For almost seven months, restaurant owners and hoteliers in Trashigang have not received refills on their commercial liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders.

Supplied by the Bhutan Industrial Gas (BIG), the commercial gas has left many hoteliers disgruntled with its irregular service and exorbitant charges.

After observing a shortage of subsidised LPG cylinders, the trade department mandated all commercial establishments to switch to BIG cylinders in 2015.

One of the hoteliers in Trashigang, Chimi Dema, said that despite the large price difference she opted to use the BIG cylinder as ordered.

“We were asked to remove all the subsidised LPG cylinders from our kitchen so we gave it away,” she said. “Now we are not getting refills on the BIG cylinder.”

It was learnt that an empty BIG cylinder was priced at Nu 3,300 and Nu 1,462 was charged for every refill. A subsidised LPG cylinder costs around Nu 1,200 and Nu 555 for a refill.

Another hotelier, Santosh Lepcha, said that despite the bigger size and higher price, the BIG cylinder lasted equally like any subsidised LPG cylinder. “There was not much difference, in fact the BIG cylinders finished faster than the regular cylinders.”

He said that for one refill of the BIG cylinder, they could get three refills on a subsidised LPG cylinder.

Kuensel learnt that the issue was also discussed with the secretary of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) during a recent visit to the dzongkhag. The secretary had asked the hoteliers to form a committee and submit a letter explaining the concern.

Trashigang thromde thuemi, Thinley Namgay, said that after receiving complaints from the hoteliers, he discussed the matter with the officials at the regional trade office in Mongar.

“I was told that due to the change in the agent dealing the BIG cylinders in Trashigang, the distribution was hampered,” said the thuemi. “Trade officials said they would work it out soon but it’s been almost seven months now.”

He said the trade department wanted the hoteliers to continue using the BIG cylinders. “However, the hoteliers have requested to do away with the BIG cylinders stating that the rule is not practiced uniformly across the country.”

Thinley Namgay said he would be writing to the department on the issues submitted to him by some 15 hoteliers in the town.

Trade officials were not available for comment.

The distributor of BIG cylinders in Trashigang, Sonam Norbu, said he has left the job since there was no profit in it. “Hoteliers were reluctant to buy the cylinders since it was charged higher than the regular LPG cylinders,” he said. “And there was no continuous supply of the cylinders from the agent in Samdrupjongkhar.”

For almost a month now, Sonam Norbu has stopped functioning as a distributor of the BIG cylinder.

Meanwhile, hoteliers have resorted to using the subsidised LPG cylinders, which have in turn put pressure on the suppliers. Almost all hotels and restaurants use the subsidised LPG cylinders today.

The Bhutan Oil Distributors (BOD) that distributes the subsidised LPG cylinders has made it mandatory for customers to produce the LPG card in order to get a refill beginning this month.

The move has left many hoteliers disgruntled.

As per the card system, the owner of a card can receive only one refill every month.

BOD manager, Krishna Bhujal, said that until 2015 they allowed two refills on a card every month. “The card system was not very clear then. We used to give out refills on cards that were registered outside our dzongkhag,” he said.

“However, recently the trade department has made it strict to allow single refill on every card in a month,” said the manager. “We are asked not to give subsidised LPG refills to hoteliers and cardholders of other dzongkhags.”

Another hotelier, Choney Dorji, said that his hotel consumes at least two LPG cylinders a week. “This is just absurd. First, we don’t get the refill on the BIG cylinder and now we can only get one refill a month on subsidised LPG,” he said. “How are we supposed to run our business?”

He said that as long as the rules are implemented uniformly, the public would comply. “The BIG cylinders were literally robbing us since it lasts as much as any ordinary LPG cylinder,” he said. “We’ll follow any rule so long as it is uniform and just to all.”

It was learnt that the BOD supplies another domestic LPG cylinder, green gas, especially for commercial firms. The green gas is priced at Nu 1,650 when empty and Nu 1,046 for every refill. “In absence of the BIG cylinders, hoteliers can use the green gas,” said the manager.

In the case of transfers, the manager said that the customers have to change their card code by visiting the regional trade office in Mongar. “Only then we would provide them with refills,” he added.

The Trashigang BOD distributes about 70 subsidised LPG cylinders daily.

Meanwhile, another restaurant operator, Tshering Dorji, is worried that he might have to close his business until he is eligible for the next refill.

“I have been going around asking cards from different people and now I have no option,” he said. “I need about six cylinders of gas for the restaurant every month.”

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang