Road: Rampant collection of road taxes on the Assam highway continue to frustrate Bhutanese commuters who travel between the border towns of Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu for many years now.

For a regular commuter like Sangay Wangchuk, who travels between Samdrupjongkhar and Phuentsholing almost every week, using the Assam Highway turns out to be quite expensive.

He drives a DCM truck and carries hardware goods most of the time. While travelling from Phuentsholing to Samdrupjongkhar, medium vehicles like his are taxed INR 600 as goods tax, and another INR 1,250 is paid for reasons unknown. An additional INR 300 is demanded by middlemen (as dahlal fee) tax for just getting their vehicles registered at the Assam and West Bengal border at Srirampur.

For the same, heavy vehicles are levied a goods tax of INR 900 and an additional unknown tax of INR 1,350. Heavy vehicles are also levied INR 300 as a middleman fee.

“This erratic taxation is disappointing,” Sangay Wangchuk said. “It’s becoming too expensive for regular commuters to ply the Indian highway.”

Yet another amount of INR 60 is levied at the Guabari Toll Plaza, about 72km away from Phuentsholing. While the toll fee receipt reflects only INR 55, change is never refunded despite making payments being made in Indian currency.

Truckers are also charged at the weighing bridge.

For instance, a Mangdechhu Hydropower Project Authority (MHPA) vehicle with government registration was charged Nu 115 for carrying a 7.96MT load from Gelephu towards Phuentsholing. However a private trucker was charged Nu 300 for carrying less than a 6MT load.

While government vehicles are provided a receipt at the weighing bridge, private truckers are denied of any forms of receipts besides a toll tax receipt at the Guabari Toll Plaza.

“Had we been provided with a receipt we could at least claim from our employer later but without one the payment has to be made from our pocket,” MHPA driver Sangay Tenzin said.

Truckers are of  the view that while the government is taking a major decision on the BBIN transport agreement, these are apparently minor but major issues commuters face on daily basis that need immediate attention. “This way we’re robbed for using Indian roads, which otherwise should be free for movement,” a trucker pointed out. “The government needs to seriously look into this matter.”

He added that it is time the government did something to address the difficulties faced by daily Bhutanese commuters on Indian highways.

Meanwhile light vehicles are charged only INR 40 at the Guabari Toll Plaza although the toll receipt reflects only INR 35. Further, change is not returned.

A civil servant in Sakteng, Trashigang said that the toll fee with a standard receipt is acceptable. However, he added that the huge costs associated with travelling via Indian highways must be sorted out.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang