In a day, on an average, more than 150 vehicles come in from India for transportation of essential goods. Of the total vehicles coming in, only 3 to 4 trucks will be for government, but the rest would be for private businesses.
With an initial false rumor of lockdown last week, people got panicky and started heavy booking and so the import of goods are heavy.
Goods come in from India or a third country through Calcutta and secondly there is transportation of goods within Bhutan using the India route.
Director General of RSTA Pemba Wangchuk and Phuentsholing taskforce member said to ensure that no truck stops at crowded places in between the Indian highways, the trucks plying through the Indian routes are all escorted by RSTA officials.
He said, “Maximum vehicles travel from Phuentsholing to Nanglam and from Phuentsholing to Gomtu. They will be allowed to stop only in jungles.”
The drivers will be called in the morning for a briefing and when they reach the main gate, one RSTA escort will get in the first truck while the second escort will get in the last truck. If there are 10 trucks, there will be three escorts.
In the process, they face certain challenges, of which shortage of manpower is one issue. “We have gathered all officials for escort purpose and that is where people blame us for not giving adequate and fast services. We have to escort to ensure continuous flow of goods,” the DG said.
However, 13 DeSuups are deployed with them, for escorting purpose and they change every month. The other challenges are breakdown of vehicle in between and the logistic issue of the officials.
He said, they sometime have to leave trucks in between the Indian highway due to mechanical failure and in doing so one truck got vandalized.
“Some drivers fail to comply by the rules whereby they stop at crowed places in between. In connection to this, we have quarantined 17 drivers on their own expense,” he said.
On the other hand, for imports of goods from India, they only use Indian trucks and Boleros. He said, “Once they enter our gate, the transshipment of vehicles with vegetables and fruits will be done near customs office in Phuentsholing and the trans-shipment of trucks carrying other goods will be done at the mini dry port, at gate 2 from Bow Bazar.”
He said that all drivers will park their vehicle at one place and are confined to the place for the drivers with all the necessity facilities. They are allowed to move only within that premises.
Once trucks are ready, the custom office will announce and both trucks go into transshipment. However, the Indian drivers will not come out from the vehicle and Bhutanese will transship the goods. The Indian drivers will be made to wear facemask from the gate and they will not come into contact with any person.
“The protocol is designed to ensure that we do not get COVID-19 from Indian drivers and it is also to ensure that they do not get COVID-19 from us also,” he added.
In addition, he said that the Allay route at Pasakha has really helped them in imports of raw materials for the industries at Pasakha. However, they are not allowed to use that route for export purpose for now and so they have to route through Phuentsholing gate.
The same protocol is followed for the drivers in this case as well, he said. They have a team comprising of health officials and police who will visit them at odd hours to see if rules are being followed. The team will than submit a weekly report to the taskforce, on the lapses and the things which needs to be included.
Meanwhile, he said, “There was an issue whereby the people from other side wanted to stop import and export of goods but they have not done it.”
Nevertheless, he said the government of West Bengal was considerate and Jaigaon authorities were supportive.