Questions over Deferment of Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan 2020 and the 2-hour debate time

The Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan 2020 was deferred by the Speaker after the Chairperson of the Joint Committee for the Bill, MP Kinley Wangchuk recommended that the Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan 2020 be deferred in the Joint Sitting. The Chairperson submitted that despite holding meetings for six times, the Joint Committee could not arrive at a consensus on the Bill.

 However, this did not sit easy with the National Council and also certain members of the Opposition party for two reasons. One, was the Speaker cutting short the discussion after two hours when three days had been allotted for the Bill and the other issue pointed out was that section 59 A (2) of the Legislative Rules of Procedure used by the Speaker to defer the Bill is not in keeping with the Constitution.

It was pointed out Article 13.8 of the Constitution says, ‘Where the House in which the Bill originated refuses to incorporate such amendments or objections of the other House, it shall submit the Bill to the Druk Gyalpo, who will then command the Houses to deliberate and vote on the Bill in a joint sitting.”

It was pointed out that this Constitutional section has no provision for deferment.

It was also pointed out that past Kashos by His Majesty on joint sitting had clearly indicated that a bill must be voted on and if it cannot get the votes then it becomes a dead bill.

The feeling within some MPs from the NA and NC is that the debate was cut short within two hours and deferment was done as a three-day discussion would have brought out many issues in the mining sector and a vote on the issue would force the hand of the government and MPs to show their position on the issue.

There was some heated exchange between some MPs and the Speaker and the NC Thrizin Tashi Dorji even got up to say that the Speaker had engaged in some debate with the members hinting that the Speaker is only supposed to moderate the proceedings.

This is because even deferment is similar to a Dead bill as the Mining Bill can now be reintroduced only after a year if it is introduced with the key difference being that before a Bill is dead there would have been extensive deliberation and then a vote.

A NC member told this paper that the JC had seven members from the NA and five members from the NC and though the NC members were not in favour of deferment the majority in the committee was with the NA members.

He also said that the section 59 A (2) was actually supposed to be a one-time provision to save the former government the blushes with India and protect the friendly foreign relations as there was a danger of the joint sitting not approving the BBIN agreement.

The member said that even if the Mining Bill was passed to allow private sector involvement in mines then it would not be in keeping with the Constitution. He said that even the National Law Review Task Force had pointed this out.

Talking to the paper the Speaker Tshogpon Wangchuk Namgyel on his part said that the Mining Bill cannot be equated to a Dead Bill as the JC had not even presented any points of discussion and he said the recommendation was for deferral.

He said that even then people were allowed to speak for around two hours and then only deferral was done. The Speaker said that even this two-hour discussion was ‘very boring’ for many of the members.

The Speaker said that if the discussion was allowed to drag on for three days then there would be all kinds of attempts to put pressure and also possible lobbying on the sides.

The Speaker said that the people raising an issue with the 59 A (2) and deferment may be talking from their point of view after their certain objectives were not achieved. The Speaker pointed out that the LROP and section 59 A (2) had been agreed to by both houses.

He said that it is possible that 59 A (2) may not be in keeping with the Constitution but this section had been brought from the time of the first government in 2011 and had been amended in 2017. He said that if its Constitutional nature is in question then the Parliament can discuss and amend it but it was used as it is still there in the rules.

On the debate between him and some members the Speaker said that all kinds of insinuations were being made and so he had to reply and let them know when the LROP had come in among other points.

Meanwhile, as of Friday there was no indication from the National Council on if it plans to challenge the Constitutionality of section 59 A (2) for a judicial review, which it can do after deliberating on it and writing to His Majesty to ask for a Judicial Review.

The Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan 2020 was introduced and passed by the National Assembly in its 2nd and 3rd Session of the Third Parliament and presented to the National Council for deliberation during its 26th Session. 

However, the National Assembly during its re-deliberation on the Bill could not incorporate the amendments of the National Council.

 The Joint Committee on the Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan was then formed in line with the Legislative Rules of Procedure 2017 to review the disputed clauses of the Bill.

At the heart of dispute lies the debate on who should have ownership of the lucrative mines and the key to this debate is in the interpretation of Article 1.12 of the Constitution that says, “The rights over mineral resources, rivers, lakes and forests shall vest in the State and are the properties of the State, which will be regulated by law.”  

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