A Kuensel headline this week stated “Authorities’ inaction worrying resident more than cracks” in Trongsa and  another headline reads “Poor drainage system spoils the winter charm in S’jonkhar”. Similarly,  an alarming headline in 2018 reported “24 babies infected in NICU, 15 survive, 9 die in JDWNRH” and list goes on. There are numerous reports of wall collapses, potholes, unsafe construction sites, hydropower projects affecting residents including loss of houses due to falling of boulders. While common people continue to suffer or fall victim to the failures of various state machineries or those who are parties to state machinery, the protection of these common people remain either nothing or so minimal. For example, though 9 infants died under the custody of the hospital, there are no records of any form of compensation and similarly there are no accountabilities to anyone for their carelessness or storing the construction materials without any safety measures or private cars getting accidents due to poor quality roads,  dangers caused by poor quality of constructions. In short, state machineries, private or public entities, corporate, local governments, contractors, authorities who are supposed to serve common people  have remained impunity. Such impunity for their own failures are not only worrisome but also  contravenes the fundamental principles democracy. Accountability and welfare are primary functions of the state and must be held accountable and liable for their own failures. However, even after a decade into democracy, the state machinery in particular, those who are supposed to provide public service remains not only poor but also not accountable for thus far.

 Therefore, it is high time that, the legislature must explore the possibilities of enacting  a new social welfare legislation for common good. Such social welfare legislation could should  include provisions on state’s responsibility to take care of old aged people who have no one to take care of them or economically  disadvantaged people or if a breadwinner is serving a prison term for many years in the family. Further, such legislation must include  torts as a major component to ensure adequate damages in cases of tortious acts of the state machineries as well as private entities. Bhutan currently has hardly any laws on torts. But reports of negligence including medical malpractice, public nuisance or defamation are common but existing laws can hardly address these kind of civil wrongs. This law may also consider including responsibilities of state entities and NGOs to ensure legal mechanism and protections to victims of domestic violence, vulnerable groups of people or  economically disadvantaged people. The essence of democracy is not to build powerful governments but to ensure transparency and hold accountable for their failures. 

Bringing in such a legislation would help fulfil the objectives of these democratic principles. Article 9 of our Constitution enshrines mandates of state and in particular  promoting conditions “that will enable the pursuit of GNH” and “secure adequate livelihood”,  help create “compassionate society” and “universal human values” or “provide security in the event of lack of adequate means of livelihood for reasons beyond one’s control.”  The proposed Social Welfare legislation will contribute greatly to fulfil the core objectives of Article 9 of the Constitution and help set up a unique and true democratic set up in Bhutan as nation of Gross National Happiness. Enactment of such law is, if not late, it is definitely not early.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.