NRDCL generates around Nu 92.985mn through boulder export in 2022

Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) generated Nu 92.985mn through the export of boulders from Phuentsholing and Gelephu to Bangladesh and India in 2022.

The export of boulders resumed in 2021 after it was hindered by the COVID 19 pandemic, which led to a decrease in revenue generated.

Meanwhile, the upcoming 57 kilometers railway connecting Gelephu with Kokrajhar, Assam, scheduled to be completed by 2026, would do away with several challenges currently faced in exporting boulders and become a new dawn in the export of boulders.

NRDCL could only generate Nu 39.769mn in 2019 and Nu 15.009mn in 2020, due to the COVID 19 pandemic and closure of the borders. After relaxation of the COVID 19 restrictions, the business resumed.

According to the officiating Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NRDCL, Sonam Chophel, Nu 64.227 mn was generated alone from the export of boulders from Phuentsholing and Nu 28.758 mn from Gelephu in 2022.

Exporting boulders is not as easy as it appears to be due to issues linked with transportation, overloading, challenges encountered en-route to the destination and others.

According to the officiating CEO, “The challenges faced by exporters are high and comprises en route expenses, high transportation cost, bad conditions, and overload issues.”

Additionally, he said that the river ports which are declared a port of call for Bhutan is very small, and infrastructures and equipment for loading materials into vessel very less, leading to long waiting time for loading the materials. About only 300 MT of materials can be loaded per barge. Only about 4-5 barges can be loaded in a day. Moreover, road to the port area is narrow.

Reports from Bhutan’s trade statistics for the third quarter of 2022 show that boulders rank among the top ten exports to generating Nu 4.1 bn. It has contributed significantly to the economy of the country. And in the words of NRDCL’s officiating CEO, the export of boulders will rise and even contribute more after commissioning of the railway link from Assam in India to Gelephu, Sarpang district.

“Currently, transportation is the main bottleneck in exporting the boulders,” Sonam Chophel said, adding that the railway link would definitely boost the boulder export from Gelephu.  In an earlier interview with Business Bhutan, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, Minister of the then Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA), which has now been bifurcated into the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment, said that the 57km railway connecting Gelephu with Kokrajhar, Assam would be completed by 2026.

Today, the boulders are exported from Dhubri riverport in Assam to Narayanganj in Bangladesh. The railway opening would be a new dawn in the export of the boulders. The officiating CEO of NRDCL said, “The frequency of the railway transportation would be the determining factor though it would be the preferred mode of transportation. It would benefit immensely even if 50% of the total boulder export volume can be transported through the railways per year. “

He also explained that the reduction in transportation cost of boulders will in turn make the boulders from Bhutan price competitive. The exporters can directly export the boulders to the importers at Bangladesh without any middleman in India.

“Yearly export volume will increase and there will be hassle-free routes which is one of the main route issues with transportation using roads,” he said.

While he did not say by how much percentage the transportation charges would be reduced, the officiating CEO mentioned that railway is “considered the cheapest mode of transportation.” “It would be wrong to guess and estimate the cost reduction. However, railways are considered one of the cheapest modes of transportation and we expect that transportation cost saved would be 20% to 25% (if not more).”

The same was voiced by a boulder exporter in Gelephu. “As has been pointed out by NRDCL, there are several issues in exporting boulders to Bangladesh, some of which are local and cannot be solved by the Government of India also,” one exporter, who did not want to be named said. “Exporting boulders today means keeping all the influential people along the different states of India happy. If a rail road as planned comes up, there would not be such issues and everybody would benefit,” he said, adding that 2026 is not far away. “I do not think that we are yet aware of the economic potential of exporting boulders. And this potential will skyrocket, with the establishment of the railway link,” he said. 

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu