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Forestry red tape stymies sawmill sales

On March 22, when a civil servant from Khuruthang, Punakha was about to transport an Eicher truckload of sawn timber from a sawmill in Wangdue, a forester stopped the vehicle and asked for the timber allotment order.

Without such a document, the civil servant had to rush to the divisional forest office (DFO) at Lobesa in Punakha, which is 11km from the sawmill. “Had I known the procedure I’d have obtained it,” he said.  The timber was for the construction of a government house in Khuruthang.

On May 3, Chencho Dorji went to Dhendup sawmill at Bajothang to buy a truckload of offcut timber, but returned home after a sawmill manager refused to sell, since he had no allotment order.

Chencho Dorji could process for the timber only after two days as it fell on weekend. “I feel everybody has a right to purchase, so long as it’s legal,” Chencho Dorji said.

For the allotment order, buyers need to attach with their application, a work order, if the timber is for a new construction; construction order, if it is for a private house construction; maintenance order, if a house needs repair; and quantity and type of the timber.

The allotment order system that requires the need of prior approval from the forest is based on timber distribution modalities of 2011.  Developed to enhance and facilitate smooth flow of timber in the market, when there was high demand, today it was inappropriate, saw-millers said. Timber demand has drastically dropped in the past year, with banks no longer dishing out housing loans like before.

While some sawmills have a stock of timber, Druk Integrated Furniture Complex is running out of raw material, because of which many high quality and complicated machines are under-utilised.

The unit’s electric seasoning kiln, a house, which has four chambers to dry 2,000cft of timber at a time, remains under-utilised because of inadequate supply.

Its joinery machines that produce windows, doors, shutters, frames and machinery for furniture making have also been not properly used for the same reason.

The complex’s manager Pem Gyeltshen said the furniture house, which has a potential to meet furniture demand of entire country, gets only 450cft of timber a month. “With this quantity, we can’t meet even local demand of Punakha and Wangdue,” said Pem Gyeltshen.

A sawmill, operated by the complex, is also running short of logs, as it gets only 1,500cft of logs from the natural resource development corporation ltd (NRDCL).  This quantity lasts for four days, after which we depend on rural sawing, where rural people bring their timber,” Pem Gyelsten said. “Even with this, it’s difficult to run day to day business.”

The timber distribution modalities 2011 permit only 450cft of timber for furniture and 1,500cft of logs for sawmill.

On the other hand, NRDCL in April could not sell 10,272cft of logs.  This month, the stock will shoot up to 32,000cft.  NRDCL’s regional manager, Rinchen, said they have adequate logs to meet the demand.  They have to operate under the directives of the forest department.

Saw-millers are frustrated. “We’re deprived to sell our own property,” one said. “When we pay for logs, we should have the right to sell the timber.”

Druk Integrated Wood Complex, one of largest furniture houses and sawmills in Punakha, loses around 50 customers a month, because they don’t want to take the pain of going to the forest office to get the allotment order.

Complex’s general manager, Pem Gyeltshen, said people, who came to buy sawn timber to make furniture and household items, give up after they are told of the requirements.  The forest department’s primary responsibility should be to ensure inspection of illegal sale of timber, therefore, once the timber is sold, it should be left to saw-millers, he said.

Chief forest officer Gomchen Drukpa said the timber distribution modalities were developed to curb illegal sale of timber by people. “When timber was scarce, some people, after buying from the sawmill, sold it to third parties at a higher price,” he said. “Our intention was to control such a practice.” He said it was not necessary to come to his office for the allotment order. “Anyone can fax us their documents.”

Saw-millers said system should be reformed and reviewed, based on the market situation, and made flexible and user friendly.

Gomchen Drupka said the system should be reviewed by the saw-millers themselves and then put up to the government for approval.  But saw-millers said, despite sharing their grievances repeatedly, their voice was not heard.

By Tenzin Namgyel, Wangdue

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