Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Increased cost of goods triggered by the huge cost of loading and unloading charges at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing should come down significantly with port authorities mechanising the service.

Although the new system, mechanising loading and unloading, will be fully operational from December 15, a private firm, Dhendup Enterprise who won the tender and has officially taken over the port since December 1.

With the mechanised system in place, the number of vehicles entering the MDP is expected to hit 300 trucks per day, and the loading-unloading charges would drastically reduce. Currently, MDP’s handling capacity is about 50-70 trucks per day.

The mechanised system will charge Nu 1,890 for a six-wheeler truck with a carrying capacity of about 10-12 metric tonnes (MT), compared to the government approved current rate of Nu 3,000 per truck.

The current approved rate of transshipping, for instance, a brick is Nu 1, will now be reduced to Nu 0.54. The charges of Nu 15,000 per truck to transship bamboos would come down to Nu 1,200 approximately.

The turnaround time required to clear goods and commodities from the MDP will also reduce.

Transshipping goods from a six-wheeler, which takes at least a few hours today would just take 30 minutes.

Further, vehicles bringing goods to Phuentsholing will not have to wait across the border and spend on the demurrage.

Considering the shortage of manpower in the country, the managing director of Dhendup Enterprise said this is “a paradigm shift” in terms of logistics.

“This system can also be replicated in many other sectors,” he said.

“With more trucks cleared everyday will also increase the revenue generation for the government. The more the number of trucks cleared, the more the revenue.”

Dhendup Enterprise had conducted a thorough study on mechanising the MDP. The firm had then proposed to the taskforce. However, it was decided that the work had to go through tendering procedures, which was then duly done. The enterprise won the tender.

Dhendup Enterprise will take the control over the MDP for five years as per the contract.

“We developed the concept of mechanising the port back in June this year and we proposed in August,” the managing director said, adding that although the idea was theirs, it had to undergo tendering as per the rule.

Dhendup Enterprise has already placed machines such as cranes, forklifts and conveyor belts. While increasing and fastening the transshipment and other loading and unloading services, the mechanised system will also do away the labour intensive system.


What loaders say

Although the mechanised system would bring efficiency and reliability to the handling of the MDP, the loaders say they might lose their jobs. There are currently 146 loaders, all men, ranging from 18 years old to 50 years.

Many youth, especially the jobless, took up the job after the lockdown and many have been continuing since the closure of the gate on March 23.

A loader, who has been working since March, Baley said that loaders may not benefit from the mechanised system put.

“It may just benefit the single person, the contractor,” he said.

Baley said many youth, who were into drugs, had been working at the MDP, and there was not much problem in the town. Leaving them jobless would be another problem since they will be out in the town, he added.

Another loader, Yeshey, 31, said that there was no consultation with the loaders at the MDP, who had been working from the beginning.

“However, they said the current loaders would be given preference,” he said.

Initially, when there were less loaders at the port, they earned Nu 50,000 to Nu 60,000 per month. These days they make Nu 28,000 to Nu 30,000 per month.

Meanwhile, Dhendup Enterprise managing director said although the firm will have just 30 loaders, they will be paid Nu 1,000 per day.

The firm will also see if more loaders could be included depending on the project and plans in the future.

Regional director with the labour office in Phuentsholing, Sonam Tenzin there were many opportunities for the loaders.

“There are warehouses and construction sites to work at,” he said, adding that the loaders can also work at Allay Land Customs Station.

Sonam Tenzin also said that many loaders at the MDP are taxi and truck drivers.