SRINAGAR: The suspension of the cross LoC trade by the BJP-led Centre has put a question mark on the Rs 6900 crore industry that flourished in the economically impoverished Jammu and Kashmir since the trade started in 2008.

President of the Cross LoC Traders Union, Hilal Turki said the trade had touched Rs 6,900 crore last fiscal involving 21 items like red chilli, mangoes, herbs, dry fruits, bananas, embroidery items, tamarind, and cumin for exports while imports mainly were almonds, dry dates, herbs, mangoes and pistachio.

“Now there is uncertainty. We don’t know what we are supposed to do. Our consignments were expected to arrive yesterday but due to the ban, those trucks were stopped from crossing into Kashmir. We will face losses worth millions,” Turki said.

Initiated as a major confidence building measure between India and Pakistan, the cross-LoC trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes was started on October 21, 2008. Turki said around 280 traders are directly involved in the trading and the suspension of trade has raised a question mark on their future.

Shakeel Qalander, a prominent industry leader said since the trade began, traders on both sides of Kashmir had found ways of insulating the whole process from any influences due to tensions between India and Pakistan.

“The trade was being carried out with a fair amount of success by the traders using mutual trust despite all the war talk in these years. It is unfortunate that this measure to bring the people of Kashmir has been shut down for petty political gains,” he said.

The Centre has defended the ban saying that the trade was being used to “pump fake currency, drugs and arms” into Kashmir. “A stricter regulatory & enforcement mechanism is being worked out and will be put in place in consultation with various agencies. The issue of reopening of LoC trade will be revisited thereafter,” the MHA said in a statement.

However, the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have accused the ruling BJP of using this confidence building measure initiated under the reign of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for “narrow electoral gains”.

“It is an extremely unfortunate decision. Instead of enhancing people to people contact, such measures for short term political gains will only aggravate the situation in Kashmir,” moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said.

People Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said the decision to suspend cross LoC trade is a “major setback” to the process of reconciliation between India and Pakistan. “Whatever the work Vajpayeeji did on Kashmir, it seems (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is intent on undoing,” she said.