Border haats have immensely contributed towards socialisation and cultural exchanges between the people on both sides of the Bangladesh-India border, said Shirin Akhter, a member of parliament in Bangladesh.
They have played a significant role in strengthening diplomatic ties and people-to-people connect between India and Bangladesh at the grassroots including helping them to do trade in local products, she added.
“They can go a long way in supplementing government-to-government ties at various other levels.”
She was speaking at a webinar on Thursday organised by CUTS International, India and Unnayan Shamannay, Bangladesh to discuss the importance of border haats in effectively managing the borders and put forth recommendations to facilitate their re-opening in this Covid-induced situation, so as to further promote them as centres for enhancing people-to-people connectivity, said a press release.
The webinar was based on three recently published briefing papers as part of a project on India-Bangladesh border haats supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of this United Kingdom under its Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Programme.
AK Enamul Haque, professor of Economics, East-West University, Dhaka and one of the authors said, “The relationship between India and Bangladesh has changed since the partition of 1947 and its impact on border areas are to be fully realised by them.”
He underlined the need for adopting appropriate policies so that people and nations do not view borders as conflict zones but rather as zones of peace, friendship, and cultural exchanges. In this regard, he emphasised the need for promoting cross-border cultural and religious tourism between the two countries.
Speaking on the occasion, Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, underlined the role of border haats as a tool for effective border management as militarisation will give way to mutual trust and friendship.
“Effective border management would require adopting a people-centric approach like establishing more number of border haats,” she argued.
Indranil Bose, associate professor at the Department of Political Science, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata said, “It is an imperative to re-open border haats and initiate all participants to new protocols in keeping with the requirements of health and hygiene. For it appears that the pandemic is not pitted for a swift-exit as of now, but to keep border haats closed indefinitely are proving to be costly in economic sense and otherwise.”
In order to reopen the border haats adhering to the new normal, Bijaya Roy, senior research associate, CUTS International, recommended a list of operational guidelines that the Haat Management Committees might follow.
It includes restrictions and benchmarking an upper cap for entry and exit of buyers and sanitisation in between, increase the number of haat days per week to compensate reduced footfall, hiring of more number of local people to look after and monitor health and safety standards.
Bipul Chatterjee, executive director, CUTS International, underlined that every initiative has got gainers and losers. While the establishment of border haats has expanded choice for consumers at the grassroots level, they have also impacted the sale of few local indigenous products.
“There is a need to explore how to strike a balance between the two so that local communities residing on both sides of the border canenjoy more gains from this initiative,” he added.
Border haats are conceived as rough and ready markets to enable local people from border areas to trade in local and indigenous products ranging from vegetables and fruits to aluminum and plastic products. They have buttressed livelihood opportunities.
Local women, who are otherwise mostly saddled with domestic responsibilities, are now finding ways to explore income generation opportunities, which they are mostly investing in health and education so as to raise their standards of living.
Four of them are operational along the India-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura states. Six more are about to become operational. A number of other locations, including a few in West Bengal, have been identified where border haats will be established in near future.