Following the slogan of ‘hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,’ the government is in the midst of ensuring stocks of up to 6 months according to the Minister for Economic Affairs Lyonpo Loknath Sharma.
The minister said that the worse case scenario would be if the numbers in India shoot up to the extent that it impacts its manufacturing capacity and there are shortages right form the factories and suppliers.
Lyonpo said to prepare for any scenario like that the government is stocking up on everything from rice to baby diapers.
Lyonpo said the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) is already filling up its godowns and since there is not enough space other space like school’s halls and dzongkhag halls are being used.
The FCB will focus on essential food items like rice, salt, oil and pulses, among others.
In addition to that, the government has identified eight major wholesalers in Bhutan to stock up on all items including daily necessities like cheese, butter, soap, tooth past, detergents, diapers and other items.
Lyonpo said that the government has discussed with the RMA and these wholesalers are being provided with low interest working capital from the banks so that they can stock up. Given that these wholesalers will not have enough space the government is providing them with space to stock up in the form of school halls and other infrastructure. The government also signs an MoU with such suppliers.
The minister said that it was made very clear to the wholesalers to stock up on at least 29 items for six months and to in fact keep doing it so that there is always a six-month stock at all times.
He said that the wholesalers should have enough stocks to supply the retail outlets even in the villages so that no retail outlet has to close shop.
The minister said that more of such wholesalers are being identified.
Though there is a 21-day lockdown in India and some teething issues, the goods are largely coming in and so Lyonpo said the government is using this window of time to stock up.
Lyonpo said that on the fuel front the main storage space in the form the new Thingchuphakha PoL Depot which is the national depot and holds 1,000 kl of petrol and 1,000 kl of diesel has been filled while the old depot in Dechencholing which can hold 300 kl of petrol and 700 kl of diesel is being repaired and filled.
The 58 retail fuel outlets have also been told to stock up though the minister said that they had stocked up when the price was high and have incurred a loss as the prices are now low.
Of the 40,000 cylinders that the government was trying to get it managed to get around half that number and has distributed it to the outlets for distribution.
Lyonpo said that an entire team from the MoEA led by the Secretary and including the Director General of Industry and Director of Trade are in Phuentsholing to ensure the movement of goods and solve any issues.
Lyonpo said that if there are any local issues across the border with Jaigaon customs or in Assam then the local officials on either side can solve the issue on the spot, but if certain goods are stuck in other Indian states then the Foreign Ministry is informed who in turn informs that Indian Embassy and then through that Delhi and the issue is resolved accordingly.
The MoEA Minister said that the Indian government has been very helpful in resolving any issues that comes up.
Lyonpo said that one issue was that with the lockdown in India, certain middlemen in Jaigaon or nearby areas were not available but in that case this issue was resolved with the wholesalers directly getting in touch with manufacturers and suppliers in places like Siliguri.
The minister said that with the support of the Indian Government through its Embassy, Bhutan has not only been getting in essential supplies but also all other goods which are available in shops.
One problem with the border being sealed and the lockdown in India was a labour shortage in unloading goods in Phuentsholing.
Lyonpo said that this has been solved with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources recruiting local Bhutanese youth and getting them paid.
There are also volunteers, DeSuup and staff who do it for free.
The minister said that with the current preparation even if the worse case scenario happens in India, then Bhutan would have supplies for 6 months and in that time it is expected that any hypothetical situation in India would get resolved by then.
He said that in such a situation except for a few luxury items everything of daily use from toilet paper to soap would still be available.
The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said that there are only some issues between Indian state lines with delays in document checking and disinfecting otherwise there are no major issue and the goods are smoothly given the condition
Lyonpo Tandi said that Directors have been posted on the ground in Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar and there is coordination with the Embassy in Delhi and the consulates in Guwahati and Kolkata to resolve any issues.
The Foreign minister said that the Indian Government, the Indian Embassy and the Indian Ambassador has been very helpful.
Lyonpo said that initially there were issues in terms of giving vehicle numbers and etc. but now documents are being issued to facilitate smooth movement.
He said that all goods from pen to chewing gum are moving into Bhutan.