On May 6, authorities called in police to push agitated traders out of TFC after a dispute over implementation of an agreement with the administration.
Earlier, traders had met Deputy Commissioner Baramulla for sorting out the issue of ‘hijack’ where upper limit of goods traded by each trader per day was fixed.
The meeting had decided that each trader would be allowed to send only one truckload of goods to Chakoti and receive a maximum of two from there.
However, on May 6, as 44 goods carriers arrived at TFC Salamabad, traders say they found 28 carriers bringing goods for only four trading companies. These, according to traders, included six for a trader Mohammad Sadiq Baqal, 10 for another trader Farooq Ahmad Shah and 12 others for two other traders.
“Baqal sent no vehicle across. How come six vehicles are allowed for him?” said a trader Showkat Ahmad. “When we demanded the implementation of DC Baramulla’s order, we were pushed out of TFC by police.”
Traders allege that some officials are acting as forwarding agents for Delhi based businessmen who import commodities that are in demand outside the state. Salamabad-Chakoti Trade Union (SCTU) even boycotted trade on April 21 against the ‘clandestine hijack’ of the trade by outsiders.
“On April 28 and 29, the imports included 30 vehicles in the name of two persons – Dr Masood Ahmad Wani and Mohammad Sadiq Baqal. The consignments were all garlic that were directly forwarded to Bagwandas (a trader) of Delhi,” says Sheikh Tariq, president SCTU. “Merely 10 vehicles came for the 50 traders from Kashmir which tells about the designs of some officials including the trade facilitation officer.”
Traders allege that authorities are not taking any curative steps to save the trade, which they believe has the potential to provide employment to jobless people of the state.
“On one hand, government stresses upon unemployed youth to opt for other means of employment and on the other hand we have been left in lurch as cross LoC trade is facing the crisis,” says Nisar, a young trader. “We preferred this trade but now commission agents of Delhi based businessmen are snatching our livelihood with impunity and nobody cares about it.”
Dr Mubeen Shah, president Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry says that cross LoC trade was initiated with an intention to help local traders but the revelation of the hijack of the trade by non-locals is a concern for Kashmir’s business community.
“As barter trade is going on across LoC, there is no import duty on the goods bartered. Traders from Delhi and Punjab have employed some agents here who trade for them to save them customs duty of one and a half lakh rupees per truck,” says Shah. “We had a meeting with Director Industries department where we decided that first 50 vehicles should go to 50 registered traders but today the old malpractice was repeated which leaves us with no option but to take up the issue with Chief Minister.”
Dr Shah suggests some measures to remove the hurdles for ensuring smooth trade across LoC. “The trade facilitation officer should ensure that goods like fruits and vegetables should go to fruit and vegetable Mandis at Srinagar, Sopore, Baramulla, Kupwara, Islamabad, Shopian and Kulgam for necessary auction and sale. This will exclude all the black marketers and also make the system transparent. Kashmiri traders should be benefitted as the trade is meant for them,” he says.