Nima | Gelephu

The export of boulders and riverbed materials from Gelephu to India and Bangladesh resumed on Tuesday.

Unlike in the past, exporters have agreed upon a minimum export rate and the regulations put in place to improve monitoring.

The export committee that was formed to streamline the boulder export business in Gelephu in consultation with Bhutan Export Association (BEA) had decided the declaration rate.

Exporters will have to declare a minimum of Nu 2,000 per MT to the government while exporting boulders to Bangladesh and at least Nu 400 per MT for the export of aggregates to the neighbouring state of Assam in India.

This is done to establish a uniform export rate in an attempt to revive the most sought export business in Gelephu.

The rate will be submitted to the dzongkhag taskforce and forwarded to the Southern region taskforce for approval.

The rate includes royalty and fees required to pay to the agencies concerned such as National Resource Development Corporation Limited and Department of Forest and Park Services, among others.

This is being done to establish standard boulder and riverbed materials rate at the source. Without such measure, the price of boulders and riverbed materials fluctuated.

Chairman of the committee, Rinzin Dorji, said that the committee worked out the best possible rate keeping in view the costs and the price exporters get in Bangladesh and Assam.

“Given the importance attached to the exporters where the government expects to generate some revenue, we thought this could be the right moment even though the situation is not as we expect,” he said.

He added that exporters received support from different levels.

The profit margin of the exporters would decrease, according to the exporter.

The exporters are made to sign an undertaking letter to ensure boulder export takes place in line with standard operating procedures put in place.

The boulders and aggregates would be conveyed using Indian trucks and drivers. The trade would function under the containment mode with the incoming trucks escorted by de-suups. The required documentation should be completed inside the contained area.

Six trucks of aggregates, two Bhutanese trucks with Indian drivers, and four Indian trucks were ferried on Tuesday. The aggregates would be exported to Bangladesh via Dubri in Assam using the waterway.

The exporters said that the route to Nakugaon, the main boulder export destination in Bangladesh crossing two Indian States of Assam and Meghalaya, could not be explored because of the ongoing festivals in India.

Programme officer with BEA, Guru Wangchuk, said that the export resumed with improved cooperation and transparency. “There were issues of under-declaration in the past. But now there are systems in place to ensure required monitoring by the agency concerned.”

However, the export will continue for almost a month without a weighbridge. Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry and NRDCL is planning to install the weighing bridge at the site.

Currently, the boulders are weighed based on the average capacity of the trucks.


Competition among exporters

The exporters said that the internal competition, the unregulated boulder and aggregate rates from the source determined the export rate in the past.

The doubt that the exporters under-declared was because of different rates exporters paid to get the boulder from different agencies such as NRDCL, DoFPS and community forest, among others.

“People who get boulders from these different sources actually determined the price. Cheaper you get cheaper you sell,” Rinzin Dorji said.

He added that stones and aggregates from DoFPS and community forests were much cheaper.

“There is already competition between DoFPS, NRDCL and community forest. This was a miscommunication that was happening between different sectors within government agencies,” he said.

To prevent the price fluctuations of boulders and aggregates, the exporters this time have agreed to a minimum export rate. This is expected to stop cutting down of boulder prices by exporters.

Exporters said that there were lots of issues related to cost and logistics facing transporters on the way to Bangladesh via Assam and Meghalaya.

“While we would like to go by the norms and rules and regulations set by the government, this actually doesn’t work with the importers from Bangladesh. They import boulders at much cheaper rates from other countries,” he said.

He added that the price mentioned during negotiation need to be reasonable so that boulders could be exported.

Manager with NRDCL, Choni Dorji, said that the problem concerning boulder business was exporters having to use the alternate route via Ampati road instead of the trade route – NH 51 that passes through core Tura town.