With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases across the border leading to partial lockdown, the taskforce and sector committee in all the dzongkhags along the border have started to put in the extra effort and additional preventive measures to combat COVID-19 transmission in the country.
The foreign laborers who wanted to return back to India have been sent following certain protocols. Some of them chose to remain in Bhutan to work after seeing they can be gainfully employed, as there is a shortage of skilled laborers.
Samtse Dzongda Sonam Wangyel said that the status quo at the sealed border is intact. He added, “A time may come when the lockdown will be lifted completely, but we hope that our gate may remain sealed as usual. We will monitor strictly on people’s movement through illegal route and through the main gate.”
He said that there is no reason for a person to go across the border because import of goods is allowed same as before. As long as import and export is happening without any hindrance, there is no need for the movement of people in and out of the country.
“We are vigilant and we have to be, always. People are aware of the consequences if anyone is caught crossing the border illegally. Therefore, I believe that no one would do that. And we will be guarding round the clock to prevent any illegal businesses and import of illegal immigrants,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said that the number of cases of illegal businesses across the border has gone down in recent times, and this is because the vigilance has been stepped up, the manpower has been strengthened, and all the required facilities are provided along the borders.
“We are working closely with Dzongkhag Taskforce and Sector Committee for zero case in the dzongkhag. We also have decided to form a monitoring team who will visit the point of entries along the border, and it can be a regulated organized visit. It can also be a surprise visit,” he said.
In addition, he also said that they have formed another committee and visits to public places will be made in a similar way, in order to monitor how people are maintaining the social distancing.
A source from Phuentsholing said, “We have always been gathering information on what is happening across the border, and accordingly, we are increasing our vigilance. The smuggling cases have gone down.”
He said that they are for now focusing more towards the Pasakha side due to the porous border. Additional manpower including DeSuups has been deployed. The risk could be more with partial lockdown across the border but the patrol teams are on high alert at the border.
CCTV has been installed at various locations in Pasakha. There are plans to install additional cameras in Phuentsholing to monitor the border crime. All stakeholders from across the border are also being involved to garner more support and cohesion to the containment plans.
Sarpang Dzongda Karma Galey shared that the dzongkhag has put in strict measure to monitor the situation and would continue to do so.
“There are chances that a person may come in illegally, but we do not see a chance of illegal businesses and we have not come across any,” he added.
He said that an illegal migrant worker might not cross the border to come in, as they are well aware of the consequences if they are caught. Rather, the foreign workers want to go back, he added. The point of entries are being manned 24/7 and they have been extra vigilant from day one.
An official from Samdrupjongkhar said that some shops across the border are opened, however, there is a very minimal chance of people coming in from across the border.
He said, “With the cases coming up across the border, there is every chance that we may have transmission if people try to act smart and smuggle any products, be it drugs or tobacco or chilies. If caught, the person will be dealt as per the law.”
The border is sealed for quite sometime and is being strictly monitored, he said, adding that all the law enforcement agencies are equally engaged in guarding the border, including DeSuups and volunteers from the National Land Commission.
For now, he said, the number of volunteers working in the dzongkhag is more than sufficient. But if the situation worsens in the coming times then there will a need for more volunteers help out.