Lengthy checks ward off Nepali traders from border crossing
KATHMANDUA (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Nepali traders have started shunning the Bhairahawa border crossing point to conduct trade with India due to lengthy security checks on the Indian side which have led to higher transportation costs, delayed deliveries and deterioration in the quality of goods.
Officials of India’s Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) currently check each cargo truck arriving from Nepal for almost 30 minutes. They started checking the trucks more thoroughly a week ago. Earlier, security checks used to take only three to four minutes.
Due to the drawn out scrutiny, traffic is backed up for 5 kilometres which has badly affected imports and exports via the second busiest crossing point on the Nepal-India border.
“These days, each cargo vehicle has to wait for around four-five days to clear security,” said Krishna Prasad Ghimire, president of the Bhairahawa Customs Agent Association. “This has led to the rerouting of 20-25 percent of the cargo traffic to other border points.”
For instance, Brij Cement is still waiting for its 80 trucks laden with clinker, a major ingredient needed to manufacture cement, which left Sarada Nagar near Gorakhpur five days ago. The distance between Sarada Nagar and Bhairahawa is around 140 kilometres, but the trucks have not arrived yet.
“I’m worried the rain might destroy the clinker,” said Rabi Ranjan Gupta, general manager of Brij Cement. “If the delay continues, it will make more sense to use other border points to import the raw material.”
Many traders relying on the Bhairahawa border point have started looking for alternative routes to export and import goods to and from India, as obstructions at the border point have raised transportation costs by almost double.
Also, chances of the shipments being spoilt are high because of exposure to the monsoon, while delays in the delivery of raw materials have prevented many factories from making maximum utilisation of their capacity.
Because of these reasons, Supreme Cement, which has a factory in the Lumbini Corridor, has started importing raw materials through the Nepal-India border point at Krishnanagar, although Bhairahawa is much closer.
“Despite proximity to the Bhairahawa border point, we are being forced to use the border point at Krishnanagar because delays caused by lengthy security checks have raised our production costs,” said Saroj Paudel, general manager of Supreme Cement. Dozens of other factories located in the Lumbini Corridor are facing a similar problem.
Industrialists also claim that Indian policemen at the Kotwali Police Station near Sunauli have been demanding money from cargo vehicles bound for Nepal in the name of managing the queue.
“Drivers who pay are given preferential treatment while others have to wait for four to five days in the queue,” industrialists claimed. “This has started eroding our competitiveness.”
It is still not known why security measures have been heightened at the Bhairahawa border point, as Indian security officials have said they are only following ‘orders from higher authorities’.
This is not the first time that Indian border security personnel have tightened checks. Indian border security personnel had intensified security checks around three weeks ago hitting Nepal’s trade with India.
Cross-border trade returned to normal after security checks were loosened following talks between Nepali and Indian officials.
The SSB had increased surveillance at Bhairahawa a few days after the Indian government allowed it to run an intelligence wing along the borders of Nepal and Bhutan to keep tabs on ‘anti-India and other inimical’ elements.
Accordingly, the SSB can ‘train and depute its intelligence agents’ along the borders of Nepal and Bhutan and ‘deploy an exclusive combat snoop wing for border guarding and internal security duties’, according to India’s state news agency Press Trust of India.
Traders expressed surprise that the SSB had tightened security only at the border point in Bhairahawa. Nepal shares a 1,751-km open border with India, but this kind of security operation has not been reported at other border points.