Law: The recent incident in Lhuentse, in which Khoma Gup Sither Tshering used explosives to clear a farm road is an eye-opener for many local leaders.

The explosion resulted in two people sustaining injuries.

With most local leaders newly elected to the position last September, many claim that they were not aware of existing rules on handling of explosives.

Gup Sither Tshering, who was re-elected as Khoma gup for the second term last September, said he followed due procedure to procure explosives during the construction of the farm road to Khoma Dung and stored the leftover explosives in the gewog.

The gup, in an earlier interview with Kuensel, claimed that he was not aware that there was a rule in place that gewogs cannot use the leftover explosives even for the community’s benefit.

He said that in his tenure as gup, no one created awareness at the local level that they are not allowed to used leftover explosives.

Other gups also agreed that there was no advocacy on the use of explosives.

Drakteng Gup Kunzang Dorji in Trongsa said his gewog was in need of explosives for farm road construction and only when he discussed the matter with a machine operator, he was told that he has to follow some formalities before procuring explosives. “I decided to approach the dzongkhag.”

He said that the Lhuentse case is a lesson for him.

Another gup, Sangay Khandu, said he was also not aware of the rule on explosives. “Gewogs use explosives for construction purposes and it is a must that some advocacy is given to the gups,” he said.

Officials, however, maintain that rules regarding explosives have been in place since 1989 and local leaders should be aware of such rules and regulations.

Lhuentse Dzongdag Jambay Wangchuk said that local leaders are expected to know the law since the rules on explosives is in print. “Everyone has to know about it.”

He said that relevant agencies must raise awareness on the issue.

The home and cultural affairs ministry framed the rules on explosives in 1989.

The rules clearly specify that while the home ministry should provide overall guidance, the police should enforce the rules on explosives. Police are also mandated to inspect  premises and conduct surprise checks.

Police media focal person, Colonel Dorji Wangchuk, said that ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse and the gup, as a local leader, is supposed to know the rules.

He also said that this is the first case registered with the police where a local leader is involved in an explosives mishap.

The Department of Law and Order’s director, Tashi Penjor, said the department has already drafted the Explosives Act and submitted it to the Cabinet for deliberation. “Cabinet has forwarded it to the Office of the Attorney General for review.”

He also said that the department is trying to create awareness on use of explosives whenever they get an opportunity. “We are going to have a session in the on-going gups’ conference in Phuentsholing,” he said.

The department’s official assigned to take care of explosives related issues, Chorten Namgyel, said the department trained interested individuals on blasting last January. “Lhuentse has asked the department to provide training on blasting.”

Officials said that the gup could have sought the department’s permission to transfer the explosives from one site to another.

Meanwhile, the rules on explosives states that no person shall import, transport, possess, use or sell any explosive without permission from the department.

The rules also forbid any person from delivering or dispatching any explosives to anyone other than a person who is the holder of a license to possess explosives or an authorised agent of the holder of such a license; and authorisation is given in writing.

It also mandates a qualified shot-firer holding a shot-firer’s permit granted under the rules to handle the explosives.

Meanwhile, section 480 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004, also states that a person shall be guilty of the offence of illegal possession of explosives if the person is not authorised by law to possess it. The offence is graded a fourth degree felony.

However, the Khoma gup claimed his is not an illegal possession, as he had obtained permission to procure and use the explosives. “I kept the extra explosives in the gewog and used it for the community’s benefit.”

Tashi Dema