The National Council amended 16 provisions, including the lists of banned substances, of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2017 (NDPSSAA) yesterday.

All 20 sitting members voted in favour of the amendments, which were debated at the in-house committee meeting after the chairperson directed the members and Social and Cultural Affairs Committee (SCAC) to finalise the provisions.

National Council endorsed the two amendments to the urgent Bill, section 59 and inserting Tramadol in schedule III, which the National Assembly passed last week.

Section 59 of the amendment 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.”

The House after learning that the board had problems of meeting the quorum with members retiring and completing their memberships, decided to identify specific board members.

The board includes health minister as the chairperson, home secretary, chief of police, heads of revenue and customs department, trade department, two heads of Civil Society Organisations nominated by the CSO secretariat, head of the Drug Regulatory Authority, and the director general of Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA).

In case of a vacancy, the government has to appoint another person to fill the vacancy within 30 days.

The House also endorsed three new sections.

One of the new sections requires the board of BNCA to submit to the Parliament for information as and when the schedules are revised or updated.

Section 4 A 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.”

SCAC chairperson Nima said that this section compliments section 59.

“This is an interim measure until the new drug is listed in the schedule by the board,” he said.

He said that while the board may not take as long to update the lists of controlled substances as the Parliament, it could still take some time. This section would be helpful at such times, he said.

A New Section 47 addresses the gap in the law, which has led to those charged with substance abuse skip treatment.

“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.”

The House also made some gender-sensitive alterations mainly in section 83. The amended section states, “Body search of a woman under this Act shall be carried out by a woman.” The earlier section allowed men to conduct the search.

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 amendments will be sent to National Assembly for re-deliberation on Monday. If rejected, the bill will go to a joint session of the Parliament.

The House will deliberate the Tourism Levy Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2017 today.

Tshering Palden