Overcharging Bhutan

There is no doubt that when it comes to counting friends in South Asia, India will count Bhutan as its closest friend and vice versa.

One of the bedrocks of this relationship is a sense of mutual trust, and that leads to the two countries making special exceptions for each other, which it may not for other countries.

At the same time, fuel, in terms of petrol and diesel, are Bhutan’s largest imports burning through around Nu 8 bn of cash every year. Bhutan imports this fuel from Public Sector Undertaking Oil Companies in India.

Therefore, it comes as a matter of big surprise that Bhutan, in all probability, has been overpaying for this fuel not only compared to domestic buyers in India (minus Indian taxes) but also Nepal.

It comes as a matter of shock that even today, Nepal is paying much lesser for fuel than Bhutan though the fuel is supplied by the same companies through similar routes.

Nepal is a neighbor of India, but the two countries do not always enjoy friendly ties. Nepal has also not hesitated to play its ‘China card’ frequently and maintains strong economic and political ties with the PRC.

The cost for ‘friendly Bhutan’ in overpaying for fuel, even if it is just compared with Nepal, is billions over time, and it not only eats into our national revenue but also the pockets of every Bhutanese citizen.

What does not help is that the oil is not being supplied by some profit driven private companies in India, but government owned PSU companies in India. Matters are further complicated when these companies are yet to share the break up of their cost for Bhutan despite our Department of Trade making requests for the last 3 to 4 months.

Now India is a large country, and the Government of India can be given the benefit of doubt in this case of not being aware that a close friend is being forced to pay more.

Which is why the GOI needs to move fast to resolve this issue and ensure that Bhutan is treated fairly by its PSUs on fuel prices.

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

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