Suspension of intra-Kashmir trade|J&K business chambers, LoC traders ask Centre to review decision

A day after the Union Ministry of Home Affairs ordered suspension of cross-LoC trade with Pakistan via Jammu and Kashmir, the business chambers of Kashmir and Jammu Friday asked the government of India to review its decision in view of the huge losses that the state’s business community would suffer due to the “undesirable move”.

The MHA Thursday ordered suspension of cross-Line of Control trade via Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh in Jammu and Kashmir following reports of alleged misuse of the trade routes by Pakistan-based elements for illegal inflow of narcotics, weapons and currency, according to officials.

“This (cross-LoC trade) was not only about business, it was a confidence building measure (CBM) between India and Pakistan to facilitate peace in Kashmir. Suspending it is not a right decision. We certainly don’t support inflow of narcotics or weapons, but there has to be a mechanism which will check such an inflow. Banning the trade all together is not in the interest of the people, particularly the state’s business community,” said president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Sheikh Ashiq.

He said the concerned authorities had already suspended this trade via Salamabad in north Kashmir from March 8 on the pretext of carrying out repairs of a bridge, but “now it is clear that they wanted to suspend this trade all at once”.

“We impress upon the government of India to put in place a foolproof security mechanism for all the necessary checks and resume the trade at the earliest,” he said.

In a communication addressed to the department of J&K affairs, Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries president Rakesh Gupta has requested for resumption of the cross-LoC trade at the earliest and “fixing of responsibility for the administrative lapses resulting in breach of security and consequent suspension of the trade”.

“We fully agree that security should be the prime concern not only of the government but every Indian citizen and that too in the trouble-torn state of J&K. We would like to bring to your kind notice that stopping the LoC trade abruptly without intimating the LoC traders poses a huge risk of financial loss to the traders,” the communication reads. “We once again assure of cooperating fully, as always, but at the same time request your goodself to fix responsibility for these administrative lapses resulting in breach of security as mentioned in your communication. Being a responsible organisation, we request for a high-level enquiry into the lapses and necessary stringent actions and measures to be taken so that the LoC trade could resume at the earliest”.

Hilal Turki, chairman of cross-LoC traders’ association, Chakoti, said the government of India must put in place security mechanisms so that the entire trade is “not defamed for the fault of few black-sheep”.

“We are in favour of having in place a strict security mechanism, which, ideally, should have been done much earlier. Suspending the trade all of a sudden is not a good sign. There is a huge investment of traders which needs to be secured,” Turki said.

President, Poonch cross-LoC traders’ association, Pawan Anand, said the suspension of LoC trade has “jeopardised livelihood of more than 2000 people involved with this trade”.

“We are optimistic that the government would put in place foolproof security mechanism at the earliest so that the trade is resumed soon,” he said.

Pertinently, trading of 21 items like red chili, mangoes, herbs and dry fruits will be hit following the indefinite suspension of the LoC trade, officials said Friday.

Around 500 traders, who were directly involved in the trading, will also be affected after the suspension of the business, which has touched Rs 6,900 crore since its inception in 2008.

The 21 items listed for the cross-LoC trade include bananas, embroidery items, tamarind, red chili and cumin for exports, while imports mainly include almonds, dry dates, dry fruits, herbs, mangoes and pistachio.

Meanwhile, senior leaders from the cross-LoC traders’ association Friday visited the Press Enclave here to express their resentment against the sudden suspension of the LoC trade by the government of India.

“This trade has been suspended from last 40 days and we were expecting its resumption, but the fresh order has come as a shocker to us. We have huge market liabilities and suspension of the trade in such a scenario has hit us hard,” said Turkey, who was part of the leaders’ delegation.

“We are all for stricter regulatory mechanism in the cross-LoC trade because we don’t want anyone to look at us with suspicion. But the abrupt suspension of the trade will affect us badly,” he said.

The leaders said ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, they were expecting brisk trade of fruits and other Ramadan-related goods “but this order has put us in a difficult position”.

“There are around 700 goods-laden trucks which are stuck on both sides of the LoC. At least we should have been given some time to clear this trade,” said Iqbal Lone, general secretary of the association.

“Snapping the trade at this juncture will create huge problems for us,” he said, adding that there are thousands of people who are associated with the trade as labourers and drivers and suspension of the trade will affect their families as well.

The aggrieved traders urged the MHA and J&K Governor to reconsider the trade suspension order.

The cross-LoC trade was strated in 2008 and till 2017 fiscal stood at over Rs 4,400 crore at the Uri trading centre, while the figure for the same period at Poonch stood at Rs 2,542 crore.

Initially, 646 businessmen from Jammu and Kashmir had registered for trading in the two crossing points, but the number now stands at around 280, who are actually involved in conducting the business.

When the cross LoC trade started, initially the business was for two days but from October 15, 2011, trading days were extended to four.


AUQIB SALAM

(With PTI inputs)