GST ‘a major roadblock’ to India-Bhutan trade ties

Trucks passing through Jaigaon getting stuck after introduction of online clearance system

Kolkata, September 26:  

Indo-Bhutanese trade has been hit because of infrastructural constraints at the Jaigaon Land Custom Station,particularly after the implementation of GST.

According to a senior CGST official, the volume of trade between India and Bhutan through Jaigaon has dropped since July. After the roll out of GST, clearances are required online, unlike the earlier system when it was manual.

Located in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal, Jaigaon is the most important border trading point with Bhutan, as it caters to around 90 per cent of the bilateral trade.

During FY-16, exports from India touched $469 million, while imports were at $281 million.

According to the July-August 2017 newsletter put out by the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, as many as 350 Bhutanese trucks were held up for over a week across the Phuentsholing border (on the Bhutan side) due to inadequate custom facilitation at the Jaigaon Land Custom Station.

Though the number of stranded trucks at present is down to 100 with a waiting period of two-to-three days, the situation is far from normal.

“Internet connectivity at Jaigaon is very poor. In some cases there is no connectivity for two-to-three days,” the official told BusinessLine.

According to him, Nathu La, one of the three open trading border posts between China and India, is also witnessing a similar problem.

Interim measures

As an interim measure, Jaigaon was allowed to clear the goods manually and later update the data into the online Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system designed for filing GST claims. Initially allowed for a month, the provision was later extended till September 10.

A delay in uploading the GST claims on the EDI system comes as a blow to exporters, who are already facing liquidity crunch due to delayed GST refunds. Hence CGST officials have proposed online clearance of goods at Siliguri GST and Custom Station, as nearly 90 per cent of goods heading to Jaigaon pass through Siliguri.

“We have asked the Board of Central Excise and Customs [now CGST] to allow online clearance of goods at Siliguri, which has better connectivity. A manual copy can be procured and a telephonic confirmation can be taken at Jaigaon subsequently,” the official said.

Using satellite internet services has also been proposed to help address the issue of connectivity.

(This article was published on September 26, 2017)

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