New hope of currency exchange facility at Indo-Bhutan border
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.