Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

In order to facilitate and promote boulder, stone aggregates and minerals export during Covid-19 pandemic, a containment facility has been developed in Phuentsholing.

The facility which occupies eight-acres in Zone B of Phuentsholing Township Development Project (PTDP) was inaugurated yesterday.

The Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) developed the site at the cost of Nu 16.5 million (M).

The construction was initiated jointly by the Department of Trade (DoT) and BEA guided by the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF).

DoT and BEA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for two years for building, operation and maintaining the facility.

To mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission, the containment facility has a CCTV surveillance system, sound and lighting system, separate holding area with toilet facilities and a separate canteen for foreign drivers, weighbridge services. The facility also has a one-stop centre to provide all regulatory services and clearances such as customs, forest, trade, and clearing and forwarding agents.

The new facility will cater to a minimum of 150 boulder trucks every day following strict Covid-19 containment protocols.

The BEA president Dorji Tshering said that BEA funded 70 percent of the development costs for the containment zone. The other 30 percent was contributed by dredging and mining companies.

“It will be a very safe containment zone and the export of boulders would increase,” he said.

Meanwhile, the export of boulders, stone aggregates and minerals resumed on September 15, after a hiatus since the border gates were closed on March 23.

Until today, a total of 497,462.23 metric tonnes (MT) of boulders and minerals worth USD 10 million (M) and Nu 48.3M have been exported from Phuentsholing to Bangladesh and India respectively.

The twist

Although the containment zone is in place, the government has not allowed dredging works along Toorsa.

Recently, the government, through an executive order, gave the authority to the PTDP to manage and decide on dredging in Zones A and B.

The decision of the 78th session of the Lhengye Zhungtshog held on November 17 stated the PTDP “shall be responsible to manage and decide dredging in Zones A and B.”

The Cabinet directed that PTDP, after assessing properly may decide to export after submitting an undertaking that there will be no shortage of RBM material for project use.

The Cabinet, however, had instructed the agriculture ministry to allow Druk Magical Company to dredge RBM from the identified 7.5 acres at PTDP’s Zone C if there is a feasible deposit and if transportation accessibility can be arranged with SSD Ventures, a Phuentsholing based firm, and PTDP.

The order came as a blow to scores of boulder exporters and aspiring exporters in Phuentsholing. Although there are only a few dredging companies, there are at least 50 to 60 exporters.

One exporter said exporters and dredging companies were exporting from their stock.

“But now, the stock is depleting fast because there has been no dredging since December 2018. The worry is if there will be enough materials to export in these two years,” the exporter said.

“If dredged materials are exhausted then, the exporters may have to shut their offices soon, which will also hamper the employment opportunities.”

Dredging companies and exporters say that the RBM will keep accumulating during monsoon and there will be enough to dredge. If it is not dredged, the RBM will flow downstream across the border.

Another dredging hopeful said if dredging is to be stopped, then, no individual or firm should be selectively permitted to dredge. “It looks bad and breeds corruption,” he said.

Home secretary Sonam Wangyel, who is also the SC19TF chairperson attended the inauguration ceremony of the Amochhu Boulder Export Facility yesterday.