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Gorky Chakraborty and Asok K Ray
Date of Publish: 2015-09-03

Handcarts on bad bridge push Mizoram’s border trade with Myanmar

 

Gorky Chakraborty and Asok K Ray

 

Trucks normally carry organised border trade between two countries forward. At Zokhawthar on the Mizoram-Myanmar border, the onus is on handcarts and motorcycles with wooden carriers.

A weather-beaten potholed iron bridge on river Tiao – the natural boundary between the two countries – is the primary reason. Poor approach roads make trading activities that much harder.

According to the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, India’s eight-state Northeast has 38 land customs stations (LCS). More than 12 of these are non-functional including two out of four along the 1,624 km India-Myanmar border – at Pangsau Pass in Arunachal Pradesh and Avankhu in Nagaland.

Apart from Zokhawthar in Mizoram’s Champhai district, the functional LCS on this border is at Moreh in Manipur. Mizoram expects at least one more LCS at Tlabung in Lunglei district after official clearance.

The Zokhawthar LCS was inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman on 25 March 2015. The formal opening came more than 20 years after the governments of India and Myanmar signed the Border Trade Agreement in 1994 to establish border trade relations.  

The 1994 agreement allowed customary exchange of 22 locally produced commodities. In 2008, 18 more items were added to the list and in 2012, another 22 items were included. The number of trade items now stands at 62. (  See Table: I)

Occupying 18.5 bighas of land, the LCS is strategically located on the banks of Tiao and faces the border bridge across it. The bridge sports so many potholes that the Champhai Transport Union and Zokhawthar Welfare Association made an agreement not to allow goods-laden vehicles (in excess of 15 tons) to cross from either side. Goods are thus unloaded from trucks near the approach of the bride at one end, transported by vendors on small hand-pulled wooden carts and reloaded on trucks at the other end. Vendors also carry vegetables and other items on motorcycles – called ‘125’ because of their engine capacity – fitted with wooden carriers.

The condition of the bridge, though, is better than its approach roads. The 29km single-lane Tiao Road to Zokhawthar, being upgraded to double lane by the Border Road Organisation, is dilapidated. The road on the Myanmar side to Kalemyo via Tidim-Falam is a dirt track that hinders the movement of people, goods and services.

Two bailey bridges on river Tiao have been proposed under the Border Area Development Programme for improving border trade at the composite Zokhawthar LCS that accommodates the agriculture, Central Customs, police and immigration departments and a branch of State Bank of India (See Table: II).

Though officially in place, many of the necessary export-import facilities are non-operational. These include (besides what is not listed in the table) inadequate road infrastructure and connectivity between Zokhawthar and district headquarters Champhai and beyond, skilled workforce and manpower resources, non-availability of food testing facilities notified by Directorate General of Health Services at Zokhawthar on the Indian side and at Rih on the Myanmar side. The connecting roads in the Myanmar side of the border are also in a bad shape, discouraging transportation of bulk commodities. The handcarts make an adverse statement too.

Zokhawthar LCS thus has a long way to go before it can really act as a facilitator for trade between India and Myanmar.

 

Table I: India-Myanmar Border Trade Items

Table II: Facilities at Zokhawthar Land Custom Station

Facilities

Available

Not available

(N)

Warehouse

Y

 

Cold storage

 

N

Weigh bridge

Y(NF)

 

Food testing facilities notified by DGHS

L

N

Electricity

Irregular

 

Telephone

Y

 

Internet

Y

 

Post office

 

N

Fax

 

N

Bank

Y(NF)

 

LoC facilities

 

N

Photocopier

 

N

Parking place

Y

 

Transhipment platform

 

N

Transit shed

 

N

Vehicle service

 

N

Food canteen

 

N

Drinking water

Y

 

Rest room

Y

 

Health facility

 

N

Hotels

Y (One)

 

Entry and exit gates

Y

 

Y-Yes, N-No, NF-Non-functional, L-Limited to Vegetable, Apple, Watermelon, Quarantine in small quantity

 

 [This is part of a study supported by The Northeast Desk, National Foundation for India, New Delhi and conducted by Gorky Chakraborty and Asok K Ray at Institute of Development Studies Kolkata]

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