| Open, but minus trade
Gangtok, July 16: The importer-exporter code (IEC) number is not the only hurdle to trade through Nathu-la.
The first two truck-loads of animal products brought over from the Chinese side on July 11 were returned unopened in the absence of quarantine staff at the border outpost. The quarantine office at the Sherathang trade mart, supposed to be manned by personnel from the Sikkim government's animal husbandry and veterinary services department, was also found locked.
The Chinese traders were visibly disappointed at having to return without being given the opportunity to do business, said eyewitnesses.
The tardiness regarding the quarantine cell is inexplicable, since the list of import items from the other side brought out for the initial phase of trade through Nathu-la included animal products (goat cashmere, sheep skin, yak tail and hair) and livestock (sheep, goats, horses).
Sources said they hoped that the quarantine issue would be taken up by the 11-member committee, headed by Gangtok MLA N.K. Pradhan, which has been set up to iron out the teething problems of restarting trade through the 14,400-ft mountain pass. The committee is also expected to take up the matter of the IEC with the Union government.
The decision to form the committee was taken at a legislators' meet convened by Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling yesterday. It was also decided at the meet that a team of legislators and advisers to the state government will visit Rinchinggang, 21 km inside Tibet Autonomous Region, in the next few weeks as part of a study tour.
In another meeting with state government officials, Chamling unveiled plans to set up language institutes in all four districts of Sikkim where Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese and English will be taught to help the unemployed youth become successful entrepreneurs.
Tomorrow, Chamling will meet panchayat representatives and traders from the four districts to discuss the prospects of trade through Nathu-la.
State Bank of India, meanwhile, has clarified that traders travelling to the Chinese side would be allowed to buy foreign exchange up to US$ 25, 000 annually. Earlier, there was confusion when the East district collector permitted only up to US$ 500 while issuing travel passes to the traders.