With inputs from Dipak Kumar Pathak, Baksa, story filed by Lipika Roy
BAKSA: As the economic impact of Covid-19 has continued to unfold, one of the sectors that have been hit harder than others is the informal border trade between countries.
In Assam- Bhutan border in Baksa district, the livelihood of a significant number of people from both countries are at stake who depends on the small-scale trade activities that are carried in the Darranga Mela market.
It is a village trade centre for Darranga Mela Village located in Tamulpur Tehsil of Baksa District, 80 km away from Guwahati.
On the Bhutan side, Samdrup Jongkhar town of Samdrup Jongkhar district of Eastern Bhutan shares the boundary with Darrangamela.
Around 20,000 people from both the side share an age-old trading relationship as they use of both Bhutan’s Ngultrum and Indian rupee while cross-border trading.
Huge blow to informal border trade:
The Darranga Mela Market comprises of around 200 stores of clothes, stationery, automobile stores, vegetable stores, etc.
The stores are owned by both Bhutanese and people from Assam and are a major characteristic of the economic landscape of the region.
Comprised of unregistered small-scale traders, the informal trade is suffering a huge blow because of Covid induced lockdown.
As lockdown rules and time are different for both countries, relaxation in one side is not of any help as the people living in the border of both the countries depend on each other for buying and selling of items.
Right now, Bhutan is under a total lockdown. The country has closed its border gate entering Bhutan and prohibited traveling of individuals from both in and outside the country.
As the Bhutan government imposed the restrictions, the number of customers from Bhutan visiting the market has dropped significantly, causing serious economic loss to this side of the country.
"Since the pandemic hit the world last year the border gate entering to Bhutan is closed. Although lockdown and lockdown-related restrictions have been lifted in parts of Assam, but the Bhutan border gate is still closed," said a shop owner of Darranga Mela market.
There are many families whose only store in the market is their only source of income and to serve food on their plate.
But, as the Bhutanese are restricted to visit the market in Daranga Mela, many people were forced to sit unemployed and have been suffering poverty since then.
A woman shop owner said, "Bhutan is under lockdown, and so our market is closed. Most of the customers come from Bhutan only."
Another shop owner said, "It has been over a week I have not sold even a single product.
99 percent of shops in the market now can be seen vacant.
Is the closure of border trade encouraging human trafficking?
Over the past couple of months, Assam police have rescued 42 children from Bhutan who were trafficked through the Assam- Bhutan Border.
These children were reportedly employed in flash trade and domestic activities and in various hotels in Bhutan.
Women traders who own more than 50% of the shops in Darranga Mela have been badly affected on either side, have told InsideNE that poverty has made children and women from the region vulnerable to human trafficking.
They said many people, including teenage boys and girls, have moved out of the villages in search of work in cities of Mumbai, Chennai, Kerala, Rajasthan, etc.
"More than 70 people from this village have moved to other states to find work. Therefore we request governments to look into the matter at the earliest so that we can resume our businesses soon," they added.
Speaking to InsideNE the Bazar Mohaldar (Market head) Islam Aali said," Our current situation is utterly pathetic. The majority of households in the village are poor, and this market is their sole source of income. However, because the border gate has been closed since 2019, villagers who used to work in Bhutan are no longer able to visit the country, and the market is now completely empty, causing the village's households to live in deplorable conditions."
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