… the law will apply to all youth who turn 18 in 2024 and beyond

Nima Wangdi 

A Bhutanese attaining 18 years, irrespective of where they live, should return to the country for Gyalsung, the national service programme according to the Gyalsung Bill 2022 which the National Council unanimously adopted yesterday. All 24 members present voted Yes.

The one-year programme, which will start in 2024, includes three months of basic military training followed by skills specialisation programmes.

Dasho Sonam Kinga (PhD), who leads the National Service Core Working Group, said that those who have not gone to school or have dropped out should compulsorily participate in the programme upon attaining 18 years. However, the students will get an automatic deferment as they have to complete class 12 or equivalent qualification. 

“This means, some could be 19 or 20 by the time they complete class 12 but they will still get to take part in the programme,” Dasho Sonam Kinga said. In the future, children will have completed class 12 when they turn 18 given the present school enrollment age unless they fail or have to take a break due to health problems.

The Bill states that a person who attains at least 18 years has to enlist for Gyalsung training. “A person below the age of eighteen years and six months may volunteer for early registration for Gyalsung training with the consent of the parents or the legal guardian.”

According to the Bill, the governing council, as a one-time measure, shall determine the eligibility criteria for the first batch of Gyalsung cadets. A person deemed medically unfit by the medical board shall be exempted from Gyalsung training. Monks are also exempted from the training. The council may also exempt any other person from the training in accordance with the rules and regulations.

The governing council may defer the obligation for Gyalsung training of a person for such period as it may consider appropriate in accordance with the rules and regulations but the person has to enlist for the training after the deferment period.

Those who are still serving prison terms of a third and fourth-degree felony during the time they attain 18 will miss the opportunity.

Gyalsung headquarters would issue notices to eligible persons to register for the Gyalsung programme. The eligible person has to complete registration formalities within 90 days after the notice is served. Failure to register after getting notice will result in a penalty amounting to the daily national minimum wage rate of up to 90 days.

“A person who evades or deserts Gyalsung training commits an offence and shall be liable upon the conviction for the fourth-degree felony as per the penal code of Bhutan,” the Bill stated.

Introducing the Bill, Dasho Sonam Kinga said the consultation on the Gyalsung Bill was done in all 20 dzongkhags last year. Dzongkhags, drungkhags, religious institutions, and business communities were consulted. “We could not do in all the 204 gewogs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He said the consultation programme had to be suspended due to the pandemic. However, Gyalsung office would resume it after the Bill becomes an Act with His Majesty’s assent.

Members also expressed their appreciation and gratitude to His Majesty The King for the historic initiative. This is the first time His Majesty has exercised His Royal prerogative to introduce a Bill in the Parliament.

The programme will have four special training sessions after the basic military training: cyber security, food security, home security, and country security.

Bumthang’s MP Nima asked how the trainees would be distributed to the five Gyalsung Academies. He said that there is a need to explain the procedure clearly.

The academies are being built in Pemathang in Samdrupjongkhar, Khotokha in Wangdue, Bondeyma in Mongar, Tarethang in Sarpang, and Jamtsholing in Samtse.

Dasho Sonam Kinga said that the academies will have dedicated training programmes with a maximum of two programmes. It will depend on which training they want but career counsellors, teachers, and parents should play a vital role in guiding them in which training to choose.

Gasa MP Dorji Khandu asked if children outside school or those differently-abled will have equal opportunity.

Dasho Sonam Kinga said that every Bhutanese youth will be given equal opportunity. He said that the national service core group had initially decided to exempt the differently-abled youth since they won’t be able to perform military training and also follow military etiquette.

They are eligible for an exemption if the medical board considers but if they are determined to serve the country, they would have a customised training session given the importance of creating opportunities for all.