A Bhutanese truck on May 20 mowed down a motorcycle-borne youth at Milanpur along the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam’s Barpeta district. Angry locals intercepted the killer truck and set it on fire, while another truck from Bhutan was victim of the situation.
The angry mob also pelted stones at the Pathsala Police Station for inaction against reckless truck drivers. The locals at Milanpur and other villages under the Pathsala area complained that the Bhutanese vehicles get entry into the Indian Territory without any documentation and often injure people on the roads.
It is natural for the people along the Bhutan border to be annoyed with the Dragon Kingdom because of the total antagonistic outlook of the Bhutanese immigration officials. Locals claim that the entry-exit protocol between India and Bhutan is lopsided, and is totally in favour of the Bhutanese nationals.
Though no visa is required for Indian nationals to visit Bhutan, the Immigration Department of the Royal Government of Bhutan has put up too many barriers to discourage Indians from visiting the country.
On the other hand, Indian Immigration Department has total relaxed entry-exit formalities for Bhutanese nationals. Indian Immigration check-posts set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs at Manthanguri, Bhaibakunda, Namlang and Deosiri often remained closed while Bhutanese nationals criss-cross the international border with total ease.
Like the immigration check-posts, the Indian Land Customs Station at Hatisar is in total dilapidated condition, and explains that New Delhi is not serious at all about the transshipment of goods from Bhutan.
Taking advantage of India’s relaxed immigration policies and customs rules, Bhutanese nationals get easy access to Assam and use the northeast state as a transit corridor to cut short their travel time. Bhutanese travelers from the southeast district of Samdrup Jongkhar prefer to use the roads of Assam and North Bengal to travel to Thimphu via Phuentsholing.
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The Bhutanese nationals don’t need to carry any travel document, and are not even intercepted anywhere for immigration check. They often travel to Indian metro cities for treatment and business, and are even allowed to travel to Guwahati, Kolkata or any other cities in Bhutanese registered vehicles.
But, Indian travelers to Bhutan need to carry a passport with a validity of minimum 6 months or Voter Identity Card. The accompanying children should carry birth certificate along with school identity card and a letter from the school principal.
Indians are allowed to enter only after Entry Permit is issued by the Department of Immigration on arrival at Phuentsholing or any other border town. Moreover, for travelers entering by surface, need to complete biometric formalities at Phuentsholing.
Indian tourists desirous of going beyond Thimphu and Paro need to acquire a Route Permit in Thimphu. Indians travelling without passport or EPIC need to collect Identification Slip from the Consulate of India at Phuentsholing. Identification slip is issued on the basis of Aadhar card, Driving license and birth certificate for children. The Entry Permit is issued only after the production of Identification slip.
To everyone’s surprise, Indian nationals need to walk through a designated pathway to enter the neighbouring country and need to sterilize their feet in the disinfectant tanks on the foot-pathways. Indian vehicles are allowed to enter after total germ controlled fumigation. It is sad that the Immigration Department of Bhutan looks at India as a “Storehouse of Infection”.
Indian nationals also need to deposit their passports and other travel documents at the smaller immigration check-posts of the Royal Government of Bhutan dotted along the Assam border to enter the Himalayan Kingdom.
Surprisingly, all NRIs require visa for travelling to Bhutan and they need to book tour through package tariff prescribed by Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).
A group of Indian tourists from Mumbai recently were at Panbang in South Bhutan’s Zhemgang Dzongkhag (district) from Manas National Park in Assam. To everyone’s surprise, personnel of the Royal Bhutan Police did not allow them to cross the Panbang Bridge, which was constructed by total funding of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Panbang is a small town in South Bhutan, and there is no road that connects Panbang to other parts of the Dragon Kingdom. People of the area use the Indian road to visit other parts of Bhutan. Still, the officials of the tiny landlocked Dragon Kingdom have the audacity to ill-treat Indian nationals.
No Indian national is allowed to stay overnight in Panbang, and they need to return to the Indian territory before sunset. But, Bhutanese nationals are allowed to stay in any Indian city for any number of days without any documentation.
The lopsided entry-exit protocol between the two countries has started to ruin the people-to-people relationship between the two countries. During the last five years, New Delhi has extended huge financial assistance to Bhutan. India’s Assistance Package for Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan (July 2013 to June 2018) was Rs 4500 crore.
India represents about 68 percent of the total external assistance of Bhutan and 49 percent of the capital expenditure of the Royal Government of Bhutan Nu 9200 crore. Additionally, India provided Rs 500 crore as Economic Stimulus Package to boost the Bhutanese economy.
India also provides special subsidies to Bhutan on Kerosene and LPG and excise duty refund to Royal Government of Bhutan on imports from India on an annual basis.
It is understood that New Delhi, during the last few decades, has been taking care of Bhutan as a newly-wed groom to keep Chinese influence at bay. When Bhutan is developing with Indian tax payers’ money, doesn’t Thimphu need to show little more respect to the common Indians?