Concerns for COVID border security as rivers and vegetation dry up allowing easier access into the south

Meanwhile Southern Dzongkhags are working hard on winter-vegetables as economic activities pick up

As winter is nearing and with the COVID-19 situation still looming at large in the bordering areas of the country, there is an anticipated increase of risk when it comes to entrants from the border areas into the southern Dzongkhags.

With winter lurking around the corner, people across the border in the past have been reported to have come into the country on several occasions for collection of firewood, looking for picnic hotspots, collection of sand and stones, following their livestock through the forest routes and some others for poaching too.

This time around any of the above uninvited guests could bring the COVID-19 virus into Bhutan, especially if they come into contact with Bhutanese people along the border.

 On this, the Samtse Dzongda Sonam Wangyel said that the concerns are prevalent and although the administration is aware of higher risks during these times, the taskforce along with Dessups and Police have been guarding the border areas very well so far.

He said that there are 76 Points of Entry (PoEs) in Samtse spanning from Norgaygang till Tading.

“We also have surveillance at Dorokha as surveillance becomes important there for the reason that Samtse which falls on the higher risk side is close to Haa which is considered as a low risk area; therefore, we have to ensure that there is no breach between these two points as well,” he added.

 Currently, as per the Dzongda, exports and imports are being allowed through two points, Samtse and Gomtu, and a dolomite export station is through Pagli, however no import is made through the Pagli gate. Exports like doma, cardamom and other vegetables are being made through the above points.

He said that unlike the previous years, there is enhanced emphasis on winter vegetable production with a youth group also taking up vegetable farming at Norbugang.

As for the livestock items and meat production, the Dzongda stated the sale and livestock farming had resumed as usual, and in fact they were making more sales, particularly in terms of chicken supply to Thimphu and some other Dzongkhags.

Sarpang Dzongkhag has one of the longest borders in the south facing Assam. The Sarpang Dzongda, Karma Galay stated, “We are near the Assam border and as our rivers dry up, vegetation dries up and the border area becomes more porous it will be more challenging.”

“However the security tightening will be done accordingly, implementing strategies to not have any breach,” he added.

 He said that the concerns are surely there as it is winter and people could come following their cattle or goats, from one or two of the jungle areas unnoticed and they may get access or free passage.

The Dzongda added that the PoEs are located at certain distances and in between there could be slight chances that across border entrants may appear. However, the Dzongda firmly believes that the surveillance teams will rise up to the challenge.

 In terms of economic activity, he said that the economy is gradually coming back to life especially the market forces, as they have enabled imports and exports through the entry points however at a minimal capacity compared to pre-COVID-19 times.

The Dzongda added, “Focusing on winter vegetables, there have been a lot of interventions and the yield and production have almost doubled up.”

He added, “Youth groups have been formed for vegetable farming, and in terms of sales, the figures are twice compared to the previous year.”

Samdrup Jongkhar Dzongda Tharchin Lhendup said so far there have not been any reports of illegal entry from the border side and hopes that this will continue to be the case, as security and surveillance have been tight.

He said that the economy is slowly picking up in Samdrup Jongkhar, with shops dealing in garments, groceries and others benefiting from the closure of border.

He said that hotels too had a tough time during the pandemic but they have at least been able to sustain as quarantine centers.

The Dzongda said that apart from those businesses’ entertainment hubs have been a concern.

 Reportedly Samdrup Jongkhar entry point has also allowed to bring in imports and there are certain standard procedures being followed like doing quarantine for products brought in for at least 24 hours up to 48 hours, depending upon certain factors.

He said that in terms of winter crops, they have enhanced the focus similar to other Dzongkhags this year and are hoping that the yield would come out soon enough.

 As for Chukha Dzongkhag, the security and patrolling has also been tight along its border with West Bengal.

The economy in the Dzongkhag is gradually picking up, like in other Dzongkhags in the country.

The Dzongda, Minjur Dorji said, “It is hard to say the exact and specific details since such surveys are not always accurate. Exact assessment has not been done. Prices have gone up like in other Dzongkhags.”

The Dzongkhag is also looking forward to the winter crop harvest this year as there has been an independent focus and push for agricultural activity.

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