This week, despite an alarming rate of community cases in the capital, the National Covid-19 Task Force permitted a day trip from Thimphu to nearby Dzongkhags without any test or quarantine. But if residents from Paro or Wangdue must travel, they require a test mandatorily.  This is not the first time that the Thimphu residents were treated differently from the residents of other districts. First, the current permission is not only unscientific (No scientific evidence that showed a day’s trip has no risk or does not transmit the virus) but also discriminatory and unequal treatment compared to nearby districts.  Second, if there is a community outbreak due to this so-called trip traveller in green districts considering omicron variant is highly transmissible, who should be accountable? Will it not undo what nearby districts have sacrificed thus far? If such special privileges continue to provide to the capital residents, does it not indicate the residents of other districts as second-class residents. Further, Dzongkhag Task Force like Paro or Haa which are not under any regional task force, must seek approval from National Taskforce even to conduct mass testing or relaxations.

Article 7 (15) of our Constitution guarantees that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or another status.” Equality or non-discrimination in the current context means, no one is denied their rights because of their place of residence within the country or because they are stuck in that district, or they are under a different task force, or they belong to a different profession or social status. While it is not wrong to put in additional reasonable restrictions such as Southern Districts with little more restrictions considering the porous border and vulnerabilities, it does not give National Taskforce to take their decision at their whims and fancies without scientific evidence or legal basis.   

In the last two and half years, there were numerous examples of unequal treatments only because they reside in different districts or other statuses. For example, Zhemgang Dzongkhag imposed fines on people for not following Covid-19 protocols. Punakha Dzongkhag police forced people to give statements for not wearing masks by taking them to police stations possibly constituting arbitrary detention. Administrative actions were taken against two senior medical staff for evading quarantine in Phuentsholing. Around the same time, a woman in Gelephu was imprisoned for a similar breach. In Thimphu, the booster doses were taken to door to door and in other districts which are under lockdown like Paro, no such facilities were provided. Similarly, out of hundreds of Covid-19 protocol breaches, Southern Covid-19 Task Force only on one occasion named and shamed two men for the breach in the public forum with their photos. There are many other allegations of discrimination or application of rules inconsistently across the country.

When such decisions are taken, people residing in other districts not only feel discriminated against and their rights undermined but also lose confidence in the system. As we fight this pandemic together- a shared Gengkhu as a nation, the decision-makers particularly the National Covid-19 Task Force and Technical Advisory Committee must ensure that every decision they take is non-discriminatory and consistent. Uniformity and non-discrimination play a pivotal role in retaining public confidence in the system. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.