The legislative committee of the National Assembly has submitted a proposal to the Speaker to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act 2015 (NDPSSAA) as an urgent bill in the upcoming winter session.

Chairman of the legislative committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said that the amendment proposal has also been submitted to the Chairman of National Council, Sonam Kinga (PhD). The committee came up with the proposal after it held consultation meetings with stakeholders such as the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) on the instruction of the Speaker.

“The committee felt that the amendment proposal qualifies as an urgent bill from the social security point of view,” he said. “Abuse of drugs and psychotropic substances is a serious problem in our society.”’

Although the Supreme Court stated that BNCA could update the list of prohibited drugs, Ritu Raj Chhetri said that only an Act of parliament empowers such a change. He said that BNCA would not be able to change the list without an amendment of the Act by the parliament.

As the prohibited drugs were annexed to the Act only the Parliament can alter the lists. “We are trying to push the proposal as an urgent bill,” Ritu Raj Chhetri said.

However, on August 29, the BNCA issued a notification stating that as per the Supreme Court’s judgment, tramadol (one of the components of SP+), is identified as an addictive drug with medicinal value, which falls under schedule III of the NDPSSA Act. The notification also states that the Court has authorised BNCA to list any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance under schedule I to IV of NDPSSA Act unless amended differently by the Parliament.

An urgent bill must be passed in the same session. According to the Legislative Rules of Procedure, the Speaker needs to consult the National Council Chairperson on an urgent bill proposal. Also, the Speaker and the Chairperson shall consult the legislative committees or other relevant committees of the respective Houses to determine the urgency of the proposed legislation.

The proposal comes after the Supreme Court ruled in July that the parliament had failed to envision drug-related problems in the future when it specified and prescribed the list of prohibited drugs and psychotropic substances in the Act.

In a case that was before the court, the defendants who were caught by authorities for abusing SP+ argued that they couldn’t be prosecuted because the drug does not featured on the lists of banned substances.

“The list of prohibited narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances should actually have been left to be included in the rules and regulations of the Act and not as the annexure of the Act,” the judgment stated.

More than 554 people were arrested in relation to abusing SP+ between September 1, 2015 and June 6, 2017. Of that, 381 were charged to court. The police also seized 254,226 capsules of SP+.

MB Subba