IT pays the North-east states to promote trans-border trade with neighbours. Political expediency should not be allowed to take precedence over the growing need for trade in the economic life of villagers living in the border areas. Last year Manipur chief minister Ibobi Singh participated in some promotional activities to boost trade. He led a 45-member team to Moyna, 140 km from the Indian border town of Moreh, to attend the North-east-India-Myanmarese Business Conclave. It is to his credit that today Imphal's Tilihal is an international airport. Trade with Myanmar was regularised through Moreh in April 1995. Bangladesh buys huge quantities of coal and limestone, apart from other commodities, and these are routed through the Dawki-Tamabil sector. And this has been going on for ages. Petty traders in the Khasi and Jaintia hills were against erection of wire fences to stop infiltration as they felt this affected the free movement of essential commodities along the traditional trade routes. Revival of the once buoyant border economy will greatly help landlocked states like Mizoram and Tripura, the worst victim of Partition.. Given this there is no reason why the extension of the railway link from Agartala to the border township of Akhaura should not be given priority. India and Bangladesh have already signed a memorandum of understanding on border haats which, apart from conducting business, will also help promote better understanding between peoples of the two countries. Tripura is more interested in revival of the traditional transit routes through Bangladesh.
Trade between India and Myanmar and beyond is expected to rise once the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is completed, hopefully in another two or three years. It will connect Mizoram with Myanmar's Sittwe port through riverine transport and roadways. Ships from Kolkata will unload cargo at Sittwe and these will then be transported through the Kaladan river that crosses the two Myanmarese provinces of Arakan and Chin. From the Myanmarese town of Paletwa, the road will pass through the Lomasu trade point in Mizoram's southern border. India conceptualised and funded this project some six years ago as part of its its Look-East Policy. The primary objective is to promote trade with Myanmar and also India's economic linkages with other South-east Asian countries. Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling fought for making Nathu-la the base for trade with Tibet. It is for respective chief ministers to take the initiative. There would have been healthier trade ties if only the Centre had taken the suggestion in 1992 by the North-Eastern Congress(I) Coordination Committee to create a 10-km free trade zone on either side of the borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tibet.
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