KATHMANDU, Sept 11: Nepal is importing Indian cement worth more than a billion rupees annually due to lack of grading for locally produced cement. Despite this, the government is failing to fix quality parameters for grading.
Knowledgeable sources say that the government and cement industries are divided on whether to grade cement on the basis of Indian quality parameters or prepare own parameters for the purpose.
As mega infrastructure projects use only graded cement, there is an urgency to grade cement produced in the country. But the government has not been able to resolve differences with cement industry operators on grading parameters since long.
Bishwa Babu Pudasaini, director general of Nepal Bureau of Standards & Metrology (NBSM) -- the regulator agency -- told Republica that that they have not been able to finalize grading parameters because of delay in convening the meeting of Quality Council.
The regulatory agency and cement industry operators are divided on the use of components in the draft grading. Tara Prashad Pokharel, general secretary of Cement Manufacturers Association of Nepal (CMAN), conceded that they have not been able to reach to a consensus on the issue. "Hopefully, it will be resolved soon," he added.
Cement industry operators are for using quality parameters set by India. They argue that the southern neighbor finalized the parameters are rigorous study and that there is no harm in following that in Nepal. "We can save time by adopting quality parameters set in India," Pokharel added.
However, the quality council of NBSM is for preparing its own quality parameters for cement grading.
"Officials of NBSM say that there is a need to bring some changes in Indian quality parameters. This is only delaying affairs," said Pokharel.
The government started preparation for cement grading based on international standards three years ago. But there has not been much progress. Delay in convening council meeting and slow government bureaucracy, among other factors, are affecting the process.
The quality council is led by the Minister for Industry. It comprises of representatives from Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) and consumers rights groups. The grading parameters come into force only after they are endorsed by the meeting.
Despite production of international standard cement within the country, cement worth billions of rupees is imported in the country annually due to lack of grading of this key construction material.
"As mega development projects implemented with foreign assistance fix the grade of cement in their procurement contracts, Nepali companies cannot bid despite having high quality production," Pokharel said, adding that projects with Nepali investment are using Nepali cement.
Nepal imported Rs 1.10 billion worth of cement and Rs 30 billion worth of clinker in Fiscal Year 2017/18, according to the Department of Customs.
Once the grading system comes into implementation, Nepali cement will be classified into 33, 43 and 53 grade like international products. All Nepali cement will get a minimum of 33 grade, while high-quality products will get 43 and 53 grades.
Nepali industries produce three types of cement -- Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC), Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) and Portland Slag Cement (PSC).
Cement industry operators say import of cement is likely to stop once Nepali cement is graded.