A task force comprising representatives from the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL), agriculture ministry, Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) and the Road Safety and Transport Authority will be formed to review the new sand supply system.

The Chairman of NRDCL board, Dasho Karma W Penjor said the task force will review the system and a report would be submitted to the Prime Minister next week.

On December 21 last year, the agriculture ministry wrote to the DHI chairman informing him that the aggrieved transporters have approached the Prime Minister, who instructed the agriculture minister to uphold the previous system and not to introduce the new system.

On December 25, the DHI wrote back to the ministry stating that the new sand transportation modality has been under consideration for nearly two years with the plan to implement it early last year. “However, due to the ministry’s intervention, it was kept in abeyance, and further revisions and stakeholders consultations were carried out,” the letter stated.

After exploring various options, the letter also stated that the best way to make sand available, accessible and affordable is through the new system. The letter also mentions about a high-level meeting convened on July 26 last year, where the DHI chairman informed the minister about implementing the new system. The letter sought support from the ministry and stated that it may be reviewed after six months.

Again on January 1, the minstry reposnded stating that the new modality was agreed in principle. “Till date we have not received the new modality for review and endorsement,” the letter stated. Further, it also stated that aspects of pricing and monitoring should be jointly discussed.  In line with Prime Minister’s instruction, the ministry has sought for joint review to facilitate consensual agreement among all parties.

On this basis, the truckers claim that the NRDCL has not paid heed to the government notice and went ahead with the new system. In an earlier interview, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji had said that the government did not want to put a cap on the number of transporters. After NRDCL said that they would not limit the number of trucks, the minister had said that the government agreed with the new system.

The NRDCL board chairman said that the taskforce would look into the new system taking into consideration concerns of both the consumers and transporters. He said that the system should have been in place a year ago.

Officials from NRDCL said that several reviews and consultative meetings have already been conducted in the past two years.

“Going by the demand, NRDCL will need only about 100 trucks,” Dasho Karma W Penjor said. Considering the truckers’ grievances and to provide opportunity to all, he said it was kept open and there are more than 300 registered transporters today.

He said that even with the earlier system, there is no assurance that all trucks will be given the loads. They ferried other goods like potatoes from Phobjikha, apples from the west and other imported goods from Phuentsholing.

He said that the board has directed the management to not withhold the transporters’ payment by not more than 48 hours.

The earlier system, he said, has sort of created an artificial demand in the market because of hoarding and deflection, while the government just earns around Nu 2,700 a truckload and consumers pay around Nu 15,000.

The new system has brought down the total cost to about Nu 8,700. This, he said will bring positive impact on the economy. However, he said a profit margin of 10 percent has been factored into the new system for the transporters.

The concern, however, is that the new forest and nature conservation rules and regulations framed last year contains a new provision which states; “the collection of sand and stone from riverbed shall be undertaken by an authorised agency. In the event, where there is no operation by an authorised agency; private party shall seek approval from the Department for such operation…”

The new rule also allows private parties to collect sand and stones from a private registered land for trade purpose after obtaining environmental clearance.

While some sources said that this is politically driven, some said this clause is a reflection of NRDCL’s failure in reference to its operation of stone crushing plant in the past.

Tshering Dorji