Ferrosilicon industries in the country are banned from importing black clay soil.

Black clay soil is a naturally occurring material. It has binding property when moist. Black clay is also rich in alumina and silica material, which are used for plugging the tap hole to withstand high temperature in the hearth of the ferrosilicon factories.

The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) has notified that this soil can “harbour high-risk pathogens,” which can serve as a pathway for bringing in exotic plant pests. “Stopping the import would safeguard and protect the plant biosecurity in the country,” the regulatory authority stated.

Ferrosilicon industrialists in Pasakha said black clay soil is important for furnace taping.

On behalf of the ferrosilicon industries, the Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI) has written to BAFRA. Industries have been importing black clay soil till date solely for ferrosilicon furnace taping and not for agriculture purposes.

Black clay soil is an important material in the industrial process and restricting import will have adverse affect on the operation of ferrosilicon industries in the country and to the economy, ABI had written.

ABI office also explained that it has plastic properties and enables smooth operation of tap-hole; it maintains constant tap hole length and control liquid flow out of furnace. It is hard and durable to withstand penetration, corrosion, and erosion by tapped hot metal.

As of now there are no concrete decisions on whether the clay import ban would be lifted. At least 12 industries in the country, nine in Pasakha would be affected with this import ban.

An official from the industries said ferrosilicon industries import the clay and stock for six months.

BAFRA in-charge Phuntsho in Phuentsholing said the import has been stopped in all other border areas.

“Import permit was given by the forest department in the past and that domain has come under BAFRA now,” he said, explaining even plants coming inside Bhutan should be sterilized and free of soil.

“There are chances diseases can come through soil.”

In-charge Phuntsho, however, said the clay could be imported with special approvals from the ministry of agriculture and forests.

Meanwhile, the Plant Quarantine Act of Bhutan (PQAB), 1993, under section 5(1)(c), states that import of soil is prohibited into the country.

The Plant Quarantine rules and regulations of Bhutan, 2018, however, allow import of soil. The government can import for special occasions, while research institutions can import for scientific and research purposes. Potted plants with soil are also allowed for public and private purposes.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing