33 Bhutanese Coal Trucks Stopped from Heading to Bangladesh
Coal Block (Representational Image/Photo Credit: PTI)

Shillong, January 18: Indian Customs law disallowed 33 Bhutanese coal-laden trucks at Dawki integrated check post (ICP) in Meghalaya to transit to Bangladesh following a Supreme Court order banning the transportation of extracted coal in Meghalaya, an official said on Friday.

"A total of 33 trucks transporting coal originating from Bhutan have been stopped at Dawki ICP (in Meghalaya's West Jaintia Hills district) from January 15 from transiting to Bangladesh citing the Supreme Court order ban on transportation of coal," Meghalaya International Exporters' Chamber of Commerce Secretary, Dolly Khonglah, told IANS.

Khonglah said that she tried to convince the customs officials at Dawki ICP that the Supreme Court's order does not apply to a third country exports with transit through India but they refused to acknowledge it.

"For the last two months, they have been exporting coal to Bangladesh without any hiccups. They have no right to stop them at best they can check the documents of each truck.

"All the coal-laden trucks are sealed covered by tarpaulin and adheres strictly to the specified weight as per the rules of the India," she said.

The Bhutanese Consulate in Guwahati is in touch with the Customs officials at Dawki ICP and Commissioner and Secretary for Mining and Geology, Tining Dkhar on the matter.

"We are hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon so that the Bhutanese coal trucks can transit to Bangladesh," Consular General Phub Tsering told IANS.

A Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer on Tuesday banned the transportation of coal in Meghalaya till the next hearing fixed on February 19 for its failure to curb illegal mining in the state.

The ban on transportation of coal was of significance in the wake of a coal mine tragedy in the state in December 13, in which 15 miners were trapped inside an illegal 370-feet deep flooded mine in Ksan village in East Jaintia Hills district.

They were digging coal despite the National Green Tribunal ban on coal mining. Bhutan is exporting coal to Bangladesh via India as per the South Asian Preferential Trade Arrangement.

India had notified Dawki-Tamabil and Dalu-Nakugaon land customs stations as dedicated port for Bangladesh-Bhutan for trans-shipment export-import trade.

IANS was unable to reach Commissioner of Customs, K. Ashi Kheiya for a comment.

But a customs official who wished not to be named told IANS that they have sought for clarity from Meghalaya Chief Secretary and Union Finance Ministry on the Supreme Court order since the order was in a "genera nature".

Advocate General of Meghalaya, Amit Kumar said that transit coal originating outside Meghalaya is not hit by the order of the apex court.

When contacted, Chief Secretary in-charge P.S. Thangkhiew said he has taken up the matter with the competent authority.

The trade between Dhaka and Thimpu is significant with imports from Bhutan standing at $18.48 million as against exports from Bangladesh worth only $3.12 million in 2010-11, showing Bhutan enjoying a comfortable trade balance.

Dhaka had earlier offered Thimpu duty-free access of some products and to use Chittagong and Mongla Ports while Thimpu extended cooperation to meet the power deficit of Bangladesh.