The trucks — over a thousand of them — are lined up, bumper-to-bumper for nearly six kilometres. It may take up to six days before they can get from one end to the other.
But the long wait doesn’t seem to dampen the buzz here. Ever since trade barriers between India and Pakistan were lowered and an Integrated Check Post (ICP) — providing the infrastructure for trading such as warehouses and weighbridges under one roof — opened at Wagah earlier this year, the talk on the streets of nearby Amritsar and the entire region has been the ongoing trade boom. The excitement is palpable but people in this part of Punjab who are familiar with the often fraught and tangled state of India-Pakistan relations understand that disruptions can also lurk around the corner.
From June to October, Indian customs and the DRI seized 140 kilograms of heroin and 500 live cartridges from separate consignments smuggled into rail bogies carrying cement from Pakistan. This led to intense questioning of importers here and most of them began diverting their imports through trucks. Pakistani exporters followed suit.
Even a year ago, an incident like this would have reduced trade traffic to a trickle. But now, the truckers simply switched over to the more intensely checked truck route so that business does not suffer.
Exports from India, mainly soyabean, vegetables and cotton yarn, increased by over 50% for the April-November period compared to last year — from Rs. 802 crores worth to Rs. 1,237 crores. Imports from Pakistan and Afghanistanthrough Wagah have nearly doubled, from Rs. 544 crores, to Rs. 1,075 crores.
The 118 acre-ICP on the Indian side clears about 200 trucks a day. Harried customs officials say that they are under pressure to increase that number. The Pakistani post is equipped to clear about 50 trucks a day, and they are working on creating an ICP for themselves. Scanners are also being installed at both ends to cut delays.
Currently India can export only 137 items through the Wagah land route, but Pakistan is committed to phasing out by January its negative list that bars import of 1,209 items from India. This could mean a surge in export of wheat and rice — something that Punjab looks forward to eagerly.