The trading post will help people from both sides sell their locally produced goods

India and Bangladesh opened their first border ‘haat,' or a common marketplace, here on Saturday, reviving the traditional border trade after nearly 40 years.

The ‘haat' is 60 km from Tura, the headquarters of Meghalaya's West Garo Hills district, while Kurigram district of Bangladesh is located just across the river Jinjiram, which flows along the zero line of the border beyond the barbed wire fence on the Indian side.

Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and his Bangladeshi counterpart Muhammad Faruk Khan inaugurated the ‘haat' in the presence of Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul M. Sangma, elected representatives of the two countries and officers of India's Border Security Force and the Border Guards of Bangladesh.

The two Ministers said their governments were committed to strengthening economic ties and opening more such facilities, based on the experience of this revived ‘haat.' The Bangladeshi delegation was accorded a warm welcome when it crossed a bridge over the river and arrived at the ‘haat.'

Market sheds have been constructed to facilitate trade by 25 vendors from each side, who have been identified and trained by both countries to sell their produce. Three hundred people from each side will also be allowed to visit the ‘haat' with passes. The market will work every Wednesday, from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. in the summer and 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. in the winter. Both Indian and Bangladeshi currencies will be accepted by the traders, who will exchange them in banks working in the two border districts. The ‘haats' in these areas were shut down during the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971.

Both Mr. Sharma and Mr. Khan termed the occasion historic and hoped the facility would not only help the people living on both sides of the border to improve their lot through bilateral trade but also strengthen economic and cultural ties. Mr. Sharma said he was confident that the facility would make the border villages more prosperous by way of improved market access for their goods. It was estimated that bilateral trade worth $20 million would take place every year in the ‘haats.'

Mr. Khan said the Chittagong and other ports in Bangladesh could be used by India, Bhutan and Myanmar. Mr. Sharma thanked him for agreeing to allow India to use the Chittagong port, just seven hours from the Dawki land custom station in Meghalaya.

Mr. Sangma recalled his childhood memories of flourishing trade across the border of local produce such as jackfruit, mango and spices by the people living in the hills and on the plains. The shutting-down of ‘haats' had a great impact on farming as well as the livelihood of the people in the border areas.

“We are very happy to have this trade facility here. For me, this ‘haat' has a special significance, as I was always looking forward to strengthening the people-to-people ties. I still remember with gratitude the food and accommodation we were given for one full month at the royal palace of Koch King of India,” said Mohammad Ali Sarkar, a Bangladesh liberation war veteran.

He came down with melamine products worth Rs. 3000 to be traded on the inaugural day. China's proxy presence in the ‘haat' was evident from the fact that the large carton in which Mr. Sarkar had brought the product carried the ‘Made in China' mark.

Mr. Sharma unfurled the Indian flag, while Mr. Khan unfurled the Bangladesh flag, amid singing of the national anthems. Cultural presentation by Indian dance troupes of the Garo, Koch and Hajong tribes and by troupes from Bangladesh added to the bonhomie.

In his speech, Shellac and Forest Products Export Promotion Council chairman Sudhir A Merchant hoped that the revival of ‘haats' would greatly reduce the informal trade and help ensure the food security of people in the border areas, besides strengthening the economic cooperation.

More on the anvil

Haroon Habib reports from Dhaka

Dhaka and New Delhi signed an agreement in October last year to set up two border ‘haats.' The two countries have also identified 13 items — locally grown agricultural and manufactured finished products — for being traded at these facilities.

An official release issued in Dhaka said that in addition to the ‘haats,' both countries were working on several projects to improve trade infrastructure and connectivity.