A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of West Bengal at the end of the 16th border districts co-ordination meeting (BDSM) held in Darjeeling for the past few days.
The understanding is expected to help resolve various issues and strengthen the symbiotic relationship between the two countries.
The MOU touched on matters to be jointly addressed, including the adverse effects of dolomite mining on Jalpaiguri district's wildlife and the fragile ecology.
People living in the border areas have been long complaining about what they describe as irresponsible mining of dolomite in the Bhutan hills. They say dolomite extraction has been causing oil erosion, raising riverbeds by depositing silt, abetting floods in the River Torsa and its tributaries, and affecting forests and wildlife.
Dolomite mining is also causing serious drinking water and irrigation problems because the rising carbonate concentration was causing water hardness, affecting soil fertility, feel experts. They have advised a more scientific approach with checks and balances.
It has been decided that a committee comprising the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri and the district heads of Samtse and Chhukha, in Bhutan, would look into the environmental problems. "A meeting will be held between the chief conservator of forest, North Bengal, and his Bhutanese counterpart on July 15 at Jalpaiguri to discuss the problems posed by illegal mining. The resolution adopted will be sent to both governments," said BL Meena, commissioner, Jalpaiguri division.
In addition, activities of insurgent groups, anti-national elements, exchange of intelligence, timber and wildlife smuggling (skin, fur and other body parts) was discussed. "Border traffic has increased with increasing trade, but the crime graph has also risen. Incidents of theft and robbery have shot up. These meetings help us to chalk out effective ways to arrest the criminals and prevent crimes," added Meena.
The border district coordination meeting was first held in February 1991 in which the King of Bhutanese, the then Indian Prime Minister PV Narashima Rao and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu had taken part. A meeting is held once every two years.
"They aim at ensuring stability and harmony along with fostering economic growth," said Dasho Tshering Wangdi, joint secretary of the Bhutanese ministry of home and cultural affairs and also the leader of the Bhutanese delegation.
The meetings over the years had helped address cross-border issues and boosted trade between the two countries, said the joint secretary.
The 11-member Bhutanese delegation comprised Wangda, Sonam Phuntsho, under secretary, administrative heads of the Phuentsholing, Chhukha and Samtse districts, police heads of the districts, official from the ministry of foreign affairs, officials from the forest department, department of geology and mines and the transport department of Bhutan.
The 17-member Indian Team was made up of Meena, top brass from the district administration and police from Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, IB (Border), SSB and the forest department.