Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) has involved about 70 transport monitoring officials (TMO) to ensure that the Bhutanese drivers who convey essential items through the highways of Assam and West Bengal in India are not exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19.

West Bengal and Assam are among the affected states in India.

There are also Desuups and customs officials.

A monitoring officer, Sonam Gyeltshen, said: “I have even had to sleep inside lorries in Jaigaon.” There are entry timings and sometimes the vehicles are stuck outside the gate.

“As lockdown continues, we couldn’t even get out.”

The monitoring officials carry their own packed food and water. Instant noodles come handy.

Srirampur, the border point of West Bengal and Assam is one of the most challenging spots. Here all lorries have to wait for long hours for health screening. Sometimes the queue stretches to about two to three kilometres.

“At times it takes about 16 hours,” Sonam Gyeltshen said.

Another monitoring officer, Bikash Sharma, said at Srirampur protocol required drivers to disembark for health screenings.

“It is risky,” he said.

While returning from Nganglam, TMOs and drivers have to wait for several hours. Although they start early from Nganglam, health screening across the border starts only at 9:30am. This delays the journey time.

TMO coordinator, Pema Wangdi said safety protocols were necessary.

Regional transport officer (RTO) with RSTA in Phuentsholing, Tila M Sharma, said the monitoring officials ensure the drivers did not disembark on the highways.

Drivers and importers have to first register with RSTA. They are then briefed every evening before their journey.

“In the morning, we divide the escorts for different places,” the officer said, adding that it must be confirmed that not a single lorry is left without a monitoring officer’s guidance.

The list of essential items are also assessed and passed to the relevant authorities.