A team comprising of boulder exporters and officials from the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) will travel to Nakugoan in Bangladesh on May 13 to resolve the ongoing boulders export issue from Gelephu.
This was decided during a meeting held yesterday to discuss issues that have left hundreds of trucks stranded in Gelephu for more than two weeks.
The meeting, however, almost turned ugly when frustrated exporters felt that the meeting was deviating from its main focus and started discussing on matters they believed where petty and personal. “I have 10 of my trucks stranded in Bangladesh and I want to know what the association can do to bring it back,” an exporter said.
Members of Gelephu stones and aggregates export committee (GSA) explained that while the stranded trucks and export of boulders was one of the main agendas, there were other pertaining issues faced by exporters in the thromde.
Boulder export business in Gelephu has come to a standstill following issues on under-invoicing of boulders exported to Bangladesh since April 24.
How did the issue begin?
GSA secretary, Ugyen Rabten, said the issue came up after the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) increased their supply quantity from 25 metric tonne (MT) to 32MT.
“People thought NRDCL had increased the price of boulders when they had increased the quantity of the supply,” he said.
It was learnt that NRDCL increased the supply after most trucks were seen carrying loads that were visibly extending from the truck’s bed.
A 10-wheeler truck used to ferry boulders has a carrying capacity of 16m3 in terms of volume. This amount when converted into mass is equivalent to 38.5MT. However, the carrying capacity as per the blue book of the vehicle is 15MT.
For a brief period, NRDCL supplied 32MT of boulders for each 16m3 capacity trucks. According to sources, when the trucks arrived at the Department of Forest and Park Services counter to declare royalty, exporters and some truckers allegedly tampered the documents and declared only half of the actual weight.
“In forest department, they refer the quantity as one truck. When it reaches the trade and customs office, they show the weight as per the blue book of the vehicle which is 15MT,” he said. “It is a simple trick made complicated by few people who know how to manipulate things.”
Exporters alleged that the issues got complicated when Bhutanese trucks were checked along the route. As per the exit documents and the certificate of origin, the vehicles were carrying 15MT in accordance with the blue book limit.
However, sources say that the physical inspection of the vehicle made it obvious that the trucks were overloaded. “When the trucks pass through the weighbridge, they were actually carrying more than 35MT.”
How did this practice go unnoticed?
The export declaration form, one of the main documents required for exports is provided based on certificate of origin produced from the trade department. This certificate is produced based on the receipts issued from NRDCL and the forest department.
Sources say that despite knowing that vehicles were carrying extra load, officials did little to address the problem. “If they had scrutinised the documents at source from the beginning, this problem would not have occurred,” a source said. “They let the trucks carry extra load under forged documents.”
Customs officials, during the meeting, said that without a weighbridge there was no means to measure the load. The weighbridge in Gelephu was damaged on December 4 after an overloaded vehicle passed through the machine.
“As has been the practice, the rules strictly mention that the exact quantity of goods have to be declared on exiting the gate,” said an official. “It is not that our office knowingly allowed this but for some reason the rule was breached. We have fixed this and only the actual declared loads can exit the gate now.”
Officials from trade department said that no certificate of origin would be issued until all relevant documents from NRDCL and forest department are produced. “This has been the practice and it shall continue henceforth.”
Meanwhile, the BEA general secretary, Tshering Yeshi, said the association is optimistic that the team’s visit on May 13 would materialise and the issue resolved.
“We will be meeting stakeholders of both Indian and Bangladeshi import associations to discuss current issue and explore further avenues to make the export business successful among the countries,” he said. “In case this doesn’t work, then we would request help from the government.”
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu