Virtually a blockade

PM Oli opposed the Indian Blockade in 2015, but as he prepares to visit Delhi he seems unaware of the stoppage at the Bhairawa border

There is a long queue of trucks, sometimes as long as 20km, waiting for clearance to cross over. Pics: Deepak Gyawali

Prime Minister KP Oli, during his first tenure, had refused to visit New Delhi as long as the Indian Blockade of Nepal continued. In fact, Oli went to  India only in February 2016 after New Delhi stopped backing Madhesi parties who were obstructing the border checkpoints.  

Two years later, Oli is Prime Minister again, and is off to India again this weekend. But he seems to be oblivious of another blockade that has brought cross-border trade through Bhairawa to a standstill for months.

About three kilometers down the Sunauli (India)-Belahiya border (Nepal), there is an Indian check post that has made it difficult for Nepal-bound cargo to pass through despite attempts by the envoys of the two countries to solve the problem.

Nepali trucks and containers carrying raw materials have found it increasingly difficult to pass through the check-point, and there is a long queue of trucks, sometimes as long as 20km, waiting for clearance to cross over.  

Some drivers spend up to 7 days in the queue, paying a daily detention charge of Rs 2,500. Truckers often get abused, harassed or even beaten up by Indian police for complaining.

"Some truckers easily cross the border by bribing Indian police, but most get stuck for about a week," says Kul Prasad Neupane, President of Siddharthnagar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

On a normal day, more than 550 containers can easily pass through the Sunauli-Belahiya check point, and this is the lifeline for Bhairawa, Butwal and other towns in the western Tarai. These days not more than 300 trucks are allowed to cross into Nepal.

The Sunauli-Belahiya border was not completely blocked even during the Indian blockade. When the Birganj-Raxaul border was blocked from September 2015 to February 2016, most trucks were rerouted and brought into Nepal through this check-post. Even then, truckers bribed Indian police and customs officials to let them cross the border.

The Blockade ended, but Indian police and customs officials in Sunauli seem to have got used to the easy extra money. They began delaying clearances, forcing truckers to give baksheesh to cross into Nepal.

The border jam here is a reminiscent of the Indian Blockade that destroyed Nepal's economy in 2015. The fall in revenue from the checkpoint also comes as Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada said last week the state is bankrupt. Only Rs33 billion revenue has been collected from this trade point in the first half of the current fiscal year, which is Rs 4billion lower than target.

In July last year, Indian ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri and then Nepali ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay undertook a joint effort to settle the issue. Police on both sides agreed to do what they could. The problem eased for a few weeks, but now everything is stuck again.

Bidur Dhungana of the Nepal Cement Manufacturers Association says the Sunauli-Belahiya border problem is too complex that it cannot be solved locally. He says: "Only the prime ministers of the two countries can solve it." 

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