RBP requests for extension of entry and exit timing and avoiding registration at Phuentsholing gate

With Bhutan in relaxation mode and the focus now shifting to the economy the Superintendent of Police in Phuentsholing wrote to his Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) counterpart in 27 December, 2021 requesting for extension of exit and entry timing for vehicular movements from the two gates in Phuentsholing.

The letter says, “Kindly recall our discussions over the telephone and WhatsApp with regard to extension of entry and exit timing for vehicular movements from Phuentsholing and Jaigaon and vice-versa till 10.30 pm (Indian Standard Time/ IST).”

The current time is 10 pm IST when SSB does not allow entry and exit.

The letter says that with increased trends of export and import and businesses; the movement of vehicles both from Phuentsholing and Jaigaon have increased manifold and so it is one of the top priorities of law enforcement agencies of both countries to facilitate smooth movement from the International Border, while keeping security in mind.

“Further you are very much aware that on a daily basis hundreds of Bhutanese registered vehicles travel from Phuentsholing via West Bengal and Assam to other parts of Bhutan by following strict COVID-19 protocols. However, currently the drivers of these vehicles are required to disembark from the vehicles and do entry at the Jaigaon SSB office which consumes longer time and subsequently creates traffic congestion at both the towns of Phuentsholing and Jaigaon,” said the letter.

The letter proposed to do away with this to avoid long queues of vehicles and also avoid possible transmission of COVID-19, and instead prior details of the vehicles along with the goods and passengers can be shared for ready reference and effective management of the traffic.

However, this letter sent five months ago did not elicit any response from the SSB Commandant, Manohar Thakur of 53 Bn Silambari in Falakata who maintained a stony silence at the time.

With no response to the first letter the RBP SP again on 31 May 2022 sent another letter to the same commandant reminding of the above letter.

The letter says that authorities in Phuentsholing this time were approached by the Jaigaon police on the need to extend entry and exit timing for vehicles due to the traffic congestion in both towns.

The letter says that with the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and the situation entering into a normal phase it has become crucial that the vehicular movement for export and import driven businesses be given the top priority.

It says such prompt and smooth facilitation by law enforcement agencies from both the sides will also enable the public to pick up their business and benefit the people of the two nations.

The letter says, “In view of the above, we would like to propose for opening of international border for entry and exit timing from 6 am (IST) and closing the same by 11 pm (IST). However, we may consider and keep the flexibility for emergency exit and entry depending on the cases.”

Bhutan’s Regional Revenue and Customs office also discussed with their Indian Revenue and Customs counterparts to go from 6 am to 10 pm instead of the current 7.30 am to 9.30 pm.

The Indian Customs side promised to write on the matter to the SSB especially since after the Indian Customs clears trucks coming into Bhutan around 2 km from the main gate but was stopped by the SSB if the truck cannot make it by 10 pm.

The Bhutanese tried contacting the SSB Commandant and Deputy Commandant on Thursday but both were both were not available for comment.

A RBP official said the SSB side indicated that the matter would have to be discussed with other stakeholders.

The paper could get in touch with a more junior SSB official who said that the issue of gate timings cannot be decided by the SSB alone but it needs to be discussed with the District Magistrate, Customs and other security agencies in Jaigaon.

However, a source in Jaigaon said that the above is not true as the District Magistrate deals more with internal issues in Jaigaon and the Customs and local Jaigaon police are more than happy to cooperate.

The source in Jaigaon said that the strict gate timing is very much put by the SSB and they are trying to pass the buck to other agencies now.

Before the pandemic, Bhutanese officials did not even have to write formal letters but an informal call or communication across the gates would ensure flexible timing but now things have changed with the SSB coming in.

The lack of flexibility by the SSB which comes under India’s Home Ministry will hamper Bhutan’s exports and imports and also inconvenience Bhutanese travelers.

This comes on the backdrop of the recent visit of India’s Minister for External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar who had assured to remove various barriers to trade between the two countries.  

However, in a late Friday night development the SSB and Customs communicated that they have agreed to the timings proposed by the RBP.

This is being welcomed by the Bhutanese side.

At the same time the request to do away with registrations (which cause traffic jams) by SSB which was not there prior to COVID-19 is not accepted.

The request now is to fastrack the registration process until it can be removed.

It is also hoped that loaded boulder trucks from Bhutan are allowed to exit not just by 10.30 pm but also 11.00 pm.

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