140 arrested from 3rd March to 23 April for smuggling drugs and tobacco
Illegal trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and tobacco products has been a rising issue. When the nation is combating COVID-19, these smugglers are risking the health of the people and nation by crossing the border to make extra money out of selling the drugs and controlled substances.
After the closure of border gates, the smugglers are now using illegal routes to bring in the drugs and controlled substances. Some smugglers have been caught and arrested for exchanging alcohol with narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and tobacco products. In some cases, the products were recovered from isolated places being used by smugglers as pick up points.
As per Royal Bhutan Police’s (RBP’s) record, they have arrested 140 (18 non-Bhutanese) people since 3 March to 23 April 2020. Of the 140 people, 63 (includes 4 women) were arrested for smuggling drugs while 59 for smuggling tobacco products.
The arrest was made from Phuentsholing, Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Sarpang and Dagana. In total they have registered 88 cases in the same time frame.
RBP has seized 17,193 capsules of SP+, 19 tablets of N10, 0.201 grams of brown sugar, 353.45 grams of hashish and 24 bottles of Corex, and a huge amount of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and alcohol from all the smugglers.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said, “His Majesty The King is working day and night visiting border areas to ensure zero importation of COVID-19, and to protect his people. However, on the other side our own people, are acting selfish just to make a little profit.”
Smuggling of tobacco products and drugs is illegal, he said, adding that smuggling during such kind of situation when the nation needs people’s support is unacceptable. “Those arrested people will be given the severest penalty. There is no exception,” he added.
He said, “We urge the public not to take any steps which would make our jobs more difficult and complicated. When His Majesty can work tirelessly for our sake, why can’t we act responsible at least? Avoid such practices and help the nation to combat COVID-19.”
Immigration Director Pema L Dorji said, “It must be addressed in a comprehensive manner, and those that have been apprehended will face severe consequences.”
He said, “RBP along with other law enforcement agencies, Desuups and volunteers are working hard to curb illicit activities including illegal cross-border movement of people by intensifying vigilance, surveillance and patrolling along the long and porous borders.”
Meanwhile, a Phuentsholing police officer said that no matter how vigilant they are across the border, there are people who are illegally doing business across the border.
He said, “We have further enhanced the patrolling team and we also have installed CCTV cameras in some suspected locations across the border to curb down on such business. Also, to prevent illegal immigrants from entering via Amochhu, we have installed a mobile surveillance van.”
All the illegal routes are under surveillance. The cases have somehow decreased after implementation of such initiatives, he added. “We cannot see the visibility of lockdown, but we are in constant touch with police and relevant stakeholders from across the border through various social media. They help us whenever needed and they are very cooperative,” he said.
Likewise, a Samdrupjongkhar police officer said that they have enhanced their patrolling teams with assistance from volunteers and Desuups. The teams are scattered all over the place. Apart from patrolling, he said that they have installed 11 CCTV cameras at the border.
He said, “Our police station only had cases of tobacco smugglers. We have not kept any person under detention. They were sent on surety. However, if a person is caught coming in from across the border (India), the person will be quarantined, and thereafter a person will be dealt as per the law.”
A Sarpang police officer said that they face difficulty in guarding the porous border though their men and volunteer patrol teams are all over the place. People tend to make illegal entry by creating informal routes, he said.
He said, “Initially, we had few cases of smuggling, however, with enhancement of patrolling team, we did not had a single case in recent times.”
He said that sometimes the patrol team is unable reach a certain place due to the presence of wildlife, like elephants. The poor lighting facilities across the border also hamper the vigilance effort and they miss the smugglers somehow.
“However, we are doing our best. Sarpang is an all forested area, which is why installing CCTV would be challenging. Nevertheless, we are planning to install a few but we are not sure how effective it will be,” he added.
2,500 Desuups have recently been trained to be deployed for border patrolling while more are being trained.