Border haats should be looked as a means for border area development: CUTS International

March 11, 2021

“To up-scale the India-Bangladesh border haats initiative, we need to work much more closely with the security agencies across the border, in state capitals and national capitals,” argued Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.

He was speaking at a webinar organised by CUTS International, India and Unnayan Shamannay, Bangladesh to discuss the ‘need for up-scaling India-Bangladesh border haats – what, why and how’. An eminent group of panellists talked about looking at the border haats as a nucleus for attaining cross-border peace, security, stability and prosperity.

The webinar was based on three recently published briefing papers as part of a project on India-Bangladesh Border Haats supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom, under its Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Programme.

Speaking on the occasion, Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director, Asian Confluence, and one of the authors of those briefing papers, emphasised on enabling local people to witness real benefits of developmental initiatives. He said that border haats should be perceived as a part of ‘Border Co-prosperity Zone’ promoting inclusive growth.

“This generational shift can be achieved by trade, transit and tourism aiming at building better trust among the communities across the border,” he added.

He also suggested organising curated programmes, conferences, cultural events at the border haats so as to create better stories for the media. “The spotlight should be on development at the border and not through the border.”

According to Mahbuba Nasrin, Professor and Director, Institute of Disaster Management & Vulnerability Studies, Dhaka, “Border haats have facilitated the participation of women in border areas in economic activities. They instilled confidence in them that they are capable to run business.”

She also mentioned that cultural identity of women and social construct of the locality along with women-friendly infrastructure can play a significant role in driving them to enhance their participation in the border haats.

“In order to enhance women’s participation, focus should be on creating a better environment by looking at a number of parameters such as financial support, flexible hours, provision for skill and capacity enhancement, awareness generation for gender sensitive community building, etc.”

Asjadul Kibria, Planning Editor of The Financial Express of Bangladesh emphasised on the role of media in presenting case studies on the border haats for generating knowledge and understanding about their effectiveness among the common people. Highlighting how distorted information pertaining to micro details of a story poses serious challenges, he said, “There is also a problem of perspective”.

He pointed out that the foreign ministry should play a critical role in channelising the media to do investigative stories on on-the-ground models like the border haats and publish such vital information as a means of confidence building across the border.

Nisha Taneja, Professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi, talked about the advantages that the border haats bring to the table like enabling cross-border exchange of goods with least procedural compliances.

“The border haats have been a significant driver of employment in the border region, boosting cross-border economic activities. However, it remains to be seen if reservations for women traders can become a reality,” she added.

She also mentioned that existing border haats could be up-scaled by increasing the number of vendors, the list of commodities traded, frequency of the haats and by providing additional services such as healthcare facilities.

According to Tania Haque, Professor, Department of Women & Gender Studies, Dhaka University: “The focus between the two countries has always been on big issues. But, there is a need to prioritise local issues affecting the daily lives of the people living in border areas.”

Ratul Baruah, a senior journalist, formerly associated with Meghalaya Guardian as News Editor, suggested that while making policies regarding the border haats the demands of the border communities should be taken into consideration and that is where the role of the media comes in.

According to Monoj Kumar Roy, Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh: “In order to escalate the benefits of the border haats a demand assessment study should be conducted across the border and accordingly border communities should be capacitated so that they can easily sell those products”.

Delivering his concluding remarks, Bipul Chatterjee underlined the need for further engaging with the border communities to identify specific issues and accordingly make policy recommendations at the local, state and national levels. In this regard, he emphasised on further empowering the Border Haats Management Committees as they are in a better position to resolve most of the specific issues.

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