Thukten Zangpo 

With delayed sand supply from the Sha region in Wangdue, some of the transporters are found selling truckloads of sand at truck parking in Babesa, Thimphu at double the current rate.  It is sold at Nu 28,000 for 10m3 (cubic metre) truck from Wangdue to Thimphu. The actual market price is Nu 14,000.

The Sha region supplies sand to Thimphu, Paro, and Haa.

A builder based in Thimphu said that the sand transported from Wangdue by the common pool vehicles is cheaper—Nu 14,000 for 10m3 truck. However, he said that the supply gets delayed.

“We have to buy in an emergency since it is not logical to keep the labourers idle, paying Nu 28,000 from the market,” he said. “We do not know where to complain. The cost of sand began shooting up a week ago.”

Another builder said that with limited sand supply from the Sha region, they resort to buying sand from Toorsa, Phuentsholing.

“The rate at which the transporters sell is too high. It costs Nu 27,000 for 10m3 truck of sand,” he added.

He said the government should monitor sand prices. “With the rate too high, the cost of construction with the loan availed at existing loan to asset value is difficult to manage.”

A sand transporter, Tandin Dorji, said that a 10m3 truck of sand from Wangdue to Thimphu costs Nu 14,000. From Phuentsholing, the price is Nu 25,000.

“Some transporters sell a truckload of sand from Wangdue at Nu 28,000.”

Tandin Dorji also said that the nexus between the building thikadar (construction supervisor) and transporters has distorted the sand prices. A thikadar, for example, receives a commission of about Nu 3,000 for a truckload of sand.

On the delayed supply, Branch Manager of the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited’s (NRDCL) Sha branch office, Mani Gyeltshen, said that the corporation lost the operation of two quarries in the beginning of the year —Havilum and Goleykha—because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

“Stocking of sand could not be maximised; the current supply is dredged sand,” he said.

According to the office, only 22,945m3 of sand was stocked this year, which was 54, 403mless compared to 2021.

Stocking of sand is done from mid-October to March and is supplied during summer.

However, Mani Gyeltshen said that the current situation would improve from the first or second week of October, as the extraction of sand from riverbeds will start soon.

NRDCL has also temporarily halted both manual and online bookings from September 15 to clear the backlogs. There are 2,600 truckload backlogs.

The NRDCL also capped a truckload of sand for each customer a week from September 15. In winter, there is no cap on truckload.

Mani Gyeltshen said that after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, there was huge demand for sand with the opening of construction activities.

In normal times, the NRDCL Sha region dispatches 188 truckloads of sand in a day from both stocked and dredged sand -143 truckloads are dredged sand.

However, currently with no stocked sand, only 86 truckloads of dredged sand are dispatched in a day.

Mani Gyeltshen said that the Sha region produces 35, 996m3 of sand in normal times. However, after river level rose, the production dropped to 25, 450m3 as of August, a decrease of 10,545m3.

He said there are two types of sand customers namely common pool vehicles and self-owned transporters.

Mani Gyeltshen said that illegal sand trading is not possible under common pool vehicles because the NRDCL assigns customers to transporters and payment is made when the sand delivery is completed. Common pool vehicles are private transporters registered with the NRDCL.

The self-owned transporters, which the customers send their own vehicles or vehicles owned by their relatives, Mani Gyeltshen said that NRDCL verifies the documents like construction approval and validity and the sand must go to the particular site.

He added that the customers complain about the existence of illegal trading of sand in the market. “We asked them to share the vehicle’s number. No one has done so.”