MDP functioning only at 30 to 40 percent capacity and only essential imports to be allowed
Hoarding going on in Thimphu with almost double supply of LPG running out
Even hardly a week into the lockdown, major wholesalers in Thimphu like 8 Eleven, My Mart and others ran out or started running out of rice and there were those who were also low on cooking oil.
In some cases, toothpaste was not available and in other cases only lifebuoy was the soap left on the shelves.
Higher end alcohol products also started running low in these outlets.
Some of these outlets like 8 Eleven for example had to get rice from Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) for distribution.
The Minister for Economic Affairs Loknath Sharma said that it is possible that these wholesalers ran out or went low on rice, oil and even pulses as the mandate to import essentials like rice, oil and pulses was given entirely to the FCB.
“Later we felt that there should be other items as well as we drew up a list of highly used 19 items like milk, butter, cheese, toiletries, female products, baby products, chocolates, biscuits etc. and the wholesalers were asked to focus on stocking up these items,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo said the wholesalers were asked to not not focus on rice, oil and pulses and in fact they were restricted from getting them given the huge stocks with FCB.
On the recommendation of wholesalers, including FCB, the ministry also banned the import of rice, oil and pulses around a month ago.
Lyonpo said any shortages or issues must be more due to the lockdown and distribution issues as there was more than enough stocks.
The minister said that he had done a survey of the wholesalers and did some stocktaking and what in fact worried him a bit was the stock of baby products like diapers, baby food and others which he said none of the wholesalers kept in large stocks.
Lyonpo said that he is also worried about the availability of milk as the main production plant of Zimdra is not currently operational due to the lockdown.
Lyonpo said he went around and found that 8 Eleven had 40 metric tons of milk in Phuentsholing which he asked 8 Eleven to bring up and My Mart had some.
The minister, however, clarified that when he says he is worried there are enough milk and baby product stocks to last another two to three weeks.
Lyonpo said that he has asked the wholesalers to get in touch with suppliers and import baby products and milk.
Lyonpo said that on most other items the wholesalers were quite well stocked up.
A major challenge to ensure adequate flow of essential items into the country is how the entire Mini Dry Port (MDP) was hit with a COVID-19 cluster leading to 28 cases so far.
The minister admitted that the MDP is currently functioning at only 30 to 40% of what it was before the cases came up.
He said that the focus right now is only getting in the around 170 trucks stranded in Jaigaon and he said no fresh imports are coming in given the lockdown.
Lyonpo said that the only items being cleared through are fuel trucks for which there is no storage capacity in Bhutan, LPG cylinders which are used on a daily basis and medicine.
Lyonpo said that it is difficult to get new loaders at the site as people are reluctant to work there due to the last outbreak. He said there is a mistaken assumption that the MDP still has a lot of virus when in fact everything has been sanitized and it is safe.
The Labour Ministry has hired a few loaders.
Lyonpo said that it will not be possible to get back to a full fledged MDP like before for now.
The minister said that after the lockdown and cases in MDP there were no imports at all on the 11th, 12th and 13th of August and only around four to five days back recently trucks across from Jaigaon were slowly being let in.
The other worry for the minister is now in bringing in the goods from Phuentsholing to Thimphu given the high number of cases in Phuentsholing.
Lyonpo said that under the new protocol the driver from Phuentsholing can only bring the goods till the Rinchending check point after which a new driver takes over and brings the goods to Thimphu.
The minister said that they are also exploring the possibility of brining up goods through other entry points like Samtse, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar and in fact people getting supplies and raw materials were encouraged to do so.
Lyonpo said that henceforth not every import will be considered essential and it will be cleared only on a case by case basis.
The minister said that for now imports from third countries have been entirely stopped as these are mostly luxury items and even from India only things considered essential and needed will be imported.
The minister complained that one feature of the lockdown and shortage of certain goods is also linked to a hoarding that has been going on.
He said that there were cases of people ordering 5 to 10 cartons of milk which does not make sense as it is a perishable item.
Lyonpo said there is also a sign that LPG cylinders are being hoarded. He said in normal times around 250 cylinders a day was enough for Thimphu but now even 350 to 400 cylinders a day is not enough.
“This is really crazy. We would like to request that a spare cylinder is enough or even if you have started one. Cylinders are finite things and there are quotas and we cannot lift as much as we want,” said Lyonpo.
He said that there are already electric stove providers and the ministry is exploring to get them delivered at home.
Lyonpo said that some of the shortages may have to do with the fact on problems around the eight stock in centers and some outlets running out of goods.
Lyonpo said that in addition to the wholesalers the ministry had opened 16 other outlets andnow even others have been opened.
Lyonpo said that apart from the wholesalers there are large stocks also with retail outlets and some of these may be tapped as their goods could expire otherwise.
The minister said that the issue of panicking and hoarding is mainly in Thimphu and it maybe due to the fact that there are so many high income people here. He said the Dzongkhags do not face such issues.
The minister said that FCB’s rice stocks are good enough to last another three months while the oil will last another five months. FCB has around 9,807 MT or rice, 1,309 MT of oil and 412 MT of pulses.
In terms of the vegetables the MoEA minister said that nothing is being imported from outside right now and in fact the vegetables being supplied on the back of trucks are all local vegetables.
The minister said there is adequate stock of vegetables as it is the vegetable growing season and it would only be after a month the local vegetables may not be sufficient.
Lyonpo said that across the country delivery of essentials was happening down to the level of Gewogs.
The minister requested that outlets which are open should charge a fair price otherwise the ministry would keep note and may even cancel licenses.
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