Informally the response had been positive
The Department of Trade (DoT) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) made a public announcement to discontinue supply of subsidized LPG from the four thromdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar by January 2020.
It now emerges that a request had been made earlier to the Indian government to increase the quota of subsidized cylinders but while the informal response was positive there was no formal response.
MoEA Chief Trade Officer, Rinchen Lhazom said, ““Over few years, the number of households has increased by 30 per cent while the supply remains constant and there is clear mismatch between demand and supply. We requested the Government of India to enhance the quota so that we can increase the supply. We have not received any formal communication from them but we have been informed informally that it will be considered favorably. However, we are yet to receive the formal communication”.
“Even if we receive additional quota from the Government of India this will just be a temporary solution because the number of household and population will keep on increasing and unless we have long term policy we will not be able to achieve 100 per cent coverage without any hassle or disruption,” the trade officer said.
She said that this is the time to go for long term policy intervention and one of the measures was to discontinue subsidized LPG.
Another factor seems to have been the lack of enough volunteers coming forward to give up subsidized cylinders.
Rinchen Lhazom said ,“In April 2019, we initiated a citizen’s initiative which is called as our Gyenkhu.
We appealed to various individuals, households and institutions to avail non-subsidized LPG voluntarily and we would like to acknowledge the few individuals and institutions, who supported our initiative, but the number was not as much as we expected.”
She said, “Even though the difference in price between subsidized and non-subsidized gas is only Nu 192 people are very reluctant to switch and I don’t understand why”
A main reason for the government’s decision is to spread the cylinders to poorer parts of Bhutan.
Rinchen said that according to the Poverty Analysis Report 2017 by National Statistical Bureau (NSB), the incomes of households in four thromdes are much higher than those in other dzongkhags.
The poverty rates of households residing in four thromdes are below 1 per cent and among the four thromdes, the highest poverty rate is in Gelephu thromde with 1.1 per cent followed by 0.7 per cent in Phuentsholing, 0.5 per cent in Samdrup Jongkhar and 0.2 per cent in Thimphu.
The trade Officer said that the main reason for the call to switch from subsidized to non-subsidized is to provide subsidized LPG to those low income people who cannot afford non-subsidized gas.
After the notification was issued, the Ministry saw differing views expressed on the issue, while many supported the move, there were also many who expressed concerns on its impact on the urban poor.
Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering during the press meet on Friday said that he would request all sections of the society who can afford subsidized LPG to please use subsidized gas and surrender the non- subsidized gas so that it can be given to disadvantaged people.
He said, “Not even 20 per cent of non-subsidized gas are used and it’s there in the stock. We are also working on the urban poor, identifying them and we will offer it to them. We will deliver it to them even if we have to deliver it to their home.”
The country has experienced perennial shortages in terms of providing subsidized gas to the public and the MoEA has been put under tremendous pressure for not being able to provide subsidized LPG.
The Ministry came up with interim measures to address the problem and some of the initiatives were freezing of new subsidized LPG in all thromdes, recalling subsidized cylinders from institutional users, introducing interchangeability of cylinders among dealers for easy accessibility, discontinuing subsidized cylinders for home delivery agents to avoid misuse and promoting use of electric ovens to reduce dependence on LPG.
Non-subsidized LPG will also be available in other dzongkhags and those who are affluent are encouraged to avail non-subsidized cylinders.
The Ministry also urged citizens to switch to electric ovens because it is affordable and convenient.
Rinchen said, “We would encourage people to come forward in this initiative because it’s citizen initiative to help rural people especially in uplifting the livelihood of women and children in the rural areas.”
Chukha, Sarpang and Dorokha has supported this initiative and the Ministry is hopeful that households in other dzongkhags will also support this initiative.