A collective responsibility

The Royal Bhutan Police nabbed yet another person involved in drug trafficking. The image of the young man with a stash of banned substances and wads of cash, police shared, went viral prompting people to ask many questions.

Why are our people desperate? Why are they putting people and the country at risk? How are they getting the substances when the border is sealed? The questions are plenty.

Going by media records, police registered 250 illicit drugs and tobacco cases since the border was sealed in March. This indicates that the illicit trade has not decreased, if not increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Smuggling of drugs and tobacco is prohibited by law. During the current pandemic, it is seen as the biggest risk of starting a local or community transmission.

The risk is enhanced with neighbouring Jaigaon, the main source of the banned substances, reporting increased positive cases of Covid-19. There is a local transmission confirmed and the town will be locked down from today. The biggest concern is a local transmission and authorities are aware that it could come from the neighbouring towns. That is why all our attention is on securing our porous border, discouraging and penalising people from breaking the border protocols.

Hundreds of volunteers are serving along the border areas in heat, rain and insect and animal infested jungles to ensure that there is no illegal border crossing. All these efforts are to prevent a local transmission, which could overwhelm a small country like ours.

The resounding question is how are the perpetrators getting the illegal substances with the border sealed and guarded. Some are assuming that large stash could have entered the country before the pandemic. If not, how do people get in the substances is a big question to ponder.

From the cases with police, most incidents happen in Thimphu, Paro and Chukha, which means Jaigaon is the main source. Police are aware of the modus operandi. Given their experience, they know where to look for drugs or tobacco. Whether it is in the hood of the car, hidden inside watermelons or under sacks of rice, once police gets a tip off, there is not much escape.

The problem is not being able to stop it coming whether in Phuentsholing, Gelephu or Samdrupjongkhar. The bigger problem today is not only the substance. It is the risk of a smuggler getting in touch with a positive supplier. As it is a crime on both sides of the border, dealings are done underground where the risk of Covid-19 is secondary to the huge money involved.

With the decision to allow the Bhutan Duty Free Corporation to sell tobacco products, the number of illegal tobacco trade should go down. Tobacco smuggling thrived because of the black market. But dealing with drugs is an altogether different issue.

We have an old saying that there is only one route for those chasing and many for the one on the run. Given the risk of smuggling and border crossing on the efforts to prevent a case in our community, it becomes the responsibility of all to help police, DeSuups, and many others trying to keep us safe.

Police are soliciting the cooperation of the public. We need not guard borders, informing police about suspicious activities in our neighbourhood will be a great service to the nation during the pandemic.

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