A heated argument almost turned into a brawl when desperate customers fumed at the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) outlet in Gelephu yesterday.
After running out of subsidised LPG cylinders since March 23, the regional outlet was restocked with 306 cylinders on April 1. Within three hours, the stock was exhausted.
More than 400 people returned home with empty cylinders. For many, this was the third unsuccessful attempt to get a refill since LPG shortage struck the regional outlet in February.
Many blamed the distributors for favouring selected individuals by giving them more than one cylinder despite the long queue that stretched across the road on the other side of the fuel depot.
One of the customers, Dorji Yangzom said there was no point waiting for hours if they had known limited cylinders were available. “Despite knowing this, the distributors kept us waiting in the sun,” she said. “Now they want us to come next time.”
Officials from the Bhutan Oil Distributors (BOD) said they received news of a possible union strike in Assam, which could delay the next import.
People who did not receive the refills demanded the distributors to introduce a token system. “We cannot afford to come everyday and wait in line if we are not going to get the gas,” said another customer, Guchu Wangdi.
The 60-year-old farmer from Pemathang said it was unfair for people like him who come leaving behind other important works just to return with the same empty cylinders.
“If they could give us a token card for having to wait for so long and distribute the gas accordingly next time, it would be more convenient,” he said. “We have to reserve taxi every time we come here. If this continues, it would be very expensive to use gas for people like us.”
BOD officials said they tried introducing a token system last month following the shortage of subsidised LPG. However, the idea was dropped as it failed to address the issue.
“People with tokens never showed up during distribution time and those waiting in the line accused us of being unfair,” said one of the officials. “When the stock was over people came with tokens claiming their rights. So we decided to provide the refills on a first-come-first basis.”
Officials said that the outlet provides a single refill on every card in a month. “Those people who take more than one cylinder have multiple cards with them,” said the official.
Meanwhile, the regional outlet receives 21 truckloads (6,426 cylinders) of subsidised LPG monthly of which more than 3,000 cylinders are used in Gelephu.
Officials said that the situation would continue in Gelephu for few more weeks before becoming stable, as the outlet has to distribute the LPG to other five central dzongkhags.
As of yesterday afternoon, Gelephu, Trongsa and Dagana outlets had no subsidised LPG cylinders in stock. Sarpang and Zhemgang had three each and Bumthang had 45 cylinders in stock.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu