Claim that the fear of shortage has led to hoarding

After truckers, customers are now complaining that the new sand supply system that the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) initiated has to be client-friendly.

The need to benefit the customers was highlighted during a meeting between the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) yesterday.

NRDCL’s Chief Executive Officer, Sonam Wangchuk said the new system was introduced after consultations with stakeholder for the benefit of the consumers. He said that a market study was also conducted, which found that there are around 240 approved constructions in Thimphu alone.

To date, NRDCL claims that hoarding and deflecting have created an artificial demand in the market and transporters have benefited the most.

However, founder and managing director of Etho Metho group who also owns a construction company, Dago Beda, said that sand is so dear in her experience of constructing about seven buildings in the last eight years.

“In the past we got sand from everywhere. The drivers gave us and we are willing to pay any price,” she said especially during the lean season when sand supply was short. She said people stocked sand on their sites.

In the new system, each site is allocated two truckloads of sand a week and the clients will have to deposit the amount to NRDCL, including the transportation cost.

The NRDCL will then pay transporters a fixed price depending on the location of the site.

Dago Beda said the allocation should be based on the size of the construction. “Two truckloads isn’t enough for bigger buildings,” she said. “We don’t have issues on where we pay or to whom we pay as long as we get uninterrupted sand supply throughout the year.”

Another contractor also said that sand is short in supply during summer. This, he said was big trouble during the times of slab casting. “Out of no option, we had to pay what truckers asked, at times more than Nu 20,000 for eight cubic meter load,” he said adding that the quality too suffered.

NRDCL’s general manager, Deo Kumar Biswa said that if the requirement is genuine, the inspectors will inspect the site and the company can approve more than the limit.

The CEO added that uninterrupted supply is possible to maintain as long as there is  no hoarding and deflection. The new system, he said has been designed to prevent hoarding and to enhance equitable distribution of natural resources. “Under the old system, if we give approval to all the clients based on their demand, the stock would not last even a month,” he said.

Sonam Wangchuk said NRDCL is planning to procure sieving machines to deliver quality sand. But the cost might increase by Nu 22-25 a cubic meter, as it entails investment. However, the customers will be given options on the quality.

“We want to supply as much as possible because it is not only revenue for us but the deposit will be washed away during monsoon,” the CEO said. He said that a stockyard has been planned in Thimphu but land scarcity is an issue.

For, Kezang Dorji, who is constructing a private building in Thimphu, two trips a week is more than enough for a small site like his. “It may not be enough for bigger sites and allocating based on the size is acceptable,” he said.

However, short supply of sand is a problem for him.  He said that during such times, labourers, whose work permit is limited, run out of work.  The immigration department, he said won’t allow renewal easily and out of desperation, clients like him wont mind paying the truckers Nu 25,000 for a truck load.

Hoarding, he said, is a result of desperate people saving sand for rainy days. “Owners should not be answerable for hoarding, but the company and site inspectors should be,” he said. Another contractor said that NRDCL has been giving approval even after a construction is completed.

One contractor from Paro said that old system gave room for hoarding and deflection. However, he said that under the new system he has to travel every week to Thimphu to get approval.

The chairman of the NRDCL board, Dasho Karma W Penjor said that it is because of these reasons that the new system is being put in place. “It should be done 10 years ago,” he said.

For uninterrupted supply, he said, the NRDCL is exploring other sources, as the deposit in Tshokana, Wangdue, which is one of the major sources, will not be able to meet every demand.

He said that harvesting sites in Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Waklaytar areas in Tsirang has been identified and preliminary works are on going.

On consumers explaining about the hassles in coming all the way to Thimphu every week to get an approval for sand, the chairman asked the NRDCL management to look into the possibility of issuing permits on a monthly basis.

For instance, for a new construction and depending on the size of the building, he said approvals for first three to four months could be given in one go. But this, he said cannot be done for all as people will seek approval even after completion of the construction and could again lead to hoarding.

The new system, he said will bring about transparency and predictability in sand price. “Unless the government announces major fuel price revision, the transportation cost is not going to change throughout,” he said.

In doing so, he said the NRDCL is taking a risk in ensuring that transportation is available at all times. “Should there be shortage of trucks and changes in rate, the NRDCL will have to bear it,” Dasho Karma W Penjor said.

Tshering Dorji