MB Subba 

The disputed Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 was supposed to be one of the most important Bills in the session. But to the disappointment of National Council (NC) members, the discussion on the Bill ended in an anticlimax after the Speaker deferred it indefinitely.

There is no certainty on when the Bill, which was considered to be one of the important legislations to fulfil the government’s objective of narrowing the gap, would be reintroduced. The Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) lacks clarity on how such a Bill should be reintroduced.

“The Bill cannot be reintroduced in a joint session as it is as good as dead,” An NC member said.

A joint committee member said that the Bill should be reintroduced either as a government Bill or private Bill.

However, Parliament has not exhausted the procedure for the Bill as joint sitting has not deliberated and voted on the Bill as required by Article 13.8 of the Constitution, which does not provide for reintroduction of a disputed Bill without exhausting the procedure or declaring it dead.

There is also no mention in the Constitution on the timing, which leaves a room for interpretation on whether or not a disputed Bill must be put to vote in the same session and whether it can be deferred to the next session.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel in the joint sitting, however, said that it was a matter of interpretation and that he had to go by the Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) “We should not interpret the Constitution to suit our arguments.”

Some members argued that withdrawing the Bill could be in violation of the Constitution. Eminent Member Ugyen Tshering said that LRoP that is not in harmony with the Constitution would be null and void.

However, questions remain about whether a disputed Bill can be reintroduced as a new Bill before it is declared dead through voting in a joint sitting.

As per Clause 65 of the LRoP, where the joint committee has not completed its work by the end of the session, it ceases on prorogation, but it may be revived in a subsequent session by Parliament. This provision, some believe, allows the Bill to be given continuity as a disputed Bill when it is reintroduced and that it could be a violation of the Constitution to reintroduce a disputed Bill that is deferred as a new Bill.

A dead Bill can be revived only after a year, but there is no time gap prescribed for a disputed Bill that has been deferred.

Citing the number of Bills and resolutions passed, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel described the summer session as fruitful during the closing ceremony on June 30.

Parliament decided to lift the ban on sale, distribution and buying of tobacco and tobacco products in view of increasing smuggling cases, which officials said were the main reason for spread of Covid-19 cases in southern dzongkhags. The decision drew as much criticism as support.

The Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma, who introduced the Bill, pleaded that all the sins of amending the tobacco Act befall him and that all the merits on the country and people.

The summer session also passed the Customs Bill 2021, which reduces the customs duty, an indirect tax levied on third-country imports, to a uniform rate of 10 percent. The duty on doma (betel nut) has been retained at 50 percent although the government had proposed reducing it to 10 percent.

The duty on electric fence energisers has been reduced to zero percent from the existing rate of 10 percent. This is expected to benefit farmers across the country.

The Customs Bill covers more than 500 goods including medical equipment, agriculture and education-related products. But the customs duty on vehicles, alcohol, tobacco, gold and silver will remain unchanged.

Maenbi-Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen moved the motion to review and regularise consolidated contract employees to regular contract employees, which was the only one motion deliberated and passed in the National Assembly. The motion included regularising 4,622 consolidated contract employees as regular contract employees.

Most of the members from the Ruling Party did not support the motion during the deliberation although they agreed on the existence of disparity between regular and consolidated contract employees. But only three members voted “No” and two abstained out of 37 members present and voting.

The NC deliberated an interim review report on the quality of farm roads with the objective of assessing the current situation, identify challenges and issues in the construction and maintenance of quality farm roads. The House will continue deliberation and recommend the way forward for improvement of rural livelihoods through sustainable and optimal utilisation of public resources.

The upper house also deliberated an interim review report on suicide and mental health issues to determine their root causes and to strengthen preventive and treatment programs.