Nepal’s NITDB bars unloading dirty cargo at ICD Birgunj

KHATMANDU: At a time when clinker importers are trying to use the inland clearance depot (ICD) Birgunj to unload clinker rail rakes, the Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board (NITDB) — the government authority that oversees the ICDs — has sent a letter to the terminal management company of the ICD Birgunj not to deal with dirty cargoes. Nepal-India joint venture Himalayan Terminal Pvt Ltd (HTPL) is the terminal management company of the ICD Birgunj, in which Indian Railways also has a stake.

Following the Indian court’s verdict disallowing Nepali importers to unload the dusty cargo — clinker, fly ash — at Raxaul railway station citing health hazards to the people of the bordering town, Container Corporation (CONCOR) — a subsidiary of Indian Railways — had suggested HTPL to unload clinker wagons at ICD. And the clinker wagons approaching Birgunj were supposed to unload at ICD following the hassles in Raxaul.

The recent meeting of Nepali and Indian officials from the commerce ministry, along with railway department, could not come up with a solution to unload clinker. During the meeting, Indian officials had agreed to allow ferrying dirty cargoes via trucks promptly after they were unloaded from railway wagons.

As per the deal, clinker could not be stored on open ground (space). However, importers said the alternative given was not viable as transportation cost of importing clinkers will shoot up because cost to transport it using trucks will be high.

Currently, Birgunj is the major gateway to import clinker via Raxaul as India earlier allowed to unload dirty cargoes — clinker, coal, fly ash — at Raxaul. Majority of cement plants are importing clinker from India to produce cement as they do not have their own clinker plants and the cost of cement production could rise if they have to ferry clinker via road from beyond Raxaul. Hence, they have been requesting the government for viable options, including ICD Birgunj. However, NITDB has said that it will not allow dirty cargoes to be unloaded in ICD Birgunj.

Citing that ICD Birgunj is already quite congested, Laxman Bahadur Basnet, executive director of NITDB, said that ICD has been facing space constraint even for bagged cargoes, and iron and steel. “The issue of dirty cargo has been taken up at government-to-government level discussions and India should provide a feasible solution because Nepal has been importing clinker via train since long,” said Basnet. “Railway service agreement with India and contractual pact with HTPL has no clause regarding handling dirty/dusty cargoes.”

Nepal has requested Indian government to provide alternatives like accelerating letters of exchange on bulk cargo mobility, which would allow Nepali importers to bring cargoes via rail to nearest rail heads of Nepal namely, Nautanwa (bordering town of Butwal), Jogbani (Biratnagar) and Rupaidiha (Nepalgunj).

India has also agreed to expand railway track from Raxaul to Nepal, where Nepal could make a warehouse to store dirty/dusty cargoes. But  according to officials, it will take at least six months for the plan to materialise.