As India’s relations with Pakistan are improving after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has written to commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman to open up two additional land routes for increasing trade.
Badal’s letter comes at a time when Sitharaman and her counterpart in Pakistan Khurram Dastgir Khan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the SAARC summit next month to discuss pending issues like non-discriminatory market access to India and pruning of the sensitive list of Safta.
Badal has asked for allowing trade through two new land routes — Hussainiwala border in Ferozepur district and Sulemanki border in Fazilka district — a move that will provide immense employment opportunities for these villages bordering Pakistan.
The Hussainiwala border was closed after the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
“As the volume of trade is rising, it is high time that more land route trade is allowed with Pakistan. The Punjab Chief Minister has also sought necessary facilities like integrated check posts at both these points to facilitate the trade.
Not only will this enhance trade ties, it will also provide employment to youths of the state,” said an official privy to the development but requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on the issue.
When contacted, The Indian Express received no response from Badal’s office. “This would save the traders from unloading their containers for security check. Also, a request has been made that custom-sealed containers may also be allowed or introduced for convenience of trading community, prevention of theft and loss of perishable goods,” the official quoted earlier, said.
With the NDA government coming to power at the Centre, its long-term ally Shiromani Akali Dal in power in Punjab is confident of fulfilling the promise it made in its Lok Sabha poll manifesto of making efforts to open check-points at Ferozepur and Fazilka for trade with Pakistan and Central Asia. Around two weeks ago, Badal had met Sitharaman and raised the issue of increasing the number of products traded through Attari-Wagah border.
Currently, only 137 products are traded through the border. In 2012, while Pakistan allowed India to export all products barring 1,209 items into the country, it allowed import of only 137 items through the Attari-Wagah land route. During that year, India had also inaugurated an ICP at Attari, with state-of-the-art facilities and dedicated terminals for cargo and passengers to facilitate trade through land route. According to the estimates, the total volume of trade between India and Pakistan via Attari-Wagah land route is about Rs 2,500 crore.