Srinagar: The decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to suspend trade across the Line of Control (LoC) has hit a large number of businessmen in Srinagar by blocking their goods consignments in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) which they had ordered, officials and traders said.
President of the Salamabad Traders Union, Hilal Turki, said that the decision of the authorities to suspend trade will cause large-scale losses to them after the blocking of movement of goods. He said that the traders were set to get the consignments in lieu of the goods that had been transported across the LoC.
“This is sudden and without any notice, we will face heavy losses. Our goods which were in transit have been blocked,” he said. The MHA has said that the trade which was running four days a week was being suspended until the authorities had put in place fresh regulations “to check the funneling of illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” through the two trade routes of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkote.
The order further read that “significant number of trading groups engaged in LoC trade are operated by persons closely associated with banned terror organisations involved in fuelling terrorism/separatism.”
The move to suspend the trade has come several months after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested many separatist leaders and also questioned some cross-LoC traders in its ongoing investigating in the “routing of funds” raised through the trade for “fomenting separatist activities in Kashmir.”
The police and NIA officials have said that since the trade was done in barter, “a mechanism of under-invoicing and over-invoicing” was being used to raise the funds for seperatist activities in Kashmir. However, both the traders and separatists have denied this.
The suspension order was issued also in the wake of the 14 February attack on a CRPF convoy by a Kashmiri militant in which at least 40 paramilitary force personnel were killed.
Turki said that the traders were never against “introduction” of a better regulatory mechanism and had earlier asked the government to set up truck scanners for proper monitoring. He said that since the trade was carried out in barter, “it was not possible to recover the money that was to come in the form of goods.”
The trade has remained temporarily suspended for several days during shelling along the LoC, but it is for the first time that it has been closed completely by the government, citing reason that it was being used for “narcotics” supply and raising of funds for anti-India activities.
In July 2017, the police had claimed to have recovered around 66 kg of heroin costing over Rs 300 crore from one of the trucks used in the LoC trade. However, after that, no major haul was claimed by the authorities in Srinagar.
On the contrary, during the time of PDP-BJP government, the state had been pushing for increasing the number of goods which are allowed for trade.
From along the Srinagar-Muzafarbad route, there are at least 229 traders who are registered for business while the number was 380 along the Poonch-Rawalakote side, officials and trade representatives said.
Fareed Ahmad, custodian of Cross LoC trade, said that each week, at least 280 trucks transport goods on the two sides of LoC. He, however, said that he has not received an official intimation that the trade was being suspended. Ahmad said that many traders had money lying with those in PoK and added that the measures were already being put in place "to strengthen monitoring".
"The work is currently going on over the setting up of a full-body truck scanner at the trading point in Poonch," he said.
Pawan Anand, a cross-LoC trader, said that he had been doing business for “a long time and the decision to halt the trade will affect me badly.” “During the trade, all sorts of goods that range from dry fruits to embroidery items are being exchanged across the LoC. There are 21 items which have been identified and are allowed to be traded,” he added.
The LoC trade was seen as a major confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan and the traders have been seeking banking facilities.
The government in Kashmir had earlier also been working on setting up regular phone lines between the traders divided by LoC, and even facilitated meetings to sort out issues that were coming in the way of trade.
“The trade has been running since the time of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, it makes no sense to suspend this,” said Turki.
Along the Poonch-Rawalkote route, the shells from Pakistani side have been landing near the trade facilities, which had earlier prompted the authorities to suspend it for several days. “The trade remained suspended earlier for several days this month when the election process started here, but that was temporary,” said Pawan Anand.
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Updated Date: Apr 19, 2019 19:05:32 IST