More than 4 million metric tonnes of boulders stocked in Gelephu

Nima | Gelephu

With boulder export, mostly aggregates, to India and Bangladesh gradually picking up from Gelephu, exporters are unhappy with different prices for boulders from the source.

Exporters buy boulders or riverbed materials from National Resource Development Cooperation Limited (NRDCL), Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) and private landowners.

They say those purchasing boulders from private land and DoFPS pay only royalty, whereas those buying from NRDCL have to pay about Nu 300 per metric tonne.

“This different rate breeds unfair competition among the exporters,” an exporter said.

NRDCL’s manager Choni Dorji said there had to be one window export system, as the boulder has the potential to revive the economy.

“There’s no level playing field for the boulder exported from our source and other sources. There’s no uniformity in the way export is carried out here,” he said. “Except for a few export in February, there was no much boulder export here.”

According to the manager, boulders are also being exported from other countries to Bangladesh and to make boulders from Gelephu competitive, they are trying to reduce the price at the source. “This is to clear stocks of boulders that we have.”

In one of the seminars on Rethinking Sarpang beyond the pandemic held last month, an official from NRDCL said there are over four million metric tonnes of boulder stocks in Sarpang.

The exporters also raised concerns over the influence on export by the people from across the border by distorting the market rate and transportation.

“The local exporters are losing control over our resource while looking for easy money,” said one of the exporters.

Boulder export is also done in the containment method and the task force allows only 50 trucks a day.  The security officials manning the gate were to allow more trucks when the trade improves.

Of the 60 registered exporters in Gelephu, only 15 are active since the export resumed in a containment mode after remaining idle for almost a year.

An exporter, Ugyen Rabten, said the market in Assam, India, was mostly for value-added products. “The export of boulder is almost zero so far. There are only limited crusher plants in Gelephu and selling value-added products is a challenge.”

He said that it was difficult to negotiate the rate with the importers. “The export situation isn’t as expected with many distortions within and from across the border. The export is not viable at the current rate, considering all the expenses.”

Officials from Bhutan Export Association said that close to 200 truckloads of boulders and aggregates were exported from Phuentsholing and Samtse every day. “The export needs to be well coordinated here. At the maximum, 55 trucks of boulders were exported in a day,” an official said.

The trade came to halt after issues of overloading and misdeclarations were found in the trade, months before the pandemic sealed the border gate in March last year.

Gelephu stone export Committee (GSEC) is currently managing the stockyard to help exporters get the support on time.  The committee is expected to improve communication and coordination among the exporters.

The committee chairperson, Rinzin Dorji, said the agency involved in managing the stockyard shared mandates beyond mere execution of stockyard management. “The exporters didn’t know whom to approach while trying to let in the vehicles for export. It needs to be well-coordinated.”

NRDCL’s manager, Choni Dorji, said the dredging activities were affected when the stocks could not be moved. “There’s no coordination and there’s unhealthy competition among the exporters. This has brought down the market price.”

He said that the revenue earned from the export in Gelephu was not like in Phuentsholing and Samtse. “Boulder has the capacity to revive the economy when it’s badly affected.”

More than 300 trucks of boulders and over 3,100 trucks of aggregates were exported to Bangladesh and India between November and February from Gelephu.