“Existing border haats along the India-Bangladesh border need to be reopened at the earliest and after adopting appropriate precautionary measures related to health and hygiene,” said Bipul Chatterjee of CUTS International.
The executive director of the Indian non-profit further said that the border haats are important for maintaining and ensuring peace, security, stability and prosperity in the border regions where they exist, according to a press statement on Friday.
Chatterjee was moderating an Expert Group Meeting on the functioning and impacts of border haats, organised by CUTS International, India and UnnayanShamannay, Bangladesh as part of a project supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development under its Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Programme.
Eminent experts from both India and Bangladesh participated at the webinar and provided their views and suggestions in this regard.
Researchers from CUTS International and UnnayanShamannay presented their findings on the study titled “Border Haats between India and Bangladesh as a Tool to Reduce Informal Cross-border Trade between the Two Countries” (http://bit.ly/2OG6zYM).
Some of the experts included Pritam Banerjee Logistics Sector Specialist, Asian Development Bank; AK Enamul Haque, Professor of Economics at the East-West University, Dhaka; Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation; Anu Sareen, Programme Manager, Asia Regional, DFID, New Delhi office; Mr. Sabyasachi Dutta Founder-Director, Asian Confluence; Sudhir Chandra Nath, Head of Business, ACI Ltd.
Speaking on the occasion, Atiur Rahman, former Governor of the Bangladesh Bank and Chairperson, UnnayanShamannay, pointed out that the border haats have reinforced the narrative that cross-border trade leads to increased security and economic prosperity.
Given the significance of the border haats in maintaining a vibrant economy at the local level, especially in remote border areas, he highlighted the need for re-opening of the border haats without any delays.
According to Mohit Sippy, Senior Programme and Policy Manager, Asia Regional at the New Delhi office of the Department for International Development, a perception has been created that border haats have a significant positive impact on the women-folks in the border regions. This needs to be up-scaled so as to empower and make them economically more independent.
He emphasised on the role of the border haats in achieving greater cooperation between India and Bangladesh in areas where local communities are key drivers.
Owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, the four border haats were closed for an indefinite period of time. It is believed that prolonged closure of those haats will lead to economic impoverishment of the local communities in those areas. This, in turn, is expected to force them to get re-engaged with informal cross-border trade, which was otherwise drastically reduced as a result of the functioning of the border haats.
Experts felt that border haats should be considered as an opportunity in this time of crisis. They can be used as a platform for trade in agricultural commodities so as to ensure food security of local communities in both the countries.
In addition, they could also facilitate trade between India and Bangladesh on health and hygiene products such as face mask, personal protective equipment, soap, hand sanitiser, which are either not available in border villages or costly.
It was also felt that the haats could act as a platform to facilitate awareness generation about the Covid-19.
Udai Mehta, Deputy Executive Director of CUTS International, concluded the meeting by underlining the need for consolidating the inputs received from the experts to strengthen the recommendations to be provided to the respective governments in India and Bangladesh to facilitate the re-opening of the border haats in near future and their up-scaling in the medium to long-term.
‘Border Haat’ is a once-a-week semi-formal market, which allows local people from both the countries to trade in vegetables, fruits, spices, food items, agri-implements, cosmetics, toiletries, garments, melamine products, aluminum products, bamboo products, plastic products, fruit juice, processed food items and other such indigenous products.
The border haats are located on the zero line of the border between India and Bangladesh and each buyer is allowed to buy commodities worth up to U$ two hundred dollars a day.