But truckers accuse NRDCL and govt. of criminalising their work

The task force that was formed to review the new sand supply system, which the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) initiated beginning this year decided that the new system be continued.

This was done following the complaint from truckers and the Semtokha incident of January 22 where police had to intervene and a dozen truckers were taken into custody for questioning. Truckers were accused of trying to stop the trucks moving to and from the sand-harvesting site in Wangduephodrang. Three truckers were released on bail recently.

The task force meeting held on February 1, however decided to review the system after six months beginning January this year. Feedback from both customers and transporters will be studied during the review.

The task force also asked the NRDCL to designate a focal person to address operational issues and monitor the supply on a 24×7 basis. The NRDCL will also monitor the status of supply order between the truckers and clients through SMS.

There was also an instruction for the NRDCL to deliver sand even during weekends and holidays from 7:30am to 5:30pm in winter and 6:30am to 7pm in summer.  The sand customer office in Thimphu and Wangduephodrang will remain open on Saturdays from 9am to noon.

However, truckers Kuensel spoke to still claim that the new system is inconvenient to both customers and transporters.

For instance, one trucker requesting anonymity said that the client makes payment for both sand and transportation to NRDCL and that the corporation fails to deliver the transportation cost to the trucker on time.

He said that transportation cost is still calculated using the old fuel price, which is three months old. “Now, the fuel of petrol and diesel is almost the same and NRDCL has not considered this,” he added.

The trucker said that NRDCL’s mandate is regulating the sand price and that it should not interfere in the transport business.

However, in an earlier interview the corporation’s management including the chairman and chief executive officer had said that truckers have inflated the cost of sand by creating an artificial demand for sand through deflection and hoarding. The management felt that this new system should be in place a decade ago.

But truckers say that an agreement was already in place since 2003 and that was declared null and void last year. Another trucker said that there was agreement between the truckers and NRDCL with the terms that any truckers inflating the sand price may be barred for life from ferrying sand, meaning that any truck registered under that particular individual cannot ferry sand from NRDCL sites.

“If the government and NRDCL accuse us of inflating the sand price, it is also their duty to point out which truck had done so,” he said adding that the agreement had granted this authority to NRDCL.

The NRDCL is also exploring other sand harvesting sites in Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Waklaytar areas in Tsirang and preliminary works are on going. This, the company said is to make sand affordable, accessible and available to all.

NRDCL CEO Sonam Wangchuk said that the comapny has secured many sites but unfortunately these sites are far from Thimphu and other urban centres where sand demand is high.

For instance, access road to a site in Drujegang, Dagana  and Karmaling in Jomotshangkha will soon be completed. He also said that there are 96 sand and boulder sites in eastern Bhutan. Maokhola in Gelephu is expected to  produce tremendous surplus but high transportation cost is an issue.

“At the same time, few sites in Wangdue are encountering resistance from stakeholders, and as an option, the management had recently put in place two new dredge machines including a four member Indian crew to provide hands on training to the old crews and boost sand production,” Sonam Wangchuk said. “A government subsidy would play a crucial role.”

The company has also sought a special board approval to pay the truckers in cash for upto two trips in addition to various options like MBoB and other electronic transfer.

however, tuckers accuse the NRDCL and the government for criminalising them for making a living. “Few trucks are already seized by the banks,” the trucker said adding that he sought anonymity as the authorities are blacklisting them.

Is there a trucker association?

Not one officially. “But there is a need to have one,” the trucker said adding that they approached the information and communications ministry on this but could not meet the minister. “The secretary said he doesn’t have authority to allow a formation of a tshogpa,” he said.

On approaching the National Assembly Speaker, the trucker claimed that he was positive, as there is already a taxi association. They claimed that they also approached the National Council chair and that the truckers were told that this association would create inconveniences.

“We are confused,” said the trucker. “But there is a thing called election where people’s voice will matter.”

Tshering Dorji