The India-Bangladesh frontier trading posts, called ‘border haats’, in Tripura are doing roaring business but Indians complain that one item close to their heart is not available – the delectable and much sought after hilsa fish.
Dilip Kumar Chakma, the additional district magistrate of Sepahijala district, said Indians, especially Bengalis, want hilsa to be made available in the weekly markets on the international border.
“Bangladeshi officials said they would talk to their government regarding sale of hilsa in the haats,” Chakma, co-chairman of the Kamalasagar border haat management committee, told IANS.
In 2012, Bangladesh banned the export of hilsa to other countries so that Bangladeshis were not deprived of the fish, a delicacy for Bengalis. Hilsa or ilish, which migrates from sea water to fresh water to breed, is widely consumed in India and Bangladesh in a variety of delectable dishes.
Thanks to the winding porous India-Bangladesh border, hilsa from the Padma river in Bangladesh is brought to the Indian markets and sold for as high as Rs.1,000-1,600 a kg.
Bangladeshis visiting the border haats too have a demand. They want to buy Indian cows for its beef. Chakma said the Bangladeshi officials were told that Indian customs did not allow sale of cattle in the border markets.
“The Bangladeshi officials said they would approach the Indian government to allow the sale of cows in these markets,” said the official.
While cow is held sacred by Hindus, Indian cows are smuggled to Bangladesh through the unfenced border. Bangladeshi authorities virtually legalise the smuggling by merely imposing a fine on each Indian cow.
Jackfruit and other fruits, biscuits, dry fish, utensils, iron- made domestic accessories and readymade garments are the best sellers in the border haats. Equally popular are cosmetics and printed saris.
“Indian Horlicks and other baby food are very popular on our side. So are Indian chocolate and biscuits,” said a middle-aged Bangladeshi, Samed Mia.
Earlier this year, two border haats were set up in the state: Srinagar in southern Tripura and Kamalasagar in the western district of Sepahijala.
Sepahijala District Magistrate Pradip Chakraborty told IANS: “Currencies of both countries are used in the markets. No local taxes are levied on the products.”
Chakraborty said the spending limit of Rs.6,500 by each buyer and seller in the border market was aimed at preventing wholesale buying of goods.
Bangladeshi girls make a beeline for Indian cosmetics.
India and Bangladesh will set up two more border haats soon along their border, taking the total number to four.
Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a recent meeting with MPs from Tripura, approved the setting up of two more border haats in Tripura, one of the MPs, Jitendra Chaudhury, told IANS.
He said: “To create infrastructure for the border haats at Kamalpur and Raghna (both in northern Tripura), Rs.5.80 crore has been sanctioned.”
The Tripura Industrial Development Corp, the nodal agency of the border haats management, said so far around Rs.4 crore worth of trade had taken place in the state’s two border haats.
The haats operate once in a week. This could be increased to twice in a week. Once or twice a week, the hunger for Hilsa won’t go away.