Shillong: Forty years after border trade between West Bengal and East Pakistan stopped in the event of the birth of Bangladesh, two of the historic border markets are set to reopen soon.

Situated on the India-Bangladesh border, the once-thriving markets, known in local parlance as 'haats', at Balat and Kalaichar in Meghalaya are abuzz with activity.

The reopening of the border haats at Balat in East Khasi Hills district and Kalaichar in West Garo Hills district would be taken up as pilot projects, West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner Sanjay Goyal said.

Goyal is overseeing the arrangement of revival of the Kalaichar haat which, he said, would restore trade links between the isolated communities along the international border.

Officials say till 1971, border residents from then East Pakistan used to cross over to the Indian side for exchange of goods.

But after the creation of Bangladesh, the border haats were closed. History has it that the haats in Meghalaya were functional even during the Mughal period.

The Meghalaya state government is constructing a series of stalls for the vendors and issues relating to security and other business aspects are being discussed with officials from Bangladesh.

Notifications have been issued to villages falling within a five-km radius from the location of the border haat, inviting applications from prospective vendors.

The selected vendors – about 50 in each haat - would be issued special identity cards by the district administration.

Locally available commodities like vegetables, fruits, spices, food items, forest produce like bamboo, bamboo grass, broomsticks, and products of local cottage industries would be
traded in these markets.

The BSF has requested for setting up of two outpost towers outside the market fencing to maintain vigil on the markets' operations.

The DC said till the posts were sanctioned by the Centre, patrolling parties, including men from the BSF, would be provided on the two days when the markets would be open.

While a portion of the trade is expected to take place through the barter system, the government is working out with the SBI for operating a foreign exchange counter in the haats, Goyal said.

The Meghalaya government has proposed the inauguration of the markets next month, but a final decision would be taken by the Centre.

Informal trade between India and Bangladesh is two and half times more than the formal trade. The border haats, once opened, will help reduce the informal trade, officials feel.

(Agencies)