Modi govt begins ‘Mission Kashmir’

MHA to review cross-LoC trade Communication link, exchange of visits by trade-delegations, expanding list of trading items, security issues on agenda

Top Union Home Ministry officials are arriving here to review cross-LoC trade between divided parts of Kashmir which has hit a low owing to non-implementation of some key measures. On the agenda for the meeting, to be chaired by Joint Secretary MHA (Kashmir), would be setting up of telephone links (ISD facility), re-starting the meeting of the traders at “zero-point”, enhancing security measures and visit of trade delegations from Kashmir to other side of LoC.
A senior official said setting up of communication (ISD) facilities at Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch, Salamabad in Uri and Srinagar and providing communication lines (ISD facility) up to the Kaman post from here to allow traders from this part of Kashmir to interact with their counterparts on other side would be deliberated upon in the meeting.
“The proposal would be later sent to the Union Ministry of Telecommunications (for further follow up action),” sources said.
The cross LoC trade which was presently carried as barter system has suffered owning to lack of communication and banking facility and restrictions on number of trading items. 
The meeting would be held in the backdrop of deliberations by India and Pakistan in New Delhi in March this year during which ways and mechanism for increasing people-to-people contact, trade volume and improving infrastructure at trading points were discussed.
While the cross-LoC bus service between the two parts of Kashmir was started in 2005, the trade activity was started after 60 years in 2008. Both the services were started with much fanfare and termed as a major CBM between India and Pakistan. But lack of facilities and government’s indifference towards easing restrictions have let the people down.
A source said the meeting was scheduled today at Salamabad in Uri but it was postponed at the last minute. The fresh dates would be communicated to the State Government soon, he said. From the State Government side, 
the meeting would be attended by IGP (CID), senior officials from Home Department, and authorities from industries & Commerce and Customs departments.
The J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industries from two parts of Kashmir had proposed setting up of free communication facilities on both sides and facility for direct couriers and postal mails. “It will also come up for discussion,” sources said.
The traders from this side have been demanding they should be allowed to travel across the LoC for interaction with their counterparts and sorting out of some pending issues.
“It may come up for the discussion. The Government of India will examine the proposal apart from grant of multi-entry permits to traders,” the source said.
The official said though the state had taken up with New Delhi a proposal for setting up of a Banking Model for facilitating banking service for cross LoC trade without involvement of the Central Banks apart from expanding the list of trading items, there was no progress on the proposal.
The meeting would discuss expanding list of trading items and lifting ban on export of coconuts to Pakistan administered Kashmir, a proposal put forth by the traders.
Though 21 items had been listed for trade from either side, the number has gone down over the years, owing to ban on some items, said General Secretary Traders Association, Salamabad, HilalTurki. From Kashmir side the traders export fresh fruits, spices, embroidery items and vegetables while as dry and fresh fruits, carpet and medicinal herbs are imported from across LoC.
“Items like garlic, ginger, ajwan, coconut and groundnut have been banned for export while as we can’t import Moong Dal,”   he said.
The meeting would discuss the proposal by the State Government for lifting ban on import of Moong Dal, Ajwan and Garlic from PaK.
From 2008 till January this year, goods worth Rs 1350 crore have been exported from J&K to PaK while as goods worth Rs 2300 crore have been imported.  
There has been demand from trading federations from the State for expanding the list and number of trading days which is limited to four days a week at present.
The security related matters would also be part of the meeting. “To ensure that the route was not misused for anti-state activities the antecedents of traders, transporters and other people associated with the trade would be verified and they would be issued specific identity cards. The step is being taken to make it sure that the trade is not misused to smuggle arms, ammunitions, Hawala transactions and other illegal funding,” sources said.
On January 17 this year a driver from PaK was arrested by police at Salamabad, Uri in North Kashmir for allegedly smuggling brown sugar worth Rs 100 crore.
The meeting would also discuss maintaining biometric records of the traders and installations of the CCTVs at the Trade Facilitation Centers at Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh and use of additional metal/explosive detectors.
During the meeting the State Government would pitch for development of software for maintaining data related to cross LoC trade.
A system of valuation of items of trade would be finalized during the meeting. “The balance sheet of every trader will be checked quarterly and if it is found that a trader is running a surplus balance he will be asked to clarify,” the official said. “The trader will be investigated and dealt in accordance with the law in case the clarification is not given or it is found to be factually incorrect.”

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