Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has suspended the licenses of two entertainment centres in Thimphu for two months for operating beyond the permitted time.

The suspension comes after the two entertainment centres, a discotheque, Dewaling – The ballroom, and Thimphu Club, a live music centre violated the rules governing places and programmes of entertainmen, thrice. Dewaling was suspended on September 11 and

Thimphu Club on September 22.

In the first instance, the authority issues a warning. When the rules are violated for the second time, the authority slaps a penalty ranging from a month to a year based on the daily national minimum wage of Nu 125. The maximum penalty the authority levied is three month’s wage of about Nu 11,250.

BICMA’s director general Chencho Dorji said some centres appeal for the suspension to be lifted because it financially affects them. The authority gives about two week’s time for the centres to pay the penalty.

In such cases, the authority imposes a penalty of about nine month’s wage, which comes to about Nu 33,750.

“The third violation is the final warning,” Chencho Dorji said. “We call the owner and tell them that if they fail to comply with the rules and regulations again, their license will be cancelled.”

Should there be a fourth violation, the authority will cancel the license of the entertainment centre. “There will be no consideration after the license is cancelled,” Chencho Dorji said.

In case a license is cancelled, the owner will not be allowed to apply for three years. “No appeal will be entertained hereafter,” he said.

Chencho Dorji said the authority, as a law-enforcing agency believes in consistency and transparency. “We ensure that our rules and regulation is uniformly applied to all establishments.”

The owner of Thimphu Club appealed to BICMA to lift the suspension on September 27.

Owner Pema Dorji, said he has been complying with the rules. “We make sure that we stop the music on time but we cannot chase our customers before they finish the drinks they paid for.”

He said they open their club at 9:30PM and have to close down by 11PM on weekdays making it difficult for them to sustain the business. “There is a need for BICMA to revisit some of the rules and regulations ,especially timings.”

Pema Dorji said the club currently employs 23 youth and if it is closed, the employees are as affected. “We don’t charge our customers for requesting songs like in Drayangs. We have dancers performing live which I believe is same as live music.”

Chencho Dorji said the authority used to allow entertainment centres to operate beyond the permitted time when owners of the entertainment centres apply for time extension, but not anymore. “We accept time extension only on two occasions in a year, during new year and losar,” he said. ““We’ll be consistent, transparent and fair and there will be zero tolerance for non-compliance.”

BICMA has found gaps and inconsistencies in the existing rules in terms of penalties, standards and enforcement practices. “About nine rules on entertainment, printing presses, publishing houses, content and national radio has been amended in the past two years to ensure consistency.”

The authority also regularly monitors entertainment centres, the director general said with BICMA staff, in groups, taking turns to inspect the centres.

“Along with this, we also have a collaborative monitoring exercise with Thimphu thromde, economic affairs ministry, department of revenue and customs, Royal Bhutan Police and Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority,” Chencho Dorji said. “If one agency is not present to monitor then the agency authorise the teams from other agencies to work on the agency’s behalf,” he said.

Issuance of new licenses for drayang, discotheque, karaoke, and live music was suspended for a year since September last year to allow the authority to amend the existing rules and regulations.

“We lifted the suspension after the government endorsed the rules and regulations. But the rules are stricter now,” Chencho Dorji said. However, the national radio rules and rules on content are still with the Cabinet for endorsement.

Besides operating beyond the permitted operating time, Chencho Dorji said Thimphu Club was found operating like a Drayang with dancers while their license was only for live music.

As per the rules, entertainment centres registered as live music are expected to have live bands performing. The license fee to operate a Drayang is Nu 25,000 while it is Nu 5,000 for live music centres.

Chencho Dorji said operating beyond the permitted time and sound leakages are some of the common cases of non-compliance to the rules. “In a recent inspection, it was found that a club has admitted three girls aged below18 years which is not allowed.”

Discotheques can operate until 1AM on Fridays and Saturdays and until midnight on Wednesdays. For Drayang, Live music and Karaoke centres, the permitted operation time is midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. On other days, the centres can operate until 11pm. These centres remain closed on Tuesdays.

Dechen Tshomo