Imbalance Growing in Indo-Bangla Border Trade in Tripura, Employment Generation, Licensing Create Problems

Sehkhar Dutta

Bilateral trade and commerce between India and Bangladesh has been permanent feature of the relations between the two closest neighbours as with most other countries of the world. Geographical proximity makes the relation between the two countries  the most significant and cogent  reason for the rising volume of trade between the two. Bangladesh had long been aggrieved over growing trade deficit between the two countries and in order to address the grievance in the interest of better bilateral relations the government of India had initiated the process of border trade at convenient points along the 2156 km long land and partially riverine border with Bangladesh through a chain of 'border haats' across the five Indian states including Tripura that have border with Bangladesh.

Since the year 2006-2007 when the process of border trade was launched , the net turnover in border trade between Tripura and Bangladesh through six trading  points including Agartala Land Custom Station (ACLS) till the year 2018-2019 has been Rs 537.08 crores. But most significantly this turnover value is heavily in favour of Bangladesh which exports many more items than it imports from Tripura. During the past eighteen years , 2006-2007 and 2018-2019, the monetary value of Bangladesh's exports to Tripura stands at Rs 522.42 crores while Tripura's exports value is Rs 14.66 crores . In the opening year of 2006-2007 Bangladesh's exports value or, inter alia, Tripura's import value ,  had stood at Rs 48.69 crores while Tripura had exported good and items worth only Rs 87 lakhs. This registered a sharp rise and in the year 2018-2019 Bangladesh's export value stood at a whopping Rs 522.42 crores while Tripura's export value rose to only Rs 14.66 crores. This sharp and disproportionate rise in export values of Bangladesh and Tripura has resulted in a massive gap and and imbalance.
The border trade between Tripura and Bangladesh is carried out through six points that include Agartala LCS, Muhurighat LCS in Belonia, Khowai LCS, Srirampur LCS in Sonamura, Manu Land Custom Station in Sabrom and Old Raghna Bazar in Dharmanagar. Sources in the border said that Tripura's import from Bangladesh comprise in items like Cement, Variety of fishes including Hilsa,Dry fish, Broken or crushed stones , Food items or drinks, Plastic goods and other commodities. But the state's exports to Bangladesh comprise in items like Fruits, Spices, Dry Fish and other commodities. With limited options on export Tripura's trade with Bangladesh has been perennially on the deficit side . In the five border 'haats'outside Agartala LCS the general items of Tripura's exports comprise local handicraft items, fruits like banana , jackfruits, pineapple, local vegetables, cosmetics, steel utensils, health drinks like Horlicks, Saree , Cloth materials etc. From the Bangladesh side dry fish, bakery items, plastic goods, fruits like green apple, water melon, local vegetables etc. All this helps Bangladesh partially offset its overall trade deficit with India but at the regional level Indian states of northeast as well as West Bengal suffer from deficits.

What however impedes further growth in border trade is the system of issuing license for the occupation from Shillong as people interested in trade and commerce from all over the region have to rush to Shillong for obtaining the all-important license. Unless the system of licensing is introduced from all border state capitals the trade will never make the desired progress. Besides, the continuation of border trade through six border 'haats' has not yet generated the optimum level of employment, at least on the Indian side. People connected with border trade said that at least five thousand people should have employment opportunities on a regular basis in the six border 'haats' including Agartala. The importers on this this side can be incentivized for creating regular employment opportunities, experts feel. Besides, another serious problem that impedes not only higher volume of trade but also lead to price rise is the proliferating activities of extortion rackets in all trading centres at borders, specially at Agartala LCS. The activities of extortion rackets had assumed such a big proportion that border trade had to remain under suspension for more than a fortnight at Agartala LCS early this year. After a hue and cry the extortionists became low-key  but of late they have started raising their ugly heads . Extortion of money puts extra burden on importers and they have perforce to raise prices of items they import, transferring the burden to consumers . The state government has to deal with the problem with an iron hand to curb this problem once for all.

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