Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The agriculture minister and director of the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) visited Phuentsholing last week and asked the contractors, who stocked riverbed materials in Toorsa, to clear the stock within six months.

This has brought relief to the contractors, who gave an undertaking to the DoFPS to export the materials by June 2020 and surrender the areas where the riverbed materials are stocked today to the Phuentsholing Township Development Project (PTDP).

The undertaking highlighted that the contractors will also not get further opportunities to appeal for a time extension if they fail to complete exporting the materials and vacate the areas occupied along Toorsa.

After controversies about the dredging and export, the government on October 25 had issued a notification and “ceased” dredging works and export of boulders from Toorsa river basin.

The decision was taken after Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) had expressed concerns that PTDP would require more riverbed materials.

Three contractors, Rigsar Construction, Chukha Construction and Yangkhil had then appealed to the government to allow them to extract the RBM the township project would not need.

While it is not certain whether the dredging works and exports would be allowed after June 2020, the contractors also submitted that there were plenty of materials.

One of the three contractors said the government’s move to allow them to export their stocked materials has motivated them.

“The government of the day could identify the initiative taken by the thromde in preventing flooding by engaging contractors,” he said, adding thromde has also supported the contractors in asking the government to help them sell the dredged materials.

The contractor said they are happy that they could not export the materials.

Boulder export saw a gigantic growth in the last two years. The export surpassed ferrosilicon to top the list of the highest exported commodity this year. Bhutan exported boulders worth Nu 1.07 billion (B) in the first quarter (three months) of the year, figures from Bhutan Trade Statistics (BTS) revealed. However, the export decreased drastically in the second quarter with export worth of Nu 680.26 million (M).

Bhutan exported boulders worth Nu 2.12B in 2018, the second-highest in the top 10 commodities exported.

Meanwhile, following the cease notification on October 25, many transporters who had invested heavily on dumper trucks were also worried. They said the already hit transportation was going through a lot and defaulted in bank loan repayments.

“Now we will have the materials to export,” one of the transporters in Phuentsholing said. “However, there is no guarantee that our business would improve.”

The transporter said the problem of the transport vehicles ferrying boulders to Bangladesh was also the carrying (load) capacity. He said the truckers did profitable business when they ferried beyond load capacity. But that is not the case these days.

Local people and authorities at Fulbari, the Indian town that borders with the Bangladeshi town of Banglabandha stopped the trucks from entering into Bangladesh. Transportation business has been affected since then.

Most trucks are not allowed to carry more than 18 metric tonnes (MT) truckers said. Prior to the problem, trucks carried 30MT to 50MT.

More than 100 dumper trucks have already defaulted their loans in various banks in Phuentsholing.