Compulsory free labour returns to Bhutan

Bhutan’s continued culture for free labour service has returned in a new form as the parliament approves the king’s proposal to create Gyalsung (National Service) last week. 

Both houses of the parliament have approved a Bill that would mandate every citizen who attains the age of 18 to attend a paramilitary training programme and free labour service in development activities.

These trained individuals must provide their service through other ministry forces like Royal Bhutan Police and Royal Bhutan Army. On top of that, the King had been commanding the paramilitary force Desuup since 2019. The non-constitutional paramilitary force has now been given legitimacy with the passing of this bill.

The one-year training programme includes three months of basic military training followed by nine months of specialised training in various fields like agriculture sciences, entrepreneurship, computers and coding, and health sciences. The service will be mandatory for all those who have reached 18 years of age and completed Class XII, from 2024.

The initiative was announced by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on 17 December 2019, on his annual day message. He later exercised his royal prerogative to introduce a Bill in Parliament, which was passed in the lower house, the National Assembly, on November 7 and the upper house, National Council, on November 9.

The Bill was introduced to the parliament not by any Member of Parliament, but by outsider Sonam Kinga. King was a former chairman of the upper house and currently heads the Gyalsung initiative as the king’s appointee. 

Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly of Bhutan 2014 stipulates that only members of the parliament – either government minister or private member – can introduce any Bill to the parliament for discussion and approval. 

The Gyalsung programmes are already running in full swing. It has training centres in Bhangtar in Samdrup Jongkhar, Taklai in Sarbhang with plans to establish others in Samchi, Mongar and Wandue Phodrang. Its operational offices are located in Jamtsholing (Samtse), Tareythang (Sarpang), Pemathang (Samdrup Jongkhar) Khotokha (Wangdueprodrang) and Bondeyma (Monggar).

The Gyalsung headquarters will issue notices to eligible persons to register for the programme, following which they must register within 90 days. Failure to do so will result in a “penalty amounting to the daily national minimum wage rate of up to 90 days. A Bhutanese attaining 18 years, irrespective of where they live, should return to the country for the service. 

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