Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

In what could come as a blow to the scores of boulder exporters in Phuentsholing, the dredging of riverbed materials (RBM) from Toorsa river could be stopped for good.

The government has through a cabinet order given authority to  the Phuentsholing Township Development Project (PTDP) to manage and decide dredging in Zones A and B. The decision of the 78th session of the Lhengye Zhungtshog held on November 17 states that the PTDP   “shall be responsible to manage and decide dredging in Zones A and B.”

In a letter written to the minister of the agriculture and forest ministry (MoAF), the Cabinet also said that PTDP, after assessing properly may decide to export after submitting an undertaking that there will be no shortage of RBM material for project use.

The Cabinet, however, has instructed the agriculture ministry to allow Druk Magical Company to dredge RBM from the identified 7.5 acres of site at PTDP’s Zone C if there is feasible deposit and if transportation accessibility can be arranged with SSD Ventures, a Phuentsholing based firm, and PTDP.

“No other sites within Zone C shall be allotted for new dredging.”

“SSD Ventures shall be allowed to transport and export the stocked materials only from Zone C through an identified access road and bridge in consultation with PTDP.”

All other new sites identified by DoFPS, feasible for dredging shall be allocated through an open auction, the letter says. However, as authorized in earlier cabinet meetings, the MoAF could decide on the allotment of dredging sites in Lori Khola in Tading gewog, Samtse and Khurul Khola in Lhamoidzingkha, Dagana.

The ministry was also asked to develop a clear Auction Guidelines, which should clearly spell out a timeframe (definite dates) for start and end of operations by the successful bidder.

Meanwhile, the government has not allowed any dredging works at Toorsa river since December 2018. The ongoing RBM exports today are stocks dredged prior to the 2018 government decision to not allow dredging works.

With the new cabinet decision, dredging companies waiting for government decision on dredging are taken by surprise. All dredging works in PTDP’s Zone A is currently stopped but NRDCL is still dredging RBM from Zone B.

One former dredger said that the new decision is very confusing.

“But going by the letter, it seems the government would not give dredging works to anyone in Zone A and Zone B.”

An official from PTDP office said they may never sublet or allow dredging works.

“Controlled dredging may be carried out by PTDP as per the project’s design requirements as and when necessary to mitigate monsoon floods.”

The official also said that NRDCL is carrying out dredging at Zone B on PTDP’s behalf.

“We have advised them to do controlled dredging upto the designed river bed level. Their have only until March 2021.”

Meanwhile, towards the end of last year, the agriculture minister and director of the Department of Forests and Park Services visited Phuentsholing and asked the contractors, who stocked riverbed materials in Toorsa, to clear the stock within six months and allowed to export the RBM by June 2020 and surrender the areas to PTDP.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the export. The export then resumed on September 15.

Since then, until November end, about 288,516.96 metric tonnes (MT) of boulders and aggregates have been exported to Bangladesh and India from Phuentsholing, as per the Bhutan Exporters Association. Boulder worth USD 5.34 million (M) was exported to Bangladesh and boulder and aggregates worth Nu 6.82M has been exported to India.