Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Although the import volume is increasing with lockdown relaxation in Phuentsholing, flow and consistency is yet to pick up.
The mini dry port’s (MDP) handling capacity, many say, is the main contributing factor.
Recently, the trade office in Phuentsholing initiated an online registration of import vehicles transporting goods into Bhutan. This was introduced to maintain transparent registration procedure. Importers must register the vehicle details online a day before bringing in the goods.
This has left importers desperate, as they are not able to register their information. The online registration system, which starts at 10am and closes at 2pm allows a quota of only 40 vehicles per day.
The main reason behind this problem, importers say, is the shortage of loaders at MDP. The port is already crowded and with more vehicles coming in, there is a significant backlog.
Hem Kumar Ghalley, a retailer, said that he tried to register online five times but to no avail.
“The daily quota exhausts within two minutes after the registration opens. This problem will linger if the number of loaders is not increased at the port,” he said.
“There is internet traffic congestion, as too many people log into the system at a time.”
He has three truckloads of goods waiting in Jaigaon and demurrage (money that must be paid when goods are collected later than the agreed time) goes up. Depending on the vehicles, importers must pay up to Nu 3,000 per night.
This, Hem Kumar Ghalley said, could lead to a shortage of essentials in shops.
Large businesses such as Zimdra Impex and Tashi Commercial Store also have their goods stalled in Jaigaon.
An official of the Tashi Commercial, Subash Rana said they have 17 truckloads of goods across the border.
“Many loads coming from nearby areas such as Silliguri and Hasimara have been sent back because exporters have to bear demurrage and they fear goods will rot. Goods coming from Kolkata are still there,” he said.
Subash Rana said they were able to register yesterday. However, he said it is unsure when the goods will enter Bhutan.
A shopkeeper said the regional trade office could avoid the glitch by registering all the incoming vehicles every day and letting goods enter the country in light of the larger implication on the businesses.
The MDP’s handling capacity has also been affected by increased activities. The export of potato and apple has also begun at MDP which keeps the loaders engaged. Currently, loaders are capable of clearing just about 35 to 40 truckloads in a day.
An official from the labour office in Phuentsholing said that there are about 160 loaders now, which is more than the number prior to lockdown.
“Handling capacity is mostly affected because loaders are engaged in apples and potatoes,” he said.
“Otherwise, there is no shortage of loaders.”
The trade’s officiating regional director, Sonam Dhendup, said the primary reason behind this problem was the MDP’s handling capacity.
“Today, it has more than 100 loaders but their maximum handling capacity per day is 60 trucks.”
During the lockdown, only stranded vehicles were allowed to enter Phuentsholing. Eventually, other essential items such as food stocks, fuel and LPG, and medical supplies were allowed.
“But with relaxation, all imports were allowed. People seem to assume that the ‘normal days’ have returned,” Sonam Dhendup said.
Sonam Dhendup said before the online registration system, registration was done manually.
Many people have suggested that a separate entry point be established at Pasakha’s Allay Land Customs Station (LCS).
Sonam Dhendup said that the plan was being discussed.
“Once the containment zones are ready at the LCS, goods and commodities going to Thimphu and Paro can be done from there,” he said.
He added that congestion would be eased if importers have their own warehouses. Warehouses, he said, would have their own containment area and the importer can directly take the load to the warehouse without having to take to the MDP. The warehouses will have their own loaders.
“We are trying our best,” Sonam Dhendup said.
Out of the 80 applications they received for construction of warehouses, the trade office has already approved 49 applications.
The Task Force On October 7 issued a notification to importers, which states online registration of import vehicles will remain open from 10am to 12pm for two days (October 8 and 9). Only one registration per importer will be considered.
This change in registration applies only to “other imports”—imports that do not fall under import from third countries, import of fuel and LPG, and construction materials, and hardware items.
The date of entry of the vehicle will be based on the sequence of the registration, submission of necessary documents and handling capacity of MDP.
The online registration system will reopen once the vehicles registered on the said days are cleared.