Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Export of ferrosilicon, Bhutan’s topmost exported product today, could be at risk.

On October 11, a ferrosilicon consignment of 33 metric tonnes (MT) of Ugyen Ferro Alloys Private Limited (UFAPL), which was headed to Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur, India was stolen on the way. The incident occurred at Durgapur town of Asansol district in West Bengal. UAFPL is a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) company based in Pasakha Industrial Estate.

The 27-year-old Indian driver, who was taking the consignment, was also brutally murdered. His assistant had gone missing. West Bengal police have arrested four suspects.

The CEO with UFAPL, Rishi Agarwal, who is in Kolkata, said they have requested the highest authority of West Bengal police to look into the case.

“Action has been taken and four suspects have been arrested,” he said.

Rishi Agarwal said that if fast actions are taken on such cases, there wouldn’t be repetition. Otherwise, such cases could increase in the future.

This is not the first case of ferrosilicon being stolen en route to important destinations. In October 2018, Druk Wang Alloys Limited (DWAL) lost ferrosilicon worth Nu 30 million (M) to theft and adulteration on the way to Kolkata. The consignments were headed to Italy.

The transporter of the consignment and DWAL are still fighting the case against each other at the court. A DWAL official said that they had won the case against the transporter at the Phuentsholing drungkhag court. However, the transporter, an Indian firm has taken the case to the Chukha dzongkhag court.   

Meanwhile, nothing has been recovered from the recent theft of ferrosilicon. However, Rishi Agarwal said that the police have called the transporter to the police station for inspection and identification of the product.

What leads to such theft?

It is the price of the ferrosilicon that is suspected to have triggered such attacks. In 2018, it was alleged that such rackets were mainly occurring at places such as Moregram, Rampurhat, Suiri, Dubrajpur, Durgapur, Panagar, and Dankuni. A metric tonne of ferrosilicon fetched Nu 100,000 then.

This time when UFAPL’s 33MT disappeared enroute, the price of the ferrosilicon was at a record high, about Nu 280,000 per MT. This is the highest ferrosilicon had fetched in recent export history.

Now, industrialists are worried about what lies beyond this incident. Also, more ferrosilicon industries are coming up in the country. Industrialists feel that something must be done for safe and secure transit.

An industrialist said that ferrosilicon was the biggest export commodity from Bhutan today.

“With about eight more ferrosilicon plants coming up, the export will double. There will be repercussions,” he said, explaining it was time for all industrialists to be careful.

“There is a need to streamline and channelise the transit route safety and security.”

The industrialist also said that losses borne out of such theft and adulteration are loss to the government as huge amounts of taxes are paid by ferrosilicon industries.

Top export product  

Ferrosilicon has remained the topmost export commodity of Bhutan. In the first quarter of this year (January to March), as per the Bhutan Trade Statistics (BTS), Bhutan exported ferrosilicon worth Nu 2.88 billion (B). During the second quarter (April to June), ferrosilicon worth Nu 3.94B was exported from the country.

In 2020, ferrosilicon was the top export commodity with an export value of Nu 7.44B. In 2019 and 2018, Bhutan exported ferrosilicon worth Nu 9.78B and Nu 13.05B respectively.

Meanwhile, there are eight ferrosilicon industries in Pasakha industrial estate. It has been several months since the ferrosilicon price had touched a record high owing to low production in China and India. However, production has now resumed according to sources and the price has plummeted to Nu 180,000.

Despite the pandemic, the export of ferrosilicon has sailed through smoothly and it remains the biggest revenue generator for the country.

Edited by Tshering Palden