Stime cooking gas and other petroleum products vanish, they fuel the anxiety of the average Nepali consumer about a looming crisis in the kitchen and another round of price hike in the market. Only recently the crisis got so acute that Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai made diplomatic efforts, including calling his Indian counterpart, to ease the supplies. The hassle led the government to do lengthy homework that culminated in the distribution of consumer gas cards. Launching the new scheme, Minister for Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta handed the first gas card to Dr. Bhattarai. In the first phase, Nepal Oil Corporation is distributing the red cards to residents of the Kathmandu Valley. Industrial users will receive the blue cards. Consumers in other districts will receive the cards in the second phase, starting about a month or so later. These cards, according to Bhatta, will help the authorities assess the actual needs of the consumers, thereby, making it easier for the NOC to ensure a hassle-free gas supply for households and industries. By putting the new system in place, the authorities also hope to improve supplies based on a more reliable number of LPG users in the country.
The new scheme promises better prospects also because gas manufacturers and distributors have agreed to support the government in providing a card for a family of four with some price subsidy in it. In the absence of such a system in the past, consumers usually faced artificial scarcities and fraudulent trade practices, perpetrated by cartels and monopoly businesses. These problems, combined with inflation, made the life of the majority hard to bear. Fuel and gas shortages hit the consumers the hardest. Besides causing inconveniences and uncertainties, the absence of these bare essentials tends to bring people’s daily lives to a grinding halt.
Consumers, the law says, have the right to choose goods and services at competitive prices. But, in reality, the people forced to line up in long queues for cooking gas and other petroleum products, often have no choice other than to do what fetches them a few litres of gas and petrol, even if that means paying a lot of extra money. The situation demands that the government and the society play their role in restoring the common people’s faith in them by developing a mechanism that guarantees protection of the right of the consumers. If the new identity card system works as planned, it will be a beginning towards that end. The authorities will need to continue monitoring the cooking gas supply chains against the existing irregularities, such as hoarding cylinders, supplying them to vendors other than the registered dealers and fleecing extra money from hapless consumers.