India-Bangladesh border ‘haats’ reopen - after 40 years (Feature)

July 24th, 2011 - 1:16 pm ICT by IANS  

State Bank of India Shillong, July 24 (IANS) Meghalaya resident Tengrak Ch Marak grew up on stories about his father’s trading days at the ‘haats’ on the border with what was then East Pakistan. Those markets have reopened after 40 years, throwing up huge opportunities for trans-border commerce for people like him in India and his counterparts in Bangladesh.

The haats, once thriving centres of trade and commerce along the border, were shut down after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. It is estimated that bilateral trade worth $20 million would take place annually from all the border haats.

“The revival of these haats is a new beginning for India-Bangladesh, and I am sure it will benefit our people on both sides of the border,” Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma told IANS.

On Saturday morning, Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and his Bangladesh counterpart Faruk Khan inaugurated the border haats at Kalaichar in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district and Baliamari of Bangladesh’s Kurigram district.
These markets are popular among people on both sides of the border living in remote enclaves and hilly areas as they find it difficult to buy and sell products needed in everyday lives.

“Such border haats would soon be revived in many other areas of the state. The border haat at Balat (in East Khasi Hills district) and Lauwaghar (Dalora) in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj district is also expected to be reopened within this year,” Sangma said.

Tengrak Ch Marak, whose father was a trader at the border market, said: “It is a new beginning for us and now we can sell our locally grown products in the border market instead of transporting them to far off markets.”

The haats, aimed at uplifting the economic status of people by establishing the traditional system of marketing of local produce, will operate at different timings in summer and winter.

While the timing from March to September would be 9.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m., the timing from October to February would be 9.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m..

Sangma said that local forest produce, cottage industry items, small agriculture equipments like plough, axe, spade, chisel, processed food items, fruit juice and melamine products, among others, have been exempted from Value Added Tax and customs duties.

According to Sanjay K. Goyal, the district administrator of West Garo Hills, “at present 50 vendors, 25 each from both sides and around 300 vendees would be allowed to trade in the haat with a maximum transaction of $50 per day”.

Goyal said that both Indian and Bangladeshi currencies would be used and the State Bank of India (SBI) has been authorised as the official authority for currency exchange.

“Every Wednesday, officials from the SBI would be present at the haat for the currency exchange,” the official said.

However, Goyal said traders have been told to wear minimal ornaments to the haat, as asked by the customs, and not to use mobile phones.

The haats would operate within a 1.5-km radius of both sides of the border under close supervision of the border guards and customs officials of both the countries.

India is developing seven Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) on the India-Bangladesh border at Petrapole, Agartala, Dawki, Hili, Chandrabangha, Sutarkhandi and Kawarpuchiah. It’s also developing infrastructure at eight Land Custom Stations along the border at a cost of Rs.108.19 crore.

The Land Custom Stations are Borosora, Dalu, Ghasupara, Mahadipur, Hilli, Phullbari, Srimantpur and Gojadanga. The total projected cost of all the ICPs and Land Custom Stations being developed is $125 million.

Four northeastern states - Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam - share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh, while Meghalaya shares a 443-km border with the 40-year-old nation.

Kalaichar, which is in the western part of Meghalaya, is about 400 km from Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya.

(R. R. Kharmujai can be contacted at rrkharmujai@gmail.com)

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