Lack of infrastructure at the land customs office in Jaigaon has held up trucks carrying goods

Bhutan’s trade movement with India is on halt with more than 300 trucks carrying Bhutanese goods for import and export held up across the Phuentsholing border for the last one-week.

The lack of proper services at the customs office following the introduction of the Indian Goods and Services Tax (GST) has disrupted the flow of trade.

Jaigaon Transporters’ Welfare Association (JTWA) is suspected to have stopped the vehicle movement. On July 12, the association had held a meeting and cautioned relevant government offices across the border of such move if proper facilities were not put in place.

The association had also demanded for minimisation of restrictions and formalities for export-import of goods to Bhutan.

However, trucks were still allowed to pass. But following lack of proper services, the problem arose and aggravated over the last two weeks. The line of trucks held up today stretch from Jaigaon until Hasimara.

The president of Kalchini Block Byabasayee Samiti, an apex body of Indian Chamber of Commerce across the border, Rajesh Agarwal attributed the problem to improper system at the customs office in Jaigaon.

“We are following with our government,” he said, adding that they have also written to the district magistrate of Alipurduar.

Rajesh Agarwal said that the problem has affected traders in Bhutan and India. “If one is affected, the other is also affected,” he said.

He said that the Bhutanese counterpart should also pressurise its government. Sources from across the border told Kuensel that there is only a computer each for import and export clearance at the customs office.

A meeting was also held on August 24 between relevant Bhutanese officials and counterpart members from across the border.

An official from the Phuentsholing office of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Sangay Dorji said it was decided that a stakeholders’ meeting would be conducted as soon as possible.

“Representatives from agencies from both Bhutan and India would participate,” he said.

The date and time for the expected meeting is not confirmed yet, Sangay Dorji said, explaining that a letter has been submitted to the government.

He said that the main proposal from both the parties would be to develop better infrastructure at the land customs office across the border, which is not there at present. There are 350 trucks held up, he added.

Representatives from both counterparts have also decided to invite Jaigaon customs officials and customs officials from Kolkata and Silliguri for the stakeholders’ meeting.

It has been learnt that the clearance process has been facing difficulties as there are many trucks carrying import goods of several Bhutanese traders. Some trucks have 40-50 invoices to clear and this takes time ,piling the clearance papers as per the new GST system.

The problem has impacted industries in Pasakha and Bhutanese businessmen across the country that deals in import and export. Operations in some industries have also come to a halt, industrialists shared.

An official, requesting anonymity said that the current situation has hit the entire Bhutanese economy.

“There are no exports made, which means no revenue for the government,” he said. “Yet, there is nothing being done.”

He said that the economic affairs ministry, which is expected to be at the forefront, is lagging.

Transport sector is also hit due to the problem across the border. Bhutanese truckers’ committee representative BB Tamang said truckers have remained idle.

“When goods are not coming from India, we have no business,” he said.

BB Tamang said that if this trend continues, the Bhutanese economy would be affected. “It is urgent to solve this problem.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing