Don’t stifle

The cross-LoC trade has run into rough weather time and again. The small list of tradable items is often subjected to pruning, with officials delisting commodities without assigning any reason. Fifty truckloads of commodities are allowed across twice every week. But the barter trade does not include any mechanism of financial transaction and is bereft of any financial support. There are too many impediments that plague the growth of the barter trade.
While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address at the SKUAST Convocation during his Srinagar visit was reiterating his government’s resolve “to promote movement of people and trade on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot roads,” and promising to take similar steps for the Kargil-Skardu route, the barter trade along the Poonch-Rawalakote had been suspended for three consecutive weeks.
However, the facts on ground tell a different story.
In the second week of May the Trade Facilitation Officer prevented import of Ajwain from Pakistan administered Kashmir. It happened in Poonch as well as Salamabad (Uri) on Jhelum Valley Road simultaneously. They said the spice did not figure in the list of 21 items that the two sides have agreed to barter.
TFO Poonch, actually, disallowed off-loading 14 truckloads of Ajwain forcing traders to send them. However, the traders on the other side had offloaded all the 25 truckloads thereby adding to the trade deficit. Same was the case at Salamabad crossing where six truckloads of Ajwain were returned to Muzaffarabad.
The traders at Poonch, terming the TFO directions as arbitrary and against the standard operations procedure, they decided to suspend the cross-LoC trade. They refused to resume trade even when their counterparts from the other side of the divide requested them to.
This is not the first time that the officials supposed to be facilitating trade are invoking different reasons to prevent import or export of one or the other item. All the items that made brisk business were banned. Import of commodities such as garlic and ginger, which constituted bulk of imports was banned. Coconut, bananas and other south Indian fruits were barred from exports for being not produced in J&K. Pakistan also banned export of green gram to J&K by saying that bulk exports shot up its prices in Pakistan.
The traders demanded a meeting with their counterparts before resuming the trade. The largest ever congregation of people at zero-point on LoC traders and officials spent over 150 minutes discussing issues. A 14-member trans-LoC traders association was set up to resolve disputes and put up a currency conversion system.
With officials making claims to “strengthen links between people on both sides of the LoC”, it is the people who are making the archaic, regressive trade work in the larger interests of bonds of kinship. Let them have their way.

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