New India-Bangladesh MoU to expand ‘Border Haats’
Guwahati, Nov 1 (IANS) The agreement signed in October 2010 between India and Bangladesh for setting up ‘Border Haats’ expired in 2013, but four such markets continue to operate and six more are likely to come up soon.
Indian and Bangladeshi officials say that a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) to operate ‘Border Haats’ would be signed by this year-end or early next year.
The ‘Border Haats’ are aimed at creating a traditional system of marketing local produce through local markets in local currency or on a barter basis, thereby promoting the well-being of the people living in remote areas, along both sides of the border.
“Since October 2, 2013, the ‘Border Haats’ have been operational in good faith, as the three-year period of agreement had expired. The two countries have exchanged the draft of the new MoU,” Mohd Waliur Rahman, Director in Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a seminar organised by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in Guwahati.
The period of the new MoU has been proposed for five years against three years the last time, while the number of vendors in each ‘Border Haat’ would be increased to 50 against the existing 25, he added.
The value of purchases per person have also been doubled to $200. Trading could be carried out in these weekly markets in both Indian and Bangladeshi currencies.
“Setting up of “Border Haats” is one of the measures to further boost India-Bangladesh relations, through people to people contact,” Rahman later told IANS.
During the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January 2010, it was agreed that such markets should be set up on a pilot basis at selected areas along the Indo-Bangla border to allow trade in specified products in accordance with the regulations agreed upon by the two governments.
Accordingly, Bangladesh and India signed an MoU in this regard in October 2010.
India and Bangladesh opened their first ‘Border Haat’ at Kalaichar on the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district in 2011, reviving the traditional border trade after nearly 40 years.
Addressing the seminar, Indian Commerce Ministry’s Joint Secretary Bhupinder Singh Bhalla said that the Indian and Bangladesh governments have already agreed to set up 10 more ‘Border Haats’ and the process has already been initiated to set up six such ‘haats’ — four along the Meghalaya border and two along the Tripura border.
“Various infrastructural issues relating to ‘Border Haats’ would be incorporated in the new MoU and it would be signed by the end of this year or early next year,” Bhalla said, adding that the ‘Border Haats’ concept is not a revenue-earning scheme. “This is to further increase relations between the two neighbours at the grassroots level.”
CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that after the setting up of the four ‘Border Haats’, the informal and illegal trade between India and Bangladesh had come down significantly.
World Bank’s Operations Officer (Regional Integration – South Asia) Mohini Datt said that number of women vendors must be increased in these ‘Haats’.
“Women’s participation in the ‘Border Haats’ would make the scheme more meaningful and purposeful. In many countries including African nations, the ‘Border Haats’ scheme has achieved tremendous success,” she added.
Top officials, policy makers, parliamentarians, experts, representatives of various stakeholders and trading bodies from India, Bangladesh and Bhutan attended the one-day seminar.
Four northeastern states of India — Tripura (856 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Mizoram (318 km) and Assam (263 km) — together share a 1,880-km border with Bangladesh.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)