Truckers ferrying essential goods want Sorchen roadside restaurants to reopen

Restaurant owners at the makeshift sheds submitted an appeal letter to the Southern Covid-19 task force three times requesting to reconsider their plea

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

Truck drivers ferrying essential commodities during the lockdown face challenges for proper meals following the decision of the Southern Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing to close the roadside restaurants in the Sorchen areas.

In a notification dated 7 February, the task force asked to suspend the operation of restaurants until the Covid-19 situation improves and directed the people in these areas to move to their place of residence with immediate effect.

The decision comes based on the assessment report from the Gedu Covid-19 Task Force on the operation of roadside restaurants to minimize the risk of virus transmission.

However, the closure has brought extra challenges to the truckers plying highway. Truck drivers say they are the most neglected section despite having been working to ensure a seamless flow of essential items during the lockdown.

They say the decision is proving to be a nightmare for nearly 60 truck drivers ferrying essential goods to the western and central region on the roads who are in need of reopening the restaurants.

“We start our journey by 7-am from the containment zone in Thimphu and reach Sorchen by around 10-am. The only place where we get to eat is at Sorchen transshipment spot,” a trucker continued, adding that they have been working the entire day without eating proper meals over the past week.

As the duration of their E-Pass is only given for 12 hours a day, he said, they have to rush as quickly as possible to avoid night halt at Chhuzom Checkpost. “We are not allowed to stop on the roadsides and we don’t have time to cook for ourselves,” he added.

Given these challenges, some 10 trucks discontinued ferrying the essential goods during the lockdown. They say the authorities have never considered their wellbeing during such times and this is proving a nightmare for truck drivers. 

Another driver who discontinued his service said that the closure of the restaurant has given them a huge challenge. 

“We used to sleep in the restaurant when our vehicles did not reach the site on time,” he said. “For instance, we reach Sorchen by 10-am and the vehicles will be transshipped to Jaigaon for loading. So the vehicles will not reach back to the spot before the gate closure at Sorchen after following all disinfection protocols. In such a situation, the restaurant was helpful besides the food.”

And the restaurant owners who run their business in the mini temporary sheet have submitted an appeal letter to the Southern Covid-19 task force three times, the latest being submitted on 11 February requesting to reconsider their plea on humanitarian grounds.

A restaurant owner said that they have been asked to leave the place by 13 February to their respective place of residence. “Most of us come from Phuentsholing (red zone) and the buildings we stay in rent are already condoned as red buildings,” he said, adding relocation would pose a greater risk to the family members.

He said that since they have their belongings in the temporary sheet, they have to guard against wild animals and monkeys from being destroyed. “We requested them to allow us to live in self-quarantine mode until the situation improves as we have to guard our belongings. It is not to operate the restaurant.”

In addition, the letter of appeal reads that the relocation will adversely affect their livelihood given that they do not have any other source of income but to depend upon miniature business.

It further states that, for almost a year, they have joined their hands by abiding by the standing orders. “We still would like to continue with the same spirits by strictly adhering to the norms of Covid-19 to avoid the emergence of the disease.”

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Southern Covid-19 task force did not respond to the phone call.