… Request escort facility to ease the situation 

The wood-based industries in Sarpang are running out of timber stock and risk shutting down for the remaining part of the year. The proprietors said that they could not stock up the raw materials for the year before the onset of the monsoon.

There are more than eight wood-based industries in Gelephu employing over 30 people in the dzongkhag. Usually, the saw millers stock up raw materials, coniferous timbers from Bumthang, to last one year before the end of May.

This is required because the road conditions become worse during monsoon hampering transport of the timber causing shortage of raw materials, according to the sawmill operators.

The executive member of the Association of Wood-based Industry in Gelephu, Jambay Dorji, said that the existing protocol allows transhipment and switching of drivers at the border of high-risk areas in Darachhu and Tamala, which were not convenient for the wood-based industries.

“Timber load is different from any other loads. We’re not able to bring the raw materials here even after the payment,” he said.

He added that the trucks transporting raw materials carry heavy consignments and both transhipment and driver switching mode were difficult options.

“Not all truckers drive with such a heavy load. It’s difficult to get the drivers. Moreover, truck owners drive their own trucks and are unwilling to hand over the trucks to other drivers, fearing damage and misuse,” said Jambay Dorji.

One of the biggest wood-based industries in Gelephu,  Gyaltshen Wood Industries need over 8000 cubic feet (cft) of raw materials – timbers in one month, which is around 10 trucks in a month.

The firm had been operating at 10 percent capacity for more than a year after the workers from India left home because of the pandemic. The quantity of the raw materials required is much less today, according to the officials.

However, the factory is still running short of raw materials.

The general manager of Gyaltshen wood industries, Jambay Dorji said that the firm barely meets the salary for its eight factory workers today. “If the factory shuts down, the workers here would apply for Kidu and that would add pressure on the State. We are struggling to stay afloat,” he said.

He added that the factory needs two types of timber woods: hardwood for peeling that is locally available in Sarpang and the logs for sawing, which has to be transported from Bumthang.

The demand for sawn timbers has declined in the face of the pandemic with several constructions in the dzongkhag currently on halt. And without an adequate stock of raw materials, they couldn’t meet the demand of customers that show up occasionally.

The owner of Kuenga Wood-based Industry, Kuenga Tenzin, said that his firm remained closed for two weeks without raw materials and couldn’t bring additional logs from Bumthang.

“Escort mode was convenient but the protocol is changed now. We have to switch drivers at Tamala. We could bring raw materials only after we find a trucker. I’m not sure how we would be able to manage hereafter,” he said.

He added that the transportation charges have increased since the first lockdown. Earlier the cost of transportation from Bumthang up to Sarpang was Nu 20,000 per truck; truckers charge over Nu 35,000 today.

Kuenga Tenzin said that the wood industries in Sarpang could not sell the sawn timbers and other wood products as per the approved rates because of the increased expenditures.

The approved selling rate for sawn timber in Sarpang as per Natural Resources Pricing Committee is Nu 392.5 per cft. However, the sawn timbers are sold at rates between Nu 418, 450 and 480 per cft, according to the sources.

“At last, customers have to pay extra charges. We have to recover the expense incurred from the product. The factory needs at least 10,000cft in a month but there are fewer workers today,” said Kuenga Tenzin.

Officials from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gelephu said that the current stock of raw materials would last for a month at the maximum and the firms might have to stop.

Shortage of labourers, declining domestic market, and the lack of adequate raw materials led to the wood-based factory owners closing furniture units and two firms stopped working, according to a wood-based association member.

The wood-based industry owners in Sarpang have their raw materials stocked in Bumthang.

“We couldn’t bring them. Allowing us to transport with an escort would ease the situation. The task force in Zhemgang has also discontinued the escort facility. This is the main hurdle for us,” said Kuenga Tenzin.

Adding that there are de-suups on both Sarpang and Zhemgang side who could facilitate the escort facilities.

Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) office in Bumthang wrote to the incident commander of the dzongkhag regarding the transport escort after wood-based industries in Sarpang shared their difficulties in January.

The management has requested the dzongkhag task force to allow the movement of trucks carrying timbers with an escort from Bumthang to Sarpang, as transhipment was not viable with the trucks carrying timber.

According to the official, the dzongkhag task force has not yet given a response.

NRDCL’s Regional Manager in Bumthang, Kinley, said that the wood-based industries wanted to buy timbers but were hesitant without a convenient means of transportation.

Transporters are not opting for driver switching mode. The wood-based industries are not able to market the 50 percent share allotted to them monthly as per the timber extraction and distribution modality, according to the official.

“We have appraised the management to sell the stocks at a discounted rate as the market is flooded with the wood products from the community and private forests,” said Kinley.

Over 7,000cft of logs were sold to Sarpang every month and there are 640,000cft of timber products in stock including those in Trongsa and Zhemgang today. The stocked materials are from 2020 and 2021, according to the record with NRDCL Bumthang.

The dzongkhag taskforce implemented the transhipment and driver-switching mode of transportation in addition to the escort facilities from Tamala in November last year. 

The escort facility is discontinued after the export of orange ended in March. However, escort facility for the routine travellers after the completion of quarantine is still in place. 

By Nima | Gelephu

Edited by Tshering Palden