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TURA | JAN 25, 2020:

Boulder trucks from Bhutan carrying loads for export from their country to neighbouring Bangladesh have been dominating the state highways of Garo Hills. The trucks exporting goods through SAARC related trade agreement have turned a ‘blind eye’ with absolutely no regards to the laws and regulation implemented by the country.

A visit to the border town of Dalu in West Garo Hills provided many shocking revelations, some of which is being assisted apparently by the land customs station in Dalu.

The office of the DC, WGH, had through a notification allowed the transport of boulders through the AMPT road across the plain belt, something that is still stinging residents of the area. However the permission allowed for transport was for the movement of boulders within permissible limits. Further no truck was to be passed without being weighed at the Dalu transport weigh bridge.

However both these conditions have been given the short shrift by unscrupulous exporters from Bhutan who have been using trailers (18-20 wheelers) instead of trucks to export boulders. These trailers not only weigh about 50-60 MTs but have been causing severe damage to an already weak AMPT road.

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“Even if they come in 10 wheelers, they still carry huge loads and they don’t want to weigh their trucks in the transport gate. If they do weigh their truck, they do not want to pay the weighing fees of Rs 200 and we cannot fine them despite the fact that they are breaking the law of India,” said a transport officer on the condition of anonymity.

The weighbridge at Dalu is capable of handling 10 wheelers though the Bhutan trucks have been coming in bigger vehicles.

Apparently when they forced a few of these trucks to be weighed, the gross weight was close to 35-36 MT, almost double of the legal limit.

When probed as to why the trucks were not being fined or the overload offloaded, the officer stated that once when they tried to do so, they immediately received calls from ministers in the government to not interfere.

Further as the weight bridge only worked for about 10 hours a day due to a lack of manpower, the trucks very smartly began to come after the closure of the weight bridge and stationed themselves beyond zero point, so that they cannot be recalled back. Further trailers cannot be weighed at the Dalu check point, something that the exporters are taking big advantage of.

The use of trailers (18 wheelers and above) has been objected to by various NGOs of the region despite which the Bhutan exporters continue using them.

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“We don’t have a problem if they bring normal, permissible loads for export but they continue to defy the law, which is grossly unfair. For how long do they expect us to just wait and watch,” said SR Sangma, a resident of Phulbari.

A toothless district administration too adds to the problems. The policy of the WGH district administration seems to be wait and watch but do nothing, which makes one question as to why illegality is being allowed in the name of bilateral trade.

Calls made on the matter to inform the deputy commissioner, Ram Singh, on the illegalities of Bhutan exporters were futile, as the DC has blocked calls or messages from all scribes in the Garo Hills region since a while now.

Further allegations have surfaced from a group of Bhutan truckers that a middleman allegedly took money from them to ensure passage of trucks without any hindrance. The middleman was apparently a representative of a senior minister in the current government.

When the custom officer from Dalu was contacted on the illegality issue, he stated that the trucks carried all papers including the weight slips from Bhutan. The trucks were sealed and came sealed to the custom station.

He also added that they had not received any orders from the administration on the mandatory nature of weight slips from the Dalu weigh bridge. They however were not willing to provide details of
weight slips, saying the information was classified but would be willing to provide the same under RTI.

The customs officer even went to the extent of saying the trucks could be taken back from Zero point if there were discrepancies found, a fact refuted by police officials as well as the transport department.

“When we asked the trucks to be turned back, they refused stating that it was their jurisdiction and we could not interfere. We have even submitted a complaint stating that these trucks were not weighing themselves at our weight bridge – a pre requisite for export as per the orders of the district administration. They are lying through their teeth on this matter,” said the transport officer on the condition of anonymity.

Some of these trucks are also using the under construction NH 51, doing so during the night to ensure they reach the border in the early morning, prior to the weighbridge being opened. When these trucks were asked to return back to weigh, the customs department intervened, citing jurisdiction. Ever since, these trucks have been reaching either after the weigh bridge closes or opens to be able to beat the weighing aspect.

Recently when the trucks were forced to weigh their loads, not surprisingly, the amount specified by the Bhutan weighbridge slip was much lower than when weighed by Dalu, showing how much illegality is currently being done by the Bhutan exporters.

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