There is a need to harmonise laws, say Bhutan Standards Bureau

In 2015, when a testing machine broke down at the Bangladesh – India border, Bhutanese oranges were denied entry across the border. The reason  – Bangladesh did not accept the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s (BAFRA) certification, as it not the national standards body.

But since the Food Act also mandates BAFRA to develop food safety standards and regulate them, BAFRA has its own standards.

Likewise, the National Environment Commission (NEC) governs the water standards that are derived from the water Act. The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) develops and regulates the road infrastructure and Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), among others, are also mandated to develop standards.

Yet it is the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) that has the stature of a national standards body. The Standards Act empowers the bureau to develop and adopt all standards.

A standards mapping exercise that was carried out recently has found inconsistencies and duplication of standards in the country.

As of June this year, there are 362 guidelines, 202 standards, 61 codes of practices and 44 specifications among different ministries and agencies. This excludes the164 international and regional standards the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) has adopted as national standards.

Government agencies have been developing their standards as national standards, as empowered by their respective laws or mandates. This resulted in non-uniformity of standards and duplication in some cases.

“This is not the best practice as per international norms,” BSB director General Sonam Phuntsho said. National standards, he said, is formulated by the national standards body established in that country and thereafter, adopted as national standards. BSB is the authority in Bhutan’s case and the Bhutan Standards Act empowers BSB to do so.

An official from BSB said, there is a need to harmonise the laws to standardise the standards.

However, currently the regulatory agencies themselves develop standards or directly make technical regulations. This, according to the Chief Engineer of the standardisation division with BSB, Tshering Tashi, is not only impeding national standard implementation, but also leading to non-uniform standards, and confusion among users.

This issue also hinders trade, as the government agencies, unlike the BSB, are not signatory to SAARC and other international standards organisation.

“As a National Standards Body, BSB in collaboration with different stakeholder agencies is in the process of bringing the available sectoral standard into well documented and recognised Bhutan Standards format,” the chief engineer said.

Even with varied sectoral and national standards, there is low level of application. Tshering Tashi said that the most commonly used standards are in the field of construction and electrical.

Since standards are voluntary and it becomes mandatory only when the government through regulations or a circular instructs its implementation on the users or producers.

“But BSB is trying to create awareness to avail services in the field of mechanical, textile, agriculture and food.”

Standards like ISO 9001, which is related to management and meant for service related agencies, are least availed. “The very reason why people are not coming forward to avail standards could be because the benefits of standards are not so immediately visible,” he said.

Standards and standardisation activities in Bhutan are fairly a new concept and challenging, especially when there is a general lack of awareness on quality and procedure for standards development. BSB, he said, through its awareness campaigns is trying to generate interest in standardisation of products and services across the sectors and industries.

The director general also said that BSB is looking to collaborate with all stakeholders and agencies in the 12th Plan and have one national standard across all sectors. Further, he said standards would also be harmonised with the SAARC standards and other international standards.

However, even if the BSB is given the authority to certify all the goods and services produced in the country, its competency and resources remains a challenge.

“Currently, BSB has the competency to carry out product and management system certification, the scopes will increase as and when BSB develops its competencies,” Chief engineer of certification division, Karma Wangdi said. “Certification has to be embraced as a necessity rather than a hindrance.”

Certification is a part of the conformity assessment process, which also includes testing, calibration and inspection. A conformity assessment is a process to ensure that standards have been followed. He said that these activities could be carried out by any agency, which include public as well as private entities as long as they have the competency to do so.

This is ensured through an accreditation process, which must be availed from a national, regional or international accreditation body. Accreditation ensures that conformity assessment bodies (certification, testing, calibration, inspection) have the competence to carry out the work they do.

Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) is the umbrella institution that coordinates and oversees the overall standardisation and conformity assessment activities in the country as mandated by the Bhutan Standards Acts 2010.

Most of the standards available with BSB today are international standards adopted from ISO (International Organization for Standardisation), IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), regional standards adopted from IS (Indian Standards) and few standards are developed in-house.

Bhutan observes the World Standards Day today.

Tshering Dorji