Bhutan has changed. Governments have changed. Her problems have not. Nor have our complacency to fix basic public services.
The issues with cooking gas, its shortage; its hoarding and its distribution have persisted for years. We have now reached a situation where inaction from authorities to address the problem is as chronic as the problems associated with LPG.
Recently, Gelephu ran out of gas for the second time in a month. When the stock arrived, more than 400 people ended up returning home without a refill. The desperation and the frustration nearly resulted in a mass brawl.
The situation in Gelephu is not an exception. People across the country are unhappy with the inactions to address the problem of subsidised LPG shortage and hoarding. The last government made an effort and started importing non-subsidised LPG to address the shortage. Sadly it did not work. Weak awareness and strong reluctance even from those who could afford to make the switch has today made the initiative redundant. An attempt to go digital in issuing tokens in Thimphu is confusing people more.
So we have a situation of shortage and surplus of LPG. The cost difference between the subsidised and the non-subsidised of about Nu 200 a cylinder is cited as the factor. It is an irony that our policy makers can spend millions of ngultrum on hospitality and entertainment but cannot do much to address this price gap.
We import 700 metric tons (MT) of subsided LPG and 1,000 MT of non-subsided LPG every month. The economic affairs ministry has said that it has made a request to the Indian government to revise the monthly quota to 1,000MT. As more families become nuclear and rural homes use LPG to firewood, the number of LPG users has increased over the years in the country.
Additional gas cylinders, which increases our dependence, would help curb the shortage, but only temporarily. We need to first fix the existing problems. Curb deflation and make distribution efficient. People hoard LPG cylinders because they do not have confidence in the system to deliver when they need it. It is a consequence of poor public service, not a hobby for them to indulge in.
LPG is one of the essentials, a basic necessity. It is the mostly widely used fuel for cooking. We have seen its impacts on our forests and health and any disruption in its supply impacts our homes and lives.
We have blamed everyone enough. Given our dependence on the fuel, it is time we fix it this time for good.