A decision will, most likely, be reached today A joint committee comprising members from both the National Assembly and the National Council sat together yesterday to settle their differences on the tobacco control amendment bill.
The consensus they reach will be up for deliberation at the joint sitting today at the Parliament.
While that’s that, a few within the civil service like those among assembly members said they smelt a rat in the way the council members removed some of the most crucial provisions of the tobacco control law.
While that has had the assembly members scathing about it, the council’s legislative committee members, in particular, have come in for a flak.
"They either want to further soften the tobacco law beyond what the assembly members did or they’re looking for another bargain," a senior civil servant said.
Council members, during their discussions of the bill on January 16, had refrained from discussing in detail, the penalties they removed from those the bill prescribed in varying degrees depending on the nature of offences, in this case, the amount of tobacco and its products a person brought into the country.
Council’s legislative committee chairperson Kuenlay Tshering, who denied the council members having any agenda behind their decision, said detailed discussion on the amendments they made on the penalties was unnecessary.
"When the council lifted the ban on sale and purchase of tobacco and its products, it’s logical the penalties in relation to it are deleted automatically," he said.
From section 11 (b) of the bill, against assembly members’ amendment that read "no person shall sell or distribute tobacco or its products", the council removed the words "sale" and "distribute" and included "manufacture" instead.
It lifted sections 11 (c), (d) and (e), which were in conjunction with the penalties that included fines for possessing tobacco and its products within permissible quantity but lacked proof of tax and duty payment, misdemeanour for possessing tobacco beyond permissible quantity and fourth degree felony for possession of it three times or more, than prescribed quantity.
Council member Kuenlay Tshering said they felt it would be reasonable to once again allow the normal sale of tobacco and its products and install other softer measures such as curtailing its use through aggressive campaigning and awareness.
The sudden shift in the thinking, he said, came after they began considering the concerns of smokers and its supporters, which were in minority though.
"While democracy is about the rule of the majority, we can’t close our eyes and ears to concerns of the minority," he said.
To the argument that the assembly’s efforts to loosen up the penalties was an act of accommodating the concerns of the minority, Kuenlay Tshering said, every person had a point of view.
The government, when the bill was initially being deliberated, he said, was resolute about passing it with the severe penalties.
"We passed it, despite our doubts of it being implementable," he said, adding that a year later, it is up for amendment.
"It wasn’t the council that proposed for the amendment," he said. "Therefore, we thought of giving other measures a chance than fill up our prisons."
Health minister Lyonpo Zangley Dukpa during the assembly discussion on the council’s amendments on January 17 said awareness and campaigns on ills of tobacco and its products never worked.