Gelephu police received information from police in the neighbouring district of Assam, India, that a Bhutanese SIM card was being used to make ransom calls in a kidnapping case across the border.

Although both the abductor and abductee was Indian national, the ransom calls were made from a Bhutanese SIM card from the Indo-Bhutan border near Sarpang.

Gelephu police officials said they found that the SIM card belongs to a monk in Trongsa, who claimed that he lost the SIM card three years ago.

“The monk neither reported he lost the SIM card to the service provider nor he blocked it,” a police official said.

The two service providers in the country, TashiCell and Bhutan Telecom, pointed out that despite awareness created on the proper use of SIM cards, Bhutanese people are careless.

TashiCell’s human resource officer, Sangay Tenzin, said SIM cards are issued only upon submission of proper identification documents.  The service provider also issues only one SIM card to consumers except in few cases where customers use two devices.

He also said that the organisation has been continuously creating awareness, through television and SMS on the proper use of SIM cards.

“We’re even alerting people to report if they lose SIM cards and transfer ownership when giving it to someone. Only a few follow it,” he said. “Unless customers take the initiative, it is difficult for us to keep track.”

In the past several Bhutanese were charged for selling SIM card to people across the border, which was later used for making ransom calls after kidnaping Bhutanese people.

Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) then proposed a high-level intervention for necessary streamlining of SIM card subscription. RBP pointed out that all non-Bhutanese working or residing in Bhutan and many people at various places of neighbouring states of Assam and West Bengal owns Bhutanese SIMs.

RBP also claimed that most of the expatriate workers issued with Bhutanese SIMs have already left the country after the completion of their work but are still in possession of the SIMs, which are often used in cross-border crimes.

Police also claimed some SIM cards used by abductors were found unregistered or without proper details of the subscribers.

The proposal put forward by police then stated that due to such inconvenience and limitations, it has become difficult to prevent cross-border crimes committed by cross-border people.

RBP had suggested reregistration of all SIM cards, immediately deactivating lost or misplaced SIMs and also deactivating SIMs that fails to reregister within a given deadline.

According to the proposal, Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell should ensure that SIM card issued to expatriate workers for work permits to be immediately deactivated on completion of their work.

“Thereafter, if any SIM is found used for criminal activities, the actually registered subscriber to be held fully responsible and necessary legal action will be taken,” the proposal states.

A final decision on the proposal is yet to be made.

Gelephu police said without such methods put in place, they are helpless in controlling misuse of SIM cards.

Asked what measures Bhutan Telecom has put in place to scrutinise misuse of SIM cards, Bhutan Telecom’s media focal person said they follow the due processes as required by the regulator. “We’ll continue to strictly follow the procedures in place.”

Nirmala Pokhrel |Tsirang