India-Bangladesh Border Haat: Not just a place to buy cosmetics or dry fish, a reunion spot for families living on both sides too
Cosmetic items, especially Indian lipsticks, printed saris, baby food, toffees and biscuits to dry fish are in high demand in the India-Bangladesh Border Haat. Fish and vegetables too are high in demand among the buyers.
However, Indian buyers have a grievance. The ‘hilsa’ fish, which is so close to their hearts, is not available in the market.
Bangladeshis visiting the “Border Haats” too have a demand. They want to buy Indian beef cattle. Bangladeshi officials were told that Indian customs did not allow sale of cattle in the border markets.
A Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) jawan stands guard at Kamalasagar “Border Haat” Photo : Bilko Bhowmik
In 2012, Bangladesh banned the export of hilsa to other countries so that Bangladeshis were not deprived of the fish, a delicacy for Bengalis. Hilsa or ilish or elish, which migrates from sea water to fresh water to breed, is widely consumed in India and Bangladesh in a variety of delicious dishes.
Thanks to the winding porous India-Bangladesh border, hilsa from the Padma river in Bangladesh is brought to the Indian markets through legal and illegal trade and sold for as high as Rs. 1,200-Rs 2,000 a kg.
“Recently I had lunch at a hotel in Agartala. While making payments, I was dumbfounded as the owner of the hotel took Rs 600 a piece of hilsa fish weighing around 200 grams,” said Sekhar Banerjee, who along with his family came to Tripura during recent Durga Puja festival.
The two “Border Haats” in Tripura have also become a reunion spot for the people across the international border.
A vendor selling vegetables at the Border Haat at Kamalasagar in western Tripura adjoining Bangladesh’s Brahmanbaria district. Photo : Bilko Bhowmik
Hasem Mia and Janardhan Sarkar (of Bangladesh’s Brahmanbaria district) along with their families came to Kamalasagar “Border Haat” (in Western Tripura’s Sepahijala District) to buy some select goods. They were pleasantly surprised to meet their close relatives in the “Haat”.
“We did not buy anything from the market. Throughout the day, we shared about our personal and family lives with each other as we met after many years. My uncle Bijan Sarkar, along with his family, came to India (Tripura) before liberation war (1971) and settled in the country. We have met for the first time since then. It was the most emotional moment in our life. We can’t describe in words how we felt,” Janardhan Sarkar said.
Sukumar Roy, a resident of Tripura capital Agartala, says that he does not have a passport but has been longing to meet his cousin (in Narayanganj near Dhaka) for a long time. “We talked over phone and decided to meet at the Kamalasagar “Border Haat”. We purchased some clothes, but our long-waited wish realised today as the two families met each other after more than 30 years,” a cheerful Roy said.
India and Bangladesh opened their first “Border Haat” at Kalaichar on the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district (opposite to Sylhet district of Bangladesh) on 23rd July, 2011 reviving the traditional border trade after nearly 40 years.
Border Haat at Kamalasagar attracts large number of buyers from both India and Bangladesh. Photo : Bilko Bhowmik
After that three more “Border Haats” have been set up in Balat along Meghalaya-Bangladesh border and Kamlasagar (along Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh) and Srinagar (opposite to Feni district of Bangladesh) along Tripura-Bangladesh border.
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla during his Tripura visit last month told this writer that 20 additional “Border Haats” would be set up gradually along the India Bangladesh frontiers. India’s commerce ministry has already approved eight to ten such “Border Haat”.
A report of the Ministry of Home Affairs states that India is keen to set up 70 “Border Haats” along its 4,096-km border with Bangladesh, including a 1,116-km riverine boundary.
The governments of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram too have proposed the setting up of 15 such ‘Haats’ along the India-Myanmar border for trans-border trade and business.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar accompanied by union Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurating the Srinagar “Border Haat”. Photo : Bilko Bhowmik
At the Srinagar “Border Haat” in southern Tripura, commodities worth Rs 4 lakh 24 thousand 107 are sold on an average every market day while in the Kamlasagar “Border Haat” in western Tripura commodities worth Rs 14 lakh 89 thousand 189 are sold on an average each market day.
There is an important tourist spot in Kamlasagar itself and several tourist spots on way to Srinagar “Border Haat” in southern Tripura. Those, who went to these “Border Haats” from far-away places or from state capital Agartala, they enjoyed both –- marketing in “Border Haats” and stopover in tourists’ spots.
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. Both Indian and Bangladeshi currencies are accepted by the traders, who exchange these in banks working in the two border districts. Trading takes place once a week among the people living within five-kilometre radius of the border. The 'haats' are operated within 150 yards of the zero line of the international border with one part on the Indian side and the other in Bangladesh.
Trading in full-swing at the Kamalasagar “Border Haat” in western Tripura. Photo : Pinaki Das
No local tax is levied on the items sold. Around 16 items have been shortlisted for trading at the 'haats'.
The items include agricultural and horticultural products, spices, minor forest products (excluding timber), fresh and dry fish, dairy and poultry products, cottage industry commodities, handloom and handicraft products, garments and others.
The border haat management committee (BHMC) comprising officials of concerned districts of India and Bangladesh are periodically reviewing the functioning of the “Border Haats” and suitable taking corrective steps.
These types of unorganised ‘haats' in the India-Bangladesh bordering areas were shut down during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.
Tripura Commerce and Industry minister Tapan Chakraborty said India and Bangladesh governments have already decided to set up two more “Border Haats” at Palbasti (Raghna) and Kamalpur in northern Tripura adjoining Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh. Rs 2.92 crore and Rs 2.88 crore respectively would be spend by India’s Commerce ministry to set up the two new border haats.
Jaipur based Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), an NGO, has been strongly advocating for more India-Bangladesh border trade and “Border Haats.”
“Since early 1990s India and Bangladesh have pursued trade liberalisation policies with the vision of accomplishing political, economic cooperation and to promote regional trade but the ground reality is that there are several barriers those prevent direct trade between India-Bangladesh in specific agriculture commodities which can be a game changer and win-win situation for both the nations,” Prithviraj Nath, Associate Director of CUTS said.
He said that a study found that there are huge opportunities for trade in agri-produce across the borders. This is particularly relevant for Tripura and other north-eastern states as at present these states gets a lot of agricultural commodities from far away Indian states including West Bengal, at a relatively higher cost and longer time but can be easily imported from the nearby areas across Bangladesh with a much cheaper price but not happening because there are regulatory barriers to import agricultural commodities.
CUTS’s official further shared that while such regulations towards ensuring safety of plant, animal and human life in India are legitimate; there are ways to facilitate trade in such items without compromising the safety.
(Sujit Chakraborty is a senior journalist based in Agartala. He was conferred the National Award for Excellence in Journalism by the President of India in 2015. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)