National Council (NC) was divided on National Assembly’s (NA) decision to empower the Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) board to update the lists of banned substances.

The NC was deliberating  the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2017 (NDPSSAA) yesterday.

NC’s social and cultural affairs committee (SCAC) chairperson Nima presented the urgent bill in the House. Unlike the National Assembly, which deliberated only one section of the Act, NC chose to deliberate on all 16 provisions of the NDPSSAA submitted for amendment.

Section 59 of the amendment that the NA endorsed states, “The board may amend the schedules including addition, deletion of substances in the schedule or the whole schedule and/or quantification of any of the substances deemed to be abused or trafficked, upon the recommendation of the competent technical advisory committee formed under it.”

Haa NC member Tshering Dorji said there could be conflict of interest issues in delegating the legislative authority to the board to revise the lists annexed to the Act.

“It’s not the issue of lack of trust and confidence but my concern is the need of check and balance mechanism,” he said.

Tshering Dorji said that the BNCA could update the lists of banned substances in consultation with the NC Chairperson and the Speaker of National Assembly.

Gasa NC member Sangay Khandu also disagreed with the committee’s proposal to delegate the authority to the BNCA board.

“It takes at least four months for new drugs to emerge within which the BNCA can submit to the Parliament for amendment of the lists,” he said.

Samtse NC member Sangay Khandu said that the House must know that the board was defunct.

While the Act requires the BNCA board to meet at least twice annually, it has only met once in January last year, he said.

“If we’re not certain about the board and give away the power to it, then it’ll cause many challenges to BNCA,” he said.

Other members said that the government has not replaced eight members who have either retired or withdrawn their memberships from the 10-member board.

In 2016, three members retired, two were transferred, and three other members after completing the three-year term resigned from their membership. The board today is short of eight members.

Wangdue NC member Tashi Dorji said for the sake of the continuity of the board, the Parliament should identify the board members and mention them in the Act.

Other members proposed to include committee members of NA and NC as members of the board.

The committee proposed a new section under section 4.

It states, “Such other drugs or substances of similar nature, effect, group or properties as those listed under Schedules I to VI of this Act shall be subject to the same measures of control as the controlled drug or substance listed under this Act.”

The committee met with the BNCA, Drug Regulatory Authority, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital on the NDPSSA Bill 2017.

The committee also inserted another new section in the Bill. It states, “A person charged under section 152 of this Act shall remain under the custody of the authorised officer or law enforcement agency until he or she is produced before the treatment assessment panel till the completion of the treatment as provided in the rules and regulations.”

SCAC chairperson Nima said that police after arresting the abusers do not know what to do.

“Otherwise, the police wouldn’t know if the individuals have gone to the treatment centres,” Nima said. “There was an increasing number of such cases which is why we need to insert this provision to ensure those caught abusing and found in need of treatment get treated.”

He said the country has only two rehabilitation centres.  An individual has to pay Nu 5,000 as monthly fee to the centre.

Trongsa MP Tharchen proposed that the state sponsor the treatment of minors from poor families.  Other members even proposed that the centres should conduct classes for recovering addicts to help them continue their education.

The Parliament admitted the amendment as an urgent bill after the Supreme Court on July 26 ruled that BNCA board could update the list of banned drugs as and when necessary until the Parliament amends the law.

“The Parliament didn’t put clauses in the Act that can cover other narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances not listed in the Act’s annexes,” the judgment stated.

What echoed throughout the deliberations in both the Houses was the denial of having committed any blunder in enacting the NDPSSAA 2015.

“We followed proper procedures, thoroughly consulted and debated the issues and as a result decided to keep the authority to amend the annexure with the Parliament,” Nima said.

Chairperson Sonam Kinga said there is nothing wrong in Parliament updating the list. “If the agencies submitted the proposed amendments on appropriate time, the Parliament can amend,” he said.

Tshering Palden