Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

To curb tobacco smuggling, Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag has allowed import of tobacco within the permissible limits as per the laws.

The dzongkhag’s Covid-19 task force developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the import of tobacco products to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

The move is also to stop people from crossing the borders illegally. The import of the products is in line with the Customs Act, and the importers have to pay 100 percent sales tax.

According to the Tobacco Control Act, a person can import 800 sticks of cigarette and 750 grams of chewing tobacco (baba) and 1,200 sticks of bidi a month.  A person is not allowed to import on behalf of another person.

Since the border gate closed in March, consumers arranged supply from Garage and Mela Bazar in Assam, India. They operate through social media. The products along with the bills come in the trucks ferrying vegetables and other essential items to Samdrupjongkhar.

The bills are produced before the customs officials while receiving the products. The products will be kept in quarantine for 24 hours.

As per the SOP of the tobacco products import, the concerned individual importer must handle the products with the utmost care using gloves and mask at the time of customs declaration, the products would be handed over to the concerned importer alone.

The SOP stated that the importers have to produce the citizen identity card (CID), should bring their sanitiser, gloves, mask and new carry bags, and the importers should not sell or distribute the products to another person among others.

However, sources said that few individuals in Samdrupjongkhar thromde, and Dewathang among others are selling the products locally and also to those in other dzongkhags. A packet of cigarette now costs Nu 500 and a packet of baba is sold for Nu 100 to Nu 200.

Samdrupjongkhar police arrested three individuals trading 60 packets of chewing tobacco last month.

Few smokers said it is challenging for them to import the products as they do not have the suppliers in India. “It would be better if the concerned agencies like the customs office could arrange the products and let us pay sales tax.”

“It is also vital for the concerned authorities to monitor the selling and price of the products. This is why the people attempt to cross the borders illegally,” a consumer said.

Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchin Lhendup, said the arrangement was made after the Covid-19 task force discussed the issue in March to stop people from crossing the border illegally or illegal import.

He said that the task force and the customs officials among others are monitoring every day for an illegal trading locally. “However, the illegal import has drastically decreased after allowing the import,” he said.