Border haats, which are meant to trade produce of border communities to help them improve their livelihoods, are selling products usually consumed by urban people.
As India has a variety of products, its vendors are the sellers and Bangladeshis the buyers. And India dominates transactions with over 80 percent market share, according to sellers, buyers and local people.
A team of The Daily Star found this while visiting a border haat located at Purba Madhugram in Feni, Bangladesh and Srinagar in Tripura, India. The haat is open for business every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm. On the day, about Tk 1 crore worth of goods are sold at 104 shops.
Indian vendors sell chocolates, cosmetics, baby food and saris to buyers of the other side, while Bangladeshis sell fish, dry fish and plastic goods to a few Indians.
“I sell Tk 1 lakh to Tk 1.5 lakh worth of cosmetics, chocolates and baby food on every haat day,” said Samiran Roy, a vendor from Tripura.
Roy sees huge demand of these products among Bangladeshis as they are cheaper than the normal market prices.
In his shop a Kit Kat, a chocolate-coated wafer bar confection, was selling for Tk 30, which is half the normal market price -- thanks to the duty benefits.
Similarly, Cadbury, Perk, Safari bars could be found at half the market rate in Bangladesh. Indian saris also have a good demand among the Bangladeshi customers, said Kabir Boidya, another vendor from Tripura.
At the haat, Benarasi saris could be bought for Tk 3,000, cotton Tk 500 and silk for Tk 1,000, he added. Shishu Ranjan Tripura, a vendor of the locality, said his income has doubled since he started trading at the haat three months ago.
Almost all the buyers are Bangladeshis, said a frustrated Baloram of Feni, who runs a biscuit shop at the market.
“The Indian shops are overcrowded while we are sitting idle,” he said, adding that shop owners from adjacent upazilas flock to the haat to buy merchandise on the cheap.
Some individual consumers also go to the market to take advantage of the lower prices.
Mohammad Alauddin from Feni district town comes to the market twice a month to buy some toiletries and baby food for his family.
Alauddin said he bought a large pack of Huggies brand nappies for Tk 500; the same item is sold at Tk 700 in the local market.
On the other hand, dwellers from adjoining Indian villages prefer to buy fish, dry fish and some plastic utensils from the haat.
Mithun Saha, a school teacher from Udaypur in Tripura, came along with two of his female colleagues for the first time. He bought a piece of dry Ilish (Hilsha) at Tk 500 and two kilograms of lentil. “It was a great chance to see people from Bangladesh,” he added.
Most of the Indian traders were new as they got licence for trading at the market after a change in the state government several months ago.
On October 23 in 2010, Bangladesh and India signed a preliminary agreement on border haats and border trade.
The agreement permits traders of border communities of both India and Bangladesh to trade in local produce and transact business worth $100 per day.
Presently, four such haats are in operation and the two countries last month agreed in principle to open another six haats.