Gas rush fumes Samtse motorists

People from the neighboring Indian towns flock into Bhutan to refuel their motor tanks, causing displease and discontentment to Bhutanese motorists who have to queue up for hours and sometimes days for the want of gasoline

Motorists from across the border swarming fuel pump stations in Bhutan have become a common sight for so long. The distributors never prioritize their customers based on race, religion or nationality. However, the surge in their numbers has left local motorists frustrated for the want of prompt and consistent refueling services.

With an upsurge in motor vehicle use over the past few years, Samtse dzongkhag has witnessed one of the bustling gas stations in the country with the customer base encompassing almost more than 50% from across the border gate and nearby Indian towns. The visiting motorists from across the border come to refill their fuel tank due to the subsidized price of gasoline in Bhutan.

A resident in Samtse shared concerns about the service backlog with rising rate of cross border customers availing the services.

Tshering, a civil servant said, “It is good that the service receiver is not differentiated but that has ultimately led to overcrowding at the station and it might become a serious issue later, undermining subsidized rate and sustainability issue if the trend continues”.

“I am worried that if this keeps going on this way, a black market for oil could flourish along the border, run by shady individuals from both Bhutan and India. This could seriously damage the effectiveness and ethical standards of our public service system, and create a host of other problems,” Tshering added.

“I have been driving taxi for more than nine years and it has been one of my sources of income. At times due to overcrowding and insufficient fuel, I have to travel all the way to Sipsu to refuel the gas tank and at times I have to ask my friends travelling from Phuentsholing to bring along extra gasoline in jerrycan,” said Daman Monger, a taxi driver.

Similarly, a 31 year-old taxi driver, Bal Bahadur Kami who has been driving for almost eight years said, “Though there is a new gas station opened by State Trading Corporation of Bhutan, Indians keep on visiting where we have to stay in queues almost all the time”. He added, “I would be grateful if the stakeholders of Damchen petroleum, Bhutan Oil Distributor (BOD) and STCBL studies the situation and come up with an appropriate measure for the benefit of everyone.”

Meanwhile, the assistant operation in charge of BoD in Samtse claimed that the cause of delay is due to technical issue with fuel dispensers as well as unloading the oil tankers. “It takes time to replenish the underground storage tank. However, insufficiency of oil at times is related to internal strike in India which delays the oil transportation for about three days,” he said.

He added that the other reason for delay is because of the implementation of new system app “POL Depo App” that requires to record the amount and the number of liter refilled with the customer details. “Often, network disturbances and other errors in the app lead to more time consumption. However, there will be an improvement in the system soon,” he said.

“With regards to cross border customer we cannot stop them from refilling their vehicle fuel tank as there is no proper system and policy to regulate. However, such unavoidable challenge can be prevented if there is a concrete policy.”

Currently, there are no clear cut government policies which restrict non-Bhutanese from availing services at the fuel stations. The scenery in Samtse is just a sneak-peek of the routine exercises prevailing in other border towns of Bhutan as well.

Dechen choden from Thimphu