… reasoning it is because of the increase in fuel price

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Truckers who transport dolomite for the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) in Gomtu are unhappy about the current rate and demand a hike considering the increasing fuel price.

Most of the transporters whose contract duration of six months have expired have not signed the agreement again. They are, however, lifting the dolomite.

Currently, SMCL offers a transportation rate of Nu 19 per metric tonne (MT) for 1.3km and Nu 21 for 1.5km. The distances are between SMCL’s Chunnaikhola mining site and the stockyard at Lhamokhola in Gomtu.

Before SMCL took over the mining from the private company, Jigme Mining, transporters said they were paid Nu 23 and Nu 27 per MT respectively for 1.3km and 1.5km. The fuel (diesel) price was around Nu 50 per litre that time.

Considering the fuel price today, which is Nu 98.06 per litre in Gomtu, transporters say SMCL should revise the rate to Nu 28 and Nu 30 minimum per MT.

They say the agreement was made when the fuel (diesel) price was low.

Transporters claim that every time discussions and deliberations about mining are held at the parliament or anywhere, the highlight has always been the benefit of the local community.

“Going by what is happening, local communities are not benefitting,” a transporter said.

He said they have raised the issue with SMCL several times, even before the fuel prices shot up recently. “But nothing has been done so far. We have always been told that they will discuss it with the board.”

There are more than 30 to 35 private transporters that cater to the SMCL’s dolomite transportation in Gomtu today.

One truck can carry about 18 to 24MT depending on the vehicle type. A truck makes about an average of 15 trips per day and requires about 3 litres of fuel to make a trip.

Transporters said expenditure is more than just fuel. They have to change tyres every three to four months.

“A pair of tyres cost about Nu 40,000 after including the transportation cost to bring them to Gomtu. Drivers are paid anywhere between Nu 15,000 to Nu 20,000. There are repairs and maintenance costs given the bad road conditions,” a transporter said.

“Our trucks break down very often,” another transporter said. “We came into this business because people said the government taking up the SMCL from private players would benefit the community people. We took loans and invested.”

He said the rate decreased further after SMCL took over the mines.

Recently, SMCL gypsum transporters in Pemagatshel had also raised similar concerns about the low rate during the increasing price of fuel and demanded a hike. Transporters even stopped transporting gypsum. SMCL hiked up the rate and transporters are back to business.

Kuensel learnt that Gomtu transporters don’t have anything about fuel increment in their contract clause.

Truckers say that the current agreement with a contract duration of six months has expired for most truck owners and SMCL could change the clause. They also pointed out they had raised the issue before gypsum transporters in Pemagatshel had demanded a hike.

Phuentshopelri-Samtse Member of Parliament, Ganesh Ghimiray, said whether it is the government or a private company operating the mining, the local community has to benefit at the end of the day.

“It also doesn’t matter whether there is a clause or not,” he said. “Local communities sacrifice their agricultural and livestock. People also live in dusty and unhealthy environments due to mining. They don’t have clean water.”

Ganesh Ghimiray said while the mining company may earn, local people can at least get supply and procurement jobs or employment, adding something for the local livelihood must be done.

Meanwhile, about 17 transporters have also written to the economic affairs minister following which Lyonpo Loknath Sharma had written to SMCL and DHI in May 2021.

“I do understand providing support to communities is mostly noncompetitive as communities are not commercially competent and financially sound,” the letter stated. “However, we also need to acknowledge the pain, commitment, and ecological and environmental sacrifices they make while permitting us such large mines.”

It also stated it is important to set examples for private to follow and gain the confidence of communities to continue getting support for such viable businesses.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma had advised SMCL to look into the possibility of supporting them by providing better and considerable rates that they are looking forward to.