… fee spent on the upkeep of the facility

YK Poudel

In about 14 months, between November 2022 and December 2023, the Regional Immigration Office in Phuentsholing collected about Nu 64 million (M) in revenue from the user fee charged at the pedestrian terminal in Phuentsholing.

The terminal records between 10,000 and 12,000 people entering or exiting the terminal daily – Bhutanese and others from the region. This translates to about Nu 4.5M a  month in fees paid.

The user fee collected is used for upkeep, maintenance and operation of the terminal for 24 hours. An official from the regional immigration office said that the revenue is ploughed back into the terminal to ensure uninterrupted entry and exit facilitation to provide a pleasant experience for pedestrians crossing the border through the terminal.

This service and the stream of revenue to maintain the terminal could see changes with the government elect pledging to do away with the fees for Bhutanese. The People’s Democratic Party pledged to waive off the Nu 10 terminal fee within the first day of its governance, if elected.

While officials of the  regional immigration office did not comment on the pledge, they said that the  user fee collected is used to pay cleaners and gardeners, utilities such as water, electricity, back-up power, internet, and air-conditioning. It is also used for maintenance of the infrastructure and replacement of equipment used in the terminal. 

For operation and management of pedestrian terminal, the office manages the daily collection of user fees and deposits it into the current deposit account. The usage of the funds and payments is done in compliance with the budgetary process through LC Account.

Clarifying the suspicions  of misuse or leakage in revenue, the official said that the money receipt issued to individuals is auditable and contains  serial numbers in receipt counterfoils for necessary verification and reconciliation. “User fee is applicable for only those who enter through the pedestrian terminal given the amenities and associated facilities available at the terminal.”

However, the pledge to do away with the fee is not because of revenue leakage. The member of parliament elect from Phuentsholing, Rinzin Dorji, during the debate said that the fee was a burden to the Bhutanese. He clarified that the waiver will be for Bhutanese who visit the border town for economic  reasons. He said that while Nu 10 will not pinch most, there are many who cross the border for shopping because of the better price, even if it is Nu 5 or 10. “We did not pledge to waive off the fee for all,” said the MP elect, Rinzin Dorji.

Meanwhile, on the upkeep of the busy terminal, officials from DoI said  there are plans to improve the experience of people crossing the border through the terminal.

“We are exploring options to further enhance services through a series of immediate and long term plans, such as the operationalization of an additional terminal at Sanglam for foreign workers to ease the traffic at the pedestrian terminal,” said an official. “We are also developing a cashless automated user-fee collection system to ease the user fee payment experience, enhancing the experience of walk-in tourists by providing a one-stop service.” The immigration office is in the process of developing an automated immigration clearance system for a long term benefit for the pedestrians. 

The pedestrian terminal was inaugurated on September 19, which became functional from September 23 started the Nu 10 user fee for entry and exit on November 1. However, right now, pedestrians pay only Nu 10 upon entry in Bhutan. 

Requirements at the moment

Although certain norms have been revised over time, the pedestrian terminal documents and regulates the entry and exit of all foreigners and Bhutanese. This is as per the border management and border control norms and requirements. Indian nationals are allowed to visit Phuentsholing after producing proof of identity (voter card or passport) and completing immigration formalities at the terminal.

Except for weekends, there are no long queues or crowding at the pedestrian terminal these days compared to over 15,000 pedestrians witnessed earlier.

The government invested about Nu 183M to construct the international standard pedestrian terminal, equipped with all modern amenities and facilities providing travellers with better amenities during the entry process. 

The terminal is air-conditioned with lounge facilities, restrooms, and clearance counters for tourists to make the entry seamless. There are also adequate immigration clearance counters in the general entry and exit halls of the terminal.