The Royal University of Bhutan announced a shocking future for Arts Stream students. Their dreams were crushed, leaving them, their teachers, and parents heartbroken. Many took to social media to curse themselves for choosing the stream. A major reform in education is needed. But it must be done not in an ad-hoc manner. It should have taken into consideration the fate of the existing students, numbering in thousands.

This kind of decision not only affects future generations but also portrays badly on nation’s image. The Economist branded Bhutan as hybrid democracy in 2022 and compared it to violent and authoritarian countries like Mexico, Honduras, and Tunisia. Further, this will push more young Bhutanese to leave one’s own country to search for opportunities elsewhere. In short, the government is playing with the lives of future generations which should not be taken lightly, particularly from the context of poor sections who rely on the State to help fulfil their dreams through free tertiary education. This also means many faculty members who are only teaching humanities under the RUB, as well as teachers under the Ministry of Education may be left with no other option than to resign due to this decision, affecting hundreds of families.

Can these students get any justice through legal means? Yes, they can. We do not need civil liability law to sue the government. The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) 2001 contains a path known as a class action suit. The students and their family members can file a class action suit against the RUB and the government, as the decision is sudden and unexpected.

 Under Section 149 of the CCPC, the only requirement is the common interest where the common right of that group is affected to file a class action suit.

The remedies could include recovery of the entire expenditure incurred by each student from their parents. The decision-makers are to refund the entire public expenditure incurred in educating these youths for the last two years back to the government budget.  Further, the group can also sue for mental trauma caused due to such a decision without any other alternatives or consideration. Finally, the group could also seek future damages (expectancy damages) under the presumption if the courses were not scraped away, what would be the future of these students and their income in the future?

However, there is a caveat if such suits are initiated in Bhutan. Since this kind of case has never been filed before the Bhutanese courts, there lies the uncertainty on how the Bhutanese courts would respond in such a class action suit. While the courts have the duty to secure the social and economic justice of the common people, they also have the duty to uphold the public interest and national objectives. His Majesty said, “Young citizens of Bhutan, I want you to remember that Bhutan’s success or failure will ultimately depend on the strength of your commitment– your willingness to embrace challenges and hard work.” 

The recent decision is contrary to His Majesty’s visions as the commitment, hard work and willingness to embrace challenges of thousands of class XII graduates and those completing class XII in 2023 with arts subjects have become meaningless now.   

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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