It is consumers’ right to have access to better and economical construction material and this right should be respected.

Responding to the local brick manufacturers’ petition to the Prime Minister to protect their businesses from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies, officials of Bhutan Ecolite Brix Private Limited (BEBPL) said that larger interest should not be overlooked.

“The end consumers are intelligent to make final decision about the quality and the rates of the available bricks and blocks,” an official said, explaining Bhutanese are the beneficiaries of competition.

On February 25, local brick manufacturers appealed to the Prime Minister submitting that their businesses may suffer a quick death with some business houses supplying imported Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) bricks. The petition stated that import of AAC blocks and Yarkey Enterprise’s setting up an FDI company to manufacture AAC monopolised the business and affected the concrete and hollow bricks’ businesses. It also stated that some public sectors under the Druk Holdings and Investment were quoting AAC blocks in the BOQ, which disqualified locally manufactured bricks.

Brushing off the accusation on the ownership of BEBPL, the company’s managing director, Basant Nahata said Yarkey Enterprise is not related to BEBPL.

“BEBPL is an independent company,” he said, adding that Phub Zam is one of the two Bhutanese shareholders.  “Yarkey and Phub Zam are different.”

Based in Pasakha, Phuentsholing, BEBPL started manufacturing AAC blocks and launched the product this January. It is an FDI and has two Bhutanese shareholders and four Nepal-based shareholders.

On BEBPL being run by foreign nationals and using imported raw materials, Basant Nahata said the company has 14 Bhutanese workers, including managers, and seven expats, who are all technical persons.

“Our plant requires technical expertise, which is not available in the country. However, each expat technical worker has one Bhutanese assistant so they are trained and groomed as in-house expertise,” Basant Nahata said.

Raw materials, he said, were from within the country. “Quartzite wastes from Pasakha industries, coal, gypsum, and timber wastes are all the raw materials from within the country.”

BEBPL imports quick lime, cement, and some chemicals used as catalysts, which are not available in the country. Cement grade of OPC 53 is imported from Meghalaya, as it is not available in Bhutan.

BEBPL’s AAC blocks are also cheaper compared to all the locally made and other imported bricks, Basant Nahata claims. He said the collective production of the Bhutanese bricks and blocks, including Ecolite, are not enough to fulfil the projected demand of Bhutan. The company did a market analysis and 31 bricks manufacturers combined would not be able to supply this demand, he added.

“We will still see imports being continued, especially in border areas of eastern Bhutan. Therefore, there is market in Bhutan for every domestic producer of bricks and blocks, as long as they offer good quality at competitive rates.”

BEBPL officials also said their product is environment-friendly because they are consuming industrial wastes to generate their product. There is no wastes generation in the process, they said. The product is lighter in weight, cheaper, and stronger, BEBPL officials said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing