Tshewang Choden and  Thinley Namgay

Less than a year into implementation, Department of Culture’s policy requiring its seal on all religious items for sale has run into teething practical problems.

Almost 120 handicrafts vendors from Bumthang, Paro and Thimphu requested Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering to urgently review the policy during a meeting in Thimphu on November 28.

A handicraft owner from Paro, Pema Tshering, said shopkeepers want to support DoC but the new policy is causing them a lot of problems. It became difficult mainly to the illiterate vendors and shopkeepers.

“Regarding statues, it’s necessary to seal it, but even for the new ones and homemade handicrafts, I don’t think it’s required,” he said.

“The two offices which provide the seal are located in Thimphu and Paro. Every time we have to go to the officers to get the seal and sometimes it coincides with holidays.”

He also said that some tourists don’t buy the object when shopkeepers tell them that it requires a seal because they feel that it is unsafe. Some shopkeepers while trying to acquire the seal have to leave the shop unattended and this affects the sales.

“If this issue continues, the art and craft sector will be greatly hampered,” Pema said.

At present, the DoC officials at the Paro airport inspect the religious objects the passengers carry into the plane.

“The airport officials follow 9AM to 5PM timing, which causes a problem for those passengers who have to catch a flight before 9AM. Because of this, they send the object back to us. There were times when we had to repay their money,” said another vendor, Dorji Penjore.

Lyonchhen said the rationale behind sealing the religious items is to prevent the antiques from being sold to the foreigners illegally.

“There are chances that people will come up with different ideas to smuggle antiques. These measures are in place to prevent such incidents from happening,” Lyonchhen said.

He said that the DoC also needs to specify the kinds of sacred items that require sealing and those that don’t.

Lyonchhen said the government will discuss the issue with DoC.

DoC’s chief cultural property officer, Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk, said that the department needs more staff and financial support from the government to solve the existing issues.