“I’ll make you bask in the sun for days.”

This is not a well-intended line.  Villagers often say this when they quarrel or have disputes.  It is rather a threat, as litigants have to report to court and wait, and wait in the sun more oft than not.

This could be a reality if the Trongsa dzongkhag tshogdu’s proposed change in local government rules on mediation and conciliation of civil cases is picked by others, reaches the Parliament and is amended.  It is a long way away and a lot of discussions will ensue, if it ever reaches the legislature, where the elected representatives of the people sit.

Trongsa’s tshogdu has passed a resolution.  Local leaders will not resolve disputes related to civil cases.  The alternative dispute resolution body is dissolved with the resolution.

Is the decision wise?

It appears that the decision was rushed and sparked by a clash of egos between the judiciary and the local leaders, as the issue was promoted by the Langthel gup’s detention.  Whatever the reason, the people of Trongsa will pay the price.

We may boast of a professional judicial system.  But informal dispute settlement is as old as Bhutan’s history and as popular as cows in the village.  The next time a villager’s bull rampages a neighbour’s crop, both farmers will have to “bask in the sun” outside the district court.  Usually, it gets settled within hours or a day when village elders or local leaders are involved.

Known as goshep nyenshep (wise), village elders or locally elected leaders are respected figures in the villages.  They are often relied upon to settle disputes, ranging from monetary cases to extra marital affairs.  Their role is appreciated, as they play an important role in providing legal services, informal though it may be, for the general population.

The beauty is that the unhappy party can also appeal to formal courts.

Going by records, such cases are huge.  If each gewog settles about 10 cases a month, we can imagine the courts being overwhelmed in the absence of the body.  Judges ‘doing the job at its pace’ will not help litigants.  Settling cases is not easy, we know.  There are a lot of formalities.  But an extra day spent at court is a day lost in the farm and farmers will start feeling justice denied, if it is delayed.

The issue is isolated only to a dzongkhag, and there is no reason to panic.  But it would be wiser not to let our reasoning be overshadowed by emotions.