After almost two months of standstill, export of riverbed materials (RBM) to Bangladesh from Gelephu is expected to resume with the operationalisation of the weighbridge.

At least 19 trucks carrying boulders are expected to leave for Bangladesh today.

The regional revenue and customs office in Gelephu on June 20 notified all relevant agencies that the weighbridge near the border gate would resume services with immediate effect.

Later that evening, several truckers and transporters flocked the weighbridge to avail the weight slip. Empty trucks were weighed to determine weight of the vehicles. Majority of the 10-wheeler trucks weighed between 11-12 metric tonnes (MT).

Confusion surrounding the export of boulder to Bangladesh grew in absence of a weighbridge in Gelephu. The machine was damaged on December 4 last year after an overloaded vehicle was place on it.

The Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) withheld the issuance of export permit for want of a weight slip. However, things changed as the new interim guidelines on the export of RBM allowed DoFPS to issue the permit based on the number of wheels of the vehicle. Weight then became a secondary requirement.

Export to Assam resumed 10 days ago in Gelephu under the new guideline. However, the Department of Trade (DoT) didn’t issue any new certificate of origin, a document required for export to a third country.

Last week about 12 trucks were held from travelling to Bangladesh as DoT refused to issue the certificate origin. The certificate of origin is issued based on the weight slip.

Now with the weighbridge fixed, the DoT has agreed to issue the certificate of origin. Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) would also be paid based on the weight slip henceforth.


Conflict among exporters  

According to sources, one of the main reasons why Gelephu could not resume its export business to Bangladesh along with places like Phuentsholing and Samtse was because of a conflict among exporters.

There is more than one group of exporters in Gelephu who are reportedly in disagreement with one another.

An exporter, Dorji Wangchuk, said that one of the groups who is in the process of negotiating the floor price on the letter of credit (LC) with the importers have asked the rest to hold the export until the proposed floor price is fixed.

“They have asked the rest of the exporters to continue the export if there are any balance LC left with them. However, they told us that no new LC should be availed at the existing rate,” he said. “While everyone would like to have the rate of LC increased, we cannot wait anymore. We have given them enough time to negotiate.”

Negotiation to increase the floor price on the LC was initiated to curb the inflow of under-table money in the form of Indian rupees.

In the existing practice, as per the LC, each MT of boulder earned about Nu 1,224 (USD 18). However, each MT of boulder in Bangladesh fetched around Nu 2,000 (USD 29-USD 31). The remaining money was collected in cash.

According to some exporters, the current practice encouraged inflow of black money as the transactions involved cash.

Dorji Wangchuk said that no one has the right to question how exporters conduct their business. “We make full payments to NRDCL and forest based on the weight slip. The extra amount that we get is through individual potential and the way we do business,” he said.

He added that the money collected in cash is used for incidental expenses such as extortion fees along the way. “As long as we are paying our government for the exact load, no one should interfere on how individuals conduct the business and how they get the money.”

Most exporters, he said, have agreed to ferry boulders at the existing rate (USD 18 per MT). “We are allowing those who have remaining LC to go first. Rest of us would follow,” he said. “We are also working on increasing the LC floor price to USD 20. And unlike the other group, ours is doable and as per my sources, the importers have given us the green light.”

Meanwhile, most vehicles that came to weigh were seen carrying load in line with the bed of the truck. The weight of the consignments (net weight) ranged from 27MT to 28MT for a 10-wheeler truck. However, for those vehicles with extended beds, although in line with the bed, the net weight was more than 30MT.

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu