Karma Tenzin | Samdrupjongkhar 

Traders of Jomotsangkha drungkhag in Samdrupjongkhar are frustrated over the restriction imposed on the movement of goods and essential materials by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) officials stationed across the border at Bhairabkunda, India. 

All goods, including agricultural produce, grocery items, hardware and construction materials are stopped from entering or leaving the border town since the route is not recognised for trade.

Market Secretary of Jomotsangkha town, Tashi Wangdi said, “It means farmers cannot sell their cash crops beyond the local market, traders cannot replenish their supplies regularly and contractors cannot complete their work on time.”

He said even transhipment of goods from his drungkhag to Samdrupjongkhar town is restricted. 

He said that recently a Bhutanese truck and a Bolero Pickup laden with cardamom were stopped for four days at the border gate, which was later released after requests from the local officials. 

Earlier, merchandise and agricultural produce were allowed to ferry through the same route based on the goodwill enjoyed by the two sides. However, post-pandemic officials at the gate strictly curtailed the movement of commercial goods.  

“The only alternative we are left with is to walk all the way to Samrang gewog and then drive up to Samdrupcholing drungkhag to buy essential goods, and also to sell our local products there,” Tashi Wangdi said.    

Jomotsangkha Drungpa Lamdra Wangdi on November 3 wrote to the Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag administration about the predicament of the local residents. 

The letter states how transportation of cardamom from Jomotsangkha was stopped by SSB officials on October 30, and likewise, the import of construction materials like red bricks, gravels,and AC blocks bought from the neighbouring Assam town of Udalguri was restricted.  

A seasonal trader, Kinzang Wangchuk said, “With areca nut, orange and ginger season around the corner, we are extremely worried. These are perishable goods and if it is held up for days at the gate, we will incur heavy losses.”

He also exports fermented cheese from Merak and Sakteng to Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh in Northern India.  

The only solution to the problem, he said, is to accord recognition to the road leading up to Jomotsangkha as a trade route.

“Even if the government completes the internal road from Jomotsangkha to Samdrupjongkhar town, the route from Assam would still be shorter and economical, especially when you consider the transportation cost,” he added.   

Jomotsangkha-Martshala MP Norbu Wangzom questioned the Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering on this issue during the Question Hour session at the National Assembly on November 8. She pointed out the urgency to recognise the need for a formal trade route for the drungkhag. 

Lyonchhen said that of the many routes on the borders of Bhutan and India, 13 have been identified for trade, including Jomotsangkha drungkhag, and the discussion with the Indian counterpart for the same is underway.    

According to the Langchenphu Gup Guman Singh, the SSB officials have now started asking for custom clearance for the goods crossing the gate, which is not viable considering the absence of a customs office across the border. 

“We must understand that Jomotsangkha drungkhag is isolated and the route through Assam is the only lifeline right now until the internal road from our the drungkhag to Samrang gewog is completed,” the gup said.  

Meanwhile, Samdrupjongkhar Dzongdag, Tashi Wangmo said that the officials at Bhairabkundi SSB gate have instructions from their superiors to stop the movement of commercial goods because it is not a formal trade route.  

After receiving the letter from Jomotsangkha drungkhag, she met with the regional trade director and urged him to take up the matter with his ministry at the earliest. As it is a policy matter concerning the two governments, it is beyond the scope of her jurisdiction.      

The regional trade director acknowledged receiving the complaint letter from Jomotsangkha and shared his concern regarding the implication of the current restriction imposed on the movement of goods by SSB officials.  

“I am in the process of filing a complete report on the matter to the ministry,” he said.