Sunday, February 20, 2011
An unjust, undemocratic, and preposterous ban - K Tshering AKA Big B
In the august hall of the Parliament - that must epitomize traditional and modern wisdom and echo within its walls the highest of democratic values and principles, honorable parliamentarians brainstormed a bill and enacted it last session. The consequences of which are far reaching and to some extent deliberately overlooked
In eventuality, a citizen can be convicted to 3-5 years in prison if found guilty of illegal production, possession, sale and consumption of tobacco products. The crime is graded a fourth degree felony. Now that is beyond any reasonable degree or magnitude, one of the most extreme measures, a desperate one at that, taken by the Parliament to keep the ban working.
In 2004, the NA banned tobacco sales in Bhutan, a hallmark legislation that made international headlines. The last Shangri-La, the land of happiness, has done it, the world acclaimed.
Alas, the historic ban failed miserably. Instead of stamping out smoking and tobacco use, an unbridled black market thrived. Shoddy enforcement and inept implementation of a law with a noble end are to be blamed. It was as if we were making a mockery of ourselves. We needed to redeem the smeared image.
To cover up the failure, we have a law that is more stringent and ‘deadlier’ than the earlier one. The fact of the matter is skewed implementation, the cause of the failure of the ban. How to enforce the already existing law should have been the focus point. The government could have introspected and examined what went wrong and found relevant corresponding solutions. No, the government did not do that.
Rather the government felt a new law must be put in place. And this time a more stringent and draconian law would be passed. A minority of MPs had the wisdom and discretion to walk out on the legislation.
A fitting example of tyranny of the majority or rather folly, the heavy handed anti-smoking law will send Sonam Tshering, the first victim of this law, to possibly a maximum of five years imprisonment. I say he is a victim because he is a criminal made by circumstances, not by the sheer vice of his act in itself.
Sonam Tshering is not a criminal and he is not supposed to be treated like one. But the government’s overriding zest to do away with tobacco use in the country has made a criminal out of an otherwise innocent citizen.
At the first place, Sonam Tshering will be crucified because that would create fear among others who dare to violate the law. He will be the proverbial sacrificial lamb, not because he committed a grave, hideous crime by any standards but because the MPs reckoned it so.
There is no justice and fairness in that kind of law. Justice is administered when crime and punishment is balanced. A rapist is sentenced to nine years in jail; that is fair, completely. A murderer is sentenced to life; that is fair too. There is a sense of balance in the equation.
However, when a person will be sentenced to 3-5 years of imprisonment for carrying 72 packets of chewing tobacco, that law is obnoxiously and excessively unfair. It is a massive blow to the principles of cause and effect, the whole process of justice system and the idea of justice itself.
The tobacco control act 2010 criminalizes what is in actuality a fundamental human right, of course keeping aside the philosophical debate over the wrongness and rightness of tobacco consumption. The law is undemocratic in that sense. And the manner in which it is imposed, it almost seems dictatorial in approach. Smoke and be damned, whether that be callous inhuman impudence or not. We don dot care seems to be the writing on that arrogant board.
The legislation is put to test, and perhaps it is too early to judge that the law may not work. It may work and be successful. Smokers will be imprisoned. Those who sell tobacco products will be imprisoned. And we will be a no-smoking nation. But at what expense? Somebody’s freedom, at our own freedom?
The positive side of the enactment of and the law is that this is a reflection of political conviction and will, aptly in its reinforcement to root out tobacco consumption in the country - It deserves applause! Consumption of tobacco is without a shadow of doubt harmful to physical health.
The law's objective, vision, and goals are noble. There is no denying this fact. It is to restrict smoking and use of tobacco, and curtail health care cost incurred by ill effects of tobacco consumption and to promote “well being of the people of Bhutan which are important elements of the development principle of GNH” (preamble of the act).
That said, it must be noted that nowhere in the world, in a democracy, is a law put in place that criminalizes tobacco consumption. And if we are trying to be overly unique, the law is uniquely draconian as well. Simply the law is unjust, preposterous and undemocratic.