The Assam Chronicle

News and Views from Northeast India

Meghalaya-Bangla Cooperation

Guwahati, 15 June - Meghalaya is a key North Eastern state that shares 443 kms of international border with Bangladesh and has socio-cultural, trade and commercial links with the neighbouring country. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has repeatedly emphasised the need of strengthening such ties. In the recent period, both the countries have initiated a number of steps to further broaden and deepen bilateral relationship. Among other things, India and Bangladesh made a commitment in the 51-Point Joint Communique issued during the landmark visit of Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi in January 2010 to reopen the traditional border haats.

Following this, New Delhi and Dhaka signed a Memorendum of Understanding (MoU) on 23 October 2010 on border haats. As per the MoU, trading would be held once in a week in the two border locations—Kalaichar (in West Garo Hills district, Meghalaya) and Baliamari (in Kurigram district, Bangladesh) and an individual would not be able to trade above $50 at such markets. The border haats are designed to promote well-being of the people residing in remote areas across the border of India and Bangladesh by establishing traditional system of marketing of local produce. The vendors who would be allowed to sell their products should be residents of the area within 5 kms radius of these markets. The trading would be conducted in the currencies of the two countries or on a barter basis. The commodities to be traded in the markets include locally produced agriculture and horticulture products, spices, minor forest products excluding timber, fresh and dry fish, diary, fishery and poultry products, cottage industry items, wooden furniture and cane goods and handloom and handicraft items. The list of items allowed for trade in these markets may be expanded or modified by mutual consent.

On 23 July 2011, Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and his Bangladeshi counterpart Muhammad Faruq Khan inaugurated the border haat at Kalaichar in the presence of Mukul Sangma. The haats had been thriving centres of trade and commerce across the borders till the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation in 1971, following which these were abruptly closed. Reports suggest that border haats in Meghalaya existed even during the Mughal period.

The governments of both the countries have decided to revive such traditional markets for the benefit of the people living on either side of the international border. During the inaugural function, they stated that the reopening of the border haat would add new impetus to the economic cooperation between the two countries, restore economic and commercial ties between the people of both sides of the border and reduce informal trade that persists. Mukul Sangma reckons the revival of border haats would help forging friendship and maintaining “conducive atmosphere” in the border areas.

Another haat was subsequently reopened at Balat (in East Khasi Hills district, Meghalaya) and Lauwaghar--Dalora(in Sunamganj district, Bangladesh).In December 2013, Sangma announced that the Meghalaya government is keen to open 22 more haats along the Indo-Bangla borders. It has been estimated that bilateral trade worth $200 million will take place every year from the border haats. The commodities traded at these markets are exempted from the payment of custom duties.