Describing cross-LoC trade and travel as the biggest breakthrough in the history of J&K, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Saturday placed high priority on extending telecom and banking facility to broaden the scope of business, which is presently being transacted on a barter system.
He also favoured inclusion of additional tradable items to give fillip to local industry in the state. “I will take up the matter at the highest level so that Pakistan is convinced to agree to the proposal in the next meeting of the Joint Working Group between the two countries,” he said, while referring to extending telecom and banking facilities at both Salamabad (Baramulla) and Chakan da Bagh trading points.
The Chief Minister said this while addressing a high-level meeting at Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC), here during his visit to Poonch today.
Besides the Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Nirmal Kumar Singh, Minister for CA&PD, Ch. Zulfkar, Minister for R&B, Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari, Minister for Education, Naeem Akhtar, Deputy Chairman of Legislative Council, Jahangir Hussain Mir and Legislators, Shah Mohammad Tantray and Dr Shahnaz Goni were also present in the meeting.
Reiterating his resolve to take cross-LoC trade and travel forward, Mufti Sayeed said he was pleasantly surprised by the volume of trade transacted at both Salamabad and Chaka da Bagh through barter system. “It would be my endeavour to take this trade to the next level by putting in place banking and telecommunication facility to demystify the trade, for which we expect a positive response from Pakistan,” he added.
The Chief Minister said till such time a decision is taken to start banking and telecom facilities, an institutional mechanism needs to be evolved to facilitate periodic meetings between authorised bodies headed by respective Deputy Commissioners and representatives of trader organisations for streamlining the business between Chakan da Bagh and Rawalakote.
To bolster trade and ease travel across LoC, Mufti Sayeed said he is determined to make both Chaka da Baghand Salamabad show-windows. He pitched for adding more items in the approved list with focus on goods and products manufactured in various industrial estates of the state. “We also need to take effective steps for promoting export of famed handicraft products of the state,” he added.
On creating additional infrastructure at both trading points, the Chief Minister asked Director MHA to have the release of funds earmarked for the purpose expedited. Till such time the funds are released, he asked the Chief Secretary to start work on creation of dedicated parking facility, residential accommodation and sites for installing x-ray machines both at Salamabad and Chakan da Bagh TFCs.
Mufti Sayeed was informed by Commissioner / Secretary I&C that a meeting has been scheduled with Secretary, Internal Security, MHA, on December 4 next month in which the issue of inclusion of additional items that can be exported across LoC through Chakan da Bagh and Salamabad points will be discussed. Some of the trade out items included in the list are metal, alloy and chemical products, readymade garments, edible products, cricket bats, wooden and steel furniture, canned wazwan and chicken, Plaster of Paris, juices& jams, packaged drinking water and plastic and sanitary ware.
The Chief Minister was informed that full-body truck scanners will also be installed at both trading points shortly, which will facilitate increase in the quantum of trade.
As per available figures, the volume of trade on Chakan da Bagh has been to the tune of Rs.1080 crore since 2008. Similarly, the volume of trade on Salamabad trading point has been to the tune of Rs.1700 crore.
The cross-LoC trade, which started in 2008, takes place four days a week between Tuesday to Friday. As many as 303 traders are registered and 21 items are on the approved export / import list as per Standing Operating Procedure.
On the issue of hardship being faced by people living closer to LoC and fenced areas, in particular Balakote, the suggestion of GoC-in-C, Northern Command, regarding development of model villages was well-received by the Chief Minister.
In the interim, the Chief Minister desired that a mechanism be put in place for facilitating people in the event of any exigency.
Later, the Chief Minister also interacted with the traders, who gave their suggestions for providing further impetus to the trade across the Line of Control.
In order to reduce distances between regions, the Chief Minister earlier laid foundation stone of 42-km-long Loran-Barapathar-Jamiyanwali Gali-Basam Gali Road, which will connect Poonch with Gulmarg, in Baramulla district.
In the first phase, the 15-km road stretch from Loran to Kuliyan, a scenic spot, will be constructed by BRO at a cost of Rs.31.57 crore. The road will provide much-needed connectivity to areas like Saran, Dogar Nallah, Tirkanna and Oranpathri.
During the project briefing, Mufti Sayeed called upon Border Road Organization (BRO) to fast-track work and complete the project within the deadline of two-and-a-half years. He also issued directions for clearing bottlenecks like obtaining forest clearances and completing pending land acquisition proceedings so that the work on the project begins in the right earnest.
Sanctioned at a cost of Rs.210 crore by MHA, the critical stretch of the road in the last phase will be executed by Project BEACON.
Also present were Chief Secretary, B. R. Sharma, GoC-in-C, Northern Command, Lt. Gen. D. S. Hooda, DGP, K. Rajendra Kumar, Principal Secretary, Home, R, K. Goyal, Joint Secretary (PAI) MEA, Gopal Bagley, Commissioner / Secretary I&C, Shailendra Kumar, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Dr. Pawan Kotwal, Director MHA, Dr. Sanjay Roy, Director Industries, Jammu, Abdul Rasheed, IG Jammu Zone, Danesh Rana, IG CID, A. G. Mir, Deputy Commissioner Poonch, Haroon Malik, SSP, J. S Jowar, besides senior officers of the Army.