The recent outcries of exorbitant electricity bills are evident that Bhutan’s energy sector is profit-driven and anti-GNH. The electricity bill details that each consumer using a low voltage (general population) are charged Nu.1.28 per unit up to 100kWh units and thereafter Nu 2.68 per unit till 500kWh unit and above that Nu 3.60 per unit. This is far higher than our export price of Nu 2.55 per unit in India irrespective of quantity. Kuensel this week reported that the average consumer in this winter uses more than 500kWh units of electricity. Thus, a consumer consuming 500kWh units per month is charged around Nu 1200 which is more than 11% of the revised pay scale of an operational level civil servant.   

Now let us look at a few other countries whose main source of revenue depends on energy like us by selling fossil fuel.  A litre of petrol cost just around Nu 4 in Iran, Nu 10 in Saudi Arabia, Nu 14 in Venezuela and Nu. 20 in Brunei whose GDP per capita are many times higher than us. Their citizens enjoy a hundred times less than their export price because they are producers.  

While Article 5(1) of our Constitution makes every Bhutanese trustee of our “natural resources” and we sacrifice a lot to protect these natural resources, we are deprived of its benefit from hydropower. Article 9 mandates the state to ensure good quality of life, “secure an adequate livelihood.” The Article 10(2) mandates the parliament to “ensure that the Government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfils the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues” and Article 20 (1) mandates the Executive to look after the “well-being and happiness of the people.” Most importantly, Article 7(1) guarantees the right to life.  In the 21st century, the right to life and the entire livelihood is dependent on electricity in Bhutan. We talk about e-governance, big data, digital Drukyul, e-education, cashless economy, renewable and clean energy, smart homes etc. The electricity has thus become a lifeline for everyone and everything now.  

Therefore, even a small increase in electricity charges affects not just few people but the entire nation. 

However, all our successive governments have deliberately pushed for profit from its citizens by coming with the current billing system through various laws and policies which is fundamentally flawed.   If electricity becomes unaffordable, taking electricity to every household is nothing short of a political gimmick to win an election. Accessibility to electricity has no or little benefit if citizens are forced to pay exorbitant prices. The Electricity Act of Bhutan (ECB) 2003, Tariff Regulations and Hydropower Policy 2016 even refused to incorporate the term affordable. While Section 17(1) of ECB aims to protect the “electricity services for the underprivileged” and Domestic Electricity Tariff Policy 2015 mentions affordability, the current system does not even recognize urban poor.   

It would not be wrong for the public to call it a daylight robbery because the public is deprived of the benefits derived from our natural resources yet continues to sacrifice other things to protect them. The government and the parliamentarians have failed to recognize the importance of providing affordable electricity particularly among the underprivileged population in urban areas. Unless the state recognizes that affordable electricity as the soul of the fundamental right to life, common citizens will be forced to make a profit for a few corporate. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.