*Major focus on concerns raised by security agencies
JAMMU, Feb 14: State Government is shortly going to propose to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) nine major modifications/additions in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Cross-LoC trade between two parts of undivided Jammu and Kashmir. These changes are aimed at removing the gaps in the existing set-up to check malpractices, improve mechanism regarding verification and registration of traders and above all to address concerns of the security agencies.
The nine-point proposal recommended by the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Economic Affairs of the State Government was cleared by the State Cabinet in its meeting held under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti yesterday evening. The Cabinet has authorized the Department of Industries and Commerce to take up proposed modifications/additions in the Standard Operating Procedure with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India as early as possible.
Highly placed sources told EXCELSIOR that in the past various issues were reported and observed with respect to the gaps in the SOP leading to violations and commission of certain undesirable activities including smuggling of contraband at the Trade Facilitation Centres (TFCs). Moreover, the Salamabad Cross-LoC Trade Union also represented for redressal of certain issues and to review the SOP.
Even the Police Headquarters J&K vide its communication dated June 7, 2016 brought to the notice of the Government the reports of mismanagement in registration of traders and variations in the balance sheets issued to different traders in violation of SOP leading to security concerns, sources informed. Thereafter, the Home Department vide its communication dated September 8, 2016 forwarded observations of the J&K CID to the Government for streamlining Cross-LoC trade.
In order to address the grievances of the LoC Trade Union, suggestions received from the Police Headquarters and CID, the State Government felt the need of revisiting the Standard Operating Procedure issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Accordingly, Industries and Commerce Department worked out a proposal and placed the same before the Cabinet with the request to authorize it to take up the proposed modifications/additions in the SOP with the MHA.
The State Cabinet in its meeting held on December 9, 2016 decided that the memorandum of Industries and Commerce Department should be thoroughly deliberated upon by Group of Ministers on Economic Affairs headed by Minister for Finance Dr Haseeb Ahmed Drabu and comprising of Minister for Industries and Commerce, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Rural Development and MoS for Technical Education.
“The report of the Group of Ministers was deliberated upon in the Cabinet meeting yesterday and finally the Cabinet gave nod to the Industries and Commerce Department to take up proposed modifications/additions in the SOP with the Ministry of Home Affairs”, sources said.
They said that J&K is going to propose introduction of provision of registration/renewal for the trading firms and compulsory production of documents/formalities like Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), PAN, Trader Identification Number (TIN), Security Deposit in the form of FD/Bank Guarantee and antecedent verification of the traders in order to further strengthen the regulatory mechanism and obviate the possibility of distorting the trading process.
“To stop proxy trading, J&K has decided to propose incorporation of provisions like compulsory establishment of trading unit in the State by the trader who would be required to provide business premises address to be verified along with site plan, employees details and annual accounts etc”, they said, adding “in the proposed modifications stress is being laid on incorporation of mechanism to check under-valuation of goods by adopting certain steps for appropriate valuation of the goods being traded under barter system”.
“This is being proposed with the observation that under valuation of goods results into un-accounted money flow into economy which could be used for funding subversive activities”, sources informed, adding “for keeping a check on the movement of people connected with trading activity, it has been felt desirable to put in place a CCTV camera network inside and around the Trade Facilitation Centres”.
Similarly, the State is going to propose a suitable mechanism for proper identification of labourers/porters working at the TFCs which include issuance of badge numbers, identity cards, prescribing of dress code etc, sources said, adding “J&K is of the observations that the traders have not been regular in neutralizing the trade balance as is mandatory in terms of the provisions of SOP and the tenets of the barter trade as such they shall mandatorily be asked to neutralize the trade balance within a period of 100 days and subject to the upper limit of Rs one crore”.
In case of default, punitive provisions/measures including cancellation of registration should be provided in the SOP.
As the requirement of issuing permit to drivers for every single visit has been found cumbersome and dilatory, the Government is going to propose incorporation of an alternative and simpler method like Multiple Entry Permit in favour of identified truck drivers with a validity of six months.
“The LoC trade registrations should be renewed in each case after two years subject to the verification of PRC, PAN, TIN, proof of residence and business unit, proof of business establishment, bank statement, audited accounts and antecedent verification”, sources said quoting the modifications approved by the Cabinet.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Cross-LoC trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes was started on October 21, 2008 as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir State and trade is being carried out as per the Standard Operating Procedure prescribed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India in which a list of 21 agreed items to be traded across the LoC has also been mentioned.
The trade is carried out on barter system and the number of trading days has been increased from two to four days in a week with effect from October 15, 2011. At present, the number of trucks is restricted to 25 per day on both sides.