Kasba border haat: Business gap overshadows strengthening bonds
In every session of the weekly market, an Indian businessman sells 80 to 90 percent more than a Bangladeshi businessman
Sajal Mitra, a legal assistant from Cumilla, had not considered visiting the India-Bangladesh border haat, a temporary market that forms once a week in Brahmanbaria's Kasba area, until he learnt that one of his friends from Agartala, Tripura, was a regular visitor there.
On November 10, he went to the haat for the first time to meet his friend.
"Today I have come to this haat for the first time. I have many near and dear ones living in Tripura, but I cannot visit them due to lack of adequate time and opportunity," said Sajal.
Amirjada Chowdhury, from the Brahmanbaria Sadar area, is a school friend of Ramu Das, a member of the legislative assembly in Tripura. After Ramu moved to India, Amirjada used to communicate with him through digital media.
But now, Amirjada can meet his childhood friend in person along with many other friends from Tripura in the Kasba border haat, as there are no passport or visa-related issues involved.
The border haat, launched on June 6, 2015, has become a hotspot for people to meet acquaintances from the other side of the border.
But the humanitarian aspect of the initiative has been overshadowed by the unequal business opportunities for Bangladeshi businessmen compared to their Indian counterparts.
The management committee of the haat says that an Indian businessman sells 80 to 90 percent more than a Bangladeshi businessman.
In October this year, the gap was capped at 42 percent as Bangladeshi businessmen sold products worth around Tk21.42 lakh against Indian businessmen's Tk50.22 lakh.
One of the reasons for the disparity in sales at the haat is the unwanted interference of Indian security officials.
Local sources said India's Border Security Force discourages Indian consumers from buying Bangladeshi products.
The market regulations allow a single customer, irrespective of nationality, to buy a maximum of $200 (Tk16,900) worth of products in the weekly market, while a trader can sell products worth a maximum of Tk1 lakh.
But several Indian visitors said that BSF members prevented them from buying Bangladeshi products worth over Tk4000-5000.
On the other hand, Bangladeshi people spend a lot more money in the haat because Bangladeshi wholesalers become customers as well.
Wholesalers from Brahmanbaria Sadar, Cumilla, Habiganj, Narsingdi and other districts go to the market to buy products for their local businesses.
The intrusion of wholesalers has been restricting general people from entering the market because only one thousand consumers are allowed into the market from their respective sides with a Tk30 entry-fee in a single day.
Waliullah Sarkar, a cloth vendor said that entry should be restricted to border-area residents only, to solve the problem.
Mitu Mariam, additional district magistrate and chairman of the market management committee told The Business Standard that the entry tickets are only for people living within five kilometres of the Tarapur border point in Kasba.
"There are also mobile courts to prevent anyone suspected of buying commodities for commercial purposes. The complaint about Indian security personnel harassing Indian consumers will be discussed in the next quarterly meeting with Indian officials," she said.
"Apart from facilitating cross-border business, the purpose of the market is to strengthen bonds across international boundaries. To some extent this has been achieved," she added.
The weekly haat at the Tarapur border point in Kasaba upazila in Brahmanbaria, and the Kamalasagar border point in Sepahijala district in Tripura, is open every Sunday from 10am to 4pm.