A detailed study on ‘border haats’ (local trading enclaves) on the India-Bangladesh frontier has pitched for more such haats and for opening the four existing ones after their closure following the outbreak of Covid pandemic.
The report ‘ India-Bangladesh Border Haats : Yesterday, Today and Tommorow” has been produced by the Consumers Unity Trust (CUTS) International in partnership with Unnayan Shamanoy , Bangladesh and financed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office of UK.
Currently, four border haats are operational along the India-Bangladesh border. Two border haats are located in Meghalaya at Kalaichar and Balat and two are located in Tripura at Srinagar and Kamalasagar. But the demand for more and more ‘border haats not only on India’s border with Bangladesh but also on the country’s borders with Myanmar.
The CUTS -Unnayan Shamanoy report says that the impact of border haats on the income and livelihood of the local communities has been immense.
“The operationalisation of border haats has led to the generation of alternative employment opportunities and reduce outmigration, provided additional income support; and in the process led to a significant decline in the informal trade between India and Bangladesh that was happening through these border points earlier,” the report said.
It contended that the border haats are also important for “promoting cross border value chains in agri-horticulture products and spices at the local levels.”
The report said that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a suspension of the haat operations for an indefinite period.
“This is likely to cause economic impoverishment of the local communities. Also, shrinking employment opportunities might force the local communities to reengage in informal cross border trade. Given the importance of the border haats for the lives and livelihood of the local communities, there is a need to reopen the border haats, but without compromising with the health and hygiene safety of the participants,” the report said.
The report argued the need to revisit the earlier protocols and revise them, there is also a need for putting in place appropriate infrastructure.
” Once re-opened, the haats can serve as a market for new products like a face mask, hand sanitisers, personal protection equipment, etc. Local women folk who are engaged in tailoring can produce face masks and sell them through the border haats which will buttress income opportunities.”
The report said that the smooth functioning of the Border Haats may also be complemented by other initiatives of the Government of India.
“One such significant initiative is the The Government of India’s decision to implement the Shekatkar Committee recommendations6 related to creating border infrastructure.”
The Government has accepted and implemented three important recommendations of the Committee of Experts (CoE) under the Chairmanship of Lt General D B Shekatkar (Retd) relating to border infrastructure. These were related to speeding up road construction, Given the importance of the border haats for the lives and livelihood of the local communities, there is a need to re-open the border haats, but without compromising with the health and hygiene safety of the participants leading to socio-economic development in the border areas.
On the matter related to creating border infrastructure, the government has implemented the recommendation of CoE to outsource road construction work beyond the optimal capacity of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
It has been made mandatory to adopt Engineering Procurement Contract (EPC) mode for execution of all works costing more than Rs 100 crores.
“Such complementary initiatives may facilitate the journey of vehicles to and from the Border Haats and also prevent congestion of traffic at the approach to Border Haats.”
The report said : “Suspending the border haats for an indefinite period will dilute the benefits accruing to the local communities, and hence there is an urgent need to re-open the border haats while at the same time ensuring health safety and hygiene standards of the participants .”
It claimed that the demand for ‘Border Haats’ has ‘grown bottomup’ from the states and local districts’ administration.
“Communities, who were isolated, got a new lease of life and the micro-economics of the area greatly improved giving rise to constructive players.”
Several new facets have also been revealed by the CUTS-Unnanyan Shamanoy study :
* Border Haats, if accessible such as that in Kamalasagar, Tripura, has been proven to be a potential tourist destination on the sidelines, increasing the scope and quantum of trading.
* In many cases , families have been united have been reported giving a huge comfort factor to otherwise distressed border communities.
* Almost all border haats have shown a propensity to trade in a larger variety of products that are not necessarily produced within the region. Melamine ware (from Bangladesh) and Cosmetics (from India) are such examples.
* Border Haats have also been instrumental in generating livelihood opportunities for people at the border areas of both the countries that are marred with limited access to development.
* Although the Border Haats are customs-free zones, with restricted/positive lists and the total trade of all Border Haats combined is a minuscule fraction of the formal bilateral trade between the two countries, the haats have proved to be a mechanism to introduce new items of trade that otherwise are not traded through formal channels: exotic fruits, locally developed handicrafts, are some examples.
* The haats also helped channelise a large part of the informal trade in the areas where they have started functioning, helping, in turn, law enforcement challenges in these remote locations.
* Lastly and most importantly, perhaps intangibly, it has stood its test of time as an instrument to withstand the ups and downs of regime changes and bilateral relations at government levels and truly shine as an enduring symbol of a bottom-up driven platform to foster people-to-people connect.
The report said that a major area of improvement for existing Border Haats pertains to infrastructure. When a haat is established in an area, which is prone to climatic hazards like excessive rainfall or floods, one should consider the creation of concrete vending platforms and adequate shelters for various stakeholders to seek refuge.
However, already operational haats in the likes of Kasba-Kamalasagar has been facing similar issues of waterlogging over years, with no proper measures and interventions. Other areas of infrastructural development that could contribute to better functioning of the haats include access to electricity, improved approach roads, availability of water and properly functioning toilets.
“One ought to bear in mind that families from both sides of the border come to haats not only for economic reasons but also to socialise and meet up with friends, family, and acquaintances. Additionally, it is equally important to provide the necessary equipment to security officials like CCTV cameras, scanners, and metal detectors, which will help them to monitor the haats more effectively. “
The report argues for augmenting female participation in the forms of vendors, vendees, and other stakeholders can boost up the efficiency of haats.