Kathmandu, March 26
As both Nepal and India have gone into lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, exports and imports in both the countries have been affected and major customs offices lie deserted.
According to Suman Dahal, director-general of the Department of Customs (DoC), there is hardly any activity at the border points with only a limited number of vehicles carrying fuel and other necessary goods.
He added that imports and exports had been totally affected due to the lockdown announced by both Nepal and India.
“Though essential goods are entering Nepal from India, exports to the southern neighbour have been completely halted,” he said.
In normal times, about 1,500 trucks and containers make their way across the border between Nepal and India through various customs points but since the lockdown there are hardly 500 vehicles entering Nepal.
“There are less number of workers at the customs points due to the fear of the coronavirus but there is no problem checking the goods because there are very few items,” said Dahal. “There are no customs agents at the customs points.”
He added that though there is a risk of transmission of the virus through imported goods, the customs offices have not received any protective gears.
“The morale of the workers, customs agents and employees is down due to the fear of being infected with the virus,” Dahal said.
“The concerned authorities should take necessary steps to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus from the customs point.”
As per Dahal, of the 35 largeand medium-sized customs points in the country, only 10 large customs offices are in operation at the moment. There are a total of 135 customs offices in the country.
“However, we are ready to open all the offices if the situation so demands,” said Dahal.
Due to the fear of coronavirus, Dahal informed that the trucks and containers entering Nepal are being sprayed with disinfectants.
Meanwhile, in the last three days, a total of only four oil tankers have entered Nepal via the Mechi customs. As per Dhurba Raj Biswakarma, customs head of Mechi Customs, export from this point is zero.
Activities at the Birgunj customs through which a majority of the country’s export and import take place have also slowed down. On Wednesday, only a few petroleum tankers and some gas bullets arrived at the border, said Birgunj Customs Chief Dhundiraj Niraula.
“Along with the slowdown in the export and import at the Birgunj customs, revenue too has been severely hit,” Niraula said, adding that the customs officials of both the countries were ready to work but that the movement of goods has slowed considerably.
Similarly, the second biggest customs point at Bhairahawa has also faced a similar problem with hardly any trade taking place through this customs point.
Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy tweeted that a video conference was held between the DoC DG Dahal and Commissioner of Patna Customs Ranjit Kumar today that ‘aimed at further strengthening the cooperation and coordination between the two customs for smooth cross-border movement of essential goods’.
A version of this article appears in print on March 27, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.