Forty-nine Indian traders at the local border haat here have threatened to withdraw unless their demands for outsider participation is conceded.
Under the revised MoU by Indian and Bangladesh governments, outsiders residing beyond a 5 km radius from border haats are not allowed to enter and buy from the four border haats now existing on the India-Bangladesh border.
Since populations in this radius are limited and already have access to local products sold at the border haats, sale has plummeted since the system of outsiders by guest passes were discontinued.
“When entry by guest passes was allowed, each vendor was selling products worth 40000 to 50000 Indian rupees per day. They ensured a decent profit for us but now sales are down to 5000 rupees a day and we can barely cover costs,” said Manik Laskar, a trader at the Kamalsagar border haat in Sepahijala district of Tripura.
On behalf of the 49 Indian traders here, he submitted a list of demands to Sudhakar Shinde, SDM of Bishalgarh, under whose jurisdiction the border haat is located and who is on its management committee.
“Unless outsiders with guest passes are allowed, our sales will remain at the poor current levels and we just cannot continue. This border haat is a great idea to develop the economy of frontier regions of both countries but its purpose stands defeated if entry is limited to people within 5 km radius,” Laskar told Northeast Now.
The leader of the 25 Bangladesh vendors at Kamalasagar border haat, Mustafa Haroon, supported the Indian traders wholeheartedly.
“Our condition is worse because our goods have less demand on Indian side than their goods on our side and because there is much less population on the Indian side,” he told Northeast Now.
But Haroon said they are not yet threatening withdrawal and will wait for the new government in Dhaka to take a call on their demand.
SDM Shinde told Northeast Now that “our hands are tied by the revised MoU provisions”.
He said the border haats have not only boosted border trade and improved people-to-people relations but also curbed smuggling.
“But the border haat arrangement cannot be expanded in ambit too wide because it will impact on government revenues,” Shinde told a group of experts from CUTS of India and Unnayan Samanay of Bangladesh now conducting a joint study on the border haats.
ADB expert Pritam Banerjee contested Shinde, pointing to the taxes that have already been paid on the local products.
CUTS executive director Bipul Chatterji told Northeast Now that the point raised by traders was crucial to the success of the border haats.
“We would closely examine these issues,” he said.
The withdrawal threat comes at a time when seven more border haats are proposed on the Tripura-Bangladesh border.