| Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu
Many people believe that the fundamentals of law in the country seem to be going wrong, especially in the case of those who are apprehended for drug (spasmoproxyvon) peddling.
According to Panbang Member of Parliament (MP), Dorji Wangdi, the basics of the law state that a person violating any law ‘is innocent until proven guilty’.
“But here, when it comes to those people charged for drug trafficking, particularly spasmoproxyvon, the law seems to depict them as ‘guilty until proven innocent’. This is the very reason why over 500 young people are behind the bars today,” he said.
Tashicholing MP, Ritu Raj Chhetri, who is the chairperson of legislative committee, said that there is a need to review penalties and punishments for those who violate laws.
“I personally believe that we have to think beyond and review the existing laws when it comes to those who are charged with offence of drugs abusing and trafficking,” said Ritu Raj Chhetri.
He mentioned that people often make mistakes but the law has no right to ruin people’s lives unless they are proven to be hardcore criminals.
“By imprisoning young people for longer period for some petty cases, we are risking their lives. Rather than mending their ways in prisons, there are chances that they turn to dreaded criminals in future,” said the MP.
He mentioned that comparing to tobacco, problems related with alcohol is rising rapidly in the country. “We penalize tobacco users and dealers but do nothing to those who drink and cause all sorts of social problems. But our law is silent when it comes to alcohol because it is our culture. I think this is where we are going wrong,” said Ritu Raj.
Doctor Chencho Dorji from the mental health department at JDWNRH, in his facebook page mentioned that he believes the present penalties on traffickers are draconian and very harsh. For example, a person caught in possession of eleven capsules of Spasmoproxyvon faces a non-bailable punishment of at least three years’ incarceration.
“This is reminiscent of our erstwhile Tobacco Act, which needed amendment soon after it was enacted,” he wrote, adding that the implementation of the current Narcotics law will only over fill the prisons without its intended deterrent effect.
He stated that this will not only frustrate and harden moderate young minds but will also cost a lot to the government in managing the prisons. And the money saved from imprisonment can be diverted to treatment and rehabilitation of these individuals.
“I am not advocating for not punishing traffickers. I am only asking for moderating the punishments. For example, fine and bail in lieu of imprisonment for traffickers in possession of up to one hundred capsules of spasmoproxyvon,” he added.
After his discussing with the members of parliament, doctor Chencho wrote that he was able to convey all his worries about the restrictive definition of drug trafficking and the excessive punishment meted out under the present Narcotics and Psychotropic Substance Law 2015 and appeal for moderation in the definition and punishment so that most drug addicts who are caught with possession of reasonable amounts of drugs are not criminalized and locked up in jails in the country.
Another social media user had written on her page that the laws must be framed in consultation with the concerned authorities and people rather than framing it on rush.She said that everything is so adhoc and dominated by emotionally charged and vocal individual. “Law makers should help rather than breaking the lives of our young people who are the future of our country,” she added.
Pema, a civil servant, said that there are many young children put behind the bars for abusing substances like SP plus when the law mentioned nothing about the penalties.
“In the process of imposing such sentence, law seems to be unfair to many young friends,” he said.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly passed the Narcotics Drugs, Psychotropic Substance and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2017 last week with 38 “Yes” votes, 1 “No” vote and 3 “Abstain” out of 42 members present in the House.