Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Export of boulders from Phuentsholing is likely to resume anytime soon after being on halt since April 17 after the bordering town went into the third lockdown.

Initially, gearing for work to resume, about 200 exporters and staff tested for Covid-19. The results were negative. However, the export did not resume.

The export staff and escort team have to work under self-containment mode this time where people involved in escorting the boulder trucks and documentation will not return home for the night.

Exporters are raising concerns, claiming they do not have the capacity to have a containment place.

An exporter, Karma Rinzin, said almost 95 percent of the total exporters will not be able to construct the self-containment mode structure given the expenditure.

“It is not that the government has not helped us. But this new criterion will not benefit all,” he said. “There must be a way out where maximum people will benefit. That must be the objective.”

Another exporter, Tshewang Rinzin, said Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) containment zone was already constructed for the benefit of all the exporters.

“As per the previous rule, our staff doesn’t come into contact with the boulder drivers and the boulder trucks are escorted. So, there is no need for another self-containment zone,” he said. “But the escort people have to be self-contained.”

Prior to the third lockdown, exporters didn’t work in self-containment mode.

An exporter, Pema Khenrab, said documents are directly provided to the customs and clearing agents after which it is dropped to the drivers as per the protocol. “Given the huge number of exporters, there will be more crowding in Toorsa if more containment zones were constructed.”

Exporters are also pointing that people involved in exporting the boulders have not tested positive during the export season any time before, which indicates previous standard operating procedures and protocols were fine.

Phuentsholing trade regional director, Sonam Dhendup, said people have called and shared their grievances. “But we have to be cautious because of the risk of the Delta variant.”

He said there are others who are working in self-containment mode like people involved in fuel and LPG. “Pasakha industries also work in self-containment mode.”

Sonam Dhendup said the trade office also cancelled all the proposals for the essentials’ warehouses, which had been in the plan. “Since vehicles and drivers would come into the warehouses, the risk was more and there is no room to take the risk now.”


Trucks stuck in Jaigaon

Several transporters involved in boulder export are also still waiting to bring their trucks stuck across the border.

An exporter, Durga, said he has been following for the last two months to bring the trucks but in vain. “However, I think we are now allowed, as boulder export is resuming.”

He said there were many risks associated with keeping the vehicles across the border too long.

Karma Rinzin said he has 14 trucks stuck across the border.

Transporters said it was time their vehicles were engaged in work, as the loan deferment will come to an end in June next year.

“Then we will have to pay the loan,” Durga said.

Edited by Tashi Dema