The bureau is working on putting standards at the forefront of all developmental activities in the 12th Plan

The 11th Plan document had no reference to standards and standardisation. A vital aspect of quality infrastructure has been overlooked, a recent Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) study has found.

Be it for the school or health system or food, managemnt system, hotel, signs or construction, Bhutan Standards Bureau officials said that standards can apply as a basis of judgement.

For instance, when the government claims 98 percent drinking water supply across the country, it is difficult to judge the service without a standard. Is the water availbale round the clock? Or is it free of contamination? Without standards to measure, experts say that merely installing a pipe will not help solve the water problem.

Until 2010, standards were set by a committee formed within concerned agencies. For instance, standards related to construction were framed by the works and human settlement ministry.

However, since the establishment of BSB in 2010, Bhutan Standards Act, has mandated the BSB to develop national standards and facilitate their implementation among others. But standards are voluntary in nature and takes a government order to make them mandatory.

The Act also states that the government, after consulting the Bureau, if it is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in the interest of the public, by an order notify any article or process of any industry which shall conform to a Bhutan Standard as compulsary.

Issue of duplication and relevance

Even after the establishment of BSB, agencies still set standards and the committees within are still functiontinal. BSB’s chief engineer wiht the standard division, Tshering Tashi said some laws authorises agencies to come up with standards relevant to their field. For instance, the National Environment Commission sets the standard for water and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) sets the food standard in accordance with law.

“The standards they set cannot be called as national standard legally, yet it is called national standard,” said an official from BSB. “Standard, by Act becomes national standard upon BSB’s apporval. The agencies can come up with technical regulation.”

Tshering Tashi said that BSB cannot set standards in isolation. The Bureau, he said will consult stakeholders and there should be a concensus to come up with one.

Another official said that some agencies hire international consultants to set their own standards and even on BSB’s request for consultation, stay adamant to their own standard. “The same agency is involved in setting the standard, implementing the activities and monitoring.”

Currently, the regulatory agencies themselves develop standards or frame technical regulations. This, according to the chief engineer of the standards division, is not only impeding national standard implementation, but also leading to non-uniform standards, and confusion among users.

This issue also hinders trade, as the government agencies, unlike BSB, are not signatory to SAARC and other international standards organisations.

The BSB has formed 10 technical committees in various fields. The committee on

Civil Engineering Technical Committee is developing a national standards on internal house plumbing. Likewise, electrical and electronics engineering technical committee is formulating national standards on internal house wiring.

Food and agricultural technical committee is also coming up with a national standards on processed foods like juices, jams, jellies and tea.The committee is developing a national standards based on the request from manufacturers, as there is a need for standards on dietary allowances for children, adults and elderly. “There is also a need to develop standards on salt and sugar intake for the Bhutanese population since non communicable diseases are a growing concern,” the BSB stated in a statement it issued.

Technical committee on basics and management system is also facing duplication works with occupation health and safety standards since the ministry of labour also has one. Environmental management standards and anti-bribery standards are some areas the bureau would be working on. To manage heritage sites like dzongs and monasteries, asset and facility management standards can be used for the maintenance and preservation works. There is also a need to develop standards on services like disaster management, transport and road safety management according to the chief engineer.

Graphical symbols also have a technical committee to develop a common standards of symbols used starting from washroom, fire equipment sign, prohibition signs,  public amenities, warning signs and additional road signages and direction symbol.

A committee on sustainability and environment was formed recently.

Way forward

As the country prepares for the 12 Plan, BSB is trying to put standards at the forefront of all developmental activities. To come up with a standardisation strategy, BSB is organising a national standards conclave in Thimphu on May 4.

All government, corporate, civil society organisations and private entities are encouraged to participate in the conclave to share their respective standardisation strategy and contribute to the national standards development. The conclave will also create a common platform to streamline all national standards development works thus optimising resource requirements.

When current existing standards in government agencies were matched against the nine domains of GNH, some domains were found to have no standards. However, the living standards domain which also has economic development showed the highest share of standards. “Our country’s progress is based on GNH and there is no standards to measure the GNH domains,” a BSB official said.

The study also found high correlation between the GDP comtribution and number of sectoral standards the government agencies have. For instance, the ministry of economic affairs has more than 147 standards (both national and sectoral) adopted and contribution to the GDP is highest from this ministry. Home ministry has not set any standards.

BSB claims that it is prepared to fulfill its role as the national umbrella institution to coordinate and oversee all standardisation activities in the country.

Tshering Dorji