After almost two months of standstill, export of boulders from Gelephu to Bangladesh resumed on June 22. However, three months later, the business has failed to pick up to its initial vigor.
When the business started, more than 100 trucks ferried boulders to Bangladesh everyday. Today, on an average about 50 trucks leave for Bangladesh in a month.
After the resumption of the business, about 300 metric tonnes (MT) of boulders have been exported. There are more than 4 million MT of riverbed material stocked along the banks of Mao Khola.
Where is the problem?
As has been in the past for Gelephu, conflict among exporters is attributed to be one of the main reasons for the sluggish business.
Exporters claimed that there was more than one group of exporters in Gelephu who were reportedly in disagreement with each other. Kuensel learnt that some of the groups have recently dissolved and former members are now working independently.
However, according to sources, although most of the exporters have decided to disband from their respective groups, they still function together and have colluded with counterparts in India.
It is alleged that exporters share prior information of the Bhutanese consignments leaving for Bangladesh to the members of non-governmental organisations (NGO) who extort money from truckers along the way.
“Since some of the exporters do not approve the agreed price from the importers, they conspire with the NGOs and goons along the Indian highway to rob Bhutanese truckers,” said a source. “Information such as load capacity and number of consignments are already shared with Indians when the vehicles move from here.”
One of the exporters, Chencho Gyeltshen, said that competition among Bhutanese exporters on rates that importers offered has hindered export business to Bangladesh.
“There is a conflict among ourselves. If one individual is not happy with the rate at which another exporter sends the consignment, they report this to the NGOs and motor vehicle inspectors (MVI) along the highway.”
He said that in order to resolve grievances among the exporters, a meeting was conducted last month in presence of officials from the Bhutan Export Association (BEA). “Majority of the participants agreed that we would start working together during the meeting.”
Another reason for the sluggish export is attributed to the high incidental charges imposed along the way.
Exporters said that each vehicle travelling to Bangladesh has to pay a sum of about Nu 7,500 as extortion fees. “With the floor price of boulders remaining the same (about Nu 1,900 per MT) it is not feasible for us to export at this rate,” said one exporter.
While the collection of extortion fee starts as the vehicles enter Dadgari town, majority of the money is collect along the Meghalaya region.
Inland waterways not effective
With transportation becoming a major challenge in the boulder business, the introduction of inland waterways from Dhubri Port in Assam, India came as a relief to many.
However, since the first consignment that was lifted on July 10, the initiative has failed to attract exporters as anticipated.
Without a custom’s office at Chillmari, between the Bangladesh-India border, many waterways consignment have been stranded for days at the border.
Chencho Gyeltshen said that for Gelephu, the Dhubri Port offered several opportunities given the short distance (140km). “We have heard that it would take about four months to establish a customs office at Chillmari,” he said. “Until then, there is nothing we could do with the port.”
It was also learnt that the current vessels used at the port are only for stone aggregates and not for boulders.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu