Phuentsholing turns into a ghost town as border is sealed for Indian elections

The trade office in Phuentsholing has listed around 98 suspicious business establishments

Phuentsholing town has been eerily quite and empty in the past two days with shutters down on as many as hundred shops possibly run by Indian businessmen.

The Department of Trade office in Phuentsholing is on high alert, monitoring the closed business establishments during the two days when the international border was sealed for the ongoing elections in India.

The trade department office has listed around 98 suspicious business establishments in Phuentsholing town. And trade officials are now investigating those listed businesses for fronting.

However, the trade department will be able to ascertain only after the investigation is complete.

Since most businesses employ Indian laborers to run their businesses, it has become a challenge for the department, according to PemBidha, Regional Director of Department of Trade in Phuentsholing. “Also, some might have closed as their employees are residing in the bordering town of Jaigaon, who could not come due to the sealed border gates,” she said.

The trade department has been collecting information to establish whether this is an indication of fronting practices in Phuentsholing. The department, along with the stakeholders, will now investigate the closed businesses.

However, not all the shops that were closed could be connected to fronting.

The Regional Director said the shops might have closed because of other reasons too.  “They might have expected fewer customers during the elections and could have closed. That is hard to prove,” she said.

The trade department has been collecting information and evidences on suspected fronting cases. However, without concrete Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) or guidelines to curb such practices, the trade department has remained handicapped in tackling fronting practices along the bordering towns.

“The current rule enables the department to penalize and close the business if it is fronting but it is difficult to prove whether it’s fronting or not,” said the Regional Director.

The current investigation will provide a basis to ascertain whether there is fronting or not.

The shops, service centers and automobile workshops have remained closed for two days when the main gate was sealed. The closure caused inconveniences to the people in availing services. And with the main gates closed, people were also unable to travel across the border for the services. The main gate remained closed on Thursday.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing