Even with the borders sealed and strict restrictions in place, smuggling has become so rampant of late that it seems smugglers are competing or testing people who are ensuring that no illegal activities are happening amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Bhutan Police and related authorities have ratcheted up their surveillance system.  However, in just a week’s time, police with the help of Desuups and other volunteers have apprehended about six people who were smuggling in banned products.

High on the list are tobacco and banned substances. The amount of  “drugs,” as it is known, people are trying to smuggle in is disturbing. Thousands of pills and tablets, besides cigarettes and chewing tobacco are the most common substances smuggled. It doesn’t reflect nicely on the society.

Many are convinced that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is because of the courage of the smugglers even with strict restrictions in place. Smuggling is an old business. It becomes rampant when there is a crisis, health or economic. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided the same opportunity to smugglers.

There is a huge black market that provides opportunities for quick money.  Cost of tobacco products has shot through the roof. This is encouraging people to smuggle.

We have stringent laws on banned substances and tobacco. However, in today’s case, it is not so much about implementing the laws, but the risk posed by smuggling.  Smuggling breaks all rules. The borders are closed and the movement of people restricted to contain the spread of Covid-19. This is the priority of the government. And it is the same all over the world.

Smuggling increases the risk, as goods and movement of people escape the eyes of the authority. All goods that come in legally are sanitised, there are standard operating operations even if goods are imported. All these are to ensure that there are no risks of importing the virus with the goods.

With borders sealed and neighbouring states under a lockdown, one question is who is supplying and how. From the quantity of drugs seized, we can surmise there is a racket or a nexus. We cannot do anything that is beyond our jurisdiction, but we can on our side of the border.

The risk is real. From Assam to West Bengal, our two immediate neighbouring states, new Covid-19 cases are increasing on a daily basis. While we have successfully contained the spread from imported cases, the risk of community infection is from along the borders. That’s why we are restricting trade and movement of people.

Long before we realized, His Majesty The King had warned that “the reckless action of a single person who clandestinely crosses the border for trade, or to meet acquaintances, or to bring someone to Bhutan, risks spreading the coronavirus in their community and in the country.”

The greed of quick money is jeopardizing what has been done so far. Smuggling is not only making banned substances available at a high cost, but it is also risking a national effort to contain the contagion.

Given the risk, the perpetrators should be penalized so that it will discourage others who are mulling to make the most of a pandemic.