Much to the relief of many, the price of fuel was slashed significantly, by about Nu 10 a litre on average. Diesel would cost Nu 11.49 less and petrol nearly by Nu 10 a litre in Thimphu. While the slash in price may vary from place to place depending on distance, any reduction is welcomed.
The escalating price of fuel, especially diesel is blamed for the increase in price of goods including essentials. If the price of fuel would be further slashed or pass the all-time high – Nu 120 for a litre of diesel is unpredictable. We cannot control the price of fuel even if it is the number one commodity that is creating havoc across the globe, including overthrowing elected governments. As a country solely dependent on import of fossil fuel, we can only pray that factors affecting the fluctuations in the price of fuel are stabilised.
Not many Bhutanese are bothered about the visit of the American President to the Middle East, especially to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producing country. But the geopolitics far away from the mountains of Bhutan has direct repercussions on us. Any change in the price of fuel impacts us. It is quite direct as the price of diesel dictates the price of basic goods like rice, flour or oil.
While many may not feel the pinch, the lower and middle income groups are the worst affected. Even as they welcome the new fuel price, the first question is will the cost of transportation (taxi fare) and essentials come down? This is because an increase in price directly shoots up the cost of transportation and goods. A common complaint today is that Nu 1,000 is not enough to buy a bag of vegetables to last for a week.
Meanwhile, it has almost become a cliché that the clean energy we export is not enough to pay for the fossil fuel we import. While environmental concerns may be at the bottom of priorities for those eking out a living amidst rising inflation, it should concern our policy makers. We do not produce petrol or diesel. We have to import it regardless of the price. But we need to find alternatives.
Adhoc decisions like restricting diesel for power tillers during the busy changla (paddy transplantation) is not the solution. Asking a farmer in gumboots at the fuel station with a five- litre jerry can to get a permit from the gup or mangmi is a stupid decision to control fuel. It is only harassing farmers who are concerned of other shortages – water, labour and subsidies.
Even as we complain about fuel shortage or rise in price, we are encouraging people to buy, and buy. Every month, we add a thousand vehicles on our roads, but we do not have a policy to improve public transport. Many are feeling the heat of the fuel price hike. But the alternatives are missing altogether or limited. Improved public transport that is reliable and efficient, incentives to encourage electric vehicles and taxes to discourage fuel guzzlers are some ideas the government needs to explore.
It will not be a popular decision, but the larger population would welcome that.