Border Haats

The opening up of the Kalaichar border haat a traditional export market at the border between Bangladesh and Meghalaya is heartening. This is likely to trigger commercial exchanges, particularly of perishables in the form of fruit and vegetables from the Meghalaya side of the border and vice versa. Earlier, much of the exchange of goods from both sides of the border was by way of smuggling, thereby depriving the State of valuable revenue. Smuggling being a surreptitious activity the quantum of goods sent across was limited. Now border trade can become a regular livelihood for people residing on both sides of the divide. With the coming of Sheikh Hasina at the helm of Bangladesh’s politics, relations between India and Bangladesh have improved tremendously. The dismantling of militant hideouts belonging to some of the most recalcitrant groups from North East India have actually facilitated peace talks between the groups and the Government of India. This would not have happened otherwise. Both India and Bangladesh have a lot to gain from each other. For the land-locked North East India the opening up of border trading stations is a major economic boost. Chittagong port could facilitate trade between North East India and South East Asia, a trade route that is far more viable than looking towards markets in India. This is what the Look East Policy (LEP) has been aiming at.

So far the LEP has benefited states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu which have robust ports and through which systematic trade has carried on with countries of South East Asia. The North East has gained nothing at all from the Policy but neither have the seven states made it their talking point with the Centre. It is high time that all chief ministers of the North Eastern states make border trade with Bangladesh a priority since nearly all the states with the exception of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur share common borders with the neighbouring country. From border haats where minor trading activities are carried out on a small scale the goal should be for more Land Customs Stations like Moreh in the Manipur-Myanmar border where trade of a more substantial nature can take place. But India has to keep pushing Bangladesh to open up Chittagong port for mutual commercial growth.

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