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Customs office at Attari attracts truckloads of goods and goodwill
April, 23rd 2012

Within days of a new customs and immigration facility becoming operational, the volume of trade between neighbours India and Pakistan saw a sharp rise. Located about 30 km from Amritsar on the historic GT Road, the swank " integrated check post" (ICP) brings hope that the route, barely used for trade since Independence, will once again become active.

"We used to clear about 90 truckloads of goods for both import and export, but now we are handling more than 250 trucks a day. Overall, trade recorded a 40 per cent increase within four days since the launch of this checkpost on April 9," said Rameshwar, manager at the ICP.

On April 13, Union home minister P Chidambaram inaugurated the check post, spread across 130 acres and built at a cost of Rs 120 cr. The facility is one of 13 planned to help boost trade between the two neighbours. It has provisions to deal with security, customs and immigration for passengers as well as cargo.

Significantly, trucks from Pakistan, that had to be unloaded at the border point itself, can now drive in till the ICP and unload their goods directly at the warehouse. Earlier, Attari had a single warehouse with 225-ton capacity. The ICP has two warehouses : one with 10,000-ton capacity for imported goods and the second, the export warehouse, has a 4,000-ton capacity.

An important change also is fixing of porter charges, said Rameshwar. 'Handling charges' for porters are now fixed and are not arbitrary as they used to be. But it's still a way to smooth functioning.

For one, Pakistan is yet to create similar infrastructure and still depends on the old warehouse. Days ago, said Rameshwar, Pakistan refused trucks of soybean from India as they did not have rain-shelters.

Expanding trade ties with Pakistan would prove difficult unless they create matching infrastructure , said Anil Mehra, president of the Federation of Karyana and Dry Fruit Commercial Association. Mehra also suggested that government should extend the freight corridor up to Attari to enable free movement by rail.

Former chairman of CII's Punjab state council Gunbir Singh said that the ICP's success would also depend on measures taken by government to check illegal barter trade from across J&K's Line of Control. "Though the barter trade is meant for items of only Kashmiri origin, all kinds of goods are being bartered," he said.

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