Bans have become synonymous with jokes in Bhutan.
Starting with the plastic ban decades ago and now to the tobacco ban to the casual dress ban, everything that was in constant use and even considered almost a necessity but had supposed or real disadvantages have been banned at least in principle.
In reality, the plastic came back with a vengeance then. It is still there today, in use all over. Tobacco has a thriving black market and casual outfits as they are called are worn in the remotest parts of the country, forget the capital.
What went wrong with these bans? Maybe the motive behind them cannot be questioned, the authorities meant well. But the problem was the implementation part: there were no alternatives and the rationale was questionable.
For instance, what alternatives are there to comfy casuals? Surely people nowadays cannot be expected to sleep in their ghos and kiras. Also, nobody could have expected the kind of jail terms and sentences meted out to tobacco users. And the users are aplenty. They are addicted and they surely cannot de-addict when a rule is formulated. They need alternatives. Similarly with the plastic ban, carry bags are costlier and do not hold items like meat well. So there goes another plastic ban down the drain!
Authorities need to get their research right. They cannot keep on banning one thing or the other every now and then without doing a cost-benefit analysis or without pondering on the alternatives and impacts.
Towards more effective bans, creating advocacy and supplying alternatives is a must. Bhutanese are a lazy people most of the time. Because garbage trucks do not visit on time, they often dump their waste in the bushes. Thus, it’s not only their attitude that’s faulty but since the garbage trucks are not vigilant, the people have few options, too. It’s better that the surroundings stink than your house, to think of it.
Creating awareness on the whys and how’s of a ban is crucial to its effectiveness. For now, the opaque plastic bags have been banned only to be replaced by the transparent ones. The material of both is the same. So what happened to the ban one more time?
It’s a well-known fact that Bhutanese strategies are paper tigers. Without practical implementation, they have no teeth therefore the cogs are misplaced. And when the ban doesn’t work, there’s the blame game and penalties.
But whom are we to really blame? When will bans turn to boons instead of banes? Only time, a lot of mistakes later, will tell!