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Sudden flood of onions towards Balat border in Khasi Hills raising smuggling suspicion

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Balat, Feb 17: Balat border in Khasi Hills is turning out to be the epicentre for alleged smuggling of onions into Bangladesh with locals alleging that export of the vegetable is taking place through the border haat market to avoid detection.

Videos showing dozens of mini trucks loaded with hundreds of sacks of onions coming into the Balat region have been released in recent days by locals and the Balat Garo Students Union and these large consignments are on the move just before the opening of the weekly haats.

The smuggling angle is gaining momentum since Balat does not have any major business transaction nor a population that requires such a large scale market.

Onions, including sugar, are restricted commodities that cannot be traded unless authorized by the government and only when country to country agreements are done is it permitted for export through Land Custom stations for which the exporting country generates revenue.

The opening of the border haats in the state was meant primarily to boost the economy of the local population through sale of local  products.

Products like jackfruits, turmeric, ginger or other locally available items, including wood crafts are primarily the main sale at border haats, be it Balat in Khasi Hills or Kalaichar in South West Garo Hills district and for each sale the price is mentioned in In Voice receipts given out by Customs officials. No taxes are levied on vendors for the sale of local produce.

“When primary goal of the border haat is for sale of local items, where does the onion figure? It is a product that is not locally grown but imported from other states of the country. One cannot rule out illegal export of the item,” points of the Balat GSU.

The allegations seem to have substance given that onions are one of the most expensive vegetables in Bangladesh that imports almost all of its requirements from neighbouring countries.

There are allegations levelled by locals that those operating the border haat are making out low invoice receipts to subdue the actual price and size of the consignments being sold to buyers from the neighbouring country taking advantage of the border haat.

“Earlier, traders at the haat were from the Balat region itself, but now we are seeing big dealers and traders coming from as far as Guwahati to the border. Something is not right,” says locals as they demand a thorough probe into the happenings.

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