Resources: BM hiring’s tripper driver, Phuntsho Tobgay, just returned from Nanglam with couple of barrels of diesel to Panbang, which the company would use for construction of Kamati farm road in Bjoka in Zhemgang.

Every month, Phuntsho Tobgay, like the rest of the residents, business community, and civil servants, either drives to Nanglam or Gelephu to buy diesel, petrol, kerosene and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) because of absence of fuel depot in Panbang.

For Panbang, fuel depots in Nanglam in the east, Gelephu in the west and Zhemgang in the north are the nearest. The nearest fuel depot in Nanglam is 55 kilometres, while Gelephu is about 167 kilometers, and Zhemgang is 115 kilometers away from Panbang.

“We send our truck twice every month, solely to fetch fuel from Nanglam,” B M hiring supervisor, Bikash Rai said.

Every month B M hiring spends over Nu 14,400 to get diesel from Nanglam. “Paying DSA for the driver’s stay in Nanglam incurs more expenses,” Bikash Rai said, adding that sending the only truck at the site to fetch fuel also hampers work progress.

It takes two days to get the diesel to the construction site in Bjoka. Today, Panbang has over 150 vehicles, including those from Goshing, Ngangla, Bjoka and Phangkhar.

Local leaders said lack of fuel depot in Panbang is putting additional pressure on the government coffer.

“ A considerable amount of additional expenses are incurred because the diesel has to be ferried from Gelephu or Nanglam especially for construction of farm roads,” Goshing gup, Sangay Letho said.

In absence of fuel depot, civil servants, local leaders and vehicle owners in gewogs like Goshing, Bjoka, Phangkhar, have to undergo great difficulties. Although some people sell fuel illegally, vehicles owners find using their fuel unsafe.

“Buying from illegal outlets is causing mechanical problems to vehicles perhaps from content of impurities,” Sangay Letho said, adding that getting LPG is also equally difficult for users from far-flung villages because the cooking gas exhausts on the very day of its arrival.

Kinley Dorji from Panbang said lack of fuel depot has also led to illegal sale of petrol and diesel to thrive.

In Panbang, a litre of petrol costs between Nu 80-100, and Nu 60-70 for diesel. In Nanglam, a litre of petrol is just Nu 54.30, and Nu 44.65 for diesel.

While some vehicle owners buy fuel from illegal outlets in Panbang, others buy in larger quantities to store petrol and diesel in homes.

“People have had to store petrol at homes despite being unsafe and fatal in the event of fire,” Kinley Dorji said.

Sangay Lhaden from Sonamthang said that though the vehicle owners can buy petroleum products from the neighbouring Indian towns like Barpeta and Bansbari, non-availability of rupee makes buying fuel from India unattainable.

“Even if Ngultrum is accepted, the Indian marchents take either 5 or 10 percent of the cost for foreign exchange, which further make fuel costlier,” Sangay Lhaden said.

“The immediate need of fuel depot in Panbang was also raised in Dzongkhag Tshogdu a few years back,” Sangay Letho said.

The government has been working on opening fuel depot in Panbang since 2010 as per a letter from economic affairs ministry (MoEA) on June 12, 2015.

MoEA has also written to Damchen Petroleum, reminding the agency that it has not yet set up fuel depot in Panbang despite the ministry’s instruction on March 2010.

“As such, you [DPCL/Bhutan oil corporation] are requested to kindly prioritise the construction of fuel depot in Panbang and Jomtshangkha in consultation with Indian oil corporation limited,” the letter on June 12 this year stated.

Sangay Penjor from Panbang, who has given away 0.50 decimal land for the construction of fuel depot, said the gewog and the dungkhag have already given clearances to construct one in Rebati, about five kilometres from Panbang on the way to Tingtibe. The public clearance has also been sought.

“The fuel depot couldn’t be constructed because NEC hasn’t issued its clearance,” Sangay Penjor said, adding that DPCL told him that IOCL would proceed with setting up of fuel pump only when environment clearance is issued.

Environment officer from Zhemgang, Tashi Dendup, said the dzongkhag would issue the clearance once it visits the indentified location in Rebati.

“By next week the dzongkhag team will come to assess the area and issue environment clearance,” Tashi Dendup.

Tempa Wangdi, Panbang