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Boulder export falls to four-year low

… dips by about 35 percent in 2022 

Thukten Zangpo 

Bhutan’s boulder export falls by about 35 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. The country exported Nu 1.62 billion (B) worth of boulders in 2022, recording the lowest in four years.

Given the exchange rate of Nu 78.6 against USD in 2022, the boulder export to Bangladesh contributed USD 20.64 million (M) to the country’s foreign currency reserves.

However, if the country has exported boulders at the pace of the pre-pandemic level in 2019, the country would have earned more foreign currency. Bhutan exported boulders worth Nu 4.98B or USD 67.34M in 2019.

Exporters say that one main hurdle for export was because of the online web-based vehicles facilitation system, Suvidha, implemented by the West Bengal government.

Among the three-land custom stations (LCS) used by Bhutanese exporters to carry goods in both Bhutanese and Indian registered trucks, the system was implemented in Changrabandha LCS on September 26 last year.

On January 4 this year, the West Bengal government revised the fee for the Suvidha system from the uniform rate of INR 2,000 to INR 10,000 for non-perishable goods, INR 5,000 for boulders and INR 3,000 for perishable goods at the Changrabandha LCS.

Since September 26 last year, an exporter said that the boulder export business was affected because the Suvidha system provided only limited slots.

“There is a capacity to export 700 to 1,000 trucks daily from Gomtu, Samtse, and Phuentsholing. However, the slots allocated by the system are 100 trucks per day,” he said.

With the revised fee, an exporter added that the export of a 10-wheeler truck with a carrying capacity of 16.5 metric tonnes (MT) of boulders with Nu 19,800 as transportation charge and other miscellaneous costs with additional Nu 5,000, the exporters are left with only Nu 227.57.

Raising this concern, the Exporters Association of Bhutan also wrote to the government to take up the issue with the authorities concerned.

The Association stated that an additional cost of complying with the new requirement is almost equal to the cost of export materials being transported in a truck which is beyond anybody’s limit to absorb.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during the meeting with representatives of the private sector on March 31 this year, said that the government sent a team to inspect the problem but the team observed nothing new.

Lyonchhen said that the Suvidha system was formalised by the West Bengal government to expedite transportation. After discussing with the Indian government, the central government said that it’s the authority of the local government, Lyonchhen said. “We will do whatever we must.”

Another problem, an exporter said is with the limited quota of INR 50,000 per month per exporter, an exporter could only send only 10 trucks.

He added that the economic crisis in Bangladesh also triggered fewer exports and the Suvidha system which requires Indian SIM cards to register is another issue.

An exporter said that out of 1,500 Bhutanese trucks which were bought for the boulders export, 80 percent are engaged in other works in bordering states of India.