… National Council to adopt it today 

Nima Wangdi 

National Service Program, Gyalsung program will commence in 2024 according to the Gyalsung Bill of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2022, which the National Assembly (NA) passed unanimously yesterday after thorough deliberation.

It was forwarded to the National Council for deliberation. The National Council will deliberate on the Bill and adopt it today.

Gyalsung training program will be a one-year integrated training program mandatory for all youths attaining the age of 18 and if in school – upon completion of grade twelve.

The one-year training will include three months of basic military training followed by nine months of specialised training in various fields ranging from home construction technologies, computing, and entrepreneurship to focused development of skills in agriculture.

The National Service is also a Fundamental Duty required of all Bhutanese citizens as enshrined in Article 8.1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The National Service comprises three phases – National Service (NS) Cadets who should undergo a one-year integrated training program where there will be three months of Basic Military Training followed by specialised skills training in various areas.

National Service Duty (NS Duty) is the second phase. Gyalsups may be called for both Mandatory Duty and Voluntary Duty until the age of 35 years.

In the third phase of National Service Reserve, upon completion of NS Duty, NS personnel should remain as reservists until they attain the age of 45 years at which point they complete the National Service obligations. Thereafter, they may volunteer to join De-Suung.

A seven-member council will govern the programme including the home secretary and the Gyalsung headquarters secretary who will serve for the tenure of their office. The other members will serve for five years.

The governing council will establish the Gyalsung academies headed by commandants deputed from the Royal Bhutan Armed Forces to impart basic military training and other specialized training.

“The Royal Government shall provide a budget as annual grant to finance the management and operations of the Gyalsung Headquarters and  Gyalsung Academies,” the Bill states.

The Bill also states that a person who fails to register for Gyalsung Training upon receiving the notice will be liable for an offence and be fined the daily national minimum wage rate for up to a maximum of 90 days.

A person who evades or deserts Gyalsung Training commits an offence and will be liable upon conviction for a felony of the fourth degree as per the Penal Code of Bhutan, according to the Bill.

Although few National Assembly members sought clarifications on some sections and clauses yesterday, the Bill was passed swiftly with all the 45 members present voting yes.

Exercising the Royal prerogative enshrined in the Article 2 of the Constitution, His Majesty issued a Royal Kasho asking the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council to introduce the Gyalsung Bill in the Parliament.

Speaker Namgyel Wangchuk read the Kasho to the House before the presentation and deliberations on the Bill commenced.

Leader of the National Service Core Working Group that drafted the Bill, Dasho Sonam Kinga introduced the Bill to the House.

Bongo-Chapchha member, Tshewang Lhamo said that she was concerned over the ineligibility criteria that would rule out some individuals from participating in the program.

“A child serving sentence for an offence punishable with third-degree felony and above and, who is serving sentence for an offence punishable with fourth-degree felony for being a recidivist and habitual offender are ineligible,” she said.

She said that like His Majesty’s vision, it would be ideal if every Bhutanese attaining 18 could participate irrespective of their criminal background. “The opportunity could definitely change their mindset and become a better citizen.”

Drametse-Ngatshang MP, Ugyen Wangdi supported the submission saying that the person may be considered ineligible if the board or the medical doctors establish him or her mentally incompetent. Rest may be given equal opportunity.

“If the person has already finished serving the prison term of any duration may be given the opportunity,” he said.

Dasho Sonam Kinga said that every year, there will be around 13,000 children eligible for the program based on their estimates. There will not be many who would be ineligible.

He said that going by the data from the judiciary, only three children below 18 are given third- and fourth-degree felony. “The number might increase in the future but we don’t have many at the moment.”

Dasho Sonam Kinga also clarified that if the person has finished serving the prison term before attaining 18 years, he or she will be given the opportunity. However, if the person is still serving prison during the time they attain 18 years they the person will not be eligible. “We can’t take them out of prison for the program.”

“These ineligibility criteria could also serve as deterrents to bad behaviour among the children since they could instil fear in themselves on losing the opportunity,” he said even if the person misses the Gyalsung because of the fact they were in prison, they can always join programs like De-Suung after they complete serving their prison terms.

He said the ineligibility criteria in fact benefit the children by securing them from other possible disqualifications.

Bartsham-Shongphu MP, Passang Dorji (PhD) said the offence of fourth-degree felony to the person who evades or deserts Gyalsung program commits an offence is too harsh. He said the offence could be a misdemeanour.

Dasho Sonam Kinga said the fourth-degree felony could deter people from evading the program. “If the offence is a misdemeanour, rich people can pay in lieu and not take part in the program. This will widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering and the Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi thanked His Majesty The King for initiating the Bill and instituting the program.