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Closure of Indo-Bangladesh borders due to Covid devastates villagers

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina

The closure of borders along India and Bangladesh due to the Covid 19 pandemic has led to erosion of incomes for hundreds of villagers living in that region. Though it failed to grab the attention of the mainstream media, authorities said that the scope of “border haats” — local micro markets typically selling low value goods– must be expanded at the earliest.

The border haats—four at present – two in Tripura and two in Meghalaya – have been shut since March.

Also read: PM Modi in Dhaka: India, Bangladesh must ease rules to boost cross-border trade

Interestingly, besides the economic impact, the border haats also served as an important platform for establishing people to people contact. There are instances where relatives have met at border haats as such reunions do not require visas and passports, a CUTS International study said.

“At a time when India and Bangladesh are looking to boost connectivity, this can be used to increase people to people contact, essential for strengthening ties,” Nazneen Ahmed Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) told India Narrative.

The over 4000 km long international border along India and Bangladesh stretches along Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram in the north eastern region besides West Bengal.

Though there are plans to open two more, the pandemic has delayed the process.

Also read: Cross-border rivers can boost short haul trade, improve local incomes : CUTS study

“Many of the local residents along the border — for both countries India and Bangladesh—have been primarily dependent on the border haats for their livelihoods but since these have not been in operation for sometime, it has brought in misery for many of these people,” Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International told India Narrative.

The think tank has also highlighted the need to redraw the contours guiding bilateral trade. At present, only those people who reside within 5 km along the borders are allowed to participate in these border haats—micro markets, set up to cater to the local residents.

“The border haats have been instrumental in uplifting the income levels of many people in the lower income group. These guidelines for border haats must be revised to ensure further improvement in income levels especially for the people living in the border areas,” Ashish Nath, Professor, Department of Economics, Tripura University added.

Nath, Professor, Department of Economics, Tripura University in a column wrote that about 90 per cent of the goods sold by Indian vendors at these haats are sourced from other states of India. The items that are mostly in demand comprise fresh fruits, garments, cosmetics, and packaged food products.