MB Subba

The economic affairs ministry has proposed lifting the ban on issuance of new bar licences but the Cabinet is yet to decide despite discussing the proposal many times, according to the economic affairs minister.

The ban, which was imposed in 2010, expired last year.

The economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma, said that the ministry had come to a conclusion that the ban should be lifted, as there was no evidence that the implementation of the policy had reduced alcohol consumption in the country.

He, however, said that the issue needed to be considered carefully as it involved people’s livelihoods vis-a-vis public health.

“The Cabinet is studying and analysing more data to arrive at a decision. The government will make an informed decision on the issue.”

Lyonpo said that the government was concerned about the impact of alcohol on people’s health. “But there is also no basis to say that lifting the ban would increase the number of alcohol consumers.”

According to him, it was difficult to stop unlicensed sale of alcohol through the imposition of fines. “The ministry is in favour of making illegal sale of alcohol legal.”

Another issue, according to the minister, is the hiring of bar licenses, which became illegal with the amendment of the Penal Code of Bhutan last year. Section 284 (g) of the penal code defines hiring of licences between Bhutanese as fronting.

As per the section, while conviction for the first violation is a petty misdemeanor, conviction for a second violation would lead to cancellation of the bar license.

He said that many people who operated entertainment centres hired bar licences, as they are not eligible for the same.

There are about 4,500 bar licenses, 600 retail liquor shop licenses and 195 liquor wholesaler licenses issued in the country. A lessee pays about Nu 5,000 per month to the owner of a bar license in the market.

A restaurant and bar operator in Thimphu said that it was an additional burden on him to pay the rent for the licence. “We cannot earn enough money to pay the rent if we do not sell alcohol.”

Meanwhile, according to annual health bulletin 2020, alcohol usage in the country still remains high with two out of five Bhutanese currently drinking alcohol and is a major killer.

Volume wise, the per capita (adult) alcohol consumption among Bhutanese is 8.47 litres. The global consumption at 6.2 litres.

In hospitals, there are more deaths related to alcohol than any other, according to official statics. With one death in every two days, alcohol liver disease continues to be the top killer disease in the country.