Currency, communication link on agenda
JAMMU, Apr 23: Ahead of Indo-Pak Home Secretaries’ meeting in Islamabad next month in which besides security concerns, the issue of cross-LoC trade was expected to figures as part of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between the two neighbouring countries, Union Home Secretary R K Singh would shortly undertake a two days visit of the State during which he would assess more facilities required at Uri-Muzafarrabad and Poonch-Rawlakote routes to give a boost to the trade.
“Initially, Mr Singh was scheduled to visit Uri in Baramulla district of Kashmir and Chakan-Da-Bagh in Poonch district of Jammu on April 24 and 25 or April 26 and 27. However, the dates clashed with the visit of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who would be undertaking an extensive tour of twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch for four days from April 24 to 27, the visit of the Union Home Secretary was likely to be re-scheduled’’, official sources said, adding that the visit was expected to be matured shortly as the Home Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan were expected to take place in Islamabad next month.
The fresh dates being considered for the visit of Mr Singh included April 25 for Chakan-Da-Bagh and Jammu and April 26 for Uri and Kashmir.
State Home Secretary B R Sharma told the Excelsior that the State was yet to get exact dates of the visit of Mr Singh but said the visit was on the cards as he had to travel to Uri and Chakan-Da-Bagh to take assessment of facilities for cross-LoC trade and more facilities required for the businessmen to boost the trade.
Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, Home Secretary B R Sharma, Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda and Principal Secretary to Chief Minister B B Vyas had recently called on the Union Home Secretary in New Delhi and discussed the schedule of his visit to Jammu and Kashmir.
Mr Sharma said the Union Home Secretary would tour both cross-LoC points of Uri and Chakan-Da-Bagh shortly for on spot review of the situation.
As per the provisional schedule, Mr Singh besides visiting two cross-LoC points would also hold a security review meeting in Srinagar before flying back to New Delhi.
As per the latest schedule, Mr Singh was scheduled to visit Jammu and Kashmir on April 25 and 26 confining his visit to Chakan-Da-Bagh and Uri besides an official meeting at Srinagar. Sources said the administration in Poonch had taken up the issue with the administration for getting the visit postponed as Omar Abdullah would be touring Poonch on April 26 and 27.
A formal message from the New Delhi was awaited, sources said, adding even if the visit of the Home Secretary was postponed for the time being, it would mature in the next few days.
Official sources said the Union Government wanted to take up the issue of converting cross-LoC trade from barter system to currency based. The ways and means for switching over to new system would first be discussed with civil and police administration besides Intelligence and other agencies engaged with conducting cross-LoC trade followed by representatives of the State Government before the Home Secretary took up the issue with his counterpart of Pakistan next month.
In the present barter system of trade, the businessmen had been facing a lot of problems to maintain their accounts and currency of both the countries keep on fluctuating.
The lack of communication system between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) was another issue, which was being discussed by the Union Government on the request of the State Government. It may be mentioned here that ISD link from J&K to any part of Pakistan besides PoK has been barred for past quite a long time as a security reason following apprehensions by security agencies that the militants could misuse the communication facility.
Sources said upgradation of infrastructure at Trade Facilitation Centres at Poonch and Uri including installation of full truck scanners and providing other facilities to the businessmen was also under consideration of the Centre Government. Increase in number of items from present list of 21 for trade between two parts of the divided State was also on agenda of the Union Government.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had recently said in the Legislative Assembly that the Union Government should open the banking system for the trade instead of present barter system and facilitate communication channels to boost the trade.
Sources said representatives of the State Government, civil and police administration and other agencies connected with the trade besides the businessmen dealing with cross-LoC trade would take up the demand for increasing number of 21 items to 50 for the trade besides facilitation of banking system and opening up communication channels.
The Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan were scheduled to meet at Islamabad in May to discuss a host of issues including security related matters and cross-LoC trade.
Terming cross-LoC trade as a major confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan, sources said there was a need to further ease it so that its benefits trickle down to the trading partners.
“There is a need for restoration of telephonic links between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and putting in place a proper institutional arrangement by replacing the current barter system of trade which will also address the security concerns,” they said.
They said the Union Government was required to take up the matter with the Ministries concerned so that the trade can flourish in real terms.
The cross-LoC trade on Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakote had recently been increased from twice a week (Tuesday and Wednesday) to four days (Tuesday to Friday). However, in the absence of increase in number of items and use of currency, the trade had not been picking up, sources said.
It may be mentioned here that the trade between India and Pakistan through the land route has soared by 44 per cent in 2011-12 to Rs 2,341 crore from Attari-Wagah route.
Though the balance of trade is still in India’s favour, the import from Pakistan through land route rose by over 100 per cent to Rs 965 crore in 2011-12 against Rs 453 crore in the previous fiscal.
The exports from India to Pakistan grew by 18 per cent to Rs 1,376 crore against Rs 1,170 crore in 2010-11.
In 2009-10 and 2010-11, the bilateral trade between India and Pakistan via Attari-Wagah land route stood at Rs 1,194 crore and Rs 1,170 crore, respectively.
The volume of trade in terms of trucks also grew manifold with the number of trucks crossing over to Pakistan increased from 32,000 in 2010-11 to 39,000 trucks in 2011-12.
In 2009-10, the number of trucks which exported items to Pakistan was just 17,000.
The number of trucks coming to India through land route rose from 3,600 in 2010-11 to whopping 17,000.
Before Pakistan, last month, allowed 137 items to be imported from India through land route, India was exporting vegetables, frozen meat, soybean extraction and cotton yarn to the neighbouring country.
Over 70 per cent of total export to Pakistan constitutes soybean extraction and it mainly comes from Madhya Pradesh, while fresh vegetables like tomatoes come from Nasik, Delhi, Kanpur and Rajasthan.
India mainly imports dry fruit (from Afghanistan), gypsum and cement.
India and Pakistan had started cross border movement of trucks in October 2007 after a gap of sixty years from Attari Check post at Amritsar in India to Wagah Border in Pakistan with an intention of boosting bilateral trade.
The Integrated Check Post (ICP) recently opened by India at Attari-Wagah border is expected to further push up the trade between the two countries through the land route.
The ICP set up at an estimated cost of R 150 crore was inaugurated by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on April 13.
Spread over an area of 118 acres, the ICP boasts of dedicated terminals for passengers and cargo, customs and immigration facilities, health and quarantine facility, banks and import and export warehouses.
Punjab-based exporters has said they expect the ICP to push up bilateral trade between both countries through land route by at least 10 times.
Currency, communication link on agenda