After His Majesty’s Government deployed the army for patrolling the national borders to check smuggling (not infiltration), a section of the business community has been euphoric, while a pall of gloom has covered the other. The euphoria is short-sighted whereas the gloom is a reaction of those feasting on the bounty of smuggling. Still the controversy generated by this step needs to be analysed properly and necessary rectifications made if this step is really a wrong one. Army guarding the nation's borders does not look incongruous.
Even its presence on the customs check post is fine: But using it to conduct raids on civilian establishments, such as houses of the citizens and godowns of the businessmen (which is the case now as being reported), is certainly going to set a wrong tradition. Soon after the deployment of the army at customs, the border towns in Nepal started experiencing a surge in business as the people now find it useless going across the border for marketing. They are made to pay the customs even for a single bar of detergent soap. Similarly, smugglers are reported to have stopped their illegal activities for the fear of the soldiers. As a result, the custom officers are being quoted in reports showing that the customs revenue has surged substantially in recent weeks.
That means, the revenue collection will hit the targets set in this year's budget. It also means that those sections of the business community (such as the textile entrepreneurs) who had been complaining of their business being harmed by smuggled goods, should be happy. Moreover, it is also in line with the demand of the business community for strong surveillance at the border for effective implementation of VAT. Still, it can be argued that it would be better if the army is recalled from customs points and border-towns back to the barracks. Or deploying them to safeguard the borderline which, reports say, is being trespassed, would be another proper use of the armed forces. As of now, while the army at customs might have helped to increase revenue, it is hampering tourism, as some reports have stated. The number of Indian tourists by land has gone down because the presence of army at the customs has given rise to some anti-Nepal rumours in India. Earlier the army bosses had gone to the extent of talking to the press hinting that they needed a national consensus before being deployed to fight Maoist insurgency.
But they were too eager to oblige the government at the first beckon when they were asked to man the customs. It indicates that there is more than what meets the eye in the army's posting at the customs. While Nepal's eagerness to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and abide by the free trade regime demands preparation for a borderless trade, army mobilisation for increasing customs revenue seems only as a retrograde decision.