At a time when India and Pakistan are looking at cementing trade ties through the Attari-Wagah land border, trade has taken a hit after huge quantities of heroin hidden inside cement bags were seized in Punjab.
No cement stocks have moved from Pakistan after over 105 kg of heroin, one
of the biggest hauls and worth Rs.525 crore (nearly 100 million USD) in the international market, was found being smuggled in cement bags imported from Pakistani manufacturers in October.
In just over three months (July-October), various agencies seized over 135 kg of heroin smuggled into India through Pakistani cement bags. The seizure is valued at over Rs.675 crore in the international market.
Following the seizures, exporters as well as importers are treading with caution until a mechanism is in place to curb the drug smuggling through consignment.
"We don't want to end up facing court cases. Moreover, we suffer losses as the stocks remain sealed after any drug seizure," a cement importer here, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.
For the past three years, India has imported Pakistani cement in huge quantities owing to its rising demand in the infrastructure sector.
In October alone, Pakistan sent 1,329 railway wagons loaded with cement bags to India. However, after the drug seizures, the number of cement wagons from Pakistan came down sharply to just 189 in November, said officials at Attari, about 30 km from here.
This has spelled trouble for Indian exporters as well, as they find it tough to send their goods to Pakistan since there are not enough wagons to carry them to that country. Their goods are piling up at the border.
Indian exporters and traders recently met railway officials to request that more wagons be made available for export of their goods.
The trade of goods between India and Pakistan is also carried out on trucks.
But the bulk of the goods are sent to either country in rail wagons.
"Importers in India are scared due to the drug seizures. The Pakistani exporters and traders have stopped sending in cement following these developments," M.P. Singh Chatha, president of the cement importers' association, told IANS.
Indian traders feel the issue can be resolved if authorities in both countries can work out an arrangement by which smuggling of drugs, particularly heroin, is curbed.
"Traders are scared. The decline in export and import in recent days is unprecedented," Rajesh Setia, a leading importer and exporter, told IANS.
Officials agreed that India-Pakistan trade has been affected in recent days.
"There is a steep decline in trade. There is virtually no trade taking place through the goods trains," Vijay Bahadur Singh, a customs official here, said.
Punjab is a major destination and transit point for drug smuggling through the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India route.
Various agencies, including the Border Security Force (BSF), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, customs and Punjab Police, seize hundreds of kilograms of heroin and other drugs along the international border annually.
This year, the BSF alone has seized over 250 kg of heroin along the border.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)