Assam-Bhutan health corridor to help the poor


New Delhi : Thanks to a unique border corridor, Assam’s poor living close to the Bhutan border will be allowed into that country to get affordable and effective medical treatment.

Support TwoCircles

The corridor, a joint venture of the two governments, will also allow Bhutanese who may be looking for medical treatment in India to cross into Assam, IANS reported here quoting Nedan Foundation’s Director, Digambar Narzary.

The border areas falling in the corridor are the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan.

Giving shape to the project is Nedan Foundation, an Assam-based NGO, which is preparing a draft proposal to be signed by border commissioners of the two countries in August.

“The draft called ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ will be a ticket of sort that would help poor patients from both the countries to cross the borders to access medical benefits,” said Narzary from Kokrajhar, about 700 km from Guwahati.

To prepare the draft, Nedan is working in coordination with the immigration officials, police forces and various civil society organisations of India and Bhutan.

The opening of the corridor holds immense importance for the Bodo tribals who live in areas with negligible healthcare centres.

“Bhutan has some of the best medical health centres. The corridor would greatly benefit Bodo people, who will only have to cross the border to get themselves treated,” said Narzary.

Assam’s Bodo areas are infamous for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and dysentery. Every year, almost 1,000 people die without getting any treatment.

“In recent times we have also registered 75 HIV/AIDS cases in BTAD. In such a scenario, a proper and immediate healthcare network is the need of the hour. We are hopeful that Bhutan will be more than willing to provide us help,” said an official of Assam’s health department.

“Moreover, we will also extend all sort of facilities to the Bhutanese who are on the lookout to get medical benefits in Assam and neighbouring states,” he added.

Out of the four districts of BTAD, three — Kokrajhar, Baska and Chirang — share the 700-km border with Bhutan. The fourth district is Udalguri.

On Feb 10, 2003, the central and Assam governments and the Bodo Liberation Tigers signed a memorandum of settlement to set up a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in New Delhi. The area under the BTC jurisdiction is called BTAD.

The same border stretch is a vibrant trade zone. Hundreds of traders from both the countries sell their indigenous products twice a week in the zone.

“Trade ties between both the countries have always been very strong. Now we want to share our medical know how, first in the border areas,” said an immigration official of the new democratic government in Bhutan.

The India-Bhutan border was in the news during an operation the Royal Bhutan Army carried out to clear its jungles of Indian militant groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

“End of militant activities has helped us to work on the latest project. The Indo-Bhutan area is today free from any terrorist activities and is safe for human passage,” said Narzary.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a two-day trip to Bhutan in May. The visit succeeded in cementing age-old political and economic ties between the neighbouring countries. It was the first visit by any Indian leader to Bhutan after the landlocked country embraced democracy in March.

Nedan Foundation works for the poor and marginalized ethnic groups living in the remotest areas of the northeastern region. The NGO is currently focusing on BTAD to empower tribal youth, women and children. It mainly works on issues like human rights, trafficking of women and children, gender equality and HIV/AIDS.