Bhutan looking at rail routes to avoid Gunda Tax and Suvidha App for its exports to Bangladesh

During the virtual 50th Meet the Press on 30th June, 2023, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade was asked about the trade routes for Bhutan.

Lyonpo Dasho Dr Tandi Dorji, Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade replied saying, “There are lots of problems and things that should have been done many years ago, we are doing now. There were many formal and informal trade routes and highways which were not notified by the government of India and only few months ago we fielded a team from the foreign ministry, customs, immigration, police, exporters and from our regional offices in Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing. We went to all the exit and entry points and looked at all the highways that Bhutan used to export goods to Bangladesh and India”.

Based on those finding, the ministry submitted a report to the cabinet. The cabinet has given directives on where to formalize the trade route exit and entry points for the goods. Secondly, exit and entry point for the people was identified, which relates to immigration.

“We all should realize that since we have been trading with India, still we don’t have a single integrated check post between India and Bhutan. Whereas, compared with Nepal, they have three and they are going to open two more. This integrated check post would allow the smooth transit of goods between our two countries”.

“India and Bhutan have come to an agreement and we are going to set up the first integrated check-post between Phuentsholing-Jaigaon as that is our biggest hub. Subsequently we will do the same thing with Gelephu, Samdrup-Jongkhar and Samtse.

“We have requested for additional highway routes that is there in a place called Gokalganj in Assam, where the route will be much shorter for our traders to export to Bangladesh. It will reduce the number of kilometers by about 50 kilometers. We have also requested the government of India to use the Chilahati and Haldibari railroad that is very close to Samtse. If they allow us to use that railroad then all our exporters can use that route which will minimize the problem with Suvidha app and Gunda tax that takes place along the highways. Our truckers will no longer face problems if we use the rail-road”.

Suvidha app is a service introduced by the West Bengal government that charges Nu 5,000 to Nu 15,000 per truck that is exporting goods to Bangladesh. This has impacted the boulder business and other exports heading to Bangladesh.

“Also, India and Bhutan have agreed on the Kokrajhar to Gelephu railway. The north east frontier railways have already started the work on that. Though Suvidha app is supposed to make things easy, however there are some problems associated with it for our truckers. While we have authority to discuss with the government of India in Delhi, this Suvidha app is a mechanism adopted by West Bengal government and on this we have talked many times and we are working closely together with the government of India to see how we can facilitate it”.

The minister said they have requested the West Bengal government to reduce the rates for Bhutanese truckers so that their profit margin is not decreased.

“We have our new consultant general (CG) in Kolkata who was also the Director General of Law and Order and who has been working very closely on all these trade related issues and he himself was member of the team that went to see all this exit-entry trade routes. So, with his presence there in Kolkata and Guwahati, we hope that many of these issues will be resolved”, he added.

Further he mentioned that with Bangladesh and Bhutan signing its trade-in-transit agreement, they are also looking at additional openings. If the Kokrajhar-Gelephu railway is connected, then from Kokrajhar there is another rail route that goes into Bangladesh.

“We are hoping that more than the trucks routes, if we can use railroads, the cost of transportation will be significantly cheaper and problems faced by our truckers will be resolved,” said Lyonpo.

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