Stink In LoC Trade: Garlic From China, Pulses From Pak

15 June 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: In the seven months since the start of cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade between Jammu-Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), it hasn’t been the Kashmiri apples and other state products that are being traded between the two sides. Rather, garlic from China, moong dal from Pakistan, onion from Punjab and coconut from southern and western Indian states are packed in most of the consignments that change hands between the borders. None of these items find mention in the list prepared by both sides for trade. Jammu Chamber of Commerce president Ram Sahai said, “In the absence of proper rules to monitor cross-LoC trade, not only traders but also truck drivers are ferrying, among other things, moong dal from Pakistan and garlic from China.” Not only this, import of 125 bags of khaskhas (poppy seeds) - a banned item - from PoK was detected recently, prompting customs officials at Chakkan Da Bagh in Poonch to approach the police to lodge an FIR into the matter. Sources told The Indian Express that the consignment of poppy seeds had come in the name of khasgandi, a local herb. It would have gone unnoticed had the poppy seeds not spilled out when a bag slipped from a labourer’s hands while unloading. Custodian, cross LoC trade, Matloob Khan said the consignment was sent by M-s Al Madeena and Co of Kotli to a Jammu-based trader,Vikram Singh. “We have called him for recording his statement and take further action into the matter,” he added. Significantly, this was not the first time that a banned item was imported into the state from across the LoC. Last week, too, a consignment of kuth (costus root) had come from PoK under the category of herbs. Though extraction and sale of kuth is banned across the state, its consignment was reportedly released in the absence of any expert to identify the herb. Khan said he has asked the customs officials to deploy experts at Chakkan Da Bagh to detect whether the herbs being traded through LoC points were included in the list of banned items. Customs authorities, too, have apparently woken up to the trade of non-state items. Last week, a communiqué from customs department in Jalandhar instructed trade facilitating officer at Chakkan Da Bagh in Poonch A K Lakhotra to ensure that only items of Jammu Kashmir origin were traded. Referring to complaints from traders in Punjab about the evasion of customs on export of non-state items to neighbouring country through the cross LoC points, it asked Lakhotra to seek “state origin certificate” from traders before clearing their goods for trade with PoK. But with most of the items being traded to PoK coming from elsewhere in the country, state officials are reluctant to issue such a certificate. “I have, in a letter to Lakhotra, told him that I cannot issue such certificate as most of the items being traded are not of state origin...they have been brought here from other parts of the state,” said Khan. Not surprisingly then that trade of non-state items like coconut, moti ilachi, banana, onion and pineapple continues as usual. State officials put the onus of all this on the customs. A week after the ban on trade of “non-state goods”, customs officials cleared 20 truckloads of coconut, banana, pineapple, onion and moti ilachi for PoK Chakkan Da Bagh, they said. Except for onion and banana, which grow in very little quantity in the state, other items were from other states. Earlier also, when Amritsar-based Quarantine Department of the Union Agriculture Ministry banned import of garlic because of pathogen infection and later ginger on account of it not being in the list of 21 tradeable items cleared by both India and Pakistan, truckloads of these commodities were reportedly allowed entry into the state by customs officials under pressure from traders. Lakhotra, when contacted, said trade of non-state items was allowed after the earlier instructions issued from their Jalandhar office were rendered “null and void”. However, when asked about the details, he refused to divulge anything further.