The traders of Panitanki on the India-Nepal border in Siliguri subdivision, some 35km from the city here, are dismayed over the alleged inaction of the BJP-led central government for not taking any initiative with Nepal to address the ongoing crisis in the local market.
Panitanki market has around 1,000 traders largely dependent on buyers from Nepal. For years, hundreds from eastern Nepal would reach Panitanki every day through the Mechi river bridge to buy items ranging from garments to household items to groceries. The daily turnover of the market was around Rs 2.5 crore.
However, since July 17 this year, the Nepal government has been imposing taxes on any Indian item bought from Panitanki and costs more than Rs 100. This has drastically affected business and daily turnover has dropped to a mere Rs 2 lakh.
Dipak Chakraborty, the joint secretary of Panitanki Byabsayee Samiti, said Raju Bista, the BJP MP of Darjeeling, last month promised them a meeting with Union minister of external affairs S. Jaishankar.
“Last month, the MP assured traders he would organise a meeting with the Union minister of external affairs so that we could tell the minister about our problem. The meeting has not been arranged so far,” he said.
“More than 90 per cent of our business is dependent on the buyers of Nepal. After the MP’s visit on August 13 and his assurances, we were hopeful that things would improve. But over a month has passed and neither was any initiative taken by the Centre nor were we called to any meeting to speak on our crisis,” said Chakraborty.
He said that next month, people in Nepal will celebrate the festivals of Dasain and Bhai Tika.
“Like our Durga Puja, Diwali and Bhai Phonta, people of Nepal buy garments on these festive occasions of Dasain and Bhai Tika. In Panitanki, there are around 350 garment shops and they bank on the festive season. But considering the present situation, we hardly have any hope for a good business season ahead. Buyers from Nepal have virtually stopped coming here,” Chakraborty added.
BJP leaders of the district, when contacted, claimed that Bista had taken up the issue with the Centre.
Arun Mondal, the president of BJP’s Siliguri (organisational) district, who had accompanied MP Bista to Panitanki last month, said: “As far as I know, the MP has already mentioned the issue to the Union external affairs minister so that the matter can be discussed with authorities concerned in Nepal. We hope the problem is resolved soon.”