The chill in India-Pakistan relations after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks has now spilt over to the area of trade at people-to-people level at the ongoing India International Trade Fair here.
Faced with what they consider multiple problems and harassment in exhibiting their goods brought from across the border, a 132-strong traders’ delegation from Pakistan which is taking part in the IITF is having a re-think over their future participation in the fair held here annually.
With nine days of the fair gone, the traders are still struggling with the Customs authorities and India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) officials to get their goods. The commodities are lying at a warehouse in containers and are being scrutinised and cleared at a snail’s pace. “The screening of containers is being done at a very slow pace. It is a tedious process where first the Customs give the clearance, then the Military Intelligence (MI) steps in, followed by the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Delhi Police. What is even worse is that only one person has been deployed for granting Customs clearance to the containers,” says Amin Khatri, Chairman of the Fairs and Exhibition Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Mr. Khatri along with his colleagues is in constant touch with the ITPO authorities to speed up the clearance. “We had 13 containers with us. Only five to six containers have been cleared till date and with hardly a week’s time left for the exhibition to close, it is a very unfortunate situation. Our five to six stalls are lying without any goods. We appreciate the stringent security arrangements, but at least they could deploy adequate staff to grant clearances. The general feeling among the traders is that Pakistan should not participate in any future fairs here,’’ he says.
A number of traders complain about inadequate storage space in the Pragati Maidan. They say they are not being allowed to hire private godowns to store goods. Worse, the entire Pakistani delegation has not been given the digital security cards to access the Pragati Maidan. “We were given only 90 digital cards. Out of these, 17 defective ones were returned. We are still to get those back and now have been given some temporary passes, which are valid only for four days,” Mr. Khatri says.
However, the ITPO officials refute the allegations saying that the changed security scenario had forced them to adopt stringent measures. “We are in touch with the traders from Pakistan. Containers will be released if they have complete documents. We cannot overrule the Customs authorities. Due to security concerns, this year we have not allowed any storage inside the complex but adequate space has been given to Pakistan traders in the exhibition area,’’ says ITPO GM Safdar Khan.
According to Mr. Khan, the problem was that they wanted to sell the goods outside the exhibition area and even after the trade fair is closed. This could not be allowed. “We had informed all countries four months ago that nobody would be allowed to keep containers in Pragati Maidan. It is unfair on their part to complain like this.’’