Bhutan’s thriving boulder exports business is stuck since the 1st of September as Bhutanese trucks from Phuentsholing and Samtse are not being allowed to move in West Bengal, while for Gelephu the Meghalaya routes have not been allowed for Bhutanese exporters to go into Bangladesh.
The General Secretary of Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) Tshering Yeshey said that that exports are mostly halted and the reason is unknown to them.
He said that they have raised the issue at the highest level in the Indian Embassy.
Tshering said that it started with a notification from the West Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s office saying that 1st to 8th September will be a road safety awareness week.
Out of consideration of this Bhutanese trucks exporting boulders stopped plying for this time period.
However, from 9th September when Bhutanese exporters wanted to resume exports they were stopped doing so by the West Bengal police.
Bhutanese exporters even offered to take under loaded trucks at 18 tons or less, but even this was not agreed to by the police.
Instead the Banarhat police detained three Bhutanese trucks and two trucks taking coal to Gomtu were seized by Alipurduar police who made the driver sign an FIR copy admitting to stealing the coal but Tshering said this is documented coal with proper documents and is not stolen.
On additional enquiry and after taking up the matter officially the local officials in West Bengal informed their Bhutanese counterparts that there has been a miscommunication.
They said that the West Bengal government had issued a notification stopping the plying of all Indian boulder trucks from 1st September to 1st October so that the tax system can be streamlined for Indian boulder exporters.
This should not have applied for Bhutanese trucks but with no clear direction the West Bengal police also stopped all Bhutanese trucks.
This issue is still under discussion.
Currently before the stoppage and given it is the monsoon season 100 trucks a day go from Phuentsholing, while 150 go from Samtse and another 50 from Gomtu making it 300 trucks a day via the West Bengal region.
In winter the production does up dramatically as Phuentsholing alone sends 350 trucks in a day.
Tshering said for the Gelephu sector which has the capacity to export 150 trucks a day in monsoon they are also unable to export as their route to Bangladesh via Meghalaya is blocked for various reasons.
The Gelephu trucks go via Assam and in Meghalaya it is via the Tura District and due to some road widening works there and public opposition Bhutanese trucks are being forced to use Triki Kila bypass. But here again at the bypass the Meghalaya local authorities have said that two bridges are under maintenance and so this route cannot be used.
This leaves only National Highway 51 but here again without any explanation 33 Bhutanese trucks have been detained at Paikan which is the Assam-Meghalaya border and the West Garo Hills.
This is not the first time that the Meghalaya police have done this despite Bhutanese trucks having all the proper documents and permits.
In July 2019 the Meghalaya police detained more than a hundred dumpers from Bhutan without explanation.
Tshering said that the above excuses are not valid as Indian trucks can be seen plying on those roads and bridges.
He said Meghalaya also exports boulders to Bangladesh and so it could be a nexus of local politicians, goons and police to stop the trucks from Bhutan going the last leg into Bangladesh.
Meghalaya is a hub of illegal mining in the north east from coal to boulders and its makes a significant chunk of illegal revenue for local politicians, police and the mining mafia.
A separate issue that had emerged for a while for apple exporters was that the customs officials ICE gate in Jaigaon started applying a 35% imports duty and 3.8% GST.
However, this issue was resolved once the certificate of origin was issued.