Friendship: Extension of the closing time at the Samdrupjongkhar border gate and up-gradation of the immigration system were among the many points raised by the Indian business community at the two-day Bhutan-India workshop in Samdrupjongkhar that ended Monday.

Members of the Bhutan-India Friendship Association (BIFA) from Assam said that the closing time of the border gate in Samdrupjongkhar and Nganglam dungkhag should be extended.  Currently, the gates close at 5pm, restricting the movement of both people and vehicles.

Many Bhutanese go to the Indian town of Daranga for shopping.

“When the gate closes at 5pm then there will be no customers and most of the shopkeepers don’t have anything to do after that,” an Indian businessman said. “A lot of Bhutanese from the east reach Samdrupjongkhar only by evening and have to spend one extra day to do shopping.”

Association members from India also pointed out that the immigration system in Bhutan could also be improved and made less harassing for Indian nationals. It was also pointed out that there is a need to increase people-to-people contact at the grass-roots level.

“Right now, the interactions happen only among high-level officials and a few businessmen. People at the grass-roots are the main group that face problems on a daily basis. Their participation is important,” a member said. “There is a need for such workshops to find solutions so that people from both the countries are not affected.”

Exchange of cultural and traditional programmes, sports, organising a fair and medical camp are some of the activities that BIFA members conduct annually. Members said that such events should be conducted more than once a year.

“If possible, the problem expressed by the people should be taken to the higher level so that there could be discussions among the two governments. We need local leaders from both the countries to participate so that they know more about BIFA and its purposes.”

Some of the Indian members suggested Bhutanese produce more local products and expand their market.

However, BIFA general secretary Norbu Wangdi, said BIFA is a voluntary organisation and cannot intervene or take decisions at the government level. When it comes to extension of time, however, he said that the issue could be put up to authorities concerned.

Norbu Wangdi said that workshops like this could help foster better understanding between the people of two countries and solve minor problems confronting them.

The members were also informed about the history of how the friendship between the two towns evolved until it was shaken during militant issues in India in the 1980s. The relationship between the people of the two countries has developed over the years and the association continues to work to build stronger friendship.

The workshop that was conducted by the Institute for Management Studies was funded by the Indo-Bhutan Foundation.

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupjongkhar