The trade department says the dzongkhag tshogdu has no authority to frame such rules

DT: The Department of Trade has put off enforcement of bylaws to space out bars by 50 meters from dzong and institutions in thromde and 100 meters from gewog centers and its institutions in Trongsa.

Chairperson of Trongsa’s dzongkhag tshogdu (DT), Tashi Peldhen said the trade department wrote to the DT that the bylaws it endorsed must be put off until further notice from its office.

In July 2014, the DT endorsed the bylaws to distance bars from institutions to reduce alcohol-related incidents in the community.

“The DT endorsed the bylaws solely to specify distances of bar from institutions since the rules and regulations don’t specify the distance between these entities,” Tashi Peldhen said.

Lack of a numerical specification on the distance has led to the prevalence of alcohol outlets near schools, monastics institutions and colleges, which local leaders say is becoming the root cause of discipline issues.

The bylaw received a lukewarm response from the trade department and after exchanging several letters, the trade department wrote that it couldn’t enforce the distance specifications as spelt out in the bylaws.

Regional trade and industry office (RTIO) director, Aiman Mahat said that the trade office couldn’t apply the bylaws because a country cannot have two different rules.  He added that the DT isn’t supposed to frame alcohol regulations since it is the economic affairs ministry’s mandate to craft such rules.

“The rules on alcohol must be framed taking into account factors such as bilateral and multilateral rules to align these with international norms best suitable for the business,” Aiman Mahat said.

The regional director also reasoned space crunch in Trongsa as another problem in imposing the distances for bars. A year since its endorsement, the DT chairperson said the bylaws still remain unimplemented.

“The trade department in its third reply stated that the specification of distance will likely be incorporated in the draft alcohol regulations which is being reviewed for amendment,” Tashi Peldhen said.

According to Tashi Peldhen, the issue was also raised in the annual DT chairpersons’ conference. The chairpersons later in a meeting with the health minister decided to forward the issue to the cabinet.

“The cabinet can revoke the bylaws if it conflicts with other acts, rules and regulations; otherwise it has to be approved,” Tashi Peldhen said, adding that the DT endorsed the bylaw within its power to frame one as reflected in the local government act.

Gewogs and thromdes have also been unable to implement the bylaws. Drakteng gup, Galay Chophel said his gewog couldn’t implement the bylaws following the letter from the trade department.

“Gewog can’t do anything about bars although strings of complaints pour in from educational institutions pertaining to abuse of alcohol by students,” Galay Chophel said.

According to Aiman Mahat, actions will be taken against bars if its business was found affecting law and order in the community or institutions. But, he said, so far no complaints were lodged with their office.

“If someone complained of bar business affecting the law and order, the trade office would sit together to verify its effect based on which further actions will be taken,” he said, adding if need be, such bars would also be relocated.

The bars however, couldn’t be closed down or relocated if students are walking kilometers to drink, Aiman Mahat said.

Meanwhile, Tangsibji at least tried implementing certain clauses of the bylaws at the chiwog level even though nothing could be done to bars within 100 meters from institutions.

“The villagers were pleased with the move to do away with industrial beverages during religious festivals since it spared the poor from hefty expenses,” Jigme Namgyal said.

If the bylaws is enforced, most of the existing bars especially those around the institutions would need relocation local leaders say.

Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa