Gas price hike – should we panic? I do not see the reason to. Anything taken free of cost has to be paid back at some point in the future. The future is here and we have to face it. This is a test of the ability of Bhutan and the Bhutanese to manage its own political economy. India has the right to withdraw subsidy at any point. Except that it would have been better timed (say fifteen days later after elections). When India could provide the subsidy for the last many years, why can’t it wait another fifteen days so that it doesn’t bear the smell of politics. India is globally renowned as the largest vibrant democracy in the world. In that context, we should expect it to aid us to foster the foundations of democracy. That way, I would think of the subsidy removal as badly timed. Considering that this is something that is beyond our control, we as Bhutanese must treat such events as something to live with if we choose to be dependent and expect the state to provide everything. We are floating on water, and mind you, panic will cause us to drown.
If removal of subsidy is the source of panic, then we better be prepared to face more. From the way people are taking this price hike, I can fairly tell we are not prepared to work hard but want to pursue GNH under continued subsidy. With such aspirations, we should accept that the removal of subsidy on gas is just one of the many problems that Bhutan must find its own ways to address. Any economy that is significantly dependent on others will face similar challenges. This time it is gas, the next time it will be another – we are subsidized on many other items that potentially have similar outcomes at some point in the future.
How then should we treat this action? We must think of this as a reminder of our vulnerability instead of aspiring to continue building up this vulnerability – by continually expecting the state to subsidize. How can a state with low internal revenue subsidize a citizenry whose productivity is primarily from subsistence farming, businesses that harness profits from non-innovative tax differences, rental of licences, extraction of natural resources (mining and quarrying) etc. The per capita productivity needs enhancement. As the saying ‘Necessity is the mother of inventions’ goes, I am sure the arising necessity will give our leaders an idea of how to go about coping with or addressing the problems. I do not have sufficient information to say that it is economical for us to optimize use of electricity to replace fuel imports. But it certainly is rational to consider using what we produce for our own needs i.e., use of electricity for cooking and other energy needs rather than export electricity at a rate that is lower than what the government intends to impose on its own citizens. If Bhutanese can avail electricity at the export rate, I would think it is rational to pay Nu 1,200 additional electricity bill for cooking rather than paying Nu 1,200 for the gas that we don’t produce.
Let me end with this opinion that we owe it to our past leaders for the subsidies we have enjoyed till date. The same people who should thank should not be judged with a political angle to hold them responsible for what we will not enjoy anymore. At an individual level, let us all be thankful for what we enjoyed without having to put in the efforts. The way of an economy is to earn – if we are willing to earn the welfare we aspire to enjoy, there is no reason to panic. Let us refrain from pressuring our aspiring governments to borrow more. Let us not ask questions like ‘if you give power tiller, who will repair?’ Rather, we need people to say ‘If you give us power tiller, we will bear responsibility for the repair and maintenance’. It is sad when people go to the extent of asking if the government will write off the student loan if the student died. It simply shows how people are aspiring to harness benefits without being responsible. Because good thoughts are always rewarded, I do not see any reward for the kind of thinking that is going on at the moment. This is the sole cause of our dependency. So, let us not fall prey to the politics but exercise rationality in our choice, respect the outcome and give strength to this nation. It doesn’t matter which party comes to power – I strongly believe both parties mean well for the country. Let us not create monster out of the parties. I wish both parties peaceful and harmonious elections. I will have my choice but will be happy with whoever comes to power.
Lam Dorji is Executive Director of Royal Society for Protection of Nature. The article is from his Facebook page.