System failure at Jaigaon land customs office has prompted the Jaigaon Transporters Welfare Association (JTWA) to call a strike, leaving 250 Phuentsholing-bound trucks stranded for lack of customs clearance.
The movement of vehicles was stopped since August 19 as the internet service from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a state-owned telecommunication provider, has failed causing the system to crash down. It is not known when the system will pick up again.
Speaking to Business Bhutan, the General Secretary of JTWA, Navin Sharma, said that frequent disruption of internet server from BSNL has caused system breakdown in the past as well.
“Due to construction of Asian highways in India, the cables are being disconnected by machines,” he said adding that the customs office needs to look for alternative internet providers. More so since the office is located at the international boundary where Bhutan-bound consignments are always on the move.
Meanwhile, JTWA’s President, S.P Shrivastav said that consignments are halted at the customs checkpoint as of now leading to overcrowding of vehicles.
The two private parking spaces in Jaigaon are packed and an increasing number of lorries are lining up along the national highway. The exporters also want the customs office to escalate services early to avoid paying extra to truck drivers.
However, S.P Shrivastav said this can be done only once the system is placed and the consignments are cleared.
Both transporters and customs officials at Jaigaon have been facing issues since Goods and Services Tax (GST)-imposition from July 1. These transporters had earlier called for strikes asking the JTWA to resolve the issues. But the online tax payment system is yet to pick pace in Jaigaon. The customs office lacks the machineries, equipment and staff required for online GST proceedings.
As of yesterday, the officials had started clearing GST manually. Till Thursday, the office had refused to do so.
However, Navin Sharma said that filing GST manually will lead to future complications. “Transporters will face problems associated with GST refund,” he said.
Filing GST manually is an arduous process unlike the online system where the entry is automatically updated and transporters get refunded immediately. Navin Sharma feels the Indian government should have made pre-arrangements at the international borders prior to imposing GST.
To prevent extra complications from system breakdown, JTWA demands customs officials to work in two shifts.
Superintendent of Customs in Jaigaon, S. K Sinha said the frequent internet disruption is due to server failure across India’s customs department.
“Once the internet is fixed, we will start working,” said S. K Sinha. He has proposed for additional computers, data entry operators and officers to the head office. Three more Superintendents and five inspectors have been deployed in Jaigaon since August 24 to make up for the system disruption.
Two data entry officers have also joined the office. S. K Sinha said that the officials and staffs will work for 20 hours a day to clear all stranded vehicles in Jaigaon.
“We promise to clear the consignments soon,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bhutanese industries are waiting for their consignments to reach the plants. Om Prakash from Sersang Foods Private Limited said that his consignment worth Nu 8mn has been stranded for months since August 1.
“If the issue remains unresolved, it may take many more months,” he said. Possibility of losing goods is high if stranded for a long duration.
Vice president of Association of Bhutanese Industries, Chimi Dorji Norbu said that the industries are in a grave situation as goods worth billions are stranded at Jaigaon. Apart from safety issues, the cost of raw materials is likely to increase as truckers will be reluctant to transport Bhutan-bound goods if the situation persists.
“The companies will need to pay Nu 1,000 extra. Bhutan will be blacklisted by truckers if they are robbed at Jaigaon,” he said.
While incoming consignments are stuck at the gate, outgoing ones have been halted at the Pasakha Industrial Estate.
Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Thermex TMT, a steel industry, Pema Tenzin said industries are affected the most as both import of raw materials and export of finished products has come to a halt for weeks. “Industries are on the verge of closure.”
Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing