the potential source of a community transmission. It should not be another case of a good idea poorly implemented.
The bigger risk is creating another black market where people buy from outlets in Thimphu and Phuentsholing and sell it at a higher price to other dzongkhags. As of Wednesday, some tobacco products were already out of stock in the outlet in Thimphu. The group that appreciated the government’s decision would start losing confidence if they have to resort to the black market after all the controversy.
Outlets should strictly stick to the maximum quantity prescribed and start rationing if lockdown in neighbouring Jaigaon is affecting replenishing stock. The idea is to make tobacco available and discourage breaching border protocols. A few out of stock outlets are not worth the risk the government took.
Meanwhile, the OAG has made it clear the decision is an interim measure. Given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, it provides the perfect opportunity to our legislators to relook into the Tobacco Control Act. The Act while criticised for not being practical has brought some good changes. Smoking in public areas has reduced to a large extent. People think twice when they want to light up at public institutions, public places that include offices and restaurants, in all modes of transport, and at places where other people will be affected.
Tobacco is still bad. It is bad for health and is against our religion. We can surmise that a lot of people would have kicked the habit of smoking or chewing either for health or spiritual reasons. Ultimately, awareness and education seems to be the only answer. Tobacco cessation programmes could be stepped up, for instance, while we still debate the decision.
Sustainable harvesting needed, says experts
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the Matsutake (Sangay Shamu) and the exotic medicinal mushroom, Cordyceps sinensis (Yartsa Goenbub) business, which otherwise would be peaking at this time of the year.
With export restricted or importers not showing up at auctions and prices not up to expectations, collectors are withdrawing from auctions. Many say the quality of both the fungi will deteriorate if stored for long. The declining productivity of these wild mushrooms has raised concern. These wild fungi could disappear from the woods because of overharvesting.
Should collectors stop harvesting the mushroom for a season and let it regenerate?
Mushroom specialist at the National Mushroom Center (NMC), Dawa Penjor, said that if people stopped collecting mushrooms, it would help the mushrooms regenerate. However, he said collecting mushrooms with moderation is good. “In the long run, the forests could become too thick and mushroom growth could be reduced if people don’t collect them,” he said.
Some pickers are harvesting the mushrooms before they are mature, leaving no spores for regeneration. Dawa Penjor said: “NMC encourages harvesters to practice sustainable harvesting method; protecting the substrate, soil, host plant and allowing some mushrooms to mature and shed spores.”
Matsutake is the main source of income for the people living in higher altitude. Kaden, a Matsutake collector from Genekha gewog in Thimphu, said that Matsutake once crowded the Genekha forests not so long ago. She said, “We find lesser mushrooms now a days but it fetches us better price. Our livelihood depends on the Matsutake yield.”
NMC train the mushroom harvesters every year on sustainable harvesting and marketing of wild mushrooms emphasising on Matsutake and its ecology. Matsutake can be harvested only within the declared time frame as per the standard set by NMC.
The mushroom harvesters were also provided standard baskets to discourage airtight containers such as plastic bags “Using baskets for collection and transportation of mushroom would allow spores to drop in the forest and maintain quality of mushroom,” said Dawa Penjor.
This year, however, there is only one exporter. Thus, Matsutake collectors from Genekha go to pick mushrooms only thrice a week. Dawa Penjor said that the limit on mushroom collection would allow mushrooms to flourish. He said, “Picking Matsutake three times a week is better for the mushroom.”
Passang Gyelmo, who collected mushrooms every day last year, can now only go when the exporters inform her to collect the mushrooms. She observed that some Matsutake had already opened its cap. She said, “I think we will have a better harvest next year. But if we are restricted from collecting mushrooms this year, the mushrooms will rot eventually and its economic value will deteriorate.”
This year, the collectors sell mushrooms in three grades—A, B, and C. “We now sell the grade B mushroom as grade C. The exporter is looking for perfect shapes,” said Passang.
The declining mushroom production is also attributed to increasing temperature and invasive species. The matsutake in Genekha grows in brown oak (Bji Shing) forest. “The blue pine creeping in the brown oak area is changing the flora composition, making the soil acidic and dry, affecting the mushroom forest if not controlled,” said Dawa Penjor.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently declared that Cordyceps Sinensis is threatened with extinction because of overharvesting. Globally, overharvesting has slashed population by about 30 percent in the last 15 years. Bhutanese collectors are experiencing difficulties finding the fungus. Quality is another issue with collectors quick to blame climate change.
The head of IUCN’s Fungal Conservation Committee, Gregory Mueller was quoted saying “This is one of the few documented cases of a fungus being threatened by overharvesting.”
He said there needed to be a sustainable harvest programme to protect both the fungus and the communities that rely on it for their incomes.
Another mushroom sought after is the Chanterelle (Se sey shamu). Dawa Penjor said that most Chanterelle collectors were not highlanders and the collection was not critical. He said, “Overharvesting of Se sey Shamu is destroying the ecology too.”
He said that if people are stopped from harnessing the natural resources such as mushrooms, it could lead to the tragedy of commons. “If I don’t harvest the mushroom then my neighbour will harvest. Then why should I not?”
Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, reported in July that the IUCN has listed Matsutake as a “vulnerable” species.
Beats HQUFC 3-1
Ugyen Academy FC (UAFC) booked three points from their first match in the BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) at home in Punakha defeating High Quality United FC (HQUFC) 3-1 on August 5.
This year’s Bhutan Super League Champions, HQUFC had fought resolutely but the hosts displayed much better passing accuracy and goal-scoring precision.
Backed by the home advantage, UAFC secured an early lead when unmarked Chuma Dorji Lepcha lashed on target in the 11th minute. However, HQUFC dropped back and defended to minimise any more damage in the first half.
Ugyen Academy renewed their attack in the second half and Chuma Dorji Lepcha scored a brace four minutes into the game. Despite the comfortable lead, Ugyen Academy mounted pressure on the opponents who displayed exceptional football occasionally.
High Quality players were not anywhere near what they used to be earlier this year. Their lacklustre performance let UAFC’s forward Kinga Wangchuk grab the third for the hosts in the 66th minute.
HQUFC’s striker Lhendup Dorji managed a consolation in 79th minute from the spot.
Despite losing to UAFC, HQUFC had almost maintained parity regarding the game stats. Ugyen Academy shot eight times in total whereas HQUFC fired five. HQUFC got more corner kicks (6-5).
Ugyen Academy’s head coach, Bikash Pradhan said that extreme heat had exhausted the players. “Some players told me that they had a melting sensation. My team has expected more goals being on home ground.”
UAFC has five national players. The opponents had two national players, Lhendup Dorji and Tenzin Thinley, both strikers.
HQUFC’s Manager, Dorji, said that he had expected a better game. “We couldn’t play and execute as per our tactics,” Dorji said. He blamed the ground condition was not good.
“My players were more adapted at the Changlimithang stadium. In the next match, we’ll come stronger.”
Dorji said that he was expecting a win against Paro United FC on August 11.
Paro FC, Thimphu City FC and UAFC have grabbed three points in the table so far. Paro FC will play Transport United FC at Woochu Sports Arena tomorrow.
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
About 80 acres of wetland in Petaring in Kabisa, Punakha are filled with paddy saplings this year. It wasn’t the case last year—about 10 acres of land was left barren.
According to Petaring Tshogpa Pema Tshering the chiwog has two water sources but water isn’t enough for the chiwog’s 36 households. “Both water sources depend on the rainfall. Otherwise, people are compelled to leave the lad uncultivated.”
Petaring is one of the chiwogs with severe irrigation water shortage.
The gewog expects budget through the water flagship programme to build a reservoir.
Paddy cultivation in Punakha begins from April.
Lhakha Dem, a farmer in Dochukha, said that farmers had to cultivate early because irrigation water was erratic in the village.
Because Dochukha shares water source from Nyakhulum with several other villages, the farmers of Dochukha receive irrigation water for just 24 hours once every week.
“The houses near the river pump water for paddy but the households on the upper parts cannot do that,” said Lhakha Dem.
Despite an early start, paddy cultivation would go on until late August in the villages without irrigation water.
“Lack of water affects the paddy harvest,” said another farmer, Deki.
Although paddy cultivation is complete, the saplings will require water for another month for a good harvest.
Dawa Dema from Lungteykha said that because of good rainfall vegetables could be harvested early this year. “About this time last year, we were still cultivating paddy.”
The ex-country scholarship students are excited but worried at the same time.
The question is: would they be able to go to their universities?
One of the scholarship recipients, Tshering Eden, is compiling her travel documents and waiting for her I-20 visa. Travel restrictions are yet to open. “I am supposed to join my university in the USA by August 24.”
Like Tshering Eden, there are 142 ex-country scholarship students (cohort 2020) who are waiting for situations to get better.
Raju Tamang, who is supposed to go to a university in Canada, is making the most of his time by working as a part-timer in Paro. He said that he would continue working until he is able to go to college.
An official with the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) said that admissions of new students have already been processed so that students would be able to go as soon as the situation improves.
The academic session for new students in India starts from September; for Sri Lanka it is between November and December; and in Bangladesh in January. Officials from DAHE said that admission for third countries have been processed for the fall and spring intake hoping that the situations would improve by then.
The academic session for ex-countries is yet to commence. If Covid-19 situation and travel restrictions prolong, officials from DAHE said that in the worst-case scenario the new students’ academic session could begin online.
“However, this decision will depend on how situation evolves and as per government’s directive,” a DAHE official said.
How Covid-19 is handled differs from country to country, which poses myriad challenges for Bhutanese students to be sent abroad, said a DAHE official. “Some countries have managed very well and educational institutions are beginning to open. In some countries, though, especially in India, the situation is worsening which has direct impact on students which hinders them from joining colleges on time.”
However, DAHE officials said that once selected, scholarships would remain valid but all entry requirements such as valid IELT must be met by the students to secure the admission.
The scholarship students who have returned in the country are undergoing online classes. Thirty-seven medical students from Sri Lanka have conducted exam from Bhutan.
OAG has received about 88 cases involving 133 people so far
Yangchen C Rinzin
Samtse court sentenced a 16-year-old student from Gomtu to two years in prison for breach of public order and tranquillity and for criminal nuisance last month.
The convict has been sent to Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre in Tsimasham, Chukha.
The convict was arrested after a neighbour informed police about her returning home through illegal route without informing the authority.
The convict, who is a Class IX student, had gone to visit her relatives across the border.
Before she could return home, the borders were sealed on March 23 owing to Covid-19 pandemic. She had to stay with her relatives. But after she got the news that the schools may re-open soon, she tried to return to ensure that she did not miss school.
The OAG prosecutor said that instead of returning through proper channel she had called her sister to assist her to enter Bhutan from one of the illegal routes along Gomtu. “They had managed to enter, but later, one of the tshogpas complained and they were arrested. She, along with her sister, were quarantined for 21 days and later convicted.”
Her sister was sentenced to one year in prison for aiding and abetting in criminal nuisance.
This is one of the many cases the OAG have received since the border closure, especially from Gelephu and Samtse where there is an increasing number of illegal trespassing or sneaking cases.
The OAG has received about 87 cases involving 133 people so far, and the cases have been increasing. Of the 87 cases as of last week, 51 (72 persons involved) are from Samtse, and 24 cases (32 persons involved) are from Gelephu.
A total of three cases from Chukha involving eight persons was registered; five cases involving 15 persons from Phuentsholing; another two cases involving three people from Samdrupjongkhar; and one case involving two people from Zhemgang.
With the borders sealed and the country fighting to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, the OAG charged people against with Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and 411 (b) of the Penal Code of Bhutan and Breach of Public Order and Tranquillity (Section 448 and 449) of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
According to Section 410 and 411(b), a defendant is guilty of the offence of criminal nuisance if the defendant knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition including spreading of a dangerous disease that injures or endangers the safety or health of the public. The offence is graded fourth degree, which is liable for a prison term of between three and five years.
Section 448 and 449 states that if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the orders of the government issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity, it will be graded as a petty misdemeanour liable for imprisonment of less than one year and more than three months.
In another case, a man was convicted to four years in prison for illegally sneaking out to Indian border town. The man had ordered 2kg flour from border town and went to get it the next day. “Patrolling team caught him while returning,” OAG official said.
A woman was also sentenced to four years in prison after she had called her boyfriend, who is a non-Bhutanese who came through illegal routes. “He had come in and stayed for two weeks and did not go out anywhere. But a neighbour saw the man and complained to the police.”
The man was, however, surrendered and sent back to his home. The OAG official said that if a person is a non-Bhutanese, he or she is usually surrendered.
The attorney said that although the cases might seem petty but given the risk of Covid-19 virus there was every chance of these people going to border town and bringing in the virus risking the entire population and the country.
One of the cases concerns a man in Samtse for trespassing the border to drink water. According to the OAG, the man with his five-year-old son was returning home. When a son asked for water, the man trespassed the border and asked water from a nearby Indian village. A patrolling team caught him. The man was later sentenced to four years in prison.
According to the prosecutor, if a person is caught for breaching the public order or entering Bhutan through illegal routes, the person is first surrendered to health officials and quarantined. Upon completion of 21 days quarantine period and, if the person tests negative for Covid-19, the police escort the person to the court and is convicted in a week’s time.
Another prosecutor said that given the risks involved, on one is acquitted if charged with breaching and criminal nuisance and is sentenced under non-compoundable, which means the convict cannot pay in lieu of the prison terms/sentence.
If a person is caught with the illegal possession of tobacco or trafficking of illicit drugs, the person would also be charged as per the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018, which would be a third-degree felony.
… the road is expected to be clear in a few days
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Heavy rains in July blocked the gewog centre road to Kangpara, one of the remote gewogs in Trashigang, and since then it has remained cut off.
A massive landslide blocked the road at 8km towards Kangpara gewog from Thrimshing drungkhag. Kangpara gewog administration has cleared the smaller portion of blocks.
Gewog officials said that as of now there were no reports of residents running short of essential items in the gewog.
Kangpara gup, Sangay Wangdi said a narrow path has been carved into the landslide. The path is only wide enough for people to walk.
“People are transporting food items on their backs. If anyone slips the person would either die or be severely injured.”
“If boulders fall, those walking on the path cannot escape. They would fall down into Nyera Amachhu,” he said, adding people still travel despite the risks.
Vehicles from Thrimshing drop passengers and goods until the block. From there the goods are carried along the trail to the other end and beyond.
Kangpara residents said that they did not expect to be cut off for so long.
A shopkeeper in Kangpara, Minjur Dorji, said, “I am not able to restock my shop, which is almost empty now.”
“With the number of days increasing and the road still not connected, we would face difficulties in transporting essential items, if a shortage arises.”
Most of the shops in the gewog were empty since they could not restock.
Milam Dorji, 67, from Passaphu, said the residents are using the old route to connect with other places. “It usually took an hour by car to reach Thrimshing drungkhag. But now, it takes more than three hours.”
He said they have tried to clear the road manually wherever possible. “Only the major block has remained, as it requires machines to clear. Patience is giving way to frustration among villagers,” he said.
Meanwhile, the gewog administration has deployed two excavators to clear the blocks.
Gup Sangay Wangdi said they are trying to clear the roads at the earliest. “We have placed one machine on the Thrimshing side,” he said.
He also said that continuous falling boulders and landslides delayed work progress initially. “I am not sure how long it would take to clear the road since there is lot of muck.”
Rajesh Rai | Samtse
A couple from Gomtu will never forget the day they legally tied the knot. The couple was among the five people stranded in the middle of the Khanabharti river when the Bolero pickup truck they were travelling in couldn’t cross the river.
The incident happened on Tuesday, August 4. The couple was going to the court in Samtse along with their three- month-old child.
Police, DeSuups and locals rescued the passengers without any harm. But the Bolero was taken out from the river only at around 3pm. It got stranded in the river around 10am.
With the border sealed, Gomtu is cut off from Samtse, the dzongkhag headquarter. The only internal road connecting the two towns is not complete and people resort to a 20-km dirt road, which runs through the Khanahbarti river.
Although the construction of a new internal road to connect Gomtu with Phuentsholing was initiated in May this year, monsoon has put the construction to a halt.
A Bolero driver, Nima Tamang who was present during the Tuesday incident said the road condition has been like this for the past one month.
“Without the Khanabharti route, Gomtu would be cut-off from rest of the country,” he said. Today, Gomtu shopkeepers have to either come to Samtse or Phuentsholing using Khanabharti route.
And while they bear the risk of travelling, it has also become expensive as hiring a Bolero could cost them from Nu 2,500 to Nu 4,000 for a to-and-fro journey. This, people said was because of the risk the vehicles have to bear while crossing the river.
A shopkeeper from Gomtu, Kanchi Rai, 70, said she comes to Samtse for shopping once a month. “It has become risky these days, but there is no option” she said.
Despite the risk factor, shopkeeper Shova Gurung said she had to come Samtse once a week to buy stocks for her shop.
Meanwhile, a temporary check-post has also been stalled in Samtse to monitor the vehicle movements between Gomtu and Samtse. After 5pm, vehicles are not allowed to leave for Gomtu.
Drivers also expressed the timing of closing the current check post at 5pm was too early. One Bolero driver said that many people who go to Phuentsholing for shopping had to rush before 5pm.
“Drivers have to rush and reach at the gate before 5pm,” he said. “There are high chances that vehicles will speed up on the Phuentsholing-Samtse highway, which increases the risk of accidents.”
The driver said that the exit timing should at least be changed to 6:30pm.
Due to the incident on August 4, about 14 Boleros, with more than 50 Gomtu-bound residents were also not allowed to go to Gomtu despite reaching the checkpoint on time. Many spent the night in hotels.
This, people said were extra expenditure, as not everyone would have friends or relatives to put up in Samtse.
Gomtu residents usually shop in Birpara and Makrapara, two border towns in India.
With the government allowing controlled sale of tobacco, a hugely contested and debated issue in the past is being talked about again.
The government’s decision is appreciated not for making tobacco available from the duty free outlets, but because it is seen as a rational decision in the wake of Covid-19 and increasing breach of border protocols.
There is a discourse on the decision and the whole issue of tobacco. This time, it is a healthy discourse. This is what we need as the government’s decision has provided a window of opportunity to table the Tobacco Control Act for amendment.
The Act was dubbed as the most draconian legislation when punishment meted out for bringing in a few grammes of tobacco without paying tax was imprisonment for three years. Since then, it has been amended twice. Yet there are issues. The Act has not served its purpose. It has, rather, created several illegal activities like smuggling.
Tobacco, in any form, is bad for health. When we banned the sale of tobacco, we made international headlines. Countries around the world, both developed and least developed, have been fighting the tobacco ill. Not many managed to do it. Our decision was seen as an example and we were lauded in the international arena. However, the purpose of the tobacco legislation is not to impress others, an inherent Bhutanese quality.
Anti-smoking sentiments in Bhutan from which the lobby stems is, of course, very strong, and is based on fairly sound foundations. It is health on one side and religion on the other. If tobacco was the main cause of tuberculosis, a poor man’s disease, Buddhism was against tobacco. It is said that tobacco grew from the waste of menstruation to intoxicate and disturb Guru Rinpoche while in meditation.
The tobacco law is clear. The government has opened itself to criticism for allowing its sale. But lets not pretend to not understand the motive. Bhutanese could import a certain quantity before borders were closed and foreign travel restricted. Without an avenue to buy from, the outlets became the foreign agency or in our case border town or duty-free shops for the privileged.
This is an arrangement to let tobacco users enjoy their right and a solution to the increasing problem of breaching border protocols. Recognising that increased incidents of border crossing and getting in touch with people across the border could undermine our preventive measures, the controlled sale was allowed.
It is a temporary measure in a state of emergency. The Covid-19 is a global emergency and laws have to be tweaked to fight a pandemic.
We have done this during the pandemic. Businesses were closed, timing was changed and gatherings were disallowed. Some would say that the health ministry forcing people to wear masks is against their fundamental rights. But everybody agrees or cooperates because they understand the priority. The priority today is to prevent a community outbreak. Depriving people access to tobacco will not prevent a transmission. In fact, it is seen as a potential risk.
There are suggestions to make the tobacco legislation strict. We did that, but governments were taken to courts. Lobby groups won the sentiments of the masses. When it comes to the tobacco legislation, it is like the Aesop fable of the man taking his family and donkey to the market.
For the first time, ordinary Bhutanese have access to tobacco legally and without having to pay through their nose. The decision didn’t allow Bhutanese to grow or import and sell tobacco. Bhutan Duty Free is made the “foreign agent” or simply put, a duty free shop at an airport in Kolkata or Bangkok.
What we should be concerned about is if the few outlets would curb illegal border crossing. If the outlets are concentrated in Thimphu and Phuentsholing, it will not serve the purpose. In fact, the decision will create another kind of black market where people will buy from the outlets and sell it to dzongkhags.
Chimi Dema | Semjong
Even if the country locks down for a year, Nar Bahadur Barailey and his family need not worry about running out of liquified petroleum gas (LPG).
The farmer from Dzomling chiwog in Semjong, Tsirang used to consume at least six LPG cylinders a year for cooking in the past. But since last year, the family hasn’t consumed even a single refilled cylinder.
The family has found a reliable and cheap substitute in the small biogas plant using cattle dung he constructed last year.
Nar Bahadur Barailey could save about Nu 6,000 in a year on refilling the LPG cylinders.
“The biogas plant is a one-time investment and reliable energy,” said the 71-year-old farmer.
Apart from saving fuel expenses, he said that the construction of a biogas plant has helped bypass their struggles to get LPG refilled.
Earlier Nar Bahadur Barailey had to travel to Damphu town, obtain a token and wait in the queue for hours to get the cylinder refilled or sometimes go back home empty-handed when the depot ran out of stock.
He uses about 25kg of cattle dung to produce enough gas to sustain his family for a day.
“Besides, the organic manure helps in growing vegetables and cardamom,” he said. “So far, my plant has been serving the purpose well.”
The gewog has 67 biogas plants today and Dzomling chiwog with 25 plants has the highest among the five chiwogs.
Many biogas plants in the gewog had cost between Nu 30,000 to Nu 45,000 to construct. Farmers received a subsidy of 50 percent from the government and they invested the remaining half.
Another farmer from the same chiwog, Devi Charan Gajmer said that using biogas fuel has helped ease pressure on the community forest by reducing firewood consumption.
“Rearing cattle for energy production and I can also sell the surplus dairy products,” he said. “So far, I have no complaints with my biogas plant.”
A farmer in Tashiling Toed, Mon Bahadur Saru said that the firewood is consumed only to cook for his livestock now.
Although the project began in 2013, only 33 households constructed the biogas plant over the past six years.
Gewog livestock health supervisor, Bishal Rai said that it was only from last year that more residents began to take interest in biogas plants.
“With the increasing subsidy support from the government and given the shortage of LPG cylinders in the market last year, people’s interest in biogas grew,” he said.
“We have installed 34 plants in the last fiscal year alone.”
In addition, understanding the efficiency of the energy and the use of its output, organic manure has also motivated farmers, said Bishal Rai.
In an effort to promote more biogas plants, the gewog administration has also allocated budget to support two plants in this fiscal year.
Bishal Rai said that should more interested individuals come forward, the gewog livestock extension would propose for the budget.
“There were a few villagers who showed interest last year however, we couldn’t support them because the programme ended,” he said.
The construction of the plants for this fiscal year is expected to begin in December.
Today, the dzongkhag has about 400 biogas plants. Of the 12 gewogs in the dzongkhag, Semjong has the most number of plants.
The focal person for biogas with the Livestock Sector in Tsirang, Yam Bahadur Monger said that constructing a biogas plant is one of major activities of the sector in the current plan.
“The livestock sector has a target to install 30 plants every year in the 12th plan,” he said.
He said that given the subsidies on electricity and LPG, not many people take the opportunity to construct biogas plants.
Skilled labour shortage is another challenge, he said.
Hydropower activities, road construction, and housing developments threaten the endangered primate, Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), a research study has found.
The impact of these activities on the species’ habitat was high based on the scope, severity, and irreversibility of impacts.
Wildlife biologist, Phuntsho Thinley (PhD) and his team of foresters published the findings in Springer last year. The rankings were based on Miradi threat ranking analysis which was used to analyse the threats posed by developmental activities like hydropower activities and population threats such as electrocution, roadkill, and retaliatory killing, among others.
Agricultural expansion, resource extraction, electrocution, and roadkill had a medium impact on the habitat of the species.
From June 2012 until June last year, a total of 107 incidents of population threats to golden langurs were recorded from which mortality or injury was 50, 30 electrocuted, 15 were killed on roads, 15 dog kills, six retaliatory killings, four road injuries, and two cases of pet keeping.
More than 1,000 households within 34 gewogs in six dzongkhags— Dagana, Sarpang, Trongsa, Tsirang, Wangdue, and Zhemgang, located inside the three protected areas of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Royal Manas National Park, and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary were interviewed for the study.
Forestry staff trained for golden langur surveys listed 15 incidents of population threats. They listed habitat threats from resource extraction (collection of firewood, timber, non-timber forest products, stones, boulders, and sand), agricultural expansion (development of agricultural fields and irrigation canals), and illegal plantation of cash crops such as cardamom in forests, among others.
The study found that the threats from roadkills and electrocution required immediate intervention. Most roadkills occurred in Sarpang along the Gelephu-Sarpang road and in Zhemgang along the Dakphel-Zhemgang road and Dakphel-Tingtibi road. “The Gelephu-Sarpang road is particularly dangerous because of its flat terrain which encourages vehicles to speed faster than 100 km/h.”
Electrocutions of the species occurred around 440kV (kilovolt) of uninsulated exposed electric cables.
To immediately mitigate these threats, the study recommended installing speed limit signage and speed breakers with strict enforcement of speed limits, installing insulated electric cables and fencing around power transformers, and reducing and restraining dog population in the core habitat areas.
Golden langur is listed as endangered species in the IUCN Redlist of threatened species and listed in Appendix-I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora It has been recognised as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.
In Bhutan, it is fully protected in Schedule I of both the Forest and Nature Conservation Act and Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations of Bhutan.
He is expected to leave office by August 17
The resignation of Opposition Leader (OL) Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) has been formally accepted.
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel told Kuensel that the OL would leave office by mid-August. To be specific, sources said that he would vacate the post by August 17.
OL had officially submitted his resignation to the Speaker on July 22.
He is the third elected Member of Parliament to resign prematurely.
Although the OL said that he would issue a statement after the official acceptance of his resignation, he was not available for comment.
Opposition members, including MP Dorji Wangdi and MP Passang Dorji (PhD) refused to comment.
Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji said the OL had taken over the leadership reign of the party at a very critical juncture.
“His astuteness and dynamism as a leader was proven in the 2018 election when the party increased its seat in the NA from 14 to 17-member strong,” he said
The OL’s resignation has paved way for a bye-election in the Chhoekhor Tang constituency of Bumthang.
According to the Election Act of Kingdom of Bhutan 2008, a bye-election for filling any vacancy to Parliament shall be held within a period of ninety days from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy. This means that the by-election should be held within November.
The Act also mandates the election commission to revise the electoral roll of the constituency before bye-election to fill “casual” vacancy.
The acceptance of the resignation has also opened race for a new OL and the party president.
The party will choose the new OL. Party president shall be elected through a general convention.
Opposition members said that they were yet to identify the new OL candidates. Among the aspirants are two vice presidents—MP Dorji Wangdi and MP Ugyen Wangdi.
Some opposition members say that the new OL will be the de facto president of the party. It was “practically” difficult to have a non-MP party president, the opposition members said.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on July 16 announced that the OL was selected as its new director-general from mid-October this year.
The Kathmandu-based regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge-sharing centre serves eight countries-Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
This will be Pema Gyamtsho’s second stint with the ICIMOD. He had previously worked with ICIMOD as a watershed specialist.
Looking to register to volunteer for border patrolling soon
Yangchen C Rinzin
Former Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay is among 350 DeSuups who completed the 41st accelerated De-Suung training programme on August 1 from Jigmeling, Sarpang.
Dasho Tshering Tobgay said that having attended as a chief guest during the opening and closure of De-Suung programmes and having attended as a speaker earlier, he always wanted to be part of De-Suung.
“Every time I attended the programme, I felt the need to do this course,” Dasho said. “Given that I was in service, somehow I felt it was inappropriate, as it would divert my attention from the immediate tasks in my hand. I could never join.”
Dasho Tshering Tobgay decided to join De-Suung to render service as a DeSuup during disaster and to manage the crowd during public events.
“It’s humbling to see how a DeSuup in uniform is serving people and representing His Majesty individually at the frontline,” Dasho said. “This has motivated me to join De-Suung.”
With Covid-19 and the risks involved, and concerted action led by His Majesty for single-handedly handling the pandemic situation, Dasho Tshering Tobgay said he decided and applied for 38th batch.
“My application was accepted. I wanted to serve in any possible or small ways I can, and De-Suung was the best channel, and during the training, almost everybody shared it was His Majesty who motivated them to join.”
However, Dasho was home quarantined after returning from abroad. Before he could leave for the training, the government had increased the quarantine period to 21 days.
“So, I had to withdraw and apply for 39th batch. But with a rush to attend 39th course and many misgivings on selection process criteria, I withdrew my application.”
Dasho then applied for the 40th batch, but just five days before leaving for the training, he suffered from gout and had to withdraw once again.
Finally, Dasho applied for the 41st batch. He had no high hopes but could attend the programme. “As I had gone through a spell of bad luck for not being able to join, I was lucky this time. I completed the course, and I am delighted.”
During the course, Dasho who was in the Tag company and Platoon 1, said that he had the most memorable time and learnt so much about time management, discipline, food, being physically, and the need to be mentally fit.
“I learnt so much from the different classes during the course,” Dasho said. “I did question about the issue of being punished every time for something that you didn’t do. I realised this was to learn about command and control in terms of disaster. You cannot question, it’s training.”
Dasho said he would carry his De-Suung uniform in the car wherever he goes so that he could serve whenever required.
Dasho has plans to volunteer and register for patrolling along the border, which is critical and essential. ‘I will serve in any capacity as a DeSuup guided by the De-Suung office.”
With many positive and heartfelt messages on social media platforms, Dasho said he was receiving undue attention from fellow citizens.
“I don’t deserve this honour and I don’t need to be singled out. My chapter as a prime minister is old and I am a private citizen now,” Dasho said, adding there are many who have completed De-Suung programme.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering congratulated Dasho on the successful completion.
“Together, we will serve His Majesty The King in this fight against the pandemic,” said Lyonchhen.
The government has not breached the Tobacco Control Act or any provisions of the Constitution given the current situation, according to the Attorney General (AG).
The decision to allow the opening of tobacco sale outlets in the country was made in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the legal arm of the government.
Kuensel learnt that the government on July 8 had sought legal opinion of the OAG on the proposal to identify Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) as the sole importer and facilitator in distributing tobacco products in the country.
The rationale of the proposal was to curb the illegal import and smuggling of tobacco products in the wake of the pandemic.
On July 14, OAG submitted the legal opinion to the Cabinet Secretary citing various provisions of the laws concerning the opening of tobacco outlets.
Following the submission, the government, as an interim measure and in response to the pandemic, began facilitating the safe import of tobacco products through BDFL and making them available to the public through their outlets since August 1.
Reaffirming the decision, newly appointed Attorney General, Lungten Dubgyur said that with the closure of all entry points (land and air) into the country in the wake of the pandemic, it deprived some individuals (users) to import tobacco products.
He said that although section 11 (b) and (c) and section 34 of the Tobacco Control Act 2010, restricted the sale and buy of tobacco products, section 12 of the Act permitted an individual to import tobacco for personal consumption as per the legally determined quantities and upon paying duties and taxes.
However, the provision of the Act became nonoperational given the lockdown and closure of entry points – which were the initial outlets (port of entry and embarkation) for declaring tobacco products bought for personal consumption.
The Attorney General said that unlike during the normal times, the right to import tobacco products as per the provision of the Act invariably became defunct during the exigency of the situation of Covid-19.
Therefore, he said that any executive order or action or circular issued by the government to address Covid-19 and efforts to prevent the entry of the virus in the country surmounts and doesn’t tantamount to issuing circular and should not be argued that it contravenes Article 20, section 8 of the Constitution.
Lungten Dubgyur said that Article 20 (8) of the Constitution shall apply enforced only in the normal circumstances where any executive order or circular contravening or overriding the law or Constitution can not be issued. “However, Covid-19 is already declared pandemic, and hence executive order to address exigencies situation cannot be construed as violation of law or the Constitution of which the actions of executive is justified per interim.”
He added that the recent prosecutions and convictions against several tobacco smugglers along the borders stands as a testimony of the risk and vulnerability of local transmission the country could face with the increasing smuggling activities.
This is why, he said, in order to facilitate and address the emergent circumstances and remain within the purview of the law, the government was advised to facilitate such measures that allowed the import and distribution of tobacco products, without deriving any commercial gain and profit as per section 60 (M) of the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010.
The Attorney General said that had the government during a normal situation made a similar decision, it would have violated the Constitution and the Act. However, given the current exigent situation due to the pandemic, he said that interim decision was justifiable to uphold the rights of the individuals (personal consumption).
The government received several criticisms following the opening of tobacco sale outlets in the country. One major criticism was for not following the due process of law.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in a press release accused the government of giving into the popular demand and not for convening an emergency setting of the Parliament to amend the Act.
Lungten Dubgyur said that during a pandemic, several rules such as closure of businesses by 9pm (7pm initially) and restricting the movement of people after certain hours were enforced.
All of these enforcements that impact the fundamental rights and lawful practice of trade and business came through government executive orders, he said. “There were no emergency sessions called to decide this. But as an exigent situation in response to the pandemic, it has to be followed by executive order.”
He added that in any sound democracy, countries across the world have imposed several lockdowns through similar executive orders undermining the fundamental rights of citizens all in an effort to curtail the spread of the disease.
“So laws are, in a way, engulfed by executive orders in some way in the current situation as immediate responses become the need of the hour,” he said. “When it’s a public exigent situation, then the law becomes secondary and the government has to respond. We have to look for what is the best interest of the country and public but at the same time not undermine the law.”
Meanwhile, OAG has also asked the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority as the sole regulating authority to continue exercising the restrictions including monitoring aspects as applicable in normal circumstances.
The OAG also mentioned in its submission to the Cabinet Secretary that the executive action and the facilitation of import of tobacco should be completely an interim measure and once this pandemic is passed, the earlier status quo of the Act must be maintained, which is after the country resumes its normal trade and commerce with the outside world.
Says should not use Covid-19 as an excuse
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has challenged the government’s decision to open tobacco outlets in the country managed by the Bhutan Duty Free Limited.
Accusing the government of transgressing clauses of the Tobacco Control Act 2010, the party has questioned the legality of the recent decision that allows the sale of tobacco through tobacco outlets in the country.
In a press release issued by PDP, the party states that trampling over the Tobacco Control Act, the DNT government has violated Article 20, section 8 of the Constitution that prohibits the executive from modifying, varying and superseding any provisions of the law made by Parliament or a law in force.
“The rule of law, which forms the heart of democracy should not be allowed to be transgressed easily by elected governments,” states the press release.
PDP has called on the government to explain to the country why the act of selling tobacco products by the government’s sales outlet is not a violation of the Tobacco Act.
The government recently allowed Bhutan Duty Free Limited to be the main vendors of tobacco products in the country. The first tobacco outlet was opened in Phuentsholing on August 1. There is a similar outlet in Thimphu.
The decision was in response to the increasing cases of illegal trade of tobacco products along the border and to curb the illegal movement of people (smuggling) across borders in light of the pandemic.
Earlier, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had said that the temporary decision made to address the need of the hour was socially and Covid-19-point-of-view correct. “We are not trying to be legally correct here.”
Lyonchhen had also explained that Bhutan had not banned the import of tobacco products in the country. Only the sale of tobacco products is banned, he added.
Under the current situation, Lyonchhen said that with people restricted from going out of the country, theoretically, a smoker couldn’t get a packet of cigarettes in the country. Therefore, to address the issue, he said that the tobacco outlets should be assumed as a foreign source from where individuals are allowed to buy tobacco products of specified quantity by law.
However, PDP holds that the government cannot be allowed to hide under the guise of the need of certain sections of the society and violate an existing law. “Such precedence will pave way for despotic governments in the future that would transgress legislation simply riding over the ‘popular demands’ of a section of the population.”
While the party recognises the unprecedented challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, PDP stated that it should not allow an easy excuse for the government to violate laws and regulations in place in the shadow of Covid-19.
PDP stated that more than anybody else, it was necessary for the government to explore every other means before ‘launching an assault on the law’. “The government must not only uphold rule of law but must be seen to be an ardent upholder of the laws.”
The party said that instead of giving into popular demands, the government should have called for a special session of the Parliament to amend the Act if the government felt the urgency.
Article 10, section 12 of the Constitution states that the speaker and the chairperson shall convene an extraordinary sitting of Parliament on the command of the Druk Gyalpo if the exigencies of the situation so demand.
“In transgressing the law, the government loses its moral authority to hold individual citizens and organisations to be law abiding which is at the heart of democracy,” states the press release. “We are deeply concerned that this action of the government will establish a precedent with serious ramification on how legislations are looked upon by future governments and impair the credibility of the elected governments.”
As of yesterday, there was no response from the government. However, during a recent meeting with the parliamentarians, Lyonchhen said that convening an emergency Parliament session did not guarantee amendment of the Tobacco Act.
On the other hand, the risk of importation of infection (Covid-19) through illegal border crossing (smuggling of tobacco products) was imminent. The Prime Minister said that tobacco smuggling was one of the major illegal activities along the border with more than 30 individuals apprehended daily.
PDP also called upon the Opposition party to discharge its constitutional duties and to hold the government accountable and prevent it from transgressing the law.
It stated that the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority as the custodian of the Tobacco Act to invoke its mandated duties to enforce the provisions of the Act and engage with the government to revert or rectify any misdoing of the government immediately.
The party also called upon the media houses as the society’s ‘watch dog’ to continue questioning the government on the legality of its recent actions.
“We call upon the National Council as the house of review to hold the government accountable for its illegal act of selling tobacco.”
Meanwhile, the ‘tobacco quota outlet’ in Thimphu sold products worth Nu 589,420 on the opening day on August 3. More than 290 consumers visited the lone outlet.
The outlet ran out of chewing tobacco by noon yesterday.
The Sarpang police apprehended a 25-year-old man from Dekiling, Sarpang for using illegal routes to cross the border.
Early yesterday, the gewog administration officials filed a complaint to the police about the suspect having illegally crossed the border.
The man confessed to the crime. The man had crossed the border to sell off five cattle belonging to his family for Nu 60,000, six boxes of Spasmo Proxyvon Plus capsules, and some tobacco products.
According to police, the man had crossed the border in broad daylight through the dense forest of Dekiling that shares porous border with India.
The police also apprehended the man’s two friends. The police recovered drugs from them. All three are in quarantine centres in Gelephu.
According to Sarpang medical official, 13 secondary contacts have been traced and are home quarantined. Test for the three primary contacts would be conducted today, the medical official said.
After completion of 21 days mandatory quarantine period, the men will be escorted by the police and taken to court.
According to health ministry, whoever enters back to Bhutan without following quarantine protocols have to bear their own quarantine and Covid-19 tests expenses with a 10-day community service. The people who illegally cross the border will have to bear their own quarantine and Covid-19 test expenses and would be dealt with strictly as per the law of land.
According to the police, the suspects would be charged with additional penalties for Criminal Nuisance, Section 410 and 411 (b) and for the Breach of Public Order and Tranquility (Section 448 and 449) of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
There are 34 points of entry identified in Sarpang that are being guarded around the clock by police, army, DeSuups, and foresters.
Mobile cellular subscriptions jumped by 24,558 in the second quarter of 2020, according to statistics published this week by the Ministry of Information and Communications.
The first quarter had marked an increase of 6,763 mobile cellular subscriptions.
The country detected its first Covid-19 case towards the end of the first quarter on March 6. Schools resorted to online classes after the government closed all schools across the country on March 18.
The number of 4G internet users also increased significantly by 73,501, from 368,541 in March to 442,042 in June.
In contrast, the number of 3G subscribers decreased from 288,381 in March to 235,440 in June.
The total number of mobile cellular subscribers reached 760,560 in June from 736,002 in March, which is an increase of more than 3.3 percent.
The figures, however, include 49,525 and 53,925 passive subscribers for Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell respectively. Passive users are those that are still registered with the operators but not in use for three months.
Total numbers of mobile subscriptions were 465,085 for Bhutan Telecom and 295,475 for TashiCell.
The statistics also reveal that the total number of international air passengers arriving at Paro International airport decreased from 46,989 in the first quarter to 183 in the first two months of the second quarter, which means that figures for the second quarter do not include that of June.
The two airlines operated only 32 international flights in April and May. A total of 1,277 international flights were operated from January to March.
Regular international flights and tourism were banned beginning from March 6.
The Covid-19 also affected domestic flights. The number of domestic air passengers decreased from 3,532 in the first quarter to a mere 426 in the first two months of the second quarter.
OAG waits for HC’s summon in the home minister’s case
Yangchen C Rinzin
The Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) trial at the Thimphu dzongkhag court, which was deferred because of the Covid-19 pandemic has resumed from June and is at the hearing evidence stage right now.
Prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) are preparing evidence to submit to the court in a week when it is their turn to rebut.
After the two proprietors of BEO were charged for 2,887 counts of forgery in connection to the learn and earn programme in Japan on December 13 last year, the defendants were supposed to rebut in March this year.
However, the first Covid-19 case was detected on March 6, and the rebuttal was deferred. The OAG said that before it could resume, Covid-19 cases increased and then all the court proceedings were deferred almost till June.
This was mainly to ensure the health’s protocol of maintaining physical distance since a total of 11 defendants (two proprietors and nine employees) and court officials had to be present in the court, according to the OAG.
However, court proceedings resumed in June and the defendants submitted their rebuttal.
OAG charged the two proprietors for 730 counts of forgery for forging bank balance statement of the youth who applied to go to Japan through the BEO using Bank of Bhutan’s seal. The BEO used the bank balance as evidence to help the youth get Japanese visa.
They are also charged 2,190 counts of forgery for forging payslips of the youth’s guardians and another 730 counts of larceny by deception for illegally charging each youth a translation fee of Nu 7,500.
The OAG charged nine other employees of the BEO where one is charged for forgery while other eight staff were charged for aiding and abetting forgery.
MoLHR director general case
The pandemic also deferred the case of the department of employment director general, Sherab Tenzin. OAG charged the DG on four counts of offences related to two different overseas employments in Japan and India at the Thimphu dzongkhag.
The case was charged to court on August 23 last year.
Although hearings took place before Covid-19, the OAG is now waiting for the court to summon and resume the evidence hearing. The defendant is supposed to submit the evidence in the next hearing.
The Royal Civil Service Commission had decided to wait for the court judgment to take action against the DG.
Home minister’s case
Thimphhu dzongkhag court convicted Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen along with five other people on August 27 last year for claiming false vehicle insurance worth Nu 226,546 from Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL).
However, home minister, four convicts and the OAG had appealed to High Court in September last year. Following which, a preliminary hearing was conducted on October 15, 2019.
The next rebuttal was scheduled for October 30 2019, however, owing to some personal reasons submitted by one of the defendants, the hearing was cancelled.
Then the last hearing was conducted on December 13 last year.
The OAG is still waiting for the High Court’s summon order since it was decided that High Court would summon OAG officials. The High Court was to summon if any further clarification was needed or if an additional hearing was to conduct before the judgment.
The minister, according to the Thimphu dzongkhag court judgment was also charged with fraud.
The court also convicted former executive director, Sonam Dorji with two offences of misusing his position and helping the minister.
Another general manager of RICBL, Sangay Wangdi was also sentenced to six months in prison for solicitation and asking inspection officer, Ugyen Namdrol to get blank cash receipts from automobile workshop to adjust the claims.
Another RICBL official, Sangay Dorji was sentenced for one month for aiding and abetting.
The proprietor of Dagap workshop, Yonten Phuntsho who did not appeal to High Court was charged for aiding and abetting. He was sentenced to six months.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Twelve individuals who received land substitute in Langlugang in Gasetshogom, Wangdue for their land lost to Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric project (PI) will soon receive basic amenities from the project and the dzongkhag.
The land development for terracing and houses construction would begin this month.
According to dzongkhag focal person for PHPA affairs, Jigme Dorji, after a consultation meeting, the PHPA and dzongkhag decided last year to provide the recipients of the land substitute also with basic facilities.
There are 118 households (includes two institutional land and structure) affected by the project.
Of that, 23 are adversely affected families (AAF)—whose land and houses were affected by the project. Unlike these households, the other affected landowners would not receive basic amenities.
Today, the project management and the dzongkhag provide facilities such as road accessibility, water supply, electricity and also help develop the land.
Work to construct water supply to Langlugang would also be tendered this month.
Jigme Dorji said that for land and road development, machinery would be provided by the dzongkhag while fueling and other charges would be borne by the PI management.
The 12 individuals in Langlugang are also to receive electricity soon. An estimate of Nu 2.3 million (M) has also been drawn by the dzongkhag. Electricity supply work will be executed by the Bhutan Power Corporation while payments will be made by PI.
Similarly, drinking water supply to relocated households in Jatshokha and Rinchengang have also reached the site. “The water needs to be distributed to individual households now,” Jigme Dorji said.
The 11 households in Jatshokha will receive water from Nahi with a budget of Nu 1.9M within few weeks.
PI Managing Director (MD) NC Bansal said that in accordance with the Development Policy 2008, one member each of the 23 AAF was also provided employment till completion of the project.
Another provision of the policy also promises free electricity of 10,000 units per acre/annum or pro-rated once the project is commissioned until the life of the project to worst-affected households and others affected by the project.
Irrigation facilities for those who only lost land were also promised.
Today, the project-affected individuals have either received land substitute or have received monetary compensation.
Of 118 affected individuals, eight had less than 10 decimal. They received monetary compensation.
According to MD NC Bansal powerhouse construction, switchyard or central workshop construction, operational and maintenance (O&M) residential and office complex construction, dam submergence, and realignment of the national highway affected the land and homes of these individuals.
Of 118 cases, four are based in Punakha. There are two pending cases.
“Their desired land area and the one provided by the dzongkhag and the project management didn’t match,” Jigme Dorji said.
The government’s decision to let the Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) sell tobacco products in order to curb the smuggling of tobacco during the Covid-19 pandemic has drawn some criticism, as expected.
The People’s Democratic Party yesterday through a press release accused the government of transgressing provisions of the Tobacco Control Act. The party has also questioned the moral authority and called on the government to follow due procedures to legitimise their action. How the government will respond or ever if they would, is yet to be seen.
Everybody, including the PDP is aware of why the decision was taken and never questioned the decision. The issue is on the procedure, which many are not aware of.
The PDP’s challenge on the government’s decision, however, should not be seen as a political move, as many are already surmising. In fact, the question provides an opportunity for our policymakers and legislators to relook into the many laws that are becoming a problem outside the august Parliament hall.
Letting the BDFL sell tobacco is a desperate move. We have a law that banned the sale of tobacco. It has not worked. It is a smart move as it could stop people breaching border protocols and risking a community transmission. The price of tobacco in the black market is too good to resist.
To repeat a cliché, we are wiser after the event. The problem is with our legislation or rules. We pass laws and make rules, when they are not implemented it puts us into the situation we are in today. Banning is the easiest part. The problem starts when it is not working. It is not working because we are not serious in implementing it.
In the recent past, apart from the sale of tobacco, plastic bags, billboards, sale of alcohol on Tuesdays and to minors, imported chillies and beans and many more were banned. All of these are only on papers. If we had been sincere with our bans, a lot of people, including those involved in making them, would have been behind bars or paid hefty penalties.
While most Bhutanese people will agree that our policies and legislation will have some impact, the question is whether it can be done better. This is another case of Covid-19 teaching us lessons. Considering that banning tobacco and the repercussions have made a major issue, alcohol, another problem, does seem a little neglected.
Long recognised as the cause of health as well as social problems we have not done enough to reduce sale or consumption of alcohol although we are reminded, with statistics, that a majority of the serious patients in our hospitals suffer from alcohol related illnesses.
Laws should be progressive. They should change with time and the Covid-19 time has taught us lessons. If ever there is a special or extraordinary session, our legislators should look into the practicality of legislation that they pass, especially if some of them are among those flaunting it.
We have learnt enough lessons. It is not time for blame games. Parliament decisions have to be credible and credibility will come if they make sense on the ground or are implemented well.