Agartala: The border trade between India and Bangladesh has come as a boon to people in land-locked Tripura, who were at a disadvantageous position compared to people in other states when it comes to availability of goods.
Kolkata is 1,700 km from Agartala, while Dhaka and Chittagong are within 140 km range of Tripura. Goods from these two cities are made available in Tripura through Land Customs Stations.
"We can take the advantage of proximity and therefore reduced transport cost to get the commodities here easily," Prashanta Bhattacharya, President of Indo-Bangla Chamber of Commerce, Tripura Chapter, said.
This is despite the fact that there is a huge trade imbalance between the two countries in favour of India. However, the picture is totally different when it comes to trade between Tripura and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh exported goods worth Rs 342.65 crore to Tripura last year, while it imported goods worth just Rs 0.41 crore only, according to Union Ministry of Commerce data.
"The trade gap between Bangladesh and Tripura is huge, but still we gain because the products are being available in the state market," Bhattacharya said.
The trade will get a further boost when the 15 km railway track connecting Agartala and Akhaura in Bangladesh is completed by 2015, facilitating setting up of four more border markets, he said.
Not only availability of goods, the enhanced border trade has led to employment generation as well, Secretary of Tripura Chamber of Commerce M L Debnath said.
Tripura is bound by Bangladesh on three sides constituting 85 percent of the state`s total border.
It has seven Land Custom Stations which are Agartala, Srimantapur (Sonamura), Khowaighat (Khowai), Manu (Kailashahar), Old Raghnabazar (Dharmanagar), Belonia (South Tripura) and Sabroom (South Tripura).
Informal trade through some points of the border has also contributed its part in the goods availability, Pabitra Kar, former chairman of the Tripura Industrial Development Corporation, said. "Earlier before Partition, the border was open and people-to-people contact was close. So, informal trade continued due to proximity and virtual absence of linguistic and cultural differences," Kar said.
There is no Land Custom Station in many areas of the border, where informal trade flourishes.
"Now we need to formalise the informal trade so that trade occurs legally and government also earn revenues. The only options remaining with us is formation of Border Haat," Chowdhury said.
One border haat is complete at Srinagar in Sabroom which may be inaugurated any time and another border haat is being erected at Kamalasagar in Sipahijala district, he said.
The decision to set up border haats in different parts of the Northeast was taken in a meeting between the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, and her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in January, 2010.
The objective of setting up of such markets on the border to encourage selling and buying of locally produced goods.
The haat which was constructed at Srinagar this year would be officially inaugurated after getting permission from the Ministries of Commerce of India and Bangladesh.
Altogether four border haats would be constructed in Tripura. The two others are at Kamalpur in Dhalai district and Dharmanagar in North Tripura district.
Business in the market (haat) would take place once a week among the people living within 5 km radius of the border who would sell and buy locally produced goods and crops. No local taxes would be imposed on the items to be sold in the haats and currencies of both the countries would prevail.
Initially 16 items are shortlisted which include agricultural and horticultural crops, spices, minor forest products excluding timber, fish and dry fish, dairy and poultry products, cottage industry items, wooden furniture, handloom and handicraft items etc.