The scheme is aimed at rural areas in line with its promises and also to reduce rural drudgery and save the environment
The Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the government would not only honour its election promise of free electricity in rural areas, but consider giving subsidized rice cooker, curry cooker and water boiler to boot.
The free electricity would come at a cap of 100 free units for around 73,000 rural households.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said, “Each rural household uses an average of 70 units per month which comes to around Nu. 70 per month. We would like to give around 100 units of free electricity per month.”
The Prime Minister said, “We are doing a study to look at the possibilities of rolling out a package of free electricity plus subsidized rice cooker curry cooker and water boiler, but on the condition that households do not use firewood.”
Lyonchhen said that of the overall aims of the scheme was to enhance rural prosperity and reduce rural-urban migration and also protect the environment by reducing use of firewood.
He also addressed criticism over the free electricity scheme being a subsidy.
“It is not about just giving free electricity to villagers, but in the larger picture, all of us claim to be concerned about increasing rural-urban migration, but what have we done? We are concerned about the environment but we have one of the world’s highest consumption of fuel wood,” said Lyonchhen.
He said every year many farmers leave farms and migrate to urban centres. The PM said that in fact, urban centres were highly subsidized with no labour contributions for enjoying good schools, hospitals, roads, and lhakhangs.
“We do not have to participate in Zomdus and maintain and build mule tracks, irrigation channels and schemes. Villagers not only contribute labour but also contribute land so that roads are built. Farmers spend most of their time in Zomdus and villagers even contribute goods to welcome bureaucrats in villages. Our villagers are heavily taxed compared to us, urban residents,” said the Prime Minister.
He said that the government would look at ways of enhancing prosperity levels in the village.
The PM said that the free electricity would not be subsidy at all, as it would cost BPC more or less the same amount to collect the electricity bills in rural areas.
Lyonchhen also made it clear that subsiding farmers would not mean taking away subsidies from urban residents as urban residents do not get subsidies on electric bills.
He also listed environmental benefits in reducing the use of firewood. “We would have improved the health of our forests and Bhutan will become a bigger carbon sink and watershed areas will be protected. In turn, hydro power stations will receive larger and more predictable water leading to more electricity generation than that is used to subsidize farmers,” said the PM.
He said it was an integrated approach that did not just target farmers but also the environment and future generation of power. The Prime Minister also highlighted that it would reduced drudgery in women’s lives and improve the overall health and sanitation.
He said already some preliminary studies had been done and talks would be held with donors before rolling out the integrated package.
The Minister for Economic Affairs (MoEA) Norbu Wangchuk said that the plan was a work in progress and because the government was looking at it as a package, there would be a lot of issues to discuss before a final decision is made.
“We have to see if 15 percent royalty energy would be enough for 73,000 rural households, what about the urban poor, would it be fair to offload the subsidy load on high voltage, medium voltage and other low voltage groups, and the mechanisms to ensure responsible use of 100 units free electricity,” said Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk.
Free electricity was one of the key campaign promises of the PDP government.