Border Haats and their Socio-Economic Impact

“The present experiences will prompt Governments of both the countries to provide a stronger base to the six haats that have been contemplated in addition to the four that exist in Meghalaya-Rangpur/Sylhet and Tripura-Chittagong in the revised Memorandum of Understanding between Bangladesh and India,” said B S Bhalla, Joint Secretary (South Asia/SAARC/SAFTA), Department of Commerce, Government of India, while delivering the keynote address to the consultation meeting on “Border Haats and their Socio-Economic Impact”, which is being carried out by CUTS International under the aegis of the World Bank.

Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International welcomed participants drawn from all stakeholders and Government officials of India and Bangladesh, and highlighted the relevance of this meeting for purpose of putting across relevant recommendations for promoting border haats along the border between the two countries.

Mohini Datt, Operations Officer, Regional Integration (South Asia), World Bank flagged off the daylong discussions on the subject by stressing the need to look at how these haats will shape up in future by drawing inspirations and lessons from instances of border markets across the world. While appreciating the social and economic benefits that accrue to local residents on both sides of the border, Shirin Akhter, Member of Parliament from Bangladesh said that this initiative must be viewed in the larger context of Indo-Bangladesh relations and the bonds that the two countries have shared all through their histories.

The presentation of the key findings by Prithviraj Nath, Associate Director and Policy Analyst, CUTS International was followed by deliberations which seem to throw up several implications for future policy on border haat trade. While border haats have opened up an avenue for improving standards of living of people residing around the areas, they have also facilitated to some extent, women empowerment and people-to-people connectivity. Vendors, who were present at the meeting drew attention to infrastructural inadequacies and other loop-holes and anomalies in the rules and regulations that govern border haat trade.

Proposals for strengthening the management and administration of haats as also increasing the number of vendorships were also considered. What seem to emerge unmistakably was that border haat trade has generated a win-win situation for all stakeholders by creating an enabling atmosphere for not only traders to flourish, but has also created opportunities for several people to derive incomes or income-supplements as seen in the case of labourers, transporters and other service providers.

A general consensus among the participants was that border haats could be viewed as an ambitious beginning for trade between two peoples at the local levels, it could also subsequently merge the pent-up desire for more intense trade in other platforms like Land Customs Stations.