The Indian government’s reinstatement of subsidies on liquid petroleum gas and kerosene yesterday came as suddenly as the subsidies were lifted. It came as a big relief to a huge section of Bhutanese population who will now get these fuels substantially cheaper. But the panic the lifting of the subsidies caused and the relief their reinstatement brought calls for a deeper introspection among all Bhutanese. It shows how dependent we are on our neighbour. That what is of little economic concern to them would cause such an upheaval here.
Subsidies may bring relief, but it’s short-term and will affect the long-term interests of the country. It seems that subsidies are a luxury that we have got used to overtime. We are basking in the shadow of somebody’s generosity. Even as we welcome back subsidies, we must work on finding domestic alternatives. And sooner or later, we must become immune to unexpected and sudden decisions of the Indian government. And the sooner, the better.
The immediate alternative that we can explore is electricity. We boast of electricity export bringing in the biggest revenue but the abundance of this clean energy hasn’t made Bhutan self-sufficient in energy. For instance, the power subsidies big, polluting industries enjoy can meet the domestic needs of thousands of poor homes. The idea of providing free electricity to rural households with basic energy needs that the PDP’s manifesto mentions may be worth pursuing. Besides, we can consider introducing wind energy and biofuels, starting with small-scale projects. In fact, the PDP’s manifesto promises to do that. It is not difficult to find alternatives if we are serious about it.
Food, in the meantime, is a bigger concern than energy. Today we are blissfully dependent on our neighbours for food and mindlessly building houses on rice fields. If we continue to import food at the current rate, one day anyone can easily starve us at their will. Therefore, the issue of food self-sufficiency borders on national security.
In view of the pressing issue of self-reliance, it’s important for the Bhutanese to think beyond subsidies, which bring things cheaper. All things cheap are not sustainable. Domestic alternatives are to Bhutan what land is to a farmer.