Addressing Bhutan’s gas problem

During the 18th meet the press session, the Economic Affairs Minister Norbu Wangchuk said that with the introduction of token system, people would no longer have to wait in long queues for their turn to exchange gas in the outlet.

There has been strong outrage in the past few weeks over people having to wait in long lines for gas. However, in some social media outlets like Facebook, some people said there was some improvement at the gas depot after the visit of the MoEA minister as the waiting time was reduced by several minutes with the introduction of token system and addition of two people.

The minister said that he had repeatedly visited the Mothithang BoD for five days and found that the long lines were caused as the BoD shifted the manual labour to the consumers. Lyonpo said the introduction of a token system reduced the long lines.

It is estimated that Thimphu alone gets 500 gas cylinders in a day though the actual requirement is around 200 to 300.

Lyonpo said that the shortage in gas was also caused by many households hoarding gas cylinders which did not make sense as they cannot use it since each household can get only two refilled gas cylinders in a month. He said two cylinders per family was an accurate calculation but families could still contact the ministry if they needed more.

Lyonpo also pointed out that the use of commercial cylinder is deepening as earlier each hotel hoarded about 8-10 cylinders.

Adding to this point Lyonchhen said, “It’s subsidized and we will get only certain number of cylinders, there is no point in hoarding. Deflection is illegal”. The PM said that no one uses commercial gas at home but it is an option for those not willing to stand in line and the prices were not too prohibitive.

The MoEA minister said in urban areas people can stand in line and hope to exchange gas but for those people residing in rural areas, they do not have gas outlet and they do not have a hope of exchanging gas.

Lyonpo pointed out that there could be long lines in the event of strikes for about 4-5 days in neighboring states and road blocks in various parts of the nation which makes it difficult for the distributors to deliver on time.

The Minister said that as per an Audit report around 35 percent of the gas cylinders had to be re-qualified which meant 75,000 cylinders going out of circulation. He said it would take around three months to re-qualify the cylinders.

The ministry’s introduction of the consumer card for gas has also come in for some strong criticism. This is because one family can change only one gas at a time every 10 days or so and a person coming with multiple gas cards of others is not allowed to change the other cylinders.

Critics have seen the move as being largely regressive and adding a layer of red tape to what was an easier process earlier.

According to a reliable source the Trade Department during the time of the former MoEA minister recommended the use of the consumer card but the then minister turned it down.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that the card had to be brought into place after the NC and others noted and discussed about the deflection of subsidized Bhutanese gas across the border with the deflection happening from Thimphu too. He said one effective solution to stop this deflection was the card.

Lyonpo claimed that the introduction of consumer card is successful especially in the southern dzongkhags like Samdrupjongkhar, Phuntsholing and Gelephu where people from across the border earlier came to get subsidized Bhutanese gas.

He said the card will ensure that people living across the border will refrain from trying to get commercial gas in these dzongkhags.

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