Local brick producers are concerned about the sustainability of their enterprises if the import of building blocks and bricks from India continues.

The import of concrete blocks and bricks for construction of public infrastructure has continued despite a standing government order that requires government agencies and public corporations to use locally produced blocks.

The decision of the last government was aimed at achieving the overall goal of self-reliance by curbing imports, and to create employment. The government order was issued on December 9, 2015 following the decision of the 89th Lhengye Zhungtshog held on November 18 in the same year.

Today, some of the main construction sites where imported blocks and bricks are being used are the Bank of Bhutan Limited’s main building in Thimphu, the expanded building of the Thimphu TechPark, and the Bhutan Post building in Gelephu.    

Imported bricks are also being used in Thimphu thromde’s multi-storey car park.

An official, who did not want to be named, said that the executive order was issued in 2015 while the building design was finalised before that. He also said that Bank of Bhutan was advised that local bricks were not suitable for the design.

Chief Executive Officer of National Housing Development Corporation (NHDCL), Thinley Dorji, said that bricks used in the construction undertaken by the company were 100 percent local. “At times, however, projects get stalled due to lack of supply from local producers,” he said.

Bhutan imported blocks and bricks worth Nu 7.625 million (M) from India in 2016. The import value increased to Nu 28.222M in 2017, according to Bhutan Trade Statistics.

Owner of Phuentsholing-based Bhutan Concrete Bricks, Tenzin, said that although imported bricks were used in government constructions, the demand placed with local producers by agencies like NHDCL, the education ministry and Bhutan Postal Corporation saw an increase in the recent years.

“Most people mistake imported blocks that are similar to local blocks in colour for local blocks. The imported bricks are inferior in quality,” he said. He said that some factories would be selling blocks without obtaining certification from Bhutan Standard Bureau (BSB).

The government order states, “Import of blocks and bricks should only be allowed upon non-availability or non-feasibility of local materials with prior approval and written certification from concerned agencies and the project engineer in-charge.”

Proprietor of Yangjung Sonam Bricks and Still Fabrication Enterprise in Gelephu, Sonam Dorji, said that blocks worth Nu 3 million has remain ed unsold in his factory due to lack of demand.

He said import of Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Blocks and Cellular Lightweight Concrete Blocks that resemble locally produced bricks have affected local enterprises.

Sangay Tshewang, owner of Paro-based ST Bricks, said that lack of awareness among people and government agencies on the use of locally produced bricks was one of the reasons for the continued import of bricks from India. “We are used to importing bricks even if they are inferior in quality compared to local bricks.”

He said imported blocks were expensive by about Nu 6 to Nu 7 due to transportation costs.

A brick producer from Trongsa said that dzongdags and the dzongkhag engineering section should be held responsible and accountable to ensure that local bricks are used in construction of public infrastructure. He said that contractors should not be allowed to use bricks that do not have certification from BSB.

Most local brick owners, he said, availed of loans to set up a factory after the government issued the order to stop the import of bricks and that even private construction owners should be encouraged to use locally produced blocks. He added that repayment of the loans would be a concern if the import of bricks continues.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government would encourage the use of locally produced construction materials including bricks to support local enterprises. “We will build on the previous government’s decision and also see if there are any issues that have led to non-compliance.”

The government has included the use of local products in its manifesto, which states that the government will support establishment of import substitution industries such as construction materials, wood-based industries, paper and agro-industries, among others.

“Green procurement policy will be implemented to encourage green technology. We will consider protecting these industries through preferential procurement by reviewing all trade agreements,” the manifesto states.

The executive order states that all heads of agencies, including architects, engineers and project planners are responsible for adoption of local bricks in constructions.

MB Subba