Re-open India-Bangladesh border haats at the earliest: CUTS International and Unnayan Shamannay

June 26, 2020, Kolkata

“Existing border haats along the India-Bangladesh border need to be re-opened at the earliest and after adopting appropriate precautionary measures related to health and hygiene,” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International. He further added that the border haats are important for maintaining and ensuring peace, security, stability and prosperity in the border regions where they exist.

He was moderating an Expert Group Meeting on the functioning and impacts of border haats, organized by CUTS International, India and Unnayan Shamannay, Bangladesh as part of a project supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development under its Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Programme.

Eminent experts from both India and Bangladesh participated at the webinar and provided their views and suggestions in this regard. Researchers from CUTS International and Unnayan Shamannay presented their findings on Border Haats between India and Bangladesh as a Tool to Reduce Informal Cross-border Trade between the Two Countries” ().

Some of them included Pritam Banerjee Logistics Sector Specialist, Asian Development Bank; AK Enamul Haque, Professor of Economics at the East-West University, Dhaka; Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation; Anu Sareen, Programme Manager, Asia Regional, DFID, New Delhi office; Mr. Sabyasachi Dutta Founder-Director, Asian Confluence; Sudhir Chandra Nath, Head of Business, ACI Ltd; Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies; Monoj Kumar Roy, Former Additional Secretary (Free Trade Aagreements), Ministry of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh; Tania Haque, Professor of Women and Gender Studies, Dhaka University.

Speaking on the occasion, Atiur Rahman, Past Governor of the Bangladesh Bank and Chairperson, Unnayan Shamannay, also emphasized that the border haats have reinforced the narrative that cross-border trade leads to increased security and economic prosperity. Given the significance of the border haats in maintaining a vibrant economy at the local level, especially in remote border areas, he highlighted the need for re-opening of the border haats without any delays.

According to Mohit Sippy, Senior Programme and Policy Manager, Asia Regional at the New Delhi office of the Department for International Development, a perception has been created that border haats have a significant positive impact on the women-folks in the border regions. This needs to be up-scaled so as to empower and make them economically more independent. He emphasised on the role of the border haats in achieving greater cooperation between India and Bangladesh in areas where local communities are key drivers.

Owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, the four border haats were closed for an indefinite period of time. It is believed that prolonged closure of those haats will lead to economic impoverishment of the local communities in those areas. This, in turn, is expected to force them to get re-engaged with informal cross-border trade, which was otherwise drastically reduced as a result of the functioning of the border haats.

Experts felt that border haats should be considered as an opportunity in this time of crisis. They can be used as a platform for trade in agricultural commodities so as to ensure food security of local communities in both the countries. In addition, they could also facilitate trade between India and Bangladesh on health and hygiene products such as face mask, personal protective equipment, soap, hand sanitizer, which are either not available in border villages or costly. It was also felt that the haats could act as a platform to facilitate awareness generation about the Covid-19.

In was also highlighted that in the long-run border haats could be used to promote cross-border value chains in agriculture, horticulture products and spices at the local level. Kalaichar-Baliamari is already acting as a platform facilitating beetle nut value chain. A futuristic approach for the development of the border regions was also discussed in respect to re-imagining and up-scaling of the border haats as border economic zones.

Considering the benefits emanating from the existing border haats, it was also proposed that India and Myanmar should engage in dialogues about establishing such markets along their border to generate livelihood opportunities for the people residing in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Udai Mehta, Deputy Executive Director of CUTS International, concluded the meeting by underlining the need for consolidating the inputs received from the experts to strengthen the recommendations to be provided to the respective governments in India and Bangladesh to facilitate the re-opening of the border haats in near future and their up-scaling in the medium to long-term.

‘Border Haat’ is a once-a-week semi-formal market, which allows local people from both the countries to trade in vegetables, fruits, spices, food items, agri-implements, cosmetics, toiletries, garments, melamine products, aluminum products, bamboo products, plastic products, fruit juice, processed food items and other such indigenous products. They are located on the zero line of the border between India and Bangladesh and each buyer is allowed to buy commodities worth up to U$ two hundred dollars a day.

At present, four of them are operational, two of which are in Tripura (namely, Kamalasagar-Kasba and Srinagar-Chhagalnaiya) and the other two in Meghalaya (namely, Balat-Dolora and Kalaichar-Baliamari). Six more are being established along the Bangladesh’s border with the Indian states of Meghalaya and Tripura.

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