New hope of cur­rency ex­change fa­cil­ity at Indo-Bhutan bor­der

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - De­ba­sis Sarkar

SILIG­URI: After fail­ing to have their cry lis­tened for decades, peo­ple at Indo-Bhutan In­ter­na­tional bor­der ar­eas have started build­ing new hope to have of­fi­cial cur­rency con­ver­sion fa­cil­ity. In ab­sence of that and due to unique re­la­tion­ship be­tween cur­ren­cies of the two neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, con­ver­sion be­tween them re­mained as a ma­jor il­le­gal business in en­tire re­gion.

“The mat­ter de­serves ad­e­quate at­ten­tion. I shall talk on this at ap­pro­pri­ate level,” as­sured S S Ah­luwalia, MP from Dar­jeel­ing and top BJP leader. “The mat­ter has al­ready been dis­cussed at the high­est level of the party and we are ex­pect­ing some im­por­tant de­vel­op­ments to take place soon,” said Mr. R. Bose, BJP Dar­jeel­ing dis­trict Pres­i­dent. The dis­trict com­mit­tee has re­cently pre­pared a sit­u­a­tion anal­y­sis re­port on im­por­tant fi­nan­cial is­sues hav­ing strong rel­e­vance to north Ben­gal and its ad­join­ing in­ter­na­tional bor­der ar­eas un­der in­struc­tion of the high­est pol­icy mak­ing level of the party.

As per Indo-Bhutan treaty, the bor­der in be­tween them is open for pas­sage. But, though In­dian cur­rency is an of­fi­cial ten­der inside Bhutan, us­ing Bhutanease cur­rency Ngul­trum(Nu) in In­dia is il­le­gal. De­spite hav­ing ap­par­ently dif­fer­ent float­ing value, Nu is of­fi­cially pegged at par with In­dian Ru­pee.

On the other side, In­dia is the largest trade part­ner of Bhutan. Even­tu­ally, main­tain­ing as high as pos­si­ble re­serve of INR is al­ways a pri­or­ity for Bhutan fi­nance depart­ment. In or­der to en­sure that, “Bhutan au­thor­i­ties pre­fer pay­ing all in Nu that can­not be spent in In­dia as In­dian Banks don’t ac­cept them,” said Badal Ghosh of Jaigaon(In­dia), work­ing in Bumthang, Bhutan. Ghosh is just one of thou­sands of In­di­ans work­ing in Bhutan or over 5 lakh In­dian cit­i­zens from bor­der ad­join­ing ar­eas with trade re­la­tion­ship across the bor­der.

Be­gin­ning from In­dian bor­der ad­join­ing ru­ral mar­kets, lo­cal buses to town­ship shops, ev­ery­where, large por­tion of buy­ers are from Bhutan pay­ing in Nu. “We need to ac­cept that to main­tain business. But, we must get them con­verted to INR for bank­ing,” said Mr. J P Agar- wal, a trader from Jaigaon, largest Indo Bhutan boarder area trade cen­ter in In­dia.

“As an ob­vi­ous out­come of the sit­u­a­tion, we are de­pen­dent on un­of­fi­cial ex­change fa­cil­i­ties those charge as high as 15% il­le­gal fee,” Ghosh com­plained. “Of­ten this high profit fi­nan­cial trade ini­ti­ates se­ri­ous crimes too,” ac­cepted se­nior po­lice of­fi­cials at bor­der dis­tricts.

In Oc­to­ber 2004, after Indo-Bhutan bor­der dis­tricts co­or­di­na­tion meet, In­dian ad­min­is­tra­tion and Min­istry of Home of Royal Gov­ern­ment of Bhutan, jointly pro­posed In­dian Fi­nance Min­istry and RBI to set up of­fi­cial ex­change fa­cil­i­ties. But, it did not come to re­al­ity al­low­ing the sit­u­a­tion to re­main un­changed de­spite many dep­u­ta­tions, ap­peals, meet­ings, sem­i­nars etc.

To bring Bhutan out of the me­dieval barter sys­tem of trad­ing (Di­rect ex­change of com­modi­ties) dur­ing 1961, In­dia helped it out by pro­vid­ing cur­rency notes those started cir­cu­lat­ing in Bhutan econ­omy. But even after de­vel­op­ment of Nu in 1974, cir­cu­la­tion of Ru­pee con­tin­ued there.

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