Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Kashmir this week, the Centre has decided to open phone lines for traders to speak to their counterparts across the Line of Control (LoC).
To boost cross-LoC commerce, the government plans to increase the number of tradeable items, officials said.
International Subscriber Dialling (ISD) facilities will be set up at the trade facilitation centres at Salamabad in Uri and Chakanda Bagh in Poonch, and at one or two designated locations in Baramulla and Srinagar. Traders from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) have been able to call counterparts on the Indian side since the trade started in 2008; however, traders from J&K are barred from making calls to PoK or Pakistan.
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The proposal to allow phonecalls had been on the table, but the decision to go ahead was made after a team of senior home ministry officials led by the joint secretary (Kashmir Affairs), R K Srivastava, reviewed the cross-LoC trade with the state administration and police on Friday.
Officials said the central team asked the state government and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) to work out a proposal to set up ISD communication links at designated points for the ministry to give its final approval.
The officials said the central government also planned to allow more items to be traded through the Kaman Post and Chakanda Bagh in Poonch. In the absence of a proper banking system, cross-LoC commerce, from the time it began, has been based on barter. Traders estimate that goods worth Rs 3,000 crore have been traded so far.
“The setting up of ISD facilities will help boost cross-LoC trade. But even though the home ministry has agreed to provide ISD facilities at designated points for traders, we are demanding that ISD facilities should be provided to all registered cross-LoC traders,” Hilal Turki, general secretary of the Cross-LoC Trade Union, said.
“We have given a charter of demands to the central team that visited Kashmir,” he told The Indian Express.
The ministry has also agreed to install full-body truck scanners at Salamabad and Chakanda Bagh, something the Army has long asked for. In January, 114 kg of brown sugar worth Rs 100 crore was seized from a truck that had come from PoK to the Salamabad Trade Centre. Smaller drug hauls and weapons have been recovered earlier from trucks.
“The installation of the truck scanners will help trade, as in the absence of scanners, many genuine businessmen were afraid to book consignments. The recovery of drugs or fake currency gives a bad name to the trade,” Bashir Ahmad, a cross-LoC trader, said.