Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

A 45-year-old woman, who was denied entry through Phuentsholing gate earlier this month called on authorities to streamline and make clearer protocols.

She went to Siliguri due to her partner’s dental problem, and said she was refused entry.

“My partner’s dental treatment was not complete and he had to stay a few more days. I decided to return to Bhutan via Phuentsholing,” she said. She had exited from Samtse.

“I asked a friend in the police to enquire about the protocol and I was informed people are allowed to enter by showing the citizenship identity card,” she said.

However, she was told to spend a week’s time before entering. There was another man, who she claimed was refused entry.

“It was in the evening and I didn’t have cash. Where was I supposed to stay? I borrowed some money and went back to Siliguri,” she said.

The woman said the protocol is not justified as it could get risky and dangerous for lone women travelling. She said that a printing shop owner in Jaigaon was worried and provided a number of an official from the task force in Phuentsholing.

Such a protocol was unfair, she said, pointing out that others who cannot voice out will have to suffer.

She said those coming in flights can directly go home from the airport.

“Everybody has the same risk of bringing in the virus and who will bear our expenses if we are to stay across the border to fulfil the protocols?” she asked.

As per the records with the Southern Covid-19 Taskforce (SC19TF), it was not the woman’s first trip to India. She had travelled out on May 9 this year, via Samtse, and entered the country on May 28 from Phuentsholing. She had cited medical reasons.

SC19TF chairperson, Kinlay Tshering said it was important to first understand that the international border is still closed and there is no thoroughfare for out and in travel movement.

“Initially, people were allowed for medical purposes, death-related cases, and for education and capacity-building programmes. Later, considering the need for economic revival, people who needed to travel for meetings from both the government and private sector were also allowed,” she said.

However, the woman had gone from Samtse on July 30 and wanted to enter from Phuentsholing the next day on August 1. “Genuine cases such as medical and surgery would require seven days.”

As the woman had exited with her partner from Samtse, she told at the gate that her partner stayed back in India for a business purpose, while they went out on medical grounds.

“It is not good to take advantage of a situation like this. We are trying to protect our nation from new variants and monkeypox and that’s why the gate is still closed,” said chairman Kinlay Tshering.

She also said that SC19TF facilitates all genuine travels. SC19TF will not repeatedly facilitate those who don’t qualify the criteria, she added.

“If she really was having a problem, she could have exited and entered from Phuentsholing. Why did she travel to Samtse to exit and enter from Phuentsholing?” chairman Kinlay Tshering said.

“They think we wouldn’t know. This is not correct,” she said.

Kinlay Tshering said those who are using false medical reasons to travel will be restricted and deterred from doing so.

Meanwhile, SC19TF has been clear about the travel movements. Unless it is necessary, people will not be allowed to travel across the border until the international gate opens. The protocol was made stringent after some Bhutanese were found crossing the border for “petty issues.”

Sources in Phuentsholing said that a woman had gone across the border seven times for no particularly good reason.