Think about Lhab Tshering

Lhab Tshering has been in detention since 31st January. On that fateful day, he was caught with 64 packets of chewing tobacco (Baba khaini) at the Chunzom checkpoint. He didn’t have a receipt to prove that he possessed the khaini legally. So he was charged for smuggling tobacco under the Tobacco Control Act.

Yesterday, the Thimphu District Court, found Lhab Tshering guilty of smuggling tobacco, and sentenced him to jail for three years.

Lhab Tshering, a driver, had purchased the khaini on 26th January, while repairing his vehicle, a trailer, in Jaigaon, India. He had paid Nu 200 for the 64 packets of khaini, each of which contains 10 grams of tobacco.

In court, he argued that the tobacco was for personal consumption. And he pleaded that he was not aware of the tobacco ban, which had, in fact, been in effect for barely a month.

The Office of the Attorney General, his prosecutors, maintained that ignorance of the law is not a justifiable defense. They are right. But they went on to elaborate that the Tobacco Control Act was:

… enacted by the Parliament which is represented by the elected members of all the people in Bhutan. This is enough to state that he is part of law making process because he is also a voter who elected the member from his constituency and thus he is also represented in the parliament in the enactment of the Act.

Incredible! The OAG, in its convoluted way, seems to blame Lhab Tshering for passing the law that got him into trouble.

Okay, Lhab Tshering may have voted. (And if he did, he most probably voted for the DPT.) But he can’t be held responsible for the laws that his representatives make. That responsibility – especially for crafting laws that harass people instead of benefiting them – lies solely and squarely with his representatives in the Parliament.

Anyway, Lhab Tshering has been sent to jail. And he doesn’t know what to do. In fact, there’s almost nothing he can do.

But the question is: what can we do about it?

At the very least, we can pause and think about Lhab Tshering.

Think about Lhab Tshering, a fellow citizen. He’s being sent to jail for three whole years for possessing a mere 64 packets of khaini worth all of Nu 200.

Think about Lhab Tshering, the sole bread earner in his family. He earned Nu 7,000 a month as a driver. But since his detention, five months ago, he hasn’t received a salary. And he won’t be able to do so for the next three years.

Think about Lhab Tshering, the young husband and father. His wife is 20 years old. And his son is just two. They’ve had to leave their home in Khuruthang, and are now living with Aum Choden, Lhab Tshering’s distant relative, in Thimphu. Yangchen Lham, Lhab Tshering’s wife, has no money, so she and her son are completely dependent on Aum Choden.

Think about Lhab Tshering, Aum Passam’s only “capable” child. She lives in a bamboo shack in Patale, Tsirang, with two of her children, both teenagers. She does not own any land, and, until recently, was supported by her son, Lhab Tshering.

Think about Lhab Tshering, Tshering Lhamu’s and Phub Dorji’s older brother. Tshering is in Class 3, and Phub is in Class 5. They go to school in Khuruthang and, until recently, they lived with their brother, Phub Tshering. While undergoing trail, Phub Tshering has had to request his Aunty, Wangchuk Dema, a gardener at Ugyen Academy, to take care of Tshering Lhamu and Phub Dorji.

Think about Lhab Tshering, a young man, criminalized by the Tobacco Control Act, and ask yourself if there’s justice in that law.

Think about Lhab Tshering, your fellow citizen, and demand that his representatives in Parliament – and your own representatives – correct this injustice.


Facebook Comments:


  1. In truth, the lunatics ARE running the asylum. Those who sat in judgement in this case are fit only for a home constructed for the crimminally insane!

  2. when sonam tshering was convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment, the court held that the ‘draconian act’ was the ‘will of the people’ and it is our duty to respect and uphold it. i would rather say its the will of our politicians. my question is how such an act can be termed as ‘will of the people’ when the same act is against the interest and will of our people. it is true that the govt have relaxed the gravity of punishment by coming up with two not so important instrument- guidelines and rules. but this doesnt change anything unless the act it self is amended by the Parliament. i have a feeling that these two relaxing instruments does not apply retrospectively. if it did, then the people caught in possession of the tobacco products would have been released. i m of the opinion that it should apply retrospectively, so as to serve justice in line with the govt’s commitment to control the use of tobacco products.

  3. I don’t think our senior leaders have time for such lowly people, they are busy sipping on their lowly taxed premium brand alcohol as they call it and duty free cigars. GNH is a reality for them.

  4. Dear OL,

    You are talking of emotions and sentiments. I must remind you that in the eyes of law (and more importantly LAW MAKERS)emotion has no value. Law purely works on evidences and written clauses. So what if we are a country whose great Kings thought diffrently and chose an emotional factor while defining GNH. So What???

    We are a democracy now. The visions and values of yesteryears and yesterrulers have no significance because every individual is now responsible for his fate (by being part of making such unique laws). We are now a democracy and we are unique, GNH is probably a dead concept and we need to be more innovative in our uniqueness, and what better way then showing the entire world our newly found traits of an non emotional state. GNH WHAT???

    I know I am being rude, but rudeness too is an emotional factor and I am sure it will also not move any of the Policy Maker’s heart.

    Welcome Bhutan to a new age. A age where an emotional appeal has no meaning because it is not backed with a slip of paper (receipt for amount as meagre as Nu 200). A new age where the dreams and promises of our great rulers have no respect (Respect is an emotional factor again). A new age where our egos have become sooooooo strong that we consider it as a political loss to correct our own mistakes.

    So OL, please don’t appeal to the government, because goverment is not for emotional appeals.

    GNH on papers and presentations is okay, but I am really disturbed and worried about the future of Happiness as an emotion in our country.

  5. pem tshering says

    What can we expect from the world’s most highly qualified group of MPs led by a great talker, and that too on GNH without himself practising it? God save DrukYul from these group of men who think are the chosen ones of the people after having an election using all terrible ways and means. DPT was never formed from the very start with intentions to serve the people of Bhutan but to get rid of the PDP whatsoever. Fortunately, we are left with less than 20 months to bear with their tyranical rule. I pray that some of the ministers and MPs get the due punishment from the Heaven Above for all their egos and selfishness.

  6. INVISIBLE says

    On this, I agree with OL. It hurts me deeply to see my “invisible” people treated with “injustice.” As OL has very vividly put it, the “cascading” effect of disaster to the family is like our version of Tsunami destruction in our small close-knit society. This is simply because poor has to put all their eggs of security in onr basket (sole bread earner in the family like Lhap Tshering in this case), without diverse financial choice and endowment. Every member of poor family’s life is depended on sole bread earner. If one of us goes to jail, we won’t suffer that disastrous “cascading” effect because we have decent bank account or we have endowment (such as land, house, car, shops, other self-sustaining business etc). Poor does not have luxury to mitigate such unforeseen risks.

    I have always believed betting on my “own life” that “poverty” and “injustice” are the twin root causes of all the problems in the world and it is worse when both “poverty” and “injustice” torture the poor soul. I have seen that in my “emotional” journey of being with the “invisible” people – those people in our society who are “invisible” to the eyes of those people who walks the corridors of power and privilege – as well as in my hard-headed “evidence” journey of battling with best data analysis consultants in the world.

    I still come to believe that we have to fight “poverty” and “injustice” together.

    Hence, my own honest appeal, and little criticism (if I humbly offer) to our most qualified Parliament in the world (with minimum bachelor’s degree) is please give equal importance to your “EQ” (emotional intelligence) as you give to your “IQ” (mechanical intelligence).

    You all are our leaders and know that all the leaders who shaped the world so far have used more of “EQ” rather than “IQ” from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Our Beloved Kings.

    “Invisible” people in our society needs more of your “EQ” and less of your “IQ.” This is my honest appeal.

    With Respects,

  7. Dear OL, you could have asked the government that, “can raising tax rates are always the solution for reducing the impact of alcohol and vehicles”? No other alternative solutions then raising tax rates?

  8. i feel sorry to Lhab Tshering. This is to much for the poor people. Many Thanks to DPT. Keep it up. If we chose the same government for next term then we have to build many jails in bhutan by making and passing good acts. Again many thanks to DPT.

  9. Damtshigchen says

    Dear Sherig,

    Are you relative to Lhab Tshering. If so why you are blaming only to the government. DPT will be the best government. Rules are framed by the parliament not only by the government. Do you really understand the parliament. It is compose of DPT, PDP and the NC. Don’t blame the government only. I repeat blame the parliament.


  10. The Tobacco Act is so foolish and it just reflects the mentality of the DTP government.Every time I hear about the Tobacco Act, I think of a few MPs who were very vocal during the framing and passing of the Act. They must never be let to come back to represent us anymore. They are just not intelligent enough for the job.

    Good intention but bad implementation method. When you want to do something good, beating the shit out of the culprit is not the way.But why do I get the feeling that DPT is sick? Why can’t they let go of their ego and amend this Act. If they really care, they should do it but it looks like they will not.

    This is what I call ‘ragging’ by the DTP and it will surely be the cause of their downfall.

    We want change. Change in approach to development, capable and sincere people who are willing to clean the corrupt system. For this, both DTP and PDP are not the right parties.

  11. People have gotten away with murder and here it is, imprisonment for Tobacco, arent we going too far. Sigh!!!! Cant you do anything besides writing on your blog. I really feel sad such things are happening…I too purely blame the Members of the Parliament, why have they been elected?why is the Government paying them so much?

  12. Lately, the chief of police came up with a brilliant idea on how to impose penalties for defaulters of so called this damned “tobacco act”. His idea was so practical that i thought would benefit the people of Bhutan in face of the dictator rule by DPT. Why don’t we as a learning nation scrap off and pardon the previous defaulters and have a new beginning with the practical guide to implementing tobacco act? Bhutanese people surely need to triple think before making their franchise in 2013. This democracy is taking us nowhere. God can only save us now.

  13. Here we go again. Another ‘great result’ of the TCA, turning someone in Bhutan – a man, husband, father,son, brother into a ‘CRIMINAL’, for the 64 packets of khaini worth Nu.200.

    If the ignorance of the TCA law is not a justifiable defense, how will ‘those responsible for TCA’ justify that man and his children’s pain and suffering from now.

  14. I wonder if the ego of the DPT government is preventing the Parliament to amend the Tobacco Control Act which has been highly criticised.

  15. DPT SUPPORTER says


  16. Motor Mouth says

    our parliamentarians are insensitive thugs.

    and the worst part, they are not willing to accept that this was an exercise in failure and not willing to rectify their mistakes and tender their apologies.

    bunch of cowards!

  17. Dear OL and INVINSIBLE, Lets not talk about how they are suffering and both the Tsherings are in prison not because of Almighty, but the law of land is punishing him. For monk, forget about present plight, Lord of Death is waiting down there to crucify him. OL, backing such trangressed monk and driver will make law null and void. Therefore, do not bring such bereaved stories on your blog for just to benefit few people in the society. With respect pema, gcbs

  18. the government has sought to justify the tobacco act using the argument that it is supported by the majority of the people. this clearly indicates the government’s failure to understood the meaning of democracy. true democracy does not mean ‘the tyranny of the majority, but that even the rights of the minorities (in this case the smokers) are respected. bhutan still has a long way to go to become a democracy.

  19. wai ol la! after going through your post, it sounded like you are being more and more utilitarian. but,truth be told, don’t you think that smoking or smuggling is categorically wrong? smoking or smuggling tobacco is categorically wrong notwithstanding the consequences. stop empathizing with the victims of the act. be rationale enough to understand the intention of the act, rather than looking at the consequences. period!! smoking tobacco affects the third party or bystander; in other words, you don’t bear the brunt of health risks inflicted on bystanders/non-smokers. in economics parlance, it’s called a negative externality.

    if you still believe banning smoking is not ethical or moral, just do some cost-benefit analysis.don’t be lazy. instead of asking biased questions, ask some questions like this:”will bhutan be better off if smoking is banned?” trust me, the result will differ drastically! and also, stop being carried away by the popular consent of social media. in social networks, say, people who agree with the tobacco law cannot openly raise their ‘say’ or voice because they do not want to create problems with smokers or smugglers.

  20. annonymous says

    I agree with sherig. This TOBACCO CONTROL ACT is only meant for the poor people.

    Dear DAMTSHIGCHEN whether we blame parliament or DPT, it is the same thing because the majority member are from DPT. so obviously we have the right to blame DPT.

    May be i guess you are one of the member of DPT because it seems you care so much about them. And i am not a relative of lhab tshering nor sherig.

    keep it up DPT for ruining Lhab tshering’s family life. Next time you all deserve lots of votes.

    i don’t see any justice here…

  21. Dear OL,
    You have not made ur role clear in the piece though. What can you do as an opposition leader to give this victim justice?

  22. OL made us think of Sonam Tshering. Now he is making us think of Lhab Tshering. Next time, probably in 2013, OL will make us think of Tshering Tobgay.

    Even the small society having access to OL’s weblog is not in same thinking of the Tobacco Act. Try out the debate with the major population (Urban and Rural), who do not have access to debate in the weblog. There is no chance of ammendment of the Tobacco Act. In no way, the Act can favor 5% and offend 95% of the population.

    OL, you are buying a wrong coupon for your 2013 mileage. I am repeating it!

  23. Clean Boy says

    HE OL,
    Everyone of us clearly know that the laws are passed by parliament (ruling, opposition and upper house). Then my question is: Who are you? if your answer is, I am OL of lower house than another question is: Are present when the Tabacco bill was passed as act? Dear OL, people of Bhutan are not folish anusholes what you think.

    It is very high time for yourself to provide correct information for people of Bhutan, especially those who are really addicted regarding tabacco act. Which perhaps will help to lessen the arrest for tabacco case. Also, it will very useful for 2013-14 election.

    Khel a-cha se khe-lo!!! don’t be stupid of yourself.

    Best of luck for your chair and 2013-14 election.

  24. The Tobacco control Act was passed by the parliament and the law is clear on offenses and penalties related to the Tobacco. When laws are clear even Judges of the courts may not have authority to give less than cited penalties. With regard to the person mentioned by the Hon’ble, knowing fact that he is only person to feed his family and if judges passed judgment on the based of such emotional ground then that would not serve larger purpose of the Tobacco control Act and also the Judge is going against the law of the land by freeing such person or imposing penalties less then mentioned in the Act. Thats my thought and i wish the law could be enacted.

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