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No borders for Bhutanese booze

on 20/06/11 at 3:14 pm

Booze News

Waiting for the liquor store to open

Without the slightest hesitation, the Indian registered van with 15 bottles of Rockbee, Black Mountain and XXX rum, hidden beneath the car seat and inside the faded seat cover, leaves Bhutanese territory.

Once across the border, the driver of the van starts distributes the liquor to hotels and eateries in the Indian border town of Jaigaon.

This is commonplace in border towns, such as Phuentsholing and Samtse, where liquor is easily ferried across the border either by vehicles or on foot.

Taking it across the border, according to some Indian labourers, is not difficult after bribing Bhutanese and Indian officials with mobile voucher cards or with liquor.

Although there are no records with Bhutanese authorities on seizures of such illegal consignments, Indian police and the SSB have nabbed liquor from Bhutan, both Army welfare project (AWP) products and beer imported from India, being smuggled into Indian territory.

Sources say that about 40 percent of liquor sold in Bhutan eventually ends up in the nearby Indian towns. This is mainly because of the easy accessibility of Bhutanese liquor, which is popular, and the difference in taxes between India and Bhutan on liquor.

In Bhutan, for third country import, a sales tax (BST) of 50 percent and 100 percent customs duty is levied, while imports from India are levied just BST.

The liquor vendor shop in Phuentsholing that paid Nu 6,510,000 as license fee in 2008 sells about Nu 200,000 worth of liquor a day except on dry days.

Vendors purchase liquor from AWP, after they pay an excise duty of 40 to 60 percent, depending on the brand. Vendors in Lhamoizingkha, Pugli and Gomtu also get their supplies from the AWP depot in Phuentsholing, which is transported via India.

Rockbee and Royal XXX rum are the most sought after brands, according to vendors, followed by Black Mountain, Special Courier and others. The cheapest AWP manufactured drink is sold for Nu 55 a bottle, while K5 costs Nu 671 a bottle.

The different brands of beer, such as Fosters, Tuborg, Druk 11000, Hit etc., cost between Nu 30 to Nu 60 a bottle.

As the consignment reaches bars and the Indian border towns, the price almost doubles. Liquor with labels that read “for sale in Bhutan only” is even sold in bars in Siliguri, India.

There’s no limit on sale of liquor from the vendor shops. “We give whatever a customer demands if we have in stock irrespective of their nationality,” said an employee of Sonam main liquor shop in Phuentsholing. “For us, as long as we can sell, it’s not our concern how or where it goes.”

Only when there’s a shortage from the source, is preference given to Bhutanese consumers and bar license holders.

Vendors say that it’s difficult for them to refuse liquor to children, as most bars and hotels employ child workers and send them to purchase liquor. “There are also some who say that they’re sent by their parents,” said one.

The regional revenue and customs officials in Phuentsholing said, “nothing was being diverted to India as far as we were concerned.”

“We issue documents and, without the documents, goods can’t move towards India,” said an official.

Asked whether small quantities of liquor, such as AWP products and beer being taken to the border town, was allowed, he said, “It’s not but there are issues when we start frisking each and every person or the vehicles leaving Phuentsholing.”

With the Phuentsholing town already facing traffic congestion, officials said if they start checking every vehicle, it further adds on to congestion leading to a long queue of vehicles at the gates. People complained of harassment and then there is the issue of shortage of manpower.

AWP produces 4M litres of liquor yearly, while Bhutan imported alcohol worth Nu 448M a year.  Bhutan also imported beer worth Nu 5.4M from third country, while beer import from India was Nu 314M last year.

Meanwhile, AWP’s managing director was unavailable for comment, while officials said they weren’t allowed to talk without the MD’s permission.

There are 157 bars in Phuentsholing town and 38 beer agencies; while in Samtse there are 235 bars and 14 beer agencies.


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