Bhutanese exporters will have to bear the brunt and inconveniences caused by the West Bengal government’s Suvidha App while exporting goods to Bangladesh via India for some more time, as the Bhutanese government has to talk both with the central government of India and the state government of West Bengal to solve the issue.
This was informed by the Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MoFAET), Dasho Dr. Tandi Dorji to the Bhutanese media when asked about measures being undertaken by the government to solve the issue. The minister also acknowledged that the Suvidha App has caused inconveniences, especially to the Bhutanese truckers.
“There is some problem associated with the Suvidha App,” the minister said, adding that while the government of Bhutan has the authority to discuss with the government of India (GoI) in Delhi, the Suvidha App is a mechanism adopted by the West Bengal government.
The minister said that the royal government has talked many times and is working closely with the Government of India to see how the royal government can facilitate and also requested the West Bengal government to reduce the rate imposed on truckers so that the profit margin of the truckers do not decrease.
From September 26, 2022 the ‘Suvidha’ online portal came on board. Initially the charge was Nu 10,000 per truck booking. However, upon request from the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), the then Ministry of Economic Affairs directed the issue to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry took up the issue with the West Bengal government through the Bhutanese Consul General in Kolkata. After this the rates charged were reduced to Nu 2,000 per truck.
Beginning January 4, 2023, the West Bengal government revised the Suvidha system and changed fees imposed from the uniform rate of INR 2,000 to INR 10,000 for non-perishable goods, INR 5,000 for boulders and INR 3,000 for perishable goods at the Changrabandha land custom station (LCS).
The Suvidha issue is not new and it has been raised by the BEA several times. Earlier, a letter was also written by the BEA to the Bhutanese Prime Minister saying that the Suvidha App and fee is a clear violation of Article 1 of the “Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between RGoB and GoI of 12 November 2016.” The Article says: “There shall, as heretofore, be free trade and commerce between the territories of the RGoB and GoI.”
Further, Article-5 of the same agreement states that “All exports of Bhutan to and from countries other than India will be free from and not subject to customs duties and trade restrictions of the GoI.”
Meanwhile, Lyonpo Tandi said that the royal government has also requested to use the Chilahati Haldibari rail road that is very close to Samtse. “If they allow us to use the rail road then all our exporters can use the route,” he said, adding that it will clear problems associated with the Suvidha App and the “Gunda tax” that happens along the high ways.
In addition, the minister said that the royal government is hoping to solve the issue concerning the Suvidha App and that the new councillor general (CG) in Kolkata isworking very closely with all the issues related to trade routes, “We hope the issues will be resolved very soon,” the minister said.
The West Bengal government started the Suvidha online web-based system as an initiative for quick clearance and smooth movement of vehicles through various integrated check-posts (ICPs) on the Indo-Bangladesh border.Any exporter ferrying goods to Bangladesh has to register in the system from eight LCS, including Jaigaon, Changrabandha, and Fulbari, which are used by Bhutanese exporters for trading with Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the minister said that there are so many formal and informal trade routes which are not notified by the GoI. To this, the minister shared that few months ago, a team from the MoFAET, customs, police, immigration, exporters, regional offices in Samdrup Jongkhar and Phuentsholing all went to visit the entry and exit points used by Bhutan to export goods to India and Bangladesh.
Based on these findings, the team submitted a report to the cabinet and the cabinet has given directives on formalising the entry and exit trade points. He said that it would lead to the establishment of integrated check points between India and Bhutan. Today, there are no single integrated check points in the country.
“Nepal has three integrated check points with India and two more are coming, and this integrated check points allow the smooth transit of goods between the two countries. Towards that Bhutan is also going to set up the first integrated check point at Phuentsholing-Jaigaon Integrated as it is the biggest business hub in the country,” the minister said.
Subsequently, the minister said that the royal government will also do the same with Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse, amongst others.
The minister further mentioned that the transit agreement between Bhutan and Bangladesh has also been signed recently and the royal government is also looking on additional openings towards Bangladesh with the Kokrajhar to Gelephu rail way connection.
With such trade routes, the minister shared that the royal government is hoping that there will be a significant decrease in transportation cost and reduce all problems faced by the Bhutanese truckers.
Meanwhile, the north-east rail way has already started and the royal government has also requested additional high way routes in Golaghat, Assam. The route will be much shorter for the traders and the exporter towards Bangladeshs the distance will be shortened by about 50kms. It will also be much faster.
Sherab Dorji from Thimphu