Govt. still in dialogue with GoI about Entry-Exit Point

Govt. still in dialogue with GoI about Entry-Exit Point

The government is discussing with GoI for checkpoints and immigration offices on the Indian side of the border in Nganglam

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Employment (MoICE) said that the Nganglam Integrated Checkpoint (ICP) in the country faces a significant setback, and is unable to be used as an entry and exit point for tourists due to the absence of necessary infrastructure on the Indian side of the border. This obstacle hampers the seamless movement of third-country nationals and is one of the main hurdles to the growth of eco-tourism in the region. Nonetheless, the government is talking with the government of India on the issue.

Earlier, the people of Panbang had said that visitors from Bansbari, in the district of Assam, India, must travel 164 km to Gelephu and enter Panbang, and repeat the same distance to exit. With entry and exit points in Panbang or even Nganglam, visitors would only have to travel less. People also said that the lack of accessibility is keeping Panbang from reaching its full potential as a tourism destination, and the benefits that come with it. According to the residents of Pangbang, if the Nganglam ICP was operational and able to facilitate the entry and exit of tourists, it would be convenient for tourists to visit Pangbang. 

Residents of Panbang in Zhemgang primarily relies on eco-tourism as its main business prospect. The community’s livelihood depends on attracting tourists.

According to Lyonpo Karma Dorji, although Bhutan has all the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the entry and exit of tourists, Nganglam ICP cannot fully function unless there is also the same infrastructure or an immigration office of India near Nganglam. He also said that the tourists wishing to exit India and enter Bhutan through Nganglam ICP are required to first complete their visa procedures in India.

“This necessitates the presence of an immigration office or proper checkpoint near Nganglam on the Indian side. Currently, the lack of such infrastructure has resulted in the inability of Nganglam ICP to facilitate tourist movements,” he said.

Meanwhile, recognizing the adverse effects of this problem on eco-tourism in the surrounding areas, the government is actively engaging in discussions with the Government of India (GoI) to establish additional foreigners’ checkpoints between Bhutan and Assam.

Lyonpo also said that these additional checkpoints would cater to the entry and exit of third-country nationals traveling by land.

The minister also highlighted that this issue extends beyond Nganglam ICP, with various other integrated checkpoints in Bhutan, such as Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse, facing similar challenges.

“Presently, the only stable checkpoint accommodating tourists is located in Phuentsholing,” he said.

To address these issues, a task force led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has been established.

“The task force has conducted thorough assessments of the border areas and initiated discussions with the Indian government. It is anticipated that a resolution will be reached in the near future,” said the MoICE minster.

Meanwhile, during a previous interview, the Foreign Minister acknowledged the presence of Integrated Checkpoints (ICPs) in Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar, and Nganglam along the Bhutanese border.

However, he emphasized that trade faced significant difficulties due to the absence of corresponding ICPs on the Indian side.

Meanwhile, the absence of Integrated Checkpoints (ICPs) on the Indian side affects not only eco-tourism but also for trade.

However, Lyonpo mentioned that implementing such a solution might be expensive for the Indian government, considering the relatively low traffic volume in other areas such as Samtse, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar, and Nganglam.

In an earlier interview, the people of Panbang had said that they are confident that they will be able to attract visitors who are visiting the Indian side of the Manas Park if there is an entry and exit nearby.

Meanwhile, since the reopening of international borders on September 23 of the previous year following the COVID-19 pandemic, all integrated checkpoints along the Bhutan-India border have resumed operations.

 These checkpoints include Samdrup Jongkhar, Samtse, Gelephu, Nganglam, and Phuentsholing. During the pandemic, numerous informal routes emerged along the border between Bhutan and India, making it challenging for the government to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, the government made the decision to close all informal routes and instead establish five integrated checkpoints, taking valuable lessons from the pandemic.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu