The Unseen Walls Along the Boulder Trade Route

Bhutanese boulders bound for Bangladesh gets a stone-cold welcome along Indian Territories

By Tashi Namgyal/Thimphu

Boulder exports from Bhutan to Bangladesh, one of the chief natural resources the two countries share, have to go through a long bumpy ride along Indian highways.

The growing export of Bhutanese boulders to Bangladesh has faced some problems recently while crossing the Indian Territory. In two such incidents, boulder trucks were stopped in the Indian Territory and charges were realised.

Exporters in Meghalaya stopped Bhutanese trucks carrying boulders from Bhutan before reaching Nakugaon in Bangladesh with the help of officials on duty along the Indian highways. It comes after more than thirty trucks carrying boulders from Gelephu were left stranded for three weeks at the Assam-Meghalaya border in India after being barred from entering Meghalaya in August.

The stranded vehicles, after waiting for more than twenty days had to offload their consignments and sell their boulders at discounted rates, after having to bear the retention charges incurring losses which ran into millions.

Exporters from Bhutan shared that their trucks were deliberately stranded in order to stop it from entering Bangladesh as Bhutanese boulders are sold at cheaper rates and are of much better quality compared with boulders and aggregates from Meghalaya.

The boulder business in Gelephu was just beginning to pick up after having to remain idle for more than two years due to the pandemic. However, it was difficult for the boulder trucks from Bhutan to pass Meghalaya even after deploying transporters from India for export.

Transporters from India were allowed to carry boulders from Bhutan to facilitate export because of the pandemic.

Active exporters said that boulder export has turned into a political game with exporters from Meghalaya selling their boulders to Bangladesh too.

They alleged that even after deploying Indian transporters for export, it was difficult for Bhutanese boulder trucks to pass Meghalaya.

“Although it is an international trade with an agreement signed duly between three countries, only Bhutanese consignments are not allowed to pass and we don’t know the real reason or the intentions behind this,” an exporter said.

Earlier in August, trucks carrying boulders from Gelephu were stranded along the Indian highway about 38 kilometers away from Dibru Reserve Forest in Meghalaya, exporters said.

There were also incidences where transporters were not alerted about routes and bridges unsafe for plying, leaving them stranded without any help from the authorities despite requests for help.

Amidst the commotion, resorting to an additional export route seems to be the only viable option for the long term benefit of the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) in general, and for the exporters in Gelephu in particular.

Exporters claim that the current transit route through Meghalaya has not benefitted them and if approved by the Indian Government, Gelephu exporters would yield more from the Lhakimari-Sonarhut route.

The BEA has, in the meantime, written to the Deputy Commissioner in Meghalaya as well as the President of the North-East Federation of International Trade regarding the road issues.

In another incident, more than 150 boulder trucks were held at Fulbari on the Indian border with Bangladesh. Locals stopped the trucks without any specific reasons.

A proprietor of a transport company in Phuentsholing said the problem was solved when government offices stepped in. He said two of his staff had gone to Fulbari with officials from Phuentsholing to resolve the matter.

He said that the problem might have cropped up due to various reasons since India also exports boulders to Bangladesh but Bhutanese boulders are preferred, which could possibly have agitated the locals. He also said that Bangladesh prefers boulders from Bhutan because there is a tax benefit.

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