Traders demand automation of the screening process through installation of an X-ray machine through which loaded trucks can pass. “It will do away with the need for manual search and save time. We come here on Monday, have our goods screened on Tuesday and leave on Wednesday with goods from PaK which makes this trade unnecessarily cumbersome,” says Umar Jan Wani of Yaripora Kulgam while waiting for his goods to be screened at the TFC.
The encouraging thing in the cross LoC trade is that almost all the traders are young and educated, at least one from each district of the valley. “There is tremendous scope for unemployment educated youth in this trade. Government must pay attention to it so that more employed opportunities are provided,” says Custodian, Ashraf Wani.
Government, however, appears least concerned. It announced to disburse loading and unloading charges to porters. Despite toiling at TFC Salamabad for the last six months, porters are yet to receive a penny. “They have not received any money from administration. It is a verbal commitment and no one is taking it seriously. The loading and unloading charges due to 30 porters till date amount to Rs 60,000. I am trying my level best to plead their case before authorities but nothing has materialised so far,” Wani admits.
“We have worked even for five rupees a day at TFC in the initial stage. Our only source of income are unloading and loading charges of PaK goods. They do not exceed Rs 200 for three days. We earn Rs 800 a month as trade takes place only once a week,” says an elderly porter Mohammad Younus Aawan of Nowpora, Salamabad. “Our appeal to government is to have pity on us and release our hard earned money”.
Contrarily, trade is flourishing at Chakan-da-Bagh, the Poonch crossover on LoC, where the volumes are surging every week. The surge forced the authorities on two sides to amend the SOP permitting inflow and outflow of goods on both the trading days. Earlier trucks would be allowed to cross into this side of LoC on Tuesdays and the reciprocal process would take place on Wednesdays. Last week, time lag due to laborious scrutiny of merchandise forced authorities to delay the process by one day. The result was highest ever trade worth Rs 1.33 crores on the following day. A total of 56 trucks – 29 from this side and 27 from other side – exchanged merchandise.
“This has been a traditional trading route and the two sides are rediscovering their inter-dependence,” says Deputy Commissioner Poonch Mohammad Afzal Bhat. “The two sides have more cultural affinity and almost every person has a relative on the other side”. He sees the trade growing very fast in coming days as it has already touched seven crore rupees in six months. “Better price is another major factor.”
The trading point is, in fact, one of the two main internal routes of erstwhile Poonch principality (Jaghir) that was divided into J&K’s Poonch and PaK’s Poonch in 1947. It is perhaps the only region of the state with maximum population of the families divided by the wars in 1947 and 1971. Even the 1989 uprising uprooted many villages and several families went to live on the other side of LoC. Now this route that is being used for civilian crossings and trade every week reunites over 15 lakh people spread over 5728 square kilometres in the four districts straddling the LoC – one Poonch on either side besides Rajouri (J&K) and Sudhnuti.
“Few locals were initially involved in the trade but now the numbers are growing every week. From our side, even some major business houses from Jammu have joined and on the other side the traders’ number is going up,” says the Deputy Commissioner.
In March, trading partners numbered three from Poonch and two from Jammu (J&K) and three agencies on the other side. From Poonch traders send onions, bananas, mangoes, grapes, apples, honey and traditional local rugs. Instead of cash they received ginger, melon, Peshawari sandals, and Kinno oranges. Items have not changed but the parties keen to trade have increased on both sides. Trading follows the same primitive barter system as prevalent on Jhelum Valley Road (JVR) – no payment from either side. Trucks ferry goods between two TFCs where from they are moved to warehouses and later driven away to the respective markets.
While trade delegation from PaK did visit J&K, a return delegation is yet to crossover. The telecommunication links are yet to be facilitated at least-