Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Phone link between Jammu Kashmir and PoK

CM calls for trade through financial transactions Omar for restoration of phone link between J&K, PoK

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today called for restoration of telephonic link between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to facilitate cross-LoC trade between two parts of divided State and converting barter system of trade through clear financial transactions.

Intervening during a question on cross-LoC travel in the Legislative Assembly, Omar hoped that upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari would take up both the issues.

On the appeal of the Chief Minister, Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone took opinion of the House, which unanimously urged Dr Singh and Mr Zardari to take up the issue of cross-LoC travel and trade and take measures to strengthen it on both routes of Poonch-Rawlakote and Uri-Muzaffarabad.

Mr Lone said the Chief Minister has made a detailed statement in the House after the reply of Industry and Commerce Minister Surjit Singh Slathia on the question raised by CPM MLA MY Tarigami and, in his place, asked by NC legislator and former Minister Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan.

He said if the House desired "we can urge the Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan, who were due to meet in New Delhi on April 8, to take up the issue of encouraging cross-LoC trade on both routes’’. The House endorsed the viewpoint of the Chief Minister.

Omar said instead of traders of Jammu and Kashmir, it were the businessmen of Pathankot, Amritsar and other parts of Punjab, who were benefiting out of cross-LoC trade on Poonch-Rawlakote and Salamabad-Uri routes as there was no telephonic contact or banking transaction system for the traders of two parts of divided State.

"The traders of two parts of divided State can’t talk to each other in the absence of telephonic link between two sides. Another major problem faced by the traders was the continuation of barter system as they had to exchange goods due to lack of any system of currency exchange’’, he said.

He added that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Pakistan President should take a re-look at the Confidence Building measures (CBMs) to boost cross-LoC trade and travel.

"...If this House supports us, it would be good. The Prime Minister and the Pakistan President are meeting in New Delhi in a few days," Omar said.

"I think a request should be made from this House to them that this CBMs (cross-LoC trade and travel) should be re-looked into — both these things (communication and banking system for LoC travel and trade)," the Chief Minister said.

He further said "one of the things is to talk to each other (between the people on the two side of LoC) and second, to replace the barter system of trade with other financial terms or letter of credits should be a mechanism for trading".

"Banking arrangements should be there so that the barter system of trading is closed — under this system of trading if I will send goods I should get payment and if they send us goods we should pay them," Omar said.

"We have been repeatedly requesting the Centre to give attention to this important decision during the Indo-Pak talks — it should not be a CBM for namesake — it should be a workable CBM on the ground," the Chief Minister said.

"The cross-LoC trade and travel was the biggest CBM to connect people on the two sides through bus service and trade," he noted.

There has been a marked improvement when it comes to the bus service, Omar said, adding that "unfortunately there has not been improvement in trade. Where there was need to create infrastructure, we created them. There is still a need to bring more improvement in it’’.

Omar said that border trade points whether it is in Wagah (on Indo-Pak border) or Nathula (on Sino-India border) are along permanent border, but here (in J&K) the Line of Control cannot be considered as a border and there lies the problem.

The Chief Minister further said that the biggest problem is the LoC trade is barter system. "We cannot bring betterment in this trade unless and until two major decisions do not take place."

"One, the permission for one-to-one talk on two sides of LoC and second, for trading between the two sides," Omar said.

Noting that trade between India and Pakistan and India and China has flourished at Wagah border in Punjab and Nathu-La in Sikkim respectively, the Chief Minister said: "unfortunately the similar conditions didn’t exist at the Line of Control (LoC) on two trade routes in Jammu and Kashmir, where necessary infrastructure to facilitate the trade has not been created’’.

Describing cross-LoC bus and cross-LoC trade as two major CBMs, Omar said it was time now for restoration of telephonic link and doing away with barter system of trade by switching over to banking arrangements or letters of credit system so that the trade could flourish in teal terms.

PDP MLA and former Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri said when cross-LoC bus service was started on Slamabad-Uri route, doubts were created among the minds of people that some undesirable persons would turn up. However, these doubts have been slowly cleared.

"The bus service shouldn’t be confined to divided families only but it should be opened for all people of two parts of divided State’’, he said.

National Panthers Party (NPP) MLA Balwant Singh Mankotia protested listing of the question in the Assembly saying it pertained to use of duel currency and was subject matter of the Parliament.

"It was wrong to list such a question in the Assembly. Use of duel currency was the competency of the Government of India and not the State Government’’, Mr Mankotia said.

BJP chief whip Ashok Khajuria supported the point raised by Mr Mankotia.

Earlier, replying to main question and supplementaries raised by Choudhary Ramzan, Industry and Commerce Minister Surjit Singh Slathia said infrastructure worth Rs 9 crore has been raised on Chakan-Da-Bagh cross-LoC point and Rs 8 crore on Salamabad-Uri route. The infrastructure will be completed by the end of July this year.

"A model has been proposed by the Department of Financial Services, Government of India for establishment of banking mechanism for the cross-LoC trade. The matter has been taken up by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India with the Government of Pakistan’’, he said.

Mr Slathia said that seven offices/organisations in Kashmir and four in Jammu have been provided with ISD facility to facilitate traders to talk to their counterparts in PoK. These offices included Director Industries and Commerce, Kashmir, District Development Commissioner, Baramulla, General Manager, DIC Baramulla, Custodian, Trade Facilitation Centre, Salamabad, Trade Facilitation Officer, Salamabad, Federation Chamber of Industries, Sanat Nagar, Srinagar and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Residency Road, Srinagar, Director Industries and Commerce, Jammu, Deputy Commissioner, Poonch, General Manager, DIC Poonch and President, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jammu.

He said work on the projects for construction of permanent infrastructure for the Trade Facilitation Centres at Salamabad, Uri and Chakan-Da-Bagh, Poonch was in progress.

"Several meetings have been organized between the traders of J&K and PoK at zero point during the last two years to facilitate the trade’’, he said, adding: "at present there was no proposal to establish trade parks’’.

On declaring both sides as free trade zone by ensuring free movement/exchange of skilled/unskilled labourers, Mr Slathia said the matter has been taken up by the Government of India with the Government of Pakistan. "The State Government has already conveyed its desire to the Government of India to have more such points opened in the State’’, he added.

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