The carrot was dangled in front of the urban populace or the richer section of the population inviting them to go green. When the bait failed, miserably in this case, the stick is being raised.
The liquid petroleum gas story is a typical Bhutanese story. Those who can afford will hang on to subsidies. Those who cannot are deprived out of ignorance or accessibility. But this will come to an end. By January next year, the trade department will lift the non-subsidised cylinders from the four thromdes.
This will force the residents to switch to the “expensive” cylinder, non-subsidised. The moves should be welcomed. It will enable the most needy to enjoy the subsidy. There is not much difference in the cost. At yesterday’s rate, the difference is about Nu 192. The non- subsidised cost Nu 722. The cashier at the depot will round it off to Nu 725. She knows nobody would bother about the Nu 3 change.
For those who can afford, the Nu 190 extra is about two bottles of beer, a lunch in a decent restaurant or a ticket to a movie. For others, it is half day’s wage, a litre of cooking oil that will last a week or a few notebooks for their children. If there is any subsidy, it should go to the deserving.
LPG cylinders were not a problem until recently. With the increase in the population, especially increase in households, there is a huge shortage. We can safely surmise that most Thimphu households have more than two subsidised cylinders. There are many with three or even more.
We wouldn’t be surprised if the gas regulator is fitted on the blue cylinder in hotels and restaurants while the visible cylinder is the white (commercial cooking gas). There are many tricks up the sleeves to hang on the blue cylinders or save Nu 192 from each cylinder.
LPG gas last at least a month or more depending on the family size. It is in fact, the cheapest cooking fuel. Affordability is not at all the question. It is the mind-set.
Several initiatives by the government and private citizens couldn’t convince people, including parliamentarians to switch. Nor did the convenience or the reliability. When delivered home, it cost almost the same as non-subsidised cylinders.
Like trade officials said, electricity is more reliable in the thromdes. There are better alternatives. Electric and induction cookers are cheaper, safer and cleaner. Hopefully, the move of the government would be received well when the time comes to lift the non-subsidised cylinders.
There is time until January 2020. What the government could also do is carry out a study. There are urban poor and the number is growing. There are ways to identify those who can or cannot afford. It would help the urban poor.
Meanwhile, beyond the LPG subsidy, it is perhaps time to rethink about subsidies, quotas and tax holidays. If these privileges are not going to the right people, the purpose is defeated. We should get out of this mentality. Quotas and tax holidays are availed to the underprivileged. In Bhutan, it is a privilege for the privileged.
It would be a different feeling to be a proud taxpayer and not a recipient of government subsidies, rich or poor.