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Rupee crisis hurts Bhutan's remote areas

Publication Date : 02-05-2012


While some have not heard of it, others are experiencing rising food prices and, in some cases the rupee shortage, in the remote villages of the western district of Haa in Bhutan.

For instance, it is normally a two-hour walk from Sangbay Ama to Mochu, two villages in Sombaykha and Gakiling gewogs (districts).

But for the past few months, it has turned into a nine-hour trek that requires crossing two mountains, because a ropeway linking the two places has broken down.

There are six marble bearings in the conveyor cabin, and the ropeway stretches to a distance of 100m at the base of the two hills.

Samdrup from Mochu said although ngultrum has been collected, the spares could not be procured from India, because rupee was provided only for education and medical purposes.

"All six marble bearings need to be replaced for the ropeway, and the cost works out to 30,000 ngultrum (US$570),” Samdrup said.  The ropeway sees a lot of movement, because the gewog centre is in Sombaykha.

In other villages, such as Shebji under Sombaykha gewog, and Kokha under Gakiling, the prices of rice, vegetable oil and meat have increased since the rupee shortage began. In these villages, rice cultivation is largely monsoon dependent.

But some villagers in Rangtse (Gakiling) said that they have not heard about the rupee shortage.

Dorji, a villager from Mochu, said that before, pork would cost 120 ngultrum ($2) a kg, but today prices had increased by almost 20 ngultrum ($.38). “Some Indian shopkeepers accept ngultrums, but they charge an additional 20 per cent for every ngultrum,” according to Dorji, who goes to the Indian border of Chamarchi to shop.

Mangmi Samdrup said that, while some villages had surplus production like potato, selling them to India was not possible because of lack of road access.

"It becomes unprofitable, because fares paid for use of horses works out to be much more than the value of the produce,” he said. “It takes three days to the market along the border.”

Villagers in Dumtoe under Dorokha, Samtse, raised the issue of rupee shortage to the prime minister’s entourage walking from Haa. 

Gajaraj, 36, said that Samtse town was not a reliable market for buying vegetables, because the supplies are irregular, and the prices relatively higher than in India. “Now they’ve started to charge additional premium while buying vegetables, vegetable oil and meat with the ngultrum,” he said.

Speaking in Lhotshamkha, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, and economic affairs minister Khandu Wangchuk, urged the local community to buy necessary resources from the Bhutanese market.


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