The chill in the India-Pakistan relations after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks has now spilled onto the area of trade at people-to-people level at the ongoing India International Trade Fair (IITF).

"Faced with what they say are 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 rethinking their future participation, held here annually."

With nine days of the fair gone, the traders are still struggling with the customs authorities and the Indian 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,” said Amin Khatri, chairman, Fairs and Exhibition Committee of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Mr. Kharti along with his colleagues is in constant touch with the ITPO authorities to expedite the clearance. “We had got 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 held here,” he said.

A number of traders complained about inadequate storage space in the Pragati Maidan. They said they were not being allowed to hire private godowns to store goods. Worse is that 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 this, 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 said.

Officials deny charges

However, the ITPO officials refuted 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,” General Manager, ITPO, Safdar Khan, said.

Mr. Khan said 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 that nobody would be allowed to keep containers in the Pragati Maidan. It is unfair upon their part to complain like this,” he added.

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