Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

If the cost of transportation determines the cost of goods, Bhutanese consumers will have to live with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the travel restrictions.

Transporting the goods into Phuentsholing and beyond has become expensive these days. For importers beyond Phuentsholing, there are at least four different costs to bear before the consignments are through from the Rinchending check post.

In addition to the loading charges in Jaigaon, there are costs to bear in transporting the goods until the Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing, unloading them, reloading and transshipment charges. The latest addition is the cost for hiring a driver between the Rinchending check post and the MDP.

Transportation of goods procedure changed after the lockdown.

After vehicles bring consignments at MDP from across the border, it has to be transshipped in a different vehicle, which will be then cleared and driven until Rinchending. For this, a separate driver has to be identified. This is to ensure Phuentsholing-based drivers don’t drive beyond the Rinchending check post.

Hiring a driver between MDP and Rinchending costs anywhere between Nu 500 to Nu 2,000 these days. On September 15 evening, an importer from Thimphu, Tshering Tashi was waiting for his consignment at Rinchending.

“I had to pay the Jaigaon loaders first, then there is another cost to deliver them to the Phuentsholing MDP. At the MDP, I had to pay for unloading and transshipment,” he said. Including hiring a driver to bring his goods until Rinchending, he paid more than Nu 4,000.

At the newly constructed integrated check post in Rinchending, a team of RSTA officials starts disinfecting  the vehicles from 8 am. After 30 minutes of disinfecting the inside of the vehicle, the vehicle is then sent for body disinfection. Only then, the driver from Thimphu can take over the vehicle.

Two separate places have also been identified for Thimphu drivers to rest. A driver, Tashi Tobgay, who was waiting for a Gedu-bound consignment said it would be better if hiring a driver between Rinchending and MDP was not there.

“What’s the use? After the disinfection, we have to take the same seat where the Phuentsholing driver had sat,” he said.

“It would be better to allow us to go to MDP with better safety protocols.”

Tashi Tobgay said that he recently paid Nu 2,000 for hiring a driver to get his consignment to Rinchending from MDP. However, he said these days, the rate is between Nu 500 to Nu 1,500.

On September 15, by 5:30pm, the RSTA disinfection team had allowed 70 vehicles from Rinchending.

Tshering Tashi, who had come for the first time to get his consignment said it was difficult to get correct information about bringing his consignment until Rinchending.

“We must know what will happen here before we are here. We cannot sleep here if our consignment fails to reach by 5pm.”

Meanwhile, there are complaints about loaders charging exorbitant loading and unloading charges at the MDP. However, an official from the labour office clarified that the revised rate was being followed.

“There are importers who even pay more than the fixed rates and there are some who say the rates are fine,” the official said.

“But there are also those who give heavy work to loaders and don’t want to pay. Our job is to ensure both the loaders and importers benefitted.”

As per the revised rate, loaders cannot ask more than Nu 6,000 for loading and unloading a 40 feet container. It is Nu 5,000 for transshipment goods from the same container.

After the lockdown, 47 loaders had started working at the MDP, out of which 12 have already left. Today there are only 35 loaders.