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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Trust deficit, govt apathy cost Sino-India trade via HP dear

Cross-border trade through Shipki La in Kinnaur fails to attract traders due to inconvenience

cities Updated: Sep 15, 2019 22:11 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
Shipki La connects Kinnaur district in India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China.
Shipki La connects Kinnaur district in India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China.(File photo)
         

Shipki La, the mountain pass in Himachal Pradesh that doubles up as a trade route between India and China, offers a window of opportunity that both sides can cash in on but haven’t due to administrative apathy and a trust deficit.

“I’ve been in this business for four decades. The world has changed except for the pace of cross-border trade at Shipki La,” says Laxman Chand, 62, a trader from Tashigang village in Lahaul and Spiti district.

Though the centuries-old Indo-China trade has seen ups and downs, traders say of late they don’t find it lucrative.

Bilateral trade through Shipki La re-opened in 1993 after it was closed due to the Indo-China war in 1962. Shipki La connects Kinnaur district in India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China. Its border post is at a height of 18,599 feet above sea level. It is through this pass that the turbulent Sutlej enters India from China-occupied Tibet.

FEAR TO TRADE

Till 1959 when Chinese troops entered Tibet, barter trade was carried out. Indian and Tibetan traders frequented Shipki village in Chinese Tibetan Autonomous Region and Namgia village on the Indian side.

But after China occupied Tibet that year, no trader from Tibet visited India. Local residents say Chinese traders visiting India are looked at with suspicion back home. They are apprehensive about visiting since there is no board and lodging facility for them on the Indian side. “There is nothing on the Indian side that will hold them back,” says Chand, adding that the Himachal Pradesh government should take a cue from Sikkim where vehicles are allowed to carry goods during cross-border trade in Nathu La.

Trader associations in Kinnaur have urged the Indian government to take up road construction with China.

OUTDATED TRADING LIST

Traders in the border areas have repeatedly urged the Himachal Pradesh government to revise the list of items to be traded. They say items on the trading list are not lucrative anymore.

“There is a need to augment facilities at trading points,” says Sharat Chander Negi, who retired as a general manager from the state industries department. A native of Moorang village in Pooh sub division, Negi says changes should be made in the import and export lists.

At present, 37 items are exported from India, including agricultural implements, copper products, cycles, coffee, tea, barley, rice, flour, dry fruits, dry and fresh vegetables, edible oil, tobacco, spices, shoes, kerosene, stationery, utensils, liquor, processed milk products, canned food, cigarettes, local herbs, palm oil, hardware, processed foods, flowers, readymade garments, handloom products and carpets.

Nearly 20 items are imported from China, including goatskin, wool, raw silk, yak tails and hair, China clay, borax, szaibelyite (a mineral), butter, salt, shoes, quilts, blankets and herbal medicines. “Yak tail is sold for Rs 2,500 in Tibet but fetches Rs 3,500 in the Indian market, giving the trader a margin,” says Rattan Singh Negi, another trader.

‘LIFT LIVESTOCK BAN’

The trade list was expanded in 2012. Though the Indian government added five items, including readymade garments, carpets and local herbs, traders wanted products such as handicrafts, cash crops, Chinese vases and Indian biscuits to be included in the list.

They also wanted the Centre to lift the ban on livestock trade, a major component. The ban was imposed in 2012 due to lack of quarantine facility for animals.

The Indian side imported chigu, a goat reared for wool and meat in Tibet, while Chamurthi horses, known for their sturdiness, were popular among Indian traders.

LOSS OF INTEREST

The younger generation of traders says that the cross-border trade is inconvenient.

Traders are required to apply for passes at the tehsildar’s office in Pooh. These are then scrutinised by central agencies. Once the applications are cleared, traders travel by road to Namgia, 22 km from Pooh, and then to the border village of Chuppan. Once there, they head to zero point on the border. A six-hour trek takes them to Shipki, a village in China-controlled Tibetan Autonomous Region. The trade items are carried on mule backs. Indian traders can stay in Shipki only for three days.

The state industries department data shows the decline in the number of those engaged in trade over the years. Eighty traders visited western Tibet in 2014. A total of 141 traders had applied for the trade permit but 117 passes were issued. In 2015, though the number of applicants rose to 192, of which 98 were issued permits, only 72 were involved in trade.

The next year, 107 traders applied and 99 got the permit but only 75 visited Tibet. In 2017, 101 applied of whom only 54 were issued permits and 29 went for trade. That year, business was lean with a total turnover of Rs 59.3 lakh. This was due to the Indo-China standoff over Doklam.

In 2018, though the trade registered a growth of 132% with the total turnover rising to Rs 2.5 crore, the number of traders was the lowest in five years with only 79 applying for permits and 60 of them getting it. Finally, 37 traders visited Tibet for trade.

This year, 62 traders applied for the permit. “There is a need to add more items to the trading list. It should be market driven,” says Heshe Negi, the president of the Kinnaur Indo-China Trading Association, who suggests training youngsters in cross-border trade. “Our association now plans to train youngsters in villages along the route of the cross-border trade,” says Negi. “Cross-border trade can be a good source of livelihood provided one is trained,” he says.

First Published: Sep 15, 2019 22:10 IST

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