Rinzin Wangchuk

There are no long queues or crowding at the pedestrian terminal in Phuentsholing despite the change in the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) coming into effect yesterday.

The regional immigration office in Phuentsholing, which manages the terminal, waived the SDF for casual visitors visiting the town for 24 hours and also stopped levying the user fee of Nu 10 on exit from April 14. The casual visitors include tourists of all nationalities.

“We are implementing these two changes based on the notification issued by the Cabinet secretariat last month,” an immigration official at the terminal said. “However, we aren’t sure how many tourists had come for the night halt in Phuentsholing on the first day.”

The SDF waiver notification was issued on March 30 following the government’s decision to keep the border gates open for 24 hours in Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Samtse.

Although many were least bothered about the removal of the user fee, the revenue generated for the terminal is expected to fall 50 percent.

“For us, to pay a Nu 20 user fee to visit Jaigaon and come back is nothing if we compare it with the cost of a packet of doma,” a taxi driver said.

A woman in her mid-thirties said that the user fee should have remained as the country is facing economic problems.

An immigration officer at the terminal said that the people at the counter used to collect an average user fee of Nu 170,000 a day between March and April 13. “Now our daily revenue will drop to Nu 70,000 or Nu 80,000 which will impact their sustenance.”

Phuentsholing receives around 6,000 to 7,000 day workers every day and they used to contribute Nu 120,000 to 140,000 daily before April 14.

In the month of December 2022, January and February this year, an average of 25,000 people used pedestrian terminal every day earning about Nu 250,000 a day and Nu 7.5 million a month. This has helped manage and operate the terminal, according to immigration officials.

Today, there are 41 regular immigration officials,10 contract staff and 35 de-suups manning the pedestrian terminal and registration of visitors coming in and out. Another 52 de-suups were deployed for managing crowds, helping police and other services.

The pedestrian terminal is one of the biggest changes Phuentsholing has ever experienced after the country’s commercial hub and border gate opened on September 23 last year.  Phentsholing’s border gate was closed for 30 months on March 23, 2020, as a key measure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government spent over Nu 183 million to construct the international standard terminal, which has all modern amenities and facilities to provide travellers with a comfortable and pleasant experience. It is fully air-conditioned and there is a separate and dedicated space with lounge facilities, restrooms and clearance counters for tourists to make entry seamless, convenient and efficient.

Kuensel learnt that the government decided to levy a user fee of Nu 10 each for entering and exiting the terminal after the terminal received an electricity bill of Nu 120,000 for one month in October last year.

The SDF waiver will be enforced for a year.