Rupa Debroy, Delhi / Richa Sayantika, Calcutta
Indian home secretary Ajay Bhalla has shot off a letter to West Bengal chief secretary Rajive Sinha, seeking explanation why bilateral trade through the Petrapole-Benapole corridor with Bangladesh has not taken off so far.
Bhalla pointed out in the letter that Delhi has decided to resume border trade with Bangladesh on this corridor more than ten days ago.West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed the move pointing to concerns over the spread of the Covid pandemic .”How can Delhi start the trade through Petrapole-Benapole when the pandemic is assuming serious proportions in Bangladesh,” Mamata Banerjee had told the media in Calcutta.But the Indian Home secretary said Bengal’s refusal to cooperate in starting the border trade with Bangladesh was ‘tantamount to serious violations of Art 253, 256 and 257 of the Indian constitution.” Bhalla said in the letter to Rajive Sinha that the Home Ministry, after due consideration of all factors , had decided to resume trade through select corridors with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal , on April 24.”It is incumbent on your state government to cooperate with our effort to resume trade with our neighbouring countries where demand for essential commodities is soaring,” the letter to Sinha said.The letter from Bhalla said that large number of trucks carrying essential commodities were stuck on both sides of the border because the West Bengal government was not cooperating.Trade with foreign countries is central subject under Indian constitution, as is the power to make treaties with foreign governments .Article 253 of the Indian Constitution says : ” Legislation for giving effect to international agreements.—Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.” Ajay Bhalla in his letter to chief secretary Sinha said that the new Home Ministry guidelines published on May 1 clearly lays down that no state has the power to obstruct bilateral trade with a neighbouring country.
“By obstructing the resumption of border trade with Bangladesh, the West Bengal government is creating hurdles for Indian government in its attempt to implement relevant trade agreement signed between Indian and Bangladesh government. These trade agreements have been validated by the Indian parliament and made into law and no state has the right to prevent its implementation,” Bhalla warned Sinha in his letter.
Bhalla asked Sinha to ensure his government took all necessary steps without any further delay for resumption of border trade with Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries.
West Bengal watchers say this marks a new low in Centre-Bengal relations , but one which has constitutional and not mere political implications.
“The Centre is clearly building a case against the West Bengal government in the rundown to the state assembly elections next year. It centers round documentating cases of flagrant violations of the Indian constitution by overstepping the limits of law,” says commentator Sukhoranjan Dasgupta.
Dasgupta , a well known author on West Bengal and Bangladesh, says Mamata Banerjee should know her ‘constitutional limits ‘ .”She has obstructed the Teesta water sharing agreement and created huge hurdles in bilateral relations with Bangladesh. Now she is creating hurdles in conduct of border trade also. This is not only unethical but unconstitutional,” said Dasgupta. He said the people on both side of the borders were suffering due to lockdown and closure of bilateral trade.”Only the smugglers are benefiting .”