Meghalaya proposes 22 border 'haats' with Bangladesh

SHILLONG: Meghalaya is keen to set up 22 more border 'haats' (markets) along the India-Bangladesh border to create economic opportunities for the people living along it. The haats, once thriving centres of trade and commerce, were shut down after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Chief minister Mukul Sangma said: "We have sought for the establishment of 22 new border haats along the international border.

"These haats would not only create economic opportunities, but would also cement bonds between the people living along the borders," he said.

Meghalaya already has two border haats - one at Kalaichar in Meghalaya's West Garo Hills district and Baliamari of Bangladesh's Kurigram district, and another in Balat (in East Khasi Hills district) and Lauwaghar (Dalora) in Bangladesh's Sunamganj district.

These haats are aimed at uplifting the economic status of people by establishing the traditional system of marketing of local produce, and would be operating at different timings in summer and winter.

While the timings from March to September would be 9.30am-3.30pm, the timings from October to February would be 9.30am- 2.30pm.

Moreover, Meghalaya was also looking at opening waterways with Bangladesh to facilitate the movement of goods between the two countries.

"Three rivers have already been identified for developing trade links with Bangladesh through inland waterways, and we have asked the the World Bank to provide a consultant to study the proposal," Sangma said.

The three rivers include the Kynshi in West Khasi Hills district, Simsang in South Garo Hills and Jingiram in West Garo Hills.

In its report, State-owned RITES (Rail India Technical and Economic Services) said that opening of inland waterways between Meghalaya and Bangladesh will boost the trade ties in transportation of coal, lime stone and boulder found along the river banks of Simsang and Kynshi/ Jadukota river.

Currently, Indian and Bangladeshi waterways connect West Bengal and Assam, and the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) are operating vessels on these routes.

The Tripura government had submitted a proposal to the central government for declaring Gomti river as a national waterway keeping in view the potential of linkage with the inland waterways of Bangladesh.

Meghalaya and other northeastern states are surrounded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China on three sides and the only land route access to these states from within India is through Assam and West Bengal.

The lengthy route through Assam passes through hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends. Four northeastern states - Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam - share a 1,880 km border with Bangladesh, while Meghalaya shares a 443 km border with the nation.