National

Bitumen shortage hits blacktopping of roads across the country

- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA, Kathmandu

Jun 24, 2019-

Shailung Construction, a contractor working on the widening of the Kalanki-Nagdhunga road is finding it hard to blacktop the widened part of the road at Thankot, opposite the police post for the last two weeks due to shortage of bitumen.

Bitumen is a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. Bitumen is exclusively used as a binder in road construction and maintenance.

“We have run out of bitumen stocks. The shortage of the construction material, along with rainfalls has caused the delay in blacktopping the widened 250-metre section of road,” said Ramesh Subedi, director of Shailung Construction. “We hope to get the required amount of bitumen from Nepal Bitumen and Barrel Udyog owned by Panchakanya Group in the next 2-3 days to blacktop the road section.”

It is not the only road affected by the lack of bitumen.

Ramesh Dahal, secretary general of the Federation of Contractors’ Association of Nepal, said surface dressing—bettering the current road surface—of the Sindhuli-Bardibas road stretch had to be put off because of the lack of supply of bitumen.

“All preparations for surface dressing were done in the third week of May. I had to wait for a month to receive a shipment of bitumen. But Nepal Bitumen and Barrel Udyog on Monday delivered just two tankers of bitumen, which is not enough,” Dahal told the Post.

The supply delay has increased the cost of the road project as he had mobilised machinery, which he had rented out, at the site a month earlier.

Officer bearers of the federation said they are receiving complaints about the shortage of bitumen from across the country.

As the road construction works are mostly done in the second half of the fiscal year, particularly the last trimester of the fiscal, the shortage of bitumen could cause delays in blacktopping works on many road projects, the contractors warn.

Both contractors and officials at the Department of Roads said there had been a shortage of bitumen in the market since India tightened security on the bordering areas for the elections in April and May.

Although Nepal Bitumen and Barrel, a domestic company, is also an important player in domestic bitumen market, the country imports to meet much of its bitumen needs.

Of late, imports of bitumen have come down after the Customs Office, Birgunj halted three consignments of bitumen from entering the country about one and a half weeks ago, according to contractors.

The customs office said they halted those consignments after the importer sought a refund of some of customs duty under the South Asia Free Trade Area regime, claiming that bitumen was produced in India. But the imported bitumen appeared to have been produced in Iran as its brand name was Iranian.

“We have asked the importer to produce additional documents that would confirm that consignment of bitumen was produced in India. We have also asked the Customs Department to conduct an investigation into the matter,” said Manish Kumar Mahato, information officer at the Customs Office, Birgunj.

The customs office had been imposing 7.25 percent customs duty on bitumen with certificate of origin from Indian exporters. But the duty has been hiked to 15 percent duty since the Indian refineries notified the Customs Department that they do not maintain value addition of 40 percent in bitumen required to get that facility under the SAFTA regime.

Mahato said that except the three consignments, they have not halted any import of bitumen. But the suppliers maintain that the bitumen shortage continues.

Jyoti Rauniyar, proprietor of Subha Sambriddhi, a retailer of the bitumen, said that he had been struggling to meet the bitumen demand of more than four dozen contractors for last few weeks.

“The shortage has shot the bitumen price to Rs80 a kg, up from Rs72 two weeks ago,” he said.

Rauniyar said he heard that Indian refineries had cut down on their supplies due to maintenance works of their refineries.  

The Department of Roads has also admitted this has caused some delay in a number of road projects. “Blacktopping of roads, especially in Tarai, has been affected as contractors there do not keep bitumen in stocks because they would normally receive consignments easily from across the border,” said Arjun Suwal, assistant spokesperson at the Department of Roads. “In contrast, the situation in the hills is different as the contractors there maintain bitumen stocks.”

According to Economic Survey 2018-19 unveiled recently by the Finance Ministry, a total of 395km road was blacktopped under the federal government in the first eight months of the current fiscal year.

 

Published: 25-06-2019 07:00

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