Jammu, March 14 (IANS) Though the trans-Line of Control (LOC) trade between India and Pakistan is picking up, many locals in Poonch district here allege it is the people from outside the state who are benefitting more from it.
Nishu Gupta, a local trader in Poonch, said: “Big traders from outside the state carry out the trade by proxy through registered traders in Poonch and take the benefit of tax free trade.”
The cross-LOC trade is tax free and locals say the traders from neighbouring Punjab who used to earlier do business with Pakistani counterparts through Wagah border have now shifted to Poonch by proxy. “They save big amount even after paying for transportation from Poonch,” said Gupta.
Traders say it is “hardly benefiting the Poonch locals for whom the cross-LOC trade began”.
The traders are facing many difficulties, still it is becoming popular by the day as it provides employment to the locals.
The cross-LOC trade takes place from two points in the state – Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch district of Jammu region, and Salamabad in Baramulla district of Kashmir valley.
The trade that began in December 2008 as one of the main confidence building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan has registered business of over one billion rupees (Rs.1,50,35,31,741) till February 2011.
The barter system trade happens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays “though we want it on daily basis”, President of Traders’ Union in Poonch Pawan Anand told IANS over phone.
Deputy Commissioner of Poonch Kuldeep Lal Khajuria said: “There are 166 traders registered with us in Poonch to do business with traders in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), of which 140 are active.”
He told 25 trucks carry permitted tradable goods cross the LOC from either side. At present, there are about 30 items being traded including fruits, vegetables, dry-fruits handlooms and handicrafts.
The trade between both the sides is on barter system as there is no agreement on the currency to be used.
“Dollar is used in international trade, and business between two parts of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be termed as international,” noted Y.V. Sharma, President of Chamber of Commerce and Industries in Jammu.
Sharma says the traders are facing problems, “but this is not formal trade, if we gauge by the yardstick of trade. This is just a CBM, which is picking up as the local traders have will and conviction to do business”.
However, Rajeev Tondon, a leader of cross-LOC traders’ Union said: “Things are not so bad. This trade has provided employment to about 5,000 locals in and around Poonch, like labourers, transporters, dhaba owners, account keepers etc.”
Asked to clarify on the proxy trade, Khajuria said: “Though, there are such allegations, we are keeping our eyes and ears open against all this. We will take action if we come across any such case.”
He told the government was upgrading the facilities at Trade and Facilitation centre at Chakan-da-bagh where the trucks from Pakistan off-load the goods. “The screening system is being improved for faster screening.”
“But there are other demands of traders too like increasing the number of trading days, increasing number of trucks coming and going per day, banking facilities and increasing number of tradable items.”
The cross-LOC trade opening roads for separated families on either side were seen as major CBMs between India and Pakistan. According to official figures, 3,314 people visited POK from India, and 3,384 people came from POK to Poonch district only between November 2005 and February 2011.