KATHMANDU, Sept 30: The Ministry of the Forests and Soil Conservation is working to fix maximum retail price (MRP) of timber for the first time in the country´s history. Holding timber traders responsible for undue rise in the prices, the ministry said the traders have been selling timbers at double the price they pay to buy them.
“Rising timber prices have caused people to suffer, so the ministry will fix MRP soon. The ministry has already informed all stakeholders to suggest price alternatives to be fixed,” said Krishna Chandra Paudel, secretary at MoFSC.
About a year and a half ago, the government decided to increase the price of timber by more than 100 per cent and introduced a system of grading timber. However, Timber Corporation of Nepal, which is under the MoFSC and deals on timber trade, started selling timber at about double the increased rate as decided by the ministry, which had also been announced in the official gazette.
“Rate of A grade Sal timber, as per the gazette, is Rs 800 per cubic feet. But timber corporation has been selling it at about Rs 1400, and now the price set by TCN has been accepted by the government as the authorized rate,” said Kapil Kaphley, President, Federation of Forest Based Industry and Trade Nepal. “How can we sell timber at a price that is lower than what we pay to the government?” The Sal timber per cubic feet costs above Rs 3500 in the market, he added. “On top of that, traders have to bribe forest officials and police and even pay money to goons who ensure problem free transportation,” Kaphley said.
According to the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights-Nepal (FPCRN), the TCN fixes the price of timber by adding the cost of transportation, ten percent anticipated profit, and lumping provident fund, insurance, medical costs for its staff, leading to a rate that is almost double than the rate fixed by the ministry.
“Just four months ago, a secretary-level decision declared that the rate fixed by TCN is appropriate and asked all district forest officers to follow the rate. But the decision announced through a gazette is more binding than a secretary´s directive. So where should timber traders go for justice if those who are expected to uphold the law themselves flout them,” Kaphley added. Jyoti Baniya, general secretary of FPCRN, said that the TCN is under the influence of a handful of timber traders. “The influential traders and the TCN itself are responsible for the rise in prices and smuggling of timber,” said Baniya.
Meanwhile, forest secretary Paudel has said that the ministry has taken the issue seriously and is working to determine the MRP. “We will come up with an MRP on timber very soon, but the government would need support from all sectors for its effectively implementation,” added Paudel.
Last year, the government lifted a ban on felling timber in 24 districts of Tarai and mid hills. Along with the lifting of the ban, the government also announced the hike in the price of timber. But the tussle between the forest officials and the traders continues as the available timber was way short of the demand and the rate fixed by TCN was much higher than what was announced in gazette.