The prices of sand and stones for people in rural areas increased after the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) implemented new rates in July 2020.

A truckload of sand and stones from Maochhu for rural usage cost Nu 650 at royalty rates until last year.

Gewog administration and forest officials verified the application for rural applicants to extract the material on royalty rates.

Gelephu gup, Ugyen Wangchuk said sand and stones were made available at an affordable rate as kidu for rural residents.

He said people were allowed to collect 10 truckloads in a year for maintenance and construct new houses. “Many rural residents will not be able to afford the new price when their income is limited.”

He claimed that the royalty was aimed at encouraging people to stay in remote areas and to stop them from moving into urban towns.

A resident of Pemathang said he paid around Nu 2,500 for a truckload of sand and stones last year. “The rates were mostly decided by truckers.”

Meanwhile, the approved prices for sand in Gelephu as per the rates decided by the natural resource pricing committee (NRPC) is Nu 1,294 for a truckload of sand, including the loading charge at the source. The rate for commercial use is Nu 1,421 per truck including the loading charge.

The approved rate for stones in the Gelephu region is Nu 7.39 per cft for rural use and Nu 8.12 for commercial use. The rural rate is Nu 2,088 a truckload and the commercial rate is 2,294 a truckload.

Gup Ugyen Wangchuk said there is no difference between commercial and rural use now.

“Sands and stones were available at the same rate for rural households in the past. The increase in rate was untimely. Everyone is going through a tough time because of the pandemic,” he said.

NRDCL’s manager in Gelephu, Choni Dorji, said NRPC approved the revised rates last year. “There are representatives from business, trade, and other stakeholders.”

He said NRDCL, in coordination with forest officials, facilitated loading at the source to avoid unprofessional dredging of riverbed materials. “Buffer areas were disturbed and we were blamed for it. The management was not systematic.”

He said there was no clarity on rates of materials that were extracted for rural use. “Sand and stones for rural use were deflected to commercial areas. The resources were misused. This distorted the commercial rates.”

There are separate rates for sands and stones for rural and commercial use under existing NRPC rates.

Choni Dorji said NRDCL charges only operational costs for rural use. “There is no profit from rural use.”

However, local government officials in Sarpang discussed the need to identify a separate area to collect sand and stones for rural use and to allow the collection on royalty rates during dzongkhag tshogdu held in May this year.

The DT resolved that NRDCL, Gelephu and Sershong gewogs and other relevant stakeholders resolve the issue together.

The stakeholders are yet to discuss the issue.

Choni Dorji said that the sand was nationalized and the collection of sand from private land should also be routed through NRDCL. “However, this is overlooked and people are not aware of this,” he said.

He added that forest officials facilitate the extraction of sand in places where NRDCL officials are not deployed. “In the places where NRDCL officials are placed, it should be routed through NRDCL as mandated.”